Gray Matters

He Popularized Crowdfunding, Now He Wants to Reimagine Capitalism

Kickstarter introduced the world to a new way of shopping. It allowed consumers to fund a product into existence. To pre-order something when it was just an idea inside the mind of its creator. Now, years after he left the company, Kickstarter Co-founder Yancey Strickler is out with a new book that asks the world to re-evaluate how we prioritize money. He calls it a “manifesto”…

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

The mistake we’ve made over the past 50 years is believing that if we just maximize for this one value of financial value, that will just solve everything else.

Laurie Segall: When you left, you didn’t really know you were gonna write a book. Right?

Yancey Strickler: No.

Laurie Segall: …And not even just a book. It’s not a memoir, it’s not a business how-to. It is a manifesto.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: So, tell us the premise. It’s all about really understanding value, right?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, I was searching for the next thing. And starting in 2014 every talk I gave around Kickstarter was about this macro environment that we were in. Looking back, I could tell that I was a little bored of the job when I only wanted to speak about larger forces and not the product of the company. But I’d given this talk just explaining how the world had been overtaken by this belief that the right choice in a decision is whichever option makes the most money. And in doing research, I found the moment in time where I felt that that had happened – around 1970 with a famous Milton Friedman essay about maximizing shareholder value. And so I gave a talk sort of telling that story and showing how that’s the reason why there’s so many movie sequels. That’s the reason why there are chains everywhere. It’s the reason why Taylor Swift used to be on the cover of every magazine. And so I found this way to make something that’s hard to see, easier to see. So I just kept pulling on that thread and thinking about it and then began this process of writing this book. And the book is called, This Could Be Our Future. And the first half argues about this idea of…the primacy of financial value, and sort of tracking the history of that and showing how it’s created.

And then the second half of the book argues that we are in a moment where we are progressing to a new value system and that the world where financial value is the only rational form of value is ending. And I call this way of seeing “Bento Wisdom,” based on the Japanese bento box. And the word “bento” comes from a Japanese word, meaning convenience. And because of the compartments and lid of a bento box, it lets you have a convenient and balanced meal, not too much of any one thing.

And the bento honors the Japanese dieting philosophy of “hara hachi bun me,” which says the goal of a meal is to be 80% full. That way you’re still hungry for tomorrow. So Bentoism is the same idea, but for our values and our decisions, and it’s using the four spaces to argue that the world of value, the world of self-interest, the world we should be creating encompasses all these spaces. And that the mistake we’ve made over the past 50 years is believing that if we just maximize for this one value of financial value, that will just solve everything else. But the truth is that we’ve learned now it doesn’t work that way.