Kickstarter, transparency, and accountability

The Retronauts Kickstarter is closing in on 250% funded in two days’ time, and as with any successful Kickstarter venture (or, really, anything involving money, ever) some people have questions about legitimacy and greed. Fair enough! For all the great stuff Kickstarter has brought us, we’ve also seen plenty of projects that collapsed under their own weight or whose creators seemingly took the money and ran. We talked long and hard before launching this to avoid either of those happening.

For one thing, we always had modest ends in mind, which is why we launched with a relatively small goal and didn’t offer any reward tiers above $300. Although we talked about some pie-in-the-sky ideas at the beginning, we ultimately decided we should take a manageable approach and simply try to get a biweekly podcast funded. The pie stuff is pretty far out there in the unlikely $60K+ territory. For our basic ambition — making a podcast — Bob sat down and calculated the real costs of buying some semi-pro-grade equipment, renting a nice quiet studio, and paying for webhosting and Libsyn bandwidth for the show. Then we took that number and doubled it, not for the sake of pocketing it, but because we’ve spoken to people who have been caught off-guard by their own Kickstarter successes when they learned the hard way that tax filings on “online donation” earnings that exceed a certain amount is something like 45%.

The one non-material/service expense we factored into the initial goal is the cost of launching a company (LLC or corporation) in California. That way the money we raise this month goes directly to an outside entity’s business account rather than into our pockets, which protects us (from massive personal tax debt) and you (from getting screwed over).

Each and every one of our stretch goals has been established with the same frame of mind. The first stretch goal (which we hit last night; thank you!) won’t actually soak up the full amount of the additional cash we’ve earned to reach that point, since the initial goal took care of a good many of our initial sunk costs. But it has allowed us to expand the number of rewards available and to make sure that our friends at Fangamer, who offered to handle reward disbursement for us, will see a fair return on their efforts.

The 30K tier’s earnings will help us hire a musician to compose a new theme (since the old one, like all previous Retronauts content, doesn’t belong to us). The 36K tier requires us to acquire some video recording, editing, and broadcasting gear. The 42K tier involves a service that will cost us very little to produce, so we’re using the earnings from that tier as donations for charity. The next tier will be just enough to handle travel and hotels for the three of us to attend three live events. And so on, and so forth. At every turn, we’ve endeavored to pour these earnings directly into the podcast and surrounding concerns.

Of course, we realize that some people simply won’t be satisfied with any explanation and see only the worst in every project like this, and there’s nothing we can do about that. I’ve seen a few indignant huffs about our greed for wanting good recording equipment and locations, because lots of people put together podcasts with their built-in computer mikes in their living rooms. That’s true. But we’d like to maintain the level of polish that made the past seven years’ worth of Retronauts so good. Actually, since we won’t have to worry about other people screwing up our equipment or rely on phone lines with call-waiting we can’t figure out how to deactivate, the sound quality should actually be better than it’s been since we lost the services of podcast grandmaster Andrew Pfister with the Hearst layoffs in 2009.

This is all kind of in the weeds and it’s probably stuff most people don’t care about, but we want to be up front with it. Feel free to hit us with any additional questions about this stuff.


Filed under Retronauts

19 Responses to Kickstarter, transparency, and accountability

  1. Ryan Johnson

    As someone who has complete faith in the three of you, I still like that you are keeping us, well, involved.
    Even though we fans never actually worked on the podcast outside of a call in, retweet or some envelope art, I can safely say as a fan I always felt a part of something, and this kickstarter has finally given fans like me a chance to actually have a material impact on the show we love so much.
    That being said transparency is always a good thing.
    Keep it up, guys.

  2. Raymond Fernandes

    Hatas gon’ hate or whatever the kids say now.

    The people who have left such comments on Kotaku and such, no nothing of the show, it’s hosts, the costs behind starting a business (which is effectively what you’re doing, even if there may or may not be any profit), and the time, skill, and equipment it takes to make a quality podcast. I’ve listened a few podcasts done the way they have mentioned and they are borderline unlistenable. Sometimes, they cross that border. I’d rather not see that happen to this show, which held a high level of quality even after losing Andrew Pfister. Can’t wait for the first episode.

  3. Chuck Franklin

    Agree with others… I don’t think a single Retronauts fan / donator has these concerns that you are trying to pull a fast one.

    If anything we worry that you guys aren’t getting any salary out of this(need to compensate our non-full time job friends for job-searching) or didn’t set the reward tiers high enough.

  4. Jeremy,

    I have a question for you, not directly related to the financial details related here. You’ve stated in the past that you do not like podcasting, and that it was one of your reasons for discontinuing the podcast in the past. What has changed since then to (apparently) reverse your opinion and spurred commitment to a full year of episodes? I’m glad, but was curious.


    • The difference here is all the B.S. I won’t have to deal with. No fighting for time slots, no one screwing up the system settings, no corporate nonsense, just a group of reliable and knowledgeable collaborators who guarantee that even if the fourth seat flakes out we’ll still be able to put together a great show.

      • This is what makes podcasts great, the difference between doing this show and having a conversation you would already have with these same people at a party really boils down to some extra research and replacing a room full of uninterested people with microphones. The sweet sweet freedom of sister’s doing it for themselves

  5. Not that I’ve actually met any of you, but you three seem to be as honest and sincere as they come. I honestly can’t think of any of you doing something nefarious or sinister.

    I’ve already pledged for the DVD, but if you’re looking for some other reward options, I would suggest offering up issues of Scroll, if Ray’s okay with it.

  6. At this rate the special thank you segment is going to be like 3 hours long.
    Keep up the great work guys.

  7. Any chance for extra slots on some of the rewards now that they are full/filling? I really want a DVD but can’t donate atm, and also didn’t catch the news until there were only 12 left so that didn’t help :(. Plus I’m sure it would do much to help the drive for further funding. All depends on how much money you guys are looking for.

  8. Aaron

    I’m very excited, so thankful I was able to get in on the $150 tier. If anyone has a topic suggestion that I can use I’m happy to hear it! I don’t have anything in mind right now, glad I have a few weeks to ponder.

    Just a question: How did you get the rights to use the Retronauts name? I know you said you don’t have the rights to the introduction music, so I’m just wondering how you managed to get the name. I’m glad you did, though!

    • That’s the difference between copyright (which is conferred automatically upon creative content like podcasts and music upon its creation) and trademark (which covers things like names and has to be filed for formally).

      • Raymond Fernandes

        So, is the old one owned by IGN/Ziff or whomever created it? In the end, losing the original is only a minor loss and matters little to the overall show, but it will be sad to see it go.

  9. Sean C

    Thanks for addressing the concerns. I think in something like this accountability and openness is the way to go. Not that I was worried. My hope is that you will get the funding at least to launch a dedicated website. If that is indeed something you 3 can handle while working full time jobs. (I am assuming anyway that eventually all 3 of you will have full time jobs.) I really am excited that you are getting to do this now on your own terms and do it right. I know that even with kickstarter funding this is still a labor of love and is not a revenue generator. But maybe if the full website existed an opportunity to generate revenue will present itself which I would be quite pleased with. Often in life doing things well that you love can lead to an opportunity to make a living off of it. Especially if your your own boss and don’t have to worry about supporting high level executives or offering a large return on investment to investors. In any case I am happy to see Retronauts unchained from 1- up and know that my donation will be wisely spent to put out a quality product.

  10. I think that if you guys made extra cash on the kickstarter and paid yourselves for you know, the time you spend putting an episode (or 26) together, I wouldn’t be offended. I’m glad you’re keeping things transparent and are investing all the money into making more product possible. That said, anyone who complains that three dudes might take a piece of 30k that they raised to put together a show that has no other revenue source (yet) to maybe help pay rent that month…well that complainer is an asshole.

  11. Philipp

    As some of the other comments already mentioned I’d rather like the retronauts podcast to pay some of your salary. Your work demands some payment! Maybe you could even find a sponsor, like goodjobbrain has Bonobos or something?

  12. Rhett Lauffenburger

    Yeah, I definitely think you guys should cut yourselves a salary for this. Your time isn’t free, and I for one would be happy to pay you guys for your hard work.

  13. Chris McTiernan

    I’ve got to echo the sentiments of several other folks–I love that you’re being transparent, and I’m happy to have my contribution used any way you want or need, whether it’s kickass recording equipment, a charity donation, or your next meal. Retronauts has been a part of my life since 2006, and it’s so great to have a chance to help you folks keep it going.

  14. Daniel Turner

    I agree with the sentiment that transparency is appreciated and would feel good knowing you guys are getting some financial compensation for doing great work. I’ve been an avid follower since the beginning and you’ve definitely given me more than any contribution I could afford in entertainment and retro gaming knowledge. Hopefully you guys can reach the $85k goal at least. I’ve spread the word and a few friends who just got into back episodes are gonna chip in too 🙂

  15. Sean C

    I have been kind of spreading the word where I can on retro game forums and sites I’m a member of. And I have actually run into a lot people pushing back against the idea on the grounds that you should be able to do this for free. I pointed them to this post and tried to explain that doing this professional is going to require money. I think the guys over at Player One Podcast have been the least receptive, obviously because the have a had a weekly podcast and blog with a forum running for years essentially for free. You could try to go to their forum and chime in or just ignore it it. But the bottom line is people are either going to trust you to spend the money wisely or not. Count me in the former. In any case Ill be defending your motives when I can and getting the word out.