An Interview With The Potato Salad King Of Ohio, Zack Danger Brown

It’s rare to meet a comedy genius at a Tee Jaye’s Country Place in Columbus, Ohio, but that’s just what I did when I sat down for breakfast with Zack Danger Brown, the guy who blew up the Internet a few weeks ago with his exciting potato salad Kickstarter.

Brown has rocketed to fortune and glory thanks to his gag and is now (potentially) going to give a talk at SXSW and is (definitely) holding an event called PotatoStock. It’s the most exciting thing to happen to Columbus since the butter cow! He’s looking into gigs in comedy writing and he’s a great programmer to boot.

Brown and I spoke over plates of country omelets and home fries at Columbus’ premier post-hangover spot. Spoiler alert: he’s a really nice guy and really funny. Read on…

TechCrunch: So I’m from Ohio and I know that potato salad is very important in the place that’s high in the middle and round at the ends, so I love this. But tell me why you did this? Were you trying to make fun of Kickstarter? Was it a goof?

Zack Danger Brown: Yeah. I mean, it was a joke. The whole point of it was making exactly seven people, including myself, laugh. And it was the culmination of literally 15 minutes of Potato Salad material.

It was a lean day, we didn’t have a lot to joke about and somehow we stretched Potato Salad out for 15 solid minutes. It was July 2 when we had that conversation and I just went into Kickstarter to make a campaign and I sent my friends a preview link.

So I did that, dropped it into our Google Chat, and I thought that was the end of it. And then really only got the motivation to post it when I was at work the next day and got an email notification that my bank had been verified. So I was like, why not? I mean I can convince friends to give me $50 or $60, we can buy some beer and have a party. So that was our motivation.

TC: Did you know that the Kickstarter would allow anything because they stopped the vetting process?

ZB: Yeah. I mean that was part of what made me go there in the first place was, I just had a conversation with somebody I think a couple of days before that for work, where they had said, hey, did you hear that Kickstarter has taken down its walls. And I just gave it a try.

So I went to Kickstarter for a day and one of their engineers showed me one of his projects that he posted to get out the message that smaller, not-serious projects can succeed.

He showed me a project that was like a skull t-shirt project, and his video is clearly parody and it’s him saying things like “You give $20, you get a skull t-shirt, but if you give $35, you get a sick skull t-shirt!”

He ended up making like $1,000, but the idea was: Look, we are not about big serious projects, you don’t have to have an Oculus Rift to succeed on Kickstarter.

And I think that’s good for Kickstarter, because really there are only so many Oculus Rifts, right? There are only so many people out there with serious projects but there are plenty of people who just want to try Kickstarter.

TC: Where do you really work?

ZB: I own a company called Base2. We build web and mobile applications. We were actually in TechCrunch a few weeks ago for the work we did for Sqrl in Cincinnati. So it was nice to be in again.

TC: Did anyone get angry at you for trying to steal people’s money? As if that could happen?

ZB: I think so. Yeah, I don’t know if people just don’t understand that this was a joke, and that it’s a joke that made a lot of money, regardless of where the money ends up going.

I mean, it is going into charity, but let’s say it wasn’t, let’s say I am keeping it all. There are comedians who charge $50,000 appearance. I’m not in the wrong.

So I guess I don’t understand exactly where some of the anger comes from or the attitude that I’d better give this money back. “You better donate this” was the what I felt like the tone was from negative comments.

I mean, it is going into charity, but let’s say it wasn’t, let’s say I am keeping it all. There are comedians who charge $50,000 appearance. I’m not in the wrong.

It’s not like the money was stolen, it’s not like people didn’t know what they were getting. I thought that was a little strange. But mostly the response was positive. I mean, I got little to no direct message abuse. I didn’t have people DMing me on Reddit or on Twitter to say shitty things. There was some comment spam, but nothing terrible.

TC: How did you feel being in the news cycle for a few days?

ZB: It was fun. But I had a strategy. I went on Money with Melissa Francis on FOX Business and I wore a Dogecoin shirt and then posted that in the Dogecoin subreddit and that like blew that subreddit up.

Like the Kickstarter subreddit I did early on when we hit $20, I posted on the subreddit that we had just doubled what we had initially asked for. As we were hitting new ridiculous levels of percent funded, I would stop it and post. So that ended up doing well.

