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The Secrets of Successful Photography Kickstarter Campaigns

By Hanssie on October 29th 2015

In the last few years, crowdfunding has become more and more mainstream as a widely accepted form of raising money. From financing your latest invention to a guy making potato salad and everything in between, raising capital online has proven to be quite successful for many people. Last year, Kickstarter reported that 22,252 projects were successfully funded on the site, with about $529 million pledged by nearly 3.3 million people all over the world. (Fun fact: the highest funded project ever was a video game that came in at $93 million dollars; also the potato salad guy? He raised $55,000).

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My Crowdfunding Story

My own success on crowdfunding came unexpectedly exactly three years ago. I had booked a few vacation days after PhotoPlus Expo 2012 to do some sightseeing with my friends who had never been to New York City. As the show began winding down, we got word that a hurricane was headed our way, Hurricane Sandy. And as the city emptied and people fled, we had no choice but to stay and wait it out. Making the most of an almost completely empty Times Square, we hoped for the best. That week, our airlines canceled our flights, and our hotel became overbooked. Unsure of what to do, where to stay and running out of money fast, we devised a plan to GET HOME! Long story short, we ended up crowdfunding our way home in the most epic 4-day cross-country road trip ever. We were able to rent a car, pay for food, and lodging and have a little fun along the way. It was a long, brutal trip, but looking back, what an awesome adventure it was.

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Crowdfunding in the Photography Industry

Crowdfunding has made a mark in the photography industry as well with many, many photographers seeking backers for their photography projects. In fact, we feature numerous photography Kickstarter projects on SLR Lounge because some of them are just so darn cool! We’ve seen everything from photo books to camera bags to wood pinhole cameras. We’ve seen the not-so-successful Kickstarter projects to the wildly popular projects. Last week, B&H Photo sent me to New York to cover PhotoPlus Expo, and I spoke with three companies that have launched successful Kickstarter campaigns to see what insight they could give me about crowdfunding and launching a successful Kickstarter photography campaign.

Peak Design: A Kickstarter Veteran With Their Most Successful Project Yet

A few months ago, Peak Design created quite a buzz with their new Kickstarter project. Though this wasn’t their first successful Kickstarter, The Everyday Messenger Bag was their most successful, by far. Known as “Kickstarter’s most funded bag ever,” the company exceeded their original goal of $100,000 by, well, a heck of a lot. I’m not that great at math, but the project closed after 30 days with a total of $4,869,472 and over 77,000 backers. So, what was it about this bag and subsequently, this project, that saw so much success? I spoke with Peter Dering, founder of Peak Design on the trade show floor for some of his thoughts.

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The Everyday Messenger is actually Peak Design’s fifth Kickstarter project, all of which funded successfully. They’d wanted to create a bag for a long time and was approached by fine art and travel photographer, Trey Ratcliff to make a bag together. The unique bag (which I am drooling over) will be shipping sometime in December if you were a backer of the project.

I asked Peter why he chose Kickstarter to launch, and he explained that back in 2011, Kickstarter was just beginning to make waves. He pointed out that cash flow to a business is a necessity and traditionally, that usually came from investors or bank loans. With Kickstarter, you could launch without capital. Peter advises against using Kickstarter (or any crowdfunding site) as a “proving ground for products.” He also says to wait as long as possible before launching your campaign, making sure that you critically think about what you’re doing, how big the market is for the proposed product and try to do the product testing, surveys, and such through other means. Chances are, that early in the product stage, you “don’t know the product well enough yet,” and there are lots of “twists and turns” from idea to production. He recommends using Kickstarter as a sales and marketing platform.

When asked if there was a “magic formula” to the wildly successful the Everyday Messenger campaign, he said that there was no “magic bullet,” just a combination of having a great product, introduced with a great presentation, the wide audience that Peak Design and Trey had built over the years, and all at a reasonable price. Peter says that backers feel like they are “part of the story” of a budding company, and that being one of the first to own something is powerful. Peak had the trust of their followers from their former products, and they are great at getting opinions of their followers during the campaign that has led to their steady and repeatable success.

One thing that Peak Design does well (that I’ve viewed over the years personally), is that the company is transparent both the people who work there and transparent in their process. In one of their Kickstarter projects, one of their clips had a major issue; the company addressed it immediately, spoke openly about it, and replaced the faulty item. It is clear that the team like and respect each other, and more importantly, really believe in their products. Clearly their formula is simple: solid products + great people = success.

