Crowdfunding – The DOS & DON'TS

Reblogged from http://emmawestwood.wordpress.com/ 

In July, Nathan Oxley of the company IC12 and his creative director, Robert Earp, asked me if I'd give them a hand with a crowdfunding campaign they were looking to launch. They'd developed this little light called the LED Light Cube, which they pitched as having the ability to liberate photography and videography – or be an industry "game-changer" as the media eventually chose to express it.

When they came to me, the Cube was already at the prototype stage and the technology had been proven but, to take some pressure off the initial production run, they wanted to raise funds via crowdfunding and also use this as an opportunity to get the word out before the product actually hit the streets. They'd chosen Indiegogo because, with us being a non-American enterprise, this was the site that could support us in a truly international way.

In terms of powering a crowdfunding campaign, Nathan and Rob had taken a leap of faith coming to me. I wasn't completely unknown to Rob so he had a rough idea of my abilities but, to Nathan, I was just a nice girl with some writing talents who said 'yeah sure, I can drive this thing'. The reality was I'd had no crowdfunding experience to date. Being acutely aware of this, I wasted no time researching this whole crowdfunding shebang, picking the meat off the bones of the Indiegogo site, poring over other campaigns and talking to colleagues who had already been successful in crowdfunding until I was confident I knew what needed to be done.

By the time we were ready to go live with our campaign, we'd created a pretty solid pitch, although we were still overcoming some hiccups that meant our demo videos were not ready. Nathan had spoken to enough photographers during the R&D phase of the LED Light Cube that he knew the technology was desired – we just needed to connect with them. What Nathan also had – that made a huge difference to the outcome of the campaign – was a rather hefty database of photographers across the world who knew him professionally and, therefore, were willing to at least read an introductory email about the campaign and then choose whether to come along for the journey or opt out. Luckily for us, most of them took little encouragement to fasten their seatbelts.

We jumped from the starting blocks on 13th August at a fairly solid pace for a 30-day campaign but, as expected, there were a lot of questions being posed by interested parties. I had my skills tested getting back to everyone in a timely fashion across the numerous channels of communication we'd created (campaign page, website, Facebook, Twitter) – not to mention, deciphering techno-babble and getting the right answers from Nathan – and evolving the text and direction of our campaign according to what the backers (or potential backers) were telling me. I came to liken the whole thing to a political campaign – you go in thinking you know exactly how it will pan out, then someone says something that sends you in a different direction or you need to handle public perception or you're pushed to give them something that they're asking for, etc, etc.

One really interesting fact that made itself known early in our campaign was that all our backers actually wanted the product. They didn't just want to support us in getting the product created – they wanted to get it for themselves, and the prospect of securing a good deal (almost half retail price across the majority of 'perks' we offered) was just too good to refuse. This was a great revelation because it told us immediately that the LED Light Cube had life well beyond a crowdfunding campaign. There is a genuine market out there.

Our LED Light Cube campaign really found its feet as soon as the demonstration videos hit the page and backers could see what the Cube was capable of achieving. We jumped up to US$30,000 in just a week of campaigning, which meant our US$60,000 goal was looking attainable quite early in the piece if we kept on climbing at an exponential rate. Of course, this didn't happen. We flattened out and, for a couple of days, our campaign total didn't move an inch. I think the words I said to Nathan were 'what does a girl have to do to get some money - suck cock?'. Thankfully, this was not required. In fact, in discussing such a phenomenon with Indiegogo, they explained that 'dead' periods were quite common in crowdfunding campaigns, so the best thing was to utilise this time to think up new tactics i.e. competitions for the most leads sent our way, more videos, announcement of possible stretch goals if the campaign reaches a certain amount, and so on.

We reached our US$60,000 goal one week before the end of our campaign on 12th September. If the truth be told – as ecstatic as we were about this achievement – we were hoping for US$80,000 all along. We just didn't want to look greedy by setting a goal that could be deemed outrageous. With only another seven days of our campaign left, we announced a stretch goal of ring adapters (for attaching accessories to the LED Light Cube) if we made it to the US$85,000 mark. It only took another couple of days before this dream became a reality. Then, it was just a matter of racing to the finishing line and pushing our total as high as it could possibly go.

We hammered home the 'countdown' aspect of it all, and created a sense of urgency for those people sitting on their hands and thinking they had plenty of time to move on the campaign. As expected, they all leapt into action in a mass scramble that saw our final total reach a whopping US$132,000 – over double our original goal. In my initial talks with Rob and Nathan, we'd bandied about a US$100,000 figure as the 'pie in the sky' amount that we could keep at the back of our minds. To eclipse that figure in such a resolute manner left us all searching for words. Yes, we were speechless, and still are, to a certain extent.

With the LED Light Cube now a couple of weeks from conclusion, our focus is on getting the Cube into production and delivering timely updates to our backers now that they've shown us the money and are waiting patiently to reap their rewards. We've also been asked to speak at an Indiegogo Australia conference about our crowdfunding experience and impart some valuable lessons for others hoping to replicate our success. For those of you not attending this event, I've compiled a top five that might help you make the most of your own crowdfunding venture, if you think it's your bag:

1. Crowdfunding is not a lazy option for making money.
Like any kind of marketing campaign, crowdfunding requires a lot of preparation, persistence and professionalism. There are plenty of campaigns out there making money – and plenty that are not. Backers can immediately tell if you are making your humanitarian documentary just to get an all-expenses-paid trip to Africa.

2. Transparency makes good crowdfunding sense.
Be as honest and open in your crowdfunding pitch as humanly possible. If your product is held together by gaffer tape (like ours!), make sure your potential backers know that. They need to feel like they're part of your inner sanctum and have a sense of ownership over the product – a sense of exclusivity.

3. Negativity does not need to be negative.
People will question your product or service – that's just part of human nature. There will be many people playing 'devil's advocate' on your campaign page and across your social media. Do not be afraid of such questions. Instead, embrace them and take everything on as feedback for moving forward. Answer all questions with courtesy and appreciation, as opposed to getting defensive or simply deleting them.

4. Inform and interest backers rather than beg.
In order to make a crowdfunding campaign look vibrant and exciting, there needs to be a lot of activity. Keep updating your page (and social media) with interesting, unexpected, educational and creative posts. Potential backers will just tune out if they feel like they're being fed boring marketing guff and sales pitches. Videos and engaging pictures work wonders.

5. Your campaign is so much more than your campaign page.
If you think that putting up a campaign page is all you need to do, then think again. A campaign will be driven through the community you create - discussion threads on Facebook & Twitter, comments on other blogs, articles across media, emails out to your own contacts, etc, etc. All these avenues need to be updated and pursued just as aggressively as the campaign page itself.



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