Wow – $900,000 on a $15,000 Kickstarter Goal
As some of you know, I’m quite active on Kickstarter where I back projects to help people with amazing passions turn their creations into full-time businesses. Obviously I’m not backing the full amount of their projects, but I’m making my contribution.
One Kickstarter I backed absolutely amazed me. The goal was $15,000 and when it first launched, it reached its goal in 15 minutes!
Reaching Out to the Founder, Griffin Macaulay
Crowdsourcing is a avenue of financing that many people don’t consider. In discussions with entrepreneurs, I often hear “I don’t expect people to blindly give me money”. Yet, this happens each and every day on Kickstarter.
Is there a myth or secret to it? What sort of partnerships are involved? How does the magic happen?
In an effort to demystify the secrets of crowdsourcing on Kickstarter, I reached out to Griffin Macaulay to share the details behind his successful launch.
To our fortunate, grateful benefit (and as a pillar of inspiration to like-minded individuals), he agreed to share the full insider look.
This is how Griffin Macaulay raised $900,000 on Kickstarter.
Who is Griffin Macaulay & What is His Product?
Let’s start with the basics and get to know you! Can you please tell us your name, current occupation, your background/education, and what your product is for members of our audience?
I’m Griffin: I design, write, illustrate, and post magic items for people to use in their Dungeons and Dragons games online every day. These are items that people can use in their games to add extra depth or intrigue to their adventures or the characters they play with. Many of the items that come stock with the game are a little dull in terms of what they do, so I’ve made it my living to invent new ones that are illustrated and written in the same way as the official ones are.
I graduated with a BFA in Communication Design with concentrations in Graphic Design, Interactive Design, and Illustration. I had a knack for Advertising classes, too, but I knew that I didn’t want to get sucked into that career path early on and focused on other classes.
How Did You Arrive to Your Niche?
How on earth did you land on Dungeons & Dragons as a niche and decide to start making magic items, NPCs, and more? What key events led you down this road?
I just love the game. When you love something, and it’s what you think about when you’re in your 9-5, that’s what you should be doing. I call that kind of driving passion behind something your “soulfire”, but that’s just what I’ve named it.
I had an awesome job up until the start of 2017 that I loved, but it fell on some hard times through little fault of its own. It was a studio of 14 people, and it had to cut its staff down to 7. I was the 8th. After that, I found a job that let me work from home — a first, for me — that was creatively barren but paid well enough. I had all this creative energy welling up inside of me that I couldn’t channel on anything during work hours, so after I finished working on something for the day job, I pivoted to working on items for me and my friends. Once I posted them to Reddit and fielded feedback about them, I had to keep the ball rolling.
My partner suggested that I make a daily Instagram account and start a 365 project, which sounded impossible to me at the time, but the notion of some day being able to put them in a book and call myself an author was too tantalizing to ignore. I was having so much fun working on these during the evenings that it really rejuvenated me. Within a month of daily posts, people asked if I had a Patreon they could support me through, which I didn’t even consider becoming an option until maybe 6 months in. I ran some polls and surveys to make sure my planned reward packages would be liked, made some changes, and then launched the Patreon.
I assumed that this would be supplemental income for a long time and maybe eventually be able to make it full time, but I ended up losing my day job only a couple months into the Saddlebag. That forced me to make a decision. In the end, both me and my partner believed in me and what I could do, so I gave it 200% of my every day.
I wouldn’t be able to do this without her support and trust in me, so as much as I can say that hard work and unrelenting passion are essential, so too is having a loving and trusting partner there to back you up as a human being.
How Does Your Part-Time Freelance Work Compare to Creating and Selling a Product?
You’re also a web design / UX freelancer (am I correct?). Reflecting on that initiative and comparing it to what you’re seeing with the Griffon’s Saddlebag & your D&D career, what eye-opening things have you come to realize about offering a valuable product/service?
