Francesca Cavallo, Co-founder & Creative Director, Timbuktu Labs
Francesca Cavallo Goes Rogue
There aren’t many successful entrepreneurs who got their start in the theater, but Francesca Cavallo is one of them.
Her early career involved managing a theater company, until an inspired idea from her future business partner landed her at the leading edge of the first iPad app boom. That project catapulted her into the startup world, where she developed more than a dozen apps and raised more than half a million in seed funding.
Many startup founders would be happy to rest on those laurels. But Cavallo didn’t stop there. She recently co-led the largest crowdfunded campaign for publishing to date—and started a cultural movement in the process.
Cavallo’s achievements are extraordinary, but much of her current work actually involves spreading the notion that there are scores of women out there who are just as wildly successful, if not more—we just don’t hear about them. A core underpinning of her current enterprise is that women are consistently doing remarkable things, but aren’t recognized nearly enough,
If Cavallo and her business partner Elena Favili have anything to say about it, that’s going to change. The duo are the creators of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, a crowdfunded children’s book that aims to inspire girls and boys (and their parents) with the stories of 100 accomplished women, from Serena Williams to Elizabeth I.
Like the women profiled in their book, Cavallo and Favili have achieved many firsts in the last six years. Here’s how they transitioned from founding a startup to leading a movement.
The Making of a Startup
Cavallo and Favili didn’t start out in the business of revolution. Cavallo was working as a stage director and playwright and Favili was a full-time journalist when they thought up the idea to create an iPad magazine in 2011.
Thus, the world’s first iPad magazine for children—Timbuktu Magazine—was born. The magazine started winning a slew of international awards for its design and publishing platform, which told the co-founders they were onto something. They continued to work on the project in the evenings and on the weekends while holding down their full-time jobs.
At the time, they were living in Milan, where startup culture didn’t have the same momentum as it did across the Atlantic. Still, the partners took their product to any startup competitions they could find, and won almost every one they entered. That was the when they really started to identify as founders of a successful startup, Cavallo says. The fact that their product already had 70,000 downloads also helped.
In 2012, one of those competitions awarded them a month-long stay in San Francisco, where they finagled an introduction with Dave McClure, of the startup accelerator 500 Startups. The accelerator became Timbuktu’s first investor. This gave the duo the exposure they needed to raise their first round, to the tune of more than $600,000.
“For us it was like a game-changer,” Cavallo says. With the help of that funding, Timbuktu Labs moved into its next phase of business growth. The team created 11 additional apps, and their efforts earned them 2 million users from around the world. During that time, Cavallo left the theater business to focus on Timbuktu.
In spite of this success, the challenges of monetizing apps for children soon became apparent. Content targeted toward children involves many restrictions on data collection, soft marketing options, and revenue models. The women realized that building a sustainable company on the app store might not be feasible, Cavallo says.
So the duo decided to pivot. They partnered with an Italian publisher to start making print books, and they teamed up with the NFL to create a toolkit that allows underserved communities to design and build their own playgrounds.
Both endeavors were successful, but it was Cavallo and Favili’s own experiences as women entrepreneurs that inspired the idea that would catapult Timbuktu into the limelight—and start a cultural revolution in the process.
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
“Silicon Valley elites think they’re miles ahead of the rest of the world. But when it comes to openness toward women, they are as behind as everyone else.”
So wrote Favili in a piece for The Guardian that detailed her and Cavallo’s experiences as women navigating the startup world. Favili called out the sexism that had tainted the team’s successes, from the struggle to raise funding in a boy’s club environment to the misogynist comments thrown about during meetings.
Sadly, the comments section of the article only proved Favili’s point. That vitriol spread to other sections of the web, and Favili started to receive death threats on social media. That hateful response became the team’s inspiration.
“We said, ‘Okay, if grownups think that this is an appropriate response to someone just telling you about [their] experience, we need to really focus on this and make sure the new grownups don’t think this is appropriate,’” Cavallo says.
The team cooked up the idea to publish what would eventually become Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. They tested out their idea on Timbuktu’s existing audience, by introducing a targeted newsletter and incorporating related content into their digital magazine and apps.
“The response was amazing,” Cavallo says. Parents were thankful to have stories of women role models to share with their daughters and sons, and they reported how much their children loved the stories.
The team asked their audience if they would buy a book that collected these stories, and the response was an enthusiastic yes. “That was a turning point for us,” she says. “We were like, ‘Okay, I think we have something that we can bring to a bigger audience.’” They knew they wanted to do it without the interference of a publisher.
Crowdfunding was the way to go.
Designing a Record-Breaking Crowdfunding Campaign
The work of crowdfunding began long before Cavallo and Favili even created their Kickstarter page. Several months before the launch, they created giveaways to grow their email list. They went through 13 drafts before finalizing the script for their Kickstarter video. They developed relationships with journalists eager to publicize the campaign; created incentives that would encourage people to share the campaign on social media once it went live; and developed high-quality imagery and clear descriptions of what the finished product would look like.
