Bear with me, I am emotional today.
11:59am on December 1, 2012.
My tiny Brooklyn apartment was filled with filmmakers who were taking a risk on a brand new crowdfunding platform called Seed&Spark. Their crowdfunding campaigns were about to become the “founding campaigns” on our brand new website, which was supposed to go live on the stroke of noon. We had glasses full of cheap champagne ready to toast. Like Jesse Eisenberg at the end of Social Network, I sat at my laptop clicking “refresh” waiting for the launch. Noon comes and goes, then 1pm, then 2pm. I had been working with a dev team based in Bangalore who was building the site in Drupal (I KNOW, OK?!), and they were getting through some “final challenges” to get the site launched. 3pm, and the filmmakers got restless and headed home. I was sitting alone at my desk when the site sprang into existence around 4:30pmET. I burst into tears.
Nothing was working right, so I spent most of the rest of the day on the phone with filmmakers and the dev team to convey the bug reports. I went to bed at midnight and just as I was about to fall asleep, I shot up like a bolt. Oh my god, this thing has to be on 24/7/365. There is no nighttime, there are no weekends on the internet. What have I done?
What I did that day was embark on a journey that defies adjectives, mostly because it requires too many. I described it last night to my husband as “umami” — not all salty or sweet, but sort of hard to pin down, exactly. Seed&Spark has taken me to almost every state in the US, to the Arctic Circle, and most recently to Abu Dhabi to talk to and learn from creators everywhere.
It has been responsible for some of my greatest personal and professional triumphs (here are really just a few):
- driving across country and back, reaching 35 cities in 65 days with Erica Anderson back in 2014, meeting creators and developing the first Crowdfunding to Build Independence Workshop, which is still the best crowdfunding advice out there today (nobody said 10th anniversary was for humility)
- watching films use our platform from their infancy to Oscar nominations
- working with absolutely remarkable people throughout the years who would use Seed&Spark as their last job before launching their own companies (like OwnTrail and Bosa) or their full time filmmaking careers
- working with James Kaelan and Blessing Yen (two of Seed&Spark’s co-founding members) to publish the only large-format magazine dedicated to first time feature film directors (Bright Ideas, IYKYK) and oh by the way they introduced my to my husband
- getting to curate inspiring panels from some of my favorite creators out there
- moving to a 4 Day Work Week because we CAN
- and building a platform with the highest crowdfunding campaign success rate in the world (83%), with one of the most demographically and geographically diverse group of storytellers that exists on the planet. As of this writing, over $43M raised for more than 3400 new incredible stories.
And over the last couple of years, we built Film Forward, an enterprise SaaS platform replacing boring corporate training videos with some of the best short films from around the world — paying creators 193x what they could make on streaming platforms. Film Forward is proving that there is a new paradigm for e-learning that is about creating shared cultural context and making and moving meaning together — and it exists because we were listening to our creators (more on that in a moment).
But let’s be real — these last 10 years have also been full of some of the most painful moments in my life. Having such epically bad tech at the beginning that five concurrent users would crash the site. (Thank you, Jason Chew and Simon Sorich for pulling us from the rubble.) Running out of money more than a few times. Laying people off more than a few times. Navigating interpersonal and professional conflict, sexual harassment, and the general professional gaslighting that is fundraising again and again. Fundraising while pregnant. Fundraising while nursing. Fundraising while pregnant for a second time. And so on. (I wrote a lot about this a couple years ago and in the immortal words of Forrest Gump “That’s all I have to say about that.”)
The market we entered in 2012 — “creator economy 1.0” is so fundamentally different now. (Though, just like back then, most companies that call themselves ‘creator economy’ are built to exploit creators and not support them…that hasn’t changed.) We thought direct-to-consumer distribution would be, well, more distributed. Instead it has led to the greatest consolidation in the media industry since before trust-busting. And yes, I still think Netflix is terrible for the film business but moreso for what filmmakers want their work to do in the world. For the first 6 years of Seed&Spark we relentlessly built distribution options for filmmakers but kept hitting roadblocks — dozens of exciting opportunities turned failed experiments to try to get filmmakers out of the echo chamber and to audiences who really needed to see their work. In 2018, we decided to get out of the “film business” altogether and see what happened if we could connect our creators work to audiences through educational opportunities. It was a three year pivot to build Film Forward and I can say with confidence we’re more excited about this opportunity than ever before.
In mining my memory for just how many different experiences encompass my journey at Seed&Spark, I’m struck at just how long a decade is. How much can happen. How a single gal in Brooklyn can launch a buggy website in 2012 and all of a sudden she’s a married mom of two outside of Atlanta, Georgia (GO VOTE) with a badass team of 20 (and growing) and managing both a crowdfunding marketplace and a rapidly growing SaaS platform. It has been what feels like dozens of lifetimes somehow also lived in just the blink of an eye.
Here is what I know: all of this was possible because of community.
First, it was the community of creators who rallied around an idea we articulated in a very silly launch video that expressed the full optimism of what we wanted to build (and also our love for silly camera tricks). Creators stuck with us through shitty tech and bad economic conditions, held us accountable to live up to our values, and are the energy that drives the entire mechanism. If you were one of the creators in one of our #StayIndie twitter chats in 2012, 2013 — I am talking directly to YOU. This includes the stewards of all the incredible creator support organizations we work with — film festivals, schools, artist support non-profits, entertainment commissions who have helped us reach creators wherever they are.
Second, it was the Seed&Spark team, which has been made up of dozens of brilliant folks over the years who lent their time and talent to shaping what we are today.
Third, it was my family (of course). My parents who took my panicked phone calls and lent sage and calming advice in the most critical moments. My husband without whom…nothing good would exist? I don’t even know how to quantify his contributions. He brings me tea every afternoon around 1pm so if you have met with me after that time and I seem even partially cogent, you have him to thank.
Fourth, the community of women founders with whom I have been able to back-channel, text, share experiences, create whisper networks (creepy investors we allllll know who you are), and generally affirm one another’s experiences. I would say 80% of our conversations are “Am I crazy?” “No, no you are not.” You know who you are and I’ll probably call you next week.
Fifth, the incredible community of investors and advisors who have rallied around us in the good times and the hard times. These people have made huge bets of time and money on me, my team and a dream and they continue to show up even as we change our strategies, products and business models. These people were strangers, y’all. And now they are some of my most trusted colleagues.
And finally, it’s been all of you who have reached out over the years and said something kind and encouraging to me and my team. Who remind us that even though now most of our work is not out in the community but behind computers in our own houses, we are making an impact every day connecting people through stories that matter.