The kids speak over each other, all at once: “I want to be the next Silicon Valley!” “I want to be the next Silicon Valley!” “I want to be the next Silicon Valley!”
“What are you doing?” says the voice of another child. “Let’s be ourselves. Let’s be Seattle.”
The kids are siblings Ruthie and Thomas Zug and the three friends who happened to be over when their dad, Bryan Zug, gave them their lines and hit the “record” button. The clip is a teaser for “We Make Seattle,” a community-backed short film that’s out to show the world what we who love this city already know — that Seattle is more than rain and coffee, that it’s stronger than comparisons to that tech hub down south, and that it’s one of the best places in the world for creative people with big ideas to give them root and make them happen.
It’s a story that needs telling, and no one can do it better than we can.
That’s why it’s fitting — perfect, even — that the film is not some institution’s initiative but a Kickstarter project dreamed up by Zug, principal at techie video shop Bootstrapper Studios, and Scott Berkun, a Seattle-based author and speaker who proposed the idea at a roundtable put on by Mayor Mike McGinn’s office last year. (Disclosure: Zug and Berkun are co-organizers of the community-speaker series Ignite Seattle, which I emcee.)
McGinn wanted to hear ways to help the startup community get stronger, and tech leaders in attendance gave him an earful. One big point: Seattle is in a national competition for people and businesses that can help it thrive.
“If we don’t do something to raise our profile, tell our own story, we’re going to lose that competition,” Berkun said.
New York, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and even Portland have powerful videos local companies can use to draw talented people into their culture. Why doesn’t Seattle?
“We asked that question, and we couldn’t find a good answer,” Berkun said.
Most of those city videos had one or two civic or corporate funders, but Seattle’s creative community has a well-known collaborative streak. Berkun and Zug were pretty sure a crowd of locals could own this.
So they brought on co-organizers Sara McNally, Dan McComb, Adam Wygle and Adam Baggett and worked for months to fuel the campaign. On Tuesday, the team was nervous. With five days to go and all contacts exhausted, the Kickstarter project was $6,500 short of its $28,500 goal. If it didn’t raise every cent, the film wouldn’t happen.
On Wednesday Berkun got word that White Pages would follow Seattle companies Jackson Fish Market, Zillow and Filter in pitching in $2,500. That night, the project hit its goal.
Upward of 230 people and organizations were listed Friday as project backers, most of them tinkerers, entrepreneurs and artists from various corners of Seattle’s geeky scene. I recognized the names of several startup founders as well as a couple techies who’d moved to spots like New York or San Francisco but still talk about Seattle like it’s home. I can’t blame them.
A handful of companies pledged at the higher levels, including Zillow, Filter, Jackson Fish Market and White Pages. The Washington State Department of Commerce threw in their support, too. Organizers were pleasantly surprised when Brad Feld became the most famous name on the list, pledging his own $2,500. Feld, a well-known technology investor, lives in Colorado.
McGinn’s office helped organizers make early contacts and the mayor thanked backers for funding the project last week. “It’s great to see such strong support for telling our city’s story to the rest of the world,” McGinn said in a statement.
The campaign for funding is still on, accepting new backers through Monday morning. Then the real work begins. The team has drawn up designs for T-shirts, posters and some fun retro coasters with the help of logo designer Jordan Butcher and Pioneer Square letterpress shop Constellation & Co. But when people ask what will be in the video, they say it’s not up to them, and no, you can’t buy your way into it.
Next week the team plans to host a meeting with all project backers — including the ones who give just $5 — to start the brainstorming. The final poster design, too, will be up for a vote. All funds raised above the $28,500 goal, the budget for shooting the 3½-minute film, will go toward promoting it.
The team won’t dictate what goes into the video, but they’re pretty set on how it has to feel. No clichés. No stereotypes. And absolutely no putting our city in terms some other city has made important.
“‘Silicon Valley’ will not be in the video,” said Berkun. “That’s not the way to tell this story.”
He’s right. There’s a core to who we are and why we love it here. Something we all see, even if we see it differently. This video should be a good experiment: Let’s be ourselves. Let’s be Seattle. And let’s finally show the world exactly what that means.
Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest — or know someone she should meet? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or send her a message on Facebook.