Don Moyer has completed several successful crowd-funded projects. We asked him to tell us more and talk about how crowdfunding can serve artists and pattern designers.
What is crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter, allow anyone to describe a potential project and set a funding goal. If enough people pledge support, the project is funded. If the funding goal of the project isn’t met, no money moves and the project doesn’t go anywhere. Sponsors who pledge to support a project usually expect to get some reward in addition to the thrill of seeing the project move forward.
All Kickstarter projects have a deadline that you get to set. Typically it is 30 days. After the Kickstarter project ends, you can choose to sell your aprons through traditional channels, but you don't have to. All my projects are available at calamityware.com.
Why is crowdfunding ideal for artists and designers?
Crowdfunding is ideal for artists and designers for several reasons. Let me highlight three.
Crowdfunding gives you a way to get support BEFORE you engage in your project, so there is no risk. If people don’t like your idea and don’t offer support, you have no obligation to do anything or produce anything. In the past, you might have to risk your savings or borrow to fund a venture. Lots of people discovered too late that no one wanted their product. With crowdfunding, you get to discover if people will support your idea before you start spending money.
License to get crazy
Because you aren’t risking anything, you don’t need to limit yourself to safe projects. You can consider more adventurous ideas. Step a little closer to the edge. You can always pull back to a more conservative point later. If you fail to get funding for version A of your project, you can redefine your idea and try again with a safer version B.
Kickstarter makes it easy to collect feedback from your sponsors. You can easily learn about what they like and don’t like. If you need it, this free research allows you to make better decisions about your design details. But it also gives you ways to understand what projects to do next and what projects to put on the shelf.
Several years ago, I inherited a traditional blue dinner plate with fancy borders and a landscape with pagodas in the center. Variations of this design have been around for more than 200 years. You can find plates like this at almost any flea market. It’s usually called a blue-willow pattern because there is always a willow somewhere in the scene.
I admired the intricate detail of that plate and thought it would be fun to draw one in my sketchbook and add a pterodactyl. I found myself drawing a series of different plates, each with some unexpected calamity to add spice to the traditional tranquil scene. I called my plates Calamityware.
I don’t copy old plates. I try to mimic them in my own style—to capture the feeling of traditional plates with my own forms. I do that by looking at a bunch of traditional plates and then putting them away and drawing whatever I can remember. That way, I can capture the spirit of old plates with new details.
When I posted my drawings on my Flickr page, people said they wish they could have real dinner plates with my drawings. I launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding project to discover if I could find enough people to fund a production run of a porcelain plate. It wasn’t difficult to find a couple hundred fun-loving people who were willing to support something beautiful, utilitarian, and funny.
I’ve now done nine Kickstarter projects for Calamityware—plates, bandanas, and letterpress prints. So far, each project has met its funding goal.
People who monitor Kickstarter are looking for something new or unusual. They like the idea of finding a product that isn’t in any store.
My projects appeal to people with a sly sense of humor. Many of them describe a scenario where they serve dinner on a Calamityware plate and wait for their guest to discover the calamity. Some have described using Calamityware as a filter. Guests who fail to notice that their plate is strange aren’t invited back.
What do sponsors expect?
Obviously, sponsors expect some kind of reward. Most projects create a hierarchy of reward levels so that sponsors can choose to contribute a little or a lot. These rewards are important. It isn’t always practical, but I try to include a little something extra—an unexpected lagniappe—in addition to the reward I promised. Sponsors of my BADbandanas also get a pack of silly postcards. Sponsors of my sea monster jamboree letterpress print get a bonus rhinoceros print.
Sponsors also expect updates. Because a Kickstarter project can stretch over many months from the time the project is launched until rewards are shipped, you need to send periodic reports to let sponsors know what’s happening. Sponsors have an emotional investment in your project. They love to see pictures and hear reports about how your design evolved and what decisions you are making. They expect to get a peek behind the curtain and see the creative process.
Sponsors also expect transparency. They don’t mind hearing bad news. Sponsors want to hear about any problems or delays you encounter and what strategies you are using to resolve the problem. Often major roadblocks appear. One of the attractions of supporting a Kickstarter project is to glimpse the production process and the challenges of bringing something new to market.
What about crowdfunding projects surprised you?
I have been surprised at how easy it is to communicate with sponsors, both individually and as a group. People who are excited about your project will share their impressions, complaints, and ideas with you. It’s almost like they are looking over your shoulder and commenting on what they like and don’t like.
What mistakes should novices avoid?
There are two mistakes I warn novices about.
First, crowdfunding is not a charity. People aren’t giving you a gift so you can realize your dream project. They expect some kind of reward. In general, listing a sponsor’s name on a web page or sending them a thank-you post card isn’t enough. They want something significant.
Second, make sure you set your funding goal high enough. You cannot change your goal once the project starts. If you don’t collect enough money, there’s no way to ask your sponsors for more.
You must anticipate all the little hidden expenses that may come up and make sure your funding goal is adequate. My first two projects were small, so it wasn’t a disaster when I discovered that I hadn’t allowed for some extra fees, increased postage rates, extra packaging materials, and a few other troublemakers.
What have you learned about working with manufacturers?
I'm an old guy, so I've been involved in countless projects throughout my career. I know something inevitably goes wrong with every project. That’s just how projects go.
With new suppliers, it’s best to verify. When she makes a promise, assume that she is being optimistic. The more you have at risk, the more you’ll want to verify. Later, when you realize that she has always kept her promises, you can become more trusting. Until then, you’ll be safer to verify.
Be nice to suppliers who tell you the truth, even when it is bad news. If you make a big fuss, they will soon stop bringing you news. Cherish the suppliers who tell the truth, and run away from the liars.
Where can people find your products if they missed the Kickstarter projects?
Visit calamityware.com to find products based on my drawings.