If you want one of the Everyday Messenger Bags, you can pre-order them on the B&H Photo website here.

Wandrd: Kickstarter Newbies Who Just Reached Their Goal

A brand new company that is midway through their first Kickstarter project is by Wandrd. And though I hadn’t planned on writing about another photography bag, the bag itself was unique enough for me to make a mention of them in my 4 Must-Have Innovative Items from the show. Plus, I wanted to chat with a company who was brand new to not only crowdfunding, but to the photography industry as well.

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The morning of my interview, I met Spencer and Ryan Cope, the brothers who designed the PRVKE Pack. They were excited because their campaign had successfully funded that morning. With a goal of $60,000, the bag has met and exceeded their goal by $12,000+, and there are still eight days left to go (at the time of writing). As with Peak Design, Ryan told me that Kickstarter was chosen because it’s a great marketing platform.

Thousands of people are on Kickstarter every day, looking for new products, and we couldn’t think of a better way to introduce our backpack and get it in front of so many people right out of the gate.

As a new company, Kickstarter is also a great way to test the market and gauge demand before sinking your life savings into an initial order. The pair did a lot of research before launching their campaign, and one of the most successful things they did and recommend is to throw a launch party. As the project went live on Kickstarter, the brothers threw a big party and invited family, friends, and their initial following to a gathering where a local food truck was present and where people could back the project on site at a number of computers that had been set up. Ryan told me, “This gave us a big boost right at the beginning, which helped us get noticed by the Kickstarter community.

You can read more about the travel/photography backpack or support their project here.

{UPDATE: 11/9/15: They funded their project exceeding their goal by almost 200%! You can now pre-order the bags on their website here.}

Lume Cube: Award-Winning Versatile Light

The final company I spoke with was actually the first company I met. Technically, they got my attention by flashing me. Literally. I was standing with the writing team at the B&H Photo welcome party when an extremely bright light flashed before my eyes. When the spots cleared, and my vision returned, I found myself glancing at a small, 1.5″ light in the shape of a cube. The Lume Cube is a smartphone-controlled LED capable of 1500 lumens of light output. You can connect up to 5 cubes together to get up to 7,500 lumens of light, and you can use this one powerful cube to light up your phone and GoPro photos and video. Lume Cube’s original Kickstarter goal of $55,000 was exceeded with a final total of $229,517 late last year. On the floor at PhotoPlus, the Lume Cube was creating a lot of buzz. We featured the project in this post last November and the Cubes are ready to begin shipping this week to backers.

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I spoke with Matt Cummins, one of the company’s founders about their campaign and what made it successful. Matt really stressed pre-planning before launching a Kickstarter project. It’s important to have your manufacturer in line and ready to go, he told me. Also, to launch a successful crowdfunding project, you and your team must have perseverance as well as honesty and a lot of communication with the backers. So many Kickstarters, even successfully funded ones, go bust before the product reaches the hands of consumers and keeping the line of communication open helps smooth the path from funding to production to delivery. One mistake that Matt cautions you to avoid is that in the idea stages, be very, very careful with whom you choose to work with. Keep your ideas to a limited number of people you trust, such as your business partner and don’t jump into partnerships sooner than you should.

The reason Lume Cube chose Kickstarter, aside from the obvious funding, but as mentioned by the other three companies, was for the marketing aspect. Crowdfunding creates a buzz for your brand and product that is unique to traditional forms of marketing. It can create a long term buzz that sustains itself even through the long production process. What I heard from all three of these companies is that the most beneficial thing about crowdfunding is not actually getting the money for your project, but to build your brand and your following.

Lume Cube has already received numerous awards for being on of the most versatile lights on the market; they have a completely dedicated team focused on producing the best product, made from the best materials. For $80, this little light does quite a bit. You can read all about it on their website and purchase one for yourself here.

 **A HUGE thank you to B&H Photo for their sponsorship of this trip to PhotoPlus Expo 2015! New York is always a pleasure to visit, but even more so when I get to see all the latest products, talk to some of my favorite companies, and hang out with industry friends!**

About

Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at www.hanssie.com and www.fittedmagazine.com. Follow her on Instagram. Email her at:
[email protected]

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for posting.

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