I am, yes! That’s my original professional background. What this and the success of other creators has made me recognize is that no matter what you’re making or doing, it has to be consistent. Full stop. If Netflix were a person you supported on Patreon and they decided not to be accessible one day or take a week long break without notice, it would break everyone’s trust in the brand and product. People are the same way. If you’re going to make something, make it on a schedule and in a format and manner that is consistent. The same way, the same level of care, every time. You’re only worth money if people know what they’re getting without a doubt. As soon as a person feels as though there’s risk involved with the money they’re investing in you, they’ll back out.
That said, daily content is very effective. It’s also unhealthy for almost everyone. Build in vacations and breaks, but make them so abundantly clear that everyone knows what to expect.
I also think back on a lecture I saw about advertising. It’s always better to “give, give, give, and then ask” as opposed to “give, ask, and take.” If you make someone feel as though they’re being forced into supporting you, they’re not going to want to. It’s better to build a community that supports you instead of gathering supporters and hoping they make a community. The former will weather storms together, whereas the latter will fall to pieces at a moment’s notice.
It’s better to build a community that supports you instead of gathering supporters and hoping they make a community — Griff MacAulay
How Did You Approach Planning for Your Kickstarter Campaign?
Now let’s dive into the wow-factor. You launched a Kickstarter with an original goal of $14,000 CAD and as of this writing have raised over $800,000 CAD. This is amazing. What was your planning like? What experiences did your planning extend from?
I build a lot of anticipation in my content. I leave hints, I drop playful mysteries, etc. I also made people wait a long time for this book, so there was pent up interest as hype had been slowly built up over time.
I also do my best to interact with as many people as possible, too, and I can’t thank the community enough for responding to the content with me. As I said before, community is so valuable, so making someone feel as though they’re a part of something they believe in by supporting you is the real dream. I attribute a lot of the campaign’s success to that aspect of this. People wanting to be a part of something bigger.
Regarding planning, I did a lot of groundwork on the book and ads beforehand. I reached out and scheduled a sponsorship date with Critical Role last Fall, too, which gave me a hard and fast launch date. I also had a The Deck of Many’s expertise to draw from, which was very helpful. My planning was the result of not wanting to drown in a campaign and fall short on deliverables. I knew it would be tough, so I gave myself as much lead in as I could. I’m very glad I did.
How Did Partnerships Play Into Your Success?
I’m a fan of the Gallant Goblin on YouTube and often hear Theo mention the Deck of Many. Through that introduction, I found the Griffon’s Saddlebag vol. 1 and 2. Using your product with my friends, I’ve been amazed by the quality of work you’ve done. Can you please share how the Deck of Many contributed to your early minimal viable product, entrepreneurial efforts, and ways it assisted distribution?
Thanks for using those cards! I reached out to the Deck of Many pretty early on. We saw that there was room for joint growth with the partnership, and they’ve been great for handling the physical aspects of this so I don’t have to. I’m very happy to work with them, and they’ve been great to talk to if I had questions about some of the more obscure ins and outs of running a business like this.
How Important is it to have an Online Community Really?
You’re also on Patreon and have a great Instagram presence (I love how you organized your profile by the way — very intuitive). How strong do you feel having an online community correlated to the success of your campaign? Obviously, it’s a nice-to-have for businesses and entrepreneurs, but how much do think/feel it really played into the success?
Ah, I answered this before getting this far! So I think I’ve made it pretty apparent that I think it’s critical. If you’re touching lives because of your content, you’re building a relationship that can move mountains over time. It may take months for someone to decide I’m worth supporting, but whether or not they do doesn’t matter to me as much as whether or not they have fun with the content. If people think of you and your content and smile or get excited about it, they’re going to support you in any way they can.
