Imagine funding your dream idea through a bunch of people you’ve never met. Sound crazy? Actually, it really shouldn’t. We now live in a culture of crowdfunding mania and we may just be getting started.
The facts are startling: On Kickstarter alone, over $1 billion dollars has been pledged to date for a wide range of creative endeavors. Nearly 60,000 projects have been successfully funded. In total, almost 6 million backers have put their skin in the game, of which over 1.7 million were repeat backers (Source for all stats as of April 8th, 2014).
Having been a part of three fundraising efforts in my lifetime, two of which were crowdfunding-driven (with a third coming this fall), I felt that sharing some of my experiences would be helpful to others who are thinking about jumping into this wild and unique jungle. First, let’s talk about a few campaigns I’m presently involved with (one on the campaign side, the other as a pledger). Both are in the closing days/hours of their Indiegogo campaigns which can be viewed at the links below:
Meet Ben Swann, an Emmy-Award winning mainstream media journalist out of Cincinnati, Ohio. Mr. Swann gained national prominence by asking tough questions of both President Obama and Mitt Romney during the 2012 election campaign. Having been a TV anchor for over a decade and increasingly frustrated by the present system, Mr. Swann decided to go independent and fund his show segments through a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 and an Indiegogo campaign in 2014. I have been personally involved in both efforts, with the first one clearing $300,000 and the second one still in progress on Indiegogo with a finish line of $100,000.
“To me, crowdfunding is the ultimate expression of grassroots. For years I have heard people complain about corporate influence over media. Crowdfunding gives the individual power to create media that represents their interests.” – Ben Swann
Swann was able to fund 12 episodes in 2013 and, collectively, they have went on to garner over 1 million views to date. While a remarkable accomplishment, this kind of off-the-charts success has inspired a lot of “me too” efforts over the past year, saturating the market. As he is now more established as an independent journalist, Swann is asking for less during his 2014 campaign but has discovered some new obstacles.
“The biggest challenge is getting the word out,” observes Swann. Few people know this but some of the biggest success stories in crowdfunding also have large advertising budgets. The other major issue we have encountered is that crowdfunding has become so popular, there are a lot of voices and projects out there competing for dollars.”
The second campaign, “Broke Busted & Disgusted”, is one that I’ve pledged $1,000 toward because I believe so strongly in the purpose of the project. It is headed up by Calvin Johanssen out of West Des Moines, Iowa. Richter Studios has an office in Des Moines and we’ve worked with Calvin on several projects. The focus of this project, a documentary, is the massive college student loan bubble that has been mounting in recent years. With his project now over 90% funded, Mr. Johanssen is happy to have chosen the crowdfunding route.
“We flirted with the idea of seeking private investors first, however we turned to crowdfunding for a couple reasons. The first one was for validation. The platform allowed us to get our idea and message out to our network, to see if anyone would even be interested in our film. The other main reason was to build an audience and awareness.” – Calvin Johannsen
So how do these real-world examples translate into a workable strategy for you, who quite possibly may have the next game-changing idea only months away from bursting onto the crowdfunding scene? Here are some starter suggestions:
1) Have A Compelling Offering
While it’s important to remember that the world always has room for great ideas, it’s important to be very aware that the crowdfunding universe is a deep and very populated jungle. Unleashing a campaign with lofty goals because 20 of your closest friends said they thought it was amazing might not be the best litmus test. In my personal experience, the key consideration is determining how much value you will be providing others with your campaign if it is successful. As much as you might think the value play is that your project “is so darn cool”, the real question you need to be asking yourself is “What is the benefit to others who could potentially fund my campaign?”
2) Stick To Your Passion
As Steve Jobs famously said: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” (Source) This is spectacular advice and, in my opinion, should be very high on your checklist for a crowdsourcing campaign. If you are pursuing a campaign solely to raise money and your creative soul isn’t into it, you might want to reconsider. You have to remember, crowdfunding is not as easy as some imagine. Having the foundation of doing what you love will give you the firepower needed over the longer haul to provide you with the best chance of success with your campaign. As Johannsen explains: “There’s many obstacles. Crowdfunding is no walk in the park. A common misconception is that all you have to do is launch a campaign, and money comes rolling in. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
3) Study the competition
I can’t stress this enough. Research the playing field and you will have a much better chance of discovering and developing good strategies for your campaign. A good place to start is to frequent a crowdfunding site and follow several campaigns from their launch day all the way through to its final hours. If you’re really serious, do this several times over 4-5 months. You’ll learn a lot from both successful and failed efforts. Learn from your competition!
