Back in August 2016, the Foundr team and I embarked on a new project, one that would involve immense planning, execution, and a ridiculous amount of marketing. It would also require a team effort unlike anything we’d undertaken before.
We had decided that after years of publishing a digital magazine featuring interviews with some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our generation, like Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Seth Godin, Barbara Corcoran, Daymond John, Tony Robbins and many more, it was time for us to embark on an adventure to produce our first physical product.
We set out to create a beautifully designed coffee table book, distilling the first few years of wisdom we’ve gathered from the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, and settled on a crowdfunding campaign to bring it into reality.
In this post, I’m going to break down, step-by-step, exactly how we brought our very first book to life using crowdfunding, through a Kickstarter campaign, starting with why we did it and right down to things like marketing and product design.
When we first got started it was important to us that we didn’t just produce any old kind of physical product. We wanted to create something that really represented what the Foundr brand stood for—awesome content that is extremely actionable, extremely tactical, and that can help you truly build and grow a successful business.
To make it highly accessible, rather than just crank out a bound collection of past issues, we decided to go through every single one, every past feature, and pull together the very best of Foundr Magazine. We would organize that content by answering every major question surrounding the key topics of entrepreneurship—idea validation, raising capital, mindset, marketing, social media, scaling, hiring, you name it!
We also wanted it to be something that our audience could be extremely proud of, something to value and look at fondly, which is why we went the route of a visually appealing coffee table book. But that meant, we realized, that we were doing something nobody had ever done before—make a coffee table book about business—and therefore, something we didn’t know if anybody would want.
To test our theory that this was even a viable or desired product, we decided to launch it as a crowdfunding project via Kickstarter.
If you’re a first-time entrepreneur, and you have an awesome idea for a physical product, I’ve long believed that one of the best ways to validate that product is to use a platform like Kickstarter.
Crowdfunding has totally changed the game when it comes to funding and validating. We actually used it for a few reasons. It allowed us to launch our product with presales, validate our market, and conduct a branding exercise to tap into a whole new audience for Foundr.
That’s why we turned to it, but here are the three main reasons you should consider crowdfunding as a project:
- Gaining funding to launch a physical product can be quite a capital-intensive exercise. For this reason, crowdfunded projects tend to be physical products that generally cost a lot of money in production and always require an MOQ (minimum order quantity).
- Validating a product that doesn’t exist in the marketplace can be extremely powerful. When launching a new business or product, it’s crucial to know whether it’s something people truly want. That’s a big reason we chose Kickstarter for our book, Foundr Version 1.0, because we didn’t know if it was something anybody truly wanted, and preselling is a great way to find out. This is a concept some call “throwing your hat over the fence,” or making a small commitment before fully committing. If you don’t hit your funding target, your project isn’t brought to life, and you don’t gain access to the funds that people have offered up. No money wasted on a flawed idea.
- It allows you to tap into a marketplace full of millions of people who are looking to purchase awesome products. The crowdfunding world is a very different market compared to the one we currently serve at Foundr. Many companies like Oculus Rift and Pebble Watch actually get their starts from crowdfunding, and end up becoming massive multibillion-dollar companies. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo can be very powerful ecosystems in which to launch.
Foundr Kickstarter – Getting Started
The first thing we did when starting on the Foundr Kickstarter project was work out our goals, financial and otherwise. We needed to have targets for the project, including how much we need to raise and a launch date. From there, we could figure out who was going to be on the project team and the experts who could help us execute a successful project.
That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur—if you want to build a successful business, you have to surround yourself with really smart people and learn from them. Same thing goes for a good crowdfunding campaign.
Once we worked out our targets, we used a process that we learned from Ed Dale. We got out sticky notes and, as a group, timed ourselves for three minutes, writing down every single thing that needed to happen to hit our targets. After the three minutes were up, each person put their sticky notes on the whiteboard and eliminated anything irrelevant or duplicate. This became the basis for the project’s Trello board. Trello is one of our favorite tools, which we use for every major project, and we actually shared how we use it for our content calendar in this article here.
The next thing we did was set up our schedule and workflow for the project. We started by establishing a “go live date” for the project, and then worked backwards based on all of our tasks we established in the backlog during the previous step.
