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The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman goes from comics to crowdfunding

matthew inman sxswMatthew Inman mixed poop jokes into a talk about creativity, crowdfunding, and comics as the last keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive Week.

The creator The Oatmeal took the stage to recap his career and discuss how he became an accidental crowdfunding expert.

Inman summarized the trajectory of his career — he started as a Web designer and programmer who worked for other clients, until he took his knowledge and started his own site, which features his own comics. Inman explained how people doubted his career change: “You take any job and add Internet to it, and it sounds sad.” But he persisted. He criticized his earlier work as “click bait” but believes he’s made progress as a stand-up comedian who uses the Web as a platform.

It was an image-heavy keynote, since Inman inserted plenty of his trademark comics into his reflection on his creative progress. He described his creative process as “farming” and expressed skepticism about some of the buzzwords surrounding Web content. He hates the word “engagement” and thinks it’s a waste of time to hunt for Twitter followers or friend requests. He doesn’t plan more than three weeks in advance. He just wants to write good comics and put them online  (although he does admit to looking at analytics, which only makes sense – he also spent time doing online marketing.)

Inman got involved with crowdfunding on accident, after a feud with a website who took his comics and ran them unaccredited on a different site. Locked into a legal battle with the owner of FunnyJunk.com, Inman called on his fans to raise money for something more positive than a lawsuit during the skirmish. Overwhelming support poured in, and he raised far more than his target goal, giving away the proceeds to the National Wildlife Fund and the American Cancer Society.

After that success, Inman started raising money on Indiegogo to make a museum dedicated to the life and works of Nicola Tesla. He’d already written a popular comic about Tesla, and when a non-profit devoted to honoring Tesla asked him for help, he turned to his fans again.

Inman insists that the reason why the Tesla crowdfunding worked so well is because Tesla was a worthy subject. He gave some tips for people who want to crowdfund, noting that if too many people join the campaign, it will be difficult to deliver on promises. He said you might want to make it a shorter campaign, and keep your spiel short. He recommended infographics instead of long YouTube videos.

The fact that Inman runs an extremely popular website gives him an awesome platform for crowdfunding, though his speech made it clear that it is critical to have a worthy project.

So if you want to draw some wisdom from the talk, it’s basically: Make good Web content, and the rest will follow – and don’t back a campaign you don’t believe in wholeheartedly. 

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