The Alchemist and the Mirage: The Biggest Misconception of Crowdfunding

Alchemy is what passed for science before the scientific method really had a foothold. Alchemists, probably some of the smartest people of their time, tried to do things we now know are impossible (or impossibly impractical), such as turning lead into gold. You can’t fault them too much - so it goes when you are forging a new path.

Like alchemists, project creators running crowdfunding campaigns are also forging a new path, one of product development and turning their ideas into realities. Also like alchemists, they sometimes try to do the impossible.

The crowdfunding version of turning lead into gold is running a successful crowdfunding campaign without a solid marketing plan. Now technically, this isn’t impossible - maybe someone will notice your campaign and pass it on and suddenly it goes viral. However, if you’re betting on that, you’re probably better off playing the lottery. The odds are about the same and it’s a lot less work.

Which is to say that running a successful crowdfunding campaign is indeed a lot of work. Chances are that behind any successful campaign is a marketing plan that took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (and maybe some luck), regardless of how easy it appeared from the outside. Yet, for as much effort as project creators put into researching, designing, prototyping, and refining their product ideas, relatively few do the same when it comes to promoting and marketing their campaigns.

The root of the problem is the shimmering mirage of the crowd. Just as a parched traveler is apt to believe an oasis lies just ahead, so to are project creators apt to believe the crowd is waiting with bated breath for the idea they’ve worked so hard to cultivate. Unfortunately, the linguistic construction of “crowdfunding” doesn’t help dispel this mirage, nor does the popular press, which, by and large, is happy to prop it up further.

The truth is, in almost all cases, project creators must bring the crowd to their campaign, regardless of what type of product is being brought to market or which platform is hosting the campaign. We’ve looked at a bunch of successful crowdfunding campaigns across several platforms and found a distinct trend: of the first quarter (or more) of all backers, for the vast majority of them, that was the first time they’d ever backed a campaign.

This means that it wasn’t the platform that brought those crucial first backers to the campaign, but rather the project creators through their personal and professional networks and outreach to media. Those initial backers are what will get the campaign noticed and spread further than the project creators themselves could reach. The remaining backers are attracted by the social sharing and word-of-mouth of the initial backers, and the press garnered at the launch of the campaign and subsequent campaign updates.

The upshot of this realization is two-fold. First, to have more than a random chance of their campaigns successfully funding, project creators must be prepared to put as much work into promotion before and during the campaign as they put into the development of the physical product itself. Second, when choosing a crowdfunding platform, there’s more to consider than the platform’s raw traffic.

In my discussions with project creators considering launching their campaigns on Crowd Supply, often their number one concern is how much traffic Crowd Supply will bring to their campaign. That’s when I dispel the mirage and tell them they can’t turn lead into gold. Project creators are relieved when they realize that, by coming up with a solid promotion plan, they are more in control of their destiny than they thought. After all, a campaign’s success doesn’t hinge on how well trafficked other campaigns on the site are, it hinges on how well trafficked that particular campaign is.

Crowd Supply publicly launched three months ago. We don’t yet have the traffic of some of the competition. Our advantage is that we’re doing everything we can to help project creators succeed, including managing the logistics of fulfillment, making connections with resources the project creator may need, and, of course, helping craft their promotion plan before the campaign even launches. To find out more, drop us a line telling us about your project.

With this as a backdrop, in my next post I’ll lay out some specific tips and tricks to help promote a crowdfunding campaign, as well common mistakes to avoid.