My Indiegogo project ends at midnight pacific time on October 5th. This blog post is a blatant attempt to get you to visit, support the project, and share it with others. In return, I provide what I hope is some hard-earned, albeit biased wisdom that I have spent months getting alternately stroked and bruised by. Your mileage may vary, caveats abound throughout. Regardless, I think there is some value to my fellow crowd-funders-of-the-creative kind.
1. Setting your financial target
Much has been written about whether Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing method or Indiegogo’s flexible funding method (option to get the funds whether or not you meet your target) makes more sense. I won’t write about that. What I will share is adapted, practical advice I got too late from a person who has years of experience in asking for money (known as ‘development’ in some circles—differentiated from ‘software development’ in others).
Before I launched my first Kickstarter, I did a lot of phone and email work and estimated based on input I received and analyzed I could probably crowdfund around $25,000. So, I set my Kickstarter target at $15,000, thinking I could reach that with some hard work. And who knows, maybe I could blow it out!
As you can see from the Kicktraq chart above, the project kicked off in its first few days on target to meet the $15K goal as predicted, and even possibly blow out the $25K target. As you’ll also note, things fell off fairly fast, but then had a small blip at the end. (This seems to be a trend in many projects.)
My advice to you, adapted from the advice I got from my ‘development’ friend: Take the verbally and email committed ‘pledges’ you have on hand and divide them in half to make a fundraising target. Not the ‘maybes’ but the firm email and phone commitments. Had I done that, I would have use $20K in firm commitments, assumed that really meant $10K and then set my Kickstarter at $7,500. And, my the Kickstarter project hit $8,810 (but didn’t fund since, well, $8,810 < $15,000)
2. Investing in the project video
As much as crowdsourcing sites say it is OK to just aim the camera at yourself and talk, the reality is that unless your project is so amazingly compelling and can be understood in less than 10 seconds and two sentences your video has to compel viewers. It has to teach. It has to ‘market’ yourself (or team) and the project in the most classic sense of the word.
I spent over two months working on an animated film with a young lady who graduated my high school 30 years after I did. The film took longer than I had hoped, but it ended up being well received, was an angle to attract press, and helped me create rewards/perks for the campaign.
My advice to you is to make sure you or someone you know is at least a ‘prosumer’ level of videographer and editor. You don’t need to be a DePalma or a Spielberg. But your film needs to sell you.
Which leads me to…
3. Press outreach and its impact
With some work on my part, my project received excellent press coverage on the front page of the living section in a New York area mid-range newspaper in the Gannett chain (and apparently was picked up by some other Gannett papers) and southern New Hampshire coverage in some papers.
While the press outreach was very cool and very satisfying, in my case, it didn’t result in measurable impact on the financial aspect of the campaign. This is because, amongst other things:
- My project was publishing and disability related (a book). It wasn’t electronics, or a movie, or something physical that was cool. (More on the subject matter of the project and ‘measures of success’ below.)
- As a product manager for some very cool projects over the years, I have learned many times that good press coverage is only a part of the outreach picture. You need to have an integrated marketing campaign to have an impact. Each component builds from and adds to the whole.
None of this isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to get press. Heck, some teams are lucky in that they get the right press in the right way at the right time and a single article, radio or TV spot, or key blogger can help immensely with specific ROI (in this case, additional crowdsourcing funds). Which leads me to…
4. Guest blogging and paid sponsorship
Do stuff for free: Before you launch your project and every day it is live, reach out to subject area bloggers. Reach out not to ask them to mention you (though that is certainly OK done the right way) but rather to offer to write authentic articles about their blog’s focus. Of course the articles will relate to your project, but do the soft sell. Address a need or controversy. Basically, be a blogger and write, write, write, write, write! And offer your guest pieces for free.
Pay for stuff: I did a back-of-the-napkin calculation of the ROI sponsoring a blog post and an email campaign sent out under a subject-area blog or organization related to my project. And then my first paid sponsorship mentioning my project was under the “all or nothing” Kickstarter model. It was a risk I lost out on. (Well, not completely, as many of the folks I reached actually want my product and will buy it when it ships, but they didn’t want to or couldn’t support it in a crowdfunded model. See below about “understanding crowdsourcing.”) If you pay $250 or $500 to sponsor, you better be pretty sure that the sponsorship will help you meet your goals.
When I re-launched under Indiegogo, I knew what I would raise at the end of every day. It was at this point that I decided to test some Facebook advertising and sponsored posts. This allowed me to both match what I thought I could afford with what I measured for results each day. Again, with my product, I garnered a lot of interest, but not too many more contributors. Which leads me to…
5. Who really understands crowdfunding?
Here are a few anecdotes that underlines this issue. Note that my product is a print and ebook about disabilities issues. It isn’t electronics, a physical doo-dad, or a creative work by an already successful artist with an established and substantial following.
