Back in the 1980s, Kristan J. Wheaton, a professor at Mercyhurst University, ran his own company designing games and later created simulations for the military. Once he got to Mercyhurst, he wanted to start designing and publishing his own games, including games that teach various intelligence concepts.
To fund his projects, he turned to Kickstarter, but he noticed not all crowdfunding creators knew what they were doing.
"I had been actively backing projects on Kickstarter for some time so I decided to get the funding for my first two games through that platform," He said. "Both Widget and Cthulhu vs. the Vikings were successful."
As a researcher, Wheaton was intrigued to see how his city of Erie, Pennsylvania, was using crowdfunding. But he found that the people of Erie were not using it very well, and were much less likely to be successful than average. He looked at all of the campaigns from Erie and realized that they weren't bad ideas – they were just poorly executed.
"The creators had made what I call 'beginner's mistakes,' such as videos that were grainy or too long, poorly thought out reward tiers, a build-it-and-they-will-come attitude, etc.," Wheaton noted.
Wheaton came to the realization that many of his students had the skills to help crowdfunding campaign creators who lacked those skills. With grants from Mercyhurst University and the state economic development agency, Wheaton ran some proof of concept campaigns.
The Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority took notice and provided Wheaton a large grant to run a program called Quickstarter, which supports entrepreneurs in northwest Pennsylvania. Over the last three years, the project has worked with more than 160 entrepreneurs and run nearly 30 successful campaigns on a variety of platforms. This success and the quality of the services provided to creators led Kickstarter to name Quickstarter an "Expert" organization, one of only 30 worldwide.
Along the way, Wheaton came up with what he calls the "five Fs of crowdfunding," a guide for how to get results from crowdfunding. Here's his advice for entrepreneurs looking to launch a campaign.
1. Find Your Crowd
Crowdfunding does not work without a crowd. You need to know who is interested in your product and start collecting them in a virtual room (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) Your crowd should also include as many influencers that you can get such as bloggers, journalists, celebrities – anyone with a highly engaged following. Your pre-launch marketing campaign is the single most important factor in your success. If you don't have a crowd, don't launch.
2. Fascinate Your Audience
It takes time to get your crowd together. If you don't keep your initial crew interested in what you are doing, they will drift away. There are a lot of ways to do this, but all of them involve having a conversation.
These people are not just watching you; they are coming along for the ride. Show them prototypes, solicit their feedback and get them involved in the process. If you do this right, your product will be more customer-focused, and you will have a large, engaged audience when you launch.
3. Familiarize Your Crowd with the Platform You Are Using
Crowdfunding has been around for some time now, but many people know little to nothing about it. As you get close to the launch date, it is imperative to start talking about the platform you are using (Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, etc.). People will want to know where they will have to go, what they will have to do and if it is safe. A little education and some reassurances go a long way.
When it comes time to run the actual campaign, frontload all your efforts. Start early in the morning and fire all your marketing guns on the first day. Crowdfunding campaigns are like Hollywood blockbusters: The only thing that matters with a movie is opening weekend, and the only time that matters with a crowdfunding campaign is the first 24 to 72 hours. No matter the length of your campaign (and shorter is generally better), act as if you have only one day to fund and you will usually be better off. While your first couple of days are the most important, campaigns are also endurance events. Be prepared to take a short break after the first flurry of activity is over and then get back to it.
5. Fulfill Your Promises
When your successful campaign ends, you now have all those orders to fill. Fulfillment can be an extremely trying time for creators. Managing stretch goals and add-ons, finishing prototypes, dealing with shipping and all the other startup headaches often overwhelms first-time creators. Work hard to meet all your stated timelines but, if you can't, keep your backers informed. Most creators find that their backers are their best allies if they know what is going on. However, failing to communicate with them does get ugly.