Crowdfunding Case Study: How 2 Scientists Raised $20,000 on Kickstarter (Video Interview)

One of the best ways to learn how to succeed at crowdfunding is to study the people who have met or exceeded their funding goals on a crowdfunding platform. In this post, we dive into a real-life case study from a successful Kickstarter campaign by two scientists who raised $20,000 on Kickstarter.

In April, 2012, Neil Losin (@neillosin) and Nate Dappen (@DaysEdge) successfully raised $20,000 through the crowdfunding platform, KickStarter.com, for a coffee-table book called ‘The Symbol,’ about the Ibiza Wall Lizard – a threatened lizard species that’s endemic to the Spanish Mediterranean Islands of Ibiza and Formentera. Biologists and filmmakers at Day’s Edge Productions, these two scientists explain in an exclusive interview with Ripples Edge Media how they exceeded their original goal of $15,000 and ran such a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Watch the full interview below or read the video transcript at the end of this post:

IN SUMMARY

KEYS to Crowdfunding:

1) Having an awesome project by a real person (with the project and the person front and center).

2) Having community, connections and networks. Projects that show social proof within their communities do the best. This takes a real campaign-type mindset to getting the mission and project page out there though.

3) Understanding that its not the crowdfunding platform you choose that makes all the difference; it’s the campaigners. People give to people – ie. your social following gives to you, the campaigner. Choosing an appropriate crowdunding platform for your type of project is important, but you and your project will determine the success of your campaign.

4) Giving really cool stuff out that’s not expensive or too difficult to deliver. Understand your rewards are trades and that your donors want to be part of your journey. Crowdfunding is not a typical donation-style charity model. Crowdfunding donors want to give back and add value to projects they’re passionate about but get cool rewards in return and feel involved in your endeavors.

5) It’s all about communication! Crowdfunding takes a lot of buy-in and a lot of effort and follow-through. Pre-launch emails, personal thank you emails, and public social media acknowledgements to donors are all part of the process to crowdfunding success.

6) Choose the right platform for your specific project. KickStarter is great for artistic and innovative projects and RocketHub can be great for science projects. Evaluate your crowdfunding platform options and look at whether projects similar to yours have been successful on those platforms in the past.

7) Pick donor gifts carefully. Again, it’s great to do some research and look at what the most successful crowdfunding campaigns have given as gifts. In general, thoughtful, meaningful and valuable funder gifts are established in exchange for donations. Funder gifts help donors stay connected to the project and are easy to distribute, such as digital products, photos, videos, etc.

8) Incentivize exceeding your goal. Think about and explain in your campaign what you would do with your project if you exceeded your initial fundraising goal. What new level would you take the project to with funds above and beyond your initial target? Perhaps an outside organization or partner has agreed to match your funds raised, but only if you raise $50,000 vs. the $30,000 you set as your initial goal.

9) Use the power of your direct connections. Typically, a large portion of donations for crowdfunded projects will come from fundraisers direct connections (ie. colleagues, personal friends and family). Personally emailing these connections is key to increasing donations. Also, publicly recognizing and thanking donors through blog posts, Facebook tags and tweets are key.

10) Include a Kickstarter video explaining your project, who you are and why you are fundraising.

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VIDEO INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Neil: Hey, my name’s Neil Losin and I’m a biologist and filmmaker and one half of Days Edge Productions.

Nate: And I am the other half of Days Edge Productions. My name is Nate Dappen, I’m also a biologist and filmmaker and photographer.

Neil: And we’ve been asked to answer a few questions about our recent Kickstarter campaign, which we funded successfully in 2012.  It was for a photographic book called The Symbol. I’m going to go ahead and ask some questions from the course creators and we’ll work together to answer these questions.

So the first question is: What was our primary business objective?

Nate: To start, as early as my dissertation project, so I was working on my PhD studying these lizards in the Pityusic Archipelago. So the Pityusic Archipelago consist of Ibiza and Formentera and a bunch of small surrounding islands and I was studying this really unique lizard species out there. And on the islands, the symbol of the islands, is this lizard species

And you find it everywhere; it’s a motif that’s on every shirt and towel and you find it on restaurant walls. It’s on everything you could possibly imagine; people even have tattoos of it. But it was interesting that there was no way for these people who lived there or any of the tourists coming to the area to get access information about how amazing the biology of this species was and how important they are to the ecosystems of the islands. And so I thought that this would be a really great thing to do, to create a book for the general public, about these lizards – specifically a photographic book.

