One reason Kickstarter has struck a chord with entrepreneurs is that it's disrupted the old way of doing business, allowing startups to prove real-world demand, even if real-world supply isn't quite there yet. Well, after a record-setting campaign launched Wednesday for the long-anticipated Veronica Mars movie, even the old-new rules of Kickstarter have gone out the window again.
The years-in-the-making push to create a Veronica Mars movie, based on the mid-2000s cult hit TV show created by Rob Thomas, is now a lot closer to reality, thanks to the popular crowdfunding site. After finagling a blessing from Warner Brothers, which owns the series about a teenage detective played by Kristen Bell, Thomas took his dream for a movie version -- which had been repeatedly rejected by the studio -- straight to the fans. The message was simple: Help us raise at least $2 million in 30 days, and we'll get to make the movie.
Bolstered by an impassioned plea from Thomas and "Veronica" herself, along with a cheeky video starring the cast and a clever list of "prizes," these unlikely Kickstarters hit that mark in less than 12 hours. Which makes it the fastest-growing Kickstarter campaign in history. (The team broke several records, according to Thomas -- fastest project to hit $1 million, fastest to hit $2 million, highest initial funding goal ever reached and largest film project ever). Due to the overwhelming response, which has reached nearly $3 million with 29 days to go, Thomas is already planning to add more high-end prizes, like additional premiere parties, and is working to allow international fans to contribute.
Related: 3 Rules for Successful Crowdfunding
For their part, Thomas, Bell and the gang from Neptune High seem genuinely floored by the outpouring. And Hollywood, along with the rest of the world, is taking notice -- for much of the campaign's first day, and again today, "Veronica Mars" was trending on Twitter, right alongside the new pope. As Bell tweeted last night to her nearly 1 million followers:
"dear pope. Im sorry VM fans stole ur thunder on ur 1st day. I mean,Im not really that sorry,but i thought it would be polite 2 say so. xo"
Entrepreneurs, artists and other creative types looking for a funding boost or a way to gauge potential customer demand have been drawn to Kickstarter since its launch in 2009 for this very reason, albeit on a smaller scale. When a much-delayed crowdfunding law eventually takes effect, the trend is expected only to grow. But not all campaigns succeed -- in fact, more than half never reach their goal, according to Kickstarter.
So what was Thomas' secret? And how can you juice your own Kickstarter campaign with a little Veronica Mars moxie? We decided to ask Jennifer Hill, a veteran venture attorney, startup adviser and regular Kickstarter watcher.
Tip 1: Be ready for success.
Sure, it helps to have millions of Twitter followers and fans at your disposal. And despite the jaw-dropping success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign, it wasn’t exactly an overnight success -- Thomas and his team reportedly shot the video and began putting the wheels in motion last February. "Make sure that your company and team are ready for the campaign," Hill says. A big, and often-overlooked part of that? Having a website that works and reflects well on your brand, even if it’s basic. Then, according to Hill, it’s time to enlist your team. "Have them ready to shout it from the proverbial rooftops, spread the word about the campaign, and respond in real time to backing," she says. In the case of Veronica Mars, support for movie had been simmering for years. Bell helped fan those flames with her massive Twitter following once the campaign started.
Tip 2: Make the video personal.
No doubt about it: Humans respond to other humans. Your potential customers want to see you -- not just your product. The beauty of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter video is that it was shot in Bell’s home, staring Bell in her pajamas, Hill says. "You want to create a personal spot," she advises. "Include your grandma, include your puppy, whatever gets your point or plea across in a way that will make people want to back you and share with your friends." This isn't the time, she adds, for a "Ron Popeil infomercial."
Tip 3: Offer killer swag.
Prizes like Kristen Bell recording your voicemail -- which diehard fans could purchase for $500 -- was a brilliant piece of the Veronica Mars campaign, Hill says. Other rewards included signed cast posters, premiere and after-party tickets, and roles as extras in the movie. "Film easily lends itself to stuff people want, like scripts and tickets," she says. "But every industry can too, if you think cleverly enough." Before your campaign, come up with a list of rewards that your potential customers might think are cool, and test on your cheapest friends beforehand, she advises. "The funnier the better," she says.
Tip 4: Involve your customer.
"Opinions are like belly buttons -- everyone has one," Hill says. "But we all like to feel like ours matters, even if we pay for the privilege." With the Veronica Mars campaign, the creators have offered fans (for a price) the chance to actually name a character. Giving customers the opportunity to be so involved "creates a unique bond that encourages people to donate and brag about it and, in turn, spread the word," she says. Such grassroots publicity is an essential part of a successful Kickstarter campaign. "Let the ‘crowd’ be not just your investors, but your marketing department, too," she says.