December 6, 2013

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Fund Your Dream

Harnessing the Power of the Crowd

By Spencer Sutherland

December 6, 2013

The folks at Caravan Shoppe just want to share their art. So rather than spend time and effort manufacturing products or maintaining inventory, the Utah design shop sells digital downloads of its pieces. After its customers download the designs, they can use them however they want to make their own art.

In the fall of 2012, a toy company approached Caravan about turning its Mixmates designs—colorful mix-and-match characters for kids—into actual toy blocks under a new brand called Attatoy. Though it was a great opportunity, the three founders of Caravan weren’t sure if they wanted to take on the debt to fund the production.

That’s when they turned to Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is an online funding platform for creative projects like movies, albums, books and technology. Individuals can pledge money at various levels to receive the end product as well as a reward of the campaign creators’ choice. Since its launch in 2009, more than 48,000 Kickstarter projects have been successfully funded. Nearly five million people have donated more than $773 million through the service.

Over a 22-day Kickstarter campaign, more than 800 backers helped Caravan Shoppe raise $33,000 for its Mixmates project. Co-founder Alma Loveland offers up some advice to other companies thinking about running a Kickstarter campaign of their own.

Tell Your Story

Loveland didn’t just wake up one morning and start a Kickstarter account. She and her co-founders, Mike Loveland and Melanie Burk, had been following Kickstarter for some time. “We realized that a campaign needed two things to be successful,” Loveland explains. “A really great video [for the Kickstarter site] and an existing fanbase that can be mobilized.”

Caravan had already built a strong following with its newsletter base and social media efforts, so inviting existing clients to pledge to the campaign was a relatively easy task. Telling its story to a wider, unfamiliar audience was a bit harder.

Luckily, Loveland says, they received a lot of help from a great filmmaker, Jenner Brown. “With the video, we were able to show our product and the personal side of ourselves—our personalities and design sense—and really communicate who we are and what we do.”

Keep it Simple

Though Loveland and her partners felt confident they could meet their Kickstarter goal, they didn’t realize how much work it would take. In addition to the video, Caravan Shoppe had to spend a lot of time determining what prizes to offer to incentivize backers.

The company came up with 13 different rewards for various pledge amounts ranging from $10 to $5,000. Many of the rewards consisted of digital versions of various Mixmates characters. “At first, we were going to let everyone pick their own characters,” Loveland recalls. “But then we realized we didn’t want 700 backers all choosing their own pictures. That would be a logistical nightmare. We decided to just keep it simple.”

Not surprisingly, Caravan Shoppe received most of its backing at the lower pledge levels. “Coming up with ideas for all of the rewards was a lot of work. Next time, I’ll put more focus on incentivizing the basic level [of backers] and spend less time on the higher-level rewards.”

Don’t Forget to Deliver

When it comes to a Kickstarter campaign, raising money is just the beginning. Now that Loveland and her partners have funding for Mixmates, they’re tasked with producing the building block characters for the 800 individuals who backed the project.

“There’s a lot of pressure to deliver,” Loveland admits. “Especially because there are so many aspects of the production that we don’t control.” To keep an eye on the quality of the end product, Loveland plans to use some of the campaign’s extra funding—the company exceeded its Kickstarter goal by more than $13,000—to fly to the overseas production factory. She’s confident the toys will be created and delivered before Christmas.

Though plenty of uncertainty comes with taking a digital product like Mixmates into the physical world, Loveland is glad that Kickstarter made it a possibility. She says she and her partners are already looking forward to their next campaign. 

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