We used scrum methodology for project management, in which I was the project owner, and a series of people were assigned responsibilities for the project. We began to meet up every Monday to plan what needed to be done, and any tasks assigned for that week would move from the backlog to the “doing” column. Then the team would “sprint” to get all of those tasks done by the next weekly meeting.
I have to say, as we got started, nailing all of these planning details was a significant challenge. Again, we had never done crowdfunding or published a print book before. We ended up bringing in help, which is a key lesson from this experience that I want to emphasize. One of the best ways to master something or do a really good job at it is to find people who have achieved the things you want to achieve.
So we first engaged consultant Khierstyn Ross (who wrote this awesome blog post for us here) and initially gave us a checklist and a template to follow for all the things that needed to be done. Then we hired project manager Linda Diggle, who did an amazing job and had a lot of experience with books as well.
Putting the Team to Work
Now we had an idea of how the project would unfold and the tasks that needed to happen, thanks to our consultants and collective brainstorming exercise. We had also pulled together all of the major players on the team. It was time to put this elite squad to the task of bringing our project to life!
When it comes to all the work needed to make both the book and the crowdfunding campaign successful, the process and the players involved can be roughly separated into two categories: production and marketing. Here’s how the team made each one work:
Of course, to sell a book, you have to create a book. That’s no small task, as we learned. For the production, we had quite a few people involved. Our first creative voice involved was Kate White, our writer who pulled all the content together to produce the book, and then worked with Tate Williams, our copy editor, who reviewed the book and gave feedback.
At that point, we had our first draft, a solid piece of work from the start that was loaded with great advice from years’ worth of interviews. The editorial team then began kicking around some other ideas, with Tate and Content Crafter Jonathan Chan suggesting that we add some additional content to really amp it up and make it super valuable.
Jonathan and Publishing Assistant Assya Barrette began to pull together what we called “Foundr Case Studies,” which would tell the stories of some of our favorite subjects intermittently throughout the book. This feature ended up adding a whole other level of value to the book, really rounding out the product into something special.
I was involved in some of the early direction, but it wasn’t until the book was getting close to completion that I started to go a little deeper in reviewing content. For the most part, however, the creative team did an amazing job, and I didn’t have to do much on the production side. By the time we wrapped up the final draft, I couldn’t have been prouder of what we produced with Foundr v1.0.
The final editorial step was making sure the text was squeaky clean and free of typos. Once the final draft wrapped up, we used two independent proofreaders, who each did an amazing job. I also reviewed the book and so did my girlfriend, Emily. So across six or seven different people, we were able to (knock on wood) make sure the book is error free!
The next piece of the puzzle was design. That was when we got our art director Karan Jain involved. If you like the look of our website, magazine, and most of Foundr’s other materials, that’s the fine handiwork of Karan. He just did an incredible job with the book.
Another step of the design process that turned out to be quite challenging was the book’s cover. Book cover design is a whole profession unto itself, and for good reason. It took us a very, very long time to work out exactly how we wanted it to look. Central to the decision was the fact that we wanted to make it look modern, but also make sure it would be appealing even 10 years or more from now. Everything we do at Foundr aims to be evergreen, so we wanted our first book to stand the test of time also.
We want the content we offer at Foundr to be valuable to entrepreneurs 50 years from now, so we needed the book to be similarly timeless.
It was a heavy lift, but once we got the cover and main design components in place, we were able to use it as collateral, to get people excited about the book launch.
This was a challenge so large and unusual, it deserves its own section. This was a really difficult task, and one that took us somewhat by surprise. Jonathan did an amazing job of navigating all the different printers that were at our disposal, and he and Jesse spoke to at least 30 different printers.
Why was it so difficult? Mainly because we were looking for a few things in particular:
- First, whoever it was needed to have strong credibility and the capability to produce high-quality, world-class books.
- They also needed to be able to distribute the books all around the world, because Foundr has a global customer base. Our printer needed to be able to ship all around the world at an affordable cost. We really didn’t want to use a separate distribution center, which a lot of companies do.
- We needed them to be able to hold the books in storage for us.
