UPDATE: We’re back in control of the meetup.com group. Please note that no decision has been made to continue using meetup.com as the Hacker News Cologne community platform going forward. That’s up to you to decide at the next meetup. As Apple says, “We like to have options”.
The rumors about our death are yet again greatly exaggerated.
In light of our meetup.com group being p0wned today, I thought I’d announce the next meetup here. It’s business as usual for Hacker News Cologne and we’re looking forward to see you all again at SolutionSpace on November 28th at 1900 CET. This time we’re relying on you and not meetup.com to get the word out. You know what to do.
We’re super excited to bounce back with a couple of awesome talks!
And that’s not all! Greg Cooper, Y Combinator alum and Co-Founder of the awesome Interstate will also be joining us in the flesh to share some stories from his experience and take your questions.
At the next Meetup we’ll also discuss and decide an alternative community platform to meetup.com – which I think we can all agree left us somewhat wanting in security and reliability department, albeit rich on drama and adventure. Now you’ll get to decide where we go next.
As always, bring your own lightning talks and projects to show and tell and keep recommending new topics and speakers!
My entrepreneurial buddy Francis and I tried to crowd fund a startup. It was an iPhone app. More specifically, an Instagram for one second videos. We failed. Spectacularly.
But don’t let that discourage you from trying. Here are some of the lessons we learned.
Update: For validation of our concept, see now twitter owned Vine and Cesar Kuriyama’s 1 Second Every Day that emerged over six months later.
Recap for new readers: In the summer of 2012, me and Francis decided to experiment with crowd funding. We’re both busy running a couple of otherstartups, but since we were both n00bs to this crowd funding thing we thought we’d better get some experience and without potentially involving our main brands.
In short, we were trying to crowdfund an app to shoot and share videos composed of one second shots – six months before Vine and One Second Everyday. (I still remember people laughing at the idea back then…)
Roughly speaking there are two main types of crowd funding: 1) Funding against selling equity, percentages of shares that is, in your company 2) Funding against selling perks, products, merchandise, hot air and bridges in London – for no equity whatsoever. As we are both stingy bootstrappers, we liked the sound of the last option.
We decided go with IndieGoGo since you needed to be a US citizen to use Kickstarter at the time – or find someone with one willing to be use as a proxy, which would raise all sorts of other issues like liability, legality and added costs in fees – and the potential of a 3rd party effectively being able to hold your money hostage if successful.
Here’s what the last iteration of the video pitch on IndieGoGo looked like:
Starting out, we had some assumptions and there were a few things we wanted to test and (in-)validate:
Is it possible (for us, right now) to crowd fund (without equity) the development of an iPhone app?
Is there any interest in this product in the market?
How efficient is spamming, mailing, tweeting, posting and otherwise contacting friends, fools, families, bloggers and journos?
What is the conversion rate from blogs and news sites when and if we get published?
Read on for the more longwinded answers and conclusion.
As luck would have it, during our campaign I also got the chance to ask IndieGoGo co-founder Danae Ringelmann (@GoGoDanae) in person at a panel on Crowd Funding of startups in Europe moderated by Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher) at the Campus Party EU in Berlin.
Danae was kind enough to sit down with me after the panel and give me more advice on our crowd funding campaign. Here’s what we learned from her:
For a very successful IndieGoGo campaign example, look at Satarii Star.
Add as much as possible to the story of “what’s in it for me as a backer”, “only you make it happen”, “if you help this happen you will be able to do X and Y”, focus on the emotional appeal. Think Apple.
If you can, show “what’s in it for me” in images to help emotionalize it.
Ramp up the communication about what is going to happen if you fail to raise the target amount and make sure to communicate the consequences.
Reach more than $ 1.000 before pushing to the press.
Reach out to people who have already pledged for stories and testimonials, publish their stories about why they believe in you.
You can extend the running time of a campaign. Get in touch with IndieGoGo support if you need to extend the time.
Keep pushing press although they don’t react at first. Just keep it up and ping them back on any kind of updates.
