What We Talk About When We Talk about Tone

Tip of the Week

I recently got an email request by a woman asking me to consider writing about her campaign. Even though I don’t write about campaigns per se, I will break my own rule if there’s a teachable moment I can share with readers.

Today’s that kinda day.

Why? Because her campaign gets to the heart of what’s missing in so many campaigns I see: the disconnect between the project/idea/product itself and the tone the project creator uses to get her message across.

Which goes back, of course, to the Realm of Story, a land in which regular readers of mine know that I have pretty much parked myself, with the intention of heightening your awareness to the value and importance of consistency of message throughout your crowdfunding page. Yes, I think it’s that important. And this campaign does such a bang-up job of that I just had to show it to you.

I’ll set the scene

Lindsey Laurain is the founder of EZPZ and  Less Mess Happy Mat is “an integrated placemat and plate that suctions to the table.” It is made out of the highest quality silicone, she says, “and is safe for kids’ growing bodies.” Here’s the top of her campaign page.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

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There’s more:

CLICK TO ENLARGE

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But here’s the best part: the pitch video! Pay attention and learn.

I don’t have kids but I’d want to buy these for mine if I had them because Lindsey has my whole and complete trust. Everything about her message is consistent: She’s a crazed but happy mom who developed something to make her life less crazed—so she can  stay happy.

Am I saying that you have to contort yourself and try and be something you’re not? Absolutely, no I am not. But whatever personality type you are you have to create a campaign persona that is consistent with your message. If Lindsey couldn’t pull the happy but crazed mom herself she would have needed to find another way to get that message across.

Tone matters. Message matters. Words and actions matter. Don’t phone it in. But most of all, be consistent and be yourself.

P.S. I want to note that this critique is not addressing whether she has the chance to reach her goal or not; it’s simply a discussion on the artfulness of her campaign. Lindsey told me she started her outreach late—something she realizes now was a mistake—and her goal is high. I hope she makes it because the product looks really amazing!

 

 

Crowdfunding and the Tax Man: Know the Facts

Tip of the Week

Timing should play a big part in your decision as to when you launch your crowdfunding campaign. We’ve heard about seasonal considerations, like it’s probably not a great idea to launch a campaign in August, unless you’re selling a school accessory that parents and kids alike might find useful.

Christmas isn’t a good time either, for fairly obvious reasons.

But did you know there’s another more costly reason no to launch your crowdfunding campaign around the end of the year?

Taxes.

Photo credit: SDRandCo from morguefile.com
The taxes that project creators incur don’t get talked about very often, but they should be; US-based projects can wind up dropping a big chunk of their take to Uncle Sam. And if you launch around December that bite could hurt extra bad.

Cameron Moll is a fine artist who reimagines architectural structures as if they were constructed entirely of letter type. His Kickstarter campaign was a homage to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Here’s what he has to say post-campaign:

Word to the wise if launching your campaign near the end of the year: Don’t. Unless you can incur most of your expenses before December 31. Otherwise you’ll pay taxes on whatever amount transfers from Amazon Payments to your bank account prior to December 31, even if you expense all of it on January 1.

With a goal of $10,000 Moll wound up raising a total of $64,597, with approximately $3K of that going to the government. That’s not the only unplanned output “successful” campaigns often wind up shelling out, the article points out, but it’s a big one and it’s avoidable.

Props to Moll, not only for bringing attention to this very important line item you should be adding to your budget, but also for his honesty. He wrote a thorough article on the Medium called The Economics of a Kickstarter Project—sadly, the article’s subhead is: Or How Much I Didn’t Make—in which he carefully subtracts his costs. The total he’s left with is not pretty.

Everyone in pre-launch should take to heart and learn from him. It’s one of the greatest gifts past project creators offer the aspiring crowdfunder, and I for one always learn from them.

Crowdfunding Campaigns You Should Know About

Hi crowdfunders,

Yesterday this blog post went out prematurely. Here’s the completed post. Thanks for your understanding!