So our primary objective was to create an engaging photographic book that taught people about the natural history of this lizard species.

Neil: And what initially inspired you to create a crowdfunding campaign?

Nate: Originally when I was out in the islands, we found someone to contribute – to pay money to have the book created. So we got really excited about this idea of having these people pay for us to go out there and photograph the lizards and write this book.

But as it turned out, they ended up pulling out and not wanting to fund the book for a variety of reasons. And so we were stuck with this project that we were really passionate about, but we didn’t have the funds to realize idea.

Since crowdfunding is a really good way to fund weird projects, Neil and I thought, “Well, you know what, I think we can raise the money we need to make this book.” So that was really our inspiration – we had this idea, this project, and we didn’t have the funding to do it, but we thought that we would have the skills to raise the money through a platform like Kickstarter. And so we said, “What the heck, let’s try and do it.”

So the next question is: Why did you choose Kickstarter over other crowdfunding platforms?

Neil: So we chose KickStarter for two reasons. One was name recognition. Kickstarter her is one of the best known crowdfunding platform out there. There’s also Indiegogo, RocketHub, and there’s a few others I’m sure I’m not thinking of right now – but we thought the name recognition would help in attracting donors.

And the other reason is, KickStarter uses an “all or nothing” funding method. This means we set a funding goal at the beginning of the campaign, and if we reach that goal, we would get all of the money raised. But if we didn’t reach that goal, we would get nothing. So the risk of having an incompletely funded project, where you really can’t do the things you set out to do, is low. And if you don’t reach that funding goal, then none of your backers ever have their credit cards charged at all. And so, they don’t run the risk of funding a project that’s incompletely supported and can never really be finished the way it was intended.

Nate: What’s the criteria a project has to fulfill to be considered a candidate for crowdfunding?

Neil: I’ll speak specifically to KickStarter on this question because the rules are different for each platform. For KickStarter, all the projects have to be creative projects; so books, films, art exhibits, music projects, things like that are eligible for KickStarter funding.

 And they also can’t be charity projects. So that’s something that we actually ran into a little bit of a problem because one thing we wanted to do was donate a portion of the sales of every copy of our book to the national parks in the islands where we were photographing the book where these lizards live. KickStarter decided that that was a charity and we actually had to remove that part of our pitch from our KickStarter page.

We still may do that, but we just couldn’t include it as part of the pitch because it turned into what KickStarter considered a charitable cause. And that’s not the purpose they created KickStarter for.

So the next question is: What were your backer rewards for various tiers and how did you choose those rewards?

Nate: So I’ll start by explaining the way the reward system works with KickStarter. You set up this project and you promote this project to people and say, “Please give me money.” But in turn for people’s donations, you can give them back rewards so you can incentivize their donations.

So at different levels of donations, but different monetary amounts, you’ll give them back rewards. The way ours worked was that the lowest amount of donation was the reward of our thanks – just that we were grateful. As the amounts of donations (the tiers) increased, anyone who donated $25 and up were listed in our book as a donor, so they’d be able to open the book and see their name as someone who contributed to the creation of product.

Different levels of donation would result in a different sort of display of their name, so they would get more recognition for a larger contribution. Then as they started increasing the amount of money they paid, we would give the rewards like photographs, signed prints – we created a calendar, and anyone who donated more than $100 actually would get a signed copy of the book we created.

For people who donated $500 or more, we would thank them and send them video updates from the field. And those video updates were being posted on National Geographic as well, so people would get to see us out in the field doing a project that they contributed to and us saying, “Hey, Joe, thanks so much for supporting this project.” I think this was a great incentive.

We even had a backer award where if they give a certain amount of money, I think it was quite high, we would go out to where they lived and give a presentation about the project, about our research, and about the book itself. Nobody donated enough to have us go out and do that, but certainly that was one of the rewards.

So that’s how that worked and we’re done giving out other awards except for the books because the book is not printed yet.

 

 So your initial fundraising goal was around $15,000 but you exceeded that by $5,000. How did you do this and did you expect to exceed your goal?

