How I raised and lost $40,000 on Kickstarter

By: Pari Mathur

There are a few times that I remember actually being out of breath: when I asked my wife to marry me and after I hit the 30 day mark for my feature films’ Kickstarter campaign. The fact is, it’s only been eight days since the “marathon month” and I’m still exhausted. I guess the hypothesis to this essay goes here, but I don’t really have one. I initially wanted to talk about my experience and what I learned from the campaign, and hopefully inspire other creative artists in their ventures also. But actually, now that I think about it, and to be honest, I just want to give you an insight on how nail-biting it is to raise money for an independent film and hopefully change your overall perception of the value of film production to jumpstart a trend in funding for the arts.

Okay, so I lied. I do have a hypothesis.

Here is the truth. My team and I did not hit our Kickstarter goal in the 30 days. Firstly, I want to be loud and clear. This was not an unsuccessful campaign at all. In fact, it was one of the biggest successes I’ve ever had in my life and one of the biggest mountains I’ve ever climbed. I am very proud of myself for even having the courage to jump off this cliff into turbulent waters.

But before I talk about the project, I think a few of you still don’t know what Kickstarter is. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding website where any artist with a creative vision like myself, can start a campaign (upon application and review) to receive donations based on rewards. People can donate anywhere from one dollar to one million dollars. It’s a pretty cool and relatively new concept in how creative projects are now being produced. And the spectrum of projects spans from technology, to music, to films, and more. If you haven’t checked it out, I suggest you do and browse the large community of super-rad projects.

There is one catch to Kickstarter: it is an all-or-nothing approach. This means you either hit your goal or you don’t get any of the money. If you don’t hit your goal, nobody gets charged and you are left with a big fat zero. Oh, did I mention there is a 30-day time clock on all projects? Yeah, it’s a full sprint everyday. Trust me, I didn’t sleep and I didn’t let me wife sleep either (she’s still cranky about that).

So let’s go back – the project we launched on Kickstarter was my baby – my feature film, Family Party. Our goal was to raise $95,000 through rewards based donations. Now that amount sounds like a lot, but in fact, for an independent feature film, it’s very modest. Nevertheless, for a Kickstarter goal, I admit it was a bit on the high side, but not impossible. Films in the 100k-production budget range are being funded frequently. So, given our target demographic, the problem we were solving, the story we were telling, and our marketing strategies, my team and I were confident we could achieve our goals if we put our minds to it.

And in fact, we did hit our goals. We blew our goals right off the charts. But we just didn’t raise the full 95k.

In order to explain the above statement, I need to first introduce my core team. Even though we have an ensemble crew and cast who were all attached, the two people that stayed up night-and-day with me were my Producers, Felix and Rishi. These guys are certified warriors and I probably owe them a kidney (they can each split one because I need the other). These guys kept calm and put their heads together while I (frequently) would turn our home-office upside down in a T-Rex frenzy induced by sudden panic as I habitually hit refresh on our Kickstarter page screaming as to why we weren’t hitting our goal.

Felix and Rishi are two of the smartest people I’ve ever met. We prepped for two months before we even launched our campaign. We read articles like this called Hacking Kickstarter and observed other campaigns. We tracked analytics and had a creative marketing game plan for each day. Our campaign was a loaded gun. We fired, and hit the gates running.

Now given this context, now let me explain what we accomplished in just a month from a few statistics:

  • $40,000 worth of pledges raised in just 30 days.
  • Over 600,000 impressions on Facebook in just 30 days.
  • Listed as a “Staff Pick” on Kickstarter homepage.
  • I wrote an article and got published on the Huffington Post all during the campaign (in a 5 day duration), which caused my email and Facebook inbox to explode.

If the above doesn’t translate for you, let me be clear, these bullet points are ahead of the curve. Our engagement levels on all content and marketing were sky high. People were clicking on our banner ads, YouTube videos, and Facebook posts. We were being talked about in media outlets, our campaign was highly visible, people were clicking through to our page, but the problem was simply the conversions. People were not taking out their credit cards and donating.

Why?

My mind was in a tornado of questions all the time: Did people believe in my message? Did people understand my message? Are people getting the story? Do people know how to donate? Should we create more content? WHAT IS HAPPENING???

Now do you see why I had the T-Rex panic frenzy?