I look at so many campaigns that blow me away for one reason or another. What to do with all this ingenuity and spirit. As they piled up and lodged in my consciousness I decided that would just post them, share why I liked them, and maybe they would resonate with you, too. Give, don’t give. Share, don’t share. Just give them a peek and see what you think. I’d love to hear how our views diverge or collide. In no particular order:

Dancing in the Third Act aroused
that feeling I’m sure you

all recognize when you find a campaign that makes you feel.

It’s all about good friends, the freedom of expression, and the

recognition that we live in a time and country—for good and

bad—where thirds acts are permissible and increasingly common.

This is an example of the good kind.

 

Talkitt is is voice recognition software for the speech impaired. I have no idea how it does it but it is able to translate words in any language that sound unintelligible to the human ear. The daughter in the video who describes how her dad suffered a stroke and she no longer recognized the person she knew was still inside, on the outside says it all. It’s very moving, but it’s also some darn cool technology. Another great feat from an Israeli company–why are they so good? My colleague Ran Cory, who’s worked as creative director and has several other successes under his crowdfunding belt can be proud.

Voiceitt from VoiceItt on Vimeo.

 

School of Doodle. Any campaign that succeeds at empowering the other half of the sky, as John Lennon famously called those of us of the female persuasion, and if the narrator is “Orange is the New Black’s” Natasha Lyonne, the gravelly voiced tough girl with a big heart who can’t hide no matter how tough her exterior, I’m in double. The campaign really speaks for itself. Support them and speak for the Loud Club yourself.

<iframe src=”https://www.indiegogo.com/project/ronald-mcdonald-house-picture-day-project/embedded” width=”222px” height=”445px” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”></iframe>

The Ronald McDonald Picture Day Project gets props for most improved video. Full disclosure: I consulted with this great couple from Durham, North Carolina. We talked about the fact that the video needed work and they stepped up. This video captured the “kid” spirit the other was missing. The work they are doing for these kids and their families is gratis. Show them some love, won’t you?

Kickstarter Gives Journalists a Category of Their Own

Tip of the Week

 

There’s been plenty of talk circulating about Kickstarter’s new rules.

But a change that has generated less of a splash is that as of June 11, Kickstarter added Journalism to its growing list of categories and subcategories. (The other new category announced is Crafts.)

Considering journalism has been knocked about and turned inside out (thanks, Internet), this is good news because — to borrow from the best — it gives journalism a metaphorical “room of its own” (thanks, Virginia Woolf).

The category includes books, magazines, web publications, podcast, investigative or photojournalism, photo essays, and even live tweeting events.

If you launch a journalism project on Kickstarter, in solidarity Mediabistro’s 10,000 Words wants to give it a boost. Just tweet them your project @10,000Words or put it in the comment section here.

To continue reading this installment from my Tip of the Week column on Crowdsourcing.org, please go here.

Kickstarter Stories

Tip of the Week

I don’t remember when I first noticed that Kickstarter was sending me a weekly email with the same, recurring subject line: “Happening.” It’s an easy email to miss, doesn’t even have the Kickstarter logo attached, just plain text on the page.

At some point I began to read them and since then, I look forward to their arrival. As Kickstarter has a reputation for being aloof, this weekly sharing makes me feel like I’m getting to know the people behind Kickstarter better, which could have some benefits.

Happening is a staff-aggregated collection of links divided into three subheads. The emails always have a subject subtitle that relates to one of the links embedded in the email. Finding the connection is like a mini-treasure hunt. Last week’s installment was Rhapsody, so called because of the YouTube link to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which had its premiere 50 years from the day of posting. I found myself using it as background music while I worked at my computer.

Here are the subheads and how you can benefit from them:

To continue reading, please go to the most recent post on my Tip of the Week column for Crowdsourcing.org.

The Future of thepresent

I was taken by the idea of an annual clock that told time through seasonal shifts called thepresent the moment I laid eyes on it on Kickstarter in 2011. But I couldn’t get myself to pull the trigger on the $125 price tag. When the campaign ended to great success, I had a bad case of the opposite of buyers’ remorse. To weaken my sense of regret, I sent the link to my husband with a note that said, If you are ever stumped on a gift for me, get me this!  I forgot about it but bless his heart he did not, and on my birthday this year the box arrived in the mail.

