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Crowdfunding Tactics Part 1: Learning from the Success of Solar Roadways and New Matter

By : Jane Ramachandran
Categories : funding, grants, blog, crowdfunding, innovation, technology, money |

This post is the first of a series focusing on crowdfunding, exploring the keys to success by looking at real campaigns and best practices. Crowdfunding is an intriguing option that depends on the voice of the masses to validate and fund an idea.

Although there are now oceans of crowdfunding campaigns, a truly successful campaign requires creativity and a tactical understanding of this unique funding landscape. In today's post we look at two recent campaigns that have been very successful in not only meeting, but exceeding their funding targets: the Solar Roadways solar panel and New Matter MOD-t 3D printer.

If you have been on social media recently, or any kind of media for that matter, you may have come across a video that has taken the world by storm. It was released by a company called Solar Roadways. Solar Roadways is a husband-and-wife team who created a special kind of solar cell that they feel could revolutionize how we look at the construction of roadways, tarmacs and any other kind of surface that is free and available to receive the sun’s rays.

Recently, Solar Roadways created a fantastic viral video marketing campaign, connected to an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The video was made to appeal to different types of audiences, from the serious detail-oriented person, to the emotional feely type, to the ones who just want to know how to make the world a better place.

Frankly, I’ve never seen a marketing video try so explicitly to appeal to every single person on the planet. Definitely not what you would find in a Marketing 101 class. But somehow it worked.

The main purpose of this marketing campaign was to raise money for the production of these hexagonal solar cells and to create enough of an interest in the country so that this couple could produce a prototype to prove the value of the technology.

What Mr. And Mrs. Solar Roadways (aka Julie and Scott Brusaw) didn’t know, was that this marketing video would go so viral that it would draw people by the droves to support their crowdfunding campaign and make history. In fact, there were so many people who supported this campaign, that the one million-dollar goal was easily smashed within days and at the point of this writing this they have now reached a little over $2.2 million.

Another recent example that has been wildly successful is the MOD-t 3-D printer, made by a company called New Matter. The results of this company’s crowdfunding campaign are just a stellar, even though the project is at a smaller scale than the solar campaign. The company was trying to raise $375,000, and easily made that amount within the first 32 hours of their campaign. At the time of this writing they raised over $500,000 and have initiated new stretch goals and rewards at the $750k, $1M and $1.5M mark.

Campaigns such as these are looked at with awe and serve as the spark of hope for many that their own brilliant idea will see the same fate. “After all, the Solar Roadways guys did it, so why can’t I?” But are these results typical? I would venture to say no. However a closer inspection reveals many important keys we can take away to help make your crowdfunding dream that much closer to a reality:

  1. They had an interesting product.
  2. The solar roadways video highlighted so many great product benefits: it will create light, solve issues of snow coverage, produce electricity, and help the environment. It can even save a moose. This is some serious stuff. As for MOD-t, the promo video does a great job at highlighting all the things that you could make with this little box and filaments cheaper than any others on the market. That is some good marketing by the way.

  3. The technology was relevant to the everyday person.
  4. These weren’t campaigns to raise funds for big business and solve some large-scale industry need on the back of society. It wasn’t even positioned as a technology that could help governments, although it probably could help both government and big business. Instead, the focus was on how the everyday person would love and benefit from these products being available in the mass-market.

  5. People could be involved with very little money and feel like they were getting something out of it.
  6. Many campaigns have a very small participation threshold such as $1 or $5. But of course the perks get better with the amount. Heck even I started wanting to pay $50 just get my own “15 ounce Solar Freaking Roadways coffee mug”.

  7. People want to feel like they’re part of something bigger, and helping to usher something totally new into the world.
  8. The Solar Roadways campaign was about raising money to prove this could work. It didn’t even promise, but nobody cared. This was about making history. As for New Matter, this was about shifting access of technology from companies to homes. Amazing.

  9. They effectively used social media.
  10. They had people everywhere sharing, liking, and commenting. They knew how to work the media circuits. Articles all over the place were being written about them. People seemed to make it their duty to let their friends know, even if just to show support for fellow free thinkers taking a risk in this world.

  11. They let you be a dreamer.
  12. Instead of telling you what to do with their innovations, these companies let you be the imagination engine. Brilliant.

Now, there are some things that these campaigns definitely did not do:

Firstly, the technology did not appear overly complicated. In the solar roadways example, the video clearly explained in everyday language what the technology could do, even if it seemed a little utopian at times. For the MOD-t, the best part about their video was watching a little kid use it. So simple, a child could use it, yet so practical that it could print a replacement widget that broke on your home gizmo.

Second, they did not have an over-the-top funding goal. Yes, the solar roadways project was rather high at a million dollars. However, when you consider how much a full prototype will actually cost, this is really just a fraction of how much they need. 

In the case of the MOD-t 3-D printer, the overall funding goal was very low, at $250,000. The brilliance in this campaign was setting various contribution price points, which is one way to gather market intelligence on consumer appetite for the product and demand price ceilings. Very smart.

In addition to the successful steps highlighted by the above examples, consider these additional steps to increase the effectiveness of your campaign:

  • Read the Indiegogo Playbook or the Kickstarter Handbook
  • Think about your campaign as one of several components of your overall marketing and fundraising strategy, so that the success of your idea is not entirely dependant on the success of your campaign
  • Update your website content to highlight your activities and contributions in your field, it will give you more credibility to those who do background research on the companies they consider supporting
  • Use social media to start engaging followers and fans long before your campaign starts
  • Take time to understand your target market

So is there a formula for success? Every company and product is different. What might work for one may not work so well for another. My advice is to learn from these examples in terms of what they did well, and take some additional steps before the campaign to build awareness.

Because in the end, a crowdfunding campaign is only as successful as your ability to engage the crowd.


What is your experience with crowdfunding? Any advice? Are you currently running a campaign? Let the community know in the comments below. Need help with your website, branding, social media, or your next crowdfunding campaign? Call us, we would love to work with you.

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