The team also made sure they were walking the walk. The concept of uplifting women and girls is baked into every facet of the book, which features the work of more than 60 women artists from diverse backgrounds. Every aspect of the book is meant to convey respect for women, including women who look different from each other, Cavallo says.
The team’s careful planning and heartfelt message resonated powerfully with their audience. They raised more than $675,000 based on a $40,000 goal. At the end of the Kickstarter campaign, they moved the project to InDemand on Indiegogo and raised their total fundraising to $1.1 million.
Not only had Cavallo and Favili made history with their crowdfunding campaign, they’d also started something much bigger than they’d ever dreamed of.
“The kind of feedback we receive from many backers is that they… see this as a movement,” Cavallo says. “We really feel there is a big possibility and a big need for people who want to inspire their daughters and sons with these incredible stories of women from all over the world.”
Moving forward, Cavallo and Favilli are committed to creating digital and physical products in service of this mission. In the process, they’ve joined the very list of women role models their audience seeks.
Francesca Cavallo’s Four Tips for Rebellious Campaigns
Test your idea. Don’t launch a crowdfunding campaign without validating that people want what you’re selling. Find ways to test your idea (whether with your existing audience or by building a new one) before you invest in a campaign.
Prepare before you launch. The bulk of the work required for successful crowdfunding should occur long before you create your Kickstarter page. “The biggest obstacle you have to overcome [when crowdfunding] is that people are buying something that doesn’t exist yet,” Cavallo says. So it’s critical to create materials that allow your potential buyers to visualize the finished product and get them excited to share the project with others.
Encourage social sharing. The possibility for virality should be baked into every aspect of your campaign. Make it easy for people to share your project by including prominent share buttons on the site. Also provide visitors with incentives (e.g. downloaded ebooks, white papers, or infographics) that encourage sharing.
Keep the momentum going. “When your campaign works, there are a lot of people who will find out about [it] when it’s over,” Cavallo says. Capitalize on that interest by migrating your project to another crowdfunding or pre-order site such as InDemand.au.
- How to validate your idea before you even try crowdfunding
- Why the video is the most important part of any crowdfunding campaign
- How to establish trust in both your campaign and yourself
- The tools you can use to ensure your campaign’s success
- Step-by-step instructions for what to do before, during, and after your crowdfunding campaign
Full Transcript of Podcast with Francesca Cavallo
Nathan: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Foundr Podcast. My name is Nathan Chan and I am the CEO and publisher of the Foundr Magazine and the host of this podcast, coming to you live from hometown, homegrown, proudly raised, proudly born from Melbourne, Australia. And today marks a really exciting day.
Couple of house-keeping things, by the time that you’re hearing this podcast episode, our crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter will have just finished. Now, please do not fret, you can still go and preorder a copy, but it will be redirected to Indiegogo InDemand. Now, for everyone that has supported our campaign, you have been lucky enough to grab the Kickstarter-only special prizes.
You can still preorder the book, if you would like it. The prices have increased. They would not be as high as when we go retail in April, but you will be able to still purchase the book at quite a no-brainer price, but then you go to Foundr Mag, foundrmag.com/book. Would love your help, would love your support, and most of all, I know you’re gonna love this book, if you’re enjoying this podcast.
All right, now let’s talk about our guest today, Francesca Cavallo, someone who’s also in the Foundr community. Francesca runs the company called Timbuktu Labs and she produced a project called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, which is also a physical book. And I learned so much from Francesca. They actually have the most successfully-funded crowdfunding campaign in history for publishing. So, for any book in the world, these guys have raised the most money ever for a publishing book.
We’re lucky enough to be able to speak with her, pick her brain, and really understand…I got to understand what to do for our book, for the “Foundr Version 1.0” book. And she was very generous with her knowledge, and sharing, and being transparent, and all her lessons as an entrepreneur. She has a very similar background to us at Foundr. She started doing digital magazines, digital apps, but then they’ve now moved in to this physical product, which is an amazing book for young girls, which showcases stories from, you know, inspirational female women. And a fantastic concept, a fantastic book, the execution and strategy behind this thing was amazing. We’d learned a ton.
And this will actually conclude, guys, the last episode of the Crowdfunding Series. This will be part 6 of 6. And we will wrap our crowdfunding campaign and, yeah, we’ll be sharing more to you guys around how we’ve done it, how we’ve broken it down. So far, from recording this, this is Thursday morning, so eight hours to the campaign finishes. We’ve raised close to 190,000. And, yeah, it’s been a massive success. So, thank you to everyone for your support. If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, you still can. Just go to Foundr Mag, foundrmag.com/book. All right, guys, now, some of the show.
