Guest Post 3: Campaign Concepting and Crowdfunding

The following is a guest blog post by my friend Anthony Paglino who will contribute every Wednesday leading to the March 27th release of the iCurious Travel: A Cultural Guide to China, available exclusively on iTunes. Follow Anthony on Twitter @iCuriousTravel  or on Google + for updates.

Crowdfunding helps bring financial capital to social entrepreneurs looking to advance their passion projects.

Crowdfunding helps bring financial capital to social entrepreneurs looking to advance their passion projects.

In part 2 of this series, I chronicled my roundabout experience of matching my passion to a marketable product. After going around in circles about culture, language, travel, and technology, I finally decided on an interactive guidebook to China for the iPad.

Once I had my idea, many questions remained as to how I was going to pull this off, from financing to content creation. A Skype call with an understanding family member helped point me in the right direction.

My Uncle Steve does web analytics for a website that supplies deals on activities and products based off of your geographical location. An engineer by trade and a certified nerd when it comes to computers, he has always listened and supported my crazy schemes.

When I pitched him the idea of my book, he immediately suggested the concept of crowdfunding or the idea that an extended online network can pitch financial support through a convenient social platform.

This conversation also got me thinking about ways to get more great feedback from family and friends.

And this is the first lesson I want to share with you in this chapter: Organize your own mini board of advisers. Get your product out to as many people in your close network as possible and receive as much feedback as possible. This will make your product stronger because it will be scrutinized and vetted from many angles. More importantly, feedback will help you get the kinks out of your project in the beginning so you won’t have to do damage control later down the line because of an ill conceived plan.

To get my idea out and heard, I created a list out in the middle of nowhere China and contacted the majority of my network through email and Skype calls. For a solid 4 weeks before I launched my crowdfunding campaign, I constantly reached out, set up Skype calls, and got great feedback.

As time went on, the product became much clearer in my head, and I also became much better at articulating what that product was: “A digital cultural guide to China for Western travelers who want to have a more independent and enriched experience.”

Moving forward, the people who I reached out to during the conceptual phase will also help promote my campaign because they are already up to speed with the project and the mission.

Choosing a Platform

Once your product has gone through several iterations, it’s time to pick a crowdfunding platform to bring financial capital to your project.

Not all crowdfunding platforms are equal, and I would suggest taking a look at the entire field before settling on one.

Some important things to consider when choosing a crowdfunding platform are to think about how much money you need to raise, how long you want to run your campaign, and the overall feel and design of the individual crowdfunding site, to name a few.

From a marketing standpoint it is also important to understand some of the risks and concerns that a potential crowdfunder may feel. Indieogo highlights some of the inherent risks when it comes to contributing to crowdfunded campaigns.

“Contributors are backing an idea, not purchasing a pre-made project. Like anyone contributing to an early-stage project, you accept the risk that the project might not come to fruition. We leave it up to you to make your own judgment about the merit of a campaign before making a contribution.”

Having a larger, more accredited crowdfunding site may deter some of these concerns, but in the end it comes down to how transparent you are with your campaign. Posting more information including photos, videos and links will establish more credibility which we will discuss in part 6 of this series.

As I mentioned in my first post, two of the most popular crowdfunding sites online right now are Kickstarter and Indiegogo. These sites focus more on artsy projects such as film, books, travel, and especially prototyped manufactured goods such as this wildly popular slick watch that raised over $10 million on Kickstarter and LuminAid’s inflatable solar powered LED light that raised more than $50,000 on Indiegogo.

Although both are similar, I would recommend Indiegogo. The reason is simple: on Kickstarter, you receive NOTHING if you do not reach your funding goal.

Time wasted, no thank you.

On Indiegogo, you have the option to select flexible funding in comparison with fixed funding. If you do not raise your stated amount, the percentage that Indiegogo takes from your overall donations jumps from 4 to 9 percent, and there is also a 3 percent credit card processing fee added on top of that. Although not as bad as getting nothing, it is a significant jump in costs.

You may be thinking to yourself how much money do you even need? Here is the next great lesson in how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign; distinguishing how much money you WANT versus how much money you NEED.

I unfortunately made the mistake of estimating a funding goal of $10,000! Why?

I made the mistake of calculating how much I WANTED to start a full fledged travel guide publishing business and not what I NEEDED to produce the first edition of the book.

Starting a business is a whole other ball game including more logistical problems such as hiring staff, legal aspects to incorporation, and other nonsensical things that I did not need to worry about at that stage in the game.

In retrospect I should have significantly lowered my funding goal from $10,000 to $1,000. This would have been plenty of money for me to venture around the backwaters of China for three months having a great time not worrying about the long-term prospects of the company, and investing that money into building a quality website.

Even though this is an obvious mistake looking back, this was a great lesson to learn. Keeping things simple will help you focus on accomplishing a specific goal.

My biggest suggestion for anyone starting their first crowdfunding campaign is to start the project small, and the budget even smaller. Create an idea that you need anywhere between $500 and $1,000. You have a higher chance of reaching that goal within your immediate network and will give you a greater chance of success. And even if you don’t meet your funding goal, it is not the end of the world. You can still have success by generating excitement and buzz around your project.

Peter Diamandis eloquently and insightfully portrays the delicate balance of starting out small by  first playing to the mind, while also building for a grander longer term vision that plays to the heart.

My short-term product was building a prototype digital travel guide. My longer-term vision is to use digital crowdsourced travel guides that can connect the world across language and cultural barriers.

Don’t make the same mistake of confusing the product with the vision like I did.

In the next blog post, now that you have built a mini advisery board, it may be smart to partner with some people to help you build and grow your project before launch.

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