Alexandra Gjurasic is that rare artist and painter who both does amazing work and has business chops to boot. In the interest of disclosure she’s a great friend of mine, but I’ve also done some business coaching with her and have always been so impressed with her smarts and her follow-through.
In late March Alexandra (I call her Lex) developed a plan to make some prints from one of her most popular paintings, Kokeshi Doll Tsunami. But to make more than a few prints, the cost was prohibitive. She decided to use Kickstarter to raise funds for her project, and set a goal of raising $1,750 which would pay for making and packaging 50 prints. She launched the campaign in early May.
Last week, I was thrilled to see that it took Lex just two short weeks to hit her fundraising goal with a month to spare. Since so many folks are interested in Kickstarter these days, I decided to ask her to share her secrets to success. I chat-interviewed her the day after she met her goal and got funded.
Me: Lex! You hit your fundraising goal on Kickstarter! Congrats!
Alexandra: Thanks Peri!
Me: OK, let me pick your brain about what you think worked/not worked in your campaign so I can share it on my blog. Obviously, it mostly worked since you reached your goal so quickly! How did you do it?
Alexandra: I really took my time preparing mentally while editing my project on the Kickstarter site. I knew that once the project launched it would be a major push for me to be successful. I looked at my timeline for KDT [the Kokeshi Doll Tsunami print project] and made sure I felt like once it launched I could give it my full attention.
I followed Kickstarter’s advice for constructing the project, looked at other projects like mine, and took my time even though my friends had projects popping up every day on social networking sites. Basically I resisted launching the project before I and the project were both thoroughly ready.
Me: You hit your goal in just 14 days. What do you think was the biggest reason for your success?
Alexandra: First off, I was born into a family of fundraisers. My dad is a lobbyist so I grew up that environment. I really have no shame asking people for money. Also I studied arts management and am certified in that.
But most of all people that gave to my project were people that really wanted a piece of my art for a long time. By backing Kokeshi Doll Tsunami they were able to pre-order the prints that I was/am raising the funds to make.
Me: I think your rewards are great, both in terms of the products themselves and how you structured the tiers. Do you think they helped attract supporters? And can you describe your thoughts/strategy on structuring them?
Alexandra: My vision for KDT was to raise funds to make prints of my art and be able to share my art with the world. I wanted to structure my rewards to steer people toward the reward that funded three prints including one presale. I did the math and that was the $100 level of donation — it was clearly the most successful funding level for my project. But overall I wanted all the rewards for my project to be attractive. I wanted backers to feel like they were getting something special and particular to them.
Me: What is the biggest mistake you saw others make?
Alexandra: Oh man, this one dude’s project was more like a personal ad! It was funny to read but sad at the same time. Otherwise I mostly read really sharp ones. I read through them asking myself questions like “Would I give to this project?” “Are these rewards enticing?” “Is this a project that would be fun to see come to fruition and be a part of?”
Me: I did read some fairly sad project descriptions that reeked of desperation and “my one last chance” kind of vibe. I believe in writing from the heart and all, but it’s important not to sound pathetic.
Alexandra: In writing a project description, you gotta remember it is just that: a description, not a diary entry. It’s important to be vulnerable and real when pitching your project. But just like dating, a desperate plea isn’t going to close the deal. Kickstarter is about funding creativity, not donating to charity.
Me: Of course the work at the heart of the project itself is important, and your work is so lovely and appealing. Do you think artists with darker subject matter might have a harder time?
Alexandra: No I don’t think artists with a darker subject would have any tougher time. Just as many people like creepy crawly as they like happy. If you have a solid, professional, clear pitch then you can sell anything.
Me: No Lex, YOU can sell anything.
Alexandra: HA! I AM pretty charming, hence my video plea!
Me: How did you approach doing the video?