- “We won’t take a paid sponsorship for ‘fundraising’ “ – In one case, I offered to pay an established organization to access their newsletter of folks who would have benefitted from my product. Initially, I was told that they wouldn’t let ‘fundraisers’ into their sponsored activities. It took a number of emails and phone calls to explain that it wasn’t a “fundraiser” but rather I was crowdsourcing and every person that responded with support had access to the product at a discount. (When I went to Indiegogo and was allowed to use the word “preorder” this became a much simpler communication to those I wanted to sponsor.)
- In my case, my book is was targeted at folks who weren’t technical or web folks (although some were indeed savvy in these areas.) It was often a hard sell to explain “OK, you give me money now, and if enough people join you, I’ll finish this project and then a few months from now, I’ll ship you the finished product or a bonus related to the project.” This was just too much for some folks to parse, unless I was on the phone with them. And that is time intensive.
- When my Kickstarter didn’t fund, and I moved to Indiegogo to follow up with another effort, a few of the original KS backers didn’t quite get that they didn’t already pay me. Despite clear communication from KS and from me.
- Some organizations can’t issue PO’s for a crowdfunded project, even if it is allowed to be called a ‘pre-order.’
6. Success factors: Who are you and what is your project about?
As an artist (writer, illustrator, filmmaker, actor, etc.) I believe you have certain thresholds of possibility for financial success in crowdsourcing. This list is my opinion only based on my impressions for books and art projects, not fully researched and statistically validated. Please comment on this one, these are rough generalizations.
In order of the funds you’ll likely be able to raise from lower to higher:
- If you have no existing following, and your topic is arcane or impacts a minority of folks, you have a chance for some contributors, but don’t expect a large amount.
- If you have a small core of followers (including friends and family) and your topic is arcane but impacts a larger minority, you have a better chance
- If you have a core of followers and your topic is relatively popular, you have even a better chance
- If you have a large core of followers, a known name, your topic is popular, and you have success through other means already (for example, you published a successful comic book already but this time you are self publishing), you have a pretty good chance
- If you are a huge success already and you decide to use crowdfunding to build awareness of and funding for your next big project and you want to “go independent” you have an even better chance
Of course, there is always the possibility for a “blow out” – there are always outriggers if your idea goes viral and has decent chops. (Will Ellen Degeneres tweet about you? Will your project get on the CBS evening news?) If you are an unknown, I wish this for you and your project!
7. It’s not just about the money!
Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing is not just about the money. The platforms tell you it is about community, and they are right!
My Kickstarter project, although it didn’t fund, was successful anyway. I had three goals: (1) Raise money and (2) Find contributing authors and (3) Generate awareness. I met two of the goals.
My Indiegogo re-launch funded at a lesser amount than my original plan. And I then met all three of my goals. Frankly, for the goal “find contributing essayists” I knocked this this one out of the park. My project has succeeded because of this. The money and awareness are icing on the cake. (The money will not fully-fund the project, but it will help!)
8. Kickstarter VS Indiegogo
Both platforms are amazing. Please take these comments about technical and marketing support with the respect of constructive feedback. And Kickstarter and Indiegogo product managers, I hope you find these comments useful, although I am sure you’ve heard them before.
My Kickstarter support emails went unanswered. When I had an issue uploading a video on Kickstarter, I had to tweet my question. (It was actually answered, but not to clearly at that point. Follow-up wasn’t responded to.)
Indiegogo reached out to me after my KS campaign didn’t fund. With a real person. Who I called. Who called me back. Who spent an hour on the phone with me helping me with ideas and taking input. Who actually encouraged me successfully to launch again.
Preorder and Bulk
Kickstarter doesn’t allow the term “preorder.” They don’t allow more than ten of an item to be included in a reward. I have read their justifications for this, but this model didn’t really match my business. For example, I wanted to have larger multi-packs of my print book for organizational bulk availability as a reward. No can do with Kickstarter, but I adjusted to work with their rules. They are #1, so I had to play their game.
Indiegogo didn’t care that I used the term discount pre-order. Or what the quantities were. This allowed me flexibility in the perks I could offer as well as simplifying the outreach to both groups I wanted to pay to sponsor as well as explaining the value proposition to folks I called to ask for support.
Kickstarter has better project reporting tools, in my opinion. But you have to host your video on their platform. Which doesn’t allow you to close-caption the video. You have to open caption it if you want captions. Not cool for accessibility!
Indiegogo’s project reporting tools don’t seem to be as detailed as Kickstarter’s. Indiegogo uses Youtube for videos. This gives me all of the YouTube benefits (including close captioning) as well as allows me to have alternative insights into the project video as well as use it in different ways.
Many of my customers, by virtue of where they work, had very old browsers. I can see the New York Kickstarter offices saying “well, we don’t care about that, upgrade yourbrowser.” But not everyone is a tech mogul or can upgrade a browser at work. (And my project was backed by many people with work money.) So, for example, I ended up having to handhold a contributor through a $350 contribution on the phone myself, only to discover the Kickstarter page didn’t fully render on their browser. Then, I had to get the trust of the supporter and enter their info on my computer for them. Of course, my contributor had nobody to call at Kickstarter, because you can’t call Kickstarter. And I had no feedback or way to contact Kickstarter to get a timely, reliable response. The person wanted to pay me $350, how many hoops could I put them through?!
