By Mike Fahey
When Susan Wilson of Stevensville, Maryland launched a Kickstarter campaign for $829 to send her nine-year-old daughter Kenzie to role-playing game design camp last Thursday, she never expected donations to surpass $20,000. She also didn’t expect to be branded and scammer, a manipulator and a child abuser. The threats of violence were also a big surprise.
As the Kickstarter project, titled “9 Year Old Building an RPG to Prove Her Brothers Wrong!”, soared far beyond its original goal, the internet community began to ask questions. Why does Susan Wilson, a “millionaire” who was once named one of Fortune‘s Most Powerful Female Entrepreneurs, need Kickstarter to raise $829? Where is all of this extra money going? Why does a Kickstarter campaign for $829 have a $10,000 reward tier?
The arguments and accusations soon moved from the Kickstarter comments page to Reddit, NeoGAF and 4chan. These communities took to the internet to find dirt on Wilson, uncovering pictures of her with Warren Buffett, one of the most successful men in the world. They found her page on the website of The Judgment Group, which describes her selling Kinkos.com to Kinkos, suggesting she had made millions squatting on the website. They suggested she had sold-out her sons, publicly humiliating them for financial gain. Over on Imgur there’s a large image detailing her many transgressions.
I first came across Susan and Kenzie’s Kickstarter last Friday, where it was tipped to me as a feel-good story of a young girl with an eye for game development looking to one-up her teasing older brothers. According to Susan Wilson, who I spoke to today via Skype, that’s exactly how the project went down.
“Zack’s going to Europe on this student ambassador trip, and Chase is going to skateboarding camp. Kenzie wanted to make a video game, so I found a camp for her, and the boys are like ‘Mom, that’s a waste of money. Why are you sending her?’”
According to Susan, that was when nine-year-old Kenzie, with no real concept of money, offered to pay for the camp herself. She asked for help and her mother, no stranger to the world’s most popular crowd-funding website, suggested Kickstarter.
“That’s how it unfolded. The ‘Support Girls in Tech’ message was between her brothers and her. It was never intended to be this gender thing. It was literally two boys picking on their little sister, she stood up to them and it was game on – in a joking way. Even the boys were fine with it.”
Initial reaction to the project was positive. The Kickstarter went live on Thursday evening. When Kenzie woke up on Friday morning, she had already reached $400 — half of her goal.