Step 1: Crowdfund. Step 2: ??? Step 3: Profit.

As part of the Champlain College Publishing Initiative, I was asked to write about my experience working with crowdfunding sites. For a project, we had to build and promote an app for a faculty member at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. There wasn’t any real money being played with so the experience was entirely for show, but we had to run it as if it were real. The practice made the Sims pale in comparison to our simulation. So, in the end, I did learn a thing or two about crowd-funding platforms and why they’re important to the message a customer is trying to send.

The essay I wrote was added to a collection of similar essays around the idea of producing a guide book for publishing in the 21st century. Mine tied specifically to self-promotion, but the application is universal: know your target audience, know your message, know your platform. It took the basic ideas of marketing and applied them to a new media, which is beneficial for artistic types (writers) who have never even stepped foot into a marketing classroom.

The book was recently published and I should be receiving a free copy soon! In the meantime, here is my chapter all about crowdfunding.

(If you’re interested about learning more, check out this wonderful interview CCPI did for the launch of the book)

Step 1: Crowdfund. Step 2: ??? Step 3: Profit.

By Taylor Covington

In this day and age, crowdfunding can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. It can be a sob-fest for creating playgrounds for puppies on crutches, or it can appeal to the Spock-minded, seeking ways to fund their new space-star-alien-navigation app; however, as far-reaching and abstract as a project may be, no one really understands what makes crowdfunding a massive success. No one really knows what sets one crowdfunding site apart from the other. No one knows if it’s the theater or the film that spellbinds the audience.

Well, I’m handing you a little Zagat guide to skim, a list of tips that I’ve gleaned from my own crowd-funding experience. This is something that you can refer to while taking a break from filming your video that advertises the lizard pajamas your wife wants to sell on Etsy, or while your new program about holistic java beans renders.

What differs one crowdfunding platform from another? Taking the top three sites from across major companies, here are my thoughts on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and RocketHub.

At this point, you should really be asking questions, not so much about the appearance or the architecture of the site, but the community that the site promises to access. Followers lead followers. These questions should include: what do we know about the behaviors, interests, goals, and lifestyles of the people on each of these sites?

  1. Kickstarter

I’ll start with the famous giant, because I like to imagine myself as a modern-day David running up to Goliath and yelling up at his gigantic face.

With any colossus, the brand recognition is there. Coming with it: brand equity (something I just learned in my marketing class—learning, whoa), which means there is a certain amount of prestige surrounding the image of Kickstarter. If your project needs a large amount of funding, Kickstarter would undoubtedly add another level of reliability, and a sense of global awareness. Plus, if a staff member “likes” your project, it will become a Staff Pick, and be featured on his or her own widely publicized front page. Unfortunately, the ratio of noticed to un-noticed is staggering. Only about twenty projects are staff-picked at one time, which leaves the other hundreds of thousands of projects left to swirl in the vast vortex of nothing that is these crowdfunding platforms.

A New York Times article cites these things as ways you can definitely get noticed, not only by the staff but the community at large: follow guidelines, network, and tweet and email Kickstarter employees.

One drawback is that Kickstarter does collect a five percent fee from the project—but that’s only if the project is successful (meaning the goal amount is met). And here’s the real pea in the princess bed: if you don’t meet your goal amount, then you don’t get a dime.

Overall, it’s a very zany feeling that you get from this website. The background looks like the inside of a confetti cannon and the scroll option feels continuous. It’s objectively smooth and most notably, the projects are creative-based. They reflect more artistic, more Etsy-powered, more cooking-with-wine-and-sushi designers. If you want to bake for orphans across the nation, or build a geo-stage for West African body performers, then Kickstarter is the place for you.

  1. Indiegogo

Indiegogo: the Apple to Kickstarter’s Android. If Steve Jobs needed a crowdfunding site, he would go to Indiegogo.