So the first question that I asked everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Francesca: How did I get my job?
Francesca: I’ve co-founded the company with Elena Favilli. So, that’s how I got it.
Nathan: So, tell me, how did Timbuktu Labs start?
Francesca: So, basically, it was 2011 and the iPad was about to come out. And Elena Favilli, my co-founder, started to think about creating an iPad magazine because she had the intuition that the iPad would be a very cool for periodic publications. So, she started working on it, and she’s a journalist so she had always worked in the digital journalism and publishing. And at the time, I was working as a stage director and I had my own theater company and I was touring Europe with my shows.
But, yeah, we worked together so I was helping her, putting together a video mockup of what she had in mind. And all of a sudden, the idea that the iPad could be very appealing for kids struck us. And now it’s like everyone knows that children love the iPad. But at that time, the iPad still had not come out, so it was kind of very early.
So, we said, “Okay. We have a great passion for illustration.” And in between tours, I was teaching acting to children whose parents wanted them to become professional actors. So, we said, “Okay. Why don’t we create an iPad magazine for children?” So, we started working on Timbuktu Magazine. And Timbuktu Magazine was actually the first iPad magazine for children on the market. It won a ton of awards all over the world for its design and for the platform that we built to publish updated content every week. So that was the start of the company.
So, at the beginning, Elena was working full time as a journalist and I was working full time as a stage director. And we would work on these projects at night and over the weekends. Then we started doing a lot of a… So, we learned that what we were doing could be called a startup. And, at that time, we were living in Milan so startup culture was not very popular then. So, we started attending the first startup competitions there. And one of them, actually… We won almost all of them and one of them, actually, took us to San Francisco for a business gym of one month.
And while we were there, we’re like…when we left Italy, we had a list of people that we wanted to meet because we wanted to raise capital to take the company off the ground. And at that point, one of the most active investors in the children’s media market was Dave McClure of 500 Startups. So we found a way to be introduced to him because, at that time, there was no application. You had to find a way to get an introduction. And we kind of somehow worked the very small network that we had there and we got an intro to Christine Tsai, his partner at 500 Startups.
And at that point, we had already launched the second iteration on the magazine and we had roughly 70,000 downloads, which, at that time, were a decent number of downloads, and the product was beautiful. So, they decided to become our first investors. And since they are so well known, I mean, our time at 500 Startups allowed us to have the kind of exposure that allowed us to raise that first angel round of a little bit more than $600,000.
Nathan: Gotcha. Awesome. So, did you go for the 500 Startups program or that was just angel funds?
Francesca: No. It was also the program.
Nathan: Got you. Awesome. So, you went through 500 Startups? What was that like?
Francesca: It was amazing. I mean, being an international founder that goes to Silicon Valley for the first time, the most important thing is that you have to understand the culture. You have to start building a network. So, I would strongly recommend to anyone to try and get into 500 Startups. For us, it was like a gamechanger.
Nathan: What year was this? Was this still 2008 or 2009?
Francesca: No, this was the beginning of 2012.
Nathan: Okay, 2012. All right. Got you. All right, so, you’re going to 500 Startups. Your staging company that you had, the theater company that you had, what happened with that?
Francesca: So, I had still sold one tour of shows and I hired my mother to managing the company while I was trying this new thing in Silicon Valley. And she did a great job, by the way, but the next year she didn’t want to do it anymore. So, I suspended the work of the theater company.
Nathan: Got you. Okay, awesome. So, you and your co-founder, you’re in 500 Startups, you get the next iteration of the magazine, you got 70,000 downloads at 2012, you’re the first children’s magazine to launch, what happens next?
Francesca: We understood that having just one app was not enough, so we built, little by little, now we have 13 apps on the App Store because we wanted to build the brand. And we arrived at the point where we had, more or less, 2,000,000 users all around the world. But at that point, it became clear that it was becoming increasingly harder to build a sustainable company on the App Store around apps for children. Because there are a lot of things that you cannot do when you do apps for kids, about, like, the kind of data that you can collect because the laws are very restrictive and the kind of…so marketing options. And so, it was very, very challenging. And also like the revenue model, it cannot be very aggressive because then parents get disappointed.
So, I mean, it makes sense on an ethical standpoint. But on the other hand, it means that it’s really hard to sustain a company that creates products for children. And that’s very sad because it leaves space to companies that don’t create stuff for kids but anyway, kids use those apps because they just have more money to market them. And they just pretend that kids are not using them.
So, I mean, it was challenging for us and we started to try and find a way to take the company in a different direction. So we started, basically, using the IP that we had created for the magazine and for the other apps in other media. So we did a first deal with one of the biggest publishers in Italy to create six paper books from the IP that we had created for the apps.
And we tried to create a little, like, a few, like, physical products. The book was one part. And the other part, we partnered with the NFL to create a tool kit that allows underserved communities to create and build, design and build their own playgrounds. And so, we did that and that was very successful. And we did that in San Francisco for the Super Bowl, the latest Super Bowl.
