Inspired by a trip to Asia and a love of all things food, Cindy Ho wasn’t expecting a joke between friends to become a runaway crowdfunding success. But that’s exactly what happened when she launched her fun, cat-shaped egg mold on Kickstarter. She managed to smash her original $5000 target by a whopping 1600%, raising $82,000.
“Crowdfunding is still relatively new to me.” Cindy explains, “But I would have to say it’s been a very rewarding experience. New ideas really contribute to a business that is built by customers, and I get so much support and feedback from my backers. Sunny Side Up Eggs isn’t just a business; it’s a story that we have written together.”
The importance of crowdfunding as an alternative source of finance is growing day by day. There’s room for everybody, from tech giant Sony to a refugee who was selling pens in street (and went on to raise $191,000 and start three businesses).
And yet, 60% of all crowdfunders fail to achieve their goals. So what are the 40% doing right that the vast majority aren’t? After interviewing 200 successful campaigners, we came up with 11 tips to help you reach your crowdfunding goals. So here’s what you need to know if you’re going to smash your crowdfunding target like a pro.
1. Define Your Target Audience
Define your target audience according to their location, gender, age and interests. To better understand your target audience’s interests try to answer the following questions:
- What problems or fears experience your audience?
- What products or services they use?
- What idols they have?
This will bring you a step close to the mindsets of your customers and will help you position your project from a right angle.
Try to connect with as many like-minded individuals and organizations as you can. These guys will be your support team and (hopefully) your backers, so it’s vital that you become part of their community.
Create a survey with Wufoo asking who experienced a problem that you are trying to solve, and then share it on your Facebook profile or a page to collect responses. You will get very valuable answers and contact details of people who will participate in your survey. Most often, they end up becoming your hot prospects. Don’t be afraid to ask them for feedback about your project. Any insight you can get from a potential customer or backer is invaluable when you’re designing your campaign. It will help you test whether there is an audience for your project out there.
A word to the wise, very niche projects don’t work well in crowdfunding. Your target audience needs to be big enough to generate a mounting interest. For example, if you are bringing a new book on “How to Correctly Feed an Ostrich” you should know that not many farmers are surfing the crowdfunding platforms, not saying about farmers who own an ostrich. But if you introduce a cool table lamp, with nice differentiating design with a light color and intensity controlling app, you may grab attention of much more people (including the ostrich farmers).
2. Research and Prepare
So, you have tested your idea and want to start crowdfunding? Great! But your campaign doesn’t begin on Indiegogo, Kickstarter or any of the other platforms, it begins with market research.
Investigate campaigns similar to yours, both the successful ones and the ones that failed. To do this, you simply need to Indiegogo or Kickstarter and search for your topic. You will see a list of projects that managed to raise money — or failed. Click on the projects that are most similar to yours and paste their URLs into Kicktraq.com (this tool only works with Kickstarter projects). Kicktraq will show how much funding the project generated each day. If the project’s funding curve shows a steady growth, that could mean that there is an established audience for this particular industry on Kickstarter.
On the other hand, if the funding curve is showing sudden ups and downs, as it is the case in the picture below, this likely indicates that external factors contributed to the campaign’s funding process, and not an established Kickstarter community.
These external factors could include a social media campaign, an article in a magazine, or a blog post. To find out which, save the campaign’s photos onto your computer. Then open Google, click Images and drag and drop the images you saved into the search bar. You will be shown up all the websites that have been talking about that campaign. Open up an Excel file and save all the media sources from the first 20 results — you will need to contact them for your launch, as they cover stories from your industry.
Want to rock your launch? Read our popular Quick & Dirty Guide to Launching your Startup in 2016
To improve your insight into what worked for the successful campaigns (and what didn’t), reach out to the campaign authors who achieved their goals. Don’t be afraid to ask them for any industry specific insights they might have gained from their campaign. You can contact the author within Kickstarter or Indiegogo by hitting the “Contact” button, or you can open “See full bio” window and you will be shown a Facebook profile, website or email (if they’ve included it). Write to the author, indicating that you liked their project. Say that you are preparing a campaign in similar industry. If your projects turned out to be too close, they might consider you as a competitor, so don’t mention your niche, just an industry is enough.
Here is the email that I’ve used when contacting authors.
