SO SAYS INFORMATIONWEEK. In the 2015 InformationWeek “Elite 100” listings of top business-technology innovators, the Brooklyn Public Library not only makes the list – the only library to do so – but it’s no. 25, rubbing shoulders in the top quarter with UPS and FedEx, NASA, Boeing, Biogen, PayPal, TIAA-CREF and Merck. Why? “As a result of our partnership with Tableau,” says the library’s President and CEO Linda Johnson, “BPL’s 60 branches are more responsive than ever to the needs of the communities they serve.” The library’s eResources – meaning eBooks and eVideos, catalog info, even homework help – serve Brooklyn’s 2.5 million residents 24/7 at www.bklynlibrary.org. See ya’ at the libe — online.
READ INVESTOPEDIA’S SPECIAL REPORT on starting a business in New York City, filled with stories of Brooklyn business startups. You’ll see why Brooklyn and Queens are magnets for innovation and small-batch production as well as get important leads to New York City services that can untangle regulations and smooth your way. (Full disclosure: The Investopedia story is brought to you by founding folks at Brooklyn Artisan.)
IN THE SINGULAR ECOSYSTEM that is Kickstarter, one will encounter many evolutionary dead ends—projects, visions and dreams that wither away unfunded. Then there are the mysterious campaigns that don’t just meet their targets, they blow by them and reach double, triple or stratospherically higher funding results. Why and how do these hyperachievers succeed, and can we learn any lessons by studying their success?
Here’s one that caught our eye at Brooklyn Artisan. Scott Teplin was creating his massive, quirky and highly detailed drawing called Big Canal and asked Kickstarter support for a hefty $4,500 to complete it. On the face of it, Scott is like many an artist—with a pen, a brush and a dream. But by the end of the campaign, his project was overfunded 11 times, garnering more than $49,000, which is a goodly chunk of the annual salary for a Brooklyn artist.
Big Canal is one of those drawings with lots of quirky details that demand hours to explore—Where’s Waldo? without the people, Richard Scarry without the cute animals. What is the secret of its funding phenomenon? The campaign video stars Scott and, though mildly amusing, won’t win a Palme d’or. Maybe it’s the many photos on his Kickstarter page that engage the viewer in the overall process. Or it could be his suggestive marketing that positions the reward as a great poster for a kid’s room. Or maybe it just appealed to the random whim or previously undetected want of the Kickstarter audience.
One thing is certain: The man can sure draw donuts.
ANDREJ UREM IS BUILDING CANDLES THAT ARE DEFINITELY IN A NEW MOLD. Straying far from the traditional cylinder shape, they explore form and texture in intriguing directions—creating what the artist terms “livable art pieces.” His Kickstarter campaign seeks funds for a 3-D printer that will enable him to create more precise and complex molds for future designs. Backers are rewarded with their choice from his current line of candles.
MY 1979 KZ 750 WASN’T MUCH TO LOOK AT BUT it was clean with no major dents or scratches and nice chrome fenders and a seat in fine shape. Some days I’d ridden longer than 12 hours at a stretch. The bike always made it better than me. Besides burning oil it was mechanically sound. Except the irreplaceable mechanical ignition points—which lasted a decade. The bike’s book value was $70. One final time I file the points and barely made it to the nearest shop that would deign to take it.
That was 13 years ago. I still have the manual.
Now Chris Rinken tells me $30 would put it back on the highway.
“[Expletive deleted],” I say.
“I’m sorry,” he replies.
Rinken, owner of Wrench N’ Ride Motorcycle Repair, a small garage beside his home on the corner of Seigel and Bogart streets, works exclusively on pre-electronic, vintage motorcycles—anything ’81 and older. He tells stories that start out like mine.
“One guy kinda had no idea what to do to get his ‘72 CV 350 running. It was in storage for six years and he paid $600 for it and owned it for two years but it never ran. He was pushing it around from apartment to apartment, and—a total fluke—luckily for him there happened to be motorcycle shop,” Rinken says. “He was super pumped about it.”
Rinken didn’t replace a part, he just cleaned the carb. “The bike just needed some care,” he shrugs. And that’s all he does. Rinken stays away from body work or welding, but he can recommend someone.
“If it runs I completely leave it at that,” he says. Rinken first started riding at 11 and learned to work on bikes from his dad. Basic, simple stuff. “Nobody knew how to do vintage maintenance,” he says. “They weren’t raised with a dad who knew all that stuff.”