Alexandra: I watched a few really keen and well-edited videos for other projects and knew I didn’t have the time or ability to make a video like those. But Kickstarter advises posting one as a component of a successful project so I knew I had to produce something. I really wanted to tick the video off my list. So the plan I developed was to make sure that any aspect of my prints, project or rewards that couldn’t be showcased in the words and description format on the site was in my video.
Me: I think it’s great that you didn’t bag the whole idea just because you couldn’t do your “ideal” video. And it was a solid combo of information plus personality. My husband Turtle is a cinematographer so I know how hard video can be, especially if you try to produce something that’s even a tiny bit ambitious. I think a lot of folks find it intimidating.
Alexandra: There is something likeable about maybe not a technically perfect video. Mine is just me being me. My hair is washed and my child isn’t yelling in the background. I’d call that a success any day. It took all of 30 minutes to make.
That said, I did watch one of a frumpy unshaven guy in front of his computer talking too much about a project I didn’t care about to begin with. Seriously, his pitch would have been better if he just replaced himself with a 6-year-old. I’d give him $5 just because that would have been funny.
Me: Any advice on how much money to ask for? And how long of a time period to choose?
Alexandra: As you know I am an extremely conservative and prudent person. Kickstarter recommends a campaign length of 30 days in order to create a “sense of urgency.” I gave myself 45 days since this was new territory for me and I wanted the timeline to not conflict with my personal plans.
I chose a frugal goal amount because I wanted to surpass it. My sense is that once a project is funded there is a sense of patron peer pressure that brings in more backers. Kinda like, “Hey this a cool project and you would be cool too if you supported it.” The amount I chose would fund creating 50 prints. Honestly I’d love to double my goal since I already own 100 plastic sleeves I’d like to fill with prints!
Me: Cool. And smart. OK, so one more question: Once you created this strong campaign, how did you get the word out about it? Since we’re friends on Facebook I know you worked it really well on Facebook; were there other channels you used?
Alexandra: I started with emailing family and friends, plain and simple. Then I used their input to really perfect my email plea for my larger email list of patrons. I posted on my personal FB [Facebook] and my artist FB page, Alexandra Gjurasic Studio. Then I contacted specific people that love my art and I thought might support it on FB. My pleas to them were polite, personal and specific to that person.
I also made a list of celebrities on different social networks who I think might like my art, or be interested in the subject matter, or have some connection to the project that might help me hook them in. I’m on Twitter @gjurasicpark and have been using it relentlessly! I also searched online for businesses, charities and special interest groups that might connect to my project. My blog is also a platform for the constant promotion of Kokeshi Doll Tsunami.
Me: So much of how you describe your approach shows that online networking is really not all that different from networking in the real world. There’s nothing automatic about marketing online or using crowdfunding. You gotta leverage your networks and work it.
Alexandra: I don’t even know what “crowdfunding” means! Joking!
Me: Ha! It’s just the general term for social media-based fundraising like Kickstarter: appealing to the crowd for funds, rather than to typical sources of funding (banks, venture funds, etc.).
Alexandra: Aha. Yes, it was very satisfying to get people I didn’t even know backing my project. So exciting!
Me: Totally! OK, on one hand, reaching your goal is worthy of celebrating and calling attention to. BUT you don’t want to de-motivate potential new supporters. Any thoughts on how you’ll handle this?
Alexandra: Well, my plan right now is to do a small mailing to people on my mailing list. Sometimes people don’t check their email or aren’t connected to the Internet the way other people constantly are, so I need to so something to connect to them.
I also have some functions coming up at which I’ll meet people and of course they will ask “So what kind of art do you make?” Then I will bust out a promotional card I made with the URL of the Kickstarter campaign. I also have people I know would love to back the project or have been interested in my prints recently so I have to contact them again. Then I’ll do one final countdown towards the end of the project.
Me: So what are you doing to celebrate?
Alexandra: We ate 1/2 price sushi tonight at a fancy place. $30 worth, $60 full price! HOLLA!