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I wasn’t expecting such artistry. Even the packaging laid claim to it. I felt compelled to contact Scott Thrift the creator of thepresent. What follows is our Skype conversation after he wrote back and told me my email couldn’t have come at a better time because he was contemplating running a second crowdfunding campaign. I wanted to share our talk because his journey touches on all the most crucial elements of successful crowdfunding, much of which, when you are in the thick of it can feel a lot like confusion and a maddening sense that you might be hopelessly lost.

 Everything converged for him when he remembered what he did best. In doing so I think his process can be an inspiration to other entrepreneurs who have a dream they want to bring into the world. Rather than telling you, I felt there would be greater value in getting it straight from him. Afterwards, read my Tip of the Week for more about details Scott Thrift’s journey into The Future of thepresent.

It seems I caught you at a crucial time in the life of thepresent

I’ve been going through lots of changes with the clock. In fact, I recently stepped away from the  video production company I’ve been involved with since 2005 to do the clock full time.

I decided this is my destiny, to explore what are these clocks? It’s one thing to have a project on Kickstarter and to have people respond to it. It’s a whole other thing to make it real. On one level I had no expectations. On another level there was this whole other thing, which is that the clock is altering how people think about time. I hoped it would do that. So I’ve been asking myself what’s next? How do I bring it back to life?

When you wrote back you told me you wanted to run another Kickstarter but weren’t certain how it would go over. You asked me if I knew of anyone who ran a second successful crowdfunding campaign. I did some research and learned that 99% Invisible, another campaign that went back to the crowd after a hugely successful first effort, had recently launched a second campaign. (The first campaign was the highest funded in the Journalism category.) What struck a chord for you about that project?

It amazes me how everything eventually all fits together. I’ve been agonizing for the past few months thinking, Good grief! How do I do this? How do I keep this company alive and grow it? Then you sent me 99% Invisible and I thought, Make an independent video series, you dummy!

The key thing was this idea of “Season One.” I immediately thought to myself that what it says is This is a commitment. There will be a “Season Two.”  And it’s only going to get better. It helped me wrap my head around what I wanted to do in a way I didn’t expect.

I feel so lucky that I’ve struck such a chord with people to the point that they said, I want that, I want to live with that clock. Now I have a responsibility to tell their stories, too. That’s what I want to do with the video series once a month for every full moon.

I really appreciated the fact that you took your time and the hard road to find your point of view before launching a second campaign. That contemplation time is what many people tend to gloss over.

I really have to give credit to the clock for that. It gives me a sense of scale. There’s probably always going to be a part of me that feels a sense of urgency that I have to figure this out now! But then I just glance at the clock. It did take time but it’s all come around. I now know what I have to do in a way I didn’t know a few weeks ago. I only knew I wanted to put it in front of people who are already thinking about the world in the different way, are already interested in raising consciousness and becoming more aware. The clock actually does that to you.

In your first campaign you sold over 800 sold clocks. You sold some post-campaign, and you have about 700 left because you ended up making 2,000 pieces.  Can you talk about how the numbers worked out?

So on Kickstarter I only budgeted $24,000 for 100 clocks. The clocks cost $125 a piece to make. If you do the math that doesn’t really work out. So it wound up costing a great deal more.

But remember the clocks I thought I was going to make—maybe they would work, maybe they weren’t going to work; it was just a hack. I didn’t realize I was making something that didn’t exist before. But once I raised the money I thought Oh maybe I should make the world’s first annual clock as a real product.

I also wanted to make it like an heirloom so I made it out of steel and glass—everything was high quality. It cost three times the amount of money. I had to raise additional funds because I couldn’t get anyone to lift a pencil unless we made 2,000 units.

10_ThePresent_hand

Are you making new prototypes of the clock?

Yes, I am developing simplified versions of the clock and experimenting on how to keep the price down. There are a couple of ways it could go. I don’t know, maybe it’s in Target in a few years; maybe I take it to China.  But I have a lot of research before I take the next step with the clocks.

You plan to use the unsold clocks as perks, correct?
I think it only makes sense. They would be essentially the remaining units of the First Edition at limited and bracketing price scales.

My goal is to have as many people as possible live with these clocks. The most valuable exchange would be if those people who already have the clock and would love to give them as gifts but can’t afford it—I’m going to offer it to them at a limited, lower pricing tier.

