Friday, May 7, 2010
2 weeks ago, we reached our all or nothing fundraising goal of raising $15,000 in 52 days. Thanks to 227 amazing backers, we ended up 108% funded with $16,203 in Post-Production monies for our film Goodbye Promise. As I crunch the numbers I see that 85% of contributions were $50 or less. I have had a number of folks approach me for advice on how we did it. I thought it would be best capture some of my ideas, principles, and lessons learned in one place for all to benefit.
....At long last, here are some of my thoughts on Crowd-Funding. I wish I had read this before I started my campaign. It isn’t meant as an absolute list but I am hoping there is enough here to help you in your efforts. You can take ‘em or leave ‘em.
1) Believe in your project, LOVE your project.
2) There are NO short-cuts
3) Your work begins BEFORE you launch your campaign
4) Begin your campaign on a Monday, End it on a Friday (via Karen)
5) Personal Incentives and Combatting Piracy
6) Your campaign is more than your campaign video
7) Set an obtainable goal within a proper timeframe
8) Varying your message, Use your creativity
9) Audience Building
10) The exposure from your campaign is more valuable than the amount of money you raise
12) The Kickstarter Effect
14) Your work doesn’t end when your campaign ends
1) Believe in your project, LOVE your project. It starts with love. If you do not believe and if you do not love your project, stop. Your lack of love will be seen in every step of your campaign. We are motivated by someone’s love, dedication, and passion to reach their goal. If you do not love your project, you are not going to put in the effort levels nor the creative punch needed to reach your goal. If you cannot get excited about your own project, why should I?
2) There are NO short-cuts. Really if I could, this would be my only rule and I would repeat it 10 times. The moment you launch your crowd-funding campaign it becomes a full-time job. It’s not something you dabble with on the weekends. If you are not prepared, of if you are not in a situation to put in the work, then do not launch your campaign. Crowd-funding gives you the opportunity to raise a good sum of money from your supporters before your project is completed. Do not take that for granted. It is a privilege.
Here is what I fear, we are going to see a number of folks diving blindly into a Crowd-Funding campaign expecting miracles and magic to happen for them just because their idea is “the most unique thing the world has ever seen.” When these campaigns fail, we are going to hear things like, “it’s oversaturated,” “I would have succeeded if I got in earlier,” “they were lucky”etc. Or maybe they will be honest and admit that it is a lot work, much of which they were not prepared for nor willing to put in. Let me say it one last time, there are NO short-cuts. Keep reading for specifics on the work that has to be put in.
3) Your work begins BEFORE you launch your campaign. PART 1) It’s just common sense. In filmmaking terms think pre-production. A crowd-funding campaign needs the same amount of time, planning, and attention to detail. I believe you must really approach your campaign in the same manner you would approach your film. Pre-Campaign, Campaign, Post-Campaign and beyond where you continue to engage and nurture your audience.
I am seeing a number of folks skipping the Pre-Campaign, throwing together half-hearted campaigns and launching them. You should have an idea of what you are going to do with your campaign before you launch it. The more prepared you are beforehand, the easier it will be to make in-game adjustments. Even if you are not able to execute everything you would like, at least you have options rather than grasping at straws.
You should research other successful campaigns. What ideas can you borrow? What methods can you expand on? How can you be different? What do you blatantly have to borrow because it is effective?
Here are five items I always recommend.
Listen to this interview with Lance Weiler and Kickstarter Co-Founder Yancey Strickler
Read this Q&A on Gregory Bayne’s campaign for his film Jens Pulver / Driven
Read these lessons directly from Gary King regarding his campaign for How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song
Quick Tips from Marinell Montales & John Trigonis from their CERISE campaign.
Good, The Bad, The Ugly by Joey Daoud about his campaign for BOTS HIGH.
Continue reading the rest of this blog. : )
PART 2) What have you done prior to your campaign to build and nurture your audience? I believe this aspect cannot be underestimated. In my case, I have been working on building a support system for many years now. I wasn’t solely relying on a crowd-funding campaign to find my audience. (It was certainly interesting to see who in my network supported the project. I was surprised by some folks who did not contribute. But that was made up for and overshadowed by those who actually did contribute.)