Hi (author’s name)
I was surfing in Kickstarter/Indiegogo and just came across to your crowdfunding campaign of (campaign name). It is really amazing and you guys did a great job!
If you plan to launch another crowdfunding campaign again, I’d be happy to share your campaign on my networks and let all my friends know about the amazing things you do.
I am thinking of planning a campaign in (name) category and as you are the expert of this field and have a lot of experience, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions on what's worked during your crowdfunding campaign.
Would you be available for a quick catch up on Skype soon?
Of those I reached out to, 70% agreed to a short, 10 minute talk on Skype. I asked them about specific actions they conducted, and got their tips and tricks for specific activities (i.e., which blogs covered them, the outlets that drove the most traffic, how they reached the bloggers and journalists, how they raised awareness). Done right, this approach will provide a lot of valuable and practical information from your target industry. It should help you understand who your potential stakeholders are.
Crowdfunding generally isn’t seasonal, and there is no ‘best time’ to launch your campaign, unless your campaign is about a seasonal product (like Coolest Cooler). That said, there is a rumor bouncing around the Internet that the worst months for crowdfunding are July and August (when everybody is on vacation) and December (when tax season is in full swing).
3. Leverage Your Team Power
According to a recent statistical insight from Indiegogo, teams raise three times more funds than individuals. So start building your team - if not of cofounders and collaborators, then of your great friends, family, and superfans.
If you have 10 people on your team, and they each know 10 more who’ll be interested, and they in turn know another 10, then interest snowballs, and you’ll quickly find yourself with 1,000 hot prospects. You can still build a large network if you’re starting alone, but you will find it that much more difficult.
If you’re not sure how to begin, then organize a party and make a motivating pitch about your dream. Build your team from your friends and family, like Mike Del Ponte did when organizing a crowdfunding campaign of Soma, a water filter with an Apple inspired design, which raised $100,000 + in just nine days. Just stick to the people you know you can rely on.
4. Estimate the Right Platform
Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Gofundme are streets ahead of the thousands of other active crowdfunding platforms currently littering the web. Gofundme is a platform for personal fundraising, but if you want to crowdfund a project with an artistic, charitable or commercial focus, you should go with Kickstarter or Indiegogo. They both charge 5% fee, but that’s where the similarities end, so it pays to do your research when you’re choosing between these two crowdfunding Goliaths.
Probably the biggest difference between the two platforms is their approach to money and when you get it. Kickstarter releases funds only after the campaign reaches its funding goal, Indiegogo provides you with an opportunity to choose between receiving funding as it comes in or waiting to see if you hit your target. As a campaigner, it is much less risky to go with a flexible funding (i.e., getting funds immediately), but don’t forget that you have to deliver on your promises, regardless of what you raise. From a backers standpoint, fixed funding (all or nothing) is way more attractive and comes with a lot less risk, so bear that in mind when making your decision.
After the funding scheme, this is the second most important difference between these two heavy weight champions. At first, Kickstarter was available only in the US, then it enlarged its borders to include Canada, the UK and Australia. Now it is available in 18 countries. Indiegogo is available everywhere (officially in 224 countries) and misses out maybe couple of villages in Siberia.
Media and Outreach
The media loves Kickstarter, so it does get way more coverage than Indiegogo. The reason for this infatuation is Kickstarter’s strict quality controlled image. They deliver higher quality products so journalistic types don’t have to wade through campaign after campaign of rubbish to find a story. This means that, on Kickstarter, your campaign has more opportunities to garner a bit of press coverage.
Kickstarter uses its own video hosting service, Indiegogo uses Youtube. While there are some pros and cons to having your own video hosting service, one thing is certain – Youtube is the second biggest search engine there is and provides great marketing opportunities to attract new users. So that’s two birds with one stone since more views on your Youtube video mean high rankings on Youtube while your campaign runs on Indiegogo.
It's also worth noting that the culture of the different crowdfunding platforms varies somewhat, so it’s important to clearly understand your audience. If they’re more likely to opt for one platform over another, then you need to take that into consideration. Familiarity breeds confidence, and makes visitors more open to pledging.