And then we decided to self-publish a book, so without dealing with another publisher. And that’s where “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” came about.
Nathan: Yes, I see. So now this has been a massive success. And I was super excited to hear about what you guys are doing because, you know, you guys are part of the Foundr community. And before we jump to that, I want to talk a little bit more about the magazine and the publishing side of things, and the business model side of things because I myself get a lot of questions around this and I know that our audience would love to hear.
So, you said that you started to build a brand, you were looking to build a brand, it wasn’t just one magazine, you started to building apps for kids. But it was difficult, in terms of, you’ve said you couldn’t have an aggressive revenue model. So what did the revenue model look like in terms of monetization for these apps? Did you have a subscription? Were they one-off purchases? Were they fairly low-ticket item purchases?
Because I agree that it’s true, and I found this too, we found…you know, there’s a great subscription-based model here with magazines, but the scale isn’t as large as I anticipate or thought it would be, at $2.99 a month. And now, magazine is one of the biggest in the business section on iTunes. I just realized that the market, you know, it is big, but not as big as you may think. So I’m curious to hear your side of the table and that side too.
Francesca: Yeah. So, in our case, we had a subscription for Timbuktu Magazine. And then, we tried a few different things with the other apps. The one that were the best was having a free version of an app, like, for example, our hit is Timbuktu Pizza. So we had, like…and that’s an app that teaches kids how to make 10 classic Italian pizzas. So we had a lite version of the app with just three unlocked recipes. And then a different app, the pro app, with 10 recipes. In our case, that’s the model that worked best.
The subscription was okay. But it didn’t, like, the number of subscribers grew at a very slow pace and that made it very hard for us to… Because, you know, when you have a magazine, you have to produce content every month. And it’s expensive if you want to create, like, great content. So, for us, it was challenging to keep that model. Whereas, the upsell of the lite version of the app and other app that cost $4.99, so not super low, that worked best for us.
Nathan: Hmm, yeah, now I see. And I totally get it around, you know, building a brand. That’s something that we identified early on with Foundr. It’s much more than a magazine. You know, it’s a podcast. It’s, you know, blog. It’s e-learning, you know, educational-based products. It’s a membership site. All these other things, it’s all about building a multifaceted brand, which has many assets underneath it. And that’s how the business model looks like.
So, okay, tell us about how the idea for the book came up. And it’s funny, I’m really curious to pick your brain because this project that you’re gonna talk about next, this is a project we’ve had on our to-do list for the past two years. And it just makes so much sense because as magazine publishers where, you know, we have an in-house team, we’re really good at content and we’ll be doing it for a while. It makes sense to just do a physical book or do something physically, it’s a massive challenge. It’s really fun but please, tell us what happened next. How did you come up with this idea?
Francesca: For this project, we wanted to change a little bit the way we marketed the product. So, we said, “Okay, let’s just work on a theme that’s very close to our heart.” And that’s when we said, okay, I mean, being female entrepreneurs, we are… Timbuktu Labs is a startup founded by two female entrepreneurs, my partner Elena Favilli and I. We faced many challenges due to the gender biases that are very strong in the startup world as in any field, really.
So what happened was that, I think, one, I think, more or less one year, one year and a half ago, Elena wrote an op-ed for the “Guardian” titled “Silicon Valley is more Flintstones than Jetsons When It Comes to Women.” So, in this op-ed, she was just describing some of the unpleasant experiences that we had with like crazy money in the Valley and the kind of obstacles that we faced because it’s hard to the women investors.
And, you know, so the interesting thing was that the article received a ton of comments. And while there were many women with whom our experiences resonated, there were a huge amount of men who were very offended by the article and believed that an appropriate response to disagreeing was like threatening us. And we received that threats on Twitter and…
Nathan: That’s terrible.
Francesca: Yeah, it is. It’s not… It’s really horrible. So, we said okay, if, like, grownups think that this is an appropriate response to someone just telling you about their experience, it means that we really need to, like, focus on this and make sure that the new grownups won’t think that this is a anymore. And we can do that because we have a children’s media company. So we started saying, “Okay, this is a theme that we really care about.”
So we started this newsletter called Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. And, basically, at the very beginning, we started with a survey and we asked people a few questions to understand what their take was on this. And we found out that many dads had this also…like, people that, like, men that were sensitive to this theme and they had daughters. They couldn’t find enough role models or examples to point their, like, to talk about with their daughters.
So we said, “Okay, in this newsletter, we will give you, like, topics and, like, conversation starters that you can use at the dinner table to make your conversations more positive around, like, women in society.” And, you know, some people want to be trained. It’s not just that…there are people who realized that they don’t know that they have biases that they don’t want to pass on to their kids and they want to do something about it. So we use this newsletter as a tool for them to just point out things that were happening and telling them nice stories that they could use with their kids, basically.
