$10 potato salad Kickstarter idea nets $17,000 in pledges for Ohio man

Online funding platform for creative projects yields lots of money from 2,200 backers worldwide (and counting).
MCT Regional News
Jul 8, 2014

Columbus resident Zack “Danger” Brown wanted to try his hand at making potato salad — so, naturally, he turned to the Internet for help.

He wasn’t seeking a tried-and-true recipe, though.

Using Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects, the Italian Village resident asked all of the Web to help him finance his $10 effort.

Five days into the 30-day campaign, the solicitation has taken on a life of its own, yielding an unlikely $17,000-plus (and counting) from 2,200 backers worldwide (and counting).

“I thought, if we made $60, that would be our stretch goal,” Brown said. “I was worried I would have to make $60 worth of potato salad.”

Now he’s cooking up much more.

As word of Brown’s efforts spread virally today, a range of news organizations picked up the story.

Reports from the Huffington Post, The Times of London and Food & Wine magazine were among more than 160 listed in a Google search.

Hundreds of tweets today centered on the potato-salad effort, and Reddit users, too, were abuzz over the phenomenon.

All the attention paid to the effort has left Brown with minimal sleep during the past 48 hours, and the co-owner of a software company headed tonight to New York for an appearance today on Good Morning America.

The potato-salad campaign — begun on Thursday — originated in a discussion about Fourth of July plans during a Google chat early last week. Brown and a half-dozen friends started talking about their favorite backyard-barbecue side dishes.

“I thought, ‘I’ve eaten potato salad, but I’ve never made it before,’ ” the 31-year-old said with tongue in cheek.

“The thing that drew me to crowd funding is what draws a lot of people: I am risk-averse, and I needed a kick. I needed to be supported in my venture.”

In conjunction with his bid to make his first potato salad, Brown wanted to have some fun with friends — and, possibly, others who love the dish.

“It’s a way for people to unite online,” he said. “It’s not controversial. It’s not snarky. It’s not mean. I think that everybody is having a really good time with it.”

Most of the donations on the first day — about $200 in all — came from friends wanting to humor Brown. (Brown promised a “bite” of salad to anyone who donated $3 or more.)

The campaign reached $1,000 on the Fourth of July, he said, as he listened to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA while watching fireworks.

“There are a lot of $1- and $2-level donors,” he said. “People just want to say, ‘I was there,’ and to be part of a community.”

Then came a story posted Saturday on the website BuzzFeed, and the campaign really got rolling.

Rob Thomas, who as the creator of Veronica Mars is famous for his own notable Kickstarter campaign, chipped in to see what Brown might whip up. So did comic actor Orlando Jones.

Businesses, too, joined in, with the Columbus retailer Homage offering today to contribute “I Just Backed Potato Salad” T-shirts for those who give $35 or more.

Later today, Hellmann’s offered to donate all the mayonnaise that Brown needs for his potato salad.

With his effort No. 1 among thousands of Kickstarter projects, he has had to up the ante for contributors.

He now has plans to host a potato-salad party (the whole Internet is invited) and is shopping around for tasty recipes. Multiple varieties — from the traditional mayonnaise-based to vinegary German-style and even a vegan option — will be assembled. A professional video crew will be hired to film the salad-making.

Brown has also offered haikus and photos of him at work in the kitchen, and promised to recite all backers’ names while making his salad.

Powell resident Keith Baker donated $10 on Thursday after a friend of a friend posted something about Brown’s effort on Facebook.

“I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” said Baker, 32. “It’s kind of a goofy gamble. It’s just crazy to see how big it’s getting.”

He upped his donation to $35 today after he learned of Homage’s involvement.

Ryan Vesler, owner of Homage, said he is lending his support because of the social-media frenzy surrounding the effort.

“It pokes fun at Kickstarter,” Vesler said, “and people want to support other people being funny.”

Even Kickstarter approves of the project. Plus, as the site notes: “Backers decide what’s worth funding and what’s not.” (The site doesn’t offer refunds.)

Brown said he is still unsure what all he’ll be able to do with the money. He and a team of friends and volunteers are still brainstorming.

As of now, he expects to throw a very large party (tentatively scheduled for Labor Day weekend) to reward his backers — and, of course, make potato salad by the ton.

“We will not disappoint the Internet,” he said. “It’s what has allowed us to have this moment, what is sacred to us. We love to connect with people.”

Potato salad isn’t exactly Emily Clouse’s favorite side dish, but the Celina, Ohio, resident contributed $35, for the T-shirt.

“It’s celebrating a little nugget of life in this mundane world,” said Clouse, 26, who looks forward to Brown’s “epic party.”

“It’s fun to build a community with strangers who also like something out of the ordinary.”

Supporting the campaign, she said, shouldn’t be construed as a knock on altruistic causes — which has been a criticism of Brown’s endeavor.

“I did it for the pure enjoyment and silliness of life.”

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By Allison Ward - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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