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Last month, Life Itself, a documentary based on movie critic Roger Ebert's memoir, premiered at Sundance to rave reviews. The latest collaboration from Chicago's Kartemquin Films and acclaimed documentary director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters), the film chronicles Roger's life as a world renowned critic, author, and humanitarian, until his death in 2013 from complications due to cancer. Roger was our friend and partner, and I cherish the time we got to spend with him over the last few years, helping him bring RoberEbert.com to life and continue his substantial legacy.
Polar vortexes aside, it’s no secret that we love our hometown of Chicago, and we love it even more when people want to visit. So we were excited to team up with new client Hop the Pond, a young company that helps students with J1 visas find temporary work, housing, and fun things to do in Chicago over the summer.
Hop the Pond was started by Chicago native Mark Reiter and Irishman Kevin Egan. Both had tough experiences as students traveling abroad, where they had trouble getting part-time jobs and affordable places to live, as well as knowing where to go or what to do for entertainment.
“It’s certainly no coincidence Maria Pinto’s clothing and accessories make us feel amazing and empowered; it’s by design.”
— Kristina Moore, Forbes Magazine
This week we launched the brand new M2057.com, the e-commerce site for fashion designer Maria Pinto’s new collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto, and the follow-up to her groundbreaking Kickstarter project. The successful campaign, which raised more than $270,000 this past fall, proved there was a market for Maria’s designs, so she decided to build an e-commerce site to make them more widely available.
This was a fun and interesting project for us, both since we were excited to continue working with Maria, and because it was our first time using the e-commerce platform, Shopify.
Building an e-commerce site from scratch is a long and expensive process, so for retailers who want to get their stores up quickly and affordably, Shopify presents a good option. The platform offers online retailers a cost-effective, off-the-shelf solution which includes hosting, customizable templates, and software to manage backend processes like order fulfilment and shipping.
It’s been seven months since Roger Ebert passed away. A few of us had the honor to attend his funeral, which happened to be the very same day we were scheduled to launch his new website, RogerEbert.com. Out of respect to what Roger would have wanted, we went ahead with the launch as planned.
It’s a testament to Roger and his work that, as we expected, users are spending a lot of time exploring and searching his archived content—something they previously couldn’t do very easily. It’s also exciting that users are seeking out new reviews: Traffic is up 9% year-over-year with a unique visitor increase of more than 44%. I think Roger would be proud of that.
We were full of ideas around here this past fall, in no small part thanks to October's annual Chicago Ideas Week (CIW). This year we served as the organization's technology partner, helping the nonprofit launch its new website, enhance its online ticketing system, and develop a ticket scanning mobile app.
In the development world we hear a lot about the term “Agile.” In software this refers to an iterative approach to development that relies heavily on collaboration between cross-functional teams, feedback, testing, and continuous improvement. It's the approach that Table XI uses to design and build websites and mobile applications.
What makes a good Vine video? I've found it's helpful to think backward. If a friend visited the office, what would I be certain to point out? Is there anything particularly ridiculous or hilarious that I couldn't describe to a stranger? Or finally, is there something I really want to see happen that I can set up under the auspices of, "Hey, can you help me shoot a Vine?"
As a format, Vine is best-suited for capturing small, microcosmic moments (like, say, when it snowed for the first time this year and minutes later an office-wide Nerf battle erupted—Vine gold).
During this past month’s Chicago Ideas Week, we went back to the building blocks to teach Agile methodology—literally. We hosted 40 people for “Learn Agile with LEGO” at our office, where teams built “products” with LEGO bricks using the Agile process, and got to relive some childhood fun along the way.
Last week we reached the end of a hard-fought race, filled with unforeseen obstacles and a couple of unexpected reroutes. But it was well worth it—when we reached the finish line, we’d beaten our goal and proved more than a few skeptics wrong. No, we didn’t run the Chicago marathon in record time, but we did help fashion designer Maria Pinto launch a new ready-to-wear collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto, by raising more than $270,000 on Kickstarter.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that helps artists, technologists, designers, and anyone with an idea and a business plan bring creative projects to life. Since its launch in 2009, 5 million people have pledged $847 million, funding 50,000 creative projects.
Maria Pinto came to us with the idea to launch a 13-piece capsule collection of dresses, jackets, and accessories through Kickstarter. Out of the gate, we knew we were up against some interesting challenges with this particular campaign. Maria is an internationally recognized designer who gained renown for dressing stylish, dynamic women like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Brooke Shields. But after shuttering her high end store in 2010, Maria had been out of the designing game for a while, and the fashion industry can have the memory of a fruit fly.
Moreover, the Kickstarter audience skews heavily male and tech-savvy—not a natural overlap with Maria’s existing customer base or the fashion world. For the most part, potential M2057 customers didn’t know what Kickstarter was or had only heard of it in passing, and almost no one had used the platform previously. A huge part of our mission was to educate consumers about Kickstarter and how it works.
