Back in the day, if you were looking to start a business or creative project, you had to hit up Uncle Bob or the local bank for the first round of funding. Today, though, you can take it to the crowds to get funding for your vision. And Kickstarter, a platform for financing everything from films, games, and music to art, design and technology, is the crown jewel of those crowd-sourcing options. It continues to gain traction and buzz thanks to the ingenious, outrageous and downright outstanding things that have come to fruition as a result of being featured on the site.
That said, crowd-sourcing is not for the faint of heart. You have to have foresight, flexibility and fortitude to succeed. So, how can you know if it’s right for you? I went straight to the source, asking the creators of four projects for their top tips on “kickstarting” a big idea or creative project:
One of the challenges is that you have to get the balance right between dollars raised and ability to deliver. – Marc Barros, Moment Lens
Know your end game.
Having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish can help you select which crowd funding platform–if any—is right for you and your project.
For On Meditation, a documentary film about the benefits of meditation–featuring portraits of enthusiasts including Giancarlo Esposito, David Lynch, Elena Brower, The Venerable Metteyyaa and the late Peter Matthiessen–Kickstarter was an attractive option because of how passionate people are about the subject matter. Rebecca Dreyfus and Susannah Ludwig, the award-winning filmmakers behind the project, also appreciated the all-or-nothing, time-sensitive element, believing it would be a motivating force for them and for potential supporters.
The community and the need for capital were draws for Tina and Ryan Essmaker, the husband-and-wife team behind The Great Discontent (TGD), a magazine featuring interviews on beginnings, creativity and risk. Since launching online in August 2011, TGD has published interviews with 130+ creative individuals, and has grown to include a print counterpart, a short film series and other projects and collaborations–as well as a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Cash as well as control were the reasons that With You–a new jewelry company that creates lockets to allow loved ones to be ‘with you’ whenever and wherever–pulled up a chair to Kickstarter versus bringing on an investor. Given the small amount they needed to launch the company properly, CEO Mikki Glass and team believed it made more sense to keep control of the company and get the funding in small donations from a wider audience of supporters. She loved the democratic nature of it all, saying, “Kickstarter allows every man to be a venture capitalist and that had great appeal to us. In creating our products, it was really important that they be accessible to as many people as possible and Kickstarter lines up with that thinking–everyone can participate.”
We had already accepted that we might not meet our goal, but decided to give it one last shot and really promote it. We felt like underdogs, but our community carried us over the finish line. – Tina Essmaker, The Great Discontent
Connect With Your Community.
Your network is truly your net worth–and that maxim has never been more accurate than when it comes to Kickstarter or other crowd-funding efforts.
There’s no better project to look at than Moment Lens–a project focusing on creating high quality i-Phone lenses that are designed to feel like premium options you might use with high-end still cameras. Co-Founder Marc Barros and team blew their $50,000 goal out of the water, ending the campaign with over $450,000 in their pocket. “It’s easy to convince yourself that what you are working on is something that everyone will want…We chose Kickstarter because we found it had a rich community of photography enthusiasts,” said Barros. “It has a really rich community that was incredibly helpful in reaching our goal.”
For the Essmakers, the time spent building a community around TGD in the years prior to the campaign paid off in spades. “We had been publishing TGD as a weekly online magazine for almost three years, and had never asked readers for any kind of financial support. All of our online content was—and still is—free. We’ve always encouraged our community to take risks, and this was a really cool experience because the tables were turned—we were the ones taking the risk, and our readers were the ones encouraging us.”
Ultimately, it’s important to be clear if you are trying to raise money from family, friends, existing supporters, or if you are trying to cast a wider net and gain support from people that don’t know you and your work. To raise any significant amount of money and support from people who aren’t familiar with you, you need a real strategy as to how to reach them.
Fairly early on in the campaign, the On Meditation team realized that they weren’t going to raise $50,000 solely from family and friends. They worked pretty intensively, on a daily basis, to reach out to the online yoga and meditation community in hopes of getting a larger audience to share about the project, via the Kickstarter campaign and link to their trailer, for example. Dreyfus credits the widening of the community for the ultimate success of the campaign.
“Generally, I think people want to be part of projects that might be contributing to the greater good, helping independent artists of one sort or another or simply help bring something into being that might not get financial support in any other venue,” adds Dreyfus. “Like any other artistic endeavor, it is about reaching your audience and making a personal connection.”
