Our Own Dark Helmet Shares Lessons From Crowdfunding Experiment
from the that's-one-dark-helmet dept
For this case study, we're actually going to discuss an experiment by someone that regular Techdirt readers may know quite a bit -- especially if you spend a lot of time in our comments. It's Tim Geigner, whose name may not be that familiar to you, but his alter ego Dark Helmet has been one of, if not the most prolific commenters on Techdirt, where he tends to play the role of comment enforcer, keeping people (including me at times) in line, when he feels anyone has spoken without thinking. Separate from that, however, he's been writing a fair amount of fiction lately, which is quite enjoyable.
For one of his fiction books, Midwasteland, he decided to test out Kickstarter, a platform for "crowdfunding," creative works, which has received a lot of attention. His Midwasteland project is still in process, so if you like his work, feel free to jump in and support him. That said, he's not sure that he used Kickstarter all that well, and isn't sure that his project will reach the necessary goal to get funded. I think there's often a lot more that can be learned from what ideas didn't work, than what did, so I talked with Tim about why he thinks things didn't go as ideally as possible. First, however, he pointed out that even if the project doesn't get funded, a few really good things have happened, which we'll get to below. But, he's taken away some important lessons on why Kickstarter hasn't been quite a magic bullet:
Why didn't it go as I'd initially hoped? The onus is all on me. That's the other cool part of this: I'm learning lessons that I can use on my next project, whatever it may be.That last little bit is one of the other positive, but unexpected things that came out of this: he was contacted by both a book agent and a film company due to the Kickstarter project, so even if that doesn't succeed in getting the funding set, it has opened some other potentially interesting doors as well.
Lesson 1: It isn't enough to have a good idea, you have to do your due prep work to make it successful. My audience right now isn't huge. It might not even be big. I knew that going in. What I know now is that I should have worked my tail off in getting this idea out there enough so that when I did release the project live, it would already have a presence. This go around I tried to do it the opposite way: release the project and hope it builds the bigger audience. That hasn't worked.
Lesson 2: It isn't enough to have people be genuinely interested in you, you need them to want to PROMOTE you. I had an experience when I came across Autotune the News on Techdirt, where I was sending their links to everyone I knew and sitting people down when I had a chance and showing them their videos on my phone or iPad. My project never really reached that level. And I know why. Because I didn't connect with interested parties properly coupled with a lack of an appetizer. Looking back, it was immensely dumb not to have a way for people who got involved with the project to have the first chapter or so of the book to read and pass around. What did I expect, that they would want to link to my project on their websites or in emails to friends? New business model experiments might interest some, but the writing was supposed to be front and center. I didn't do a good job of that. I didn't get the infinite good to promote what I was "selling".
Lesson 3: There is more to value in a project like this than making money. I got a TON of feedback on my writing. I learned a TON of little lessons from trying this project. Here's that absolutely awesome part of all this: what have I lost? The simple answer is nothing. I don't lose my ability to release the book elsewhere. I don't think I'm going to lose any fans from the people that chose to back the project, since I'm going to be sending them a free copy of the eBook anyway. I don't lose the opportunity to do what I wanted to do for the project, since I'm going to do it anyway (making a DVD of the settings in the book seems like entirely too much fun not to do, after all, and maybe somebody someday might want it!). Meanwhile, I've gained so much in terms of lessons, feedback, interest from an agency and film company, etc. This was a good thing. That it didn't go as I'd planned means that I have to do something different. I believe in the work, I believe in my fans and potential fans. That means if I tweak some things, it'll go better next time.
Tim's lessons are really useful ones. We've tried to make the point in the past that while we love to point out new and unique business models, the business model alone is not everything. It's a combination of factors. The content you're creating has to be good. You have to work hard to build true fans who really believe in what you do (and, as Tim notes, get them to want to promote your work) and that involves really connecting with them. The whole Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy (CwF+RtB) thing may sound flip and simple, but you really do need both components working together, so that they build off of each other. And, on top of all of that you do need a little bit of luck. But that's also why I talk about the importance of improvisational business modeling. If your first attempts don't work, that doesn't mean give up -- it means, learn, adjust and try again.