12 Lessons Learned While Crowdfunding Project Thermal Crossings
For the last 6-months, I’ve been working full-time on the Thermal Crossings project. It’s been a rollercoaster ride from start to present, and I’m lucky to have met many AWESOME people along the way. Sure it hasn’t been without the occasional #$%& up, but all in all, this experience has provided me with a huge learning opportunity that has forever changed the way I think about crowdfunded expeditions.
Without a doubt, the most intense period was when the crowdfunding page went LIVE. It’s only then when I was really able to market the project, and when I could put into practice the teachings of some of the world’s best marketers that I’ve followed over the past few years. And now that the crowdfunding has hit its initial goal, I didn't want to pass up this opportunity to share a few of the things I learned while rewriting the pro-adventurer's rules...
In this post, you’ll learn the key insights that helped make the Thermal Crossings crowdfunding a success, in no particular order.
This post was intended to be read alongside Mike Del Ponte’s guest post to the 4-hour-blog. Together they arm the modern adventurer with the tools needed to fund their next expedition using the power of the crowd.
Now on to the good stuff.
1. It doesn’t have to take “forever”
Everything you see today, the Thermal Crossings website, the Indiegogo page, it all started off with the following two sentences.
What continues to surprise me, though, is that from the moment I wrote the paragraph above, to the moment the crowdfunding reached its goal, only 14-weeks had passed!
In the beginning, I was told repeatedly that a successful crowdfunding requires a team of two people and 6-months of preparation. That might be the case if your primary goal is to raise hundreds of thousands of Euros in pre-orders, but my aim was to raise just enough to get started, attract sponsors, and give the project a jolt of credibility.
Yes, crowdfunding campaigns require a lot of work, but they don't need to take forever. Tight deadlines force immediate action. So if you're serious about giving this pro-adventuring thing a go, and if you don’t have a “war chest” under your bed, just remember that it's possible to make it happen in just 14-weeks. Maybe less...
2. Crowdfunding can be an iterative process
Most project ideas usually don’t work out in the real world the way we’d like them to. Instead of ignoring this, I knew it would be wiser to work with the expectation that I would need to continually improve on the original idea in iterations.
Entrepreneurs do the same when testing new business ideas. By launching their products early and getting something out the door and into the hands of customers ASAP, they're able to gather feedback from early customers and improve the product, one iteration at a time. That’s how I approached the Thermal Crossings crowdfunding.
By using a service like Indiegogo I could leverage their Indemand feature. Basically, with this feature switched on, so long as the campaign hit its goal, I could choose to keep the crowdfunding page live which meant the project could continue to receive contributions, even after the deadline.
What this means is that you can get something out there quickly, and with the help of your backer’s feedback, you can make your project better, even after the deadline ends. For example, since the campaign hit its goal, I’ve taken down the first promo video, updated the perks and description, and am now in the process of drafting the next video’s voiceover. I plan on “re-launching” (updating) the crowdfunding page every few months so that it stays current as the project evolves.
3. Marketing channels revisited
Having worked as a digital marketer in the past, my forte is in the online space, but against all expectations, knocking on doors worked better than most of my digital efforts. It wasn't the doors of neighbors, though, but the doors of businesses.
I’d walk into estate agents, travel agencies, pubs, and hotels–without an appointment–and ask to speak with the owner. If I was lucky, I’d get to shake the owner's hand and jump straight into a short 1-2 minute pitch answering; who I was, what I was doing, why the project was unique, what it consisted of, my current challenge, how they could help, and then asked if they wouldn't mind watching the promo video. 9 times out of 10, if I could get them to watch the video, they were in.
You might find yourself walking into the offices of much larger businesses where the highest ranking person present is a manager. Don’t waste your time. You want to speak with the decision maker, someone who hustles as hard as you do, and who knows how hard it is to launch something from scratch. So aim for business owners.
You might get laughed at, and told no, a lot... but you just gotta smile, shake it off, and focus your energy on those who see the vision.
4. News coverage does not convert, but...
Throughout this campaign, I was featured in the Gazette and Herald once, the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard three times, and I spoke on the BBC radio. Did these PR wins send any backers? Nope, but that wasn't the goal either.
Getting news coverage does to a project's credibility what a peacock's tail does for the peacock… it makes you look like a big deal.
But Rhys, you can’t spend credibility?