Neil: Well I think we didn’t expect to exceed our goal but we were thrilled to even have met our goal, because it was hard work getting there. But we did have a plan ahead of time if we met our goal and there was still time left in the campaign – what would we do, how would we encourage people to continue pledging money to this campaign even after the goal had been met.

So we set our initial goal at the bare minimum budget you would need to do this project and we thought, above and beyond that, let’s think of ways we can add value to the project – specific ways we can add value to the project. So we told people at $17,500 were going to be able to develop an interactive e-book edition of the book, or something like that. And at $20,000, we’ll not only be able to do that e-book, but we’ll also be able to distribute hardcover copies of the book to every primary and secondary school on the islands, Ibiza and Formentera. I may not be remembering those exactly correctly but we had thought of specific ways we could extend the project if we got more money. And that way, we can give people these attainable goals beyond our initial funding goal. And we’re able to encourage people to continue pledging money even after we met what was our original goal of $15,000.

Nate: So the next question is about donations. The question is: What were the most common amounts that people were donating to the project and in general, is there some sort of specific number you should be asking money for from your donors?

Neil, do you want to talk about that a little.

Neil: Yes, so, most of our donations were small, they were in the $25-$50 range. And in fact, I have some statistics that I calculated after the campaign. Like we said before, we raised about $20,000 from a total of about 290 backers. So, that means that the average pledge was about $70, but the median pledge was much lower than that. It was only about $35. So, what that means is that the vast majority of the donations were small, they were only $25-$50 and the mean was skewed upwards by a few very large donations. The large donations are important, but most of the money we raised came from lots and lots of small donations.

 

Nate: Is there some sort of relationship between the types of people who donated and how much they donated?

Neil: Yes. We found, first of all, that we were more likely to get donations, not surprisingly, from people we knew. We were more likely to get donations from people we knew well than people we didn’t know so well. We were the most likely to get donations, probably, from people who were really close to us; close friends and family. That shouldn’t be surprising. The amount and size of the donations also had something to do with how closely we knew people. Our family tended to give the largest donations, but we only have a finite amount of family so we can’t just depend on them. Our friends tended to give pretty good donations and casual acquaintances gave somewhat smaller donations, but still pledged at a reasonable rate when we contacted them and told them about our project.

Nate: I think one of the lessons we learned from crunching those numbers was, while you should focus on getting those small donations (because the accumulation of small donations will add up to a lot of money), don’t discount the possibility of a few people giving you large donations. We had a few people who we did not know give us a lot of money for this project and that made a huge difference in our ability to meet our goal. Focus on getting the small donations but promote your project and create incentives for a few of the big ones, just in case somebody comes by and says, ‘You know what, that’s a really cool project, I’ve got this money and I’ll donate $1,000 or $2,000 to that project.’ Those people are out there.

 

Neil: How did you initially generate awareness of your crowdfunding campaign?

Nate: We tried to run a really coordinated campaign. Neil, myself, and a few other people started promoting the project all on the same day. We were mostly on Facebook. We sent out a bunch of Facebook messages and we also wrote a blog post. Then, what was very, very important was right from that very first day all of us started sending personal emails to all of the people we knew asking them for money. We didn’t just ask our friends and family. Actually, it wasn’t just people we knew. We also were asking organizations we thought might be interested in our project so we were contacting herpetological societies across the country and asking them for funding. We were constantly emailing people. Everyday we were putting up funny or fresh Facebook posts trying to keep things interesting – telling people about our project and asking people for money. One of the things we did in our project, that I think was a really effective method for incentivizing people to donate, was whenever people gave us money on Facebook, we would say “Neil Losin just donated money to our project, thanks so much, Neil, for your contribution.” That created some social or peer pressure to friends.

Neil: …And actually tagging the person you are thanking in that Facebook post – tagging the person you’re thanking. By tagging that person in your post you’re actually that much more likely, through the magic of Facebook and their internal algorithms, that that person’s friends will actually see that post show up in their newsfeed. So we found that tagging on Facebook is really important. Whenever we would tag somebody who just donated, we would almost always get one of that person’s friends donating soon thereafter. We knew that that was having an effect and that we were sort of using peer pressure to get people to donate.

