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Monday, December 1, 2014

Giving Thanks and Making Bank

Most people don’t take Thanksgiving very seriously. I do. I’m not sure why. It isn’t the food or the rituals. It isn’t the “origins” story as it were–the Pilgrims and Native Americans feasting together for the first time. And, as this is my first Thanksgiving thousands of miles away from my family, I realize it’s not even the opportunity to connect with loved ones.

It’s the excuse to be grateful. So often we get caught up in our day to day lives and our problems, it doesn’t even occur to us to count our blessings. Thanksgiving is a reminder to do just that, and a great excuse to be unreasonably appreciative. So let’s get started!

There was a great post recently over at the blog America’s Best Business Practices that inspired me. In the post, writer Susan Fronk looks at Thanksgiving from a small business owner’s perspective.

Fronk discusses the hard times that all business owners go through, and some of the many organizations out there that help provide loans for small businesses that need them. She writes:

I couldn’t write about being grateful for small business assistance without mentioning three organizations. SCORE has over 13,000 volunteers (including me!) in more than 350 chapters across America providing free mentoring and low cost training for aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides financial advice and loan guarantees to qualified entrepreneurs and small business owners. Together, these two organizations help millions of aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners each year realize their dreams of owning their own business.

The third organization is MainStreetChamber™, a national membership organization dedicated to advancing the growth and profitability of micro and small business. As President of the Twin Cities chapter of the fastest growing chamber in the US, I confess to a bias, but, we fill a real need for small business owners to have the opportunity to connect with prospective clients, build relationships with local referral partners and promote their business for free. That’s right; there is no obligation for small business owners to pay a single penny to belong to MainStreetChamber™. If there isn’t a MainStreetChamber™ chapter near you, please contact me and I’ll provide you with the information you need to establish one.

I would like to add one to Fronk’s list- it’s a website that I only recently found out about. It’s called Kickstarter.com. This might be one of the coolest ways to fund a project or idea: through crowd-sourcing. You post your idea on the website– and you do your best to sell the idea –and then people fund your project. Who funds it? People just like you.

Kickstarter uses a unique “All-or-Nothing” funding method. If you haven’t gotten the amount you need by the time your project “expires,” then no money changes hands. The website explains it this way: It’s less risk for everyone. If you need $5,000, it’s tough having $2,000 and a bunch of people expecting you to complete a $5,000 project.

And if you do get enough money? Then you have the resources you need to start your project. And what do you owe the people who helped get your project rolling? Well… Nothing. These aren’t loans or investments. They’re more like donations. Sometimes, the site suggests, “Project creators inspire people to open their wallets by offering smart, fun, and tangible rewards (products, benefits, and experiences).” But the creators always keep 100% ownership. It’s a wonderful idea… But does it work?

I think Andrew Plotkin could answer that better than I could. Plotkin posted his idea on Kickstarter- to make a text adventure game (yeah, like the old-fashioned 1980’s computer games). He thought it might be a great fit for e-readers and mobile platforms. His goal was to attract $8,000 in a month. He ended up getting over $20,000. If strangers are willing to donate that kind of money to your little idea, it’s a good indication that there may be a market for it, which is what Kickstarter is all about. If you have a product that people will want, then people will help you make it happen!

Plotkin offers some helpful advice for people posting on Kickstarter in this article from CNNMoney.

  • Say up front what you want to do, why you want money, and how that money will be converted into something awesome. (A list of features is not exciting, of itself. Describe an experience.)
  • Have a great video. I wrote a script, and then my co-conspirator Jason McIntosh and I whaled over it. Jason threw away a bunch of stuff and added a bunch of stuff; then we filmed it. Twice.
  • Think about your audience and who wants what. I have contributors who want an iPhone game, contributors who want interactive fiction, contributors who want to support my open-source projects, and contributors who want to support me. These are not all the same people. Rewarding all of these groups appropriately is non-trivial, and there has been some discussion about the way I did it.
  • For a game project, include a demo. (I realized this only barely before launch-day! The demo that I posted represents two intense weekends of work; I hope that’s a good omen for my production rate in 2011.)
  • Don’t be afraid to plug yourself and your CV. I know you’re all saying “how could you fail to promote yourself?!” but I had to be chivvied into it. (Thanks, Jason Scott.)
  • Contrariwise, don’t be a jerk. Actively don’t be a jerk. Say thank you to everybody, early and often.

Not bad advice. You should know that Plotkin isn’t the only one to have luck with Kickstarter.com. Here’s a list of the “Ten Most Successful Crowd-Funded Projects from Kickstarter.com.”

So that’s what I’m thankful for on this beautiful Thanksgiving day. Resources like the ones Susan Fronk mentioned in her article, and sites like Kickstarter.com. Now more than ever, people are able to connect with each other on the internet. And sometimes that means little more than having dozens of comments on a frivolous Facebook status update. But it can be so much more than that. We are a community, a world community. And we’re discovering new ways of helping and serving each other all the time. If that’s not something to give thanks for, then I don’t know what is.

Thanks for reading. Have a lovely holiday. And follow me on Twitter @thinkofthat.

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  • Robert Andrews

    When you sit up and take notice, it really is amazing how much assistance a startup can access via the web. Thanks for the great blog. You’re right. These resources deserve our thanks!

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