Those who have put the time in and have nurtured their roots are the ones who going to make bearing fruit look painless. People may look at what I have done and say, I can do that. Let me assure you, I have put a lot of work in the preceded the launch of our Kickstarter campaign. On a surface level, I may have made it look easy. It was not, it took tremendous effort from a large group of people for us to reach our goal.
4) Personal Incentives and Combatting Piracy. If you read nothing else of what I write here, don’t leave before you read this section.
Personal incentives are the future. This is what makes crowd-funding great. These crowd-funding campaigns have forced us to personalize & incentivize our work and it is powerful! More and more content is being shoved into the marketplace everyday. And everyday people are craving more than content. They are craving personal interaction.
PERSONAL is vital to crowd-funding. Personal is what makes it go. If your campaign is slowing down... if you are having trouble finding new backers. The answer is to push personal interaction and conversation.
Most people have not caught onto this concept. They know it is the most effective way to achieve results, but they are not willing to put in the work. This is why there are NO short-cuts. You are going to have to get into one-on-one conversations. You are going to have to thank people individually. As I write this, Filmmaker Gary King who just successfully raised $30,000 for his film ‘How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song’ just personally thanked me on the Schermann Facebook page. He has 239 people to thank all together. It is no accident that Gary succeeded at his campaign.
The more personal you can make your incentives, the better off you will be in your campaign. I know making it too personal can be time consuming. You have to plan and measure out what you know you can handle. I had a lot of people saying they really wanted one of my apple pies and that I should set the incentive price lower. But I know it takes me a few hours to make my pies from scratch. The more time it takes you to fulfill your reward, the higher up the incentive ladder it goes.
On a bit of a tangent, when I think of personal incentives and crowd-funding, it leads me to thinking about piracy. Fears are rampant about piracy and bit-torrenting. Part of the solution the way I see it is that personal incentives can off-set piracy. Not on the mass level, but certainly on the micro-budget level. It is easy to rip-off content. But there is no way you can pirate personal incentives and personal experience. When I send backer Paul Borgonia a personal video message, that experience cannot be pirated.
With crowd-funding not only are you offering personal interaction, you are receiving money before your content has been created. You cannot beat getting money up front for your project. Half the battle for indie filmmakers is to simply get their films paid for. With the system flooded with shady distribution deals and crooked middle men, going right to your fans is a step in the right direction.
5) Your campaign is more than your campaign video. First and foremost, do not launch a campaign if you do not have a campaign video to go with it. That is a general rule. Of course some projects may succeed without a campaign video but it will not be the norm.
Your video may be so dynamic that it fuels a successful campaign. Once again, I believe that will be rare happenstance. It is going to take more work than your video alone. I cannot tell you how campaigns I come across where all the effort has gone into the campaign video and nothing else. That’s not going to cut it.
6) Set an obtainable goal within a proper timeframe. $10,000 is a whole heck of a lot of money to crowd-fund. In most cases you are going to need 100+ backers to reach that amount. It is no easy task. In my case, I believed we could raise $15,000. I knew it was going to take 200+ backers and I was up to the challenge. Half-way through our campaign, despite all the work we were putting in, I realized we were in way over our heads.
Here are my general guidelines.
$5000 or less. 30-45 Days.
Between $5000 and $10,000. 35-55 Days.
Between $10,000 and $20,000. 45-75 Days.
$20,000+ 75-120 Days.
Everyone has different circumstances and I understand that. I would recommend being a little conservative in the amount you are trying to raise. We could have used a little more money, but I honestly assessed the audience that I thought we had and set what I thought was a fair amount.
One thing to keep in mind, on Kickstarter if you do not raise all of the money, you will not see any of the money you raised. I do not think this should be feared, I believe in the power of all or nothing which is why I went with Kickstarter.