I believe there’s this whole market of people who want to know how to live a good life. There’s a functional work of art happening here. It’s something that happens to you over the span of a year.

Can you talk about your marketing plan for thepresent in your first campaign?

I have to be honest I’m not a great marketer—that’s just not what I do. My backers were the Kickstarter demographic, so it was self-selecting. I also went into it thinking everyone can use one of these. That’s the first lesson of marketing: if you’re marketing to everyone you’re marketing to no one.

Do you know feel you know your market now?

I’m still learning. I think it’s going to be a journey, and to have this definitive thing—the full moon—that happens each month and to say every full moon I’m going to update everyone and make it interactive. I hope to find out who my market is and the best way to talk about it through that process.

And I’ve had some surprises. Some of the most amazing responses have come from people who have children. Someone from Washington state wrote and said he found me by accident just strolling around online—which is scary to someone like me! I thought that’s something I really have to fix.

But this guy wrote this really heartfelt note. He said that when he found the clock his 18-month-old son insisted on doing everything himself. He had to tie own shoes, he had to feed the cat—this kid just had to do it alone. The parents were very frustrated by this because everything took so long, and they were busy and had things that needed to get done! It was killing them.

So they got the clock and they put it in the living room. The guy said it’s changed everything about how he views time. Now he cherishes the time it takes his son to do these things. He said now when I feel rushed I look at the clock. It was exactly the shift he needed. So that’s a whole other market I hadn’t thought of.

home5

What’s your plan for the second Kickstarter campaign, The Future of thepresent video series?

For me the questions are who needs this clock and what does it do to people? I feel like there’s something so special about video and I think it would be so interesting to make the series a part of the discovery process. This clock never existed before and I feel a responsibility to tell its story. Whatever winds up happening–let’s fast forward 12 months from now—maybe it was only meant to be those 2000 clocks and that’s it, it’s the end of the story; nobody wants these things anymore. I’d have t swallow that fact, but at least I’d feel like I could move on.

You’re asking for $24,000 this time, too?

Yes, because that’s to the dime how much it will cost to make 12 episodes. But that’s if I stay in the U.S. If I raise more I’ll be able to go to Europe to interview some owners there. The more money I make obviously the better the show will be.

The money I’m asking for on 11-12-’13 is explicitly about making an independent video series. I’m coming at this video series as an artist. I’ve been given a gift. As a storyteller I’ve spent so much time editing and figuring out how to tell the stories in the films I’ve made. Since 2005 until the summer of this year I’ve made about 300 short films. This clock is the time that essentially I was making every video for. And I wanted to make every video that I made timeless. I wanted to put it online and feel that I’d still wanted to watch it in 20 years. I wanted to make them that good. So the clock really came out of the editing room.

What about distribution?
The videos will all be immediately available to backers on Kickstarter but I would love to start building a community on youtube, too.

Can you describe the full moon updates you made on your first Kickstarter campaign

I don’t think I made it explicit in my updates that I was timing them to the full moon but they all were released on or very near the full moon. But the cool thing for me was that I was able to look up at the moon and as it got fuller I would know that it was time to start wrapping everything up and tell people where I was. So that was the series. I made 16 episodes while I was making the clock. I think a lot of people miss it, and I miss it, and that’s what I want to bring back. So I hope that people want to see it. I hope they want to know what the future of thepresent is going to be.

08_ThePresent_Holding

What’s Your Crowdfunding IQ?

If the frequency with which Amanda Palmer’s recent Ted Talk was linked and cited and blasted into my own in-box is any indication, her presentation called “The Art of Asking” resonated with many, many people.

The crowdfunding community drew inspiration from it because of her massive success—an irresistible if-she-can-do-it-so-can-I shot of dopamine, and an affirmation of crowdfunding’s power.

And it is.

But I don’t think she was invited to speak because she held a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign that raised almost $1.2M for her music project—the first in that category to break a million on Kickstarter. I think what elevated her status to Ted-level popularity was as much about the subsequent fallout with some fans after she began her world tour and let it be known that she planned to crowdsource her backup musicians from each city in which she performed. Hugs, beer and merch would be their reward.

