Crowdsourcing: Popularity Contest or Fist Fight?

I have been “in charge” of three crowdsourcing campaigns: a $15,000 IndieGoGo campaign for a documentary film (I had a TON of help), a $1,500 solo-campaign for directing my own short film, and most recently, a $4,000 Kickstarter campaign for my Dinner’s Ready! cooking card game (with two partners). All three were successful; the narrowest by only $10 and the Dinner’s Ready! campaign reached 117% of our initial goal. Of course, I had many people sharing and supporting these campaigns, but even then, I couldn’t help wondering if crowdsourcing was a popularity contest or more of a fist fight?

The popularity contest angle is obvious. You need to have a LOT of people backing your project in order for it to get funded. You must reach your goal, or you get nothing. You’re either Prom King or you’re not. People don’t often put their money where their mouth is, but that’s where Kickstarter shines through. “I’d totally buy that,” now has an easy, convenient response.

Many campaign creators agree that Kickstarters go one of two ways, either you hit your goal (and then some!) within the first 48 hours and you’re all of a sudden hit with a dozen problems you never knew you’d have, or it’s a long, arduous process which near the end, resembles groveling. And the insult to injury? You may not even reach your goal. It’s the latter scenerio, the stressful grind to the end, that in my opinion, resembles the fist fight.

If something is considered popular, people are more likely to get on board. Exploding Kittens, the epic card game, had 219,000 donors. That’s equivalent to the 98th largest city in the United States (beating out Richmond, Virginia). Dinner’s Ready!, our educational family cooking card game, has 86 (AWESOME) backers. Their game has kittens. Our game has Broccoli. They reached their goal within 38 minutes. We reached out goal with 38 hours left to go. Their game was instantly a “Kickstarter Staff Pick.” My game was instantly my “Mom’s Pick.” Different experiences, I guess.

The hardest part of running a Kickstarter that doesn’t blow up is navigating the delicate waters of friendship and business, all in the same breath. Crowdsourcing could very well be called “friend sourcing” when your product doesn’t immediately get funded. You start relying on the support of your friends more and more as the deadline draws closer. You find yourselves writing e-mails then deleting them, because you don’t want to be too pushy. Most people are admittedly forgetful, so writing e-mail follow ups is always necessary, but it’s hard to determine “uninterested” or “forgetful” from the sending side of a solicitation e-mail. You just have to swallow your pride and do it.

The hardest part may come after the Kickstarter is over. I am fortunate enough to not have any failed campaigns, but the afterburn is still quite painful. I’ve tried not to bring up the crowdsourcing campaign with people, but inevitably they ask if they can still donate, “I’ve been meaning to do that.” Is it lip service? Are they trying to make you feel better they didn’t donate in the beginning? I try not to make people feel awkward if they didn’t donate to my campaign, because not everything I do is going to be for, or enjoyed by, everyone.

The ones that hurt the most are the people you’d expect to back your project, that didn’t. I have a lot of “acquaintances” and a handful of people I’d really call “friends.” It’s hard when somebody you care about, somebody that consistently supports your work, doesn’t support your work when it truly matters (like in a crowdsourcing campaign). It puts a pit in your stomach when the day after your campaign is over, you’re pitching a friend of yours on the same product you’ve been pitching them for the past three weeks, only now they’re paying attention. It’s hard not to be “self-centered” when you’re running a crowdsourcing campaign, especially on Kickstarter, because you either get 100% of your funding goal or you get nothing. If you get nothing, that’s gonna feel personal, regardless if it is or not.

By the end of the campaign, I was absolutely exhausted. I intentionally ended the campaign on the night of October 23, because the following day was my 30th birthday. I wanted to have a jolt of success sending me out of my 20s into my 30s, with a little direction and motivation to stay on point. But by the end of the campaign, after having reached our fundraising goal and kept pushing for our stretch goals and more donors, I was too tired to close. Instead of staying up until midnight, pushing hard over the last hours, and watching the clock hit midnight, and turning the final page on my 20s, I went to bed at 9:30 PM, a happy, bloody mess.

I’ve written on my blog before about my friendships, and how recently I’ve felt I’ve let some of my friendships go away. I made a conscious effort during the campaign not to solicit (too much) to the people I really miss in my life. I wanted to catch up with them, find out how their lives are, but I didn’t want to do it with the crowdsourcing campaign being the “elephant in the room.” I wanted to catch up with my old friends, completely agenda less, just like we were when we first became friends all those years ago.

It will most likely come as bad news to my friends that I am not done with Kickstarter. A lot of my projects are based around enhancing my life and the lives of my friends and family, which is why most of my projects are geared toward them. Crowdsourcing is a way of getting my friends things I think will make our lives better while starting the journey to sharing it with others. I have many ideas for crowdsourcing campaigns in the future, including one in the middle of next year, but we’ll talk about that when we get there. For now, Dinner’s Ready! was successful and we’re extremely proud.

In the meantime, if you’re planning for a crowdsourcing campaign, be ready for a hard dose of reality about your perceived popularity. Sure, you may be way more popular than you ever imagined, or you may be a total nobody, but the most important thing is not to let it cloud your perspective of you who are personally. It’s a reflection of the crowd.

Keep your chin up.



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