Create Your Crowdfunding Campaign

Crowdfunding has caught on among entrepreneurs in need of funding for their start-up ventures and numerous business incubators across the country now offer information on crowdfunding sources. Crowdfunding veterans know that the fundraising campaign is won or lost before the campaign goes live and that the most important decision a campaigner will make is to choose the most suitable platform for the business or project that will be funded. Please see my March 3rd post for a sampling of crowdfunding platforms.

To get an insider’s understanding of how a smart crowdfunding campaign is created and managed I spoke with Alice, a neighbor who is a documentary filmmaker. Alice said that she spent about 8 – 10 weeks, working about 4 -5 hours each day, to prepare for her campaign kick-off and another 4 weeks or so running and managing the campaign while it was live on Indiegogo. The post-launch phase was easier, focused on follow-up and updates.

To create her campaign, Alice asked a friend to build a 6 page campaign website, she filmed a pitch video (she is a filmmaker, after all) and developed a synopsis to further explain and “sell” her film concept. She even planned a small campaign kick-off party to encourage friends and family to participate on day one and create momentum and good results that often make the difference between reaching the fundraising goal or falling short.

Once the campaign was in motion, Alice estimated that she spent about 10 hours/ week on upkeep during the second, post-launch, month. This phase involved follow-up, consisting mostly of engaging updates and donor outreach on social media and in emails.

Keep at top-of-mind that your campaign is unlikely to succeed without a total commitment on your part. Think of crowdfunding as a full-time job while you’re driving your campaign goals. Leverage every relationship and marketing channel available to you. Crowdfunding campaigns are a lot of work but if you build it right, you can possibly meet and or even exceed your funding target. 

Storytelling

Help potential funders understand how backing your product or business idea can benefit them. Tell them who you are, what you’re planning to do, where the project idea came from, what your budget is and why you’re passionate about it. Show that you’ve thought through your idea, which helps prove the legitimacy and credibility of your project. Communicating your story through visual imagery is particularly effective and many successful fundraisers create a 5 (or so) minute video.

Make sure to create an eye-catching campaign landing page image as well as a persuasive video pitch. The video quality must be good, your story must be clear and compelling and your product must shine. Show that you are knowledgeable and articulate as you clearly outline your concept and the benefits and demonstrate exactly how it works.

Connect emotionally by expressing your story in a way that helps potential backers to relate. Show and tell why your product is desirable and unique. People need to know what problem you can solve and why the solution will appeal to target customers. Be advised that your backers are of primary importance. When you show them that you care, they’ll be more willing to trust you and may even reach out to friends to share your campaign with them.

Funding goal

Research your business start-up or expansion costs. Prepare 12 month P & L and Cash Flow Statements, plus a Break-even Analysis, to confirm with confidence both your expenses and when you expect that sales will equal and then surpass expenses. Furthermore, be realistic about your fundraising potential as you estimate how many of your friends and family might be willing to donate. Based on that information, set your fundraising target. Alice predicted that while your campaign might attract the attention of new people, most of your support will come from those who know you. BTW, your fundraising goal cannot be changed once you’ve started the campaign.

The rewards

People will support your project if they think it’s worthwhile, but it’s always good to have interesting donor perks, since people expect a little swag. You might check out the Kickstarter Creator Handbook to figure out what you can and cannot offer, as there are some common restrictions that you’ll need to know. Also, be mindful as you structure your rewards in terms of price points. It’s fine to promise big rewards, but remember that delivery can take considerable time and effort.

Promoting and updating

Your Crowdfunding platform may have built-in tools that allows campaigners to update project backers and send messages to them and you should take advantage of these tools. Email marketing, your blog or newsletter (you might create either or both for the campaign) and social media can be effectively employed to spread the message about your campaign and its progress. Continually keep your project backers in the loop as you move forward with the campaign. Fail to share regular updates and you risk losing donor interest and that can result in a smaller donor pool. Be positive, yet transparent, in your updates. If things aren’t going quite as anticipated, let folks know.

Encourage product feedback

One of the most important things to do before starting a crowdfunding campaign is to run a beta-test and obtain some product reviews. Feedback is essential to making helpful product or process improvements before launching the campaign. You may have an amazing product or service, but that doesn’t mean it can’t become even better with a little extra work.

Deliver on rewards and promises

Your crowdfunding campaign isn’t over if and when you reach your funding goals. It’s over when you’ve fulfilled your promises. This means completing your project, delivering your perks or rewards and continually communicating with your supporters. Only when fulfillment is complete can you truly say you had a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: ©Lai Afong, Hong Kong photographer and founder of Afong Studio, one of the first in China. Afong was considered the most influential Chinese photographer of 19th century China. His photograph shows men betting on and playing a game of Fan-Tan in Canton (Guangdong), China circa 1890s.

