How To Successfully Crowdfund a Project Without Losing Your Mind

At a low point in the campaign, I was trolling Craigslist wondering if I could possibly raise $30,000 by letting fetishists rub my feet.
Publish date:
August 13, 2013
crowdfunding, Kickstarter, filmmakers

Every cash-strapped entrepreneur (which is EVERY start-up entrepreneur) dreams of successfully crowdfunding the monies for their creative project. A few months ago, I successfully raised a bit over $30,000 dollars to film a movie I wrote and produced. 

I wrote about the project on XO when I was in the throes of crowdfunding, but a short catchup: It's a dark comedy set in Hawaii. There is a murder. My boyfriend P directed and co-produced it. We filmed in July and are currently in post-production. You can view the completed Kickstarter page here if you want.

The month P and I were raising the money was the most stressful period of my life. It was more stressful than the month we actually shot the movie, because it was full of so much uncertainty -– will we or wont be raise this money? What happens if we don't? At a low point, I was trolling Craigslist wondering if I could possibly raise $30,000 by letting fetishists rub my feet. Apparently my feet are fugz and no one wants to rub them anyway, let alone pay me for the privilege. In the end, we did raise the money, and I want to share some tips, tricks and general sanity-saving advice for others hoping to do the same.- Give yourself enough time. A rushed project is a shitty project. Seriously -- give yourself way longer than you think it will take. You need an awesome pitch video -– keep it short, and make the first 30 seconds the best 30 seconds. Most people don't watch any further than that. When you think you're done with creating your campaign, ask yourself if YOU would fund this project based solely on what you see. If there is any uncertainty, keep at it. Don't forget that you need to submit the project for review by the company before it goes live, so if you want to go live on Monday, don't finish Sunday evening. Also, be sure to go live at a time people are at their computers. A Friday night at 10 pm probably isn't the best time to take your campaign live.

- Crowdfunding is all about the rewards. The majority of people don't just want the good samaritan badge of supporting your project. They want THINGS. Make sure your rewards are awesome, and make sure they are priced right. No one wants to pay 100 dollars for a stupid coozie with your band's name. Which brings me to...

- Test your reward products on your target audience. We offered a Fuck Fitness water bottle as one of our rewards. We thought it would be the most popular reward, because how hilarious is it to bring a water bottle to the gym that says Fuck Fitness!? Irony is way in, right? Right? Wrong. No one wanted these water bottles. Later on, way after our Kickstarter had wrapped, I had T-shirts made for our cast and crew that read "Fuck to Fit." (This goes along with the plot of the film, I'm not just totally weird.) I posted a pic of the tees on Facebook, and everyone was liking that shit and asking where they could buy one. Whoops! If I had only tested our products on my projected audience, I would have known this in advance, and we could have offered tees instead of water bottles and raised more dinero. Revisit "give yourself enough time."

- Be well prepared for your launch. Before you launch your live campaign, have a list of everyone you plan on asking to donate. Have emails drafted, and press releases written up if applicable, and social media tweets scheduled. This will save you hassle and added stress during the live campaign, when you will spend the majority of your free time and lunch breaks crying in public restrooms and stress-eating peanut butter.

-Don't single out individual friends publicly. No tagging 50 people in a Facebook post asking for donations. That type of public pressure is awk. Instead, beg them privately! This is much less obnoxious, and allows them to quietly tell you sorry, but they have to save their hard-earned dollars for rent and eyebrow threading. Also, don't guilt people into it. If they don't have a dollar to spare, then don't argue it. After the project is said and done, it would be nice to still have some friends around.

- But do ask EVERYONE you know. Send out mass emails, and mass texts. You know those people who won't stop posting about their new babies? This is now you -- but with your creative baby. Post on social media as much as you can without being blocked from everyone's feeds. If they can't donate, ask them to pass the project alone to others who may be interested. You need to really promote yourself here, even when it's uncomfortable. ESPECIALLY when it's uncomfortable.

- Don't hang on the daily numbers. This was so ridiculously hard. At a goal of $30,000 in 30 days, I knew exactly how much we needed to raise every day to meet our goal. Our first day, we pulled in 2g's from excited friends and family, and I thought we had this in the bag. Then we didn't get a donation for a full four days, and I wanted to die. No one believes in this project! No one believes in me! This project sucks, I suck, I'm not getting out of bed for the next 26 days. But then it picked back up again, dipped, picked back up, etc. It's going to be all over the place, so just continue consistently pushing it -- warn your friends you will be at your most obnoxious for the next 30 days -- and hope for the best.