So how do you know which platform is likely to be a better match for your audience? Generally speaking, you'll tend to find more artists, musicians, filmmakers, geeks and techy gadget makers on Kickstarter. You’ll see more small businesses, controversial ideas, NGOs and mass manufacturing at Indiegogo.
The demographics between the platforms also vary. Indiegogo has a more female friendly audience and gets more traffic from Facebook than Kickstarter.
So, before your decide which platform to choose, carefully examine you project’s category, marketing strategy, costs, appropriate funding schemes and goals.
It is worth to measure all the factors of Kickstarter vs Indiegogo, however, the platform will not do the job alone and you have to put the work in if you want to be successful.
5. Create a Landing Page
Email will be your main form of communication, so you need to build an email database of subscribers. Remember, most of your results will be derived from your emails, so you need to start collecting those addresses right now.
One of the easiest ways to collect email addresses is to create a landing page — a simple page with your pitching video (take a look at the structure of some of the best Kickstarter videos here) and photos. The purpose of this page is to explain why you are doing that campaign. At the bottom, you should offer something in return, a bribe for an email (i.e. enter your email to subscribe to updates or get a free ebook or other project related materials). Your database is your success and the bigger it is, the more chances you have.
If you’re not a programmer or coding wizard, then go to Launchrock.com and create a landing page for free. Consider these four important tips when making a landing page:
- Use friendly colors.
- Include images of real people (it’s a sad fact, but pictures of women will still convert more than those of men).
- Feature yourself and include a personal message.
- Use customer testimonials i.e., 2-3 satisfied users’ message about the product.
- Say thank you with share: include a share button to Facebook and Twitter.
Have your page, but struggling with conversions? Here are 3 Reasons why your Visitors Don't Convert
6. Schedule your emails
Basically your email conversation to raise awareness for your campaign will take place with three main groups of people:
- Media (journalists, bloggers and influencers)
- Your personal network (people who know you)
- Subscribers (people who subscribed through your landing page).
We will discuss how to contact the media later on in this article, but for now let’s see what you can do with your personal network and subscribers.
Your personal network is very important to ensure early success. If you manage to raise 20-30% in the first 48 hours, your chances of being fully funded are quite high. According to Kickstarter statistics, 78% of projects that raised more than 20% of their goal in the first two days were successfully funded. To mobilize your personal network, divide it into three categories:
- Hot – your friends and family
- Warm – people with whom you have relationship and communicate at least once every couple of months
- Cold – people who know you and with whom you communicate with a couple of times a year.
Create different email templates for these three category of contacts. When sending emails to your hot group of people, ask them both to back your project and to share it with their networks. Ask your warm contacts to either back or share your project and your cold contacts mainly to share your project with their networks. This way you will concentrate each group’s attention on things they are more likely to perform. This way you will get the maximum benefit from your personal contacts.
You should be busy with other stuff, and you won’t remember to send emails to your database all the time, so schedule them using the Gmail plugin boomeranggmail.com. Don’t forget to schedule at least three reminders in the last week and remain personable when sending your emails.
Your subscribers are people who provided their emails in exchange for a bribe. They have only general interests and your goal is to make them (at least some of them) act like your hot contacts would do. Crowdfunding (still) remains a personal phenomenon, so tell those people who you are and why you are doing your project. Start telling your story. Send them one scheduled email per week in the initial months and start intensifying (an email every 2-3 days) when you have 10 days left to your launch.
Choose your start day carefully; if it’s a memorable day (holiday or event) then people will remember it better. On the other hand, if it’s the day Apple launches its new iPhone, then no one will care about your project (especially journalists). So pick a day which is memorable, but not too popular to take away your audience.
7. Create a Facebook event
Create a Facebook event four weeks before your launch. These days it is hard to get onto your friends’ newsfeed since you are competing with tons of other information. It is far easier to get your friends’ attention by creating a virtual Facebook event and invite all your friends to it. Make your job easier by downloading the ‘invite all’ extension for chrome, and invite all of your friends with a single click.
Don’t forget to include links that send people directly to your landing page. In your text description, put at least four of the same links (that way, you have four chances to convince someone to click on them).
Event notification to all
Change the time of your event periodically. This will send a new notification to everybody who has joined and will keep your campaign fresh in their mind. Change the time of your event once every couple of days in the first three weeks and once per day during the last week of your campaign.