And the response to this newsletter was amazing because people emailed us back, thanking us for the things that we told them, and telling us that their kids loved the stories that they had told them. I don’t know. It really had a very positive response. So, based on this newsletter and on some of the stories that we saw had more, like, the biggest open rates or the biggest number of positive responses by people, we put together a book proposal on a simple Google Doc and we asked the most engaged members of the newsletter if they would buy a book like that, so a collection of stories, you know.
And many of them pre-bought the book. And it was just a Google Doc. There were no, I mean, it was no fancy illustration, no fancy design, just like a book proposal like you would send to your agent when you were right at the beginning. And they put their money there. So that was really like a turning point for us because we were like, “Okay. I think we have something that we can bring to a bigger audience.”
So we started creating giveaways for example, like, I don’t know, book that encouraged girls who pursue some careers. You know, things that parents that are sensitive to these things could love, to make our mailing list bigger. And, yeah, we started working on putting together the campaign, with several months in advance. So it was like really thought through in a very careful way.
Nathan: Gotcha. So, you decided to crowdfund this product, And yeah, tell us about the campaign. How long did you guys spend? Because to give the audience some insight, firs of all, let’s start off, how much have you raised so far? It was extremely successful, I think. Is it the most successful publishing campaign on Kickstarter or one of?
Francesca: It is the most crowdfunded original book in history. So far, only the Bible had raised more money than us. So we raised, so far, $1.1 million and, of this, we raised $675,000 on Kickstarter. And then, after the end of the Kickstarter campaign, we moved the campaign to InDemand on Indiegogo to keep raising money. And we almost doubled the amount of money that we had raised on Kickstarter.
Nathan: Wow. That’s incredible. Well, look, first of all, congratulations on all your success.
Francesca: Thank you.
Nathan: You’re welcome. This is an amazing story. Now, let’s talk about the campaign. Let’s talk the strategies, the tactics, some of the things that you’ve done. Very, very smart, how you validated the concept and you’ve sold the manuscript before you even created anything at all to see that there was a demand. And, tell us, you know, so are you still running the other apps and publishing the other apps or are they still in go mode?
Francesca: Well, they are still available for purchase on the App store, but we stopped publishing new ones because, I mean, for us, it didn’t…the margins were not interesting enough to put our energies there.
Nathan: Gotcha. So, you have taken a bit of a pivot?
Francesca: Yeah. Absolutely.
Nathan: Yup. Gotcha. Okay. So, when did you start working on the campaign?
Francesca: We started working on the campaign three or four months before the launch. In many…I mean, of course, like, all the preparation before was also leading to the campaigns. So, overall, I ‘d say nine months before, but really focused on the campaign, three to four months before.
Nathan: Got you. And when did you start building your email list for the giveaways and building up that wait list?
Francesca: One year before.
Nathan: One year, wow. And were you able to share how big you built that mailing list too before you launched the campaign?
Francesca: Yeah. Absolutely. So we had a newsletter of parents that were, like, they loved the Timbuktu’s products. So we had that newsletter of about 6,000 people. And then we built a new newsletter specific for this product that when we launched was about 6,000 people. So overall, we had a very targeted list of 6,000 and a little less targeted list, but it was still parents of another 6,000 people. So, yeah…
Nathan: Got you. And they were the people that supported your campaign within the first 24 hours? Like, that was the core audience you found? So tell us about the prep work. What were the biggest, most important things that you did that you know, really made this campaign a success?
Francesca: So one of the first things that comes to mind is that a lot of people, when they think about the video of the campaign, focused a lot on the video making part on having the coolest images, you know. And I would say, you know, $10 to invest on your video, invest $9 on the script and $1 on the video. It’s counter intuitive. But, like, we did 13 drafts of the scripts before we, like, you really need to hit the nail on the head, the things that you say, the way your video is structured. And you do that in the script phase. You don’t do that with the camera.
Then, of course, if your images are also cool, that’s a plus, but the script is, like, paramount. That’s very, very important. Basically, what you do is you study very closely other campaigns in your space that have done really well and you try to compare them and understand, comparing the video, comparing what they say, how they structure the message and you really try to come up with the best possible script with a very strong hook in the first 20 seconds of the video. The first 20 seconds must really like, be, “Wow.” Because that’s where the people on Kickstarter decide if they’re going to keep watching the video or not.
So in our case, one of the feedbacks that we received more often from the people that supported the campaign, was our video starts with “Once, there was a girl who wanted to marry a prince.” And then that marry-a-prince sentence is deleted and it’s replaced with walk on Mars. You don’t imagine how many people told me how the beginning of the video, “I really felt it talked about me.” And they really understood, like, I mean, I thought it was cool that’s why we did it, but I couldn’t imagine that so many people would tell me how, like, how important that had been, that first 10 seconds had been for them to decide to back the campaign.