And the “we’re a cool web company” excuse for browser support doesn’t fly. I personally use the latest version of FireFox on Win7 and had many times when the project editing tools of both Kickstarter and Indiegogo failed (losing work, losing formatting, etc.)
Kickstarter’s failed more often for me though both platforms need a better way to create projects.
Surprising support for an unfunded project:
Kudos to Kickstarter for allowing me to email supporters even though I didn’t fund. They even let me use keywords and URLs pointing to Indiegogo to send my backers to another platform. Thanks for allowing that, it was gracious of you.
9. Approval, marketing and awareness
This one is for Kickstarter. I couldn’t believe it myself so I showing a screen shot. Basically, in my first submission for my project, I mentioned that a lot of the funds I was hoping to generate would be to create awareness of my project. I had a very specific marketing plan that would encompass sponsorship of organizations, podcasts, blogs, print ads, and other awareness generation techniques to market my book. I didn’t publish my marketing plan on Kickstarter, but I implied that funding would be used to support it and that it was an integral part of my project success.
This is the email I got back from Kickstarter.
I was dumbfounded! After two months of getting an animation produced, days and days of writing and editing a project, working through the shortcomings of their project editor, stymied by an email I couldn’t fathom. And not a person to call!
So, I gave up, played politics, and took all talk of marketing and awareness out of my project and was approved. As best as I can tell, Kickstarter wants funding to be used to “create” the project, not “kickstart” the business. Yet, one can easily find projects listed that basically say things like ‘our music recording is ready, we just need funds to distribute it’ and many of the big projects clearly will use funding for marketing the business – for making the project successful!
OK, I’ll cut Kickstarter some slack. Perhaps the person that wrote the email was too junior, or made a wrong call, or communicated the wrong policy. However, I was pragmatic, deleted my “awareness generation” statements, and had my project approved figuring I could add it back I later. Excpet I could no longer reply via email to Niina at Kickstarter. I had nobody to talk to about this issue! If I added it back, would my project be cancelled? I was SOL. Oh well.
Indiegogo basically told me, it’s your business. Use the funds and talk about them however you want, as long as it is legal and ethical. (That’s my interpretation, not their words.)
10. Customers Paying
With Kickstarter (at least in the US) your backers have to sign up for a Kickstarter account and use their Amazon account to pay. I know the techies in New York won’t believe this, but THAT IS REALLY CONVOLUTED FOR NON-TECH FOLKS. It caused more than one person that in my target audience that would have been happy to back me to say “no way.” In fact, I had three people send me checks (one a pretty large one) instead of using their system.
With Indiegogo, you can just use a credit card or PayPal in a single step and not even sign up for an Indiegogo account. Not without some confusion, but a workflow much more familiar to the persona’s of my target audience. Also, since Indiegogo allows contributors to “just pay now” (not the all or nothing model), the credit card emailed receipt process again maps to something that the contributor is used to.
11. Getting project ‘push’ from Indiegogo or Kickstarter
I have to say that Kickstarter’s rankings and Indiegogo’s “Gogo” factor confound me. Yes, I know it’s about shares, and social media, and frequent updates, and where you are in the funding cycle. And there are some “editor’s choice” sections.
But I have to say on both platforms, I think the expertise in the “editors choice” areas seems to clearly skew to under age 30 interests in both technology and art and writing. Although that is just my impression. I would suggest that they broaden the experience of folks on their editorial teams.
(Yeah, you probably think I have sour grapes about not getting selected as a featured project. Some truth to that. But examine their choices yourself.)
12. Addressing your relatives, “big” contributors, and everyone with respect
A word of advice. Make sure to treat your backers/contributors like gold. In my case, I thought I would have a high volume of $9 backers and a small volume of higher dollar backers.
In fact, it was quite the opposite. I had an unexpected number of over $200 contributors, and multiple $1000 contributors on Kickstarter. (This decreased on my Indiegogo relaunch, as I think my bigger backers were in some cases less excited about doing it a second time around.)
Some smaller backers turned into larger ones later in the project. And also referred to other backers. Every backer is gold! Treat them that way.
It’s been a whirlwind of a summer and early fall 2013. I’ve learned a lot. I want to get back to writing, curating, and publishing my book! (You have until Oct 5, 2013 at midnight PT to contribute via a pre-order at http://www.dadsofdisability.com/igg )
Although it may seem like I am bashing Kickstarter (OK, I am a little bit, but with love and respect), I chose them first because, well, they have a better name and are the leader at this point. As a former high tech product manager, I hope this post helps their SWOT analysis. And if they disagree with me, well, that’s OK, because then their competition can address the market in ways they choose not to. And, if I am wrong, well then Kickstarter wins J
On the whole, both platforms have their plusses and minuses, and it has been a real experience, even a privilege, to have been able to work with both teams – and most importantly, my supporters.
As I have told everyone, I will deliver a product of value to fathers and families everywhere!
Thanks for reading,