I FAILED at crowdfunding, but you can succeed.

My Kickstarter campaign was a total flop.  It’s not hard to see why, now…

So at the end of April of this year I was pumped up.  I had my great idea for how to create a digital business card.  I had it in my back pocket for four years and this year was the year I was going to finally move.  Nobody had anything like it on the market, yet.  The problem with many startups and ideas is that we had no money to make it work.  That’s why we turned to Kickstarter.


 

This was going to be the year of MergeCon.…or so we thought.  All we needed was $30,000 to finish development, polish up the final product, and put in the necessary infrastructure.

MergeCon. The Dynamic Digital Business Card....that will never be.
MergeCon. The Dynamic Digital Business Card….that will never be.

For those living under a rock, Kickstarter is a way to share your great idea with the general public and they give you in money in exchange for a discounted preorder of your product, a prize, or because people just believe in you.  This is also known more generically as crowdfunding.  Many people do very well and make millions of dollars, but the majority of people fail.

Overall I think I did some things right, but I didn’t do enough.  Overall the campaign sucked.  My largest donor was my parents.  My parents.  

We raised $944 out of our $30,000 goal.

Here’s what I feel I did somewhat right:

Video quality must be top notch

I called in a favor to a friend with a film school background.  We had movie quality film cameras. I had access to a 7500 seat stadium to film my video.  I had a professional animator put together storyboards.  I hired a professional voiceover artist (shoutout to )  I can’t blame video resources for my failure.

Look at that stud. Just kidding...it's me.
Look at that stud. Just kidding…it’s me.

Not saying you’ll be able to pull this off, but your iPhone 6+ has a great camera.  You could easily put together a great video on your iPhone with iMove.  Pick your venue carefully and make sure people know what your product is in the first 10-15 seconds tops.  Viewers have short attention spans and don’t want to spend half the video figuring out what the heck you’re trying to sell them.  That’s bad for business.

Build up that social media following, but watch your advertising budget.

Twitter, FaceBook, Pinterest, etc are your friends.  At the peak we had over 3500 followers built up in a few weeks with basically nothing to show them.  Granted, about 1200 of them were fake bots and were deleted as the Twitter police caught on, so that didn’t help our case.

FYI – Twitter and Facebook ads are expensive.  You can easily spend hundreds of dollars on advertising for about 100 clicks.  Honestly, I don’t think that was really worth it.


 As you can see, not much went right for me, but this is a lessons learned, so lets get on with it….

Here are the five major items that seem like common sense, but are very easily to overlook:

Hype Hype Hype.  In our case…not so much.

In a 30 day campaign you can’t go from being a nobody to a household name during the campaign time.  You have to build up the hype beforehand.  We didn’t do this. I thought I was some kind of Steve Jobs protege hiding my secret project that I worked on for a long time and I was going to make my grand entrance onto the stage to unveil it and everyone will be excited and throw bags of money at me by the thousands of dollars.

Guess what…that didn’t happen.  Not anywhere close.

Rome wasn’t built overnight and neither will your startup.  That’s why you have to get your name out there early.  Go solicit yourself on Facebook, on Twitter.  Find people who Facebook and Tweet about why your product will make a difference in their life.  Get people excited!

If you wait to start the hype train in the days leading up to your campaign, it won’t get very far.  You don’t and should not divulge your deepest product secrets, but people at least need to know what to expect.  Otherwise they won’t care and they’ll move right on.  GET STARTED EARLY WITH THE HYPE.  Even if you don’t have a lot to share initially, do it.  Movie trailers get released before movies are finished and sometimes even filmed.

My product wasn’t ready to Kickstart

Our product was not ready to Kickstart.  We tried the smoke and mirrors approach using animations.  It didn’t work.  Honestly, we got greedy and started going after money probably 6-9 months too early.  We feared that if someone beat us to market, we’d have no shot.

If you can’t sell your product in the first 10-15 seconds of your pitch, forget about it….it’s not going to sell.

Ultimately in the end someone with an existing follower base of over a million customers did beat us to market anyway.  We were likely to fail, but by doing thing’s slightly different, at least we would have went down with a fight.

Give people a reason for wanting to give you their hard earned money

Our prizes just weren’t any good.  When you’re trying to build a cloud based social network on no budget, it’s tough.  Server space isn’t cheap.  We had to be greedy and overcharge for our not ready for prime time product to raise funds.

We sold Twitter “shout outs” (yawn),  t-shirts (how original!), and offered a grand prize to come party with me when we launched.  Yep.  not too impressive….

We even tried to pull in the charity angle midway through and donate some of our contributions to a replant the forests charity.  Sorry we weren’t able to come through!

Be innovative with your gifts. If you aren’t giving people a discount for buying early, why should they give you money now?  If you don’t have a prize such that makes you say “Oh Wow. I have have that.” your job becomes that much harder.

An example of this is the Bill Nye Documentary Kickstarter, which was a huge success.  They had a great campaign and hit their goal with several days to go.  Not only do I love Bill Nye and he was a huge influence on my love of science and technology, but the “SCIENCE” t-shirt pushed me over the edge.  Yes, a t-shirt, but a really freaking cool t-shirt:

Yeah, I'm a nerd. Whatever.
Yeah, I’m a nerd. Whatever.

Software is a tough sell in Crowdfunding

There’s a reason software based projects fail a vast majority of the time on Kickstarter.  The common thread of successful Kickstarter projects are either you have a great idea for a movie or a tangible product that someone can hold.  People don’t want to invest in software most of the time.  Short of coming up with something totally mind-blowing (which my product was not).

Just because you and your team really believe in it, doesn’t mean your customer base will.

We could have avoided a lot of pain and heartache by not being JJ Abrams/Apple level secretive about what we were working on.  My team obviously knew, parents knew, maybe one or two friends knew.  Frankly, nobody cares about you as a nobody so keeping a total secret is only just hurting  you (see the “Hype Hype Hype” section above).


 

So What’s Next for MergeCon?

Glad you asked.  I know you didn’t really ask, but I’ll tell you anyway.

We’ve officially ceased operations of MergeCon, but I absolutely love the name so I am keeping it my back pocket for future use.  I’ve learned so much working on the project that it was just too much to let it go.

So as a result, I’ve rebranded as MergeCon Holdings, which will act as the parent company for my future products that I work on.

I have many ideas in the back of my head, but I need to do proper market research.  Between that and the lessons I’ve learned so far, I hope to come back stronger with products people want to buy and fight to get (not literally).

My Future….Hopefully.

I hope you found this insightful and a little entertaining at the least.  I’ll continue to write blog posts and share them on both the MergeCon (@MergeCon) Twitter account.  If you’re interested in seeing the more personal side of me, check me out @Fluckapalooza.  Sorry if you don’t like the Chicago Cubs, Blackhawks, or Manchester United.

Talk again soon.

Best,

D.J.

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