In 2009, Kickstarter began a crowd funding site that not only provided aspiring entrepreneurs a forum to introduce their ideas to the world, but also allowed everyone else to become investors and support projects that interested them. Since then, over 66,000 independent projects have been created and individuals have given more than $1 billion to various Kickstarter campaigns (Kickstarter, About Us).
This summer, one campaign skyrocketed to success and is on track to break the record for the most funded campaign in Kickstarter's history (OregoneLive, 7/10/14). What idea inspired thousands of people to freely invest their hard-earned cash? A product that promises to upgrade the summertime staple of the cooler: "The Coolest." Coolest was a campaign started by Ryan Grepper who hoped to raise $50,000; Grepper surpassed his fundraising goal and now has over $7.5 million and nearly a month left on his campaign to go even higher (Kickstarter, Coolest Cooler). Kicktraq, which tracks the trends of campaigns, estimates that Coolest will raise around $19 million (Kicktraq).
Grepper wanted to reinvent a product that he thought needed a 21st-century makeover. His upgraded cooler includes a built-in battery-powered blender, waterproof speakers that play music via Bluetooth, a USB charging station, and numerous other perks. He rapidly gained the support of thousands of people, some of whom have pledged up to $2,000.
Grepper's is a "cool" success story to be sure, but there are valuable management lessons to review as well -- about how people decide what (and who) they'll invest their time, energy, and resources supporting.
Lesson 1: People will pledge loyalty (and take risks), but only for what they believe in.
Investors voluntarily fund Kickstarter campaigns because they believe in the project. Campaigns fund future product development, so people might invest thousands of dollars without the guarantee that the project will be completed. Investors are willing to take the risk because of their faith in the idea and the creators of the campaign. What your company produces or does should inspire the same kind of loyalty in your employees. Your staff might not be investing money, but they are investing time and energy. If they believe in what they're working toward, you'll discover unbelievable dedication.
Lesson 2: You'll never win commitment without a clear vision and measured goals.
Successful Kickstarter campaigns specifically outline their vision, goals, and how they plan to achieve the promised results. Grepper presented his vision and outlined the engineering, manufacturing, and delivery schedule to his investors. If you want your employees to invest themselves, you first have to answer the question: Why should your employees care about what your company does and their role in the process? But it's not enough to stop there. You also need to outline the mutual goals and the steps needed to reach each one.
Lesson 3: You need to reward investment. But it doesn't have to be about money.
The Coolest offers tiered rewards for its investors, but these weren't always incentives that have to do with money. One reward for investment is having your name immortalized on Grepper's own Coolest. Grepper also offers one-on-one feedback sessions to discuss investors' own innovative ideas. As a manager, you can't ask for people's time, energy, and resources without also committing to reward their dedication. Think of compelling incentives for your employees -- and just like The Coolest, these incentives don't have to be expensive.
Lesson 4: Be honest about the challenges ahead.
The Coolest only exists today as a prototype. Grepper understood that the biggest hurdles to producing his idea would be manufacturing, product adjustments, and fulfillment. Your team's goals are going to encounter obstacles; anticipate and plan for them, while addressing them openly and transparently.
Lesson 5: Actively encourage questions, ideas, and participation.
Grepper encouraged questions and insights into his product. When investors asked about the location of his manufacturing, the use of recycled materials, the power of the battery in the blender, Grepper addressed their concerns. When he was able to add color options, Grepper had investors vote for their favorite choices. When one investor suggested installing a solar panel as an energy source, Grepper responded to the idea. Get your people involved and ask for their opinions; you never know who might have the next great idea tucked away in their brain.
Lesson 6: Celebrate when goals are met and continually stretch further.
The Coolest reached its first fundraising goal within 36 hours of the start of its campaign. But Grepper's success didn't make him complacent. As more money was raised, Grepper added color options, the possibility of a solar panel, and the guarantee of a one-year warranty for the product. When goals are met, celebrate and reward your team, but don't let the growth stop there. Continually look for areas of improvement and ways to innovate.
Lesson 7: Don't give up.
Grepper first launched his Coolest campaign in 2013, but his first attempt failed, and he did not reach his funding goal. But with a new design, new marketing tactics, and campaigning in the summer versus the winter, Grepper soared above and beyond his original goal and is on track to be the highest-funded Kickstarter campaign to date. Don't let failure deter you. Instead, let mistakes and hindrances teach you lessons about how to succeed the next time around.
Readers: Which of these lessons resonates with you the most? How can you start applying it to your own team?