The crowd called these empty gestures. They said she was dredging up (regifting?) tired old perks and demanded she get off the gravy train and start behaving. Like what, the rest of us? But she’s not like the rest of us—or the many of us who would like to run a crowdfunding campaign but resist.

In her eloquent and thoughtful talk Palmer proved to us that her crowdfunding campaign was not just a well-executed one-off ask or a crazy fluke.  Her success reflected her philosophy of free and open access to music coupled with the solid relationship she had built with her audience, in large part through social media.

About the conflict, she included this in her closing remarks, “I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, ‘How do we make people pay for music?’ What if we started asking, ‘How do we LET people pay for music?” (Quick aside: Do people get help writing those Ted Talks? Because they are so good! If you haven’t seen it, please take the 13 minutes to do it now to see what I mean.)

The truth is we’re not all cut out for the demands of crowdfunding. I’ve seen campaigns that hold back, have heard creators suggest that the idea of asking for money is unseemly, to be embarked upon only between surges of shame, with metaphorical nostrils pinched and soul sold.

Speaking of a dopamine rush, sure it’s great to watch the uptick of dollars as you get closer to your goal. But remember it goes both ways! Crowdfunding works because people love to share a small part of their wealth to help someone else realize her dream.

Here’s a moving article written in the form of a love letter to a group of Girl Scouts spotted selling cookies. (A shout out to Anne Strachan at CrowdfundUK.) The letter writer senses the girl scouts’ discomfort with asking and generously sets them (and us) straight on what takes place in the hearts and minds and, apparently, the endocrine system, when we give.

“I know it seems like I am going to say that you are selling the excitement of buying cookies because people can anticipate how the sweets will taste- but I am not.  I mean sure- that helps, but what you are really selling is something even more delightful.  One very surprising activity that releases a huge dose of dopamine: Helping other people.

Still not sure if you have the personality to launch a crowdfunding campaign and really ask? Here’s a test to help you calculate your asking-style typology. With a series of questions you can determine your asking comfort level. Think of it as the Myers-Briggs for gauging your philanthropic skills. It’s pretty enlightening—and accurate. According to my test results I’m a “kindred spirit,” which means I “have a strong desire to help those in need” and that I’m “great at telling their stories.” What are you?

An Enlightened Look at Crowdfunding

Entertainment is a great mirror for capturing the cultural mood. I can think of several current television shows that reflect our anxieties about the future and our lack of trust for formerly sacrosanct institutions.

My current favorite is season two of ” Enlightened,” the HBO series created by the weird and wonderful Mike White. It stars Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe, a deeply flawed but well-meaning corporate drone who, after a professional meltdown, has seen the light—sort of.

mikeandlaura

 

In many ways Amy symbolizes our collective insecurities albeit writ large. She wants to be an agent for change! A superhero in a shiny cape who is willing to face off with her soulless employer for the collective good.

No spoilers here. Let’s just say while Amy’s heart is in the right place, judging from Episode 4, in which she has been introduced to the power of Twitter, things may not go well for her.

lauradern

Insecurity, however, also creates space for innovation, and fortunately there are now other ways to put people over profits using social media. It wouldn’t make for good TV, but the next time you have a case of “cape fever,” here are some new and effective ways people are using the power of crowdfunding to make the world a nicer place.

Co-operatives!

CO-OPS is a global group based in Canada that aspires to involve the masses in creating solutions to society’s community problems through one-member/one-vote co-ops.

Founder Roii Patterson wants to get people thinking about what co-ops they’d like to establish locally—he believes just about any idea is ripe for a co-op—and then use crowdfunding to bring them into the world. The group created an Indiegogo campaign, the model of which rewards entrepreneurs who start sustainable co-ops by allocating a percentage of profits to them. Their initiative then makes it easier for other to replicate the model elsewhere.

Rewards include co-op brainstorming sessions, assistance in business-plan creation and funding strategies. If you’ve got an idea for a co-op they’ve got your back.

Citizen Science!

Public funding has dried up like a Christmas poinsettia. It’s now commonplace for artists to turn to crowdfunding to fill in the gap. Last year, in fact, Kickstarter accounted for more funding to artists than the National Endowment for the Arts.

