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Aspiring Artist Shares Tips for Raising Money on Kickstarter

Published by Salvador Briggman. Find him on Twitter.

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This article was written by Ulysses, the creator of the Infinite Horizons Kickstarter campaign. The article is divided up into “My Story,” which details how this creator came to raise money online, and “Lessons Learned,” which examine why this creator’s first campaign failed and why his second has been successful.

My Story

I would not have had the courage to launch a Kickstarter campaign if it were not for a fateful summer day in 2001. I had moved from San Francisco to Portland Oregon, hoping to come in contact with the studio of Bad Monkey Productions, which was the publishing arm of the artist David Delamare. It had seemed that everywhere I went on the West Coast, there was a Delamare print or notecard. Having spent several years teaching myself visual art, I loved his work. Eventually, I met a store owner in Portland, who informed me that he was local, and his studio was just down the street from the incense/crystal store that was ubiquitous in southeast Portland.

To this day, I don’t know what I was thinking when I took a deep breath and knocked on the studio door. A tall woman with a flapper style hair cut opened the door after I knocked. I shudder to imagine how I came off, but I spewed out how I was a fan and asked if I could please talk with David and pick his brain. The door slowly began inching shut.

I was back the next week with the original of “The Wind That Sleeps”, which I had just finished inking. Somehow, half an hour later, I was sitting in David and Wendy’s living room giving them my pitch. I asked if they would market my two pieces and get me into the stores David was in.

thewindthatsleeps

::::Pause::::

Any successful entrepreneur should be laughing at my hubris and expectations. Many of you reading this watch the show “Shark Tank”, I am sure. How many times do the sharks have to remind the pitchers that it is not their job to be a connector or to do the work for them?

Recently, I met the creators of the Cole and Parker Indiegogo campaign that raised 42k. I sold them a bedroom set at my job as a furniture salesman. Again—I have no shame—I began to ask them to do this or that for me.  Thankfully, they refused, advising me that “you have to hustle“.  There is a big difference between networking—truly making a connection and helping another creator or entrepreneur—and asking an established business owner or VC to do the work for you.  I am only now learning this.

::::Flash forward::::

In October of this year, the one company that still believes in and is licensing my work, Visual Gallery, mentioned that they were thinking of doing a Kickstarter for a new project we were working on.

I began thinking, “Why does Alisdair want to use that indie film fundraising site for a poster project?” Intrigued, I began investigating and fell down the rabbit hole. I still have yet to find the bottom. It has been thrilling.

Eventually, I decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign. Unfortunately, I rushed the process, and as a result, I created a very disorganized first pitch.

One night, I was brainstorming how to get the word out about my crowdfunding campaign and I emailed David and Wendy, partners at Bad Monkey Productions. I had not spoken to them in half a decade. Again, I asked for the moon. Would they promote my project on their Facebook? They could not oblige at the time, but a pledge with their name on it came in. I got emotional (as I often do), and finally, a sense of calm fell upon me. I was okay. I would be alright, because just weeks earlier, 98% of my work was sitting as ones and zeroes on a disc of raw files. Now, people all over the world were seeing it who never had the chance to before.

That request by me and pledge by them started a dialogue—and sparked an idea. Wendy is an amazing business woman. She mentioned that sales had been hurt by piracy and the Great Recession.  “You must launch a Kickstarter!”, I begged of them over the next few weeks. Every time I found a blog or article online, or came across an amazing success story, I fired it off to them. “Look, this person raised 15k! Do it.”, I insisted.

Eventually, they did. Wendy was able to take the structure of a KS project and design a beautiful campaign. The admins agreed and not only gave their first campaign a Staff Pick on day one, but also included it in the Newsletter. Please jump on over and take part in a truly sublime endeavor to make an Alice in Wonderland illustrated book like nothing that has ever been created before.

(CrowdCrux has also done an interview of this smash hit campaign, which has raised over $50,000.)

