As Kickstarter Launches a 4-Day Workweek, CEO Aziz Hasan Steps Down
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As interest in the four-day workweek gained momentum last year, one US company’s plans to pilot such a nontraditional schedule offered extra legitimacy to the approach. Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform announced last June it was going to experiment with a 4-day 32-hour workweek.
The pilot will begin this week. All Kickstarter employees will continue to work as normal through Thursday, and have Friday off. The company, which launched almost 13 years ago and has about 100 employees, is taking an aggressive approach toward remote work as well—employees will continue working remotely even after the pandemic subsides and Kickstarter doesn’t plan to have any central office.
Four-day scheduling has been adopted by many organizations around the globe. They claim that workers are less tired and can get as much done. A large-scale test in Iceland was such a success that a majority of the country’s workers have moved to four-day weeks or will gain the right to. A survey among US workers revealed that 83% of respondents would rather have a 4-day workweek.
TIME recently spoke with Aziz Hasan, CEO of Kickstarter about the goals and measures for success. After the interview, Hasan declared that Tuesday was his final day as CEO. Hasan—who is also an illustrator—said he was making the change to focus on his creative work and his family.
Hasan’s departure comes as Kickstarter is hosting its most-funded project ever. In just 72 hours, a crowdfunding campaign launched by Brandon Sanderson, fantasy author, attracted over $20 million. The total for that campaign—which promises the release of four new novels—has now exceeded $34 million from nearly 150,000 backers. Since Kickstarter’s founding, backers have pledged nearly $6.5 billion total across hundreds of thousands of projects.
Kickstarter also had to rebound from the sharp drop in activity in early 2020, which led to it having to lay off 40% of its employees and to buy out the rest. The rapid growth of blockchain-based funding models raises questions about Kickstarter’s future role in the Web3.
TIME interviewed Hasan to discuss the 4-day workweek and remote working, as well as the future of Kickstarter crowdfunding.
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The following interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
What prompted you to try a 4-day, 32-hour workweek for the first time?
We’ve had fairly flexible hours for a long time. Our team is constantly trying to integrate creative work practices. So the idea of a four-day week or 32-hour workweek to me is just another way to try new ideas. Pilots are meant to place constraints on our work habits and challenge existing norms.
If we can put the right set of small constraints in front of the team, then we really need to allow them to be the ones who are giving us the feedback and understanding what’s working, what’s not working. Very big on my mind is that it’s going to work differently for different teams.
Are you in the Pilot’s seat at the moment?
The plan is to launch the pilot in April. Right now I’ve got a small team that’s setting up the parameters of the pilot.
How many of your employees are going to participate?
The ultimate goal is that everyone be there. How we get to that outcome, I’m really leaving in the hands of the team because I think some teams will need to do it different ways, with different workflows. This is something we want to think about.
Do you include your team of leaders? Do you plan to do a 32-hour, four-day workweek?
This would be my plan. I have myself experimented with this where I’ll take Friday off for a couple months, and just try to shift what that looks like. So I do think it’s possible. I think it’s really challenging, depending on what level you are at the company, the type of work that you do. But I think what’s really beneficial is everybody going through the learning experience together over a period of time. That’s where I expect we’ll gather the most insight and really learn what a good solution will look like.
How will you know if it’s working?
That’s a great question. This is about outcomes, it’s not about hours. Changes in the way we do business will result in better outcomes. And what that means, more specifically, is that the way we are able to connect backers to creators, the way we are able to engage backers on their journey, all of those remain front and center and they’re not jeopardized as a result of the test.
Is it possible to define what you mean by “outcome”? How does job performance compare to productivity?
Yeah. There’s absolutely the business piece of it. Our creators and backers getting the same level of value that they’ve been getting from Kickstarter consistently without excessive error—and are we potentially improving upon that? There’s a business outcome that comes as a result of us delivering the value.
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Is there any safety nets you can use? Other companies have also adopted the 4-day workweek and set limits for when employees may meet with each other.
Collaboration hours was one of the topics you mentioned. The idea that individuals as well as thinkers need to be able and able to alternate between going out in the world to gain input or signal, and when they need to sit down to do more analytical thinking and bring their ideas to life. If we’ve gotten our ideas down on paper before we seek input, does that actually make us work smarter?
I’ve given the team the permission to blow up the idea of, “Hey, you have to be in a meeting.” A couple of our teams, I want to say the technology teams, have started to say, “Are there other ways we could do these normal product or engineering rituals?” You know, we’ve always done it a conventional way because that’s what the industry says, what if we rethought that a little bit, does that give us more latitude? Worst case scenario you end up back where you were, best case is you’ve challenged a couple of your conventions and you have a whole different frame of thinking
When you say collaboration hours, do you mean setting hours—like between between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET—where everyone agrees that they’re available for internal meetings?
After the last two years in which your staff was largely remote, how do you plan to change that?
The fourth quarter last year was a pivotal time in our lives. We decided to go completely remote and it turned out to be incredibly amazing. Our interactions with colleagues as well as our body language changed. We try to be as explicit as we can, knowing that the context of body language isn’t there, the context of tone is different.
When you say you’re going fully remote, does that mean that you’re getting rid of offices?
Yeah. We won’t have a centralized office for individuals on the team. We’ve given them a stipend to choose if they want to build a better work from home setup, whether they want to use a local coworking space or if they want to find other accommodations. But we won’t be going back to a centralized office.
We’ll be gathering the team at least once a year. We have one currently set up, we’re thinking about in May, which will be the first time we brought the whole team together since early 2020, which is kind of crazy to think about. And we’ve also given teams some flexibility to choose when they need their teams to come together.
Let’s now turn our attention to crowdfunding. Are there lasting effects of the current pandemic on crowdfunding in general?
Yeah. The recession was when Kickstarter was founded. These are moments where I feel like people stop and recalibrate and think about everything that they’re doing. It’s just a moment of introspection for all of us. This is something that the pandemic deeply did. So many people are stopping and saying, “Hey, what is it that I’m doing? How am I spending my time?” So I think we’re seeing signals that people are going to be taking more and more risks on ideas that they might have.
Now we’ve seen in games and comics some of the design projects in publishing, there has been this flurry of activity over the last seven, eight months. Brandon Sanderson, who is also a writer, has this project. He has his slate of books and novels and things that he’s writing. As a creative person, however, he couldn’t let go of four ideas that were just on his tongue. He had to literally create four new novels. He’s so inherently driven by the work, by the stories, the ideas. They launched yesterday, it’s up to $18 million in funding. [Ed. Note: by publish time, Sanderson had more than $34 million in funding.]
There’s this energy in this moment. For me, it’s the energy that brings a little hopefulness to times of despair.
Kickstarter is the first to use blockchain technology
We haven’t moved Kickstarter onto blockchain technology. There are two options: We could choose to ignore it and accept that the tools will become standard, or we can engage with them to make their capabilities work for us.
Is it possible that Kickstarter could be replaced, or even surpassed by Web3 projects in the future?
This is how I see it. The problem that we’re solving is the same problem that’s been going on for a very long time. One person has an idea. That idea is wanted to be supported by someone. It is very powerful to have as many tools available to help you make that connection and lower the barrier of entry.
When we’re part of an ecosystem that includes many people, it doesn’t matter where they come from as much as how many projects are completed and the number who are enabled. This allows me to try new tools with the same mindset and ethos, as well as to build a community that is doing the exact same thing.
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