Want your project to be selected as a Staff Pick on crowdfunding site Kickstarter? Good luck with that.
Entrepreneurs have been seeking the secret to achieving the designation, which is bestowed by one of Kickstarter's 98 employees based on his or her personal tastes.
Charming a staffer has perks. Staff Picks can get prime placement on the website, be promoted to Kickstarter's 2 million followers on Facebook and Twitter, or appear in Kickstarter's Projects We Love email, which reaches more than 4 million inboxes every week. That promotion can increase donations.
Kickstarter's employees can also donate their own cash to a project. And earlier this year, Kickstarter started using company money to give cash to projects it favors. That has users scrambling to figure how to get picked.
Shelley Harper scoured Google, read blog posts and studied past Staff Picks before launching a Kickstarter campaign for her business, ConQuest Adventure Journal, which makes journals for fans of comic book convention Comic-Con, to store mementos. Her research turned up no answers.
An email to Kickstarter went unanswered. Then, weeks after her campaign launched, it was selected as a Staff Pick. She still has no idea why.
"It's like this magical thing, and nobody knows how it happens," says Harper, who raised nearly $12,000 in July to help pay for the printing of more ConQuest journals.
Kickstarter spokesman Justin Kazmark says workers spend much of their day keeping up with projects posted on the site and pick ones that have a good video, give colorful updates about the project or have an imaginative idea.
The company says there is no science to how its employees choose their favorite projects. Users find out they were selected in an email: "Someone on the Kickstarter team loves your project," it says.
The picks vary widely. Recent ones include a company that makes jewelry from wool, a maker of homemade marshmallows and a company that makes an electric toothbrush that tells users if they are brushing their teeth correctly.
But Kickstarter does offer on its blog clues to what kinds of projects its employees like. Those from Missouri have a chance of impressing staffer Shannon Ferguson. "I basically just try to back projects from my home state of Missouri," she said in a July post. Employee, Katie Needs says she backed Nerdwax for eye glasses, to keep them from falling off the nose, because she's "a lifelong four-eyes."
Kickstarter rival, Indiegogo, says it does not pick favorites. Instead, projects get promoted to the front page of its website and in emailed newsletters based on what projects are popular among its users.
Some Kickstarter Staff Picks have become very successful. Oculus VR, a maker of virtual reality headsets, raised $2 million and later sold itself to Facebook Inc. for $2 billion.
But owners of some past Staff Picks say it's not the windfall they expected. Harper says ConQuest got only a 4 percent bump in donations.