EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION: Amie Thảo + Olli Tumelius are cycling 15,000 miles across the world’s largest landmass, Europe + Asia, to document real people, real stories, and real food. They’ve made this dream possible with the help of a successful $7,500 Kickstarter (http://kck.st/isc-eurasia) campaign and 131 backers.
This interview isn’t so much about their journey on their bikes, but their journey to make their vision a reality through this campaign. There are a lot of doers and adventurers out there that would love to embark on a similar adventure that combines their unique passions as well, but it can be tough to figure out the details and strategies of how to do actually do it. Amie Thảo of the International Supper Club tells us what she and Olli did to make it happen!
First up, CONGRATS on your successful Kickstarter campaign!!! Can you tell us a bit about what this trip is going to entail, why you’re doing it, and what your big plans for it are as you make your way cycling and eating one day at a time?
Thank you very much! The International Supper Club is a storytelling project. We are documenting people and food along our route as well as creating a crowd-sourced art project that will let people tell their stories on our website. Our aim is to connect with people and encourage others to do the same by using the theme of shared meals.
Even before this expedition you biked over 5,000 miles across Europe. When and how did you and Olli get into cycling?
Olli and I had bikes as kids and liked them. Then we forgot about cycling for a while. I lived in Los Angeles for six years. When I came back to Seattle in 2008, I left my car behind. I got a bike and started pedaling up and down the hills. Meanwhile in Helsinki, Olli got into road cycling. We heard about cycle touring at around the same time. He started hosting cyclists and getting ideas for his own adventure. I got laid off from my job and started cycling across Europe–always with the intention of making it home to Seattle. When we met, Olli decided to come with me.
In a nutshell, describe to us the various components of your Kickstarter campaign.
- I’m an artist, Olli is a musician; we explored various combinations of our skills and interests. Some of our ideas got really complicated. In the end, we chose something simple and natural. We chose to do the thing I was already doing, but to do it in a more intentional way.
- We studied what Kickstarter is and how it operates. A good place to start is Kickstarter’s guidelines and school. We reviewed interesting campaigns and tried to figure out how they work. Some great projects that have connections to ours are Geography of Youth, PHOTAMERICA, Walking to Mexico, and Silk Road in Stereo.
Proof of concept
- We’ve seen projects where the first question that comes to mind is, can this person do this? We addressed the credibility question by compiling photos and writing stories from my previous trip. We created a simple website to show what we are thinking.
- We discussed strategy, made lots of lists, and created timelines.
- We submitted a rough project outline to Kickstarter on December 13 and it was accepted the next day. Over the next two months, we wrote a proposal, determined rewards, created a video, and created our web identities (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) Our campaign was launched on February 13.
- Six solid weeks of marketing.
How’d you end up requesting $7,500? Was this your “lowest possible need” to get going on the trip or did you shoot higher? It seems like it might be temping to ask for the low end of what expedition costs would be in hopes that it would help the campaign be more likely successful, but is that really the case? What was your train of thought here?
We considered our project and rewards (our ‘product’), looked at our market space, and priced it appropriately.
We have specific requirements. Some are tangible such as technology and visas, but what we need most is time. Time to write stories, create multi-media pieces, develop our website, and build our community. For me, $7,500 is the equivalent of 2-3 months of full-time income as a designer. Instead of stopping along the way and working on various freelance projects, we get to work on the International Supper Club instead. (Of course, we have spent hundreds of hours working on the campaign and we haven’t even fulfilled the rewards or started the project yet!)
So our goal was not directly related with our daily budget–food, accommodation, etc.–we have that covered by our savings. The money we earned on Kickstarter is earmarked to make the project great. Essentially, we created our own job and asked our backers to put us on their payroll.
Our suggestion is to consider these questions when coming up with a goal:
- How much money would it take to successfully complete your project?
- How much time and work would it take without Kickstarter to earn your goal?
- Why do you want to use Kickstarter?
- How big is your social network? How much can it bear financially?
- Remember, if you propose a project, you have a responsibility to your backers to see it through. Is the trade-off of time and freedom worth it?
