2,876 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
Here at Crowdsourcing.org, we often write about how crowdfunding is evolving a full-fledged industry. Part of that means highlighting some of the support services that are emerging for crowdfunded products – from product fulfillment to consulting. Today, we feature the second part of our conversation with Rose Spinelli of The CrowdFundamentals. Spinelli is a new (but not inexperienced) player in the field who loves to help entrepreneurs tell their stories. She is also an avid dog-lover, and she offers free services once a month to canine-friendly organizations. In this part, we get a few pointers from Spinelli on how to make a crowdfunding campaign succeed, what things to avoid, and how to engage the media to cover your campaign; the first half of our conversation can be found here.
Anton Root, Crowdsourcing.org: Your tagline is "Engaging the wisdom of the crowd." We’ve seen fraudulent projects get called out by individuals in the crowd who do their due diligence; what are your thoughts on this?
Rose Spinelli, The CrowdFundamentals founder: I saw a headline somewhere that said crowdfunding is the new gold rush. I thought that it was a terrible message to put out there, because you sort of feel this feeding frenzy, people are thinking of how to get in on this. I think people [in the crowd] sense when a campaign is coming from a beautiful place and when it’s not. I know you wanted to ask me about my favorite campaigns, and that changes every single day, but I love, love, love the Oatmeal guy, Matthew Inman.
He was the guy being sued for defamation so he decided to start a crowdfunding campaign and donate the money to animal rights and cancer charities. He appealed to people's sense of rage, that’s what I got out of it. It was so successful, but if you look at his narrative, I think it was about a paragraph long, that’s it. He clearly has a following of his own, on his website. People also realized that this other website was stealing his material – and that was bullshit. People said, “No way, we’re not going to stand for this.” Inman couched his campaign in this altruistic concept of giving the money to these organizations that need it. The guy who did the Karen Klein campaign that raised three quarters of a million dollars for this bus monitor – same thing. His approach was an altruistic heart, and people will follow you to the end of the earth if you put it that way. It’s clearly something people respond to. I think you need to do a lot of soul-searching – where is this really coming from?
Along those lines, what are some of the mistakes you see people make when they conduct campaigns?
You know, I can give you the answer [found] on a million, thousand, trillion different sites. All the basic stuff – duration, perks, calculating benchmarks that you have to hit. When people fail to do that, their project can fail.
But again, I think on a bigger level, it has to do with this idea of how you have to have a story that people want to get behind. You have to tell it in a transparent way, there has to be a way that you get something out of it. And yeah, sometimes it’s pre-sale of a really nifty gadget, and that’s fine. But I think projects fail when they don’t think enough about their audience and don’t take them into consideration. And again, it’s the wisdom of a crowd that can see through this kind of stuff. There is so much noise out there now, just so, so many other projects.
And another thing: I think that people get hung up on the technique. I see a lot of these discussions on LinkedIn and other sites. Occasionally, someone will post a campaign that they either just launched or are about to launch and want to get feedback. You have all kinds of people giving feedback about reshooting the video because it’s a little dark – come on, so what? People are looking at the message. So if you’re trying to micro-manage, or if you’re too concerned with the technique, my advice is: learn everything you have to do and then bring your heart to the project.
Don’t rely just on the data or the experts who are going to tell you that if you don’t get to ten percent in the first week, you’re screwed. Bring your heart to the campaign, and that will get you places. Use the technical stuff to underlay and buttress that.
That definitely sounds like a more wholesome approach than spewing out a whole bunch of statistics and hoping something sticks.
Right, and I wouldn’t recommend spending any kind of money on a video, really. We’ve all got cameras, the basic technology. Map it out beforehand, get in front of the camera, speak honestly and sincerely, know your project, know your product, and that’s as good as it needs to be.
I wanted to ask about how many projects you’ve worked on total, how many people have been approaching you and what sorts of things you look for when someone does approach you.
Here’s my thing: as my business grows – and it’s brand new – it’s going to be important that I can deliver. It’s not going to bode well for me if I say, “Oh yeah, these are the projects I’ve worked on, and none of them reached their goal.” I think I’m going to get more stringent in terms of who I choose to take on, because what’s the point? If you can see from the beginning that they don’t have a lot of the elements in place, the social networking community being one of them, I don’t think it serves anybody to launch [the campaign]. What I would tell people is, "These are the things I think you’re lacking, go and work on those, and then come back." There were other parts to that question, what didn’t I respond to?
I also asked about other projects you’ve worked on.
Oddly, the one that I just got done working on was helping people who just started their own platform. It wasn’t an individual or group who wanted to run their own crowdfunding campaign, it was a crowdfunding site. They were experiencing a lack of traffic, and they wanted to figure out what they were doing wrong. Somebody put me together with them, because they’re not located in the U.S., and it was kind of weird that it was my very first project.
What I came away realizing was that it doesn’t matter what side of the platform you reside on, the issues are all the same. What are you doing to engage? Is your message clear? These guys were a company that does reward, donation, and equity crowdfunding. I think, clearly, what they want to do is move in a direction of equity crowdfunding. They were saying to me they want to attract more funders, rather than creators, yet their message was just so confused. They weren’t saying that on their site, it was very unclear. So that was my biggest advice to them, to get more clear in their messaging, which, by the way, is 95% of my advice to people. What are you really trying to say? You might think you’re clear, but you’re not clear at all.
Again, honestly, there are a lot of people out there that are doing this either informally or formally. I don’t know if there are a lot of people out there who are formally doing crowdfunding consulting, like I am, but I certainly know there are a lot of people out there who have run a successful campaign, and are now consulting for money. I don’t know what their approach is, but my feeling is that if you want someone to help you get your message out there clearly, I think I have the experience and the background to be able to do that. I’ve been accumulating all the same data that others have been accumulating, but I also think that a lot of that goes out the window, and all the data in the world is just that: it’s data. It’s not always a guarantee for success. But I do think clarity in messaging, on every level – personal relationships, business, whatever you’re trying to move forward in – is important. I hate to say this, but there are a lot of bad communicators out there. (laughs)
You said 95% of the time your advice is for people to be clearer in their messaging, but what other advice do you give people?
I would say that it’s all the standard things that have come to be pretty much the Bible of what you need to know. They are way more data driven. There are things like what perks you need to give people, and that perks are in line with their value. For example, there was [recently] a person asking for $100 donations for an e-book – that’s out of line. You have to really study hard what you’re going to give in return for a sum. I think that should be the lion’s share of the time you spend on it. I really think it’s smart to figure out a certain denomination to give a special gift that a creator has a limited edition of. And that, if it sells out, is going to really help [project creators] achieve their goals. Because let’s face it, people are supporting your project, but many times they’re also interested in getting the tangible in return. So plotting the perks really well is huge. That’s probably the biggest one.
Another very important thing is using the media. When I first did Life’s Ruff with Kickstarter in 2010, it was kind of unheard of for a person to send out a press release to the media asking to feature a campaign. It happens all the time now, just because it’s so inculcated into our society, and it’s common practice for people to send journalists to a campaign. But that was unheard of before. So it’s partly figuring out how to approach a journalist to get them to write about the story. When I was a freelancer and I approached an editor to get them to be interested in my story, I had to be really clear about what the benefits for them and the readers will be if the story is published. You can get really big spikes of interest and donations if you understand how to use the media.
Editors need stories, too, so it’s not just a one-way street. If there is an interesting idea, there’s an interesting story, and editors are going to want to jump on it. People need to remember that.
For another perspective on how to create a clear campaign message, check out Karinna Kittles-Karsten's most recent installment of her crowdfunding campaign journal.