Crowdfunding for a Business

What do you do when you need money to either launch or expand your business venture and the bank won’t give you enough money? For many entrepreneurs, crowdfunding is the answer. Originally used to fund charity drives or creative projects like recording music or film making, crowdfunding is now recommended as a business financing strategy by organizations that support aspiring entrepreneurs.

That said, I remain skeptical. I understand the allure of crowdfunding—people will give someone money to finance a creative project or business venture and that person will, ideally, achieve the goal without taking on debt. In exchange for the financial support, the entrepreneur, in many cases, will promise to give backers a reward, or even a small equity stake (ownership) for certain investors.

But ask yourself—why would a total stranger contribute to a crowdfunding campaign for a start-up, unless it’s a not-for-profit venture and I believe in the cause and would like to support it? Well, some folks are just of a mind to be a part of someone’s success and that’s the best reward. However, campaigners are advised to align the reward offered with the project.

If the campaign will fund the production of a big special event, for instance, the campaigner might offer free admission, backstage passes, or even a chance to hop up onstage and jam with the band. For consumer products, the most obvious reward would be to provide backers with a digital or physical copy of the item in advance, or offer a purchase price that is far less than the typical retail value. Bear in mind that creativity pays: among the most consistently popular rewards are those that offer personal or unique touches, or provide singular opportunities, e.g, lunch with the founders or the inclusion of donors’ names in the new software product’s credits.

Since there is growing interest in the entrepreneurial community about this nontraditional funding source, I decided to research. Here’s the first half of what I learned. Next week, I’ll follow-up and examine how one might create a successful crowdfunding campaign for a business.

WHICH PLATFORM IS FOR YOU?

CircleUp—Best for fitness, food & beverage, technology

  • Campaign types: Equity, credit
  • Industry focus: Early-stage consumer brands
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: N/A
  • Payment fees (US): N/A
  • Startup locations allowed: Worldwide

If you’re an entrepreneur working to get your consumer product on the market, CircleUp offers an excellent array of services, including a platform for connecting with accredited investors, insights from machine-learning technology and access to special lines of credit for start-ups. Accredited investors must have a net worth of at least $1 million and earnings of $200,000 a year or more, per SEC regulations. In other words, the investors are quite affluent and capable of writing big checks.

While the focus is on early-stage companies, the platform is nevertheless best suited for more established start-ups looking to scale, rather than companies in their infancy.  CircleUp doesn’t charge any fees for friend and family investments and provides special access to funding through partnerships with Procter & Gamble and General Mills. 

Fundable

  • Campaign types: Equity, rewards
  • Industry focus: Healthy startups ready to expand
  • Funds you can keep: Whatever you raise for equity; all or nothing for rewards
  • Funding fees: $179 monthly subscription
  • Payment fees (US): 3.5% + $0.30 per transaction for reward campaigns
  • Start-up locations allowed: Must be headquartered in the US

Most crowdfunding platforms, whether equity or reward, take a percentage of funds raised. However, this platform just charges a flat monthly subscription fee. As long as you’re subscribed, you can create campaigns to raise money.

The flat fee makes it a great deal for many successful crowdfunding campaigns. The only problem is that campaigners must pay the fee whether or not one is successful. A failed campaign will lose you money, so Fundable is best for start-ups that have a high-potential business model.

But if you’d like a little extra help with your campaign, Fundable offers consulting services and will do everything from design assets to market your campaign. These consulting services do cost more than Fundable’s monthly fee; contact Fundable to obtain pricing.

GoFundMe—Best for not-for-profits and charitable causes

  • Campaign types: Reward, donation
  • Industry focus: People and causes
  • Funds you can keep: Whatever you raise
  • Funding fees: 0% for personal campaigns in the US; 5% for charities and countries outside the US
  • Payment fees: 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: 19 countries

GoFundMe campaigns are donation-based and focus on not-for-profit start-ups and charities. If you operate a not-for-profit, or are trying to raise money for a cause, this is the preferred platform.

IFundWomen—Best for women entrepreneurs

  • Campaign type: Reward
  • Industry focus: Women-led businesses
  • Funds you can keep: Whatever you raise
  • Funding fees: 5% of all funds raised
  • Payment fees (US): 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: 23 countries

Women entrepreneurs, who own a growing share of new startups, still face significant challenges in securing investment capital to get their businesses off the ground. iFundWomen offers a a solution to some of those challenges. The founders created the platform as a “fundraising ecosystem for women-led startups and small businesses.” It also provides coaching, marketing and other services for start-up owners.

Unlike some reward-based crowdfunding sites, iFundWomen lets campaigners keep whatever funds they raise. Of the money the site earns from funding fees, 20% goes back into supporting campaigns and services that benefit women business owners.

