Chase Bank, United Airlines: “Go Elsewhere.”

Seemingly arbitrary rules, regulations, and fees often make for a “less than desirable” customer experience, but the major needs in our lives (money, travel, etc.) are brokered by a handful of powerful conglomerates, and they could care less how your experience is. I don’t like writing posts like this, but my recent travel experiences left me truly bereft, so I felt the need to share.

Early last month, I learned that a dear friend of mine had died (very prematurely), so I needed to fly from Portland, Oregon to Santa Barbara, California, with just over a week’s notice. I was fully aware the prices were going to be high, but eventually I was able to find tickets that worked for all parties involved (including my ride from the airport). The only problem was, I didn’t have the money at the time to afford the ticket. My situation is not unique, as nearly 69% of Americans have less than $1000 to their name.

I was, however, fortunate enough to borrow $450 from my parents. My dad deposited the check into my Chase bank account on Saturday morning. Saturday is not considered a work day for the bank (I wasn’t born yesterday), so I was aware the check would not clear until Monday, despite the fact he has been depositing checks into that exact same Chase branch for nearly 15 years now. I saw no way around the delay, so I had no choice but to wait until Monday morning to purchase my airplane tickets, forced to deal with higher rates and now a scattered assortment of different flights from different carriers, pieced together by Google Flights. Now I’m starting on Delta, switching to United, and on the way back, hopping over to Alaska Airlines, but I guess that’s what you deserve for trying to travel, right?

On Monday morning the flights were gone, and the only available tickets that were left were way more expensive now, so I had to borrow another $100 from my family. By Monday evening, the Saturday check still had not cleared fully. I had more than enough money to purchase the ticket, but my “Available Balance” was less than the price of my ticket. Accordingly, Chase declined the purchase request from Google.

So I called the Customer Service line at Chase Bank and explained my situation. I explained the situation. The customer service representative agreed that I had the money, but due to federal regulations the check would need time to clear. I asked why it wasn’t cleared on Monday morning, since it’s been sitting there since Saturday. We went back and forth about the funds. I asked him to think outside the box to make this purchase happen, because each second that I can’t purchase these tickets, they’ll get more expensive. Again, that’s playing the game.

“I’ve worked in Customer Service before, and I can assure you this is one of those situations where you ask your manager for help in making this happen for me…” I nearly begged the guy on the phone, to which he responded,
“Don’t you think if there was a way to do this, we would have done it by now?” He responded. Wow.

While there is a “hold” on checks, there isn’t a hold on cash… as long as you’re a “certified depositer,” otherwise they won’t accept it because it could potentially be money laundering. How do you become a Chase certified depositer? By having a Chase bank account. My dad is not a member of Chase, undoubtedly because of situations like this one.

I called the local branch of Chase bank and spoke to the Manager, inquiring on how to get my father as a certified depositer. Again, I reinforced the fact that my father has been depositing checks into that bank account for over a decade, but nevertheless, it was fruitless. He could not deposit cash into my account. That’s when I dove into my situation with the bank manager, hoping I’d pull on his heartstrings enough to make something happen… and he did.

“Are you using overdraft protection?” He asked me. I looked into it, and he was right, I was. This gave Chase bank to authority to decline purchases for amounts greater than I have in my account. By turning off the overdraft protection, I could charge for whatever price I wanted (up to a certain limit I think), but I run the risk of accruing an “overdraft charge.” I turned off the overdraft protection, and just like that, the payment went through.

“Great!” The manager said, “Hopefully you don’t get an overdraft fee.”
“If I get an overdraft fee, I promise you I will be calling back tomorrow and somebody’s gonna hear about it.”

I’m a stewer. If I’m wronged in some way, I’m gonna stew on it for a little while. Looking down at the misinformed negative balance showing on my Chase bank account, I called back the Customer Service line and asked to speak with the same customer service representative I spoke to earlier. You remember, the “don’t you think we would have done it by now?” guy. Yeah, that dickhead.

Turns out the guy on the other end of the phone could not transfer me back, but told me he was a Manager and was interested in hearing my concern. Very well, then. I started at the beginning, told him about the hold, the first customer service call, the local bank manager’s advice, and now I was trying to get to the bottom of why I was treated the way I was when I called asking for help. I told him that if I was have my money with a local credit union, for example, they would have more than happy to make those concessions for me the first time I asked.

“Then maybe you should go elsewhere,” the manager responded.

Wait… what?

“Put yourself in our shoes. Your dad writes that $450 check and then his bank goes back on it, now you’re out $450.” This was a legitimate argument that was made to me, claiming that Chase Bank (market cap $234.2 billion) needed to protect itself against depositing a $450 check. Not to mention all the money is insured!

“I’m out $450 and Chase Bank goes under, right?” I chipped back.
“Of course not,” he responded.
“Exactly.”

Instead of making that money available at the time of the deposit, and letting Chase Bank and my father’s credit union figure it out between themselves, I am forced to wait three days before that money clears. This is, of course, a Federal Regulation geared to protect banks and not serve consumer needs. This policy absolutely must change. Chase Bank may be actively lobbying those in the government about changes to federal policy, but I’d bet my bottom dollar this isn’t the issue. Whatever they are doing, do you think it is in the best interest of my subsection of 69% of Americans?

I made it to Southern California. The service was beautiful, and as is the silver lining in these types of situations, it was nice to connect with old friends again. I had planned to be in the area the following weekend for my mom’s 70th birthday, so I was somewhat forced into working remotely that week (again, because I was unable to afford two sets of airplane tickets). A forced long vacation, starting off sour and ending off sweet… or so I was hoping.

In scheduling my return flights home, the cheapest tickets I could get involved a 14.5 hour layover in Los Angeles International Airport. Now, for those of you following along at home, driving from Ojai to Portland would take somewhere around 17 hours (including pitstops for peeing and gas). I left Ojai at 12PM on Sunday, arrived at the Santa Barbara airport at 1, my flight to LAX took off at 2:33 and landed at 3:17 PM. My flight to Portland would leave the following morning, Monday, at 6 AM, landing in Portland at 8:45 AM. Had I driven from Ojai to Portland, I would have arrived 4 hours earlier than my flights, but exhausted as hell. But that’s traveling, right?

As soon as I landed at LAX, I marched straight to the Alaska gate for the next flight to Portland, OR, and asked to be put on Standby for this flight and all Portland-bound flights on Alaska. The woman at the desk sent me across the round terminal to another desk, where the clerk informed me that Alaska has a $25 change fee, but only on the same calendar day. Since my flight wasn’t until 6 AM tomorrow, I didn’t qualify for standby. I would have had to pay the full $125 change fee + the change in ticket.

I had all but given up on getting home to Portland on Sunday night, so I retreated to the bar and made conversation with the other travelers. I was, of course, on the longest layover, but everyone around me believe the Alaska deal was for 12 hours, not necessarily the same calendar day. So I decided to call Alaska and inquire.

Turns out, Alaska’s same-day $25 change fee is based on the calendar day, not 12 hours. The problem was obvious: I’m here for 14.5 hours, and I’m on the first flight out the following morning. There were literally no flights before mine, and three flights out before the end of the day. This is a deliberate squeeze. The other problem was, even if I wanted to change my flight, I had purchased the tickets through United, so I had to change it through them.

So I called United and explained my situation, how I purchased the tickets on Google, I’m on a 14.5 hour layover, and that I was willing to pay for the change in airfare to get on an earlier flight. They told me there was nothing they could do since the ticket I’m looking to change is from Alaska, so he got the Alaska customer service on the line and transferred me (then hung up). Alaska, to United, back to Alaska. Guess what the Alaska representative said? “There’s nothing we can do since you bought your ticket through United.” The moral of this story is… don’t buy your tickets using Google Flights.