8. Launch Headtalker Campaign
Use headtalker.com to make a coordinated social media effort. It’s a tool that allows a single message to be mass-shared (flash mob-style), so it rises above the noise of your social networks. Launch a Headtalker campaign a week in advance of your crowdfunding campaign. This will allow you to send out a social media message about your campaign on your launch day to over 100,000 people. If you can sign up enough people, Headtalker can become a great tool to amplify your reach even further.
9. Find the Right Journalists
Although most people know how to search basic things on Google, only a small percentage really benefit from this tool. Target your search with quotation marks. They require words to be searched as a phrase, in the exact order you type them, and if you want to include other words in your search, like “successful” you should put the word AND. So “Film Crowdfunding” AND “Successful” will bring you all the results that do contain these two words. If you want to search for articles or blogs with this in the title, then search:
Intitle:”Film Crowdfunding”, article (or blog)
Avoid saving the results one-by-one by downloading the free Chrome extension, Oscraper. This will save all the URLs of your Google results to a .txt file.
So why are we doing this? Because we want the names of journalists who write about projects like yours. And we want the famous ones, so sort your results according to their popularity.
A good measure of page’s popularity is Page Authority Score (a measurement from 0 to 100 on how well a specific page ranks on search engines). To check the page authorities of all your results in bulk, use 99webtools.com. Open an Excel spreadsheet and paste the results. Filter the results according to page authority, and you’ll get all the articles you’ve found ranked by popularity.
You can also use Google News API to broaden your search. Open this custom-made tool, search for a keyword and download the results to a csv file. Filter the results according to page authority, using the same techniques described above.
I also highly recommend websites like Buzzsumo, Muckrack, and Grouphigh, which offer paid tools to help you find targeted journalists and bloggers ($99; $179 and $450 respectively). Each one provides 7-14 day free trial periods, although you might have to negotiate a little with Muckrack and Grouphigh to get your free trial, but it is definitely worth it.
Once you have a list of journalists and bloggers who are likely to be interested in your project, then it’s time to track down their contact details. Some list them below their bylines or at the base of an article. If they don’t, there is one hack you can use:
Start searching on Google using the following query “author name” AND “domain” AND “@gmail.com” (Gmail is the most popular email service, but you can check with Yahoo, Hotmail etc. too).
10. Make News
Before contacting the press, you should clearly answer the following questions:
- What problem does your product solve?
- Why do people use it?
- What value does it bring to the customer?
You should answer all these questions from the point of view of the customer — not yours! Try to speak to some of your customers, to understand their motives, and write a story about your product that would appeal to them.
Make your story newsworthy. The fact that you decided to raise money through crowdfunding is not news. Most stories have several angles that make them newsworthy. Most of the time it can be an angle that centers around the founders, the technology, user benefits or current trends. As an example, look at the media coverage of Grove Ecosystem. While Agritecture concentrated on their harvesting process, Engadget covered the technological side of a campaign, and Business Insider was more interested more in the success story of a startup and its founders.
11. Choose the Right Contact Time
The best time to contact the press is just after your start, when you already have some backing and have some credibility for the media to speak about you. Of course, if you have good relations with a journalist, you can write to them before your campaign launches and agree ask for an ‘embargo,’ which prohibits journalists from writing about your campaign until a set date.
Keep in mind that reporters HATE EMBARGOES, and it is not unheard of for some editors to publish ahead of time. But they do love EXCLUSIVES, so pick some of the most popular writers in the industry and offer them an exclusive, an angle to your story that you won’t give anyone else.
Send all your media and press releases at once to build momentum. Think of your PR activities like a dose of penicillin; a small dose has no effect, you need a decent amount to have results. Streak will notify you when the writer has opened your emails (or ignored it) or if the writer hasn’t seen it yet (so you can try again from a different angle).
Preparation is key and 90% of your success is relying on it. The length of time you invest in preparing will depend on your funding goal, your expertise, and your network, but on average you should expect to spend 3-4 months preparing. Build relationships with various organizations that would be interested in your cause or project, communicate with the media, journalists, friends, anyone you can think of. It’s up to you to generate a buzz before you launch.
And there we have it. Our 11 hot tips for running a successful crowdfunding campaign like a professional. Happy crowdfunding!