What I want to add to that is that once you reach you goal, if time remains you can continue to raise money. So although you may need more money that your goal, something to take into consideration is to set a lower amount then work your campaign hard to drive it above and beyond the goal amount. I have seen campaigns reach as high as 390% funding. Just because your goal is $5000, doesn’t mean you cannot raise $10,000.
**I am not as familiar with IndieGogo. I know they have now instituted a deadline. From what I understand, every contribution that comes in goes to the artist whether they reach their goal or not. If that is the case, what can work here is to aim higher. Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you will end up among the stars philosophy. There is less risk because you keep whatever money you are able to raise. For the right people with the right projects, a higher goal on IndieGogo may prove to be the way to go. Just remember, there are no short-cuts. You will have quite a workload on your hands.
7) Begin your campaign on a Monday, End it on a Friday (via Karen). Most people are on their computers from Monday through Friday and less so on the weekends. You can get the most bang for your buck by beginning your campaign on a Monday. You will reach more people at the beginning of the week. This can help you build momentum at the start of your campaign. Something Karen noticed with our campaign is that we would see a good number of backers on Fridays. Why is that? Because Friday is payday. End your campaign on payday. Also, keep in mind less folks will be on their computers over the weekend.
8) Varying your Message, Use your creativity. In a Crowd-Funding campaign, it becomes very difficult to avoid, “Hey, give me money.” I can’t lie, often that’s exactly what your message will be. This isn’t a bad thing, being direct can help you draw in new backers.
Though we certainly did our share of that, we also worked hard to draw people to our campaign in other ways. This is where creativity and your love for your project rise to the surface. In our case, before we launched our campaign, I knew another way to draw people into our campaign was with video interviews with the cast and crew. Instead of saying, “give me money” it was “take a look at this interview with a cast member or crew member.”
Each project is unique and that makes each campaign unique. I believe when you are in your Pre-Campaign phase is when you should be identifying the various ways you are going to reach your audience.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to find new backers is to go overboard thanking your previous backers. That is a win-win. Your backers feel appreciated and new backers will be attracted by your personal touch. Be sincere and do not overdo it.
The key is to continually hit people in new ways. When I think of creativity I think of the campaign put together for ‘Cerise’ by John T. Trigonis and Marinell Montales. They enticed their backers to supply them photos holding signs that say ‘I support Cerise.’ Check out this photo gallery http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=18181&id=111843642159327 One of the Cerise incentives was a personal poem from John where he ‘immortalized your name in verse.’ Here is the one he did for us.
You can see why John and Marinell lead a successful campaign on IndieGogo. These personal touches and creativity provide you different ways to vary your message. They are tools you can use to draw people into your campaign and build your audience.
9) Audience Builder. Middle-men beware! Crowd-funding puts you in direct contact with your audience. I had written about the advantages of Kickstarter in this blog back on February 2nd. http://filmcourage.blogspot.com/2010/02/kickstarter-is-game-changer.html This was before we had launched our campaign.
What can I add now in the aftermath of our campaign? One of the first thoughts that comes to mind... Is there really a better way to build an audience than through a Crowd-Funding campaign? If there are ways, there are not many.
A good number of indie filmmakers are learning that marketing your film begins when you are in pre-production. Basically, as soon as you are 100% committed to making and delivering your film, you should begin marketing it.
With that in mind, it is really tough to beat building pre-buzz for your film while raising money for it AT THE SAME TIME. An analogy I hate to use but comes to mind is when someone wages money on a sports team. Whether they are a fan or not, the fact that money is involved means that person is now invested in the outcome. If you get your audience to back your film before it’s completed, they are going to stick with you all the way to the end.
Another lesson I learned from our campaign is that a Crowd-Funding campaign is much more of an audience builder than I believed it could be going in. In our case, we attracted 227 backers but our reach was much larger than that. Our campaign reached thousands upon thousands of people. This leads me to the next topic.
10) The exposure from your campaign is more valuable than the amount of money you raise. - We raised over $16,000 as you know. But I believe we created more than $16,000 worth of exposure and marketing with our campaign. How can you put a price tag on the amount of buzz we have been able to generate? We were featured on Wayne Clingman's Indy Film Wisconsin, Danny Lacey’s The Filmmaker’s Journey, Officially Plugged In, an upcoming online magazine, and Student Filmmaker Magazine. We also have more interviews forthcoming.