Nate: Yeah, and another thing that we did… if you have any friends who have a well-read blog or if you have any friends who are working for some sort of news outlet, this is the time to leverage those relationships. You need to contact them saying, ‘I’m working on this cool project, could you do me a solid and write a piece about me or allow me to guest blog on your blog or in your newspaper?’ You need to call in all your favors when you’re doing these things because it’s going to take that extra step to reach that goal. It’s not easy to raise these funds so you need to go in every direction you can to get your project out there and in front of as many eyes as possible.

Neil: Yeah, and just to elaborate a little bit on Nate’s… Nate really emphasized the importance of sending these personal emails, individual emails to a lot of people. We did that. We sent close to a thousand personal emails to people. These weren’t just form emails that we copy and pasted. They started that way, but every email was personalized with at least a few short sentences catching up with that person, asking how they were doing, connecting with them a little bit if we hadn’t connected with them in a while, and then giving the pitch after that. We, in some cases, contacted people several times. I think it’s important to be persistent. Our statistics really show that. We had much higher rates from people that we had contacted more than once than people we only contacted once. It often took people a long time to donate after we contacted them. Our campaign lasted about 40 days and it took some people 40 days to make a donation. We emailed some people on the very first day of the campaign who pledged on the very last day of the campaign. On average, people who didn’t make a pledge after being contacted initially took eight days from being contacted and actually clicking the button on the kick-starter page to make a pledge. Don’t get frustrated and don’t be afraid to remind people either because people would sometimes say, ‘Oh yeah. I’m definitely going to pledge as soon as I have time, probably later in the week,’ and they don’t do it because they have lots of other things to think about. Don’t be afraid to remind them. The last thing we found out when we did the statistic is people we contacted by both a personal message on Facebook and an email were much more likely to pledge to the campaign than people who were only contacted using one of those means. I think getting to people through multiple angles, leveraging peer pressure, these are all techniques you can use to convince people to contribute.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. It’s better to be organized about this. We had multiple spreadsheets with the names of each person we were going to contact, who was going to contact them, when we contacted them, how many times we contacted them… It’s important to keep track of that stuff because if you forget you contacted somebody and you contacted them ten times, there’s somebody who is probably not going to donate to your project. You’ll lose some Facebook friends if you are pestering people too much. It’s important to be as organized as possible when you’re doing this.

Neil: Yeah, definitely. So, the next question is, how did you decide when to launch your campaign and was your timing part of your strategy?

Nate: Timing was part of our strategy when starting our campaign. If you can find some sort of excuse to draw attention to yourself when you’re launching, you don’t have to go out there and get their attention in the first place. With our strategy we were really lucky because when we wanted to launch this project, it coincided with when I had to defend my dissertation. My dissertation was about these lizards anyway so people were already thinking lizards and they were already paying attention to what I was doing. So, what we did was launch the project a few days before my dissertation defense. I threw a party at the end of the week to celebrate finishing my PhD. And at the party, I had computers set up so people could donate to the project right there. While not everyone who went to the party donated to the project, a lot of people donated there and a lot of people donated afterwards because they heard about it there, they heard about it on Facebook, they heard about by email, so they ended up donating. If you can, find some sort of strategy to bring attention to yourself or the people who are contributing to the project. I highly recommend doing it for the launch. It really benefited us in a variety of ways.

 

Do you recommend fundraiser to include videos to increase the power of their campaign and what tips do you have for fundraisers to create a successful video?

Neil: I definitely think a video will help any crowdfunding campaign. Kickstarter actually recommends that all its pitchers include a video. It’s not required, but its statistics show that pitches that include videos are much more successful and likely to reach their funding goals than pitches that don’t. I think the basic tip is make the pitch as simple and compelling as you can. Show people in a short amount of time, two or three minutes, why your project matters and what they will get out of it if they support you. If you can do that concisely and your pitch looks and sounds good, I think that will really help any crowdfunding campaign.

Thinking about videos, the next question is how do you decide to set the tone of your pitch? Is it funny or professional? How do you want it to look?

Nate: Neil and I didn’t really think too much about the tone. We weren’t trying to make it funny, per se. It is very important, no matter what video you make, whether it’s funny, impacting, or emotional, to make sure it is professional. Make sure you are not recording in some sort of place where there’s a lot of noise. Make sure you’re not holding the camera in your hand – that you put it on a tripod. There are all kinds of little things that can make a video more effective and more professional. That will certainly influence people’s desire to contribute to a project. If they see that it’s professional, they’ll take it more seriously than if it’s not.

