Crowdfunded projects favorably endowed with the indiscriminate magic of digital virality make for good news stories. Indeed, the press on these uncommonly successful projects becomes the initial way many people learn about the concept of crowdfunding. This is great - the more people who understand and participate in crowdfunding, the more likely meritorious ideas are to attract the cash they need.
Article Contributed by Eric Taubert, Social Media Strategist at Pomegranate Digital Agency
But, I've always been more of a fan of the indie documentary, than the summer blockbuster.
I prefer reality over a Hollywood ending. Perhaps this is why some of my favorite feature articles on crowdfunding are those offering behind-the-scenes glimpses at the planning, hard work, lobbying, panicking and round-the-clock begging of which most successful crowdfunding initiatives are comprised.
The average American envisions the concept of crowdfunding as legions of strangers lining up to happily hand over cash to invest in a great idea. They aren't aware that crowdfunding success is, often, more closely aligned with nurtured-relationships, reputation and the sheer sweat equity of those asking for the money.
Marco Bollinger, co-founder of iSeeiTravel, was kind enough to share some of the valuable knowledge his team has picked up as they’ve traveled the path from an idea about crowdfunding their project - to the actual crowdfunding activity which has become their recent lives.
Tell me about iSeeiTravel - is this a startup, or have you been in business for awhile?
iSeeiTravel is a startup that grew from the seed of an idea -- how can we give back to the amazing places around the world that we visit? How can we inspire people to travel more consciously in ways that are environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling?
My experience in photography, and co-founder Eytan Elterman’s background as a videographer, combined with a passion for engaging with diverse cultures -- and the idea of docu-marketing™ was born.
iSeeiTravel is a boutique media company that produces brand-building documentary content based on real people and places. Through engaging visual storytelling and integrated digital marketing, we felt that we could transform the way destinations communicate with their audience.
We founded the company in 2011, but we have used our debut project, “2.5%”, as a launchpad for introducing our company to the public.
What exactly is “2.5%” - this project you are attempting to crowdfund?
“2.5%” is a documentary and accompanying photo project promoting conscious travel while addressing the issues that over-development and mass tourism might bring to Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula.
The Osa comprises 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and is the last standing virgin rainforest on the Pacific coast of Central America. The film will raise awareness about this magical place as well as advocate for responsible tourism development in this small but infinitely important region of the world.
How much time and effort went into preparing for your crowdfunding blitz? What were the strategic components?
We actually really took our time before launching.
We knew months ago that we wanted to use crowdfunding -- but we didn’t want to take any chances of missing our goal if we could avoid it.
We decided early on that we needed some really strong, validating partners and supporters, as well as some kick-ass rewards/perks for our donors, and a great integrated communication strategy.
We used clips from the film, some of our stunning photography, and concise explanation of the benefits of supporting the project to pitch some of our current partners. Once we landed one, the ball started rolling on everything else.
How did you decide on the crowdfunding platform to use?
Betweenthe top two of the two most popular platforms out there, we ultimately went with the 2nd most popular. It offers more flexibility overall -- in how you can receive funding (flexible and fixed), how you can design your page, the types of perks you can offer, and so forth.
We had given serious consideration to Kickstarter because of their popularity, but ultimately their policies state that you cannot advocate for causes, which would have restricted us from working with our amazing partners/supporters at Center for Responsible Travel, Corcovado Foundation, Rainforest Alliance and etc.
Thus far we have had a great experience and are happy with our decision.
In terms of seeding the idea, and attracting interest and donations to your project, what has been successful so far?
We created group of our close friends, partners and colleagues that we started calling our “ambassadors”.
We began getting this group excited about our project and its impending launch two weeks before the date so that when it went live, we had much larger outreach network than just ourselves.
We also had an extremely good success rate with our “early bird special”, where our $45 donation perk was only $30 for the first 24 hours.
Have there been any pleasant, or unexpected, surprises?
Of our limited higher donation packages, the first one to go wasn’t one of our amazing luxury trips, but a one week voluntourism trip to work with a sea turtle program in a rural part of the Osa for $1,500.
Are there any strategies that you thought would be effective, but haven’t panned out?
I think that we’ve realized that social media is only so effective as a campaign tool. It’s a good way to keep people informed and connect to specific people, but even some of our more elaborate plans haven’t been as effective as reaching out to people directly via email and phone calls.
I’m curious to hear more about the role social media has played in this venture? Which platforms have you been taking advantage of?
Social media has been, not only, an effective way of communicating a message to our fans and supporters -- it has been integral in building our community on Facebook and Twitter.
By sharing news about our partners and starting conversations with other businesses and the media, we have become part of a larger circle of like-minded people who share our ideals about conscious travel.
We find that Twitter is an especially effective tool to use in a one-two punch for “cold-calling” media -- we have found ways to catch journalists’ eyes on Twitter, then we follow up on the convo by sending an email, which would have otherwise gotten lost in someone’s inbox.
How has the feedback been on your perks? Any advice on what types of perks seem to drive the interest of donors?
I think our biggest surprise has been how popular our $100 goodie bag has been. Although it’s a pricey one, many people seem to think it’s the best value for the contribution and have gone for it.
Interesting perks at the lower levels is also important. A good friend of ours, Christopher Mohn, drew original artwork for a t-shirt we are offering at the $45 level. We didn’t just want to put our logo on a t-shirt and be done with it -- people don’t want to be walking advertisements; they want something unique and special.
If you had one piece of advice for someone about to launch a similar crowdfunding venture - what would it be?
Build your community of fans and supporters well before you launch. The most successful campaigns already have a fan base built in -- it’s much less work to get existing fans to donate than to convince strangers to donate.
What do you think? Is crowdfunding success all sweat and good design? Or is it worth it to try to have an idea that sells itself? Let us know your ideas in the comments below.