Confessions of a Crowdfunding Enthusiast

Our latest guest post comes from crowdfunding enthusiast, Adam Millen. Engineer by day, children’s author by night, he went from backing campaigns to running one of his own. He’s hooked and planning another campaign. You can find out more about it at jackfeelsbig.nz/sophie. He tweets about crowdfunding @crazyideasnz and blogs at crazyideas.nz.

What would you do if your friends and family offered you a couple thousand dollars? They say they want to support that thing that you’re really passionate about, and the money is for you to produce something cool to share. What would you do with it?

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At the start of last year I had the idea of creating a book to teach kids the names for their feelings. And I crowdfunded it. I’ll tell that story, but first – why? Why do I care about crowdfunding ideas? Why should you care?

I care because I’m excited about the way that crowdfunding forms a bridge between people’s ideas and reality. A bridge for ideas that otherwise would never have come to be.

You should care because you could be one of those people! And it’s really rewarding to do! Both the creating and the backing.

So let me tell you my story. It actually starts even before I had the idea. I had backed crowdfunding campaigns and I already knew that I wanted to create something, but I didn’t know what.

Then, at the start of last year I stumbled across inspiration. I read an article laying out how important it is to teach young children to name their feelings and I saw a gap – it would be easier to teach these words if there were books with stories that specifically used these words. It seemed like something that I could put together. I couldn’t draw well enough for a kids book, and I don’t have the equipment for printing and binding. But I could find people to do those. I could use my engineering brain to analyse a complex concept and break it down to simpler parts. And I could come up with a suitable scenario to illustrate each feeling. I got pretty excited about this useful thing that I could create!

Coming back  to my first question – what would you create? Have you had ideas like this? Have you seen something missing from the world? Maybe you thought “someone should definitely make that”. Maybe you could be the one to do it!

I shut myself in my room over the Easter long weekend last year and wrote up a dozen stories and laid the groundwork for some more. I came up with a defined project. I would get illustrations done for 15 stories and publish them in three volumes.

Next I did some research on how much that would cost and got quotes from printers and illustrators.

If I set my crowdfunding goal at $20,000 that would mean I would need to pre-sell eight hundred copies of the book at $25 each. That balanced the fixed cost of fifteen stories worth of illustrations with the variable costs of printing, postage and crowdfunding fees.

I hadn’t done books before. I didn’t have an existing customer base or relevant community to go to. I had friends and family, but the $20,000 goal was not realistic. No worries. I just had to re-package.

I redefined and resized the project – to get illustrations done for just five stories, and with those in hand, publish “Volume 1”. For me, crowdfunding would be a stepping stone. Maybe the thing you’re passionate about is too big for a couple thousand dollars. Can you make part of it become a reality on this budget? It could be the first step to something awesome.

For my campaign, the main reward would be a copy of the book for pledging $25. For $5 and up, backers would be kept updated and would get to choose which five feelings went into the book. For $50 they would get a signed copy. There were options all the way up to a thousand dollars. The $25 reward point tends to be the most popular, but it’s important to cover the whole range to leave all of your crowd satisfied.

So what about your passion? If you packaged up a project with a budget of a couple thousand dollars, what would you share? Something tangible – like a print of a painting of yours? Or an experience like tickets to your big show? A virtual reward maybe – like an mp3 of your song? Public appreciation – like a place in the credits at the end of your documentary? Or involvement – like being part of the crew, getting inside access or VIP (Very Important Pledger!) treatment? If all else fails, how about some merchandise – like a tshirt with the name of the community group? There’s so many options if you think freely about it.

Ok. So I had my plan laid out. Next, I spent a weekend putting together a video. I had the technical know-how, and I had my idea pretty well condensed, both of which helped. My delivery wasn’t the greatest though, and it took hours of recording to get just a few minutes of not messing up my lines. And then a whole lot of editing!

If you’ve got an idea that you want to crowdfund, you’ll need to make a video. And you need to be in it. Why is this so important? People need to see your passion for this thing. If you don’t believe in it, why would anyone else? But I’m sure you can get excited about your big idea! You also need to keep it short and to the point, and it helps if your camera is stable and your shot is well lit.

The next thing I needed was a crowd. I made sure that I started talking to people even before I launched, trying to make sure I had a list of core backers that I could depend on to pledge immediately. My closest friends, immediate family and other friends who also happened to be in my target audience. When the campaign opened, it was people from this list that gave it a running start.

The sooner you start building you crowd, the better. Even before you have all the rest planned out, it helps if you make a habit of talking about what you’re passionate about. Post on social media, join relevant community groups. It all helps.

After that I reached out wider, direct messaging every single Facebook friend I had. The second push was enough that the first few days got me to about 30% of my goal. This is a typical start for a campaign that’s going to make it. It’s is a very exciting time. And then things leveled off. In general, a typical successful campaign will spend the next ten or twenty days steadily plodding toward the 60% mark. This part tested my perseverance. Someone who really liked the idea pledged $500! Then several days passed with nobody at all pledging. Then  I got an article on Stuff! But it didn’t bring in any new backers. There were definitely times when I wondered if I would even make it!

I made sure to send updates out during the campaign. I engaged with my backers and encouraged them to help spread the word. It was hard work keeping at it, even when the early optimism flagged.

Most campaigns that reach 60% by the 5-days-to-go milestone will get to the mark. As the countdown approaches, if you’ve got enough funding that it’s looking credible, the fence-sitters jump on board. The despair of the middle of the campaign is suddenly replaced with joy! All your hard work has paid off!

I reached my goal, and actually managed a little bit more. In the end about three-quarters of my backers were friends and family.

Even after the crowdfunding campaign was a success, I still had a lot of hard work to do! Producing and shipping a quality children’s book took plenty of time and effort. I spent most of my Easter long weekend this year personally delivering books to backers (a great experience in itself). Now I’m all done and I’m selling the book on my website. A book that might never have existed.

I’ve made my crazy idea a reality. How about yours? If you don’t have a project of your own, get on board with someone else’s. Help them make the video, share their page. Or back it!

Crowdfunding is going to be the bridge to reality for a whole stack of ideas that otherwise never would have gotten there. And that’s exciting.

 

Keep your eyes peeled for Adam’s upcoming campaign, Sophie Feels Big.

 

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