After graduating from law school in ’12, into the worst economy this side of the Depression, he opened Wrench ‘N Ride. Today he has eight vintage bikes in the garage. One ‘64 Honda 90 cc that he laid hands on is worth $2,500 dollars now.
A shop like Wrench N’ Ride is rare, unique even, considering the sheer number of motorcycles in Brooklyn. To help people buying vintage bikes make sure they weren’t being scammed, Rinken offered a second set of eyes. “A couple of customers wanted to learn basic maintenance, basic inspection stuff,” he says, “just as a way to make sure to get it on the road and avoid really expensive bills from the repair shop.” He’s starting classes now. “We have motorcycles in the shop, and we have extra tools. We get people here who want to learn about bikes, who maybe want to get into it, try it to see if they like doing it. It’s all about getting people into the community.
“I’d rather have a bike that’s worthy,” he says. “The last bike the shop sold was an old Honda 360 that had flames on it. It does a hundred miles an hour if it needs to.”
Wrench N’ Ride Motorcycle Repair
315 Seigel Street
Bushwick, Brooklyn NY 11206
Phil Scott is an executive editor of Brooklyn Artisan, a former managing editor of Omni magazine, and the author of seven books, mostly about the history of aviation. He lives in Rockaway.
YESTERDAY WAS PUBLICATION DAY for the new Ample Hills Creamery cookbook, and copies were stacked up on the counter at the popular premium ice cream store on the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and Bergen Street, in Prospect Heights.
Proprietor Brian Smith, right, was on hand in a front booth to inscribe copies. He confirmed to Brooklyn Artisan that the company’s new location in Gowanus is scheduled to open by late June. Ice cream will be made right on site as at the Prospect Heights location.
“Our business is more than an ice cream store, really,” Smith said. “It’s a neighborhood hangout.” The Prospect Heights store has a toddler play area, just visible over Smith’s shoulder.
The familiar Ample Hills ice cream carts will be back out in their locations near playgounds and parks this summer also. Smith co-founded the business with his wife and cookbook co-author, Jackie Cuscuna.
THE MOST RECENT CREDIT CRUNCH began in 2008 and reportedly ended this summer. Remember those images of Lehman Brothers staff tossed to the sidewalk with their little boxes of belongings? In the months following, credit dried up and small businesses were starved for the financing needed for growth and hiring, laying the basis for a long grueling recession. But also within those same months—in April 2009—a small startup launched in Manhattan that has become the go-to funder for creative projects: Kickstarter was born. In the four years since its founding, Kickstarter has gone viral and raised pledges of more than $870 million in crowd-sourced funds from more than 5 million backers. (Like any good Internet company, it posts its stats online.)
The premise of Kickstarter is that entrepreneurs, artists, designers, musicians or filmmakers with ideas bigger than their bank accounts can launch a campaign on the Kickstarter site, set funding goals (which can grow over time) and deadlines, provide incentives to investors for various funding levels, and generally plead their case to gain followers (think Facebook “likes” with dollar bills attached). The ideas flourish or languish, gaining financing or not in a mysterious financial Darwinism. Some projects blow past their target budgets by tens of thousands of dollars, while others fizzle out despite their merit.
Given the power of Kickstarter for small creative inventors, makers and producers, Brooklyn Artisan will be covering it as a financial and manufacturing beat, highlighting the notable, successful, hopeful, and even the occasional noble-yet-doomed project. As well, we will provide advice, tips, strategies and tactics to aid in successful campaigns.
Brooklyn is certainly well represented, with more than 2,000 projects currently raising funds, more than double the number of projects coming out of London, for example. To look for promising projects or to make sure your investments stay in borough, Kickstarter provides city-based discovery.
Today, we’re highlighting two projects. The first, by Greenpoint-based Owen & Fred, is a series of bags (above) that is tantalizingly near to reaching the $45,000 campaign goal. The bags are promised to be durable, sustainable, meticulously detailed and U.S. made. One nice touch is the inspirational quotes screen-printed on the inside, for your eyes only.
Sogi’s Honey Bakeshop (picture at top of post) set less ambitious goals: raise $6,500 to buy supplies and a bigger mixer to aid the creation of the hand-painted cookies that have already attracted the attention of Martha Stewart Weddings and are popular on Etsy. Happily, baker Sogoal Zolghadri has raised the money and then some.
It can be a lot of work and planning to produce a campaign that meets or surpasses its goal. Kickstarter itself provides some basic tools and information to get you started. But who knows—next time there is a big shakeup in the financial world, those staffers might be seen shlepping their belongings in one of your Brooklyn-produced duffel bags.