Now the scientists have caught the fever. In an effort to understand the microbes that inhabit our bodies, two Indiegogo campaigns running simultaneously (one is still active) are using the crowdfunding model combined with open-access data analysis to allow individuals to participate in unlocking the secrets to how diet and lifestyle decisions can dramatically affect health. Not only will the results improve our health, but without all those tedious grants to write, not to mention the time it takes to get the funding, progress will happen much faster.

American Gut calls itself “the world’s largest open-source, community-driven effort to characterize the microbial diversity of the Global Gut.” Though the campaign is over, having raised $339,780, you can still be a part of phase one (as of this writing) if you contact them soon.

Ubiome is an international effort available to 196 countries. With several days to go it’s more than doubled it goal by raising $267,545.

For both the process is the same as any DNA sampling. You purchase a kit, swab the body part, and mail it back to them for analysis. In return you get detailed information about your bacteria and what it says about you. Though both projects are mainly interested in your gut, perk levels also include kits for the mouth, skin, nose and even genitals.

It’s important to note that the rest of the scientific community will have to catch up before individuals can truly make use of this technology. But by participating now you are a pioneer and first on your block to learn what your gut is trying to tell you.

 Free the Books!

The list of traditionally published books that are no longer available to the public is long. These works are by law in a state of limbo—they are “stuck.”

Unglue.it invites you to imagine a world in which any book ever written can be made available to be read by device, format or ebook of your choice. Legally.

Unglue.it works with book rights holders. Together they determine a fair price to set the book free under Creative Commons licensing. A crowdfunding campaign is then started and you can pledge money to help raise the decided sum. When the goal is reached, the owner is paid and a digital version is created, for the device of your choice, worldwide. And you can legally copy it to share it with friends. Books rights holders can also initiate campaigns. Owners are also allowed to enter into other licensing agreements, including film rights. Win-win!

 Public Works!

Based in London Spacehive funds the capital costs of building public projects. Anything in the public space can be crowdfunded—sports facilities, green spaces, playgrounds. The appeal is that it invites the communities who best know and care about their needs to put forward project ideas. While it doesn’t eliminate the need for planning permission, according to their site it offers a streamlined approach that “put communities in the driver’s seat.”

Here in the U.S. a bill has been proposed by the lower chamber of the state of Hawaii to create a state crowdfunding website, which “allows members of the public to donate their own money toward the funding of specifc public capital improvement projects and monitor the progress of those projects as they near completion.”

Notably or not, the sponsors are all Republicans.

New Career Trend for 2013 is the Crowdfund Consultant: 10 Tips on Choosing Well

As trends go, crowdfunding is a toddler: all fired up and streaked with independence, in constant motion and grabbing at any shiny object put in its path, wobbly but growing more confident each day. If crowdfunding were a tactile thing, les enfants terribles would take a bite out of you.

But crowdfunding is not so new that it hasn’t birthed its own progeny—the crowdfund consultant. (I am referring to donor- and reward-based crowdfunding since, to push my metaphor one image too far, equity crowdfunding remains in a protracted period of gestation.) You could argue that the nature of crowdfunding defies such conventional paths, that part of its appeal is that every individual now has the tools and the potential audience to find her own way to success, middlemen be damned. Yet it’s a career track that’s found a foothold, and by the looks of the roster of individuals and companies identifying themselves as such, in my own niche capacity myself included, there are no signs the trend will slacken.

The truth is crowdfunding done well is really hard. It takes a diverse skill set. Creative types, who are big users of this new source of capital, are often weak on the communication, marketing and business end of things. Just scour a popular platform and you’ll see projects with great potential that don’t achieve their goal simply because they don’t know the space well enough to leverage it.

It also takes time to learn how to be successful at crowdfunding. Six months is a reasonable learning curve. Creators would rather be working on their art, innovators are immersed in inventions, and entrepreneurs seem to run on fumes as it is. So there is a need, and the vacuum is filling up, fast.

