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Kickstarter’s CEO is stepping down, citing “personal reflection”

CEO Aziz Hasan is departing after a three-year tenure, with COO Sean Leow to serve as acting CEO.

Kickstarter’s CEO is stepping down, citing “personal reflection”
[Photos: Kickstarter]

Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan will be departing the Brooklyn-based crowdfunding company at the end of March, the company announced Tuesday. Sean Leow, the company’s chief operating officer, will be interim CEO while Kickstarter’s board searches for a permanent replacement.

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Hasan, who is also a designer and illustrator, says the decision to leave came after a lot of “personal reflection” around his own creative work and his desire to spend more time with his family (he has two young children, and his wife runs a burgeoning fashion business). Hasan says he’s optimistic he’s leaving the company—which has for several years been setting records for fundraising pledges”—in a good place to help support an ever-growing ecosystem of creative endeavors.

“The more creative work that gets out into the world, I think, the better,” he tells Fast Company.

Hasan became CEO in 2019, taking the reins from company founder Perry Chen, who remains chairman of the board. (Chen was the company’s first CEO from its launch in 2009, handed the reins to cofounder Yancey Strickler in 2013 and returned as CEO in 2017.)

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“Aziz Hasan took over leadership of Kickstarter at a critical moment for the company, providing a thoughtful and steady hand throughout his tenure, including historic funding milestones for creative projects and navigating the many challenges of a global pandemic,” Chen said in a statement. “While we search for the future CEO of Kickstarter, we are very fortunate to have Sean Leow leading the company.”

Hasan presided over a period that saw workers leave Kickstarter due to layoffs and voluntary buyouts, which the company attributed to a 35% drop in new projects on its platform in the early days of the pandemic. Numbers have since bounced back, Hasan says: 2019 saw more than $654 million pledged and 19,408 projects funded on the platform, while 2020 saw over $777 million pledged and 18,744 projects funded, and 2021 saw more than $813 million pledged and 19,560 projects funded, according to the company.

Kickstarter recently announced that a project by fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson has broken records for the amount raised by one project on the platform. At present, it’s raised more than $31 million.

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Kickstarter, which faces competition from longstanding rivals like IndieGogo, creator marketplaces such as Etsy, and newer crowdfunding services such as Patreon, has also announced plans to harness blockchain technology to enable crowdfunding with greater transparency into projects backers are contributing to. While the company faced criticism and eye-rolls for that decision, Hasan says it still intends to move forward with its foray into blockchain. He says the company will attempt to emphasize its own transparency and allow users to see the company’s experiments with the technology. The company will also be adding a paid Community Advisory Council to advise it on community needs as it rolls out new features, including blockchain tech.

“Kickstarter as it exists today is not sitting on the blockchain,” he emphasizes. “We’re going to work so that people can see it.”

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It also intends to keep its status as a public benefit corporation, Hasan says.

Kickstarter was also among the first major tech companies to have its workers unionize (and saw allegations that employees were fired for labor organizing efforts). Though it’s been known for its stylish headquarters in a former pencil factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, it also moved to enable remote work to a far greater extent during the pandemic, something that Hasan indicated in an interview is unlikely to change.

“Our team is much more distributed and I think that’s a really great thing,” he says. The company also announced last year that it will be launching a pilot four-day, 32-hour workweek, something that Hasan says is still on target to launch next month.

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“If the team can find ways to work smarter, for us to really sort of challenge some of the norms that you really find yourselves in as a business, that’s going to give us a chance to understand what it’s like to work virtually, what it’s like to work asynchronously,” he says.

Soon-to-be-interim CEO Leow is a six-year veteran of the company, presently managing strategy and operations as COO. Previously he managed the company’s international growth and, before that, worked at Facebook handling relationships with external partners.

In 2007, Leow cofounded Neocha, a social networking site geared toward artists and musicians in China, and served as CEO there for several years.

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About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.

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