The philosophy of crowdfunding is idealistic and optimistic: It's about everyday people having the power to give life to new businesses. Crowdfunding has launched countless dreams that might not have come true through traditional financing methods. It’s egalitarian and beautiful.
But crowdfunding is also a business. And like any business venture, efficiency, organization and discipline are going to make a huge difference in the outcome.
If you are thinking of launching your product or service through crowdfunding, keep your dreams lofty and idealistic, but keep your feet on the ground. Treat your campaign with hard-nose, strategic business strategy and remember that "successful crowdfunding is successful marketing.” That’s what Clay Hebert, the founder of New York City-based Crowdfunding Hacks, tries to impress upon his clients.
Before becoming a crowdfunding consultant, Hebert was a longtime corporate consultant, crunching numbers and living in Excel documents. In 2009, Hebert was one of nine students to be accepted into marketing guru Seth Godin’s six-month intensive business strategy course.
Three years later, he found a new way to apply his skills. Hebert was celebrating his girlfriend's birthday in Hawaii when he got a phone call from his friend Mitty Mirrer, a documentary filmmaker. Mirrer was raising money to fund her documentary, Gold Star Children, about children left behind when their parents die in war. Her Kickstarter campaign was already launched and she was in danger of not making her funding goals. Hebert used his marketing acumen to help Mirrer and get her past her $20,000 goal to cover production costs.
Word of his success spread and he began advising friends and friends of friends on their crowdfunding campaigns. Since January 2012, he has helped 40 entrepreneurs raise $4 million on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Now, Hebert is in the process of codifying his consulting advice into a digital course.
While corporations can afford $10,000 for a marketing consultant with Hebert’s level of experience, a startup entrepreneur looking to raise $25,000 can’t. Hebert's online course will cost between $500 and $1000, depending on the level of advice an entrepreneur decides he or she needs.
If you're looking to crowdfund, you already know the importance of being active on social media and having a great video on your campaign page. Here are some tips from Hebert you likely haven't heard before.
1. Start working on your campaign six months before you want to launch. “Crowdfunding projects get funded before they launch, not while they are live,” says Hebert. By the time the buzzer goes off, the game is already decided. When your crowdfunding campaign begins, you should already have done the lion’s share of the heavy lifting in terms of getting the word out, sharing your news and collecting email addresses.
2. Research similar projects. Neither Kickstarter nor Indiegogo take down campaigns once they have ended. Both the successful and unsuccessful campaigns are still left up on the websites. That makes Kickstarter, Indiegogo and other platforms “a goldmine” of data, says Hebert. There is a huge amount of information available for free for you to research. For example, if you are running a campaign to raise money for your startup that will make wallets for men, you would be shooting yourself in the foot to not look at the bevy of wallet campaigns already out there in front of the public. Crowdfunding, as an industry, “is super transparent," says Hebert. "Everything is up there for you to look at. It’s very lazy to not look at what’s worked and what hasn’t.”
3. Create a video with two endings. When producing a video for your campaign page, shoot two different video endings: one for before the campaign launches and one for when the campaign is live. The first ending should invite people to sign up for email updates on your upcoming crowdfunding campaign and should be posted on your company's website six months before your campaign launches. The second ending should be used when you post your video to your campaign site; it should invite people to contribute.
4. Don’t try to win over everybody with your campaign. Trying to convince a vegetarian to invest in a beef farm is very likely to be a waste of your energy, for example. Focus on winning over the people who matter most to your brand. Target a subgroup of people who you have a high probability of catching their interest. Most successful crowdfunding campaigns have fewer than 1,000 backers, says Hebert, so it is not important for everyone to like your idea.
5. Set your funding goal as low as you can manage. Kickstarter is an all or nothing platform. If you want to raise $500 and you set as your goal $500, then you get the money. If you raise $500 but your goal was $600, you walk away empty handed. Raising $50,000 when you were looking to raise $48,000 is positive, but it’s not going to catch any headlines. Raising $50,000 when your goal was $1,000 is exciting. Don’t undersell yourself: Be sure to calculate what you need to make to cover expenses, including the cut that the platform takes and that the payment processor makes. But then, don’t add any fat. You can make hefty profits later on down the road. Blowing your goal out of the water, meanwhile, might even catch the eye of the press.
6. Offer more than just the congratulatory email. In almost every crowdfunding campaign, Hebert sees a $5 or $10 level that rewards backers with nothing much other than a congratulatory email. “Nobody wants a $5 or $10 digital high five except, like, your Grandma,” says Hebert. Think about dropping the lowest donation possible to $1, and then reward an investor with a useful reward that is free to distribute -- either a video, tip or photo. Then, the investor is sitting there, engaging with your concept with his or her credit card already out.
7. Award your donors with reduced prices. You are asking your backers to take a risk on you. And you need to compensate your backers for taking that risk, says Hebert. When you buy a pair of shoes on Zappos.com, you don’t wonder whether you will get your shoes or lose your money. There is no “fulfillment risk.” When people put money behind a brand new entrepreneur or artist, they have no guarantee that their investments will result in a good or experience being delivered on time, or at all. You have got to reward your campaign backers by giving them a price below the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP).
8. Don’t skimp on design. Your friends and family will probably back you regardless of what your campaign looks like, but when you are trying to get others to contribute, you'll have to convince them that you and your project are trustworthy and reliable. “The community on Kickstarter cares about design,” says Hebert. The way your website and logos look makes a huge difference in whether an individual will put down his or her hard-earned dollars.