Nathan: Hmm, yeah, because one thing I would tell you, just from feedback, Francesca, is I’ve watched the video and…because we’re working on a campaign to do a coffee table book for Foundr, best of, and I’ve watched the video quite a few times because I think it’s so well done. And it’s so, like, the story and it just comes from the heart. It’s very, very real.
Francesca: Yeah. We really worked a lot on that. If you watched our video, you will hear that the audio sucks. And, I mean, there are many things that if we had more resources, we could have done it a more fancy, you know, but I’m really proud that we spent so much time on, like, having the best possible story because that proved to be very, very important. So that’s script is the first thing that I would say.
Then, like, there are a lot of people that are reaching out to us and they have launched a campaign and they tell us, they ask us, “What should I do to get your media coverage?” I mean, if you ask yourself this question after that you launched the campaign, it’s already way too late. So, you really have to, again, study other campaigns in your space that have been successful.
And take a look at all the journalists that wrote about those campaigns. And what we did was we put together a list of, I think it was like 150 articles of journalists that had written about other campaigns empowering young girls, that was the kind of field for us. And then, we hired somebody from Upwork to do some data mining and find the email addresses of the journalists who had written these pieces. And, like, one week or 10 days before the launch of the campaign, we reached out to them and we told them, “Look, I read this article. I really enjoyed it. And I wanted to tell you that in 10 days, I’m gonna launch this and that and I would really love you to check it out and…”
So you kind of try to build a relationship because you have to give them the time to grow passionate about your story. And potentially, you have to find at least a couple of publications that gets so excited about your story that they cover you the say that you launched.
Nathan: Yeah. Got you. And on that front, so, you pitched 10 days before and you just kept, like, if you had anyone that wrote back to you or shown any interest, you actually orchestrated and said, “Hey, look, we’re launching X day. We’d love to have you help in running a story on this day” or…?
Francesca: Yeah. I mean some people are gonna tell you no and that’s okay. Okay, I mean, any other day it’s okay.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right.
Francesca: But there also people that are going to be very passionate about what you’re doing and they are going to try to help you. So, it’s always good to ask.
Nathan: Got you. And did you build up a straight team of people already in your community that would help with the promotion and help getting behind the campaign because you guys already have an audience and a community?
Francesca: Yeah, we did. So what we did was we created a Thunderclap campaign. And we messaged privately all our friends and people that we know that are passionate about Timbuktu. It’s very important that you message them privately because you don’t want to blow your own launch by, you know, saying, “Please support this campaign.” Because you are going to ask for a lot of support after the campaign has launched. So, you don’t want to confuse people asking them to support too many things because then people don’t understand what you’re doing.
Nathan: Yeah. That’s really the point.
Francesca: Yeah. So we messaged them privately and we asked them, “Please support this Thunderclap campaign.” And I think we got, like, 250 people, I guess, or, yeah, 500 people, I don’t remember now, that supported us on Thunderclap. And we did the paid plan there because it’s very important that you can change the date or the time, in case your campaign shifts. I would strongly recommend to go with the paid version as opposed to the free version because with the free version, once you set up the date, you cannot change it anymore. And instead, it’s very important that you have control on, like, making sure that everyone that supported you shares the message on their social feeds at the right time.
Nathan: Gotcha. And you’d recommend the Thunderclap? You found it effective?
Francesca: Yeah. It’s cool. I mean, when you press launch on Kickstarter, you really want to make sure you don’t leave anything that can…you have to build as much momentum as you can. And whatever you can do, you have to do it.
Nathan: Got you. And when did you have guys a launch party?
Francesca: We did not. So, we didn’t, like, all that we did was all, like, digital. We didn’t do any live events.
Nathan: Got you. Okay. Let’s keep this going. Anything else that what you think was an absolute must if you had to do another crowdfunded campaign that really helped you, guys, get amazing traction? You have great product, great story, nailed it with the video, crushed it with the press, what else?
Francesca: One other thing that I think was very important was we created this page where we basically said to all the people that came to the campaign, “If you share this campaign on Facebook, Twitter and email, you can immediately download this great illustrated story about a female scientist.” And that really encouraged people to share the campaign as much as possible. And so that’s another thing that I strongly recommend anyone to do.
Nathan: Can you just delve a little data on telling us how the mechanics of getting people to share and the timeline? So, did you get people to share after the campaign launched? Or, like, can you tell us about that part?
Francesca: No. Yeah, sure. Basically, if you go to our Kickstarter campaign, so just google Kickstarter Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, you will see that on the, like, the very first part was the picture, the mockup of the book, and the description of the project, right? Now, you see the stretch goals that wasn’t there. But then, immediately after the description of the product, we had the share part, so the is an image that says, “Share our project plus get three free eBooks.”
