You can take the above headline a couple of different ways. And that is largely deliberate.
If you are known, Kickstarter is a hell of a way to raise money. If you are unknown, Kickstarter is a hell of a way to (not) raise money.
The point, there, is that you need an audience. A loyal, dedicated audience of followers that like what you do. That’s not to say they are completely slavish, or they aren’t critical, or that they have no free will. For they do. They have a great deal of it, actually. You aren’t just getting them to pull out their credit cards because you want them to. They need to see value. They need to believe in what you are doing. They need to buy in.
But when they do, boy howdy, they buy in. A case in point: Elan Lee, Matthew Inman and Shane Small invented a card game. Now, you may think you don’t know who these people are. But in actual fact, for many of you they are on the periphery of your awareness, and some of you are rabid fans (even if you don’t actually know it). Matthew Inman is the creator of the hilarious and irreverent comic, The Oatmeal. Elan Lee is a game designer that started off life at Industrial Light & Magic and then went to Microsoft Studios before becoming the alternate reality game designer he is today. Shane Small is also a game designer, has done stints at Microsoft, and seems to have an amusing sense of humour. Collectively, they have designed a game called Exploding Kittens, which they describe as Russian roulette with playing cards.
In less than a week, they have become the most backed Kickstarter campaign in the entire history of Kickstarter. As of this writing (and this is changing by the minute, but my last browser refresh is what I’m going with) they had 106,339 backers (full disclosure: I’m one of them), and had raised $4,184,423 (full disclosure: I gave them $35). Which is deeply impressive, when you consider that they had 200 packages valued at $200, and only 5 valued at $500. After that, they are making it work $20 and $35 at a time.
Given the lack of major press or visibility, this is even more impressive. And it highlights a really important aspect of relationship building that informs not just Kickstarter, but life in general. That insights is this: when you have a following that loves what you do, they will support you. Crowdfunding is a way of monetizing support from the crowd that loves you already; crowdfunding is not an awesome strategy for building a crowd in the first place.
This is a point that Amanda Palmer makes very well in her awesome book (built upon the equally awesome TED Talk), The Art of Asking. She talks about her breaking away from her record label, and launching the (at that point) single most financially successful crowdfunding campaign to finance her next album. The support she had, about 25,000 people, was pretty much in line with the numbers that bought her previous albums. These were her supporters, built over time, one email address after the other, at concerts, events, social gigs and the like. This was her tribe. These were the people she KNEW she could count on for support. While her tribe grows, of course, it does so in proportion to her reach. The more her supporters grow in number, the more reach she will enjoy. But she starts with the relationship first. It’s not about doing things and hoping people will follow; it is about building a base of followers, and then doing things that they find interesting.
If you are wondering what kind of crowdfunding support you could make happen, take careful and realistic stock of the skills you possess, the degree to which they are unique and valued, and the extent of the follower base you already have that cares about you having those skills. If the followers on this list add up to your immediate family and your immediate employer, there is a very real possibility that crowdfunding is not for you.