4) Support Other Campaigns
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life it’s that Karma is an amazingly predictable thing. In 20+ year of being in the video industry, there’s one hard and fast rule that has never let me down: Work hard and good things will happen. The same goes for crowdfunding. Don’t fake like you care….actually care. You might be pleasantly surprised how much fun you’ll have by supporting another campaign. As a side benefit, you’ll likely feel good doing it. Even better, you’ll be part of their roller coaster ride and may learn a thing or two that could apply to your campaign.
5) Set A Realistic Goal
As much as you might want to shoot for the moon, you would likely be better off taking baby steps, especially for your first project. The one thing I’ve noticed that screams loud and clear throughout campaigns is that most supporters seem slanted toward projects that will be successful. So, if you’re strong out of the gates the first days and have cleared better than 50% of your campaign goal, there will likely be some psychologically advantages in your corner. The bookends – the first and last several days of your campaign – may prove to be your biggest fundraising days. With this in mind, it’s important to set a goal that you feel very confident is achievable and then work like heck to be within striking distance during the campaign’s closing moments.
“The most important piece of advice is to set the lowest achievable goal possible for your project. Both Kickstarter and Indiegogo have no limits on how much you can raise and it is good for the psyche of your backers to pass the funding goal.” – Ben Swann
6) Video, Video, Video!
Posting a video that explains what your project is about is paramount. Additionally, frequently posting supplemental videos during your campaign can also help tremendously. Remember, you need to keep your audience engaged, informed and reminded about the value you are trying to provide them.
“We knew from the beginning that we needed to create engaging content,” says Johanssen. “You’re competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of information flooding your audience daily. You’re looking to capture their attention for just one minute. Sounds like an easy task, but it’s not. With that thought in mind, we created a bunch of video content, very complimentary to our film’s message to drip out over the course of the campaign. You want to get people to rally behind you, and converse with you. The best way to do that is to create compelling content. I think it’s safe to say, that without video content, we’d be miles away from our goal, instead of being within a few feet of the finish line.”
Swann feels the same way: “Video is extremely important. The experts at Kickstarter and Indiegogo will tell you that, without question, projects with video bring in considerably more money than projects without video. Video gives the backer a much better idea of what you are trying to accomplish and allows you to connect on a much more emotional level.”
Swann proved this during his Kickstarter campaign with a trailer video leading up to the launch . That video netted almost 90,000 views before Kickstarter went live with his effort and, on the first day, Swann raised more than $100,000. Below is the trailer for Swann’s Kickstarter effort.
Ben Swann Kickstarter Trailer
7) Have A Drip Campaign
One of the biggest omissions I’ve observed with many campaigns is having meaningful content served up frequently throughout your campaign. As Johanssen states: “Two of the biggest challenges are engagement, and conversion. Depending on the length of your campaign, it’s a full-time job trying to keep your audience engaged with your campaign, without bombarding them with cries for money. We found it best to create compelling content that complimented our film’s message. The idea is to provide value, over and over again, instead of constantly asking for money. More of a pull-marketing, then a push-marketing approach.”
Check out this video, released with less than 60 hours left in Johanssen’s campaign for “Broke, Busted & Disgusted”. It is one of several he has posted over the past 45 days (all his campaign updates can be viewed here).
Indiegogo Campaign Update: 92% Funded!!
8) Be Engaged
If I had to pick just one thing that would likely the make the most difference in a crowdfunded campaign, it’s that you, yes YOU, need to become a very engaged pitch man (or woman!). If you really want your campaign to be successful, you will need to become engaged with your audience. Remember, they are on this journey with you and, if you show that you care about them as well, you will likely have a better chance of multiplying your army of supporters. This can happen through live Q&A sessions on Facebook, through e-mails, personal calls or – my favorite – customized videos that mention your supporter’s name (if provided) and their question answered by you. Check out this fantastic video by Johannsen that shows how his supporters can get involved with the campaign beyond just making financial contributions.
Broke, Busted, & Disgusted: How To Participate
As an outstanding lesson in fan interaction, check out Stephen Amell’s (from the “Arrow” TV show) Facebook page. I’ve personally observed him go from about 175,000 fans to almost 1.5 million. He did this in about 6 months time and it’s widely acknowledged that his social success is due to the fact that he actually runs his own Facebook page and is – gasp – interacting with his fans on a daily basis. His page can be found here.
I hope these tips and observations are helpful. Please share your comments and observations below. And, if you have the time, check out Ben Swann and Calvin Johanssen’s Indiegogo pages to cheer and potentially support them on as they enter their final hours!