- Finally, because our book had a diecut cover, it was a very specific kind of printing job. There would be holes that would have to be cut out from the front cover and matched up with inside pages. Not the easiest print job, aside from the fact that we had a colorful, slick design and not just a black-and-white paperback.
With all of our peculiarities in mind, we ended up choosing a printer called Friesens, which we found from doing many meetings and settling on the one that could meet all of those needs. I thought it was really cool that Friesens did printing and distribution in Canada, considering most of our customer base is in the United States. We also just got a really good vibe about them, and they’re an extremely well-established, reputable company.
Of course, while all of this was happening, we needed to be pulling together a killer marketing and launch plan. This was a little difficult, but the team did a great job and really pulled it off. Here’s how.
While all of the production of the book was happening in the background, we had to make sure that the marketing in the lead up to the campaign was going to be done right, in order to give ourselves the best possible chance of funding the campaign.
Here’s a breakdown of each main area of marketing we did, and who did what to make it a success.
A big part of any Kickstarter campaign involves getting the media to cover your product and tapping into that outlet’s audience for more exposure. With full transparency, because we (Foundr) ourselves are a media outlet, sometimes it can be difficult to get press, but we were lucky enough to get coverage on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Tech.co, The Art of Charm, Social Media Examiner.
Email Marketing Funnels + Tech
The role of email marketing funnels, a big one for Foundr, and tech went to Jesse Song, who was in charge of aligning all of our assets to the best of our ability. Jesse was even in charge of going live with the campaign during our launch party (more on that below), and making sure that our email funnels were in order and executing properly across all of our tech platforms.
Here is an example of one of our email marketing campaigns, where we gave away the first chapter of the Foundr V1.0 for free as a ‘sneak peek’ and from there showed more preview content to encourage people to support the campaign.
Content + Strategy
Another element that I’ve found to be key when it comes to a successful crowdfunding campaign is making sure you have a lot of content going out in support of it. That also means you must have a creative strategy behind that content, and that’s something that Jonathan Chan brought to the table big time.
He wrote a lot of guest posts and was very involved with the production of the book, but also developed overall strategies around marketing and producing content to get people excited about it. He also worked a ton on finding a printer, which was crucial to the costs, the timing, and the shipping.
Project Management + Budget
Any successful crowdfunding campaign has to be well-organized and well-executed, and the budget has to be razor sharp. Some of this fell to me, working alongside Linda Diggle, who helped run the project management side of the crowdfunding campaign, as well as working out costs and margins to ensure we’d get a return on our investment.
With full transparency, the Kickstarter campaign was mainly a branding exercise for us, to expand our reach and exposure. But we did want to make sure we didn’t lose money on the project, which is very important to me. As Foundr is a bootstrapped startup, I’m always mindful of costs and making sure projects are self-supporting and sustainable. Having someone manage the project over a three-month period was key to making sure all our ducks were in a row and nothing was missed.
As I mentioned before, with such a big and new project, we needed someone with experience launching books and managing projects, and Linda was exactly what we needed. She was a pleasure to work with, and provided that outside perspective and rigor we needed to ensure success.
One thing that frequently goes awry with crowdfunding campaigns is timing. It’s almost become a cliche, the Kickstarter that is eternally behind schedule. When you’re close to launch, especially, it can be difficult to stay on track, but Linda kept it all in line.
This was a major part of the project, and unfortunately we only worked this out in the final week. In order for us to really scale the campaign, Facebook ads would need to be a key part of it. We engaged a company called Jellop, which specializes in Kickstarter ads on Facebook, and here are the results:
Jellop takes a commission, and we were still able to get a 3x return on our ad spend, totaling $34,000 in revenue driven toward the Kickstarter campaign. Imagine if we had’ve done this at the start of the campaign! Live and learn.
That’s right, more design! You may have figured this out, but great design is core to Foundr’s brand. As such, I think the look of the Kickstarter landing page was integral to our success. The design had to be amazing and really reflect the brand, and we were lucky enough to find Aleks Witko, a top-notch designer who used to head up Design at 99designs. He did just a brilliant job of building a great page and making it look and feel just like Foundr.
