Running a crowdfunding campaign is like living one year of a startup on steroids. You need to create a concise story for why folks should support you. Your team must execute a video (not an easy task). And most importantly, you have to hustle every day to get in front of new audiences; unfortunately, people won’t just show up, no matter how amazing your product is.
After going through the experience myself, I am starting to believe that all entrepreneurs should do a campaign as well. Whether you use a major site like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, or even some of the awesome up-and-comers like Teespring and Crowdtilt, executing a crowdfunding campaign will put your team and business through the fire and back.
Modify Watches just launched our first-ever Kickstarter campaign in February to produce something we have titled “Mod-to-Order.” At 4-year-old Modify, we design interchangeable wristwatches, and our vision has always been to allow people to wear their passion on their wrist. If you want a photo of your kid or an image that represents your wedding or a gift for your employees, we want to provide it to you. But to date, it’s been too costly to offer.
After a few years of crowdsourcing products from our fans — “Which of these 10 designs should we produce?” — we’re now using crowdfunding to validate that fans actually want to produce genuine, one-off custom products. We’ve been ignoring Steve Blank’s mantra to get outside of the building, so we figured we would go all-in and choose a make-or-break path; we’ll only be able to offer this IF our Kickstarter campaign is successful.
I truly believe that there is no better way to validate that you have a market than by releasing your product and saying “buy now.”
In crowdfunding, you are telling folks, “We want this thing to exist, but it can only happen if you fund our vision.” If early adopters won’t fund you, either your idea isn’t all the way there, or you’re not ready to execute.
One week into our own campaign, and we’re 30 percent of the way to our goal. Our team is staying up late every night to do all of the “real” work we have after spending the 9-to-5 emailing everyone we know asking them to share our campaign.
Kickstarter or Indiegogo?
If you’re going to use one of the big-name crowdfunding sites, there are some definite pros and cons to consider.
Kickstarter has an incredibly strong brand name; even folks who don’t know what crowd-funding is have heard of Kickstarter. Oh, and they just funded their one billionth dollar. We chose the platform because of its historical strength in consumer goods.
In retrospect, Indiegogo would have been an amazing choice too. That platform has an incredibly strong name for artists, is growing in product and has a strong customer service bent. Most relevant, they have many fewer restrictions, which means that you can tailor your campaign more to your company’s specific needs. Indiegogo also has a new tool called Outpost, which allows you to embed your campaign on your site.
The most important part of your campaign is your video. It’s also one of the more time-consuming aspects of running a campaign like this.
To produce our video, we worked with the awesome team from Six Finger Films. We story-boarded, collected assets, engaged our fans to help tell our story, and shot the film over two days.
If you can’t do the video in-house, I strongly recommend that you find a partner that believes in you and cares about your vision and story.
What We Would Change Next Time
We’ve already learned a few lessons that could benefit other entrepreneurs. Next time, we’d do these things differently:
- Contact press a few weeks in advance of launch, instead of on the day. It takes a while to explain your value, and reporters and bloggers are busy! Invest in them like you would in any partner.
- Shorten our video. Our video is about 4 minutes long. It’s an incredible marketing tool — but we don’t get to the point of the campaign until 90 seconds in. By that point, you want to have already inspired the viewer to take action.
- Simplify our reward tiers. Backers need to take time to understand what they get. That’s a major no-no. If they’re ready to give you support, make it easy with a clear value proposition.
Is It Really All-Consuming?
Yes. The key to crowdfunding success is that you engage your own network. That means personal emails appealing to all of your friends (and even acquaintances).
What I conveniently forgot was that we still had plenty of work to do for the ongoing Modify business – launching our new website, getting ready for Opening Day with our Major League Baseball watches and delivering great service to all of our current customers.
My adviser Bhavin from the Magoosh team always says that fundraising is a full-time job, so a co-founder should “quit” other parts of the business during the funding cycle. Personally, I have found this campaign to require even more work than raising our first round.
Nevertheless, while crowdfunding may seem daunting — it certainly does to me, only halfway through our campaign! – it’s still been an amazing experience. You get to interact with folks on a daily basis and your team has to come together for a very distinct shared goal. Most importantly, if you’re successful, you get to see your vision come to life with the support of fans who care.
Editor’s note: The author is pictured on the far right in the photo above, along with some other members of the Modify team. Check out their Kickstarter campaign here.
Aaron Schwartz is Founder and CEO at Modify Industries, Inc., which designs interchangeable custom watches known as Modify Watches. He loves working on startup ideas and has spent innumerable (happy) hours advising friends and former students on how to grow their ideas.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.