Note: I’ve asked Alex Daly, known as “Crowdsourcerous” to write a guest column for me this week. Alex has managed the PonoMusic campaign, one of the most successful in the history of Kickstarter. — Phil Baker.
About a year and a half ago I was working as a traditional film producer — raising funds for documentaries the slow and painful way: through grants. Of course, this is not the only painful route for traditional film financing; there are equity partners and investors who can front the capital, but they, too, can create a slow and difficult process.
At least with grants, the funding is donation-based. Investors, on the other hand, have the potential to assume creative control in exchange for their investments, which creates tension and complications around the filmmaking itself — or any creative endeavor.
One day in the summer of 2012, an accomplished editor and producer whom I had met through sharing an office space, approached me about fundraising for his film the untraditional way: through crowdfunding.
I had heard about Kickstarter, but only peripherally. Still, as I tend to do with most things, I agreed to the offer without knowing what crowdfunding was or how to do it. Who doesn’t love an adventure on the Internet? We launched the campaign three weeks later and raised $81,639, surpassing our goal by 163 percent.
Soon after, I raised funds for another documentary, and again we exceeded our goal, this time reaching about 1,000 backers globally. The money helped us finish the film, and we went on to the Tribeca Film Festival. After the second crowdfunding campaign, filmmakers started approaching me to run their campaigns, as I was someone who could raise money very quickly online through this amazing thing called crowdfunding, and I could do it well.
Around the same time, an article was written about me where I was dubbed “The Crowdsourceress” and by the end of 2013, I had raised a quarter of a million dollars for six successful campaigns, including indie films, tech startups and a theater production fronted by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I just finished a campaign for Oscar and Emmy-nominated filmmakers, and now I am raising money for Neil Young.
But you may still be wondering: What is crowdfunding? Here’s a quick overview: Crowdfunding is a way to collect donations online for an initiative or project from backers — the “crowd.”
Crowdfunding’s origins come from “crowdsourcing,” a concept where a financial goal is reached by collecting and leveraging small contributions from several parties. The platform that has become synonymous with the term crowdfunding is Kickstarter. Other popular crowdfunding platforms are Indiegogo and Rockethub.
Generally, backers receive a value in exchange for their donation, not equity. If we were crowdfunding $100,000 to finish a documentary, such a value might be a digital copy of film, an invitation to the film premiere, a T-shirt or a name mention in credits. So backers aren’t investing, but pledging for the actual experience.
Which brings me to where I am right now: crowdfunding on Kickstarter for Neil Young’s new audio player. The PonoPlayer, now three years in the making, creates an improved digital music listening experience.
On March 10, we launched a Kickstarter campaign for PonoMusic with the goal of raising $800,000. We have now surpassed that number by 93 percent. How? There are many moving parts to guarantee a successful campaign. Here are our top four:
First: Video. For our video, Neil shot several well-known artists such as Elton John, Eddie Vedder, Beck, Sting, as well as top music industry people who praised the product, which added tons of credibility to what we were trying to promote. Our aesthetic was docu-style and fresh, making it accessible and entertaining.
Second: Copy. For the project page text, we alternated between accessible and explanatory. The PonoPlayer is a complex product and we wanted to satisfy our backers’ questions and concerns as much as possible. We worked to tell a story through the text and to use our brand voice.
Third: Rewards. Apart from T-shirts and a sticker option, the rewards were the music players, which we offered at $100 off the retail price. This really incentivized our backers to donate now instead of waiting until the product is on the market. We also offered “Artist Signature Series,” which includes signed players by top artists at a slightly higher price point. These were extremely popular, and we worked to offer new ones that our backers requested.
Fourth: Audience engagement. We, Neil included, wanted to engage our backers as much as possible. Which brings us back to our main point: appeal directly to a huge community and provide them with a product they have been waiting for.
Most importantly, through Kickstarter, Neil gets to be fully involved with his fans and supporters. And once the campaign is done, he does not need to pay anyone back or run every move by an investor. That is the power of crowdfunding — the direct fan engagement. A portion of Neil’s note to our Kickstarter backers captures this.
“My experience here on Kickstarter has been life-changing,” Neil wrote. “After banging my head against the wall for almost three years, dealing with business experts who didn’t really understand what we were trying to accomplish (to rescue the art of recorded sound and make great music available into the future), I found you people. You are the ones who understand what this is. You have proven it with your amazing support.”
Crowdfunding has the power to revive art in a democratic way — whether it’s a new piece of hardware, a film, album or game. Kickstarter has now raised more than a billion dollars in pledges. So far, almost 60,000 projects have been successfully funded, while just over 76,000 have not. And more than $1 million are pledged daily. Daily. Purely for art. Times are changing.
Daly, known as “Crowdsourceress,” has raised millions of dollars through crowdfunding. She is managing the PonoMusic campaign, one of the most successful in the history of Kickstarter.