Thoughts and Tips From Week One of Crowdfunding My First Feature, 'Man-child'
Ten down, twenty-eight days to go. I'm learning as I go with the Kickstarter campaign for 'Man-child', which just passed 500 backers! In addition to last week's Ten Must-Read Posts Before Running Your Own Crowdfunding Campaign, I thought I'd jot down some some thoughts, tips, and quotes from the first week of my campaign, which has included some triumphs -- and mistakes. If you're considering trying to crowdfund a project in the future, I hope these notes will be helpful.
Launch in the AM
The first tip I would convey is this: launch your campaign in the morning, so you can get the most out of your big launch day. Seems obvious, right? Well, I made the error of posting the project at night. As a content creator, I spent all my energy in the days leading up to the launch getting the page ready and putting together my pitch video. When I finally finished the video (which took a good deal of editing, given my initial pitch was far too long-winded), I hit the "launch project" button immediately. The temporary feeling of triumph quickly gave way to the realization that I was exhausted, it was after business hours, and I was going to fall asleep in my chair any minute -- not exactly the right conditions to start sending emails and boot up the social networking effort. I'd recommend instead of going live ASAP, that project creators simply wait an extra day if it means you're going to have the full work day -- and a full night's sleep -- to go out with the campaign. More people are at their computers during the day, and you want to reach out to as many friends and family as you can right away, so they feel a personal connection to the project (instead of hearing about it on Facebook). More than once I found myself composing an email to a friend only to check Facebook and see they'd already posted the project. As filmmakers we're used to focusing on the video itself, but take a break after you finish your video if it means you can launch when you're fresh -- you're going to have hundreds of emails to send out ASAP after you hit the "launch" button. Better yet, write a lot of these emails before you launch. Don't forget the real work begins after you launch your campaign.
Step up to an app
Step up your social media game a notch and start using a dedicated app; websites aren't going to cut it once you become a crowdfunder. I'd been an occasional HootSuite user in the past, because it allows you to monitor Facebook and Twitter accounts in one place, it allows you to give access to your social media accounts to other team members, and it allows you to schedule tweets and updates (no one can be at the computer 24/7, after all). However, after some twitter friends recommended TweetDeck, I discovered that it now offers Facebook integration and scheduling features (it didn't when I first used it), and after booting up the latest desktop version I never looked back. It's possible HootSuite offers more team-oriented features, but... I have no team members. If you see a tweet from me, it's from me. As for why one would want to schedule tweets: just because you're in (X time zone) doesn't mean your audience is. If you want friends and followers on the other side of the globe to know about your campaign, you might want to schedule a tweet or two for the middle of the night. You'll probably get less sleep during your crowdfunding campaign -- I certainly am -- but being asleep shouldn't keep you from spreading the word!
Get ready to be in the dark
I'm used to running my own website, and as you may know I have a thing for analytics. So it's been interesting to run a campaign through Kickstarter, where project creators are given a dashboard that includes the following graphic:
However, other than that display, you're not given access to any other metrics. So if you're a webmaster and you're used to knowing where your traffic is coming from, or if you're a filmmaker and you're used to knowing how many views your video has gotten, or if you're a social media expert and you're used to measuring which networks and campaigns are effective and which ones aren't -- welcome to Kickstarter, where you know none of these things. Don't get me wrong, the website is designed incredibly well and I love the aesthetic, the attitude, the functionality, the community, and the curation. But I sure could do with some basic analytics. Without them, I have no idea if most of my backers are coming from my website, my newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, or some mystery source (mars?). Even if you have a team in place for your fundraising campaign, you're still going to have a limited number of hours. With analytics you could focus on the most effective approaches; without analytics you will inevitably spend time barking up the wrong tree.
While Kickstarter is almost certainly Keeping It Simple for the sake of the average user, if they were to add an "advanced stats" tab they could give those of us with more experience the tools to succeed without confusing beginners. After all, if we are successful, they are successful (Kickstarter takes a 5% cut, which I think is more than fair to project creators).
Your mailing list is great, but...
For anyone who might have their own mailing list, Kickstarter does not release the email addresses of any of your backers until the campaign is complete. Which is fine, but it makes it virtually impossible to figure out who from your newsletter has backed the campaign -- meaning, when you send out a successive newsletter about your campaign, you're going to have to ask for help from people who have already backed your project along with the (vast majority of) folks who haven't. People will often sign up for Kickstarter with a different email address or user name than they used for your own newsletter, anyway. So it's certainly not an ideal situation, as the last thing I want to ask someone who's already backed Man-child is, "will you back Man-child?" I've been scratching my head since launching the project to see if there's a better way, but I haven't found it. And get this: since the initial email about the project, less than 1% of subscribers have backed the film (as far as I can tell, just based on number of backers versus number of active subscribers). That number is going to have to get higher if the campaign is to be a success. Thank you to those of you who have backed it!