Indiegogo

  • Campaign types: Reward, equity
  • Industry focus: Tech and innovation
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing; whatever you raise
  • Funding fees: 5%
  • Payment fees (US): 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: Worldwide

A big plus is that Indiegogo allows campaigners to choose to structure either a fixed or flexible funding arrangement for your campaign. If you choose flexible funding, you still get the money even if you don’t fully reach your goal. Fixed funding is the same as all campaigns on Kickstarter. Reach your funding goal or the funds are returned to prospective backers (see below). Either way, campaigners must deliver the equity and/or rewards that you promised to supporters.

The site has millions of visitors and the traffic can, in theory, be great for your campaign. If you get featured in your category, your project will be exposed to a ton of people and possibly bringing in many backers. The problem with the mega-sites is that it’s difficult to get featured and your campaign can easily get lost in a sea of other aspirants.

Kickstarter

  • Campaign type: Reward
  • Industry focus: Creative arts
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: 5% of successful campaigns
  • Payment fees (US): 3% + $0.20 per pledge $10 and over; 5% + $0.05 per pledge under $10
  • Start-up locations allowed: US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands

Red alert people! Kickstarter campaigns are all or nothing. Meaning, if you can’t meet or exceed your funding goal, all the money is returned to your prospective backers. You had better know that you have enough check-writing friends to get your campaign to the first milestone and that the strength of your project, supported by a very compelling marketing outreach, will carry you across the finish line.

On top of that, the platform is highly competitive and carefully selects the projects allowed on the site. You cannot fund just any business on Kickstarter—you must “create something to share with others.” Your project also needs to fall under one of site’s curated categories, such as arts and crafts, fashion and design, film and photography, games, and technology.

Moreover, investors will expect some type of reward, so you’ll need something of value for the swag bag you must distribute to investors (and you must categorize rewards by their value, to correspond with the amount of donations). So if you’re trying to scale your Public Relations business, what might your reward be—3 years of free press releases? I dunno.

Kiva—Best for micro-loans

  • Campaign type: Debt
  • Industry focus: Startups interested in microloans
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: N/A
  • Payment fees (US): N/A
  • Start-up locations allowed: United States

If you will accept taking on debt, this not-for-profit style platform could be your most affordable option. Successfully funded Kiva campaigns give your start-up a 0% interest loan, the best of all borrowing options.

The loan must be repaid, but there are no funding or payment fees for you to worry about. Since Kiva requires that you prove your social capital by kicking off your campaign with donations from family and friends, that means convincing people you know to fund your business—but were’t you going to do that anyway?

Note that Kiva loans top out at $10,000; this is micro loan territory. But if you want affordable debt crowdfunding for your small fundraising goals, Kiva’s worth a look.

Publishizer

  • Campaign type: Equity
  • Industry focus: Book publishing
  • Funds you can keep: Whatever you raise
  • Funding fees: 30% of money raised
  • Payment fees (US): 2% – 4% per PayPal transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: United States

Not all crowdfunding sites are giants, as are GoFundMe, Indiegogo and Kickstarter. In fact, most are smaller, niche-specific platforms, such as Publishizer, which was designed specifically to help authors crowdfund their books. Authors can certainly still use Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but this platform gives the benefit of having a specialized audience that supports authors and books.

Republic

  • Campaign types: Equity, reward
  • Industry focus: Start-ups with a focus on diversity
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: 6% for the startup + 2% Crowd SAFE fee
  • Payment fees (US): 3.5% per transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: United States

As an equity-focused crowdinvesting platform, Republic is the new kid on the block and with it’s highly selective curated selection of companies, it’s not for everyone. But for growing U.S. companies with large revenue potential, Republic’s 95% success rate for selected campaigns make it one of the most enticing platforms for connecting with willing investors. Furthermore, Republic also looks for organizations with diverse founder teams.

SeedInvest

  • Campaign type: Equity
  • Industry focus: Technology startups
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: 7.5% of successful campaigns + 5% equity fee
  • Payment fees (US): $0 paid by the startup; 2% paid by the investor
  • Start-up locations allowed: United States

Founded by MBA graduates and experienced investors, SeedInvest started as a way to give technology startups access to capital from people willing to make sizeable equity investments.

To start, you need at least a minimum viable product or prototype, proof of concept and two or more team members. If you make the cut, you’ll get access to both accredited and non-accredited investors for campaigns starting at $100,000.

SeedInvest’s biggest drawback is its expensive 7.5% placement fee on all successfully funded campaigns. Still, the site has a growing base of investors and successful companies, as well as a positive reputation in the entrepreneur community.

I’ll be back next week with information on how to set up your campaign. Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: ©David Cairns/ Getty Images. Roulette at the Playboy Club in London, England early 1960s