I learned from Aleks the importance of showcasing great design as a way to get people to trust your brand, get excited about a product, and really want to back your campaign. I think a lot of people may overlook this aspect of crowdfunding, and I think it’s a big mistake.
A lot has been said about the importance of the crowdfunding video, and it is all 100 percent true. It has to look amazing. We used Melbourne SEO Services & Video, who we’ve worked with before and had solid results.
We showed their team a range of Kickstarter videos that we really loved, and from that they translated our tastes into exactly what we needed to capture the audience and make them want to get behind the project. Another thing I learned from this was that it’s all really about storytelling. If you can tell a great story, that’s something people will want to get behind. Melbourne SEO really helped us do that with our video.
Learning From Crowdfunding Experts
When it comes to producing a successful crowdfunding campaign, I simply don’t think it can be done if you don’t speak to experts who have done it before. On some level, crowdfunding has opened up funding to anyone, sure. But the reality is that this process is different from anything you will have ever experienced if it’s your first campaign.
A crowdfunding campaign also happens square in the public eye. You’re putting yourself on the line, and everyone will be watching eagerly to make sure you hit the target. In other words, it’s a totally new experience, but getting it wrong looks amateurish.
This gets back to my whole approach to entrepreneurship, however, and the very ethic behind Foundr itself: Learning from successful people is one of the greatest keys to your own success. Tony Robbins talks about how “success leaves clues,” and there’s no reason to make the mistakes others have already made. That’s always been my strategy with Foundr, and it’s how we approached our crowdfunding campaign.
Here are the key people we spoke with to ensure we’d have a successful campaign:
Now, I’m not a big fan of consultants these days overall. But when you’re running a crowdfunding campaign, I found that no matter how many articles you read, videos you watch, or podcasts you listen to, nothing beats speaking to someone who has done it before.
In this case, there are even people who do it all day, every day. Khierstyn Ross provided us with that kind of expertise, and gave us a really good blueprint for bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together. This provided a valuable layer of security for us, with a set of lists of what needed to be done, and what we could expect to achieve.
Successful Crowdfunding Campaigners
This was really powerful too, just talking to people who have raised $100,000, $200,000, $1 million. The amount of gold that you get is invaluable and something that I found to be really really key. Some of the people we spoke with were:
-Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – https://foundr.com/articles/podcast/francesca-cavallo-timbuktu-labs
– Willi Footwear –https://foundr.com/articles/podcast/brad-munro-willi-footwear
– Who Gives a Crap – https://foundr.com/simon-griffiths-who-gives-a-crap/
– Canary – https://foundr.com/jon-troutman-canary/
– StayblCam – https://foundr.com/eskil-nordhaug/
The Best Advice We Got
Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls
Francesca Cavallo and her team taught us the power of the crowdfunding video, and how important the script was. This was absolutely key, and we learned that if we didn’t do a good video, we were in a lot of trouble, because that’s what everyone watches and it’s what you can put out there as content to draw people in.
Another thing they taught me was the importance and power of having a great landing page for your Kickstarter page. This is what people judge. It’s what people use to make a call on whether they should trust you. So we went out of our way to make it very obvious that we’re an established company and established brand, so if you support this project, we’re going to provide you with this amazing book.
The folks at Willi taught us the importance of having a launch party. This was something that was important to the success of our campaign, and if we hadn’t done it, I don’t think we would have gotten anywhere near as much traction as we did right from the start.
Something Eskil Nordhaug taught me is that you need to get very good at email marketing and building up that launch list. You need to get as many people as possible to sign up to the “coming soon” page and keep them in the loop, getting them excited. Also some basic internet and email marketing principles Eskil taught me were important to our success.
Gary Vee and David Hobson
There was one huge tactic that was quite powerful in our campaign that deserves a mention, and that was selling some big pledge packages. Our own David Hobson identified that in order to sell these big bundles of books, we would need to do outreach and actually talk to people. They weren’t going to sell themselves. We noticed that this is exactly what Gary Vee did during his last book launch, selling bulk orders of his book and other big packages, in order to hit the New York Times bestseller lists. David took on the job of doing outbound outreach to companies that would be interested in purchasing some of our sponsorship packages. He did a really good job of creating partnerships with Infusionsoft, Freshdesk, Freshbooks, Clickfunnels, Pipedrive, and Siteground, which all fortunately got behind the campaign and led to a lot of sales.
