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February 22, 2016 Q&A

Tips for a successful crowdsourcing campaign

Q&A talks with Dave Benoit, co-founder of Hartford startup Wearsafe Labs, which is developing wearable safety products. He will be a featured speaker at a Feb. 24 crowdfunding event at the Town and County Club in Hartford, hosted by LootScout. 

Q: You're perceived as an expert on crowdsourcing for business. Let's begin by having you explain what crowdsourcing is and why it's gaining popularity.

A: Crowdsourcing isn't really a new or novel concept at all. When you need to get something done, naturally one of your first instincts is to reach out to people that might be able to help. What's really changed is the method of seeking that help.

Twenty years ago your crowdsourcing effort was to pick up the phone and call someone you knew. Today, online platforms like Kickstarter give you access to a near limitless audience of people who are willing and able to help if they feel connected to your idea. 

Q: What are some of your top tips when it comes to crowdsourcing?

A: Know what you're hoping to gain from your crowdsourcing effort. It may seem too obvious to mention, but I've seen campaigns flounder when they lack focus. Startups always have a plethora of needs but a crowdsourcing campaign won't solve them all. Know what you need the most and focus the campaign around that. Maybe it is just a dollar amount, market exposure, proof of concept, etc.

Q: You raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter (along with $4 million from angel investors) to begin Wearsafe Labs, which is developing wearable safety products, including an emergency alert button. What made you choose Kickstarter as your crowdfunding source?

A: Kickstarter was an obvious first choice, mainly due to their popularity and loyal community. That said, we spent a considerable amount of time researching other platforms before choosing Kickstarter. In terms of using them again, it would depend on the product and campaign goals. There are a lot of good platforms out there today.

Q: What were some of the things you did right and some of the things you did wrong in the process of raising $100,000?

A: One of the best things we did was not to underestimate the amount of work the campaign would entail. Crowdsourcing is not free money. To put together a professional campaign that will resonate with potential backers takes an insane amount of time, energy and capital.

We hired a crowdsourcing consultant, professional video producers, and PR help. We had a full-time creative director working on the campaign and my co-founder, Phill Giancarlo, and I were involved on a daily basis as well.

One of the things we could have done better was to start preparation earlier. If you're thinking of doing a crowdsourcing campaign, you can never get started too early. To do it right, plan on at least six months of preparation, or longer.

Q: Is crowdsourcing a panacea for startups having financial problems? Can they expect an easier time funding from a variety of small sources?

A: Not at all. Statistically speaking, there are very few six-figure campaigns and even fewer million-dollar campaigns. Unfortunately, those are the ones that garner most of the press and publicity, but the truth is, most campaigns don't come close to reaching that level of success.

A successful crowdsourcing campaign will actually bring about many challenges. For most successful campaigns, you've promised a product to your backers and now you have to finish engineering the product, manufacture it, fulfill and distribute it to your backers and then support it, all while trying to create a real company that can survive once the crowdsourcing fulfillment is complete.

Q: Are there certain kinds of businesses that shouldn't attempt crowdsourcing?

A: I wouldn't say there are businesses that shouldn't attempt crowdsourcing, but certain types of businesses will have more challenges than others.

The benefit of these online platforms is their enormous global reach, so if you have a product that can appeal to anyone, anywhere, you're poised to capitalize on that reach. Even if you have a niche product, that global reach enables you to find a larger portion of that niche than you could on your own.

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