And lastly, this was one of the most ambitious fashion projects attempted on a crowdfunding platform. Maria wanted to raise $250,000, and she was offering seven dresses, two jackets, and four accessories in seven colors and five size options. By comparison, the average Kickstarter campaign goal is $5,000, and only 2% of successfully funded fashion projects have raised more than $100,000. We also got more than one skeptical headshake from people in the fashion industry who thought Maria was crazy for attempting to launch a new brand this way.
But Maria’s enthusiasm was infectious and we believed this was a viable, innovative way to bring a fashion collection to market. We were able to prove this concept, help Maria surpass her fundraising goal, and bring a new audience to Kickstarter along the way.
But it wasn’t easy. Here are seven things we learned that can help you get off to the right start.
7 Things You Should Know Before You Kickstart your Campaign
1) Set a strategic goal.
How much do you need to meet your business objectives? Don’t be arbitrary—do your homework first. And remember to take into account details like shipping if your project involves making and distributing a product—those expenses add up fast. Though campaigns can go for up to 60 days, Kickstarter recommends running yours for 30 days or less.
2) Offer relevant rewards.
Sometimes simple is best. Some campaigns offer dozens of rewards, and in doing so, over-commoditize the campaign and distract from the featured product itself. In our case, we thought a $75 original piece of artwork by Maria was a no-brainer: not only would this gift be relevant to a male audience, it would also allow even more people to participate in the campaign at a lower price point. But at the end of the day, it was the dresses and access to the designer herself that moved the needle. Nine people backed the campaign at high-end levels of $5,000 and $10,000, opting for rare opportunities like a day working with Maria in her studio or a custom-fit, one-of-a-kind design from her archive. What kinds of unique experiences can your campaign offer? Thinking creatively about gifts that matter to your audience can lead to a big payout. As Kickstarter recommends, ask yourself if you'd buy your reward, and go from there.
3) Your video matters. A lot.
Your video is often the first interaction people will have with your campaign. Make it count. An effective video introduces you, demonstrates your experience and passion, and explains what makes your product unique. It doesn’t have to be expensively produced—you and your smartphone could suffice—but it should tell a good story and make people want to engage with you and your idea. Watch Maria's video below, and check out this compelling, authentic video for the Kangaroo Cup.
4) Shout your project from the rooftops.
Now is not the time for shyness. There are lots of campaigns vying for attention—how will you drive traffic to yours? You should have a 30-45 day plan of media outreach, events, and planned communications throughout the campaign. Tap everyone in your network and engage with both traditional and nontraditional media to broaden your reach—a write-up in an influential blog can be just as effective as a newspaper article. We sent email updates at least once a week (and often more) to our contacts, blasted messages on social media, and picked up the phone when we thought that could make a difference. We worked every media contact we had and tried to get Maria and her designs in front of as many people as possible.
5) Recognize what’s working, what isn’t, and adapt quickly.
Kickstarter campaigns move fast, and if you’re not making progress you need to be able to revise your strategy on the fly. Again, knowing who you’re trying to reach is key. We were fortunate that Maria had some good press contacts, but stories in the fashion media (not the natural Kickstarter audience) weren’t translating into pledges. We found the best way to attract backers was to get the dresses in front of women, so we staged a number of local events where women could see, feel, and try on our dress samples. We brought iPads and signed them up for Kickstarter accounts on the spot, and handed out cards with their favorite styles written on them and instructions on how to use Kickstarter. Kickstarter may be an online platform, but for our project, the human touch was crucial.
6) Cultivate your Kickstarter community. Get feedback.
Kickstarter offers a feature called “Updates” that sometimes goes overlooked. It’s like a blog for your Kickstarter project, and it’s an immensely valuable tool that keeps backers and potential backers up-to-date on your progress (or in some cases lack thereof). Updates bring your backers along on your journey: Keep talking and listen to the feedback they leave you in return. We got great feedback—and more pledges—when we started posting updates with photos and videos of Maria styling the clothes and showing off their unique features, like being machine washable and travel friendly. This gave people a greater appreciation for the collection’s value and added a personal touch of seeing Maria at work, in her element.
Plus, if you don’t make your goal, updates will still let you communicate with your backers, and you may yet be able to convert those early supporters into future customers.
7) Your backers are your best ambassadors.
Kickstarter is, above all, a community, and word-of-mouth has a huge impact on your success. The people who support your campaign make natural advertisers, because if you don’t reach your goal, they don’t get their product. We made a lot of sales at our local events, but it wouldn’t have been nearly enough had the women who attended not gone out afterward and told all their friends how much they loved M2057. Many women even volunteered to host their own events for their circles once they saw the collection. Send your backers emails and updates and give them concrete action items: “Forward to 3 friends,” “Share this link on Facebook and Twitter,” “Write a comment testimonial on Kickstarter,” etc. Empower them to be part of the community and the brand and to spread the word. Most likely, they’ll want to help.
So there you have it: Seven tips to help guide your Kickstarter. But remember that these are by no means rules—every Kickstarter is different and will have its own challenges and practices that work. Good luck on yours!
And if you missed the M2057 by Maria Pinto Kickstarter but are interested in the collection, don’t worry! An e-commerce site is on the way. Sign up here for updates to be alerted once it’s live.
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