I did an AMA early on that got canceled because it was an ongoing Kickstarter. The rule is you can’t, which I think is kind of stupid. But that did really well. I think we got 200 votes in an hour before they shut it down.


But in the really popular subreddits from videos and pictures, it did not do very well. I think for the most part people are just tired of it. I think it hit a backlash of “Not Potato Salad again, we will just scroll past this.”

TC: Could you recreate this? Was it a fluke?

ZB: I mean, if you’re asking whether I can become the fourth most popular Kickstarter of all time again, then no, definitely not. But I now know a lot of best practices that could help me in the future.

So here is an example: I am constantly searching Reddit for new stories where people are talking about potato salad. There was somebody complaining on one of the crowdfunding subreddits about how their really meaningful project isn’t doing well and potato salad made all this money, why am I not doing well?

So I click into their project, and the title is unintelligible. The copy is a wall of text. Most of it is a sob story, and then the rewards are insane. The rewards are like you get a thank you for giving $25; you get a keychain for giving $150; you get a shirt for giving $250. It’s ridiculous.

There are so many good causes out there, would you honestly give money to the one that’s like $250 for a t-shirt? Absolutely not! You give $35, you give $40 to a really good cause for a t-shirt, but $40 certainly gets really high for a t-shirt.

So I think that we learned a lot about like setting reward tiers, communicating frequently, having videos that are funny, that have good production value.

But no, as far as recreating this, I mean, we will definitely try, but we won’t do it on Kickstarter. But we will try to recreate viral success, just like literally anybody who has ever had viral success, but the success rate for that is extremely low.

TC: So tell us about this festival.

ZB: The festival is called PotatoStock. It’s September 27 in the Columbus Commons. It’s going to be from noon to 10pm or 2am.

We are working with CD102.5 to get a headliner. We’ll let people know. We got scammed once, which was frustrating.

TC: What happened?

ZB: Someone wasted two weeks of our time. I didn’t think we raised that much but we’re getting hit by scammers. It’s like blood in the water. It’s such a small amount of money in the world, right? But I think there are definitely some people who saw an inexperienced guy gets $50,000, maybe I can get some of that out of him.

TC: What can you get at the festival? Potato salad?

ZB: Yeah. We have three local bands lined up. We have the first half of the day for music sort of figured out; we have beer figured out, which is important. We have food trucks figured out. So there will be Columbus food trucks, beer.

We are trying to plan like field day style activities to play early in the day. And then we are planning on building the whole thing around the headliner.

TC: The beer is free?

ZB: Oh, sorry! No. The beer costs whatever is typical. I think it’s $5 or something. I mean, it’s expensive, but it’s like festival level. I am one guy working full-time planning this, that’s not nearly enough to plan a festival, so we are trying to bring in volunteer organizations as quickly as possible, food vendors who can just sort of handle that whole thing, CD102.5 to handle music.

The Commons has pretty much a turnkey sort of set up. They cover so much of what we need done that we couldn’t do otherwise.

TC: And you got sponsorships, right?

ZB: We got $2,500 from Hellman’s Mayonnaise (and free mayo) and $10,000 from the Idaho Potato Commission and Hampton Creek donated mayo, $2,000, and they’re sending a chef. It was very weird. So I was in New York and I met Jennifer 8. Lee, and she Tweeted at me after, and somehow that became a Mashable article, which I guess makes sense. That’s Mashable. And then USA Today picked up the Mashable article.

So it’s like, wait, there are — and then Time did. So it’s like these are stories that have been written entirely about one Twitter conversation, it’s ludicrous.

Idaho Potato Commission saw it and went like: “Here’s $10,000. Thank you for getting us on USA Today.”

TC: Potato salad is free?

ZB: Yeah, the potato salad is free.

TC: That sounds amazing. All right, so what’s your best practice for making Kickstarters and/or potato salad?

ZB: Well, I don’t know much about potato salad. I only made one kind of potato salad. I made this Canadian potato salad with maple syrup, condensed milk, mayonnaise and apple cider vinegar. It’s fantastic! It does not sound like it should be, but it’s just a little sweet. It’s incredible! I can’t stop eating it. So I think it’s fantastic! I learned it from a Canadian restaurant called Jack Astor’s.

I have not made a more traditional potato salad yet. My favorites are like the egg, mayonnaise, mustard ones, those yellow, like the ones that you see everywhere, at every barbecue. But we’re going to be making loads of potato salad for the festival.

TC: Send me some.