When you think of crowdfunding, you think of  raising capital for a unique idea or cause. But what if I told you that crowdfunding can be much more than just a tool to raise capital?

Since going mainstream in 2013, crowdfunding has grown worldwide to a volume of $16.2 billion dollars. As of April 2017, the site Kickstarter launched more than 370,000 projects! And there are now dozens of similar sites that offer similar services. So how do you choose the right platform for your project? One option is to choose a platform with a focused approach. This will allow you to not only raise the capital you need, but also tap into an existing community of like-minded people that are in your target market.

Last week, I caught up with Cheryl Clements, founder and CEO of PieShell, to learn more about her food + beverage crowdfunding site and how her customers can use the platform as a marketing tool.

LM: Tell me the PieShell origin story.

CC: It was the fall of 2013 and I was on the patio with my husband. I looked at him and said, "You don't know this, but every single day I think there has to be something more, I don't make a difference in this world." Six months earlier, one of my best friends had been killed in a freak accident and I realized that I didn't want to die with any regrets, I wanted to start my own business and help others make their dreams come true.

I thought of crowdfunding to start my own business selling my mom's famous salad dressing from when she owned the Courtyard Tea Room in Perth, Ontario, Canada. When I realized there was a 75% failure rate for food and beverage companies on the current crowdfunding sites, and there was no site dedicated to all food and beverage projects, PieShell was born!

"The Pie Shell" was the name of my mom's first company. When I was in high school, my dad, brother, and I helped her make 10K pies over 5 years out of the basement of our house.

The way I know I made the right decision is that I have never questioned myself, even on the toughest days, and I know that this was the "something more" that I was looking for.

LM: How is PieShell different from other crowdfunding platforms?

CC: Besides being food and beverage focused, we really highlight the company, their story, and who the founder is. Our audience, advisors, and team all live and breathe food + beverage. We also make sure you know how to crowdfund before you launch. We do that by providing you with a blueprint of crowdfunding best practices, project reviews, and with our custom three stepping-stone model which helps raise more funds than the traditional sites. All of this has resulted in PieShell's 100% success rate. To date, all of our projects have reached at least their first stepping-stone.

LM: What type of companies can use PieShell?

CC: We accept any project that is food or beverage focused. Packaged goods, apps, books, restaurants, kitchen gadgets, foodtech - you name it, we support it!

LM: How does PieShell facilitate the crowdfunding process? 

CC: At PieShell, following crowdfunding best practices is critical for a project's success, so we start you off with an info session to ensure you understand the platform and what crowdfunding really entails. We then incubate you through the crowdfunding process with robust documentation, followed by critical review and feedback of your project elements.  Finally, we incorporate you into our marketing program to provide as much support as possible.

LM: How can crowdfunding help as a marketing tool? 

CC: Crowdfunding is the BEST marketing tool! Where else can you promote yourself, get your story out there, get your product into people's hands, get their feedback on the product, build brand ambassadors, and raise money at the same time?

LM: What are some best practices you can share with brands that are looking to launch a successful crowdfunding campaign?

CC: Don't be shy. Some people have issues asking for help and/or asking for money. But, understand you are starting a company to put an amazing product or service into this world, raising money for your family, and creating jobs for others. LET people help you and be proud of asking them too. As my grandmother used to say, "A friend in need, is a friend indeed!"

Make your crowdfunding ask realistic. So many people don't understand that the average raise on the big sites is only about $7K, and most contributions are in the $25-$50 range. Our average raise is close to $13K, and we make sure that you understand that you should always ask for the bare minimum that you are willing to walk away with at the end, and then do everything you can to be overfunded.

Perfect your story. Your video and project copy is critical for people to understand you. They must answer critical questions such as: Why are you raising funds? What are you doing with the money? Why is your product/idea important? Why are you the right person to do it? And why do you want support from the community? Transparency and sincerity are key!

Promote your project. One of the issues is that people get nervous and don't broadcast what they are doing. Pre-marketing, growing your network, and getting the right community partners are critical steps to communicate to your audience.

"Contributors are King". Similar to the ideology that the "Customer is King," treat your contributors the same way. They are trusting you and investing themselves in your business. Keep them updated throughout the project, thank them personally and via social media shout outs, and make sure you complete the fulfillment of rewards in a timely manner.

LM: We know that PieShell has launched a 60-day equity crowdfunding campaign. How has assisting others in their product launch influenced your own crowdfunding campaign?

CC: We did! PieShell was brought to life via a successful GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign, and to help with our seed round, we turned to equity crowdfunding. We wanted the support of our community, but more importantly, I wanted to be able to give back to all the people that have supported me along the way by allowing them to own part of PieShell. We 100% practice what we preach, by shouting it from the rooftops, thanking our early investors, being as transparent as possible, ensuring that our minimum amount is enough to truly move the company forward and not over-reaching. All of these things are what we see from the most successful projects on our platform, and knowing that we helped our customers keeps us going to raise our own funding to be able to help others.

Crowdfunding can be stressful, which is why choosing the right platform is important for success. If you are in a niche market, consider a niche focused platform like PieShell that will help you leverage your target audience, grow brand awareness, engage customers and build your following.

Published on: Nov 1, 2017