By Vanessa Ratjen
Lately, it feels like every time I open my computer I find myself learning about another neat grassroots project I’d like to support. With crowd funding sites growing in popularity, the number of people bypassing traditional means of raising money and going directly to consumers is rising exponentially. Here at Korduroy, they covered a few Kickstarter projects they’ve been personally passionate about—from Grain’s mobile surfboard-building classroom to Surfrider Foundation’s campaign to protect a sacred piece of California coastline. Heck, they even did their own Kickstarter last year. So, I know there are good people out there turning to crowd funding for various reasons, but I wanted to investigate those reasons a bit further. Is it all about the money? If someone gives your company money, does that mean they’re super-fans for life? Can new networks really be created in a month’s time, on the internet?
While crowd funding sites aim to equalize the playing field for small businesses and creative start-ups—lowering the risk associated with fronting large amounts of capital—it’s not as simple as making a video and crossing your fingers. Recently, I talked with the administrators of two very different Kickstarter projects, one completed—Grain Surfboards, and one just about to kick off—Carapace Wetsuits. If you’re thinking about starting your own campaign, first consider what they had to say:
Make sure your goal is clear, especially if the outcome of your campaign is focused around an idea or work project rather than a tangible product. The best way to do this is to define your message clearly in your video. Andrew Park, co-owner of Carapace Wetsuits, says he’s sat for hours talking about the business, “but the ‘aha’ moment,” for people who are just getting to know the brand, “comes when they see our three-minute video.” People want to know exactly what they’re funding, and the reality is, if your message lacks focus, there are plenty of other projects people can choose to support.
Get your community involved—you’re going to need them. Grain Surfboards’ co-owner Mike LaVecchia says he “couldn’t imagine trying to do it without having a following of people that support [us].” It’s not just financial support that’s important, LaVecchia says, it’s about asking people to share the word with their friends and involving those people for the continuation of the campaign. A month may not seem like a long time, but attention spans tend to shrink when it comes to things that live on the internet, so lots of reminders from friends is a very good thing.
Keep the conversation rolling. “The more active you are, the better,” says LaVecchia. “You don’t want to be annoying, but you have to keep it interesting and keep talking and keep people engaged in what you’re trying to do.” He says he looked to previous campaigns to find inspiration on ways to maintain supporters’ enthusiasm and bring people back to the site.
Stay stoked! “Keep in mind you’re creating an idea you are passionate about,” Park says. “Don’t lose track of your passion and have fun with your idea.”
But, while the number of successful campaigns is on the rise (Kickstarter boasts funding more than 40,000 projects since 2009), scoring funding doesn’t mean you’re home free: remember to reward your supporters. The number and time requirements will vary with each campaign—the makers at Grain are just finishing the last shipments of their rewards now, a month after their campaign ended. It’ll take time and energy to organize these properly—so make sure you’ve allotted enough of both to fulfill your promises. This is the silent killer that is easy to forget when you’re planning the campaign and watching the dollars flow in. The more people who support you, the more you have to fulfill. Shipping costs should be a factor in your reward planning, as well as the physical space you’ll need to organize distribution.
From different sides of the crowd funding journey, both Grain’s LaVecchia and Carapace’s Park emphasize that a campaign involves a lot of work, but the potential benefits are huge.
“It’s like the ‘every man’s sponsorship’,” says LaVecchia. “It’s opening a lot of doors for a lot of people.”
So, be realistic with your goals–don’t only focus on the money that can be made if only your link falls into the right hands. A crowd funding project is a marathon, not a sprint, and just as much training time is required. It’s likely that you’ll end up puking on the sidelines after you cross the finish line, but embrace the challenge, because nothing worth doing is ever easy.
For more information on Carapace Wetsuits check out:
Their campaign started May 8th on Kickstarter
For more information on Grain Surfboards (who’ll be kicking around the west coast this summer and fall in their new mobile classroom):