In October 2015, we ran a succesful 28 day crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to raise the funds to develop our Branding Toolkit for Changemakers. We received an incredible amount of support and managed to raise 118% of our goal. The toolkit was published last month, and now that we can take a step back and look at the process of developing a book and running a crowdfunding campaign, we thought it would be interesting to share our experience with others who might be thinking of crowdfunding as a way to fund their project. Our experiences translated to three main lessons: guard your mental health, be business minded and the realisation that crowdfunding is an exercise in managing logistics.
1. Guard your mental health.
What you worry about in advance is most likely not the actual thing to worry about. I was very nervous about sticking my head out and creating a campaign, and especially about making a video with myself in it. Turns out making the video was not that big of a deal. Asking people for money was much harder.
Your imaginary critical audience does not exist. In the back of my mind, I have always had a set of people I was eager to please and who held me back from trying things that might not fit the mould. I replaced them with a group of people who were encouraging me which substantially eased the anxiety. Constructive feedback did come and it helped us forward. But I’ve yet to this day have received a single truly negative comment of anyone. And when it comes, which I am sure it will, there will be hundreds of positive comments stacked against it.
You will need to get comfortable asking people for money. People are busy, they don’t look at their inbox, did not see your tweet or think they will donate later. We sent over 500 individual emails (besides the main campaign emails) to specific people I had met over the years and who I thought would be interested. I had one standard email but adapted my pitch slightly for every single person. It worked but took a lot of time.
Finding your tribe matters more than reaching your goal. We received so many offers of help and collaboration that we really felt Kickstarter helped us to find our tribe of like minded people. This wave of support was far more valuable both from a business standpoint and an emotional standpoint than the actual money we were raising.
Don’t take it personal. Some people you think will support you with a contribution won’t. Some people you don’t know or expect to, will be generous beyond your dreams. I quickly realised I needed to take both graciously.
2. Be business minded
Only prepare for success. Because a successful campaign most likely will cost you the most, calculate the most expensive scenario for delivering your rewards. If you don’t know how many rewards you will sell, which rewards or what shipping will cost, calculate for the highest volume and cost scenario and calculate it into the sum you are raising.
Guard the financial overview like a lion or face the consequences. We put the bar very high for content quality, production and design as well as free donations of the toolkit. The project got bigger and bigger and our cost grew exponentially. As a result, the only space to get those costs recovered was through cutting the already modest budget reserved for our own time in the project. On top of this, we also offered time intensive rewards (workshops and brand consultancy that we offered pro bono). As a direct result, the toolkit is a labor of love despite raising 103% of our goal. If the toolkit becomes a success and many people will use it to create strong brands for social change, this will be worth it. But if you don’t have the breath for long term results, a crowd funding campaign might be a financial risk.
Crowdfunding is a great way to test your value proposition and market. Even if you don’t end up raising what you wanted to raise, you will get so much data and insights that will help you make whatever you want to make better and understand where to find the people who are your audience.
Realise that through crowdfunding, you are entering a new kind of business. A business that serves many individual ‘customers’. Get a warm hearted person to serve your backers professionally. Credit cards will falter. Browsers will crash. People might not understand the user interface. Backers will want to change their shipping address or order after the fact. Rewards will be delivered to the address of a now ex-boyfriend. All of these backers deserve maximum ‘customer service’ as soon as possible. Of our 271 backers, fifteen percent required much more love, care and admin than the other eighty five. We received a 3000$ donation with no questions asked, while someone who wanted to donate $10 kept us busy for several hours. Because we valued everyone’s donation no matter what size, we treated all contributions equally. If that is also the right approach for you, make sure you have time for it.
Kickstarter is a scaling tool. There are many different factors to take into account when considering a crowdfunding platform. We chose Kickstarter because of it’s brand name value. Call it professional deformation, but we like to be seen with well known names. The exposure on the platform and becoming a staff pick puts you in front of thousands of people that would have not heard of you if you had used private investment. These days, Kickstarter lets you save your campaign page for ever so you can use it as a sales tool once the project is launched.
3. Realise it’s all about logistics
Don’t plan to get any work done in December or January. We had planned on having all the content (interviews, case studies, tool testing) ready on the first of December to avoid hitting people’s busy schedules around the holidays and their slow startup phase in the new year. We calculated a worst case scenario for some content to be two weeks late but still done way before Christmas. 80% of the content was done by december first, but the last 20% took quite some hustling, calling, calling again, and generally being a pain in the behind for the people we were chasing. That twenty percent took us seven weeks.
Editing and proofreading a 132 book takes a lot of time and patience. The amount of grammar, spelling and communication mistakes in your text are astounding. If you want to avoid looking unprofessional, you have to be patient and rigorous till the very end all the way up to pre-press. We had calculated for two days, we ended up with it running through different activities for almost two weeks.
Check, check, double check. People can’t read your mind so make sure that it is done the way you want it to be done. We invested in a 6 hour train ride to the printer to get the color yellow right on our limited edition printed toolkit. Our postal service forgot to deliver the custom forms for international shipment. Then they forgot to mention the maximum allowed weight and we had to repack all the boxes. If you don’t check, no one will.
Shipping products is hell. I will not go into the details to spare you the negative energy, but if you are not set up to do regular product assembly, packing and shipping of 400 products, I can highly recommend outsourcing this work if you can afford it.
Finding great people is the best investment in logistics, period. We invested in creating a team consisting of an awesome illustrator, the best proofreader and editor, an expert pre-press guy and worked with an independent, family owned printer in the Netherlands. They were not just the best, they were great team players. Not only is it a joy to work with them, it is the best investment in smooth logistics. They know exactly what they are doing and therefore you will get the quality you need, on time.
We are extremely happy with the results of the crowdfunding campaign. Our baby, the Branding Toolkit for Changemakers, would not have seen the light without it. We can highly encourage anyone to give crowdfunding a go, it is great fun. It’s also a great amount of hard work, so we are not planning a new one any time soon. A big thanks to everyone who made this toolkit possible: to our awesome backers and team, give yourself an applause!