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Crowdfunding 201: Anatomy of a Failure

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By: Lucas McNelly

We start with a tweet:

I do this a lot. Sometimes it results in nothing. Sometimes I get a suggestion for the Extra Credit section at the end. And sometimes I get a whole column out of it. Because, hey, why not crowdsource part of a crowdfunding column? I can't see everything. And when the Celtics are in the playoffs, my productivity drops pretty drastically.

A few more tweets and emails later and here we have a dissection of a campaign that failed, an Anatomy of a Failure, if you will.

617 The Series is a Boston web series by Amy DePaola and Katie Shannon that set a relatively standard goal of $12,000. It raised $1,010 from 25 backers and got 118 Facebook "likes" for the campaign.

There's a bit of a misnomer about the "likes" as a metric, mostly from people who fail to put any stock in them, because that's not their goal with their campaign. But here's the thing: you probably aren't trying to reach an audience of people who aren't on Facebook. The chances are pretty good that your audience is on Facebook and uses Facebook at the same rate as everyone else. Unless you're, I dunno, trying to raise money from the Amish or some remote tribe in Africa, and if that's the case, maybe Kickstarter isn't a great idea. Everything you do to promote your campaign should serve to send people to your Kickstarter page. That's the only way they can give you money. If they aren't going to your Kickstarter page, then you aren't promoting your campaign well. Now, once they're there, people are people. They're going to reflexively click on that "like" button if they think your campaign is cool. Will everyone? No. But those numbers should normalize as your sample size gets bigger. So when a campaign has very few "likes", that's a red flag that whatever they're doing to drive the campaign isn't working.

I have a database I've built of about 800 successful campaigns, and pulling data from that, I know that generally, a Facebook "like" for a web series project is worth a shade under $20 in actual backer money, so if you reverse that, you know that a web series looking for $12,000 is going to be looking at roughly 600 "likes" (and about 200 backers).

Now at the beginning of the campaign, they released the first episode of the series, which is a great way to build audience and capitalize on it.

617 Pilot Episode: One-Nighters from Greenview Entertainment on Vimeo.

As of right now, that has over 15,800 views on Vimeo, over half of which came during the actual campaign. So the audience was there. What went wrong?

Perks

Let's look at the problems with the perk structure.

1. There's nothing under $10. You want as many people as possible to back your campaign and, ultimately, get behind your project. Why would you discourage them from giving you $5? Would you turn $5 down if they gave it to you on the street? Of course not.

2. A "Thank You" is not a perk. Thanking someone isn't a reward for giving you money. It's common courtesy. But here, in order to get more than a thank you, you have to give $50. $50! It costs $200 to get a thank you in the end credits. That's ridiculous.

3. $75 for a bumper sticker? I know it's paired with a t-shirt, but why not put the bumper sticker at $10? Then you've got something tangible to send people.

4. A copy of the movie? A web series is in a trickier place with this because the thought is that it'll be online for free, so a DVD or a digital download isn't needed, but you know what else is free to watch online? Community. And they sell DVDs. The point is that not everyone wants to watch a streaming copy of your show. Maybe they want that physical DVD with the packaging and artwork. Maybe they want to download it so they can watch it on the subway on their iPads. I can't say this strongly enough: YOU HAVE TO GIVE YOUR BACKERS A COPY OF THE PROJECT THEY'RE BACKING.

There's more, but those are the big ones.

Lesbians

Most of the embeds of the pilot episode (which stunningly isn't on the Kickstarter page) came from After Ellen, LesMedia, She Wired, and One More Lesbian, four pretty big Lesbian media sites. The series has a lesbian character, and yet that's hard to figure out for a casual audience member. Hell, I didn't realize it until I started digging into their Vimeo stats. If that's what's driving your traffic, then that's the angle you play.

And, yet, only one(!) of those embeds is even mentioned on the Kickstarter page. Which leads us to...

Updates

There are 2 updates on the campaign page, the last one on December 19th (the campaign ended on January 16th). The general rule of thumb is one every other day. Last week's subject, Fat Kid Rules the World, has 25.

I asked Amy DePaola about it over email:

You went the last ~25 days of the campaign without posting a single backer update. Why?

We posted our Backer updates on our Facebook page. I'm assuming you are going to tell me there are benefits to having backer updates directly on Kickstarter....I know. I know. Next time! 

Obviously you want to post updates on Facebook. And Twitter. And Google Plus. And Tumblr. And YouTube. You get the idea. But your Kickstarter updates go via email directly to your backers. If nothing else, you want to send it to them so that they can stay in the loop. But consider this: when I look at a campaign that's struggling to get backers and hasn't posted an update in 20 days, my first thought is that they've given up. And why would I support that?

In the interest of giving the project creators a larger voice, here's the rest of the interview, with some comments by yours truly.

McNelly: What would you say worked well for your campaign?

DePaola: The strength of the campaign for 617 The Series was the amount of press and attention we were able to grab. Because of our campaign we were written up in several publications that increased the amount of views we received on our pilot episode. We were featured on Bostinnovation.com as well as NewEnglandFilm.com and re-tweeted by hundreds of fans including @BostonTweet which has several 10's of thousand followers. It was also a way for us to receive some feedback from the production community.