At that point, I marched across the terminal to the United wing, and found a clerk. I explained my situation and how I was hoping to get on any flight to Portland that night. She informed me I could get on the last flight of the day, 11:45 PM, for $289 (including the $200 change fee), which is more than half of what my original round trip tickets cost. I explained was willing to pay for the difference in airfare but I could not possibly pay the change fee (again, 69% of America!) to get on a plane 6 hours earlier that was going to have empty seats anyway. I’m not trying to take advantage of the system here, I’m standing in LAX at a counter! This should have been a simple change, but United refused to budge or even try to make it work for me. “Sorry, maybe you should fly with someone else next time.”

Y tu, Brute?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m gifted with a caring, generous family. At that point, my brother sensed my SOS (or my angry tweets) and he offered to come get me from LAX at 10 PM at night to let me crash on his couch (in Sherman Oaks), only to turn around the following morning and get me to the airport by 5 AM. My brother’s a rockstar, and I owe him a ton… especially for this late-night rescue. I made it home then turned around and headed straight to work on Monday morning.

Chase Bank and United Airlines don’t need my business, they’ll be just fine without me. They’d be fine without your business, too. They cannot afford to lose the high-value clients, the businesses and the billionaires, that fill their coffers every month. Don’t get me wrong, these companies love their lower income customers too, because they’ll get some extra money out of you with a plethora of fees that all add up, and quite frankly, there’s nothing you can do about it.

I have options, and I’m in the process of transitioning away from these companies. I can find a local credit union that will accept the direct deposits from my work and won’t charge me monthly fees. In the future I can fly a smaller, customer-centric airline with less amenities and no checked bag fees. I can shop at local grocery stores and local businesses, because in the end, I want to feel as though the company understands my needs and will do what they can to help me.

CHE

 

Two Helpful Hacks to Grow Your Mailing List

I recently started my own monthly newsletter, Mystery Tin Monthlyand I wanted to make sure I got most of my contacts onto the mailing list. For the sake of transparency, I have a somewhat “large” social presence (FB: 1403, T: 550, LI: 698) and I have a ton of contacts in my Gmail.

Here are two helpful hacks to get e-mail addresses, specifically from LinkedIn and Gmail:

LinkedIn:

  1. Starting at your LinkedIn Profile page, on the right sidebar, under the advertisement, click on the “More” button. This is buried among the other links for “About,” “Help Center,” etc.
  2. Click “Manage your account and privacy.”
  3. Scroll down to “Getting an archive of your data.”
  4. Choose the “Fast File Only” option, which will deliver your profile information, connections, and messages. This will generate an e-mail containing a .zip, arriving approximately 10 minutes later.
  5. Inside the .zip file is a number of .csv spreadsheets, but the one we’re looking for is connections. Open it.
  6. The .csv file is a breakdown of your connections: First Name, Last Name, E-mail Address, Company, etc.
  7. Import this list into your newsletter database and you’re all set!

Gmail:

  1. Starting inside your primary e-mail account, click the white grid in the top right corner to access your “Google Apps.”
  2. Scroll down until you reach Contacts. (Duh?)
  3. You will see a screen that has your “Frequently Contacted” list and below that, your “All Contacts” list. On the left side, at the bottom of the menu, click the “More” button.
  4. This gives you a list of options, including “Export.” The new, preview version of Google Contacts doesn’t support exporting at the moment (Get on it, Google!), but when you click “Export” it gives you the following options:
  5. Click “Go To Old Contacts,” which will bring up a new window with everybody you’ve ever e-mailed.
  6. Select the “Other Contacts” link on the left sidebar, then use the “Select All” box at the top of the list. With all your “Other Contacts” selected, click the “More” dropdown menu and select “Export…”
  7. This brings up a menu of download options, specifically which lists you’d like to export. At this point, I select “All Contacts” and export as a Google .csv.
  8. Important Note: The list generated here is going to include every e-mail address you’ve ever contacted. This means mailing lists, info e-mail addresses, etc. It is smart to go through this list and refine it, removing the useless e-mail addresses you are sure are going to either bounce back or unsubscribe. It’s going to take a little bit, but you’ll get into a rhythm and narrow it down to the contacts you really want to e-mail.
  9. Import this refine list into your newsletter database and you’re all set!

Using these two simple “hacks,” my newsletter will reach nearly 1,000 people next month!

Do you have any helpful hacks for collecting e-mail addresses? Share them below in the comments!

Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
Hiring My First
Freelancer 
is a post about my first foray into outsourcing lead generations from a virtual assistant in India, using Upwork.com.
The Wisdom of Shark Tank is a mega-post of the insight I gained by watching every episode of the investment show Shark Tank
Starting A Monthly Newsletter is a look at the inner workings of my new Mystery Tin Monthly e-mail newsletter. (You can sign up here!)
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.

The Wisdom of Shark Tank

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 9.18.13 AM.pngI’ve seen literally every single episode of ABC’s award-winning reality television show, Shark Tank. Here’s just the tip of the information iceberg.

I used to wake up to watch an episode or two of Shark Tank before work (they’re only 42 minutes without commercials) and I’d watch a few episodes at night before I went to bed. At one point in my illustrious career of interesting jobs, I applied to a dozen companies that appeared on Shark Tank, and I eventually landed a job for Bee Thinking, a company that was featured on Shark Tank Season 6 (and Beyond The Tank Season 2).

Many of my friends and family have asked me, “So when are you going to apply to Shark Tank?” I’m always truly flattered at their confidence in me, but the answer’s remained the same for many years…

Not anytime soon.

Why? My own entrepreneurial endeavors are currently “small potatoes” compared to the companies that eventually get the handshake deals on the hit television show. Entering the “Shark Tank” is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (except for the four entrepreneurs that were able to get on the show twice, only one got a deal both times), so more than anything else, I don’t want to burn my one chance on a half-baked project that isn’t likely to get funding.

In the meantime, after watching over 93 hours of Shark Tank, there are some valuable lessons that can be taken away from the small businesses pitching on Shark Tank.

Your Story is Everything

Whether you’re interviewing for a job or pitching an investment for a shark, people want to work with people they like. That’s why Shark Tank has those introductory videos and the Sharks seem to ask those “poignant” questions that just happen to bring up the most personally defining characteristic of the business owner. Don’t be afraid to share the tragedies, struggles are the hallmark of an entrepreneur.

A few times on Shark Tank, we’ve seen what’s referred to as the “acqui-hire,” where a Shark accepts a deal for no other purpose than hiring the business owner to work for them in one of their portfolio of companies. While this isn’t exactly ideal (entrepreneurs tend to not work well with others), it is a very real possibility if your product is a flop, but you’re a rockstar.

Solve a Problem

Do you solve a problem? If not, it’s gonna be one hell of an uphill battle. A lack of s’mores in your life is not a big enough problem to get an investment, hence no deal. Needing a mobile breathalyzer to prevent drunk driving solves a HUGE problem, that’s why all five sharks went in on that deal.

Own It

You need to own the space you operate in. More specifically, you need to own your intellectual property. If there’s nothing proprietary about your product or business, there’s nothing to prevent a larger company from ripping you off and killing your “cockroach” of a business in their industry. If you don’t own your IP yet, you should probably get on that immediately.

If you do own your IP, there’s a number of avenues in which the sharks could take you, including QVC/HSN, big box retailers, or leasing to one of the major players. Also, in a time so electric with frivolous business lawsuits (Mark Cuban has dipped out of a couple deals to the potential for litigation), owning the IP right out is the best way to defend your product from being infringed upon, but it’s also a necessity to go out and enforce your patent to reinforce your position in the market. If others look like you, you’re not that special, and therefore, not that valuable or investible.

