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Lessons from a $50,000 Potato Salad Kickstarter Campaign

Customer Acquisition Lessons From A Potato Salad


6000+ people pledged $50,000+ to help make potato salad.

Zack Danger Brown from Ohio wanted to make a potato salad. He asked Kickstarter for $10. “Basically I’m just making potato salad,” he wrote. “I haven’t decided what kind yet.”

At the time of this writing, the kickstarter campaign has raised over $50,000 from over 6,000 people. It’s been featured on all sorts of news everywhere.

Who knew so many people liked potato salad?
Who knew so many people liked potato salad?

And by now, this stuff isn’t really surprising anymore. Weird things happen on the internet on a daily basis, we’re all used to that.

The more interesting questions are:

  1. Could such a force be understood, and harnessed?
  2. What do occasions like these teach us about human behavior,
  3. What can we do with that knowledge?

Some older examples of similar phenomena:

Mr. Splashy Pants was a kind of a big deal in 2007. He’s the most famous humpback whale on Earth.

Mister Splashy Pants

 Perhaps the canonical example of crowdsourced fun is Mister Splashy Pants, which was the winning name for a humpback whale as decided by a Greenpeace online poll. As Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian put it in his TEDtalk, everybody wants to hear their newscaster say ‘Mister Splashy Pants’.

“They weren’t whale lovers. It wasn’t out of altruism, out of the interest in doing something cool.” – Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian

Pizza For Cancer Patient

Lauren Hammersley’s 2-year-old daughter Hazel was diagnosed in April with Stage 3 neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer. One day, in the hospital, Hammersley taped a message to her daughter’s window: “SEND PIZZA RM 4112.” Reddit Delivered.

The room received so many pizzas, they ended up shared them with the rest of the hospital.

In Hot Water:

In June 24, Justin Carissimo of Buzzfeed accidentally emailed his entire company about being late because of a hot water problem at his apartment. Everybody responded.

Many laughs were had.


A security guard emailed his line manager to ask about his annual leave. The manager accidentally forwarded it to the entire organization. And everyone wanted Greg to have his holiday. A whole bunch of other brands and companies got in on the fun, offering to sponsor goods and services.

What’s remarkable about the Kickstarter Potato Salad, Mister Splashy Pants and all the other movements is that they very quickly and naturally inspire large quantities of previously unrelated people to take action, to pitch in and contribute.

Has such behavior been observed in the ecommerce space before? Yes, absolutely.

Examples of crowd movements in ecommerce:

#1: Goldieblox: Engineering Toys for Girls

Like Zack’s potato salad, Goldieblox began as a Kickstarter campaign. Founder Debbie Sterling made engineering toys for girls, with the intention of encouraging more girls to get interested in engineering.

It’s a hot-button issue for a lot of people, and many’s reaction upon simply hearing the idea of it was “How can I help?”

Who knows what awesome things these girls will build?

#2: TOMS shoes: One For One

TOMS shoes has a mission of helping and giving. They donate shoes and glasses to the needy around the world. Everytime you buy a pair, they donate a pair on your behalf. One for One. There’s a very tangible sense of purpose and mission (Founder Blake Mycoskie is labelled as “Chief Shoe Giver”).

It’s a very heartwarming story. You can get your new pair of shoes AND do your part to help someone out.

TOMS have got their objectives AND their strategy very clearly worked out.

They also have great marketing, encouraging potential TOMS customers to consider going a day without shoes.

This provides their potential customers with a great story that they can tell their friends (and themselves!).

#3: HelloFlo. – ‘Simple. Period.’


which made the videos ‘Camp Gyno‘ and ‘First Moon Party‘ (“Hi, do you make vagina cakes?”) to advertise its period care package subscription service. The ads bring joy even to people who’ll never have any use for a tampon (read: Me).

“People are dying to have an open, frank conversation and they want to talk in a very straight way,” – founder Naama Bloom.

If you can facilitate a conversation that people already want to be having, and you’re selling a semi-decent product that resonates with them, you’re in for an absolute treat.

#4: The Dollar Shave Club – just plain entertaining.

Michael Dubin | Photo: The Dollar Shave Club
Michael Dubin | Photo: The Dollar Shave Club

I think we can reasonably assume that quite a few people looked at the video and thought “Ah, what the hell, I’ll get one.”

All of these crowd-rallying phenomena have a few things in common:

They were:

  1. Unexpected. Somebody tried to do a “me-too” Tuna Salad on Kickstarter, but to no avail. It’s already old news, entering the “I’ve seen this before” junk zone. It’s only when things break from our expected patterns that we sit up and take notice.
  2. Concrete. Look at all the examples we have. A period party. A whale named Splashy Pants. Buying pizza and sending it to a specific room. Replacing Barbie with Goldie the Engineer. They’re all relatively simple concepts. (Unexpected + Concrete = Memorable.)
  3. Finite.  The nice thing about donating to a potato salad Kickstarter campaign: You know that the potato salad will get made. You achieved something. The same thing applies when we choose to send a pizza to a child with cancer over donating to cancer research. The former achieves something, you can see the smile on the child’s face. The latter is a relatively faceless, amorphous problem that seems bottomless. (Concrete + Finite = Achievable, Compelling.)
  4. Social currency. We’re social creatures, and we’re wired to love anything that gives us social currency. A good conversation starter is worth paying for, especially if it makes us look and/or feel good!  Upworthy’s study on Attention-Minutes reveal that we don’t actually share what we read- we share what we want others to think we read.

So that’s the “secret sauce”, and it’s really a lot of hard work. You have to do something genuinely interesting, you have to make it something memorable, identifiable, communicable and worth telling your friends about.

That’s all there is to it! 😛

RECAP: Ultimately, customer acquisition is all about (1) getting the right people in the door, and (2) convincing them to take action.

1: Be deeply interesting.

Getting people in the door is tough because people are weary from being bombarded with too much uninteresting information. The real challenge is simply to be deeply interesting to your target audience. This typically involves a lot of preparation and research. People are always on the lookout for other people who either surprise them with their wit, or impress them with their overwhelming work ethic.

2: Remember that it’s partially a number’s game.

Not everybody who looks, acts. Hundreds of thousands of people have read about the potato salad Kickstarter campaign, but ‘only’ 6000+ people contributed. You can and should always try to improve your conversion rate, but it’s worth remembering that doubling your visitors can sometimes be easier than doubling your conversion rate.

Facilitate conversations. Be remarkable.

So what’s the Potato Salad Guy going to do with all that money? “One thing’s for sure, that money will not go in my pocket. Or into my friends’ pockets,” Brown told Mashable. “This is about something way more than us.”


Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.

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