But I believe what is more powerful than this press is the amount of Facebook posting, Tweets, Emails, etc. that we received. What would it have cost us to manifest the overall buzz that we have created?
The focus of running a crowd-funding campaign is on each individual backer. Now that I am able to step away from that a little, I can see the impact beyond our 227 backers. I am being contacted by folks all over the world.
I have also been contacted by a few production companies who have touched base with me. Sort of a meet and greet. They want to know more about me and my upcoming projects.
11) TWITTER - For months I hated Twitter. I did not understand how to use it and I had no clue to it’s power. Then Karen and I did an interview on the Film Snobbery LIVE show with Nic Baisley and Jerry Cavallaro. After our interview we spent another couple of hours chatting away with these two film fanatics. In that conversation, Nic mentioned that he really hadn’t spent any money marketing his site and that almost all of his audience was built through Twitter. When I heard Nic share that information, I realized I needed to learn how to use this tool.
In the months since, I have learned how to use Twitter effectively. Thank God! A good number of our contributions came directly because of Twitter. I would estimate out of 227 backers that 50+ were because of Twitter. In our last two nights of our campaign, we got 14 backers through Twitter courtesy of ‘Sleep Strikes’ initiated by Gary King, Phil Holbrook, Jerry Cavallaro, Marinell Montales, Lord Pancreas, John Paul Rice, Brian Durkin and others.
In my mind, if you are going to begin a crowd-funding campaign, you should be up and running on twitter 1-3 months ahead of time. You are being stubborn and foolish if you continue to ignore the power of this tool. There is a ton of information online that you can search that can help you understand the Twitterverse and how you can use it. Get on it.
12) The Kickstarter Effect - With 6 Days left in our campaign we were barely past 50% funding. We had raised $7935 supported by 129 backers. We still needed $7065 to reach our end goal. Time was dwindling fast. I was already receiving a steady stream of concerned emails at that point. “I am concerned you are not going to make it,” “What is your back-up plan? Do you have a back-up plan?” A couple of weeks before that, when things were stagnant I remember getting into a conversation with Gregor. A lot of people we knew had already contributed to our campaign and we weren’t sure where the upcoming pledges were going to come from. And he asked me directly, “Who else is going to back this project?” My answer didn’t do much to reassure him. I said, “I do not know.... but it is going to happen.”
We ended up raising $8270 in those last 6 days to reach 108% funding. This doesn’t happen automatically. You have to work extremely hard throughout your campaign and especially in those closing days to experience the magic of the Kickstarter Effect. You see, I had studied Kickstarter before I launched my campaign. I was aware of the U-shape support the majority of campaigns will receive. That means there is typically strong support at the launch of your campaign, then it quiets down in the middle, before a flurry of support at the end.
Another important tidbit regarding Kickstarter is that campaigns that reach 25% funding have a 90% chance of success. I believe there are several factors that contribute to that statistic. One is that if you show enough determination to see your project through that far, you are going to put in the effort to carry it all the way. Another reason is that typically you gain enough supporters and key influencers to help you reach more people. It can be looked at as a tipping point or critical mass. One last reason I will share is that it puts you in a position for a key backer/investor with a large sum of money to come to the rescue if need be.
What I noticed with our campaign is that the first 50 to 60% of our backers, for the most part were directly tied to someone in our film. It was in the last 40 to 50% where strangers were jumping on board. That’s where it became much tougher to track where the pledge was coming from. I was correct when I said, “I do not know... but it is going to happen.” It is still hard to believe.
14) Your work doesn’t end when your campaign ends. I am already hearing murmurs of disgruntled backers from other Crowd-Funding campaigns. “I contributed a lot of money and I didn’t even get one thank you.” Every amount you receive from each of your backers is a lot of money to them. We give in the proportion of money that we have. The fact that someone put their money into your project means something and it means something to them. I do not take this lightly and I do not take it for granted. My mindset is to do my best to give back more than what is promised in our incentives. That way, in some sense, each of our backers will feel like they got more than their money’s worth.
