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The Tricky Business of Relationships in the Crowdfunding Worlds

So, as many of you know I’ve been considering crowdfunding. I went out the side door of my corporate job about 8 months ago to launch this brand.

This wasn’t a willy nilly move. I have a family I’m passionate about, and a beautiful boy who happens to have Down Syndrome named Gus.  We have complexity in our life that adds financial pressures, as many of you do. So, consequently, I started planning a couple years before to my exit, which means I’d managed to save a bit of money for runway.  Essentially I had a mission and plan. I was also bursting with purpose. But after about 6 months of burning cash like coal on a old timey steam train, an alternative reality dawned. I realized I’d have to start considering alternative funding, otherwise known as outside funding. 

Now, in terms of money, I’m in a somewhat unique position. I’m a therapist with a private practice. I have a wide skillset, which ranges from coaching, couples and family counseling, and facilitating large groups and workshops. This grants me some lattitude. I can learn into my practice if needed.  Also, I can maintain my integrity as an independent business owner, which is very important to me, and tends to be with many entrepreneurs.  So my professional role affords me a luxury every not every startup founder has. Many have to retreat back into the job world when things go sideways. And honestly, employment in not an option I can entirely take off the table either. But my position as a service provider has also presented some challenges. For one, I’m constantly stuck contemplating a fuzzy line, like how do I know when take my foot off the gas or double down? How far is to far? And as far a debt, how much can and am I willing I take on?… Plainly put, there’s an incredible investment of time you have to put into a startup or new business. Giving up the tiniest bit of ground to spend time elsewhere can seem ludicrous -at least to me it has. In the early stages, a basic mathematics principle becomes evident. Progress correlates to the amount of the time you put in, and quality of the time spent.  Progress demands consistent effort. It’s a beautiful struggle anybody who chooses to start a business has to be prepared for. Most startups and new businesses, consequently, are stuck with the issue of how to manage limited resources, but the most important resource by far becomes time. How you learn to manage it is essential. So this fact that I have options to fall back as a professional skill doesn’t make managing time any more convenient. In some ways, it makes it worse. The struggle can seem greater. On the flip side it can a false sense of security. Sometimes I find myself pushing the edge, something I might not do if was forced to operate without my profession to lean on. Perhaps it’s both good and bad, the jury is still out on this.

Anyway, it’s right here at this cross-roads that I began to consider Crowd Funding. Right off the bat, I saw there’s an underbelly to crowdfunding. While it’s an unbelievable opportunity for today’s entrepreneur, there’s alot of advice touted by “experts” that hasn’t translated. It’s also clicky and not as easy to build relationships as I imagined.

So like others, when blessed with this bright idea I consumed books on Audible, like a Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide, and crammed in Youtube videos like ->>THIS on Crowdfunding whenever possible. After a couple months of cramming this stuff down my throat, I decided to opt for what I considered a healthy approach. I’d take my time building relationships, as suggested. I’d invest a few months to build friendships in the crowdfunding worlds, support others campaigners, then scale. This is touted by many “experts” and crowdfunding communities as a first step.  As a paid relationship strategist myself, this landed like like an entirely sensible idea to me. After all, you don’t cannon ball into the pool at a pool party. You work on building relationships on the pool deck first. The first step that gets suggested is reaching out to the campaigners you admire.  Introduce yourself through friendly emails, be curious but not push, and then learn. Then financially support the campaigns that turn you on. This advice seemed to be rooted in the notion that a wise campaigners is aware of the critical importance of relationship-building. This seemed like a very big assumption, especially considering the diversity of campaigners in terms of age and experience, but one I was willing to go with. 

Well, I was in for a surprise. First off, I found most campaigner weren’t open for friendly chats. At all.  And when I thought about it, why would they be.  Most campaigners are hustlers and side-hustlers bleeding time and money out their ears. Most just don’t have the time nor the capital to hire teams to respond to lookie-loos and random hopefuls. I was surprised to see just how few responded at all. So, in just the first stage of my plan, I’d faced a barrier to what was touted as the most important step. At this point I’d already dumped weeks into relationship building, trying out new messaging and introduction strategies. Essentially I was facing a net zero. I’d made one connection with a friendly young artist in the UK promoting his album. He was a gem. But besides that, nothing.