Indiegogo is slick. Simple as that. It focuses less on supporting creative endeavors, and more on positively affecting small portions of the world. It is designed for those with business, technology, and education in mind. In this sense, where Kickstarter may raise funds for an Israeli cookbook, Indiegogo creates portable heating lamps for explorers in the Patagonia. Again, there is no set-up fee or processing period. Furthermore, Indiegogo has about 24 different categories of projects, opposed to Kickstarter’s 15. But the biggest glaring opposition to Kickstarter is that if you do not meet your goal, you still get to keep that money.

However, there are no staff picks. Those featured on the main page are “trending” and reach that cover status through raising the highest amount of money. Indiegogo also takes the five percent of the total money raised, whether or not you meet your goal. Despite having more options to pay (PayPal, credit card, wire transfer), there are still transaction fees—which vary on the type of payment made.

Indiegogo has an interesting dynamic. It is, in my opinion, more professionally sound. It’s not that I doubt the reliability of Kickstarter, but the authenticity presented by the overall design, organization, and flow of Indiegogo is relayed to their projects. If I were to donate money to any number of projects, I know it would go to a socially just cause. That being said, as I’ve already stated, Kickstarter is Kickstarter. Everyone talks about it, knows about it, and therefore, may be more inclined to donate because of the brand equity.

From what I’ve seen, Kickstarter is obsessed with the human element.

It celebrates the wacky and the weird and ceremoniously places it on a glittering pedestal. If some stay-at-home-mom in Idaho is truly passionate about her fleece-made Harry Potter characters, then Kickstarter will bow down and worship it. And here comes the dichotomy: do we, as potential donators, value a human story or human-saving technology more? Obviously, that may vary for each individual, but that is something to consider when choosing where to place your own project.

  1. RocketHub

Now let’s take a wide left turn into oncoming traffic—in a safe, inflatable ball that lets us gently hover over all the turmoil.

In fairness to the subject as a whole, I have spent little time interacting with RocketHub in comparison to the previous two sites. But, what’s interesting to note is that this rarely comes up in conversation—despite being on multiple lists as effective crowdsourcing platforms. As designers, is it important for our projects to be spread word-of-mouth, or via the Internet?

Interestingly enough, RocketHub is attempting to quite literally jettison their way into popular media. Recently, they’ve teamed up with A&E (yes, the TV channel, famous for their airings of Duck Dynasty) to spotlight certain projects. This means a whole crew of cameras, interviewers, and heat-exhaustion-inducing lights could come to you and broadcast your kitten mittens to the world. They encourage industry news: what’s happening in your project’s field, what has changed, what might change, how are your competitors dealing with the problems you are facing?

The most immediate, and startling, difference between the previous two and RocketHub is the perceived community. Since I have not used RocketHub before, I cannot speak adequately to this “community,” but it seems that their goal as a crowdfunding platform is to get the message out there, through all means of social media, previous investors, and future leaders.

Financially speaking, there are no start-up fees and you get to keep any money earned (just like Indiegogo). As someone who likes to know exactly what they’re going in to, RocketHub blasts away Indiegogo and Kickstarter with their very in-depth, detailed Q&A page. If you’ve got a question, there’s an answer there somewhere.

If the project should succeed, they take a four percent commission fee and a four percent credit card handling fee. If the project doesn’t succeed, there’s an eight percent commission and four percent credit card handling fee. Another drawback is the flow of the website itself. It feels almost like a Tumblr page: continuous scroll-function with slowly loading graphics. The site as a whole has a much more buttoned-up feeling. With the text in an outdated font, and the colors as a whole leaving much to be desired, RocketHub appears to be a website set up by your uncle who works in the government. It carefully straddles the TED Talks image against Jeff Daniel’s face in the Newsroom. If your project aims to be more standard and rhetoric, then there is no shame in using this site.

For all its lack of frills, RocketHub absolutely gets the job done.

  1. Summary

It’s summer time and we’re sitting out at your grandmother’s farm in upstate New York. The sun has set into a purple bloom in the sky, and it’s time to choose a movie.

If your project is Sweet Home Alabama or Waitress (with Nathan Fillion), then go with Kickstarter.

If your project is Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, then go with Indiegogo.

If your project is The West Wing or the documentary Helvetica, then go with RocketHub.

Now let’s see that movie magic.



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