It’s the passion you emit about your project that will get people excited and interested in supporting it.
While just officially launching now, With You is a concept that had been with Glass for almost a decade. She explained, “I hatched the idea around my sister’s wedding when I was looking for a way to make sure my dad—who had died a few years before—could ‘walk’ her down the aisle. I created a locket to hold his photos on a discreet anklet. Then, about a year ago, With You kicked into high gear. I was doing the commute back and forth to New York City for work and I was grappling with how limited my time [was] to be doing this commute with a then two-year-old at home. I wanted to figure out a way to work closer to home. In addition, my husband retired from the Army and was looking for his next career move. After 24 years and three deployments (and four years as an embassy Marine), he, too, wanted to find a way to be closer to home and more connected to the community. We knew this was the opportunity.”
In creating our products, it was really important that they be accessible to as many people as possible and Kickstarter lines up with that thinking–everyone can participate. – Mikki Glass, With You
Commit the time.
The top tip is to remember that committing to Kickstarter means committing your life for the time leading up to and for the duration of the campaign. It ends up being a full-time job–a major time suck in the best possible way.
In addition to the time investment, there is an emotional investment involved in dedicating the bandwidth to thinking through goals, prepping materials, planning rewards and promotions. That preparation and focus will, hopefully, pay off in the long run.
Glass said that she and her With You team “joked about this being a 24/7 endeavor,” but weren’t fully prepared for the fact that it truly is. She said, “It becomes all consuming and you’re constantly thinking about how to tweak the message or campaign to yield the best success.”
Like any other artistic endeavor, it is about reaching your audience and making a personal connection. – Rebecca Dreyfus, On Meditation
If they had to do over again, many of those with whom I spoke said they’d streamline everything. The TGD and Moment Lens teams cited simplifying rewards is key. “You’ll be thankful you kept it simple when you’re fulfilling all those rewards,” said Essmaker.
One of the challenges is that you have to get the balance right between dollars raised and ability to deliver. Barros said, “[With Moment Lens], we focused on a single type of product that we knew we could deliver on. If you promise the world, it’s easier to raise a lot of money, but in turn very difficult to deliver on your promise.” He added, “Next time, we’ll [also] simplify the levels and have a much better post Kickstarter experience…We [would stick] to just two levels instead of five. The post-Kickstarter fulfillment process is complicated and the more special offers you have the harder it is on the team.”
Expect the Unexpected.
In the end, crowd-funding is unpredictable at best. For some it can be a meteoric rise–and for others, a long crawl through the fundraising swamp.
Barros remembered, “We raised an amount that was way higher than we ever imagined. The scary part is you have no idea how your project will be received, so to surpass our goal so quickly and reach thousands of backers is an honor.”
And Glass–whose With You campaign is in its final days—sums it up: “The Kickstarter community is funny–you can’t always predict what will ‘hit.’ We knew we had to be ready for great success, complete failure or some variant in between.”
After their crowd-funding experience, Moment Lens’ team wrote a detailed post about everything they learned. Their largest driver for attention and funding? Press coverage. Similarly, buzz generated for TGD and On Meditiation helped both reach their fundraising goals.
So, if you have a campaign but no press or buzz, you’ll be hard-pressed to get the funding you need to succeed. It’s important to do the research ahead of time, and gather your media targets list to figure out who you can get to tout your campaign. More ways to build your brand on a budget here.
Don’t Panic–and Be Patient.
As the saying goes, “It ain’t over, ‘til it’s over.” Even if your campaign is ticking down to its final moments, there’s still a chance to be successfully funded.
One of the best examples is the TGD campaign, which started off strong, but there was a long unexpected–and unnerving–mid-campaign lull. Essmaker remembered, “Near the end of the campaign, we didn’t know if we would meet our $100,000 goal. When we woke [on the last day], we still needed over $35,000. We weren’t sure if it was possible. People were already buzzing about it online; some said it looked like we wouldn’t meet our goal and others were showing support and urging friends to pledge. We had already accepted that we might not meet our goal, but decided to give it one last shot and really promote it. We felt like underdogs, but our community carried us over the finish line.”
Meryl Weinsaft Cooper is the co-founder of the NYC-based communications firm, Allen/Cooper Enterprises and co-author of Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work (Career Press). She has funded several Kickstarter campaigns including a few of the above as well as a theatrical art performance, a feature film, a restaurant, and a 3D Pen. You can follow her on Twitter at @Grape or @BestPublicist.