In an industry so untested, how is an individual or startup supposed to know whom to hire? Just saying you’re an expert doesn’t make it so. Since I spend an ungodly amount of time on the topic, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips I’ve picked up along the way. And since it would defeat the purpose to limit it to just one opinion, I contacted some of my colleagues, with whom I’ve formed a virtual salon on various LinkedIn crowdfunding groups, and asked them to weigh in.

Here’s what’s come of my research:

 

Handshake

Handshake

1. There is no one-size-fits-all consultant. No one’s been doing crowdfunding long enough to claim the mantle of expertise, myself included. My background and experience makes me suited to help you navigate storytelling and communications, marketing and media strategy, in the crowdfunding space. If you’re strong in those areas you don’t need me. Find a consultant with direct experience and credentials in areas where you feel most vulnerable. Then make sure that’s overlaid with hands-on crowdfunding experience.

2. Create an airtight contract stating responsibilities. Obvious advice for anyone looking to outsource? The difference is that a crowdfunding campaign has so many steps, from pre-launch strategy to perks delivery, and so many simultaneous tasks to coordinate. Without explicit task assignments important work will fall through the cracks. Then, who’s to blame if the project fails?

3. Solo operator or full-service company? It’s tempting to think you can pass your project off to a team of experts who will run your campaign to great success. But that’s not how it works in crowdfunding. Whether you hire an individual to fill a gap or a team of warriors, you have to remain fully engaged with the crowd because they need to feel your passion.

4. Walk away if someone promises success. Unlike a trainer or a dietitian, who can predict within a small margin of error that you will succeed if you follow their strategy, crowdfunding offers no such magic pill. The success rate is still estimated at 40 – 50%, even when you do everything right.

5. Hire someone impartial. With hundreds of platforms already competing for market share, let’s make sure the industry doesn’t devolve into doctor-pharmaceutical industry coziness. Consultants should recommend platforms because of cost, ease of use, filling a niche need, or excellent customer service. Here’s a post by crowdfunduk supporting her recommendations with sound reasoning.

6. If you don’t feel ready to launch and a consultant says you are, trust your gut. Hopefully you’ve done your research before you retain a consultant and you know that a paltry social media presence won’t get you far. There’s a metric to gauge your fundraising potential: calculate 5% of all your social media fans and multiply that by the most common pledge amount, which is $25. If the number falls short of your desired goal, keep building you community.

7. Look for active, knowledge-sharing consultants. The only true way to gauge a consultant’s knowledge is through his work. If your dream is to campaign on Kickstarter, a favorite is Funding the Dream’s active podcast series with loads of free, useful information. Money from the Masses offers project analyses and advice on market creation and sales.

8. How to negotiate payment. In traditional fundraising, consultants are never hired on a percentage of the total funds raised. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals ethic’s committee, “performance-based compensation, measured as a percentage, encourages abuses.” Flat fees mitigate this. In crowdfunding transparency is king. If you do decide to pay a percentage of your goal, it’s imperative you state that clearly and openly.

9. Look for crowdfund consultants with industry memberships and affiliations. Like any market, players need to validate their expertise. Membership organizations serve this function. Going forward, groups like the Crowdfunding Professional Association, pioneers in the industry, will help by making recommendations of dues-paying education-continuing members. Others, like the National Crowdfunding Association, are hot on its heels.

10. Zen Master Suzuki Roshi gets the last word. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Depending on your interpretation, the Zen Master may just be giving this new career his stamp of approval.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Ways Noreen Malone Got It Wrong About Crowdfunding

After journalist Noreen Malone’s controversial essay in The New Republic entitled “The False Promise of Kickstarter: Fund Me, I’m Useless” made its way through all the usual crowdfunding channels, a predictable kerfuffle ensued among crowdfunding enthusiasts that basically cast Malone as a bit of a nudge.

 

The Nudge

She is not the boss of how we spend our money, people insisted. No matter how foolish, misguided or “useless” the projects we choose to back might be, what’s it to her?

In the article Malone cites a few projects that, having no practical application on planet Earth nevertheless went on to reach their funding goals. By her own admission her examples were plucked straight from the lowest-hanging fruit of inutility, but still. The concepts and products are getting sillier, she complained, and they’re piling up.