The bottom line is this: time flies fast. You have to act and react to how people are acting and reacting. You can’t really know this until you are firing in the trenches. And 30 days is not a lot of time to change the ship’s course once you’re into the eye of the storm. That being said, yes, I would have done a few things differently and steered in another course (had I known). However, I’m not going to bore you with full details, nor am I going to call anyone out or blame anyone for not hitting the goal but myself.

But when you break it down Rishi, Felix, and my friends and family donated the majority of the rewards based pledges. These people are the ones closest, and the people that will always support, us (I’m glad we had a lot of you on our team!).

The one problem I realized is that we were getting a lot of spectators. For example, a lot of people reached out to me afterwards with something along the lines of “Hey I was tracking your progress all throughout. You did a great job!” And because I know each and everyone who backed my project, I often respond with a “Thanks, so then why didn’t you donate?”

You’ll be as surprised as I am with the responses. Most say something like; “Oh I was traveling” to “I was working on a work project with a deadline” to simply no response at all. And let’s not kid ourselves. These people ALL have time. Everyone has, and can make, the necessary time. Donating to Kickstarter takes less than a minute and as low as $1 dollar to support. As I’m writing this, I’m looking at these people on Facebook chat right now. They have a green dot next to their name, which means they are available and have time.

These are the people who I call spectators.

Since Kickstarter is quantifiable (goal vs time), we got a lot of people checking in from the sidelines not playing the game, but rather tracking it analytically and coming to our page frequently to monitor progress. These people of course did not donate due to the simple fact that they have made up their mind that “their donations would not matter”.

This in fact, screwed it all up in the end because we had a lot of these people flocking together and changing directions like the scene in Jurassic Park. This is fine though. I mean, most professional sporting events have more spectators than people on the field, right? The only difference is in real life they pay to watch the game.

Maybe it was my message that just didn’t have a punch? But then why were people continually coming to our page?

I was lucky. We had a troupe of cheerleaders. My Dad sent out emails. My wife was out shaking hands. My friend circles and even professional networks were all posting, emailing, and sharing my vision. We had a small team chanting and cheering us to the finish line from the sidelines. It felt good (Thanks guys, you guys know who you are!).

But what I really needed were more players. People ready to put on pads and get hit. From what I realized, people are very comfortable and don’t want to act for the simple sake of getting injured. What they don’t realize is playing the game is sometimes the most fun and rewarding. If I had to go back in time, I’d spend the two months prep period forgetting our marketing strategies to simply convert these spectators into players. I feel this is the recipe for a successful Kickstarter campaign (I’m only assuming. There are probably thousands of other ways. This is just my two cents based on how my campaign ran).

Okay, it may sound like I am complaining or pouting, but I’m not. Raising money or capital for any project is hard in any industry, I get that. But I need to be clear. This film is not over.

So what’s next? What are my team and I doing now? That’s a great question. I’m sure even Christopher Columbus hit his share of storms on his travels across the Atlantic and all wasn’t blue skies and apple pies. But he reached the other side and so will we. We’re initiating our plan B and raising funds via our non-profit partner Fractured Atlas, which makes donating to our film tax-deductible. And thanks to our giant support skeleton already, our backers are taking their pledges on Kickstarter and converting them to Fractured Atlas. And it’s working. We’re already at close to 20k of our goal. Also, thanks to the awareness, we’ve even gotten some interest in new investment/equity opportunities.

If you’d like to know more and become one of our players, let me know. We’re sailing in a better direction and I’d love to have you on my team (again).

So now I’m supposed to end with a conclusion, right? I’m bad at endings and probably not even going to revisit my hypothesis, so in the end, I just really hope I gave some perspective to new artists and especially the spectators. I also really hope we can bridge the gap between the two and get some really cool projects some attention. For example, just this past Oscar season, we had our first crowd-funded film to win an Academy Award called Inocente. Now that’s dope.

The time is changing for how art is made and you should join in.

I talked to a very successful Film Director two years ago when I was starting this journey, who told me this would be the hardest part of my adventure and to not give up. I’m taking his advice. It took him six years to make his first feature film and from the box office numbers, it seems the hard work paid off for him. I just hope it doesn’t take me that long otherwise my wife will come after me with a flamethrower.

They say the squeakiest mouse gets the cheese. This mouse is going to squeak his way to the finish line. Come squeak with me and help bring projects like Family Party to reality.

  • To support Family Party: FRACTURED ATLAS.
  • To support other awesome projects: KICKSTARTER.
  • For investment opportunities, email us at familypartythefilm@gmail.com
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