How to win at the crowdfunding game

Sylvia Cheverie (Marketing ’09) and her husband Darren needed capital to fulfill their dream of opening a French-Canadian restaurant. Rather than starting with a bank or potential investors, they chose to ask strangers to give them money online.

It turns out people were hungry for the concept. Through crowdfunding – in this case through the website – the couple raised $107,975 from 559 backers between March and May 2015. They surpassed their goal of $95,000 and took the results as validation to banks and investors for the rest of the roughly $400,000 they needed to build Chartier.

Now, the rustic restaurant is scheduled to open in January in their hometown of Beaumont, about a 20-minute drive southwest of Edmonton.

More than half of all Kickstarter projects fail – so what set Chartier apart? Here Sylvia shares her tips to improve your chances of success in crowdfunding your own project.

Pick a platform

Crowdfunding sites operate differently from one another but all take a percentage of what’s raised. Kickstarter, the world’s largest crowdfunding platform, takes five per cent plus payment processing fees – if you’re successful.

Unlike other sites, Kickstarter collects nothing if your goal is not met within your timeline but neither do you. That rule appealed to Sylvia, who saw her crowdfunding results as a measure of market demand.

Tell your story

Videos aren’t required but Kickstarter projects that use them have higher success (50 versus 30 per cent).

“We watched every single Kickstarter video for restaurants or food that has ever been produced,” Sylvia says. Then she and Darren applied what they learned about making an emotional impact.

“Talk about who you are, what you believe, what you’re trying to achieve.” Plan that appeal carefully. She recommends having a clear, concise concept. Outline your video before filming, break it into sections, invest in quality sound and proper lighting. Reshoot until you get it right.

“We knew we only had once chance to come out of the gate with our story,” says Sylvia.

Plan your perks

On Kickstarter, donors can be motivated by perks. The Cheveries offered perks for a minimum $25 donation. The more money, the bigger the reward: $200 earned a three-course dinner for two while $3,500 meant a free dinner for four once a month for one year.

They also offered perks that didn’t require a visit to the restaurant, attracting backers as far away as New York and Tokyo. Naming rights for the restaurant’s poutine went for $5,000 and, even though it was posted half-jokingly, it was one of the first items chosen. Names for signature cocktails came complete with a framed copy of the cocktail menu.

Stay focused

Sylvia’s one regret was running a 60-day campaign – the maximum allowed. Generating and maintaining interest that long proved stressful.

It may not even have been necessary. Campaigns that run for less than 40 days are six per cent more likely to reach their goals. Chartier received most of its funding in the campaign’s first and last week – big pushes that tend to have the same impact regardless of campaign length.

In any case, be prepared to work hard by responding to emails, promoting the project on social media and filming update videos, or even just getting out and talking up the campaign at community events. Sylvia drew on her marketing background to garner media attention, hooking most of the local TV stations and newspapers. She preferred to wait until the campaign was well underway and attracting donations before reaching out.

There are a lot of elements and effort required of crowdfunding work, says Sylvia. As she looks forward to opening the doors of Chartier in just a few months, however, she believes the reward is worth it.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” says Sylvia. “It will only be taken as seriously as you take it.”

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