Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Crowdfunding

I'm entertaining the idea of crowd funding to help generate a little marketing and promo cash for SWEETS. Conventions, direct mail, ashcans, posters, etc can all be very expensive ventures.
Crowd funding is a fairly recent trend on the web and there's no clear standard for how these things work. Wiki says crowd funding is:
The collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money together, usually via the Internet, in order to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. Crowdfunding occurs for any variety of purposes, from disaster relief to citizen journalism to artists seeking support from fans, to political campaigns.
Good enough.

There are several crowd funding solutions available including sites like Kapipal, Kickstarter, RocketHub, GrowVC, IndieGoGo, etc.

With that in mind, I contacted a few creators that have used the service in various forms, here's what I found out.

Big thanks to: Rob Pitt and Liz Baillie for taking the time to help out. Find out more about Pitt and Bailie at the bottom of the interview.


1. Tell me a little bit about your project and why you decided to do try Crowdfunding.


Pitt: My project is going to be a graphic novel about a squid and a robot. I haven't quite figured out the particulars of it yet but you can find out more over at Kickstarter. I decided to use kickstarter as a means to fund the project versus a traditional publisher or angel investor for two reasons. The first being I really hate the idea of being indebted to someone for any amount of money. Since Kickstarter offers rewards for each donation it alleviates any guilt I may have had for getting funding. The second reason being traditional publishers although a great boon can also be very restrictive in what they accept. I wanted more freedom and really I just wanted a chance to get my comic out into the wild. Also, by using crowdfunding there is always a chance that I can later on solicit a publisher.

Baillie: My first exposure to the concept of crowdfunding was when Jamie Tanner created a Kickstarter page in order to raise enough funds that he could afford to work on a new comic full-time for a few months. I thought it was such a great idea I knew I wanted to try it myself at some point. The opportunity came when I decided to self-publish the first five chapters of my webcomic, Freewheel , in book form rather than search for a traditional publisher. Being that comics is my full-time job, I don't have a whole lot of money on hand for something like publishing a book, which can cost several thousand dollars. I had seen people do pre-orders for books before in order to raise money for printing costs, but this new Kickstarter method of offering all kinds of incentives for a huge variety of prices seemed ingenious to me. For someone like me, who doesn't have a HUGE fanbase but whose fans tend to be very dedicated, it made sense to give individual people an opportunity to give a higher amount of money and get an equivalent thing in return (like pages of original art, commissions, exclusive prints, or even the opportunity to have their own face in the comic). This way, I was able to raise the necessary funds with a smaller amount of people.



2. What was your strategy when selecting the various packages you listed for purchase?


Pitt: First you need to know that in order to post a project on Kickstarter one needs an invite. So for me to get an invite I had to write to Kickstarter and petition the 8 people who run the site. I was told the key to a successful project was to have more experience driven rewards. I pondered offering going out to dinner with the highest backer, or making a phone call for the final backer to put me over goal but I'm not that much of a socialite. So I went the more personal but traditional. Offering people to give insight into the book, or even being part of it. You can see the tier list here. But, really the projects that are most successful are the people who don't necessarily offer swag but offer invaluable opportunities or experiences. This is evident from surfing Kickstarter and checking out all the packages that go over goal.

My strategy was to have a blend of the two. Experience plus swag. Because personally there is nothing I love more than limited edition items. I am a sucker for marketing and good design.

Baillie: I wanted to be sure that, first of all, I had a wide variety of price ranges and that the value of the content of each package was reflective of the price. I've seen other crowdfunding projects that offered what were, in my opinion, not enough content for the price point. I had seen that Jamie Tanner offered folks to opportunity to have their face in his comic, which I thought was an awesome idea, and I stole that idea shamelessly for my highest price package. To add value to that option, I also made sure that only one person would be able to purchase that package, so it was also extremely exclusive. I made sure to include a very low price package as well that people who really don't have much money could contribute without feeling guilty about it. I'm always one of those people myself, so I thought about what amount I'd be willing to pay that would still be enough to be worth my time. Everything in between I just thought about what I could put in the next level up that would cause someone to choose the higher price point package over the one just below it, while still making each package worth the price I was putting on it.



3. What advice would you offer to someone doing this for the first time? Specifically, did you discover any problems that should be avoided, or find something that worked particularly well?


Pitt: Crowdfunding is not a means in itself it depends heavily on your existing social networks and the lions share of the funding may come from close friends or sometimes family. I have found my twitter followership to be a great boon as well as my own blog for directing potential backers to the project. Most people are willing to at the very least promote your work if not fund it. Do not make the assumption that funding site will bring magical backers to your project. You have to work for it just like anything else and unless you run a website that gets tens of thousands of visitors a day then don't expect strangers to back you. Also, target your lowest common denominator, in how much money you really need versus want.