Make sure to consider the time and money it will take to fulfill your rewards, Kickstarter fees (5%), Amazon fees (3-5%), and income taxes.
Our final recommendation is to be your biggest backer and to be the first to invest in your dream. We both bought our bikes and gear and saved money for the trip before we came up with the project. I think people are more likely to help if you show that you’ve invested your own resources.
Who comprised your list of backers? What strategies would you recommend to others to get their campaigns backed?
Most of our backers were the result of direct (personal emails) or indirect (press mentions) effort. Approximately 48% of our backers are friends, 9% are family, 8% are friends of friends, and 35% are people we have never met.
Only a handful of our backers found our project by browsing Kickstarter (and three of them pledged $1 or $2.) This was the case even though we were featured on Kickstarter’s blog as one of their favorite new projects (http://kck.st/isc-featured) and in Staff Picks.
We want to stress that Kickstarter is not a source of free money. Unless you already have an audience willing to support your work or you land on the front page of Kickstarter or you have a tangible product as a reward (a book, a film, an iPhone dock)–most likely, you will need to work for each backer.
Don’t expect many backers just by sharing on Facebook or Twitter or by having your friends share. Social media feeds fly by so quickly that it is easy to be missed or ignored. Almost all the friends that backed us were approached through individual messages.
Here are some specific strategies:
- Identify your potential audience (Twitter is a great way to find the key people in your field) and contact them using social media and email. We approached the foodie, cycling, adventure, and local (Seattle, Helsinki) communities. Tap your networks–former co-workers, alumni groups, forums, etc.
- Be direct and ask for what you want. Let people know why you are approaching them. We started by sharing our project without telling people know how they can help. In the last few weeks, we specifically asked if people could share our project on Twitter, Facebook, or on their blog. This resulted in a lot more action.
- Prepare a press release describing your project with a downloadable media kit (http://internationalsupperclub.org/media-kit/) and send it out. We contacted all the relevant newspapers, magazines, and radio stations in Seattle and Helsinki. Then we branched out to national and web-based publications. Expect silence from the majority. Be organized (spreadsheet!) and follow up.
- Use momentum from any press mentions to get traction. Early on we got on the front page of a local paper in Seattle. Unfortunately, the article did not include our URL or Kickstarter campaign. A missed opportunity, but we were able to send that cover around to provide more credibility for our project.
- Develop relationships with supporters and backers. Kickstarter isn’t just about getting fundraising, it is about finding an audience for your project (and for us, community building.) If people can’t help financially, maybe they can provide support in other ways. (Example: one man offered to provide us with emergency spare parts while we are on the road.)
- Share your project in multiple ways. We sent an email newsletter summarizing our project, our campaign, and our press mentions to over 500 people. We read the profile of every cyclist in the Seattle area listed on a hospitality website and emailed all of them individually. We’ve seen other people throw fundraising events for their projects. Be creative!
- Ask your backers for help. Our parents and friends shared our project. Friends forwarded our newsletter. One friend, Ana Bagayan, raised $250 by selling her artwork (http://anabagayan.com/index.php?page=updates&post=D3A6F3) for us. Our backers also gave us new ideas.
- Show gratitude. We sent messages to everyone who backed us, mentioned us to their communities, or shared our project. We couldn’t have made it without them
It is worth mentioning that every tactic we tried and every press mention resulted in only a few backers each. In the end, we contacted over 400 people with customized messages. It worked, but it was tons of effort.
Your video was fantastic! How’d you come up with the idea? What would you recommend as a breakdown of essential components to a good Kickstarter video?
We started by watching A LOT of Kickstarter videos. We reviewed the ones we liked and didn’t liked. The ones that worked and didn’t work. We broke down all of them.
Then we brainstormed our approach, drew storyboards, wrote a script, and did some run throughs for length and clarity. We got feedback from friends a few times during the process.
We wanted to make our video visually interesting, but most importantly, clear and concise. We wanted to answer the basic questions: what our project is, why we’re doing it, why we need help, and what the rewards are for backing us. Of course we wanted it to be fun too.