I was happy for them beyond words. Unfortunately, my first campaign wasn’t doing too well. I was already planning a re-launch of my campaign, when a pledge came in on the last Friday of my campaign from J.A. Ames under his “Vaporstarter” handle.

I was aware of him through the Kickstarter Forum, which I frequent to learn from other creators and to “talk shop” with other crowd funders. He and “Sbriggman” are the gurus and mega-mentors on the site, and I was touched that he would pledge on an obviously dying campaign.

He messaged me words of support and offered to help with the new video and project. I thought he would need payment, so I explained that I did not have any funds for a marketing budget. His reply, stating that he just wanted to help changed my life.  He made me realize that there are people out there that help others with no ulterior motive. I consider him a friend for life, and he joins several people who have been like angels to me; giving me encouragement, helpful criticism, and guidance.

Truth be told, he was so invaluable (and is still helping me) that the new project could never have launched so quickly. I never could have made such a clean and elegant campaign without his support. As many who know me understand, I have a problem with verbosity and adding tangents within tangents! Whatever the final funding amount is on January 10th, 2014, know this: It could not have been possible without J.A. Ames.

Now, my new campaign is live on Kickstarter and I have already met my fundraising goal and am still accepting pledges until January 6th, 2014. There are some awesome rewards! Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think. Sal has included some of the images from the campaign below in a slideshow.

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Why did my first campaign fail?

I think there are many reason, but I have listed the top 5 below:

1. I did not take enough time to build the best campaign I could before I launched.

My friends, crowd funding has just begun. It is not going anywhere. If you spent the next week asking everyone you meet in your daily life if they have heard of Kickstarter, probably 1/10 would say yes. I feel 2014 will provide a Tipping Point, though, so if you are planning on launching, maybe try to do so in the next 8 months. The reason being, that as more and more people become backers, unfortunately con men, or less than scrupulous creators, will try to launch fraudulent campaigns. We police ourselves in this community, but there are sites like www.vaporstarter.com that track and try to reign in abusive project managers and their campaigns.

2. I did not understand networking.

This is one subject (of many) in which I am still improving. Many creators run around the internet dropping links to their project, like cyber Johnny Apple Seeds. I suggest this: Find at least 6 or 7 home bases and drill down. Become part of a community. Connect with other live campaigns; back them if you love their work, without the desire to get reciprocal backing from them. Frequent forums and offer help or share links that you found. Real networking is more than a follow swap on Twitter or a trading of links. It is an understanding that this is a small club, backers and creators alike.

3. I asked for too much.

Many articles on crowdcrux and elsewhere admonish the creator to think hard on their goal. It is more than that. Unless you are launching a film or making a bronze statue for your city square, think in terms of ideal project size. Know your exact cost and set your margins accordingly. Then look at campaigns similar to yours that have been successfully funded, and see how many backers it took to reach that goal. Base your goals on this set of data. The goal I had intended to set on my first unfunded campaign was half of what I initially had in mind. Let that sink in. If a backer thinks you are asking for too much, or that you have no chance of being funded, they will invest in a different project.

4. The Reward Tiers were a mess.

I cannot stress this enough. You may only have the backer’s emotional desire to back you for a moment. Make it easy for them. I have learned so much about the reasons people buy in my years of selling furniture, and although the process of osmosis is slow, I am transferring that skill set to my crowd funding ventures. I am involved in most people’s third largest purchase in their life (furniture).  Many emotions are experienced when someone is spending $5,000 with me on the showroom floor.  I’ve had deals fall out of the bucket due to the smallest of things – one misinterpreted phrase or poor timing and the deal unwinds. Coffee is for closers only, indeed!