BONUS (and this is from me, not from Danae): Pay or raise the plus $ 1.000 yourself with family and friends you will pay back if you can and if you’re going for a campaign that gets to keep the money regardless if you reach your goal and consider the PayPal fee marketing expenses. I’ve heard this trick is more the rule than the exception on IndieGoGo.
It’s evident to everybody by now that we were spectacularly unable to fund the development of the OneSec iPhone app. Was it because it’s the wrong product? We don’t think so based on the feedback we are still receiving. We still think there’s a great opportunity to be had here. We have not given up on it.
Could we have kept on going, extending the campaign, applying and executing on the knowledge that we gained on the way? Certainly, but we decided to call it quits and call it a #fail. We had learned a lot about doing a crowd funding campaign and it was time to move on.
In the course of the campaign we were tweeting, retweeting, blogging, mailing and Facebook posting night and day. Manually and automated. We spammed around 680+ journalists in an email blast. We posted tips to about 20 of the top tech trend agencies. We filled special interest forums. We instagrammed. We YouTubed.
Here’s the results:
Made the frontpage for Technology campaigns on IndieGoGo
And how did this convert? The honest answer; We have no direct way of measuring it as IndieGoGo doesn’t offer standard referral analytics. You can track how many tweeted and posted your campaign to Facebook using the share buttons on the campaign page – but that’s it.
Having no referrer data is insane if you’re somewhat successful and want to identify where the traffic is coming from and what to focus on. Luckily for us, we were complete failures and measuring conversion of referrers when you have zero effects is pretty easy. We still would have loved to see which source drove the most traffic – if any, though. (See Francis’ posts on stats on publishing and conversion for more on this subject).
The lesson to us was pretty clear that spamming journalists and getting some publicity didn’t convert into any pledges.
We probably also launched our publicity efforts too soon, before we had reached $ 1.000. Next time we’ll consider paying this amount in ourselves and considering IndieGoGo’s cut as marketing expenses.
So what do we think were our biggest mistakes and lessons learned? What would we do differently next time?
We failed to explain the product well enough
We failed to make an emotional connect with more potential users and backers
We failed to identify the target user segments and multiplier groups
We failed with the tongue-in-cheek, no-budget style whereas more successful campaigns have had more of a serious and solid narrative with polished video content
In hindsight, it’s clear we failed to explain the product to people in the pitch video. Talking to people, the single most frequent first response is “I don’t get it”. Then we take the time to explain it and then they are like “Oh, I see. That’s cool”. We could have made a more detailed demo – especially detailing what we’ve planned for the super-easy editing and the social sharing aspects of it. Making an extensive demo would have taken considerable more time and effort than we already put it, but doing a campaign over again we’d probably start with explaining the product in more detail.
We failed to make an emotional connect with potential users and funders on two levels. On the one hand successfully conveying why we’re doing this, why we believe in this and what will happen if we don’t get funded. On the other we also failed to explain and “sell” the “what’s in it for me” the “how this makes my life better” to the potential backers. Doing it over, we would focus on how the product improves the user’s life like keeping more in touch and more up to date about your life, lives of friends and families, sharing more with others instead of your videos just gathering virtual dust on SD cards and hard disks, Apple-style with people showing real-life use-cases.
Starting out, we spammed targeted our friends, families and fellow entrepreneurs and things looked good for a while. Then as the campaign progressed, growth quickly leveled out as we didn’t manage to identify and branch out to new potential groups of users that would love our product and to other communities who’d be interested in seeing us succeed. Next time, it would probably be smarter to to do some research, tests and cohort analysis to find those groups up front before launching the campaign, having an actual plan on who to market it to, where they are, how to best reach them and how to better enable them to engage with and share the campaign.
In conclusion if we could have invoiced all the work we put in as regular consulting hours with normal customers, we’d probably made more than our original target for the funding campaign. But don’t let that deter you from trying. Just avoid doing the same mistakes we did.
For further reading on lessons learned, make check out Francis’ “Tales of Creation” where other entrepreneurs share their experiences and insights.
Stay tuned for the next installment, in which we perhaps test and learn how to fund an iPhone app – an Instagram for one second videos – with private investors for equity.