In terms of making it funny, there have been a handful of videos I have seen on Kickstarter that are hilarious and they are very, very successful. So, if you have a project where you can create a funny video, by all means go ahead and do that. But, I do think for our purposes, we didn’t think very hard about the tone of our pitch. We just wanted to get the information out there, let people know who we were, what we do, and ensure people we have the skills and the relationships to make that project happen.

Neil: Yeah, so more than setting a specific tone for us, what we really wanted to accomplish was to show people that we had the visual skills to make that happen. We really wanted to make sure that the video looked the way we wanted it to. We showed that the islands are beautiful, the lizards are spectacular, and we had the skills to capture all that. We really focused a lot of visuals.

 

Nate: So the next question is, what are some of the pitfalls or mistakes in launching a crowdfunding campaign?

Neil: I’m going to focus on two because these are both really, really common. One is to assume that people are going to care about what you’re doing without you convincing them that it’s important. People just have a lot on their plates these days and they have lots of things in their own lives that they need to care about on a daily basis. You’re going to have to do work to convince other people that it’s important. I think it’s really common mistake to assume that just because I’m really excited about this thing that other people are going to be excited about it too.

The other common pitfall is that Kickstarter projects are often passion projects for the people doing them. They are projects that those people really want to do. We really wanted to make this book about lizards and it’s the kind of thing that we’ve wanted to do for a really long time. It’s imperative, I think, to really make sure that your project doesn’t look like it’s all fun and games – like it’s just a vacation for you. You really have to hammer it home why this project matters and why it’s important that somebody does this project. It’s not just important to do because you’re going to have a lot of fun doing it. Maybe you will have a lot of fun doing it – we certain had a lot of fun in Spain photographing this book. You have to convince people that it’s not just a vacation for you – that they’re not just funding you having fun.

Nate: The only thing I would add to that is to not underestimate how hard it is to run one of these campaigns. There are easier ways to raise $20,000 than doing a Kickstarter campaign. In many cases, we were working every day for a lot of hours sending out personal emails, making Facebook posts, contacting all the contacts we had so they would promote the project. Combined, I think it was more than a full time job with all of our time combined. So if you have a really busy schedule, the project is not going to promote itself. You need to set aside four or five hours a day to work on this. It’s not going to get funded unless you treat it like a job, and we did.

Neil: The final question is, is credibility and proof of past success a vital part of crowd funding project? For example, in our campaign video, we mention having the support of a well-respected professor, a National Geographic explorer, and a number of organizations we partnered with.

Nate: I do think it is very important to leverage every connection and every source of credibility you have in your campaign. You need to be able to convince people that you have the skills and relationships to produce what you say you’re going to and you’re going to do it well. In our case, Neil is a National Geographic explorer and associating ourselves with National Geographic, people know National Geographic as producing incredible visual content and really great journalism and stories so we wanted to associate ourselves with them. We want people to know that we’re going to produce a project that’s similar to that. Neil, being associated with National Geographic, he brings to the table a part of the idea that National Geographic believes in him and you guys can believe in him too. In addition, we had Valentín Pérez-Mellado. He is a scientist who has produced hundreds of scientific articles and he’s a co-author of our book. By letting people know that he was a co-author, this was going to be a substantial contribution that was meaningful not just to the public, but it also had the credibility of a well-respected scientist.

In terms of the organizations that we mentioned, there were a variety of organizations that were going to help us actually get the project done and by mentioning those organizations, we let people know that those organizations have credibility and you can also believe in us. So if you guys have to do that, make sure you sort those out before hand. If you have those relationships, make sure you let people know about those things. I really do believe that that will influence people’s perspective on your ability to do the project and do it well.

Neil: Yeah, absolutely.

And that’s the end of our list of questions.

Nate: If you guys have any other questions, you’re welcome to email us at info@daysedge.com. If you have a Kickstarter campaign, send it to us. We’ll check it out.

Neil: if you want to see an example of a Kickstarter campaign that was successful, you can check out ours. It’s called ‘The Symbol: Wall Lizards of the Pityusic Archipelago.” You can find it by searching on Kickstarter. If you want to see how we kept in touch with our backers and kept them involved in the project even after we were funded, go to http://daysedgeproductions.com/blog and you can look back at some of the blog posts that we posted while we were in Spain working on this project.

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