This digs me in the hole in regards to my time. But I believe that is part of the trade-off in a Crowd-Funding situation and it is a deal I am willing to make. It is my mission to follow up with each of our 227 backers in as many ways as I can. It is my mission to deliver on our incentives in a reasonable period of time. There is no way around it. It’s a lot of work. But it is work that is fun and it is rewarding. Since our campaign has ended, I have begun emailing backers individually and thanking them. I have begun a reverse countdown on our Facebook Page where I thank each backer one by one. Gregor and I are recording personal video thank yous and have been emailing them. Karen and I have been thanking backers on our Film Courage radio show. I am excited to make my first two apple pies which will be delivered this weekend.
I am not looking at this crowd-funding campaign as a short-term solution. “Hey, thanks everybody for your money” and then disappear. I am looking at this for the long-term. Someone who contributed $1 to this campaign may end up buying the DVD when it is ready or maybe they contribute $100 if I do another campaign. If you are looking at your fan base / supporters for the long-term then you can see how every dollar really does matter.
I am overjoyed with everyone who contributed to our campaign to help make it happen. My only regret is that I am not able to get back to all of our backers fast enough.
BONUS INSIGHTS for my faithful readers
A) Is it too late to Crowd-Fund? No. In my opinion, this is just getting started. I believe we will see a number of campaigns come up short, and people will panic. We all have a different network. Your audience is not my audience. We may have audience members who overlap but your fans are your fans. For this reason, I believe there is room for success for everyone. It’s not going to happen magically. I believe you need to take to heart what I am writing about in this blog.
Something to keep in mind. The general public doesn’t really understand Kickstarter, IndieGogo and other crowd-funding sites. In our case, not only were we trying to raise money, we were also educating the people we were reaching. A lot of effort went into not just raising money, but explaining to folks how Kickstarter works, answering questions, etc.
As we see more success stories which help to build the crowd-funding communities, you will have less leg work to put in. Doesn’t mean it is going to be any easier for you to reach you goal... okay maybe just a tad bit easier.
The idea of crowd-funding is here to stay. Fueled by the power of incentives and interaction with your fan base. We crave to share in these experiences. And as mentioned above, this becomes one of the best ways to combat piracy. I believe we will see more and more folks showing the courage to launch their own campaigns. Something I haven’t really touched on yet is that crowd-funding allows you to help and support other artists directly. It allows artists to give directly to you. Giving is a spiritual principle. It is rewarding and empowering.
B) The Power of 7. It is going to take TEAM FUNDING in order to CROWD-FUND. The present and future of crowd-funding is to have a team of people behind your campaign. I worked hard within my team of people to get 7 of us really behind the campaign. It came in spurts, but it never really manifested. Thankfully we attracted a number of influential folks who helped push us over the top in reaching our goal.
If I do crowd-fund again, it will be with a team of 7 or more dedicated people behind it. The power of 7 committed and dedicated team members can achieve extraordinary results. There is more I would like to write about this subject, but really it carries me into another blog.
C) Two ideas that I didn’t implement with my campaign that I would love to do. I didn’t get a chance to do these two ideas but I believe they can be effective.
1) Host a LIVE event. Whether it be a launch party for the launch of your campaign or whether it comes in the middle. I believe a LIVE event with a theme tied into your project is a way to really generate further excitement around your campaign. Have a computer or laptop ready to receive contributions. There is a lot you can do with this.
2) Telethon. Not my idea, but makes total sense. This one from filmmaker Danny Lacey (http://dannylaceyfilm.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-must-be-mad-another-crazy-fund.html) who is crowd-funding for his film ‘Love Like Hers.’
I hope this blog assists you in your Crowd-Funding efforts. I would love to hear your comments, insights and reactions. Please share.
If these tips help you reach your Crowd-Funding goal, I hope that you will take the time to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your success story.
Now I must get back to my backers and to making movies. : )