True, but small local news coverage makes getting your story covered elsewhere so much easier going forward. For example, after the piece was picked up by the W&GS, I began reaching out to Facebook pages that collectively had several million followers. If you've ever asked the owners of large followings to share something, you’ll know that it’s not so easy. However, by being able to mention that the story has already been picked up by the news, I believe you can turn a likely no into a yes.
Here is the exact pitch I sent to one Facebook page that had over 900,000 fans. The owner shared the story within 24h!
So just remember, getting covered on the news may not lead to direct contributions, but the credibility that comes with getting this media coverage is very real, and it will help you in many ways other than the one I’ve highlighted here.
5. It’s ok to f* up
"one who makes no mistakes makes nothing at all" - Giacomo Casanova
Crowdfunding has always scared me because of how public the whole thing is. Nobody likes to feel like a failure, and with crowdfunding, the reality is that your progress is accountable to the world. There’s no hiding. You either reach your target or you don’t.
But the thing you have to remember about the fear of failure is that more often than not, nobody really cares. You might, but people have way too many problems as it is, and for the majority of these people, whether or not your crowdfunding is successful isn't high up on their priority list. This fact is your opportunity. Try to see all of your projects and efforts as experiments. Some work, some don’t. But the outcome is always valuable learning. That’s not failing. That’s life...
This is of course not an excuse to be lazy. But even if you work hard and manage to reach you campaign’s goal, it’s likely that you’ll drop some balls along the way. Just remember that making mistakes is a necessary part of the process.
6. Aim for 50% from your core network
I’d have loved to have been able to tell you that I hit the crowdfunding goal in the first few days, but the truth is that it was a struggle all the way to the last hours. In fact, in the panic to keep the crowdfunding page open after the deadline (Indiegogo’s Indemand feature), I had to borrow a donation from a family member to spark the last wave of contributions.
Although this move could have created some backlash with skeptics, it gave the project a much needed “adrenaline jab”. My mistake was unnecessarily setting the campaign goal too high. If I were to do it again, I’d set a goal where I could raise 50% of it within my core network (friends and family).
If you are crowdfunding a product, though, I’d lower that to 20%–30%, however, when raising money for something like an expedition or cause, save yourself the unnecessary wrinkles and stick with 50%. Remember, so long as you hit your campaign’s goal, you can continue to receive contributions after the deadline.
7. People will support a vision
When people think about crowdfunding, they think about someone raising money to go build a product. That’s what I was doing, but I feel that the product was still half-baked, unclear, and not communicated well in the video. The short deadline simply didn't allow me to nail it. The result. Some skeptics thought I was crazy, stupid, and some even accused me of scamming.
But here’s the thing. I had a vision. I had a why. I had a purpose. And that’s what the early backers were really supporting. There’s a great Ted talk related to this topic by Simon Sinek (worth checking out). But essentially, my early backers saw the value in being able to get closer to my journey over the next few years. They saw the value in seeing the average guy become a world-class adventurer. They saw the value from learning from someone who wasn't yet established, but who was willing to become a human-guinea-pig in order share what works, as well as what doesn't.
Yes, you’ll probably raise more money if you’re VERY specific about your product (assuming there’s a demand for it), But if time constraints don’t permit you to answer “what’s in it for the backers” 100%, just make sure your vision is well baked into your promo video.
Here’s probably one of my more controversial takeaways. My resources were so tight, I could not even record a promo video for the campaign. My original thought had been to create a slideshow of photos taken over the summer with a voice over in the background, but I quickly realized that it wouldn’t keep people engaged, get them excited, and show the non-paraglider community how incredible this sport was.
Luckily, I had been building a relationship with the paraglider manufacturer Niviuk, and they had a growing collection of high-quality promo videos for their gear. I downloaded these promo videos and chopped them into some stock videos, my voice over, some of my own head cam footage, pictures, as well as a 2-second-clip featuring my face while I was putting on my helmet.
I didn't ask for permission to use these promo videos until the very day before the campaign went LIVE (not recommended), and the reason I wasn't too worried about getting told off is because I knew I would be promoting the crowdfunding page for 40 days straight... and the video would be the most viewed material on the page. So I was confident that Niviuk would gain a ton of brand exposure, and I could fill the video with eye candy–it was a win-win. I am lucky and extremely thankful they didn't pull the plug, though. Not only do they produce great gear, but they also support young projects–kudos to their entire team.