Until then, I’d love to know what your experiences with crowd funding are. How did your campaign go? What did you learn? What do you think we did wrong? Share in the comments or join the conversation on Hacker News.
Update: We were approached by a major investor in [insert name of massively successful camera product brand here] after we had decided that the experiment had run its course and shortly before the Vine app hit the street. Of course there is no telling if that conversation could have gone anywhere interesting – or not – had we decided to revive it and press on. However, perhaps the last lesson learned was that these things take more time than you think. To create and manage – but also for your message to reach out to interesting new places. And just as you are about to lose faith and passion, your luck just might turn if you stick to it. However, we had already decided to kill it as we had run out of personal interest and passion. With the release of Vine immediately after, that decision was reconfirmed for us and I don’t think we regret killing it.
Dear friends and random strangers! You might have noticed that I’ve been extraordinarily boring quiet in the last couple of months. The reason is that I’m working on the next big thing ™ bootstrapping a new startup with partners. It’s not like it’s the new F-117 but we’re kinda stealthy about it still.
We think we are addressing a real-life problem by tapping into existing potential to mitigate it. I know that isn’t saying much but I’m super excited about this! We’re either changing the world or going home on this one.
We’re all about doing the heavy lifting aggregating power and wrangling leveraging technology to work for people – real people like you and your family and friends and colleagues – and not the other way around. (Ok, maybe not for you, you and you – but for YOU!)
It may just be a small step in a nacent field, but we think its potential to make a difference in your life is just awesome. We are extremely passionate about it. We want to be able to share our vision with you any-day-real-soon-now!
What makes us perhaps a little different than most of your average garden-variety tech startups – besides our vision – is our eclectic team. Our team consist of seasoned pros with a couple of merit badges of their own. I am super excited to have them onboard!
I think there’s such a great background story behind it all too. I wish I could tell you more right now.
Should you be looking to invest, our Keynote deck is quite fancy and our enthusiasm for our vision highly contagious, but we’d love to get back to you in a month’s time or so when our own money, blood, sweat and tears has transmogrified into proof.
If you’re interested to know more I would love to have a coffee with you right about now. If you’re interested in contributing, help out or join, come aboard – we’re expecting you!
Let’s talk! My iPhone is as always +49 (0) 151 40 133 149. My mail is as always firstname.lastname@example.org. My lines are as always open. :)
On Thursday the 6th of May I attended the Freigeist Conference at Rheinenergie Stadium in Cologne. The conference connects movers and shakers in the regional online tech and marketing scene; marketers, agencies, programmers, global companies (Google, Microsoft, etc), start-ups, consultants, venture capital, funders, founders, investors and the like. I thought it would be a good opportunity to reconnect with old contacts, meet new and sample the general status of the regional tech scene.
I had to cut the conference short to attend to matters at work, not being able to attend the more social sessions and the start-up pitch competition in the evening, but heres’s a rough of what I experienced before having to leave prematurely.
Steffen Kramer from Google Germany showed off some of the tools they provide to plan, track and monitor online marketing efforts and a brief primer how to use them:
I managed to live-stream some of the talks, but the network and software was unfortunately a bit flaky.
Dr. Kai Thierhoff talked about successful German startup stories, but unfortunately – at least in my personal opinion – the focus of the talk was mostly on clones of US start-ups, the German mee-too companies that will, as I see it, have extreme problems sustaining business after launch (just a hint to copycats; the Internet knows no borders, you know) – and besides are very boring and very non-innovative. He also mention the brilliant presentation template from Sequoia Capital that is worth checking out if you are thinking of pitching VCs for funding.
MSFT Azure is (like e.g. Amazon Web Services) a software and hardware answer to cloud computing needs with their respective products and services.
Carsten Humm, technology evangelist at MSFT held a basic primer on the concept and pricings. A selling point was that they comply with EU data storage and privacy laws – the data is saved within the EU should you require it.
He also mentioned that MSFT will be holding a BizSpark Camp in Cologne on the 24th of June if that’s your sort of thing.
Here’s a short primer on MSFT Azure lifted off YouTube: