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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

July 14, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Crowdfunding your idea is easier than you think

A day might come when crowdfunding your cool idea is so easy, someone will ask you why you’re not doing it.

Crowdfunding — raising money online from friends and even strangers for projects big and small — is big and getting bigger. When I ask a friend where she got that gorgeous handbag, this clever accessory or that hilarious board game, more and more the answer isn’t this store or that store, but the biggest crowdfunding site in America — Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is helping rewire the path from idea to execution and strengthening what is already a rich, entrepreneurial culture, especially among the young. It’s helped raise $235 million for 26,000 successfully funded projects nationwide in its three years, including 600 projects out of Seattle.

Blogs, social networking, now this. If the social Web is expanding our sense of what we can and should share, crowdfunding is expanding our sense of what we can and should do. It’s giving life not just to ideas, but to everyone’s sense of what’s possible when you put yourself out there and ask.

Here’s the best part: Crowdfunded projects that make headlines can raise hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. But you don’t need a big name or a big following to make crowdfunding work for you. Just a tangible goal, a solid pitch, a practical plan and a little bit of courage.

Lillian Cohen-Moore is thrilled she took the leap.

“I didn’t expect this to be my breakout moment, but it is, and I’m really freaked out by that,” said the 28-year-old Seattle writer. More than 130 backers — including friends, strangers and (win!) a New York Times best-selling author — have pledged to fund her first project, a book called “Village by the Sea” that friends have encouraged her to write for years.

She doesn’t need a lot to make it happen — just $4,000. Her backers, who under Kickstarter’s model won’t be charged until the project reaches its funding goal, have already pledged $3,000. About 59 percent of the site’s projects don’t make it, but with 12 days left in the campaign and strong momentum sparked among friends of friends on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, her odds look pretty good.

“I’m really low key, very quiet, and I guess I didn’t realize how many people I know,” she said.

Got an idea? Crowdfund it

  • Pick a tangible project you’d love to do.
  • Pick a host site, like Kickstarter or IndieGogo.
  • Study successful projects similar to your own.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations.
  • Make a compelling pitch (with video!).
  • Plan your launch and promotion.
  • Stay confident.
  • Asking the world to invest in your passion is scary. So it helped — a lot — that Cohen-Moore knew about a dozen people in Seattle, including her boyfriend, who turned to Kickstarter to fund their projects.

    Still, you can come in completely cold — as long as you do your homework.

    That’s what 26-year-old Tyler Ray did when he launched a campaign to fund prints of photos from a recent trip to Myanmar, also known as Burma, for an Aug. 8 gallery show at Retail Therapy. He didn’t know anyone else who had used the site but wanted to give it a shot. So he crunched the numbers — just $1,000 would do — Googled best practices on how to explain his project, set up incentives at different pledge levels (backers would receive their own copies of his prints) and emailed his friends with a link to his page.

    His project didn’t reach many strangers — only $100 of the total came from them — but it didn’t have to. Friends and family took care of it, and fast. He reached his funding goal a week ahead of his deadline this month.

    Both Cohen-Moore and Ray could have asked for more money. Cohen-Moore’s $4,000, if she raises it, won’t leave her much after she pays her team, and Ray could have asked for enough to pay for higher quality prints.

    But though it’s good to dream big, it pays to be realistic. Cohen-Moore knew her book was a niche product, and Ray knew his supporters would be backing him more than they’d be buying his MyanmarBurma prints.

    “You’ve got to know your audience and be able to balance what you need vs. what you can get,” Ray said.

    The most successful Kickstarters hold no grand illusions about how far their projects can go, no matter their size, and plan their budgets, promotions, backer incentives and expectations accordingly.

    Which just goes to show — along with teaching us how to express ourselves, the social Web is showing us how to market.

    Seattle-based technology journalist Glenn Fleishman, who writes for The Economist and Macworld, as well as The Seattle Times, is putting his Web-bred marketing knowledge to the test by crowdfunding a book on, well, crowdfunding. With 25 days left in his Kickstarter campaign, about 80 backers have raised $3,000 of his $35,000 goal.

    To him, part of the beauty of sites like Kickstarter is that projects succeed equally well at any scale. Big-money projects get the glory, but even $1,000 projects get the cash.

    “You don’t need a million people to market a success,” he said.

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