You MUST Know Your Numbers

Despite what Barbara Corcoran has said in the past, when you’re seeking an outside investment in your company, you have to know (and share) your numbers. Too many entrepreneurs have come into the Shark Tank with the attitude, “There’s two things my momma told me never to talk about, that’s my weight and how much my bags cost…” Plain and simple, at the bare minimum, you have to share your manufacturing cost, your margins, and your gross profit. You should also be aware of your customer acquisition cost, customer lifetime value, and your monthly burn rate. You may think it will negatively effect your business when a nation of eager consumers hears about the inner workings of your small business, and while a few consumers may be turned off, the “Shark Tank bump” will bring in potentially hundreds, maybe even thousands, of new customers. It’s important to sit down with your P&L ledgers and crunch the data. Share your numbers!

Market Size

Don’t go into the Shark Tank with the “Our target market is [Size A], which means we the total market value is [B Dollars], and we can just capture a fraction of that market, we’ll make [C Dollars].” It’s not that the any of that information is irrelevant, it’s that market size and value is already known, and the Sharks are more concerned with your business, your success, and the methods you used to break into that large market.

Be Willing to Negotiate

There’s nothing more aggravating to a Shark than somebody coming into the tank with no desire to negotiate from their original proposal terms. It’s a delicate balance between offering an ownership percentage and maintaining a high valuation, and that’s where the negotiation tactics really kick in. Only a handful of companies have seen their wildest dreams realized: getting a shark on board with more money and less equity than their original offer, increasing their company’s valuation. For everybody else, if you’re lucky enough to get an actual offer from a shark, chances are you’re going to be giving up more equity for your ask. If you’re not going to deviate from your original offer, don’t enter the tank.

And on that note, if there’s one thing that “Mr. Wonderful” hates more than anything else, it’s being offered a measly 5% share in a company. “I don’t even get out of bed for 5%,” he frequently grumbles at these low-offering, high-evaluation deals. This is where he then goes into some ancient tale, maybe from Greece, maybe from Africa, but no matter the content the story, they all end the same way… fingers tented, “you’re dead to me.”

Seek Real Value

Sharks love the idea they’re considered “smart money.” If you’re heading into the Shark Tank looking for a payday, rather than a smart working business relationship with one of the Sharks, I can’t be the first person to tell you that you’re doing it all wrong. It’s about their brains, not just their bucks. (If it boils down to dumb money, get ready for a no equity/loan/residual deal from Mr. Wonderful). If you want passive money, write a pitch deck and go to a bank. If you want a strategic business partner, that’s why in you’re in the Shark Tank, and you need to be ready to elaborate on how each Shark can individually contribute to the success of the company.

Shark Tank is Just the Beginning

Unless you are like one of the three businesses that offered 100% of their business to the sharks, if you are lucky enough to get a deal, it’s only the beginning! The buzz can last overnight, but the very next day, you gotta get back to work and keep hustling!

From my experience at Bee Thinking, I can tell you the “Shark Tank Bump” is a very real thing, especially if you don’t get an offer. Overnight our orders jumped up from 26 to nearly 400 overnight after the airing of the Shark Tank episode, and a similar epic bump happened when we appeared on “Beyond the Tank.”

It really is a trial by fire, and if you’re not ready to buckle down and deliver, you’re going to drown in the wake of the Shark Tank.

Keep it Together!

Never having been on Shark Tank myself, I can’t tell you what it’s like to stand on that rug, in front of the sharks, with the hot lights blaring on you. What I can tell you is you need to keep an even emotional keel when you’re up there. Your business is your baby, and nobody is doubting how invested you are in it. But, if you are overly-emotional, it’s gonna end up hurting you. The last thing you want to do is get down to one shark left, and you completely melt into a groveling puddle begging for a deal, because chances are you’re not going to get a deal. Everybody loves passion, nobody loves desperation.

Do Your Research!

You gotta do your research on the Sharks, and know how their individual networks would work in with and benefit your business. All the Sharks are interested in a good business, but each of them has an area of expertise.

Here’s some information on the sharks, why I would work with them, and some affiliate links to the books they’ve written.

Kevin O’Leary

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-9-59-26-am“Mr. Wonderful,” “The King of Licensing Deals,” “The Devil Incarnate.” Whatever you want to call him, there’s no denying that Kevin knows how to make a deal that stings so good. “Don’t cry for money, it doesn’t cry for you.”

I would be interested in working with Kevin O’Leary because taking businesses to the next level is his reputation. With O’Leary Ventures, his connections may almost be worth the terrible royalty he’ll try to stick you with. But deep down, I gotta admit, there’s something slightly heartwarming about watching Kevin laugh so hard that he cries, even if it’s at a business owner’s expense.

Kevin’s written three books of “cold, hard truth:” Cold Hard Truth: On Business, Money & LifeThe Cold Hard Truth On Men, Women, and Money: 50 Common Money Mistakes and How to Fix Them, and The Cold Hard Truth on Family, Kids & Money.

Barbara Corcoran

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 9.59.09 AM.pngBarbara makes a lot of food and product related plays, but she’s really more concerned with the business owner herself. As a charismatic entrepreneur, she prides herself on being able to partner with up-and-coming businesses and turning them into billion dollar businesses.

I would love to work with Barbara because she reminds of me my grandfather, who first introduced me to the stock market with a newspaper and a yellow highlighter. Both of us are “zany” (to say the least) and to be a business partner of Barbara’s would be a total trip!

Barbara’s written three books, Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business, Nextville: Amazing Places to Live the Rest of Your Lifeand If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails: and Other Lessons I Learned from My Mom

Daymond John

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 10.00.11 AM.pngDaymond is perhaps the most eclectic Shark, with investments in everything from fashion to food, child inventors, tech plays, and mail-order companies. This doesn’t mean he lacks focus, but more importantly, it means he’s completely focused on building brands in whatever industry they’re in.

That’s predominately why I’d love to work with Daymond, because I know that he could help me take the Mystery Tin brand from a handful of staggering companies to a mammoth network. (Hit me up, Daymond!)

Raymond’s written three books, Display of Power: How FUBU Changed a World of Fashion, Branding and LifestyleThe Brand Within: The Power of Branding from Birth to the Board Roomand most recently The Power of Broke (which is fantastic!).

Robert Herjavec

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 10.00.34 AM.pngCyber-security, extreme lifestyle, and cuddly pets are all of interest to Robert, but if there’s anything you can learn from his Croatian legacy, it’s the unparalleled value of hard work and intuition.

Honestly, I would be interested in working with Robert because he’s not like the other sharks. He’s like my cool “Uncle Robert,” a guy that would give me business advice and then show me his latest car or toy. He’s the “buddy shark,” and sometimes, that’s all you really need in a partner.

Robert’s written two books, Driven: How to Succeed in Business and Life and The Will to Win: Leading, Competing, Succeeding.

Lori Greiner

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 10.00.22 AM.pngThe “Queen of QVC” focuses mostly on simple products and patents. With over 120 patents and 400+ products under her belt, she’s got some great advice for inventors and entrepreneurs.

I would love to work with Lori on some of my products, especially the family card games. With her influence, she could undoubtedly get me into the big box game retailers, as well as connected me with the right people to cut down on my manufacturing costs. I also feel, on a personal note, I could benefit from having more female influence in my business ventures and ideas, and Lori could bring it in spades!

