If you're planning a crowdfunding campaign, there is probably some excitement to be gained from living on the edge and charting new territory by experimenting with completely new techniques and tactics. For many of us, however, the idea of reverse engineering a successful campaign is likely more appealing. By its very definition on Wikipedia -- "disassembling something (a mechanical device, electronic component, computer program, or biological, chemical, or organic matter) and analyzing its components and workings in detail - for either purposes of maintenance or to support creation of a new device or program that does the same thing, without using or simply duplicating (without understanding) the original" -- the term reverse engineering underscores the importance of learning why certain processes, tactics and strategies should and should not be used.
It's no different for crowdfunding, which has been around for long enough that I will not delve into its definition, history or evolution, except to note that crowdfunding is the process of creating a time-limited event to leverage your crowd and secure funds for your idea, cause, product or undertaking. Duplicating successful campaigns can definitely help your campaign become successful, certainly more so than simply 'winging it'. But to truly maximize your effort in preparing for a crowdfunding campaign, it is becoming more important to incorporate what I call 'reverse crowdfund-gineering' in the discovery of how to make it work for you.
I define reverse crowdfund-gineering as the deconstruction of crowdfunding factors -- the campaign characteristics, owners, tools, tactics and results -- to understand why they contribute to positive outcomes. In this article, I focus on some of the 'reverse crowdfund-gineered' behaviours that help nudge your campaign to success.
Lesson 1: Be Ready to Invest your Time.
If you were to ask any person, team or organizational groups who ran crowdfunding campaigns whether the end-to-end process took a lot of their time, you'd likely be met with complete affirmation. You'll probably also witness moans, groans, and sighs as they relive the intense days (and sleepless nights) before, during and after their campaigns were active. Every team behind a crowdfunding campaign will agree on the need to engage in systematic research, analysis, assessment, learning, planning, implementation and feedback-seeking behaviors. Be prepared to invest a minimum of twice the duration of your campaign in campaign pre-planning. This does not include time you might have taken to develop your product, idea, art, or the item you're crowdfunding. The reason you need this time is there are many decisions you will need to make about your campaign and its design, including your funding goal, pitch, video and digital media, and rewards.
You'll also need to spend time understanding your campaign's ideal audience, finding them in advance of your campaign, and engaging your inner circle, friends, and people of influence within your network. In preparation for the end of your campaign, you will want to have a fulfillment plan in place to be as accurate as possible with the delivery timing and budget estimates you provide during your campaign. And to do all of this systematically, you will need time to create, customize and follow a plan.
Lesson 2: Adopt Active Learning and Creativity Principles.
As online crowdfunding becomes more all-pervasive, the ability to obtain, assimilate and apply the right knowledge effectively is a key skill to possess. The likelihood of success is not solely determined by qualifications we may have gained in the past, but is by and large tied to a capacity to learn and adapt. Understanding there is a whole range of learning styles and factors that help or hinder the learning process, the point here is to underscore the importance of learning to run a crowdfunding campaign, before actually launching a campaign. And with the availability of an inordinate number of online tools, webinars, trainings, tip sheets and in person offerings, there is no real barrier to learning, save perhaps some intrinsic factors -- such as an individual's motivation, perception of the rewards associated with this learning activity, or perceived time constraints.
In addition, successful campaigns are creative. They draw from their team's knowledge, influence, networks and experience in traditional areas of marketing, public relations, filmmaking, sales, and project management to adapt these bodies of knowledge to crowdfunding.
Lesson 3: Don't just Crowdfund, Authentically Connect.
Owners and team members of successful campaigns will attest to having fine-tuned their project management knowledge, honed their writing skills, improved their communications and marketing skills, and in many cases, exponentially expanded their social networks. And many will also concur that it was imperative to build trust and demonstrate integrity. Sharing your campaign involves building trust through an exchange of information. You passionately provide details about your endeavor, and you receive feedback -- on your network's level of interest, their advice on your approach and on other alternatives you could consider. And this is where the ability to remain open to receiving their feedback becomes imperative. Closing the communication loop through active listening and integration of sought feedback will also help.
Lesson 4: Focus on the Fundamentals.
Successful campaign owners and their broader team of community managers, promoters, digital media crew, writers and the like have a focus on the activities and outreach that really matter. They understand the immediate, concrete needs at all stages of the campaign and establish a tangible plan of actions that will meet those needs. If it aligns to one of the four fundamentals -- building social network, niche and media awareness, communicating and clarifying the details of the campaign, attracting and monitoring new backers and pledges, and sticking to the budget -- then it's a priority. Every other activity is set aside as optional.
Lesson 5: Remember the Little Things that Make a Big Difference.
Remembering to thank each backer can go a long way in retaining pledges and attracting new pledges from your backers' networks. The same can be said for close attention to detail in engaging in the following:
- Posting regular updates on the campaign's progress;
- Asking for feedback on the campaign, video, and rewards before the campaign begins;
- Asking your inner circle of fans, friends and family for backer support prior to launching;
- Responding promptly to backer and potential backer questions;
- Posting new digital media regularly, to keep the campaign fresh and to demonstrate the progress of your work;
- Thanking everyone who shares your campaign on social media or by email; and
- Using and customizing existing crowdfunding tools to maximize the team's efficiency.
As you contemplate your crowdfunding plan, consider going beyond a simple duplication of actions performed by campaign owners. Rather, begin to look under the hood of successful campaigns to understand why certain activities contributed to success, and engage in behaviors that are demonstrated by successful teams. In so doing, you can make reverse crowdfund-gineering work for you.
This article is the first of a Reverse Crowdfund-gineering series, and focuses on the factors that help prepare you for crowdfunding success. Findings presented in this series were derived from the author's first-hand crowdfunding of a successful Kickstarter campaign, and qualitatively from her formal blog interviews and informal discussions with the owners of successful crowdfunding campaigns since August 2012.
Additional reverse crowdfund-gineering factors will be covered at the October 19-20, 2013 Extreme Crowdfunding Bootcamp at INcubes, an intensive Toronto-based crowdfunding workshop for startups, students, innovators and social entrepreneurs. Learn more about INcubes or the Bootcamp.