7 Lessons in Crowdfunding

I’m two for two when it comes to crowdfunding. Last year I helped drive Ben Union’s KickStarter campaign to success by producing the video content for it. More recently, I managed to get my own RocketHub campaign fueled for my next film. I can’t take all the credit for running a successful crowdfunding project. The majority of the credit must be given to my contributors (or fuelers). What I can take credit for is being calculated & strategic when conducting the campaign.

Before launching my project, I did a tremendous amount of research about what it takes to succeed at crowdfunding. This post is me adding to the pool of information in the hopes that it will inspire & help someone looking to launch a successful project. When I first heard of sites like KickStarter, RocketHub & IndiGoGo, I was excited to see what was possible, only to realize that in reality, just a small percentage of these projects actually hit their goal. I’ve found that it’s because they’re not willing to really put in the work and because their campaigns generally suck. Or at least they’re perceived to suck. The following are a few things I can speak to out of experience & from research on how not to suck.

1) Tell them your story.
Who are you & what have you done? I see a lot of crowdfunding projects that don’t explain this, so people have no way to trust that you’ll do well with their money, or just as important, that you’ll even do a good job. Crowdfunding is not charity. You’ll get a few friends & family members contribute because they love you, but the general public doesn’t trust nor care about you unless you give them a reason to. One simple way to build trust is by letting them know who you are as a creative & what you’ve done. That second part is clutch. If you’re looking to get a book published, why should they help you if you’ve never written a book, an article, an essay, or a piece of poetry or whatever? They need to know that you’ve accomplished something. If you’ve had something published, tell them. If your band has performed at sold out venues, tell them. If you’ve produced a film that’s been recognized, tell them. You have to be validated as a creative somehow, so don’t be too modest. Luckily for me, I had my last film to point back to. If you have nothing to point to, like genuinely have nothing to point to, ask yourself if it’s too soon to be asking people for money. If it is, produce something good without money & build a reputation from that. This ties into point two.

2) Build a brand.
I’m learning more & more how important this is, not just for crowdfunding, but for career & business development in general. When I say let them know who you are, a big part of what that means is building a brand for yourself. If you have a website, blog, a portfolio, Facebook or Twitter page, that all counts. Give them ways to find you to see what you’ve been up to & what you’re all about. And make sure all these aspects of your brand are congruent.

3) Tell them what you’ll do with their money.
This might be the biggest thing that plays into the trust factor. It’s good to go into how you’ll be using the funds (without constricting yourself too much or spoiling anything creatively). For example,  I let my audience know that $1500 will be going towards a music license, then I’ll be using the funds towards a motion graphics specialist, paying a couple giving birth to allow a camera in the room, a photographer & gas, etc.. I also let them know that I’ll be using some of my own money to produce the film as well, which is definitely the case now.

4) Use, but don’t abuse your social network.
This may be one of the trickiest parts of crowdfunding. Come to grips with the fact early on that most of the people on your Facebook friend list will not contribute to your project, so don’t push them. When your project launches, ask your good friends personally to contribute & share. These are the people who genuinely want to see you succeed or the people who are enthusiastically into your work, not because they’re your friends, but because they admire what you create.  From there, let them help create the bandwagon that will make others want to hop on. You should reach out seldomly & when you do, it should be calculated & different from the last time. Bring them new news about an article that was written about what you’re doing, or how someone featured you on a podcast talking about your project. Once people on your social network see that there is some momentum behind your project, they too will want to come aboard.

5) Create momentum.
Bugging people on Facebook & Twitter to contribute is not creating momentum. It’s just bugging them. A way to create momentum is to get influential people to talk about what you’re doing. In my case, I got interviewed by RocketHub and was featured on a podcast. In addition, the band whose song I’m using agreed to spread the word on their social network, which definitely helped. Much of this work should take place before the launch of your project!

The harsh reality of all this is that if you have no past work that validates you as a creative, the likelihood of someone influential wanting to talk about your current project is slim. This goes back to points 1 & 2.

6) Timing is everything.
One of the big things I’ve been learning is that creating & capitalizing on hype is of the utmost importance. Striking while the iron’s hot could be the difference between success & a lack thereof. If I had the foresight to capitalize on the buzz generated by my last film, I could have been able to raise more money for my next project or brought in so much business for my company. But the fact is, at the time, I did not have my next project lined up, nor did I even have a company, a website, or a personal brand built around myself in any way. In the show Entourage, super agent Ari Gold talks to his client about the importance of using the hype for your current project to help get you your next project. I didn’t start to understand the importance of that concept until I’d been in this industry for a while. For myself, moving forward, I likely won’t be releasing the film I’m working on now until I’ve started the fundraising process for my next project. You see? Foresight.

7) Don’t sell yourself short.
In the interest of being ‘realistic’ I set my goal to a low figure that I believed was attainable: $2500. This number was a bare bones figure & I knew that if I only raised this amount, making the film would be a hassle, but possible nonetheless. I considered anything above this icing on the cake.  Within twenty-four hours of launching the campaign, I saw that hitting the goal was going to be easy, but getting beyond that goal will be a challenge. So in a way, I shot myself in the foot. I tried to push a second goal of $3500, so I can get some gear to make the production process a little easier. I found that reaching that second goal was a bit of a challenge, since the official goal for the project was still $2500 and cannot be changed. There was a large number of people who visited the project’s page, quickly saw that the goal had been reached & assumed that there was nothing else to be done, so their motivation to contribute dwindled. I ended up hitting my ‘second goal’, but knowing what I know now, I would have set the official goal to $4500 to cover more gear & un-expected expenses. I’m confident we would have been able to reach that figure.

If you do all these things right, you’ll be shocked at how your project will take off.

Now, get to work.

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One Response to 7 Lessons in Crowdfunding

  1. Hello! I watched 270 on vimeo, which is super dope and totally blew my mind, and followed the link here. Not only is the rest of your blog magical, but this post especially just hit home so hard for me! I’m have been working towards launching my kickstarter for about 6 months, and it was a weirdly epic relief and comfort to read this. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your work with us!! And good luck with the rest of your projects!

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