Lori’s written one book, Invent it, Sell it, Bank it! Turn Your Million-Dollar Idea into a Reality

Mark Cuban

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 9.58.58 AM.pngThe only billionaire in the Shark Tank, Mark’s looking for mammoth growth and a minimum of a 5x return on every single investment. Most of his deals are in the social media and tech space, compliments to his Dallas Mavericks, or something completely random (“Let Me Draw A Cat For You”). You never know when he’s gonna throw his hat in the ring, but if you can get a little insight into his psyche, you might figure out a way to land the biggest shark of all.

I would LOVE to work with Mark Cuban because… he’s fucking Mark Cuban! Not only does he have the business acumen to hockey stick any small business, he’s also a basketball loving, tech-savvy dude, that drinks gluten-free beer and loves a good party. Entrepreneurs should aspire to be like Mark, well balanced between his work and home life. As he said in Season 3, “I’m a business builder. I take small businesses and make them great!” That’s why working with Mark Cuban’s on my bucket list!

Mark’s written one book, How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It.

Now What?

After I hit “publish” on this blog post, it’s back to work on writing the marketing e-mails for the Happy Hour! card game, building out some webpages for an upcoming website project, and taking the afternoon to do a little business reading.

Now get to work!

—–
Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
Starting A Monthly Newsletter 
is a look at the inner workings of my new Mystery Tin Monthly e-mail newsletter. (You can sign up here!)
Personal Fire Ecology is a quick look at the rationale behind my yearly purge by fire.
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.
Starting a Podcast (Network) for Under $200 on WordPress is the play-by-play I used in setting up the show MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl) on the Mystery Tin Podcast Network.

Starting A Monthly Newsletter

I took the leap yesterday and started a monthly newsletter called Mystery Tin MonthlyThe experience was enlightening, and humbling, to say the least.

I finally decided to put my money where my mouth is, so I started my own Mystery Tin newsletter. I previously wrote a post about what starting a newsletter can do for an artist, but after binge-listening to over 50 episodes of the Side Hustle Nation podcast on the 16 hour holiday road trip home (and back), it is the unanimous opinion of online business owners that in order to succeed, you absolutely must cultivate a mailing list for direct e-mail contact and marketing. Most importantly, this group isn’t primarily a sales pool. These people are your tribe. So at first, it is advisable to move slowly and tread lightly. I think I did that part right.

It took me a quite while (and a little bit of magic) but I managed to scrape together nearly 700 e-mail addresses of my friends, previous businesses associates, and business contacts. I know I didn’t get everybody on the list (I still don’t think my parents are signed up yet) but chances are if you’re my friend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn, I most likely added you to the mailing list for my new newsletter. Did you get it? (If not, click here and sign yourself up!)

The newsletter is a monthly e-mail newsletter, Mystery Tin Monthly, containing the top blog posts, photographs, great links, and updates on projects under the Mystery Tin Brand, sent out on the first Monday of each month. This first newsletter was a little bit longer, broken into sections with an introduction to the newsletter, my top 3 blog posts on MysteryTin.com, my top pictures on Instagram, a sneak peek of Happy Hour!, and a reminder that Dinner’s Ready! is available for sale. Oh yeah, and a call for action and sharing. Duh.

I designed the newsletter in MailChimp, which also offers a number of added benefits that you can work into the campaign, including opens, clicks, bounces and unsubscribes. I clicked all the boxes I could and I scheduled my first newsletter to fire off at 12:15 PM, landing squarely during the lunch hour on January 2, New Year’s Day Observed. It definitely got my heart racing, but once the e-mail was out, I was refreshing the report over and over again, watching the results come back in real time…

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For the sake of transparency in the pursuit of knowledge, I’ve included a screenshot of my newsletter report. At the time I’m publishing this post, Tuesday, January 3, the e-mail was opened by 38.1% of recipients, with 26 total clicks for a 3.2% click rate, 10 bounce backs and a grand total of 33 unsubscribers. At first I was weary of the seemingly low numbers, but when compared to the industry standards, it actually appears I’m doing really well with my list (nearly 2.5x the industry average!). Maybe there will be some promise in this newsletter thing for me after all!

Of course, as a glutton for punishment, I couldn’t help but go through the unsubscribes. Who would unsubscribe from my newsletter?!?! I was expecting a small number of unsubscribes, particularly from those obscure apiary connections from China I friended on LinkedIn, but when I opened the unsubscribe list, I was actually quite surprised. Former co-workers and bosses, fraternity brothers, high school classmates, and more surprisingly, a handful of close family friends had all opted out of my newsletter. Part of me was shocked to see that people I really cared about, people I was actively invested in, people I grew up with, were not interested in hearing about my life. The way I looked at it, it was a monthly newsletter, so if you can’t stand one e-mail a month from meyou’re basically saying “I really don’t give a fuck about you.” It’s only one e-mail a month!

Thanks for being a good friend… jerk.

Emotions aside, e-mail marketing is simply a game of averages. Yesterday, I e-mailed nearly 700 people, so there’s bound to be some blowback. I can’t spend my time worrying about each and every person that unsubscribes from my newsletter, because no matter what, there’s always going to be somebody who isn’t interested in reading what you have to say or isn’t interested in buying what you’re selling. The challenge is, you must go on ceaselessly toward your goals, because “you’ll never get where you’re going if you stop to throw rocks at every barking dog.” I think that was a Winston Churchill quote.

The only thing I need to do now is set up the all the extra bells and whistles to get people signing themselves up for the Mystery Tin Monthly mailing list. I have the sign-up page, but I’m having some trouble with the pop-ups on my own website and embedding a sign up box in the text box (anybody out there want to help me with this?!)

What did you think of the first Mystery Tin Monthly? What would you like to hear more about? Let me know what you think by responding to the e-mail to mysterytin@gmail.com or by posting your comments below!

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Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
Personal Fire Ecology
 is a quick look at the rationale behind my yearly purge by fire.
The A-Z of My 2016 is my year in review mega post of 2016, complete with anecdotes, photographs, and some of my favorite songs and content from 2016.
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.
Starting a Podcast (Network) for Under $200 on WordPress is the play-by-play I used in setting up the show MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl) on the Mystery Tin Podcast Network.

How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign

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If you want to be successful in crowdfunding, you’re going to need to put in the work before, during, and after the campaign. This post contains knowledge I learned firsthand from running my own campaigns, contributing to the successful campaigns of others, and information I’ve learned from my entrepreneurship classes on crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding not only gives you the opportunity to market a product, but it gives you an opportunity to create “fans” that may support your future work as well. Smaller, more artistic ideas, are great for crowdfunding platforms because it gives them access to funds that may be out of reach in other, traditional financing venues. Launching a successful crowdfunding campaign provides social proof and feedback that your idea has the potential for longevity. Remember, (for the most part) crowdsourcing success happens by small margins and failure by large margins.

It was just over a year ago that we launched the Dinner’s Ready! crowdsourcing campaign on Kickstarter. Our dream was to creative a fun, competitive card game that promoted healthy eating by encouraging players to draw healthy recipes and collected the necessary ingredients to make them. We set our goal of $4,000 and set the clock at 23 days, ending at  the midnight before my 30th birthday. Ultimately, we raised $4,699, or 116% of our initial goal. This wasn’t an Exploding Kittens experience, but it was incredibly eye opening to the trials and tribulations of crowdfunding in the 21st century.

To let the cat out of the bag a little bit, Mystery Tin Games is in the development stages of more card games to be launched early next year on Kickstarter, so we’re going to use the example of a “card game” throughout this discussion, but these techniques can be applied to any crowdfunding campaign.

The Idea

Crowdfunding has given creators the opportunity to create anything they can imagine and see if people are interested in it. If you want to make a card game, you need to identify early on if there’s a certain subsection of people that would want to play it. With Dinner’s Ready!, a healthy eating card game, which we ultimately narrowed down to “millennial table-top game players that are also parents of kids ages 6-10.” Maybe you’re making a card game that would appeal to LARPers. Maybe you’re making a card game for pregnant mothers. Locate the crowd your solution benefits and go after them.

