Potato salad for the people

Potato salad for the people: It started as a joke to raise a little money to make some potato salad for friends. $55,000 later, Zack Brown ’05 had more friends—and potatoes—than he knew what to do with. But he figured it out.
issue 03 | fall 2014
First Person - Potato salad for the people - Fall 2014

In September, Brown (second from left) used the money he raised through Kickstarter to host PotatoStock 2014 in Columbus—complete with sack races. Proceeds from the event went to combat hunger and homelessness in Central Ohio.

Last June, Zack “Danger” Brown and some friends were pass- ing time telling jokes. The group got on a potato salad kick, and after 15 minutes of bits on the starchy side dish, someone had a thought: Wouldn’t it be funny if someone launched a Kickstarter project just to make potato salad? Brown took the joke a step further and actually did it, promising to make pota- to salad with donations he received on the fundraising site. He figured he’d make a couple of bucks, have a small party with a few friends, and that would be that. A few months—and more than $55,000—later, the comedian had his hands full. We asked Brown to tell us all about Operation: Potato Salad.

The project for potato salad was really about how silly an expert on potato salad is in the context of something as serious as Kickstarter. It was more about the contrast. I feel like every popular Kickstarter project has the same sort of hope of changing the world—of being disruptive or innovative. Potato salad in the context of being a disrupter is pretty hilarious.

Before the project went live, my girlfriend and I said, “We’re going to make $60 off this.” We figured our friends would legitimately kick in about $10 each and that we’d have $60 to throw a party. Then the project went live, and by the end of the first day, we had $160. I thought that was it. I told an acquaintance, “We will not make a dollar more. This is funny, but I can’t see this going anywhere from here.” By the end of the next day, we had $1,000.

Over the first weekend, the project picked up a little more, but it wasn’t until Monday morning that it really exploded. We hit $12,000 that day, and Good Morning America called, asking if I could be in New York City the next day. That was when we all became sort of untethered from reality.

Several celebrities backed the project—Orlando Jones, Josh Malina, and Kevin Rose (of Google Ventures). I run a small software company in Columbus called Base Two, so Rose backing this was one of the most surreal moments for me.

I’m not interested in the food side of it. I’m way more interested in the entertainment side. The most rewarding part of this whole experience has been making people laugh everywhere, including places I’ve never visited. There’s a guy in Norway who, after contributing $70, sent me a message saying he, his mom, and his sister were on the floor crying, they were laughing so hard.

We plan to fulfill the promises made through the project. We printed T-shirts; we made 300 pounds of potato salad; and we threw a huge party and hosted a benefit concert at Columbus Commons. All proceeds went to a donor-advised fund at The Columbus Foundation that will give money to existing nonprofits looking to combat hunger and homelessness in central Ohio.

I’m an opportunist. I’m looking to take whatever opportunities pop up. Before this took off, I think I kind of identified as an introvert. I didn’t realize I would be good on camera or that I would enjoy it as much as I do, or that I really enjoy making people laugh. I didn’t realize it had the addictive quality that it does. It may amount to nothing, but in the now, I would regret not taking advantage of these opportunities.

I’ve had to balance my job and all of this. I had to step away from day-to-day activities, but this experi- ence has put me more into sales and relationship-building. Surprisingly, putting “Potato Salad Guy” in the subject of an email opens some doors.

Published November 2014