Ok, this is worth talking about. @BostonTweet does indeed have a lot of followers, well over 50,000, so you'd assume that's worth a lot of social media capital. But is it really?

To get a better idea of what those 50K followers are worth, we'll go to Klout, which has a lot of problems, but is still insanely useful for stuff like this.

@BostonTweet has a Klout score of 64, which is good, but look at that True Reach of 21K. It's actually lower than their follower count. That's not good. Why? Because their Amplification is a 6 out of 100. Twitalyzer agrees, putting the PeerIndex in the 29th percentile. So they have a ton of followers, but those followers aren't listening. They're a mirage.

McNelly: What didn't work?

DePaola: Well, the campaign certainly didn't! Ha! I'd say that what didn't work was getting people to see why we needed funds. A lot of people tuned in and spread the word for us but no one was putting in their dollars. We did launch our campaign around the Christmas holidays which may or may not have had something to do with it. 

I've run a campaign over Christmas. It's a bad idea. You assume that it'll knock out 3 days from your campaign, where it's really about two weeks.

McNelly: What do you wish you had done differently?

DePaola: Honestly, I can't say I am a fan of crowd-funding period. I wish we used IndieGoGo over Kickstarter because then we would've seen some of our profit. We tried relentlessly to get attention through social media from some notable names; I used to work in PR and get celebrities to do a myriad of things for me, so I might have tried to plan that better as well. I also wish we didn't set the bar so high and we went out for a more realistic sum of money -- and of course - launched it not around the holiday season. 

There's a risk in going for (and getting) less than you "need". Namely, if you promise a $12K film, and only end up with $3K, you put yourself in a really uncomfortable position, as you still owe your backers that $12K film. I'm not saying Amy's wrong here, as every production is a different animal, but it's something to be aware of in planning.

McNelly: How did it compare to your expectations?

DePaola: Well, like I said above, I'm wary of crowd-funding so I think my expectations were met, sad to say. For me, I have a lot going on outside of this project alone, in addition to managing the campaign I was in full pre-production; casting, overseeing our writer's table and working nights at the bar I've been employed at. 

McNelly: You mentioned you were managing the campaign and doing pre-production at the same time. How big was your core team of people who were really pushing the campaign? And how many hours a day would you estimate you were putting in?

DePaola: Well in actuality that is another fault. We only had two people pushing the campaign and really at times it would feel like only one. I would spend anywhere between 6 and 8 hours spread through the day managing and updating but as I said that in itself is a full time gig! 

We're writing more about this in another post that should be up soon, but we did a survey of successful campaigns. On average, they had a team of 3 people and put in 9.9 hours a day.

McNelly: How much pre-production and planning did you do?

DePaola: We've talked for about 5 months about doing a crowd-funding campaign before I buckled and said "fine, what do we have to lose?" I wish now we did much more pre-production as well as planning. I think one thing that could have helped us would've been to secure a large donation prior to launching the campaign, so that people would see that we had support. Our reasons are still the same - to help create some steadier production jobs right here in the heart of New England, the city of Boston, but I think we could have helped show that message more by having some of our cast and crew speak for us as well. The camaraderie and enthusiasm from our entire team for this project has been overwhelming at times, its truly a blessing and they are really the voice we should have represented. 

This is a great point. If you've got a team of people, use them. They all have their own voices and audience that helps you cast a much wider net. Your Key Grip has friends and he never gets to be on camera.

McNelly: What do you think kept the eyeballs you were getting from "liking" your campaign (you had 118 FB "likes" of it, instead of the 600 or so you'd expect from a campaign w/ your goal) and becoming backers?

DePaola: Well, this question might get a little technical and that's because I believe that many people use social media on the go these days. The people that are sitting at their computers are not in my network these days or they are back at home in New York and I've lost touch and they aren't paying much attention. On the other hand a lot of my support comes from my peers; fellow artists, writers, producers, actors, etc. who are all trying to knock down funding for their means as well. 

McNelly: How would you evaluate your pitch video?

DePaola: We wanted our pitch video to be a bit quirky and odd - like some of our characters in our series are. We also wanted it to be low budget. (We also shot it early in the AM after a night of work and I didn't even get to do my hair!) But all in all our pitch video could have been better executed. I myself am comfortable on camera because I'm usually on camera. But my partner, Katie, is a behind the scenes girl and I know doing that for her was not as fun as it was for me! I think we should have had our cast included in the pitch and our crew. Perhaps next time I'll organize a sing-a-long to "Call Me Maybe" and have a choreographed Flash mob between our crew, that way we get 11,000,000 million hits like that boring Harvard baseball team video. Next time. 

Live and learn.

Extra Credit

Selene Hollow hit their goal. Zombies!....Sharon Shattuck is making a LGBT documentary called Project Dad...The Cifuentes Sisters are nearly halfway to their $30K goal with 13 days left...Over on IndieGoGo, some Brits are working on The Flight of the Flamingo, a film about stealing dogs. @echo_dog is worried....The folks at Wonder Mill Films are crowdfunding the self-distribution of their 2 features.

Lucas McNelly is the filmmaker behind A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. He consults on Kickstarter campaigns for a living. He hasn't lived anywhere in a long time.

Originally published on Turnstylenews.com, a digital information service surfacing emerging stories in news, entertainment, art and culture; powered by award-winning journalists.

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