What problem is your product solving? Who is the “crowd” you’re really trying to win over? What is the best method of reaching them? What other games or product does this group support? Why?

Once you’ve got your idea and the target crowd in mind, it’s time to get down to development. Kickstarter allows people to launch a campaign for a product that hasn’t come to life yet, or serve as the marketplace for a product that is almost finished. Depending on the idea you’re attempting to bring to life, it is important to consider the initial expenses required for development.

In creating a card game, for example, there are a number of development expenses. If you’re a graphic artist, the opportunity cost of your time is something to keep in mind. If you’re not a graphic artist, you’ll need to figure out who to hire and how much to pay them. (My recommendation is to operate on a set price for the art design based on achieving 100% of crowdfunding goal. If it’s a blowout hit, you can always renegotiate later.) And after the card game has been designed, test decks need to be printed and shipped from the manufacturers.

What other costs does your project involve? Is there anyway to minimize (or table) those costs before starting the campaign?

The Campaign

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I hope you’re ready to do the work. Studies have shown the most successful crowdsourcing campaigns required (on average) 30 hours per week for the 4-6 weeks prior to the campaign, 30 hours a week during the campaign, and 30 hours a week through fulfillment. If that seems like a lot of time, it is, but it’ll make all the difference in the world.

Pay attention. Make sure you double- and triple-check everything on your campaign page. Research shows that a single spelling error on your campaign page can result in 13% less funding.

Timeframe. The length of your campaign is important. Research shows that donations are the highest during the first week and the last week. If your campaign is too short, people are going to miss out on the opportunity and it may hurt your chances of reaching your goal. If it’s too long, people will delay in backing you, which could result in people “forgetting” to back your project. I’ve had campaigns as short as 21 days and as long as 40 days.

How long should your campaign be? Are there any specific benefits to running a longer campaign? A shorter one?

The Goal. Don’t be greedy. Since Kickstarter is an “all-or-nothing” platform, you don’t want to exaggerate the cost of your project. In fact, you should work through the bare minimum costs associated with your project far in advance and set the lowest number as your goal. Take advantage of bulk-manufacturing and crunch the numbers.

What is the bare minimum cost you’ll need to produce your product? Don’t forget to include shipping costs! 

The Video. While there’s no denying the correlation between beautifully shot, high-definition videos and successful campaigns, you don’t need to have a professionally filmed video. Of course it helps, but the overarching reason for the video is for backers to get to know the people behind the campaign. Before backers are going to give you their money, they want to know you’re a “real person” and they want to see your emotion and commitment to the project. If you’re not pumped up, why should they be?

What kind of video is right for your campaign? Do you need to be in it or can you get the message across in a different, fun way? 

Overview. Give your backers an overview of what they’re getting. If you’re selling a card game, you want to share the general gameplay (even if you haven’t completely fleshed it out yet). Mixing the written word with infographics is a visually compelling way of pulling potential backers in and send them reading to the bottom!

DR INGREDIENT CARDS v.3

“Who We Are” Section. 2/3 of successful crowdsourcing campaigns are done with teams. It’s important to include a section about the team behind the campaign, again, to build credibility among the potential backers. This gives proper recognition to the people that contributed, but also gives the team ample reason to share the campaign with their own networks. “Check out this game I worked on!” A short paragraph and a picture of each team member goes a long way.

What information can you provide that will instill the backers with confidence in your team? 

Why Pledge? Section. Getting in at the bottom floor is one obvious benefit to backing your project, but that shouldn’t be everything. Tell your backers why backing this project right now is the first stepping stone to a much larger plan. “This is something new to be a part of” isn’t as good as, “This will be the first game in a family of card games, and we won’t be manufacturing this game with the same packaging and box design in the future. Back us today because this is it!”

What are the real benefits to contributing to your campaign early? Can you provide any intangible or “one-of-a-kind” benefits to your backers? Be creative!

Stretch Goals. Stretch goals are a great tool to incentivize backers. If you’re going to include “stretch goals,” I suggest you have both financial stretch goals (i.e. “If we reach $10,000, we’ll release a stretch expansion pack”) and crowd stretch goals (i.e. “If we reach 1,000 donors, we’ll release a stretch expansion pack”). Depending on your campaign goal, an overly successful campaign should result in “unlocking” at least one of these stretch goals.

What kind of stretch goals do we want to accomplish? Donors? Financial? Social media following? What kind of behaviors can you influence by utilizing stretch goals?

Risks and Challenges Section. Be honest and open about the process. Crowdsourcing gives backers the opportunity to contribute to something at the very beginning. Being honest and open about the risks and challenges your project faces not only opens up communication with your crowd but it also presents an opportunity for the crowd to contribute. If you foresee yourself encountering some issues along the way, publicize them, because one of your backers may be able to help!

What are the real risks and challenges you face? What is the worst case scenario? What happens if you are insanely successful, what possibly problems could you face then? What happens if you fail to reach your minimum goal? Is it the end of the road?

Campaign Updates

Crowdfunding is about including the crowd in the process. Accordingly, you need to be updating your crowd almost constantly throughout the course of the campaign. This means utilizing social media (you should have a Facebook Page, Facebook Group, and Twitter #hashtag for the campaign), as well as leveraging the built in updates to the campaign platform. The easiest way to do this is by reaching out to your crowd when you reach major milestones:

Time Updates

  • First 24 hours.last-day-v1
  • First Week.
  • Half Way Done.
  • One Week Left.
  • 48 Hours Left.
  • 24 Hours Left.
  • 1 Hour Left

Funding Updates

  • Quarter of the Way!
  • Halfway there!
  • 10% left!
  • Fully funded!
  • Stretch goal achieved!
  • Shipped out!

What information do my backers want to know throughout the campaign? What information is important to get across to potential backers? How many updates are too many updates? 

Content. Leveraging these updates is the best way to get input from your community. Throughout the campaign you should be sharing the evolution of the artwork, seek input from your community, and inspire them to seek out and share your campaign with their own communities. The more you give to your community, the more they’ll give you back. It’s also worth mentioning that these updates can automatically post to Facebook and Twitter, and “boosting” these posts is an easy way to generate interest.

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People also love sharing the rewards of their crowdfunding participation! Encourage your backers to share their rewards with their social networks then share, retweet, and repost!

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How can I maximize my crowd through updates? What content can we share to incite more enthusiasm for the project? 

Rewards

You can offer as many reward tiers as you want, but I’ve found that simpler is better. If you’re offering a card game, you don’t need to have t-shirts and apparel as donor levels. By keeping the donor levels simple, you won’t get bogged down in the fulfillment logistics after the campaign.

Calculate the Shipping! With Dinner’s Ready!, we wanted people to purchase more than one deck, so we offered to calculate the shipping costs later and bill each backer separately for their shipping. When we invoiced out the shipping, we only got 1/10 of our backers to reimburse us for the shipping (we event spent $27 shipping a game to the UK, which was more than they gave to the campaign in the first place!). Not surprisingly, this significantly ate into our margins. Calculate the shipping and make that in addition to the cost of the game.

How much is it going to cost us to get the product shipped from the manufacturer? How much is going to cost to send each product to the backers? What happens if packages are returned?

Low Goal (No Game). <$10 If you’re launching a project in this day and age, you should have a stand alone website for the product outside of the crowdfunding platform. Utilizing this webpage gives you the opportunity to reward your lowest tier of backers. A small donation deserves recognition, and having a “thank you” page on your website is a great opportunity to collect the low-hanging fruit.