So many people are affected by COVID right now, and it makes me feel so appreciated and cared for to see people message me after they’ve been forced to reduce their pledge because of their unique circumstances. If we didn’t have that community or connection, not only would these patrons simply remove their pledge entirely, but I would be so alone. We stand stronger together as a community than I would alone. It’s not the capitalist way to go about things, which I sometimes get teased for, but it’s the way I feel is most true to me, the community, and the kind of accessibility that I stand for in the gaming community.
What are the Must-Haves for a Kickstarter Campaign?
If a group of university students were looking at running a serious Kickstarter campaign, what would you consider to be the ‘must-haves’ for campaign success?
I’m not sure, to be honest. I don’t have experience just making a Kickstarter without preamble or community wind up. I can tell you what I learned, though, assuming you do have some initial momentum behind you:
- Have your stretch goals ready and planned out
- Find a good fulfillment option for you, if you won’t do it yourself. You can’t change shipping rates on pledges once they’re backed.
- Make lots of images and graphics for the campaign. Like, lots. Pictures speak louder than words, which many people only skim over anyway.
- Make sure your product is something people want. There are some good exercises for that. The most recent and current favorite of mine is the 5 Whys, which just asks you to keep asking yourself why someone would want your product like a toddler would. I see a lot of Kickstarters falter or fall short because they don’t have a product that’s being asked for.
- Make sure you’re credible looking. Fill out details on your profiles, link everywhere, etc. The more credible you can show you are, the more people will want to support you. Again, that leads back to what I said earlier about people only wanting to give their money to projects of people without risk.
And honestly, if you’re in university, just work as hard as you can. Working hard in school pays off so much in the future. It really makes things easier down the line when you need it.
Born Entrepreneurial or Gained It?
On a deeper level, were you always entrepreneurial? Were you entrepreneurial as a kid? What skeletons are in your closet? Let’s talk about past failures (if any)!
I wasn’t entrepreneurial, no! I was very comfortable with the idea of having a 9-5 with a salary because I like consistency, and my previous experience with freelance was always so rocky. But, truth be told, I don’t like working under most people. I have to really respect my boss as a person and director, with whatever it is they’re doing, to make me want to do what they’re doing and work towards their vision. I have a history of ignoring my bosses if they don’t fit that criteria, which, as you can imagine, makes for some challenges. Oops.
My parents work together for themselves, too, so I’ve never been surrounded by family that worked for someone else, either. I chalk it up to nurture and nature for this one.
That said, I loved the job I had before I was laid off in ‘17. I continue to respect that company and its boss(es). But that’s the only one, really. I hope everyone can either be that boss someday or find one for themselves.
I mentioned I had a tough go at freelancing. Trying to convince people to give you money is so hard. I made a patchy living as one for a couple years out of college, but it wasn’t comfortable, and I didn’t make work I was proud of.
I don’t have much in the way of skeletons, fortunately. That said, no one’s perfect, and I’m no exception.
You may ignore this, but these are things that I truly believe have helped me be here:
- Exercise. Stick with it.
- Take supplements / vitamins. Go to a nutritionist and stick with it.
- Chiropractors. There are bad ones like any other profession. Find a good one. When you think of all the nerves that run down your spine, it makes sense that a misaligned skeleton can throw off your whole existence.
- Similarly, although more recently for me is Acupuncture. Again, find a good one.
- Cement these things in place with a therapist. Everything in this list helps the things you talk about in therapy take form. Everyone can use a therapist in some way or another.
Overally, make work you’re proud of. Bottom line: you’re only going to want to do anything if you feel good about having done it. You will consistently improve and continue to make yourself prouder when you do.
Conclusion — There You Have It
In all seriousness, this might be one of the best pieces of content on Marketing Qualified.
Griffin Macaulay gave an excellent and practical look at what’s involved in taking a part-time hobby to a full-time business. It’s amazing.
For those of you who made it this far, I hope this article served as a healthy dose of inspiration for you to go pursue your ideas!
Did you notice how partnerships allowed Griffin to continue forward in areas where he lacked the skillset/employees? How could these kinds of tactics play into the greater mission of your project or hobby?