If and when Kickstarter launches an API, there might be a way for email providers (I use Aweber) and social networks to interface with the platform. Until then, it's a walled garden during your campaign (once your campaign is over, you're given the ability to export your data).
More on Man-child
This isn't a tip, but I wanted to share some very nice mentions of the Man-child campaign on a few other web sites. Wait, did I say "very nice mentions?" I meant "extremely generous to the point of making me feel uncomfortable about sharing their quotes here." But if I haven't been able to convince you to back the project myself, perhaps these folks can:
Scott Macaulay, Filmmaker Magazine: I’m a believer in Koo and his work, so I’ve donated, and I hope you consider donating too... I particularly relate to Koo’s split-screen. I’m very familiar with that guy on the other side of the frame, the censorious voice who squelches creative drive with an internal monologue of negativity. By getting this far, Koo has vanquished that guy, and now he’s relying on the community to get him the rest of the way. As the editor of a film website, I know how hard it can be to keep things going when there’s not an immediate financial reward and when you have other projects demanding your time. I’ve been amazed at how Koo, who is a one-man band, has built No Film School into an essential, daily-updated resource for filmmakers. So, I feel a little invested in his campaign. Seeing him hit that $115,000 will help convince me that the economics of web content aren’t just about CPMs and click-through rates.
MarBelle, Director's Notes: You know what it’s like. You wait around for months and months hoping against hope that the filmmaker you really respect, the one who’s proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they support the filmmaking community and is working ceaselessly each and everyday to help all of us make it to the top of our game, provides you with an opportunity to say a big, unambiguous thank you by supporting something very precious to them. No? Well now is most certainly that time... Alongside the normal Kickstarter rewards of DVDs, credits and downloads, he’s offering the unique frames (as a clip) you funded, which is a mighty cool way to see exactly what you put into the project. And as with all things he does, Koo will be tracking and reporting his way through the project so we can learn along with him. Man-child is the project of a talented filmmaker who has gone out of his way to help many others fullfil their filmic ambitions, so I think we should all head over to the Kickstarter page to pledge our support and spread the word far and wide.
Mentorless: If you are thinking about doing a movie or even simply launching a Kickstarter campaign, this is a project that will give you tremendous insights on how to strategize your campaign and/or work on your movie. The day he launched his campaign, Koo published a 10 must-read posts before running your own crowdfunding campaign article... When you become a backer, you receive backers-only updates. Man-Child was one of the 20 out of 350 scripts to be selected by the IFP’s Emerging Narrative Program and Koo, who created a multimedia look book to present to the producers he’ll meet in September, sent the video to all the backers (an exclusivity so far) a couple of days ago. When you are working on your own film and applying for grants and programs with similar requirements, having access to someone else’s work is amazing.
Thank you so much to the above writers for taking the time to write some (very kind) words about the project. Thanks as well to Brent Pierce at Cineblur, Korstiaan Zandvliet at Crowdfund News, and Jared Abrams at Wide Open Camera for picking up the campaign. And if you have a blog of your own, please consider taking a second to embed the video (use the "embed" button underneath the video here) and help spread the word! Speaking of that video, here it is if you haven't seen it already:
The "multimedia look book" referenced by Mentorless above is something I decided to make despite the fact that I hadn't seen one before -- actually, it's more accurate to say I decided to make it because I hadn't seen one before. The clip will be making its way to No Film School soon; I think it says a bit more about the film itself than does my Kickstarter pitch, which is more about my own story. But I hope you'll agree that, backer exclusives or not, this whole fundraising undertaking -- as with anything I do on this site -- will hopefully help anyone else planning on doing the same. And, by extension, the production of the film itself (should the campaign be a success) will hopefully help anyone planning on producing their own film, too.
One last thing to mention to potential Kickstarter project creators: once you launch your project, you can't edit any of the rewards that have backers. This makes sense, as Kickstarter doesn't want you changing rewards on people after the fact. But make sure you're 100% set with your backer levels, and triple-check for any typos (I had to contact the support team to help me with a simple typo). You can edit the project description, add FAQs, swap out the video, etc. after you launch, but the rewards get locked in fast. Good thing Man-child has some great ones, including the unique clip of the film that you made possible! (sorry, couldn't help it).
Man-child needs your help!
There's something about that Kickstarter graph above that you might have noticed: my campaign is a little behind! After a great launch, Man-child has stumbled a bit, so please keep up your sharing efforts and we'll hopefully get back on track. A calculation shows that the campaign is 26% finished (with 10 days gone out of 38) and has raised 23% of the goal. As you probably already know, Kickstarter campaigns are all-or-nothing, so it's going to take every bit of extra effort (and a lot of lost sleep) to get to the finish line. I hope some of the above tips were helpful, and thanks for your support!