How can I make a small donation a worthwhile investment? How can I inspire a small donor to give more money? 

Core Product (Basic Game). ~$15-$25 Your core product can be priced at anything you want, assuming you’ve calculated your minimum per unit cost and you’ve set the price accordingly. Something important to remember is that crowdsourcing backers expect they will be paying slightly more than consumers will in the future, because they were contributing to not just the game but the entire lifespan of the game moving forward.

At what price does my product feel like a steal? At what price does my product feel like a rip off?

Upgrade (Expansion Pack). ~$35 (including Basic Game) If you’re going to do an expansion pack, offer a backer-tier that includes the basic game. Chances are you’re going to manufacture the expansion set separately, which will allow you to have additional expansion sets available for purchase after the campaign for those that didn’t order it during the initial campaign.

Does my campaign facilitate an “expansion” of some kind? What kind of expansion would be best for my campaign? Should I get the input of my crowd to determine what the expansion is? How many people will buy the expansion versus the original?

Bundle (Pair of Games). ~$45. Don’t underestimate the power of “giving.” As much as people like getting in on the ground floor of a cool project, they love sharing their cool projects with other people. Bundles give the opportunity for backers to get one for them, and one for someone else.

Is this the kind of campaign where bulk buying is likely? Is there a need to create a larger bundle than 2? 

Marketing

According to research, the number one and two reasons why crowdsourcing campaigns fail is that (1) the target audience was not well understand, and (2) the marketing efforts were not adequate. The intention of the marketing is different for each stage of the project, and in order to have a truly successful campaign, you’ll need to capitalize on each stage individually.

Pre-campaign. The sole focus of your pre-campaign marketing efforts should be to get people “lined up” to buy your product at the moment you press the “Launch” button. This means you need to do press releases, reach out to public entities and accounts, all with the intention of getting that first burst of attention at the launch.

Have I made myself a member of this community already? How can I draw attention to my game without appearing to be a spammer? Is there a better way to reach this particular community?

Campaign. Your marketing during the campaign needs to be heavily weighted toward the beginning and the end of the campaign. If you get fully funded within 24 hours, Kickstarter will feature you and give you an extra marketing bump by featuring it on their website. Getting the Kickstarter “seal of approval” is an instant game changer when it comes to any campaign on their platform. If you get it, you’re almost guaranteed to succeed.

In the event you are not fully funded early on, your marketing should be focused on getting in front of your target audience, friends, and family. Finding where your “crowd” hangs out, what blogs they read, what other projects they’ve backed, etc., is the best to way to draw in more eyes to your project.

If it’s going to be a fist fight to the end of the campaign, the last of your campaign efforts needs to be focused on the last 72 hours of the campaign. You need to reinvigorate all those backers who said they’d be back, and really capitalize on the FOMO on your project. Looping back to the all the marketing venues you utilized along the way is a great way to get those last ditch efforts to convert in those final harrowing hours.

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Was my messaging clear? How many people actually saw our advertisement? What was the CPC? Where were the marketing efforts least successful? Was it worth the investment and time?

Post-campaign. Congratulations! Your campaign was fully funded, but that’s just the beginning of your journey. Now that you’ve got the money you were looking for, you need to start setting the stage for the next steps, which is continuing to stoke the public’s appetite for the game and letting them know where they can get it next. If you have a website, or an e-commerce site, for the game, this is where you’ll want to send the traffic next.

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Dinner’s Ready! is available from the Mystery Tin Games web store!

Have I laid proper groundwork to convert the “interested” parties into customers?

Fulfillment

Abraham Lincoln said, “If you give me four hours to cut down a cherry tree, I’ll spend the first three hours sharpening my axe.” Whether you’ve got 50 orders or 5000 orders, having systems in place is essential.

Reports. Kickstarter does a great job of helping you collect information from your backers, including their mailing addresses. Make sure you have all the survey questions figured out ahead of time, as they only let you message everybody once.

Do I have all the information I need to deliver? Have I clarified any questions with my backers?

Organization. Export the information into an excel sheet based on the donor levels, and work through each level preparing for fulfillment. We recommend starting with the highest donor levels and working your way toward the bottom.

Where will I be staging the inventory? Who will be responsible for organizing, packing, and labeling the orders? What steps am I taking to be ensure fulfillment is done efficiently?

img_1873Shipping. Depending on the number of backers you need to fulfill, you’re going to have quite a shipping operation on your hands. I would recommend picking up a scale and weighing out each variation or SKU you’re sending out. By having these numbers in advance, you won’t have to weigh each box individually, just change the destination and print the labels.

Stamps.com has an introductory offer where they’ll send you a digital scale and allow you to print your own shipping labels at home. If you’re in this thousands of backers, you can import the excel sheet containing all the addresses and print them all off. You’re also able to schedule a “package pick up” so you won’t have to haul hundreds of packages to the post office.

Who will be responsible for the boxing and shipping? How long will it take to ship everything out? Who should be the first to receive their packages? Is there an easier way to ship out the rewards?

Other Random Crowdfunding Tips

Here’s a few more tips for you to consider when running a crowdsourcing campaign,

Good luck out there!
CHE

Unlimited Bowling

A friend and I went bowling this past weekend at Grand Central Bowling in Portland. It’s a dark, neon-lit bowling alley with a sports bar attached to it. There’s a few arcade games on a balcony second floor, and the air hockey table has an impenetrable plastic shield in the middle. (It’s the details that really matter.)

IMG_4547The ambiance came at a price, of course. A big one. After all was said and paid for (including a little greasing to get on the lanes early), we paid $7.00 per game. Each. That’s $0.70 per strike or $0.35 per roll, depending on how good you are at throwing a round rock down an alley while wearing borrowed sneakers. What happened to the days of unlimited bowling?

A daytime party with little kids had just ended, so we inherited a lane with the bumpers already up. Maybe it comes that way? Whatever. When it was my first bowl, I aired off my good old bowling hand and picked up a 12-pound ball.

“I think I’m gonna work on my hook shot,” I announced proudly as I prepared for glory.

I continued with my approach and, thumb loose, I released the bowling ball, spinning the hell out of it. And just like it had eyes, with no sense of direction or well being, that ball clamored its way down the alley, slamming side to side off the bumpers until it guilt-tripped a handful of feeble pins to fall over at the end. It was nothing short of embarrassing.

“I guess I forgot how hard bowling can be…” We played through another frame of pity-bowling before we opted to take the bumpers down and face our failures head on.

Honestly, I’d probably gotten a little too used to the Wii version of bowling. But that’s not really bowling. It’s a motion that, for all intents and purposes, resembles a bowling approach but when applied to actual bowling, is a surefire way to injure yourself or throw a gutter ball. It was obvious that I was supremely out of practice, which again brought me back to the idea of unlimited bowling.

Seth Godin talks about the idea of unlimited bowling with Chase Jarvis on his “30 Days of Genius” interview series. Seth touches on the old pay-by-the-game bowling days when every attempt mattered to a point of excluding risk. Right down the center of the lane is safe, and boring. Unlimited bowling is taking risks without penalty. Becoming familiar with failure. Learning from your mistakes and trying again, not because the risks are the exact same the next time, but because we live in an unlimited bowling time.

“… do we have the guts to say, ‘you know, this might not work, but I’m going to persistently, and consistently, and generously, bring it forward.'” – Seth Godin

Time moves inexorably onward toward the day we die, which is why the circumstances in which we find ourselves are rarely that of unlimited bowling. There are actual consequences to trying something new and failing, because among other things, a continuing lack of results begins to build up. But if it is our true passion we are pursuing, there’s real no downside to throwing a gutter ball or two. Your passion brings out a heightened level of focus, attention, and analyzation that surpasses anything else in your life. If you fail, if you throw a gutter ball, you will think about every part of your approach and make that note to gently turn your wrist inward before releasing. You are truly invested in the outcomes of your passion, so you are eager learn from the mistakes. Nothing’s a total loss. It’s all just practice.