If it wasn’t for Don Brown from Stealth, who was actually running a campaign at the same time as us, we wouldn’t have been able to find the success we did. In fact, I really wish I had spoken to Don sooner, not during the last week of our campaign! He told me about the epic Facebook ads company Jellop that we used in the last four days of our campaign.
These guys are masters when it comes to Facebook ads, specifically for Kickstarter campaigns. Another thing we learned from Don was that it’s really important to find Kickstarter backers that back multiple campaigns. It’s important to get your own community involved, but a lot of those people don’t want to wait six months for a product, or maybe they don’t even understand what a Kickstarter is. That’s why it’s key to use Facebook ads to find people who regularly back projects. As you can see here, more than $34,000 came from from people looking around via Kickstarter.
As you can see in the images here a big part of people supporting the campaign have backed other projects previously.
The folks at Canary taught us a lot about launch day—just reaching out and doing as much outbound and outreach as possible to get in touch with as many people as you personally know as possible that might be interested in the campaign and get them to support it when we went live. I probably emailed and messaged at least 300 people that I personally knew or had spoken to about Foundr, which I think is important—doing things that don’t scale for projects like this is something important they taught me.
As you can see, we spoke to a lot of extremely successful people who were great at what they did in this certain area of expertise, and it helped bring this project together. We also had an amazing team behind the project, internally at Foundr, and we would not have been able to execute the way we did if everyone didn’t bust their arses, and really bring a lot of value to the project.
Getting People Interested (Pre-Launch)
Core to a successful Kickstarter is being able to rally your own people behind the campaign, and during the leadup, we did a ton of work building up hype among our community. Anyone who followed the Foundr brand needed to know about the Foundr Kickstarter project.
The reason this is so important is that the first 24 hours to a week can be make or break for a campaign. If you have an initial group of backers right from the start, a project will be featured by Kickstarter and that can draw a ton of organic traction. That early hype is where the magic happens, and you start to build an audience that’s personally invested and following the story of your campaign (and you personally, for that matter!).
Here’s what we did to build traction leading up to our launch.
Taking Stock: We looked at our assets across the Foundr brand (podcast, magazine, social media channels, blog, email list, influential partners and friends, website, etc.) and identified how we would use each one to promote the campaign in the leadup.
Landing Page: Once we identified those assets, we created a coming soon landing page, and we also worked out key things that we could give away to get people involved. Giving away stuff for free is a big part of Foundr’s strategy and identity. For example, we gave away the first two chapters of the book so people could get a sneak preview of what it was going to look like, or shared the front cover to get people excited.
Planning: Once we worked out our channels and the assets that we were going to use, the next thing was coming up with a pre-launch plan and working backwards to create a schedule. You can see the similarity here to our overall campaign planning process.
Email Announcement: We then announced the project to our email list and invited folks to sign up for the coming soon list.
Podcasting and Blogging: Next I started talking about the launch on the Foundr podcast and other podcasts, and we also did a blog post about it. Going on other podcasts was incredibly powerful—I connected with at least 30 podcasts that posted their episodes around the go live date.
Insiders Group: I’ll get into this more below, but this was a group of 200 ambassadors who were given special access to the product and our process.
Blogging: We wrote a few different blog posts on the Foundr blog getting people excited for what was to come!
Facebook Ads: Not only did Facebook ads get people to sign up to the coming soon list, but they also drew a lot impressions by re-targeting anyone who had been to our website in the past 90 days. This helped attract people who followed the brand, but were not signed up for updates.
Final Days: As the kickoff drew closer and closer, we amplified our outreach, letting the email community know, rallying our Insiders group, hosting a launch party, running a thunderclap campaign, and holding a competition using Upviral.
Foundr Insiders Group
I want to take another opportunity here to highlight a strategy that was essential to our successful Kickstarter project—our Insiders group. We created a free Facebook group called Foundr Insiders, but it was more than just a Facebook group. It was a community of ambassadors who wanted to get behind something they really believed in, to help bring it to life. These folks were massive in helping us cross the finish line.