When backers make the decision to pledge, remember, people buy (pledge) with emotion and justify the expense with logic. If they think you are asking too much, the emotion to back you is canceled out, and they move on. My reward tiers were too complicated and vastly overpriced due to an incorrect cost analysis, but when I found that out it was too late

5. Build a team if you can.

It can simply be a friend that you trust or family member. There is too much work to do in pre-launch to cover all the bases yourself. It is also beneficial in the sense that you have a second set of eyes on the project that are not completely invested emotionally like you are.  One more thing—share the project as a preview before you launch with at least 3 or 4 people whose opinions you trust.  This is a vital step that I skipped the first time around. There was a particular phrase I used in my campaign that I didn’t even think twice about until multiple previewers indicated that it might not be appropriate.  After careful consideration, I decided they were right, and I removed the phrase.

Online Resources That Helped Me

Note: I plan on purchasing several hardcopy books in the near future, but as of today I was able to mine the following resources via the internet.

This is the knowledge base that I built my first campaign with in two weeks. You already are on what I feel is the most concise and informative crowd fund focused resources online. I made a folder on my email called Kickstarter Info. I sent myself article after article and 50% were from www.crowdcrux.com. Sal Briggman has created a special gold mine of information–the veins run VERY deep. I would drill down on crowdcrux and look up at the clock and find it was 4am and I had to get up in 3 hours. You can spend days on this site, weeks even and still have more to read. I suggest that you finish every article that pulls you in, but if you are like me and have many tabs open at once–email every article you read so you can refer to it later.

I also found the official blog on Kickstarter and the comment section for each post an invaluable resource. This is where the backers and creators mingle. It is also fun to click on the profiles of random backers and creators to find projects you might not have searched for on your own.

I also just went to Google and searched “How to run a successful Kickstarter or (Indiegoo, Crowdtilt, etc) project and started clicking every hit that I netted.

Try to join two types of online forums. One type would be forums dedicated to crowd funding or one focused on the portal you will launch with. Since I was launching on Kickstarter, I joined the Kickstarter Forum. I lurked for weeks and was intimidated by the members, because many had funded very successful campaigns. I felt that an unknown artist and first time funder would be ignored. I could not be more wrong. They welcomed me with open arms. And it was on the Kickstarter Forum that I first connected with J.A. via his handle, Vaporstarter.

The second type, are the forums focused on the world your project will exist in. Do you make the world’s best salt-water taffy? Join a taffy maker forum (I bet you one exists!) it is a given that you are not there to spam but to network. You may find people you will know the rest of your life. Also, you may learn things about your craft you never would have found anywhere else. Regardless, as each day flows into next, it is important to allow your project to be viewed by as many people as possible!

Well, I hope I have not taken too much of your time. If just one thing I have suggested above helps you reach your goal then I know I have given back to a community of amazing people who have awoken a dream I thought had died years ago. Would like to see the project that J.A. built, Wendy Ice proofread and the Super Wife Danielle spent hours editing after a long day of work? You can find it here. 

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  • ~***~~::::Ulysses::::~~***~

    Sal,
    Once again you prove why, when they carve the Mount Rushmore of Crowd Funders, your visage will be up there for all to see!!!!!!

    YOUR AWESOMENESS KMOWS NO BOUNDS!!

  • Ulysses, I think one of the big lessons here is that we don’t necessarily need to have a big agenda when making connections. It’s more important to focus on building relationships. You knocked on our door and though we weren’t in a position to represent you (we were overwhelmed with our own work) we made a connection.

    Twelve years later that connection ended up being important to both of us. (I’m very glad you knocked. I’m also glad you emailed us twelve years later.)

    As a side note, our beginnings seldom know our ends. Sometimes a connection or an act that seems insignificant now ends up being important later. So it’s important to act with integrity, transparency, and heart at all times.

    You were able to convince me to launch, not just because you gave me great information. You were a warm, open, caring individual. That made me want to listen. And I know you’ve had that effect on a lot of people. Those qualities will take you far.

    • CrowdCrux

      I very much agree. I was reading “the startup of you” by Reid Hoffman and he talks about how opportunities usually come with people attached. Making more genuine connections = more opportunities in the long run!