Five Things I Learned Using Kickstarter
After recently running a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund my thesis film, I came away having learned much more than I knew going in. I fully admit that even though I did some research, I really didn't know what I was doing. I did look at other campaigns that were asking for similar amounts and read several blog posts, but that was it. I was a very green crowdfunder.
Though I didn't know a whole lot about this process, I still went in with both barrels blazing. I had a lot riding on raising this money, with the most to lose if it failed. There was a point in the middle there when I was really stressed out that we were not going to make our budget. I started thinking about contingency plans and publicity stunts to push us over the top.
Fortunately, everyone came through. Family and friends were awesome, but it was the people who read/watch my stuff on the web that made up at least two-thirds of all the pledges received. We were successful and allowed to move on to the next phase of production.
The following are a few things I learned along the way:
Know your audience well enough to select a reasonable goal.
I thought I had a formula for this. After listening to film marketing consultant Sheri Candler, I determined that I would use a formula to select an adequate budget for my film. Since there is a lot of crossover between YouTube subscribers, Facebook group members, blog readers and Twitter followers, I stuck with the basic number of YouTube subs at the time: 55,000.
Ms. Candler had stated that one percent of your audience will support you with money. One percent of 55k is 550. Since the most popular pledge is $25, I figured 550 * $25 = $13,750. Not wanting to be greedy, I rounded down to $10,000. When my campaign got a late launch (24 days instead of the planned 30), I knocked another thousand off to settle on $9,000.
The bad news was I over-estimated the percentage of followers that would support me (I do cater to a frugal crowd). It wasn't 1% (550) as Ms. Candler predicted, but .55% (303). The good news was it didn't matter. The half-percent that did support me, more than made up for the half that didn't. An extra bonus was a very generous contributor that swooped in with $1,500 with ten minutes to go, AFTER we had cleared our goal by over $400. I love those kinds of surprises.
Another interesting fact was that $25 (65 backers) was not the most popular pledge, but $10 (147 backers) was. Why? I wanted people who contributed $10 (the price of a movie ticket) to be able to see the film via an online premiere. Most Kickstarter campaigns make you pay at least $25 to see the film via DVD. I felt that was too expensive and had a lot of $10 backers as a result.
Read the requirements and prepare early.
Since I was running behind, I didn't read all of the fine print about what I needed to do before my campaign could go live. I knew that Kickstarter would take 2-3 business days to review and hopefully approve my page, but I missed the part about setting up an Amazon Business Account. This account allows you process pledges from credit cards and is mandatory.
Not having this ready delayed my submission to Kickstarter and prevented me from starting on time. Again, six days were lost waiting for approval from Amazon and then Kickstarter. Thankfully, in my case, it didn't matter. Kickstarter promotes the fact that campaigns under thirty days are more often funded than those that are longer.
There is one degree of separation between you and pledges.
Lots of people who couldn't contribute spread my link around, and I am grateful for that. Interestingly, it didn't seem to help much. My numbers state that those directly attached to me (family, friends, fans) are the ones who contributed, not a friend of a friend or distant relative or acquaintance of a fan of The Frugal Filmmaker. This tells me why it is so important to directly connect with your viewership. It is this "one-degree" relationship that will make a huge difference if you decide to crowdfund.
Be aggressive toward the end of your campaign.
Several people told me that in the last week of the campaign, I need to be posting about the campaign four or five times a day on Facebook and to pin these posts at the top of the The Frugal Filmmaker Facebook group which had over 8,000 members at the time (it's over 8,400 now). They said don't worry about being pushy and the real supporters will show up.
That advice was solid gold. I did post regularly which meant that it was showing up in people's Facebook feeds several times per day. They wouldn't see every one since they weren't always online. Pinning the post helped keep it visible and I varied the post with current updates so it wouldn't be stale. Later, I even began injecting humor to keep things fun. My favorite: "I want to make this movie, yes I do. I want to make this movie, how about you?" Not one person complained that I was spamming and people were pledging on a regular basis.
If successful, be prepared to lose 10% of the money raised.
Here's something else to figure into your budget: put some financial pad on your goal to compensate for fees and lost pledges. Kickstarter charges 5% for their service and Amazon almost the same to process everyone's credit card. Some pledges will have issues (expired cards, for example) and if not corrected after a week post-campaign, will be let go. The final amount raised was $10,926. The final amount that made it to the Collection Day business account was $9,936.32. Anticipate this and you'll be fine. I didn't, but again the generous $1,500 donor made this a moot point.
I'm very thankful to all of you who helped me fund my film. I hope these things that I took away from the experience will help you if you try this in the future. It's very exciting to think you can raise money with help from fans that is not a loan. Just make sure you fulfill your rewards and finish your film--then everybody wins.