Tips on Using Kickstarter to Fund a Social Enterprise Startup, from Justin Stanley of Uprise Books
Justin Stanley, founder of Uprise Books, recently concluded a successful Kickstarter project to raise $10,000 in seed funding. The money will help Uprise design a website and move forward in its mission of providing banned and challenged books to low-income teens. (You can read more about the project in our earlier interview with Justin.)
Justin kindly agreed to a followup interview with us to discuss the dramatic ups and downs of his campaign as well as his tips for other organizations hoping to obtain seed money through crowdfunding.
Impact Entrepreneurs: What worked well?
Justin Stanley, founder of Uprise Books:
- Getting some press coverage early on really helped, especially since it’s such a new organization. The early write-up in the Portland Mercury helped legitimize us in the eyes of other publications and made a nice reference we could point to when approaching others. The Columbian followed pretty soon after, as did a couple of pretty significant industry sources (Publisher’s Weekly and GalleyCat).
- Social media tools were invaluable. Various people really took ownership of our project and tweeted/Facebooked(?) about it independently, simply because they believed in what we were trying to accomplish. Having cheerleaders is essential.
Of course, we also saw huge spikes in donations when famous people posted about us. We had an early spike when the official Chuck Palahniuk fansite posted about us on Facebook and Twitter, a big boost with about a week left when Neil Gaiman retweeted us, and a strong finish when Wil Wheaton did the same at the end. We also had retweets from Margaret Atwood and Rosanne Cash that helped.
Anything you’d do differently?
- Do a better video. There were a couple of events that I’d timed the Kickstarter campaign to run alongside (Banned Books Week, Wordstock Festival) and had to get the clip up there by a certain date. I ran into all sorts of technical difficulties leading up to that deadline and just had to post the one I used, which basically ended up being just me rambling to the camera for two minutes. Those types of videos were the norm when Kickstarter first started, but the more common ones you see now are very slickly produced movies. I think mine actually hurt more than simply not having a video would have.
- Shorten the amount of time the project runs. Kickstarter recommends that you run for 30 days, and I should have listened to their advice. We ran for 42 days altogether and had a 12 day stretch in which we raised a total of $210. I suppose you could say that it worked out well enough, since we were funded in the end, but that big stretch of no pledges, while normal, was still excruciating.
- Put more work into the marketing plan. I had a rough blueprint before launching the campaign and the stuff I had worked pretty well and as expected, but I could have done better. For instance, I don’t know that we had a single write-up after the first couple of weeks, other than a blog or two. I should have put more time into coming up with an exhaustive list of contacts to reach out to over the course of the campaign, especially during that trough I mentioned above. I should have also planned some sort of actual event during the course of the campaign, or piggy-backed onto another existing event.
We learned quite a bit from the Kickstarter campaign, too, things that would have been nice to know in advance… for instance, we now know more about the types of people most likely to be interested in what we’re doing and which messages resonated more with them.
What’s the first thing you are going to do to put your campaign funds to use?
First thing we have to do is get the rewards out to the wonderful people who contributed. We need to get final counts, order prints, ship things, etc. We had a few offers from people willing to devote some of their time and talents to helping, too, so we’re reaching back out to those and figuring out exactly what resources we have available at this point. My hope is that the next time we ask people for money, it will be to fulfill actual live requests from kids.