Baillie: First of all, don't be greedy. People can tell when you're asking for more than you actually need, or if you're planning on using the money for something other than what you are advertising (such as for personal use) and that can cause some people to resent you in the future. Although I didn't advertise it on my fundraising page, I made sure to be very open about how much the printing quotes I got were for, and why I was asking for money on top of that (for ISBN number and barcodes, which cost about $300 because you are forced to buy 10 ISBN numbers at once). When I got a second quote from a second printer that was lower than my original quote, I lowered the cap on my fundraising goal to match that.

Second of all, there is a fine line between reminding people early and often of your fundraising goals, and totally spamming their Twitter and Facebook pages. Hopefully I avoided being totally obnoxious, but like I said, it's a fine line and it's something to very cautious about.

Thirdly, I found it helpful to make small goals in the beginning and encourage people to help you get past those goals. Whenever I would get close to a goal (like raising $100, $500, $1000, etc) I would post something on Twitter or Facebook asking "Who will get us to $xx?" and then when I passed that goal, I would thank that person by name on Twitter or Facebook. This way you are also helping that person to feel like they are a special part of your fundraiser (which they are) which is good for building a community around your work.



4. What marketing, promo, and advertising efforts did you make to help drive traffic to your project, or to promote your crowdfunding page?


Pitt: Twitter, The Facebooks, E-Mailing and Calling local stores. Leaving promo fliers in random places, and soliciting on all major sites I am a member of. But I am not much of a marketer so it could explain the slow up hill battle. I also made a custom Kickstarter bar to put on my site to show project status. I'd be happy to share the code if anyone is interested. See http://23x.org scroll down to the bottom.

Baillie: I made sure to mention the fundraiser at least once a week on my Facebook, Twitter, and LiveJournal pages, but not so much that people felt they were getting spammed (or so I hope). Too much mention of your fundraiser, as I mentioned before, can really turn people off to your project altogether, and nobody wants that. I also created a small square animated .gif ad that linked to my fundraising page and I stuck it on my website, as well as at the end of any entries I put up about it on my LiveJournal. I found that other people began using this .gif when they talked about the fundraiser on their own blog, so I think it was a good idea. I also specifically asked people to talk about the fundraiser on their own blogs, or to re-tweet my own tweets about it. I went on various forums I already frequented and made posts about the fundraiser as well. I also made very sure not to alienate those who could not afford to contribute by stressing the importance of spreading the word, which is really just as important as actual contributions, and to thank those people who helped spread the word whenever possible.


5. Any other opinion on the subject you'd like to offer that wasn't asked about specifically?


Pitt: Make sure you allot yourself enough time to do your project, I am very aware of how long projects take me. The last thing you want is disgruntled backers because you failed to meet deadline or bailed completely.

Baillie: I think it's worth noting that I chose not to use a third-party crowdfunding site like Kickstarter. I made this decision for a variety of reasons, which I'll list here. At the time I began my fundraiser, Kickstarter required an invitation which was somewhat difficult to get, and I was crunched for time so I didn't want to wait and see if I could get one. Although I wasn't sure, I was reasonably certain that Kickstarter probably took some percentage of monies raised (how else could the site stay in business?). Not to mention, I knew for sure that through Kickstarter you would not receive your funds until the funding period had ended, and that if you did not meet your goal you would receive ZERO dollars. I knew that I might need some of the money earlier (to purchase ISBN numbers and bar codes, not to mention I wasn't sure when my printing bill would actually be due) and I also knew that even if I didn't raise the full amount, the book would still get printed no matter what (though I would have had to borrow the money or use a credit card, which I was trying to avoid). So after mulling all this over, I decided that Kickstarter was not for me, and instead I created a page on my own website using simple PayPal buttons for each contribution level. If I ever have to do this again, I will most likely do it the same way. I see no need to involve a third party website when you can easily do the whole thing yourself with PayPal buttons.





A big thanks to Rob Pitt and Liz Baillie for taking the time to help with these questions! Please take a minute to have a look at their work.





Rob Pitt 
Find out more about Rob at his blog and portfolio site
For a real taste of what this is all about, visit Pitt's Kickstarter Project page here. If you'd like to get involved, Pitt's Kickstarter page still has 22 days remaining on the funding drive.

Liz Baillie 
Baillie's webcomic Freewheel can be read three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at  You can also take a look at Baillie's fundraising page here. It's still live, but the PayPal buttons are gone since the fundraiser has already ended.


3 comments:

JK_Woodward said...

wow. alot to think about there. thanx for the info.
I was first introduced to the idea of crowd funding about a month or 2 ago.
These guys
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/popgunpulp/johnny-recon-no02-a-daring-hi-fi-adventure-tale?pos=10&ref=recommended
I had no idea at the time, but apparently they weren't the only small press doing this. kickstarter has a whole section for comics.
I've been curious about it since.
Thanx for getting this to me Kody.

Andy Jewett said...

Great interview, interesting info, lots to think about... thanks!

Crowd Sourcing said...

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