To establish this group, we needed to invite just the right pool of people. We couldn’t allow just anyone to join. The way we made it exclusive, but also made sure it picked up steam, was to require people to apply to be part of the group, and then invite a friend if they joined. David Hobson gets credit for this idea, and boy was it powerful.
Once everyone was on-boarded, the group was really pumped about the project. We also incentivized being an ambassador by giving behind the scenes looks at the project and the campaign. And members could also give feedback on how the book was coming along. The team gave constant updates, and offered a lot of prizes, such as free consulting calls, free gold leaf versions of the book, or free t-shirts.
We were sure to make being part of Foundr Insiders worth their while, and they gave us so much of their time and attention in return. We’re extremely grateful to this group, and if you can rally a group of champions on your side, we highly recommend it.
Another important component of this strategy was a tool called Upviral. This is essentially a giveaway tool that allows you to incentivize activities by points, which determined who wins what prizes. So if you recruited someone to join the group, for example, you’d land some points via a special referral link.
Using Upviral, we were able to generate more than 3,000+ email subscribers, people who were super-targeted based on their interest in buying and supporting the book.
So if we were to do another crowdfunding campaign or another product launch we would definitely use Upviral and we would also consider creating a special launch team and insiders group because we had a lot of success utilizing people in our community and helping them get behind a project that they are really passionate about.
The Launch Party
What better way to end such a grueling-but-rewarding Foundr Kickstarter experience, and this blog post for that matter, than with a party?
To be honest, this one we knew needed to happen pretty early on. We needed to throw a kickoff bash that would culminate with the moment we went live with our Kickstarter.
Part of the reason we knew it would be so important was the fact that back in 2014, I did a lot of research around what it takes to be successful at crowdfunding. This was surrounding an amazing Kickstarter guide we put out around then, which included interviews with some of the most successful campaigners at that time…people who had raised millions in 30 days. One of the big takeaways from that was that you need to have a launch party, so we did.
The main tactical reason you have a launch party is that one of the biggest ways to get your campaign trending on Kickstarter is to have a huge surge in sales in the first 24 hours. Ideally you’ll even be fully funded in that window in order to start trending (that’s part of why so many viral campaigns blow their goals out of the water). In our case, we hit our target in the first three days, but in the first five hours we hit $15,000 thanks in large part to our launch party, and a big reason kickstarter took a liking to us and featured the campaign.
Here are some screenshots of Foundr being featured as a project Kickstarter loves!
The way we pulled the party together was by inviting all of our closest friends and family, but also opening the doors to the Foundr community. We rounded up close to 100 people in our office, part of a co-working space called Revolver Creative in Melbourne.
We also worked to make the party worthwhile. Kind of lame to just invite people to a party to give you money, right? So we invited some guest speakers, including my friend and blogging hero Darren Rowse, who gave an amazing speech on how he started his project. I spoke as well, and we offered some food and drinks and turned it into a pretty great night, especially for a Wednesday!
So that’s pretty much the full breakdown of how we held a successful Kickstarter campaign, and created a print book, both huge firsts for the brand. When the dust settled, we ended up hitting our goal of $50,000 in three days, ultimately raising $200,589 in the 30-day campaign window, and we’re set to deliver the final product in April, 2017.
To be honest, holding a Kickstarter campaign is a big task. The team did an incredible job and worked tirelessly to make it a hit. This was a serious team effort, and I have to give massive props to everyone at Foundr who worked on it. At the end of the day we were extremely proud, but also pretty wiped out!
So if I leave you here with two pieces of advice, the first one is definitely: Know why you want to do a crowdfunding campaign. Don’t just stumble into it. Understand your motivation and your goals and figure out well in advance whether it makes sense in that context. This is a big endeavor! So don’t take it lightly.
Finally, success with crowdfunding is all about preparation. As much as we’d like to be able to cook up a great idea and let people flood in to fund it, it’s more complicated than that. Even people with a great community will need to work hard to rally them behind the campaign.
Once you understand that, dive in. It’s been a memorable experience, and even quite fun at times. Good luck!
Any questions about how we pulled it off or crowdfunding in general? Got your own tips or insights to add? Let us know below in the comments.