I recommend having some sort of script and then cut it in half. Stick to the essentials. 3 minutes is already a long web video. Look at your video as your elevator pitch. Get your message across quickly. Have a story. This is overused, but is probably the best advice: show/be yourself! People back people they feel a connection with.
The videos we saw that didn’t work for us didn’t answer the basic questions or had distracting technical qualities. Video don’t need to be professionally made, but the audio and visuals need to be clear enough to tell what’s going on. We have also seen videos from expedition projects that were all about them. It’s good to show personality, but make sure to present the project.
Also, here are some tips from Kickstarter on how to make an awesome video for your campaign.
How did you come up with your rewards? (All of which were really creative!) What would be your advice to others planning their own expedition for creating rewards?
We thought about things that could be produced by the project–postcards, photographs, recipes, books. And things that had to do with our theme–aprons, grocery totes, DIY International Supper Club kits, etc. Each potential reward was reviewed in terms of relevance and cost.
The rewards we offered can be divided into two groups: some items take time to produce (video hugs and digital souvenirs!), but no money. Some items will be created once (recipe cards), but require money to print and send. We priced them like any product–how much we think they are worth to our backers and how much it would cost us to create.
Our advice is to think of rewards that can only be produced by your project. People who back expeditions want to be part of them! Don’t make rewards so costly that you won’t have time left for your project! Our rewards will be incorporated into our project.
It’s worth mentioning that almost 20% of our backers chose no reward. They just backed our project because they wanted to support us.
- Yancey Stricker, co-founder of Kickstarter in a talk (http://vimeo.com/26982233) said that 90% of campaigns that reach 30% of their funding goal are successful because it shows that there is an audience for the project. We were anticipating a snowball effect after we reached 30%, but that didn’t happen until 90%! We were sprinting almost all the way to the finish line.
- Our average pledge was much higher than we anticipated. We thought we would get a lot more backers at the $5 and $10 level. Instead, many people, including strangers, pledged between $25 and $100. (Wow!)
- It turns out that running a Kickstarter campaign is an all-consuming, time-intensive, and crazy-making venture. It is easy to look at a project from the outside and think it’s effortless–just throw your idea on Kickstarter and backers will find it. Even we, in the midst of our campaign, upheld the fantasy that somewhere along the line, we would become the “cool kids” and we can just sit back and let things happen. Nope! I’ve dreamt about our campaign almost every night for a few weeks. Not a joke.
Anything you would do differently?
- Consider offering a physical reward at a lower pledge level ($15-25). Many people want something tangible for their money. `
- Try to get others to commit to helping early on. A co-founder of the International Food Blogger Conference offered to throw us a fundraising dinner, but fortunately/unfortunately, we reached our goal before that could happen.
- If possible, contact press before launching the campaign. We still have articles (this one came out yesterday: http://centraldistrict.komonews.com/news/people/733200-cyclists-share-meals-life-stories-strangers-journey-across-europe-asia) in the works, but they are too late for Kickstarter. (But still appreciated!)
What kind of feedback did you get from backers and other supporters about your campaign?
We received many nice comments (and a few hecklers), but one of the ones that touched us was from a family in New Haven,
“I chose the Tea Party level of support because I really wanted our sons to have this direct exposure to you and your adventures. I always hope to present them with models of folks pursuing their dreams, following unexpected paths, and making connections with others.”
Another one that made us smile was the enthusiastic,
“…this is SO FUCKING RAD!”
Where online can we follow your journey and how people get more involved and submit their own stories?
Our website is http://internationalsupperclub.org. You can follow us on Facebook (http://facebook.com/internationalsupperclub) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/intlsupperclub). Our community art project is in development. You can start submitting your stories to our website starting around May 1st.
If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people (which you very well are doing with this very project and trip by the way!), what would that message be?
It is possible to do an expedition on a very small budget. If you can’t get funding or save a huge pile of cash, go for it anyway! Things will work themselves out. The most important thing is to take steps towards your dream.