So, basically, there is a button and if you click on it, you are brought to a website with our picture and it says, “Support us with three clicks.” And you share them Facebook, you email a friend, and then you can download these three eBooks that we had prepared beforehand. And they are two illustrated stories about two scientists and a PDF on how to raise confident girls.
Nathan: Got you. And you saw a lot of success with that?
Francesca: Yeah. It really encouraged people to share this with their social circles, which is really important because it really makes your campaign, like, exponentially viral.
Nathan: Got you. And can you wrap some numbers? Do you know how many shares were triggered from that little…?
Francesca: No, I don’t have any numbers right now. But during the campaign, we had like moments where, like, there were, you know, when Facebook tells you how many people are talking about something and it was like 40,000 people were talking about it. So, yeah…
Nathan: Wow. That’s incredible. Okay. So what else did you do? Was there anything else that you’d like to share that was just an absolute game changer?
Francesca: Well, if I said that the quality of the video, like, can also be not great. On the other hand, it’s, in our experience, it’s very important that the images in the campaign really look awesome because that’s the part where you can, I mean, you really have to show that users are going to get something high quality. I mean, I’ve seen many campaigns that were not very successful. And in many cases, I attribute that to the fact that they didn’t take enough care of the images that they showed in the campaign.
It’s very important that you give as much information as you can to the people about the physical qualities of…that the rewards that they’re going to get will have… So, for example, in our case, we gave them the dimensions of the book, the kind of paper, the kind of cover that they would get. And you have to understand that on Kickstarter, like the biggest obstacle to overcome is the fact that people are buying something that doesn’t exist yet. So you really have to make an effort to make them see what they’re going to get because that’s going to win their resistance to put their money on something that they will get several months later.
Nathan: Got you. So had a big focus on building as much trust as possible.
Francesca: Yeah. That is why in our video, for example, you see a lot of images, of other things that we had been able to deliver. So, it’s not just like two people that… You have to establish authority.
Nathan: Got you. I see. Okay. And I’m curious because when it comes to this project, you guys, you closed it off a while ago. Please tell me, when it comes to… What happens next? You fulfill this product, what happens next? Do you guys, like, what does the business model look like, do you think?
Francesca: Well, right now, we were focused on… So the Kickstarter campaign ended at the end of May. But as I said, we are still going. So, it’s still possible to pre-order the book at Indiegogo. Please do, if you’re listening to this. And a…
Nathan: Yeah, we could finish off at where people could go. But please tell us.
Francesca: Yeah. So, I mean, of course it’s been quite a ride to put the book together because we are now, like, last week, we gave the files to the printing company in Canada where we are going to print the book. So, so far, we’ve been mainly focused on delivering, like, making sure that we could fulfill the promise that all our backers, our almost 25,000 backers from 72 counties can get their books in time for Christmas. So we’re just starting now to look at what we’re going to build next.
And the way we see it is, and the way many backers, like, the kind of feedback that we receive from many backers is that they, as well, like, they see this as a movement. So we really want to serve the audience that we created around this book with as many products as we can with the Rebel Girls DNA. Because we really feel there is a big opportunity and the big need from people that would really love to inspire their daughters and their sons with these incredible stories of women from all over the world.
And, you know, part of the reason why we created the books with 60 different female artists, each portraying a different woman, it’s also that in the DNA of this product, there is like a respect for women that looked different from each other. Like, this may seem like trivial details, but they’re not because when you look at, like, all the back-to-school products and the theme merchandise that parents can buy for their girls, that’s really not available on the market.
So we really care of, like, keeping on straighting the message of beauty that can come in any form, like, in any shape, at any age, in any color because this something that’s, unfortunately, is still very rare. And we saw that this message resonated so powerfully with our audience so we want to keep creating products along these lines
Nathan: Yeah, wow, amazing. And what do you have in mind for some products? Do you think a membership community? Do you think where you have premium contents? Do you think more books, maybe more physical products, in other shapes or forms? What are you thinking?
Francesca: Yeah. I mean, we’re thinking of… so, our vision is to create a new kind of media company that also creates physical products as well as digital things. Because we’ve always had a very, like, we always cared that our products would feel very warm to the people that use them. And we started this even with our apps. But what we’ve realized is that when you also build physical products, you really have an opportunity to make it, like, really much warmer than if you just do digital products. Because there is something irreplaceable in the physical experience of something that you created with someone in mind. So we really want to keep creating a combination of digital and physical products and to build a new kind a media company, along these lines.
Nathan: Yeah. I think you guys got a lot of good times ahead of you. A lot of success and I’m really excited to keep watching your journey.
Francesca: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Nathan: So, two last questions. One, you talked about, after the campaign closed, people could still access InDemand via Indiegogo. What did you mean by that? Like, what does that entail?
