Let’s just say it: Reaching your customers is hard. It takes more time than you allotted, and the strategy you concocted at the outset is rarely the one that succeeds. And it’s difficult to stay focused on your customer when you’re writing your business plan, raising money, opening bank accounts, applying for permits, raising more money, buying equipment, building out your workspace, hiring employees, contracting vendors, launching social media accounts, raising still more money. Who has time to ask: why am I doing this, and why should anyone care?
We launched Seed&Spark – a tool to connect audiences to filmmakers to crowdfund, promote and watch films – in December 2012, and by April had managed to build a base of 3,000 users. Our “plan” to reach customers was one-on-one outreach to filmmakers and film fans, earned media, and, yes, word of mouth. (Cut to: Kevin Costner standing in a field, a voice whispering, “If you build it, they will come!”)
We were getting films funded. It was working! And the folks who were using our platform thought it was really valuable. Yet our adoption rate was still slower-than-expected, and that told us something: not enough people were getting our message. We weren’t delivering on the stated promise of growing audiences for independent film as fast as we’d hoped.
As a small startup, we don’t always have the cash on hand to make the small, non-critical user interface (UI) improvements we believed could streamline the user experience. But we worried we would lose the good will gifted to a company in “beta” if we didn’t get them done promptly. So, we decided to use our own platform to crowdfund enough money to pay for the upgrades, and use that crowdfunding campaign to reach our small, but engaged, community for input on exactly what those improvements should be. This meant we had to shoot a pitch video, distill our idea into a few minutes, and get the word to as many people as humanly possible. In other words, we had to put our dogma to the test. If we couldn’t meet our own fundraising goal, how could we purport to be crowdfunding experts?
What ensued turned out to be the best 30-day outreach campaign we could’ve hoped for. I’m not here to suggest that every small business should crowdfund, but instead that every business should operate as if they were crowdfunding. Why? Because rather than trying to raise money from investors who (you think) want to hear about your plans for returns, a crowdfunding campaign reaches out directly to your customers–who simply want to know if what you’re doing is valuable to them. You’re forced to think simply: what are you offering? How badly you want to bring your ideas market? How will anyone find out?
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