They call her the crowdsourceress. Vann Alexandra Daly is a New York-based crowd funding consultant who was responsible for marketing the record-making $6 million Kickstarter campaign for Neil Young’s Pono Player, a music player for audiophiles interested in lossless, CD-quality digital music which became the fourth most funded Kickstarter of all time. More recently, Daly has been consulting on the Kickstarter campaign to reprint Massimi Vignelli’s design Bible for the NYC subway, a campaign which has raised almost $750,000 (against a $100,000 goal) so far.
The success of these campaigns is not surprising, Daly says. People on crowdfunding sites are pledging money to Kickstarter campaigns like never before. In 2012, just over 2 million backers pledged a little over $320 million to Kickstarter projects. In 2013, 3 million people contributed $480 million total to various campaigns. (Even so, 60% of all Kickstarters never get funded, and the money pledged is returned to backers.) We asked Daly to give us her best tips and tricks for designers wanting to fund a Kickstarter campaign. Here’s what she told us.
In the earliest days of crowdsourcing, any cool-sounding idea that got enough people talking had a good chance of getting funded. But in 2014, funders are more discriminating, not to mention sophisticated. That gives designers an edge over other people trying to get their projects funded. “It’s incredibly important for a Kickstarter project to have a designer’s eye on it,” Daly says. “A project needs to look good to get any traction whatsoever.”
In the case of the Standards Manual, Daly says that was doubly true. Not only was the original Standards Manual created by legendary designer Massimo Vignelli, but the project to republish it was created and overseen by Pentagram designers Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed.
Launching a Kickstarter is like making a movie: everything depends on pre-production. “I’d say pre-production is the most important part of launching a successful crowdsourcing campaign,” Daly says. “If your project doesn’t explode as soon as it goes live, it’s probably going to just limp to the finish, or die trying.” That means building up buzz before your project is even live.
In the case of the Standards Manual, Daly says that the team worked to generate buzz for the project by creating a Twitter account in which a page from the manual was tweeted every single day. Based upon that Twitter account, a number of publications (including Fast Company) wrote about the Standards Manual; within three weeks, with no promotion, it had over 800 followers. By the time the Standards Manual Kickstarter was ready to go live, Daly and her team had not only proved there was interest in the project, but had lined up the reporters who covered the Twitter account to cover the Kickstarter when it went live.
“If you want to succeed, you have to prepare your materials, prepare your marketing, prepare your press, have it all lined up on the first day,” she says. Your design may be good, but that doesn’t matter if no one knows where to find it.
So your campaign got funded. Great! But now get ready for the real work to start, because the successful crowdsourcing creator needs to be a full-time fireman. It’s very easy for people who have pledged money to your campaign to become unhappy, and for things to spiral out of control. For example, when Radiate Athletics was unable to deliver orders for its color-changing shirts to backers on time due to the unexpected immensity of the Kickstarter’s success, people revolted.
“You need to keep in mind that the people who donate to a Kickstarter campaign aren’t actually investors,” Daly says. “They don’t own a part of your product. They just believe in your idea, and if you take their money and don’t follow through, things can get ugly quickly.” Ignore a question a pledger asks in the comments, and it can quickly snowball into a Twitter-fueled PR crisis, especially if you’re dealing with an influential backer who doesn’t think he or she is being paid attention to.
The trick is to constantly gauge community feedback, and do your best to respond to it earnestly and in a timely manner. “Sometimes you’ll be forced to disappoint your backers, but they need to know you’re at least listening to them,” Daly says.
A successful Kickstarter has a number of elements that appeal to many different groups. A Kickstarter for a typographically sophisticated Bible, for example, was popular even outside of typography, design, and even religious circles. Everyone from the Huffington Post to the Verge posted about it, and why? Because the Bible is universal: even if you hate it, you’re still at least interested in it. And the Standards Manual appeared to a perfect storm of different interest groups: it was a mysterious lost design bible about the ’70s New York Subway system rediscovered at the bottom of a gym locker in the basement of one of the most famous design firms on Earth, authored by a legend who had recently died. Even if you don’t care about subway design, that’s enough to pique almost anyone’s interest.
Some Kickstarters, Daly admits, are going to be more niche than others. Neil Young’s Pono Music Player, for example, was a high-end MP3 player for audiophiles who really cared about lossless, CD-quality digital music. That’s a pretty small niche of potential buyers, but at the end of the Pono campaign, more than 18,000 people had contributed $6 million to making the Pono Player a reality. “We got pretty much every single person who cared about audiophile-quality digital music to donate to that campaign,” Daly says. And even though the Pono Player itself wasn’t a universal product, Daly managed to get other groups of customers interested by offering limited edition versions of the Pono Player that were signed by bands like Z.Z. Top and Kings of Leon. Even a niche product can have broad appeal, if it’s marketed right.