Her concern is that as crowdfunding’s popularity continues to proliferate and projects pop up like over-bred moles in an arcade game, so too are the social pressures to pony up. We the friends, cousins, aunts, next-door neighbors and cubicle buddies cannot escape them. In short: Crowdfunding pleas for donations have become a burden, and they’re worthless, too.

This got me thinking. Sure, anytime society sanctions ways to make quick profits, it opens doors for the system gamers to take advantage of those not paying attention—just look at Bernie Madoff. But that’s why those of us who follow it closely really believe in the crowd mentality when gift giving.

Each person who clicks on to a crowdfunding campaign serves as a sort of check for everyone who’s come before and a balance for those who will come after. Among them at least some of the people will examine and dissect some detail or other of the project for accuracy, viability, veracity; some will critique and comment through public feedback, good and bad—and all totally visible for all the other prospective donors to see. When a campaign really picks up speed it’s because the crowd felt the momentum, found it righteous, and propelled it forward.

If Madoff’s wealth management company conducted its business online, how long do you think it would have survived before someone smelled a rat?

In the light of the controversy, I decided to circle back to some of my favorite projects that on the face of them should not have blown up into the stratosphere as they did. I wanted to see how the people were doing today. What I found was enlightening and confirms that, though I understand Malone’s concerns—I too scratched my head at my first invite to contribute to a Kickstarter project—I don’t think she’s scratched beneath the surface of the crowdfunding space. So, stroll with me down memory lane a bit.

1) Remember Karen Klein, the bullied bus monitor? A guy probably half her age, and a total stranger, launched an Indiegogo campaign so Klein could have a vacation. The project raised $698,873.00 beyond its desired $5,000 goal. (Am I the only one who instantly developed a crush on Max Sidorov? I think not.)

Klein could have hoarded the money, for which I’m sure she’s paying a chunk in taxes. Or, speaking of nudges, given the ensuing critical comments begrudging Klein her money, she could have gone sour on the crowd. Instead Klein turned over $100,000 to start an anti-bullying foundation. (Other online sources quote $75K. Hey, I never said the Internet was perfect.) Klein is not just taking a well-earned vacation; she’s also helping to rehabilitate bullies.

2) Then there’s Caine, the 9 year old from East L.A. who fashioned an elaborate arcade out of cardboard because he was bored and lonely. A stranger, who goes by Nirvan, was his first and only customer. Struck by Caine’s ingenious construction, Nirvan organized a surprise flashmob. Thousands of people from all over showed up to play. If you’re having a bad day click on this now to turn it around.

Buoyed, Nivan went further. With the original goal set at $25,000, he crowdfunded a project for Caine’s Arcade Scholarship Fund. It raised $221,066. A generous matching dollar-for-dollar seed-funding grant of $250,000 followed, which launched Caine’s Arcade Imagination Foundation to help more innovative kids around the country. Who knew cardboard could lift up a generation?

3) And how about Matthew Inman, the comic whose online material was stolen by sleazebags? He blogged about it and the guilty party’s attorney decided to get nasty, asking for $20,000 in damages and a cease and desist. Instead of being intimidated, Inman started a campaign to raise the money—but donate it to the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation. The campaign’s final take was $220,024.

On a roll, and using his voice to make the world a better place, Inman launched a second campaign to raise $850,000 to buy and restore Wardenclyffe Tower in New York to honor Nikola Tesla, and $1,370,461 later the Tesla Science Center is on its way to becoming a reality.

Yes, I cherrypicked my examples as much as Malone did; and no, not everyone has the ability or the will to achieve such heights for the greater good. But I for one feel heartened. Not only does crowdfunding make the connections possible, but now we all get to be superheroes just by clicking a button!

4) And speaking of superheroes, here’s one final example of things-we-don’t-need-but-wanna have: shiny, colorful capes that even Harry Potter would envy. Amazing Capes – Release Your Inner Superhero just raised $45,267 with a $15,000 goal. Roxanne, the campaign’s creator, has already committed to donate all future cape orders to “social organizations that are making a positive impact on our planet.” I can’t guarantee that buying one will thwart the naysayers’ barbs, but something tells me when you put one on you’ll feel happy, and that’s good enough for the crowd.

Photo credit: Timothy