This stuffiness seemed a reality that played out on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  I’d even hired a VA to help with the effort. Sadly, our efforts may have done more damage than good to my credibility on these sites. Campaigners tend to look beyond the platitudes behind promoted by books, blogs, and communities. Inside it’s more about investing in the relationships that make the most sense. There’s a lot of a value judgments that have to be made about how they spend time, such as is the case with any business owner. So, I found many react when they make an initial assessment about the value you represent. If you’re new to these platforms, and haven’t established a history as a investor, they tend to shy away. Remember, most come for one thing, to raise capital. So investments of time, even at the relationship level, have to make sense at a potential dollar and sense level. Or at least it seemed that way to me.

Also, most of these folks aren’t operating blind. Many have set game-plans based on higher guidance. Information is everywhere, with the biggest firms and companies now openly revealing their strategies through traditional and social media streams. So it seems even the smallest campaigner is operating like they’re prepping for an IPO. I think this has an impact on the way relationships get built within the crowdfunding worlds. It’s way more serious than I expected. While people’s dreams are riding on campaigns, many seem to have taken an extra leap and white washed the humanity in their approach. Well, at least with human elements like spending time having real conversations.  Ironically, a lot of campaigners are promoting larger social goods, so the marketing looks fuzzy and human friendly on the outsides.  So, again, feeling this out out it can be tricky. It definitely feels clicky, and the costume of the day is stand-offish. I learned you can’t just be a random element out to do good. If you’re not waving wads of money around, there’s a very good chance you’ll be ignored.

Probably 95% of the campaigners I reached out to ignored my emails. The 5% who did respond replied with suspicion, as if I was trying to hack their funding models or who knows what. A few were outright hostile. I had one fellow raising money for a biker cookbook outright belittle me for sending him a sub-par message. He berated me for my lack of imagination and spammy quality, which seemed presumptuous, but something I could understand. But this re-activeness became a pattern on these sites which in the end made it a huge turnoff. I saw alot of false entitlement wrapped up in these the clicky codes and operating ethics unique to the online crowdfunding worlds. Some choose to abuse these tiny privileges it granted, like this biker fellow. In my case, some of the immaturity hiding beneath these clicky codes came out, unfortunately in the form of judgement and aggression. At one point I was even reported, which was funny to me. I wasn’t aware that this could happen. But it ccould, and did. My banishment came on Kickstarter. I learned they have a limit on the amount of messages a person can send.  Eventually I got reinstated, but this seemed an odd response. I mean here I am on a community building platform, and I get excommunicated for trying to build relationships?… While I’d hoped for a better outcome and worked damn hard for it, I wasn’t really surprised by the shit-show that ended up evolving. Despite all the expert advice, I could see the relational subterfuge unfolding as I stepped into in. The advice I got just didn’t prove applicable. It’s a different world of relationships in there, different types and rules that don’t appear to be founded in relationships that happen on solid earth. It’s a subset. This seems to be something we’re discovering more and more with technology. The best and worse of our behaviors tend to get amplified. A colleague sent me an article published in the The Atlantic that illustrates that premise pretty clearly. Interestingly, I happened to be preparing for panel where I was asked to talk about the issue of technology addiction. 

So for me the dilemma became, “do I make the effort to raise my public profile before I try to step back into crowdfunding?” Maybe that effort could help get me across the gap I’d experienced there. And truth be told, I wasn’t exactly offended by what I found. I actually found it fascinating. There’s always a world of hidden rules when we step into any new relationships. I was also reminded of the basic truth that nobody listens to a rock star they’ve never of. In crowdfunding, if people see you’ve been featured on a 30 second spotlight on Fox News, you become a better bet. These ritual investments stand as proof that you’re willing to do what’s needed. Forget the fact that you’re friendly or driven to good things.  More are likely to take a leap into a relationship when you’ve made these investments. It’s a cultural capital thing not entirely unique to the crowdfunding world. 

So, in the end, I decided to take a temporary leave of absence from Kickstarter and Indigogo. In the meantime I discovered the value of alternative crowdfunding sources like Patreon. They give much more leeway to creator’s types, and take away the pressures of time-sensitive funding. I actually launched a page that you can find it HERE if you’re interested. I have an end goal of supporting social projects through my brand, so I decided to reach out to the founders in my networks who’ve done this. One of the first conversations I had was with Cameron Brown,the CEO of Thriving Collective. I’d gotten to know him a bit when he was a guest on The Pioneers of Insight, which is one of my shows. He’s an charismatic eco warrior who’s managed to the tightrope of building a business around a larger global mission. So, I’ll write about what I learned from him next. 

About the Author Gjgaura7970

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