Kickstarter success: funding a creative project

Kickstarter successJulia Halpin successfully funded a $3500 campaign on Kickstarter for her recent dance project that included six dancers and thirty minutes of choreography, greatly eclipsing all of her previous projects in size and scope.  I asked her to sit down on Skype with me to find out how she found Kickstarter success in raising funds for her creative project.

Beginning a Kickstarter campaign

Julia started her Kickstarter adventure as an observer.  While the ideas for music, choreography, costumes and dancers were marinating in her head, she kept track of what other people were doing to raise money for their creative projects.  She found a lot of inspiration at the Muse and their efforts to fund their performance space (which is really great, go check it out!  I even helped build some of it and had my book launch there).

She made the decision to go on Kickstarter because she felt committed to paying her dancers for their time and efforts.  Once she made the decision to actually do the show, which was scary, she found the decision to fund it on Kickstarter to be more natural and easy.

Pre-funding vs post-funding

As a counter-example to Kickstarter, I asked Julia if she could have funded the project out of her own pocket and then sold tickets at the door to recoup her costs. Her answer was there are simply are not enough seats at the Muse to make that kind of profit from ticket sales, since it only seats about 50 people. That’s only enough space to break even on the Muse’s cost of stocking the bar and staffing the event.

I think the best reason to use Kickstarter is to gauge customer interest in your project before investing further resources in it.  If there is interest, you now have the money to execute.  And if there isn’t, then you haven’t wasted resources building something that nobody is interested in.  This applies to creative projects as well as traditional products equally (and is the foundation of Lean Startup thinking).

Set goals based on the size of your community

Julia said one topic not frequently covered on Kickstarter or blogs like this offering advice on how to get funded, is the need to asses how much support you think you will have from your personal community before deciding your dollar amount.  While Julia’s community of friends, family and professionals offered a lot of encouragement and their financial support, she did not receive much funding from random folks shopping on Kickstarter.

Julia found the most important is having a sense of how much support you potentially have from your community.  So she designed her project’s budget based partly on the size of her community and then matched that with the cost of the show.

Creative Inspiration

She had done a variety of solo dance performances in the past and her new ideas was to do something bigger than anything she had tried before.  Her inspiration originally came from a Charlie Chaplin costume she made, where she blended the idea of being a woman in a man’s outfit.  From there she thought about creating costumes that blended together what we think of man and woman’s clothing, until finally she arrived at a dance that explores the much deeper story about communication issues between the sexes.  The final step of her creative inspiration was the music.  In the case of this show, a random iPod shuffle resulted in a 30 min soundtrack.

Preparing for Kickstarter

Julia read all about launching a campaign on then Kickstarter school.  While Kickstarter recommends taking about a month to prepare for a campaign, Julia did it in two 2 weeks and then had 30 days to solicit donations.

The main points Julia remembers from Kickstarter school:

1) Bullet points of stuff to include in campaign.  Be really obvious about what it is.
2) Tell the person a little bit about your background
3) Rewards – shouldn’t be from outside parties, should be from within the project
4) Don’t need to be master video maker or expensive rewards, it does work for smaller projects

Going live on Kickstarter

The fundamentals of Kickstarter involve a video and text explanation of your project along with a series of prizes based on funding levels.  Julia’s process was to write out the whole project first and then take the salient points and address them in her video.  She outlined what she thought people wanted to hear about the project, did some voice memos to practice, and then made the video.

Lead with your project: Julia, as a creative, wanted to lead with the inspiration for a project first.  She wanted to tell the world her story about two years of having the dance form in her head, the costumes, and the rest of it.  But on Kickstarter, and in marketing more generally, it is a good idea to start by explaining what the customer is going to buy, in this case, funding a dance performance.  After Julia hooked her customers, then she could go into more detail and explain her inspiration.

Long video: Julia’s video was 4:30 minutes long.  That’s on the long side for a pitch, which I recommend be about 1-2 minutes.  The first 30 seconds are the elevator pitch, that concisely explain the entire project and what the pitcher wants from the audience.  The rest of the video should expand on the pitch by filling in some more of the story.  However, Julia’s video was watched to completion by 25% of the viewers of her Kickstarter page.  Ultimately, she feels like she would probably make it shorter the next time around.

Getting more dollars during the campaign

When Julia first launched her campaign, she posted the link on her social accounts, particularly Facebook.  She got to a third of her goal ($1000) in the first few days.  But then she got stuck.  She was sending out regular updates about the project, particularly dancer bios.  However, what really started moving the needle were emails to her list.  When she wrote about the project to her friends, fans and customers, she started getting more commitments to fund the project.  During four rounds of emails, which served as reminder system, she went up another third (to $2500).

One of her more successful emails was a very personal and heartfelt update about how it felt to be undertaking this project.  She focused on creating a personal connection and explaining how much the project meant to her. And then she made the final push a few days before the project was to end and made it to 100% funded!

Find a guarantor

Julia also suggests having a “guarantor”, a knight in shining armor, who can donate or loan the rest of the money, right at the end.  This is a way of making sure your project doesn’t fail if you get close to the goal and need a little help at the end.  I would add to this the idea of having someone people ready to donate from the start, so when other folks come to look at the page, they see some donations already live.  I call this priming the pump.

Most importantly….

Watch the highlights here! (coming soon)

How Julia and I met

Julia is a good friend of mine that I met when we were out swing dancing one night, and I used a salsa move I just learned in the dance.  She immediately took a step back and said, wait, that’s a salsa, not a swing, move!  It turned out that’s she’s not only both a swing and salsa dancer, but also a professional personal trainer (as well as a dancer, choreographer, photographer, and designer), so we started trading personal training sessions for digital marketing help.

Other resources on using Kickstarter successfully

Watch the full interview on Kickstarter success with Julia: http://youtu.be/3VZw7u2Y2jU

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Posted in Lean Startup, Marketing, success stories, Testing ideas in the real world

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