Teaching ourselves to embrace each opportunity, good or bad, as a learning opportunity, as unlimited bowling, is to give ourselves the best possible chance to succeed. Not because we’ll do it right the first time, but because we have the fortitude to persevere through what appears to be yet another failure. The promise of unlimited bowling is that there’s always next time, despite what happened last frame. We may not always have that luxury in the workplace, but if you adopt the growth mindset, your past results (whatever they may be) will one day fade in importance when compared to your work that lies ahead.

The most skilled bowlers will tell you nearly every minute detail about the time they rolled their first “perfect game.” The epic 300. But they won’t bend your ear telling you about the games they bowled under 50. Or the games under 25. Or yes, even the games where they didn’t knock down a single pin because they were focused on picking up a particular split or release. And just like the most successful entrepreneurs, gutter balls are part of the learning process, so you must pick yourself up and move fearlessly on to the next frame.

It is only when you are no longer afraid of failure, that everything becomes unlimited bowling.

CHE

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.

CHE

The Modern Artrepreneur, Episode 3

The following is the written transcript for my narrative on The Modern Artrepreneur – Episode 3: A Podcasting Record Label

Click the link above to go to the Network page or click here for iTunes.

Music has always been a major part of my life. I feel like nobody ever stood still, they were always dancing or singing. My parents introduced me to the vast world of music at an early age. The Beatles. The Eagles. Peter Tosh. The Grateful Dead. Bruce Springstein. My brothers opened my eyes to early Rap music. KRS One. NWA. Ice T and Grandmaster Flash, and later they brought me into the Punk Rock scene. Face to Face. Flogging Molly. Dashboard Confessional and Alkaline Trio.

While in high school, I learned how to make digital music in programs like Reason and Sonar. Between my Junior and Senior year, I hung out with some older kids, producing beats and meekly rapping over them under the nickname “Elvis Freshley.” I saved up money to buy a new laptop and a mixer. I built a recording studio in my bedroom out of drywall and plexiglass, and for my senior exhibition, our year long research project, I examined the music industry and started my own record label: Prolific Records, the basis for what would later  become KMD Music.

I earned my Bachelors of Art in Music at St. Lawrence University. More specifically, I really should have gotten a B.A. in Ethnomusicology or Music Production because I can’t play an actual instrument. I can do a little sight singing, but in order to graduate, I was required to participate in two performance bands: so I played the “conga” in the Rhythm & Roots band and smashed on a trash can with a toilet plunger in a “Stomp”esque ensemble. Maybe they were embarrassed for me?

In one my music production classes, I was the lead on a class project to record and present a radio show to play on the school radio network. We could do anything we wanted, as long as we demonstrated our newfound knowledge of the recording arts. I went searching and discovered an old radio-play from the 1930s about an expedition to find and capture Bigfoot. Our class would read the parts, do all the foley and supporting music, then air it on the campus radio station. I haven’t been able to locate the original file, but when I do, I’ll share it, because it was pretty fucking cool.

My first exposure to podcasts was in law school, only as a way of supplementing what I learned in class (I hate you UCC 2-207!). I didn’t really listen podcasts recreationally until the fall of 2011. I’d been writing screenplays at night and I was beginning the negotiations of a paid writing gig for the following spring. I mentioned this opportunity to a filmmaker friend in Los Angeles, to which he recommended I listen to the Scriptnotes podcast with John August and Craig Mazin,

“A podcast about screenwriting and things that interesting to screenwriters.”

My hunger for podcasts, as a new venue for learning and entertainment, began to rapidly expand.

In the last two years, I found myself in situations involving a TON of driving. Frequent trips up and down the 101 freeway to visit my long-distance girlfriend. A daily commute of nearly two and a half hours. I spent a lot of time in the car, so I erased all my music and loaded up on Podcasts.

The popular ones. This American Life. Nerdist. Serial. WTF. Some less popular ones. I slowly uncovered the elements of a successful podcast and found a slender fbunch of podcasts that I felt were produced in a fun, enjoyable way. They were delivering valuable content in a palettable, entertaining way. It was a new breed of on demand storytelling and I want in.

I wanted to do a podcast, but I didn’t think I had anything important enough to say. Part of me thinks I still don’t, but that may not be just my problem. First, I just wanted to produce a podcast for somebody else. I wanted to apply my knowledge of music production to podcasting. So I researched starting my own podcast, how? By listening to podcasts, of course. That’s when I came across Dan Benjamin and the 5×5 network, who framed the idea of a podcast network like a record label.

A podcast network could be run like a record label. I completely understand. This network, the Mystery Tin Podcast Network, was my modernization of KMD Music. But now I’m 10 years older, knowing what I know now, and having experienced what I’ve experienced. I could apply all of these skills to producing podcasts, helping my friends who were on the precipice of choosing to incorporate podcasting into their image or not. I would be “the unseen partner,” handling everything except generating the content. I knew that meant I’d be doing a lot of work, but I had no idea what that really meant.

“You handle the content, I’ll do everything else.” I’d say to my friends, almost begging for the opportunity.

A wonderful silver lining to a life spent hopping and skipping from place to place and profession to profession, is the wide variety of friendships you build along the way. I am proud of my eclectic group of my friends. I also believe that everybody, every single person, has a unique story to tell and a message to share with others. I wanted to help people spread their message… through podcasting.

So I started asking around, seeing if anybody was interested in podcasting.

Ben Mehl and I agreed to start MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl), a podcast discussing the role of motivation, accountability, and desire in achieving your goals. It would be the first show on the podcast network, the trial run before an onslaught of new shows. Ben’s was the first.

The first month was difficult, to say the least. I stayed up all night the Sunday before we launched the first episode. I had to make sure that everything was perfect. The artwork had the be right size. The episode had to be mixed and have the metadata added. I was working through WordPress, which is only structured to host one podcast at a time, so I had to figure out a backdoor approach to distribution. I had to make sure the RSS stream was properly maintained so it could be listed in the iTunes Podcast database. I need links for the show notes.

The first episode of MAD Potential posted on Monday, June 1, 2015. And every Monday after that, we posted an interview or long form discussion that helped Ben spread his message.

For a short time, I became obsessed. I was glued to Feedburner, frantically refreshing our page to see the downloads, clicks and subscribers to our podcast. Everyday I’d watch the fluctuations, and make judgment calls based on how I thought we could keep those numbers climbing.

Then, I saw our podcast, MAD Potential on the “Self-Help” charts. That changed everything for me.

the-modern-artrepreneur

Listen to the full episode, complete with audio interviews from Ben Mehl and Matthew Rachamkin, here.

End of one Podcast, Beginning of Another

MAD Potential
MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl)

We just finished up the first season of the MAD Potential Podcast (with Ben Mehl). It was our first run at the whole podcasting thing, and although I can’t speak for Ben (but I’m sure he’d agree with me) I learned a ton. In the last episode, he gave out some advice on starting your own podcast. I figured I should do the same, except from the production side of things.

It was surprising how quickly our podcast took off. We didn’t have epic download numbers, we barely topped 400 downloads in the first month, but the outpouring of support from the community, mostly in the form of positive ratings and reviews, skyrocketed the podcast up the Self-Help charts on iTunes. The first time I saw MAD Potential on the charts, I was ecstatic! I took a screenshot, partly because I couldn’t believe and partly because I thought nobody would ever believe that we broke the top 20 Self-Help podcasts. It became like a drug, this little burst of endorphins and adrenaline every time I saw it move up the charts. Breaking the Top 15? Screenshot. We broke the Top 10? Screenshot! At one point, MAD Potential was the #4 Self-Help podcast on all of iTunes! Motherfucking SCREENSHOT! Our success was flattering, and I knew it was because of the hard work, dedication and endless promoting we were doing. All this effort was amounting to something after all!