- Focus on push points. Annoyingly enough, people like to back projects that are already nearly funded. The projects that are nowhere near funded -- thus need the backing the most -- get less love. This is a bummer for those with struggling projects, but it makes sense that consumers want to put their money on projects that already seem tangible. No matter how many times you tell people the money ONLY comes out of their accounts if you get funded (so it doesn't matter if they get paid on Friday...), it never really seems to stick. However, you can use this to your advantage, by really pushing hard at big percentage landmarks. We got the biggest collective donations on days I posted and mass emailed things that read “Today we are 60 percent funded! Trying to hit 65 percent by tomorrow -- if you had been thinking about donating, please consider doing it today,” etc. 

Also don't forget to say thank you 10,000 times to everyone who donates.- You never know where the money will come from... but most likely the largest portion will be from your family members (thanks Ma!), your friends and your acquaintances. For us, Facebook was an invaluable tool. It pulled in the second largest sum overall, with the first being an amazing online friend turned-private investor -- more on him in a second. 

The weirdest thing about Kickstarter is that because backers are getting rewards, they donate under their actual names, and therefor you see exactly who is donating. Seeing my old college professors, high school friends I haven't spoken to in years, and other randos back the project was exhilarating. All of my serious exes donated, and my partner's last longtime girlfriend did too, which made me feel this incredible sense of closure and support. Unfortunately, you also see who doesn't donate. I will probably guilt trip my older brother for the next decade. Just kidding! (Not really.)

- For the most part, large investors are not randomly sharking platforms. Every entrepreneur daydreams about big investors randomly cruising crowd funding platforms just looking for promising projects to back. Unfortunately, this is just not true. If you're hoping for a large investor, you have to find them. Usually, they will be individuals NOT in the field you're trying to raise funds for. Wealthy film execs don't really want to give you their money, because they're either putting that money into their own projects, or funding successful artists who have already proved capable of producing a return on the investment.

 P told me that in film school, teachers recommend making friends with dentists, as statistically they are more likely to fund artistic endeavors. I didn't believe him until I found it written in a book about raising funds for indie films. So...everyone, hit up all your dentist buds. 

Luckily, we found a large investor. He was not a dentist. I still have a hard time believing how he came around. I keep a blog on sex and veganism, and two years ago, I started a dialogue with a reader via email. Nothing creepy, it was a really interesting conversation about polyamory -– I had just written a post about it. The reader, who I shall call Ted, was a nice guy who lived not too far from me, and we ended up meeting for brunch –- in a public place, with other vegans! I watched a lot of SVU in college, guys, I'm not totally spastic. 

Over the next two years, Ted and I kept up via text, email, and social media. When I posted on my blog about my Kickstarter campaign, and the film -- a main plot point of which is polyamory -- Ted Facebook chatted me telling me he wanted to make a larger donation. Like...a major major one.

I have to say, although I already knew how nice Ted was, I thought he was bullshitting me. But he wasn't. He had been wanting to get involved in the film industry for quite some time, and had some awesome ideas for the project. He ended up being very involved in the project -- we saw each other quite often before my move out to Hawaii -- and he even flew out to to the island to watch us film. The universe is amazing. 

- All of nothing. I adore Kickstarter over other crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo or GoFundMe because it's all or nothing. If you don't reach your goal, you don't get a cent (and no one is charged anything, either). While this makes it risky and stressful, it also makes it seem like a real group effort. GoFundMe donations go directly into your bank account. Sure that's a nice monetary plus for you, but it doesn't motivate backers as much (“We're halfway there guys, we can't do it without you!”) and it lacks the thrill of what I think crowdfunding is all about –- taking tiny little bits from people who believe in you, and creating something big from it. Making something out of (relatively) nothing. Money going right into my account is nice, but it seems more about people supporting me with their money than banding together to fuel an entire project.

- Have a push number in your head. As much as you want all of your funds to come organically, it would be heartbreaking to raise 25 out of 30 thousand dollars and then not get a cent because you didn't quite make it. Have a number in your head that you can donate yourself at the last minute if you need to, or beg a family member to put the money in at the end. You can always give it right back to pops instead of actually putting it toward the project, but at least you will have gotten the rest of the donations from your backers. I guess that's cheating the system a bit, but nothing would be worse than being so close, only to miss the mark.The moral of my Kickstarter story is, always embrace your community, and the universe, because you never know when you will have to call on them. And always meet with Internet strangers for brunch.

Zoe is giving more (often terrible) advice on Twitter, posting pictures of her ugly feet on Instagram, and writing about polyamory and cruciferous vegetables on her blog, SexyTofu.