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Indievelopment: Report from the Crowdfunding Trenches - Week 1

Well, here we are. As I write this, it's Wednesday the 11th, which makes this day 3 of the Tesla vs Cthulhu campaign. And, as I promised, I'm here to tell you how this is going, and what you might be able to learn for your own crowdfunding.

Lesson 1: You're Underprepared, and that's OK

This is technically my third crowdfund. My first two were for the same project, with the first one failing and the second being a successful, much smaller, and very brief campaign to shoot the trailer instead. So, really, this is my second official one. I'm better prepared than I was but I'm still not as prepared as I'd like to be, and I really don't think that'll ever change. And you know what? That's fine. Crowdfunding is chaotic by its very nature, and unless you're crowdfunding the same thing every time (say, Season 4 of a web series), you're going to be reaching a new audience who will want different things. Last time I was primarily connecting to fans of Red Dwarf and Douglas Adams; this time, it's Lovecraft and Tesla fans. Comedy before, supernatural adventure this time. Different crowds with different interests. So each time, what I need to prepare changes.

crowdfunding 1

Lesson 2: You're Still Selling Something

Don't get me wrong; "Support indie film!" is a wonderful concept. I believe in supporting independent artists, and to date, I've put far more money into crowdfunding than I've received from it. However, one of my sayings is that "Support indie film" should be the rallying cry of an army, not a cardboard sign beside a hat. You are not a charity. No one owes you the chance to be an artist. And if someone gave $10 to everyone shouting "Support indie film" on the Internet, that person would be flat broke before the day was out.

Before crowdfunding, you were competing with a lot of people. Now, you're competing with MORE. So never forget, unless your friends and family can solely finance your projects (and if they can, why are you on Kickstarter?), you are selling something to the general public. It SHOULD be your core project, but it also needs to be something else. It may be your unbridled enthusiasm for your project. It may be a slick presentation. It may be a cool hook. Ideally, it's all three and more besides. Whatever it is, understand what exactly you're selling before you launch. And play to your strengths.

"Selling? I'm not selling! This is people supporting the ARTS!" Look at the right hand side of the crowdfunding page. See the part that says "Pledge $X and get ______"? That's called selling.

And don't think it'll get better, that eventually crowdfunding will evolve into a money fountain for artists, a Big Rock Candy Mountain for the digital age. I'll give you three reasons why it will get worse. Mars. Braff. Lee. They cleared just over $10M in Kickstarter funds, and you can bet more celebrities are coming. Now, I'm pro-celeb crowdfunding. The only fair adjudicator of what the crowd should fund is the crowd itself, and celebrities educate people who don't know what crowdfunding is. But believe me when I say that it will get crowded in those crowdfunding halls. You'll need to know how you're going to stand out.

With me, it's right there in the title. "Tesla vs Cthulhu." People describe "high concept" as a story where you can instantly see the commercial potential right from the logline. Well, I say, who needs loglines? My project is the collision between two of the great icons of Internet culture. You get the story I'm telling immediately. The logline is essentially for people who don't realize who Tesla and Cthulhu are.

And I can't tell you how many people have told me, "I can't believe no one has done this before!" Well, I couldn't either, because I knew I was creating a project where I would make a corner of geek culture heaven. (And I know this because I'm a hardcore geek myself. Three TARDISes in my office. Count 'em, three.) So I know who my audience is, and I know what my project is about. Make sure you have the same understanding; they are the first arrows in your quiver.

Lesson 3: Strap In; It's a Ride

The first day, we were on track to raise about $20,000 on an $8,500 goal. The second day, the trend was for $14K. Today, it's nearly 5:00PM Pacific and we haven't had a single backer. I'm sure tomorrow, the trend will read towards us barely making our goal, if not falling below it.

And that's fine. As the saying goes, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Well, add to that probabilities based on small data sets, as well as anything relating to crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a chaotic system, highly dependent on the individuals involved. You can have all the statistics in the world, but if I suddenly stop tweeting about my project, well, your projections for our final total won't be very accurate. You just have to take what comes.

Report Card

Well, Mr. Richards, what's gone right and what's gone wrong so far? Well, on the "right" side, I'd have to put "most things." Our total is good. We've raised 12% of our funding in just over 6% of our available time, and that's pretty good. I've had some great people supporting the project through either retweets/shares or their own posts, and 21 people so far have parted with their hard-earned money and said, "Yes, we want you people to make this." And that's pretty awesome.

What's gone wrong? Well, it would have been nice if the mainstream media had picked up the story of Kickstarter coming to Canada, but they didn't, so we didn't get a chance to coattail that story. We could, ideally, have had a more detailed plan of who to talk to, such as bloggers etc., about the campaign laid out ahead of time, but it's summer, people are on vacation, and there are only so many hours in the day. Between getting the campaign itself and all the materials ready, we knew we'd have to do some on-the-fly planning, and that's fine. Sometimes, seat of the pants is what film's all about.

Right now, there's not much to complain about. We aren't hitting 100% funded in 36 hours like some do, but those are usually either products of some sort or celebrity-driven projects with low initial goals. I saw one that raised $1.4M; the initial goal was $40K, and they admitted that if they'd only raised $40K, they'd have returned the money (hopefully reiumbursing the various fees out of their own pocket...)

So, it's going smoothly so far, knock on wood. Tune in next week and see if my head's on fire.

If you feel like checking out the campaign for Tesla vs Cthulhu, you can find it here. And if you felt like either joining us as a backer or telling your friends, we certainly would be grateful! 

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