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We reached #4 on the Self-Help charts!

I wasn’t the one in front of the microphone, not for MAD Potential at least, but that didn’t mean I was chilling out and reading the “potential interview” e-mails that started streaming in. Ben and I worked out a system to get the show out every week (he also touches on this in the last episode, but I figured I could go into it a little bit more on my side of things).

Our interviews came out on Monday mornings, “MAD Potential Mondays” we wanted to dub it. This meant that we needed to have the podcast ready for people to listen to on the East Coast on their way to work. Over the weekend, Ben would send me the recording of the interview and I would spend Sunday evening (commonly into early Monday morning) editing the podcast together. I’d download the audio, add the intro and outro track, as well as go in and make any fine tuning edits that needed to be made. In addition to the sound editing, I needed to insert chapters and album art, post the episode to The Mystery Tin Podcast Network page, and provide all the necessary data, meaning episode notes, links, photographs, and anything else Ben casually mentioned in the interview. By the end this was a smooth process, but in the very beginning, this occasionally meant all nighters. It’s all good though!
We ran into a few issues with recording along the way. Interviewing people face-to-face is easy enough, just point the microphone and make sure that you are both “somewhat” audible. Doing remote interviews is a little harder. You have to set up the “double ender,” making sure both sides are recording their own audio tracks so the sound isn’t too muddy. Unfortunately, we ran into this issue more than once, and although it isn’t a total tragedy, it wasn’t our best performance. This offseason, we’ll be working on streamlining and perfecting that process, vastly opening the pool of potential interviewees. There are a number of other podcasters knocking at our door, and soon enough, we’ll let them in.

The MTPN
The Mystery Tin Podcast Network

In July, we added the “short form” content to MAD Potential. Since most of the interviews were between 45-60 minutes, that required a significant amount of time for people to invest into a podcast. We decided to try short, motivational pieces, less than 8 minutes in length, posted on Thursday mornings, to help people power through the end of their work week. I wanted these episodes to be more structured than the interviews, so I asked Ben to write himself out a kind of “script” to help keep his message focused and succinct. This meant adding an extra step of editing his script before he recorded it, and meant that Wednesday nights also required burning a little midnight oil. It turns out, it was exactly what we needed to build a bigger audience. Not only do these provide quick listening opportunities, these episodes were often the stepping stone to drawing in new listeners for the full hour interviews. Of the top 5 downloaded episodes, four of them are the short forms!

We’re taking two months off so that we can prepare for Season 2 of the MAD Potential Podcast (you can still follow Ben’s Blog and we may still post an occasional short form). We’re going to be working out the obvious kinks, building a backlog of interviews (so that I’m not spending Sunday nights editing) and hopefully lining up a sponsor or two. Also, if I had my “druthers,” we’d recruit a sound designer (maybe a college kid?) to edit the episodes for us. There were too many times when I was just editing by the seat of my pants, and I’d rather be helping Ben spread the word and pick up sponsors. We’ll see how those play out in November.

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The Modern Artrepreneur

This morning was the launch of my podcast, The Modern Artrepreneur. The format is significantly different from that of MAD Potential. There are still interviews, but this one takes on much more of a documentary style approach to my art and business endeavors. I’ll be interviewing people, but also giving an honest look into my process, the projects I’m working on now, and what it looks (or sounds?) like to be a strugglig “artrepreneur” in the 21st century. The format has already presented issues and problems, mostly in the form of editing, but ultimately, I think it will provide a unique, insightful experience, and I can’t wait to share it with you! You can find a direct link to the first episode here.

So catch up on old episodes of MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl) and be sure to subscribe to The Modern Artrepreneur on The Mystery Tin Podcast Network.

CHE

Launching “The Modern Artrepreneur” Podcast

Here we go, listeners!

the-modern-artrepreneurLast night, just after midnight, I launched my own podcast, The Modern Artrepreneur. As “easy” as it has been to produce Ben’s podcast, MAD Potential, it is completely different being on the other side of the microphone. As this was my first personal venture into podcasting, there was quite a bit on my mind before I hit the POST button. Are people even going to listen?

I had a surprising amount of anxiety about the whole podcast thing, mostly because of my voice. Back in high school, I broke my nose playing lacrosse. This, in addition to having an already deviated septum, resulted in my admittedly nasally-sounding voice. I could have gotten my nose fixed (and maybe I will one day) but I didn’t so for now, I’m stuck sounding like there’s a wooden clothes pin on my nose (it’s really not that bad, I promise. I’m just self-conscious.). I can’t tell you how many takes I deleted before I got to the one that didn’t make my skin crawl… and truth be told, it still kinda does. I sound so flat and unenthusiastic, which is totally not true! (Also, contrary to what the cut may sound like, I recorded my audio in complete silence. There is no attempt to “rap” my narrative over the music.)

One thing I never considered was how difficult it is to actually say “Modern Artrepreneur” without sounding like you’ve got a mouth full of marbles. Good thing it’s the name of my show!

The structure of this podcast is going to be a little different then the MAD Potential podcast. The Modern Artrepreneur podcast will be a serious look at my creative and business process, accented with interviews and discussions with friends and professionals. For the first episode (not just the teaser) I interviewed my best friend (and former business partner) Ward Sorrick and my mother, amazing mosaic artist Merilee Eaton. I’ve got over 2.5 hours of audio from those two interviews alone, but I only chose a few golden minutes from each to include in the teaser. You’ll hear more from these interviews coming up this season, but the moments of honest humanity in these clips were too good to hold onto for later. I can’t wait to hear what other juicy nuggets I unearth through more interviews.

I’ve already written out the narratives for the first few episodes; they are six pages each, but after that, the creative process hasn’t really happened yet. Some discussions will be easier than others, such as the card game discussion, because the game continues to be developed on a daily basis. But other topics, like discussing the e-book, may be a little more difficult to go into, which is why this podcast will be an experiment in storytelling and podcasting. One of the things you can look forward to this season will be “readings” of my various writings during the writing episodes, introduction of new card games during the card game episodes, and recommendations on other podcasts during the podcasting episodes. I’m looking to provide a more enriched listening experience than just me, in front of my computer microphone, going on about my struggling art. That sounds terrible!

The most important thing I’ve learned from podcasting thus far is “build a community, not just an audience.” I check Ben’s statistics everyday, and I’m sure I’ll now be checking my own numbers on the daily, too. Subscribers may sound like an important number, but I’ve learned a majority of those are actually “bots,” scanning the topics and charts, subscribing to podcasts. A few days later, they fall off. We could have a swing of 60+ subscribers overnight, only to have them fall off bunch by bunch over the next few days, only resulting in a few real listeners. The critical number to focus on is downloads. These establish that the content has been delivered to someone’s device, ready to be played. It’s the individual episode downloads that get me excited!

I launched the podcast teaser first, a few days before the first episode is set to launch. I did this because I need the lead time for iTunes to approve the podcast and start listing it in the podcast marketplace. I am going up against some really spectacular podcasts in the Business > Careers category, but I’m also listed in Arts, and a few other general categories. With over 250,000 podcasts vying for the top of the charts, I’m not holding my breathe for a top spot… not yet. But if you’re new to podcasts, or looking for another podcast until Serial comes back, consider listening to The Modern Artrepreneur on the Mystery Tin Podcast Network.

I think you’ll dig it.

CHE