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Make Cool Stuff: Jedi Masters of Crowdfunding

This cantina that is the Nerdist community is packed to the stone walls with creative types—makers, crafters, programmers—and while it’s fun to make cool stuff for ourselves and our friends, there may come a time when we want to take our work to a larger star system.

But perhaps we can’t find funding within your industry’s standard model. Either the project is too niche or requires relinquishing creative control. What to do?

There’s always crowdfunding, right?

February was a blockbuster month for crowd-sourced fundraising, and it’s all thanks to nerds like us.  The sleek Elevation Dock, a third-party iPhone docking station, became the first project in Kickstarter history to break the $1 million mark. On the same day, Double Fine Adventure launched its campaign to create a new adventure video game. It hit the $400,000 goal in eight short hours, and as of today the tally sits at well over $2 million dollars with a week to go.

Choosing to rebel against your industry’s standard funding model isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. When made, the decision can be incredibly liberating, especially when you’ve got a nerdy project that doesn’t fit your industry’s norm.

But cruise through the listings on any crowdfunding site and you’re liable to find the sheer volume of projects overwhelming. Some of them, frankly, suck. How can you improve the odds that your project will capture a viewer’s imagination (and wallet)?

We can learn valuable lessons from these Jedi Masters of crowdfunding. In addition to the Elevation Dock and the Double Fine Adventure campaigns, we’ll take a look at I Have a Bad Feeling About This, the feature film trailer at the beginning of this post, as this smaller campaign — our padawan — may be more representative in scale to one you may wish to launch.

Three Lessons from Jedi Masters of Crowdfunding
1. Choose your weapons wisely

Blasters or light sabers? Perhaps your campaign is best served by hitting the largest audience possible — if so, choose a blaster like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, as our example campaigns did.

Research is critical. Maybe you need a light saber instead, a platform specifically tailored to your industry, such as these platforms for indie authors. No photography projects or iPhone docks, just books. While fewer eyeballs may visit the site, you reap the rewards of a better-educated patron and a system that really understands your product.

In the case of our two Jedi campaigns, Kickstarter was clearly right for them. Geographic restrictions led the folks from Bad Feeling Film to choose IndieGoGo (you must be a US resident to start a Kickstarter campaign).

2. Use The Force: Your Storytelling Ability
While each of these campaigns offers a different product — an iPhone dock, an adventure game, a feature film — you’ll notice a common thread running through each of them.

Their campaigns tell a powerful story. The Elevation Dock tells its story primarily through photographs of sexy brushed aluminum and concealed USB cables. It walks us through a day’s interaction with the product, showing us what the dock would look like next to our beds and on our desks, the ease with which it undocks, how to swap for a shorter cord. We can see ourselves using the product and we want it.

Double Fine Adventure pulls us into its story with video. Tim Schafer is our geeky guide to the game, using humor and audience-centric jokes to make his pitch. He gives us a preview of the behind-the-scenes access we’ll get if we contribute to the cause. He makes exclusive insider access look irresistibly fun.

Alan and Jamie from I Have a Bad Feeling About This use both video and words to draw us in. In addition to their trailer, they tell the story of their inspiration (our very own Nerdist Podcast #54 with Kevin Smith). They put a personal spin on a story many fans of nerdy movies are likely to know — any one of us could be in their shoes.

Each of these campaigns uses a different medium, but it is as if Obi-Wan has waved his hand and said, “This is the campaign you’re looking for.” I want more.  I want to be an insider, and for that I need to contribute.

If you’re struggling to distill your story, I highly recommend this TEDx Talk from Simon Sinek. Settle in someplace quiet, watch the video, and take an hour to work through your motivations from Why to How to What.

3. Demonstrate your worth.
Telling a great story is important, but how do we know you’re not just another fast-talking smuggler in the cantina, trying to swindle us out of some money?

Take a moment to watch the trailer at the top of this post. I’ll wait.

First question: Are you done squealing yet? (I’m not.) Next question: Can you tell it was made for less than $500 by a pair of 23-year-olds? I sure can’t.

The project is thoroughly fleshed out. Alan and Jamie don’t just talk a good story, they scraped together enough resources to demonstrate their facility with comedic timing, special effects, and building tension — everything I require from a nerdy movie.

Double Fine demonstrates its worth via a resume of sorts, running through the company’s past accomplishments. Chances are, if we’re in their target audience, we’re familiar with one of these other games.

For Elevation Dock, the photographic storytelling doubles as our proof. For makers of a product, this may be easy, but if you’ve only got a prototype, make sure you are specific in how your project will come to life and your experience with the materials.

Prove to us that you’re not just another smuggler, but in fact one of the most daring pilots in the galaxy.

Do you have experience with crowdfunding a project? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.


Mindy loves to make cool stuff and loves seeing the cool stuff other people have made. Send her a link to your fabulous projects on Twitter @HolaMindy or check out her blog.

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  1. GetViable says:

    Hi – great tips. We’ll be sending our clients that are starting up here for a quick guide on how to approach crowdfunding.

    Prove your Concept – From Idea to launch in 8 weeks with no tech co founder.

  2. CXRengel says:

    The RIOT comedy festival was successfully funded as well.

  3. Fred says:

    I’m thinking about crowdfunding The Nerdist Video Game if I can acquire all the appropriate permissions… *hint hint, nudge nudge*