Francesca: So that’s actually a very important question because, basically, what happens is that when you build a Kickstarter campaign that… In our case, it lasted 29 days. And it’s usually a good idea not to make it last more than 30 days, right?
Francesca: But what happens is that if you did your job well, when the campaign ends, you still have a lot of momentum going on and you don’t want to waste that momentum because people arrived late to your campaign. So, InDemand gives you a great opportunity to basically migrate your Kickstarter campaign to a pre-order website that has recently been incorporated within Indiegogo.
So, just think that the first day after the end of our Kickstarter campaign, we had set up the InDemand campaign. And on the first day, we did, like, we had $20,000 in pre-orders. So, if we had not continued the campaign on InDemand, we would have lost, like, immediately, I mean, we would have lost at least $20,000. Then what happened is that we almost doubled the…
So, there a lot of people, when your campaign works, there are a lot of people that would find out about your campaign when it’s over and you don’t want to miss on their sale opportunity. And that’s why migrating your campaign on InDemand, which is now hosted inside Indiegogo, which is amazing because basically, you’re still in a community of people that are passionate about crowdfunding and always looking out for new products to buy. So it’s really great to use this opportunity.
And the other thing that’s really great is to collect your preorders, you can work on with this company, it’s really great, it is called BackerKit. They’re really great and what they do is they allow you to send surveys through their system when you’re, like, when you have to collect the shipping address for you backers. But the greatest thing is that you can set up a shop there.
So, basically, when the backers come in to complete their survey, they have a system where you offer them the opportunity to, for example, do you wanna add a copy of the book to your orders or two copies, or do you wanna add a poster or a tattoo sheet? So in that case, for us, we made, from people that added things to their order on BackerKit, an extra $60,000.
Nathan: So you had some other products that you offered with BackerKit?
Francesca: Yeah, which were, basically, I mean, most of these were free for the first backers. So in the Kickstarter, we’re really, like, it’s the first community and they have to put their money in when no one has yet. So we really wanted to create for them a premium experience. So with their pledge, the Kickstarter backers also got a coloring book, a tattoo sheet, and a poster. So, basically, the same things that we created for the Kickstarter campaign, then we put them as addons for the backers of, like, InDemand. The ones that arrived later.
Nathan: Gotcha. I see. Amazing. And just one last question on the Indiegogo piece, so you’re actually on the lead up on the campaign finish, you went to Indiegogo to have an InDemand service and then you set up a link to go from Kickstarter to this InDemand service via Indiegogo, correct?
Francesca: Correct. Yup. If you go now to our Kickstarter page, you will see a green button saying preorder and that button will take you to Indiegogo.
Nathan: Got you. So you didn’t build a microsite or anything?
Francesca: No. Not yet. Now we will build a website with Shopify, but, yeah, we haven’t done it yet. That’s why it’s very convenient because even if you haven’t set up a shop yet, it’s very straightforward.
Nathan: Got you. Okay. Fantastic. Oh, look, Francesca, this has been an amazing conversation. I, myself, have learned so much because we have a campaign coming up. You know, we have…we’re serving different industries, different niches, but very similar kind of media company. You know, we started with digital magazines.
We’re venturing out too many different products and having a multifaceted motto. And it’s, like I said at the start, it seems so natural that for us, you know, you’ve got all this amazing content. We’ve got the, you know, the IP and the teams and skills in-house, you may as well. You know, if publish a physical book, it’s a really fun project. And you make it as well…like, I mean, I think crowdfunding is a great way to involve your community as well.
So I have learned an incredible amount. I’m sure our audience has too. So, where’s the best place people can go to support your campaign and find out more about Timbuktu Labs.
Francesca: Yeah. They can go to Indiegogo and, yeah, and look for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. And they can still preorder the book and get it in time for Christmas. So, I mean, it’s really going to be the book of the year. One of the funnest, like, one of the unexpected parts of the campaign has been like that when a project takes off like this, then you get all sorts of interesting conversations with the biggest agents on the market. And you kind of start to learn more about the book market and how you could take this book and a… So this is really going… I mean, it’s unprecedented. So, I really think that having the first edition of the book will be pretty special.
So, you can go on Indiegogo and look for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.
Nathan: Awesome. Fantastic. Look, thank you so much for your time. It was an absolute pleasure.
Francesca: Absolutely. It was a pleasure for me too. Foundr community is really amazing and I got a lot of inspiration also for building this campaign from my involvement in the Instagram domination course. And I strongly recommend to anyone to join the Foundr community because it’s really like a place where you can… If you want to like create your own job and be inspired by your peers, it’s really a great place to be. So, thank you, Nathan.
Nathan: You’re welcome. Thank you so much for the kind words.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Francesca Cavallo
- Follow Francesca Cavallo on Twitter
- Connect with Francesca Cavallo on Linkedin
- Checkout Timbuktu Labs