9. Getting shared to millions isn't enough
As I mentioned earlier, the story was shared to some very large Facebook followings. To give you an idea of how excited I was before these shares went live, one of the Facebook page's owner said they would not be surprised if the post resulted in tens of thousand of pounds in contributions, a deal with a media company and more exposure than I knew what to do with.
Then, as most things go that are simply too good to be true…. NADA!
It seems that getting your story shared to very large followings is NOT enough for an overnight success. The learning that I took away is that not all followings are equal, and to not rely on the owner of the following knowing what story angle will resonate best with their audience. The Facebook algorithm is a tough nut and these shares were crapshoots at best.
Sure the shares gave the project some credibility, but when you're aiming for contributions, millions of followers aren't enough. The secret sauce to getting your story picked up by a particular audience lies in the details, so do your homework and tailor the message well.
10. Crowdfunding collaborators… It’s a win-win
If you promote your project well, it will be seen by tens or hundreds of thousands of people. This is an opportunity most companies (with relevant offerings) would be silly not to jump on. And by partnering with other companies, you can add value to your campaign’s perks.
As long as you remember that businesses are currently paying to display their logos and messages to people, and that any company's survival relies on getting its solutions into the hands of people, you’ll always know how your campaign can help other businesses. It boils down to exposure and new customers.
I only wished I’d have begun conversations with partners and working on the perks from day one, because the two campaign collaborators that jumped aboard last minute gave the perks an important physical element. And now I’m having a blast working with them.
The way I went about creating these partnerships was by reaching out to them via email or Facebook, and briefly mentioned what I was up to, how they could win from this, and tried to get them on a Skype call as soon as possible to go into the details. It’s important to note that by this time I had a very decent sponsorship proposal, a website, a draft Indiegogo campaign, and two official project sponsors. This traction might have helped speed things up. Just makes sure you always highlight how your possible partners win and you’ll do fine.
11. Give’em a taster for FREE
The internet is chockablock with FREE content, so when I began asking people to pay for access to my content, the first question I was up against is “Why is your content worth paying for”.
After a week or so, I realized that the best answer I could give was to just show what I could do and let possible backers decide if they think I could produce something valuable to them.
When deciding what “freebie” I wanted to create, it helped to ask myself, what desire of my target backer would I like to tickle with an in-depth resource, where I could really answer a question well. I figured that everybody likes FREE stuff, and it just so happened that getting sponsored was something I was beginning to know something about, so I went on to spend the weekend creating the most comprehensive resource on becoming a sponsored paragliding pilot that is available on the web today.
This resource went on to be seen almost 2,000 times and has since sent a handful of backers who are really excited to learn more about the topic. It’s by sharing a freebie that you’ll also be able to demonstrate that you can produce good work, and it’s a great way of starting relationships on a good leg.
12. What marketing professionals don’t teach you
Marketers will teach you that you need to be polarizing to elicit strong emotions from people, because that’s how you get them to take action, like sharing one of your posts, or making a pledge to your campaign. And you’ll also hear that if you do things right, some people will really love what you do and some people will really dislike what you do. If you’re in the middle somewhere, you are not making a living with it…
The thing that marketers don’t teach, however, is how to deal with those people who take a strong disliking to what you do, and for some reason, take it personally. The internet refers to these people as haters. Initially, I underestimated just how much negative messages would affect me. It’s not easy learning to tune out the noise of unnecessary abuse but left unchecked it can really impact your motivation.
I’m still figuring out how best to deal with these people but I can tell you what has helped me so far. Whenever I find myself feeling bad because of some looser's poor etiquette, I just focus on the people that have shown support and then spend an hour thinking up ways to add value to their lives. This always gets me excited lifts me from any doubt.
At the end of the day, your campaign’s success depends on your ability iterate from plan A to the plan that works, and doing good work along the way. If you have a tight budget as I did, you’re probably going to find it hard accepting that you’ll be putting out something that isn't on the same quality level of those you admire. But just remember that you are not playing in the same league...yet!
Find supporters who want to support your game in your league, and work your way up as you build the skills to play with the big boys. Everything else should then take care of itself.
In this post, I’ve shared just a few of the major learnings that I took from the Thermal Crossings crowdfunding. I do this because I'd have liked to have had such a resource when starting out, and so I hope that you find it useful.
If you like what you’ve been reading and would like to support my journey, it would mean the world to me if you could head on over to the crowdfunding page and made a pledge. Every contribution goes a long way.
See you in the sky
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