The crowdfunding campaigns you hear about are ones that wildly succeed. So and so raised millions of dollars, the headlines read. Rarely do we hear from entrepreneurs when they are actually in the heat of battle. Breathing life into an idea is always a battle of sorts, and running a crowdfunding campaign is particularly brave. There you are, putting it all out on the line for everyone to see. Asking your friends, family, and social network to support you takes courage. I love it. In every way, crowdfunding is a revolutionary tool.
It's also exciting, and even raw. Typical campaigns last just 30 days and we get the privilege of seeing how it all plays out in real time. There is so much to be learned, and not only from campaigns that smash records. Mostly, I'm talking about the ability to dig deep, to persevere. When it comes to bringing products to market, there are few skills more crucial. If your campaign isn't raising as much money as you had hoped, what can you do to pivot? What are your options? How do you fight off pessimism?
I was eager to pose these questions to Howie Busch, an entrepreneur who is currently in the midst of his own crowdfunding battle. (I know Busch well because he's an inventRight coach.) With three days left to go, Busch is doing all he can to increase pre-sales of his product so that he's in a better position to secure a licensing deal. To date, he's raised nearly $57,000 for DudeRobe, his line of towel-lined loungewear for men. But he hopes to establish even greater proof of demand. If sales stall, he faces escalating manufacturing costs and likely a net loss.
Within just two days of going live, Busch met his goal of raising $25,000 on Kickstarter. A former attorney, Busch is now a successful product developer who has licensed several ideas to industry leaders. DudeRobe is the first product he has gone the crowdfunding route with and by all measures, he was off to a strong start. His invention was quickly featured on BroBible and various I Heart Radio stations across the country. A producer for ABC's Shark Tank tweeted at him. Several companies interested in potentially licensing DudeRobe reached out to him.
Three weeks later, he had more than doubled his stated goal. But to truly establish proof of demand and secure a licensing deal, he hopes to raise at least $75,000. With just three days left to accomplish that seemingly Herculean task, Busch remains confident. He noted that apparel is notoriously difficult to license, in part because it's not overly protectable.
Busch started strong and is committed to finishing strong, but it's that middle section of the campaign that is so often particularly troublesome for entrepreneurs. All of the successful Kickstarter veterans Busch spoke with before he went live warned him to expect 'the lull.' It's inevitable, they each told him. But he still thought his campaign might be different. (Who among us hasn't fallen victim to this line of thinking?)
"I really did believe them. But it's still hard to prepare yourself for it. I can tell you this, the lull isn't fun," Busch admitted. "It really is an emotional rollercoaster... but then again, I happen to like rollercoasters."
The support he's received from his family, friends, and community at large has helped. "When you walk around town and everyone is asking you about it and telling you how cool it is, it's hard to stay down. When your kids and close friends tell you how proud they are of you, it's hard to stay down."
Busch admits he's already learned a few priceless lessons. Opting to work with one of the most successful crowdfunding marketing agencies forced him to raise the price of his apparel. And some young men have told him that while they love his product, it's more than what they would pay for a bathrobe.
With just three left to go, he wasn't thinking of letting up. He was doing what any good entrepreneur would: Digging in even deeper.
"I am constantly reading and poking and prodding to try to find new ways to get the word out, to engage people to spark interest and sales. This is a fluid process," he stressed.
He was looking to create surround sound -- the feeling that DudeRobe was everywhere, inescapable, and thus exciting. "It's that, 'If everyone is talking about it, it has to be great mentality,'" he explained.
To stay relevant, push through the lull he finds himself in, and reach his desired goal, Busch is focusing on the following avenues under his control:
1. Press. Two weeks before his own, another men's fashion related campaign launched around a male romper. The RompHim™ quickly went viral and brought in nearly $400,000. Rather than let that get him down, Busch decided to use that fact to his advantage. He reached out to the influencers who covered the romper to write about DudeRobe.
He continues to come up with different angles to approach media outlets and influencers with. Busch even posted a bathrobe-centric survey online asking whether guys should wear DudeRobe or a regular robe. Another asked whether they should wear DudeRobe, a male romper, or lace shorts.
One of the most reliable ways to generate press is by capitalizing on what's already in the news. A Father's Day angle would have been nice, Busch said, but the media was reluctant to bite because his product won't ship until the fall.
2. Celebrity endorsements. When we spoke, Busch was in the process of connecting with several potential spokespersons. He had a meeting scheduled with the wife of an internationally known rock star. He was in touch with an old client of his, a wrestler who had played in the NFL and had a very large and engaged social media following. He was working on getting to the ultimate robe-wearing dude, Jeff Bridges. Someone he knew had offered to put him in touch with one of the most popular quarterbacks in the NFL.
He continues to work these angles, but is hampered by his lack of samples. "Lesson learned: Having samples to send out to potential spokespersons to look at and pose with is a must."
3. Facebook advertisements. The advertisements he paid a third-party to post for him weren't converting, so he switched mid-campaign and began working with a second company to make better use of Facebook. "We're battling the fact that it's June and bathrobes are thought of as winter loungewear," Busch explained. "Although marketing materials show them being used after a workout or trip to the beach, it really is tough to change consumer psychology."
4. Email marketing tools. Posting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter isn't enough. The experts say that only five percent of your Facebook friends even see your posts. Plus, not everyone is on social media, so, sometimes a more personal approach is in order. The startup Green Inbox, which uses personalized email messages to boost funds, worked out for Busch: The $200 he spent has resulted in a 30 times ROI thus far. "The emails have been one of the most effective tools by far," Busch said. "Some people appreciate a more personal approach."
To become an entrepreneur, you can't be afraid of what people might think.
"I've found that people genuinely want to help. The level of support I have received from my tribe has blown me away. When you're willing to put yourself out there, you will attract positive energy in kind," Busch said.
For Busch, that's a kind of reward in itself.
"People do want to help. They want to feel like they're part of something, that they were there with you from the beginning. And you know what? They're right to feel that way. Because without them, I would not be where I am today. So, I hope they know how much I appreciate them and their support. That's what keeps you going through those darn lulls and those difficult times."
I believe the benefits of crowdfunding greatly outweigh the risks. As a longtime proponent of open innovation, how could I think otherwise? You can't keep your ideas to yourself and expect anything to come of them. You have to be willing to share.
"I'm a big believer in putting your idea out there and seeing where it takes you," Busch said. "Because once you put something out there and everyone knows about it, you're going to do everything in your power to make sure it's a success. You're going to dig even deeper."
I could not agree more.