Paste your Google Universal Analytics tracking code here... UA-43937238-1

What You Should Know Before You Indiegogo: A Cautionary Tale of Crowdfunding!

by Tara Lee Reed on May 15, 2013

From Dictionary.com: pop·u·lar

1. Regarded with favor, approval, or affection by people in general.

2. Of, pertaining to, or representing the people, especially the common people.

Crowdfunding is a wonderful thing: a way to fund dreams, bring revolutionary products to market, and save cats. For many, it’s a Godsend, for others, a source of inexplicable frustration. I fall into both categories. This is my story.

This year, I’ll publish my novel, Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: It’s a humorous combination of choosable path novels, chick lit and dating advice books, with hundreds of choices and upwards of 60 endings.

I pitched it to agents in 2009, during the worst point of the financial crisis. I enjoyed great responses to the concept, “off-kilter” humor and writing, but the climate made it risky to take on a debut author whose book was a niche within a niche within a niche. Ebooks and self-publishing were gaining ground, so agents’ suggestions to leverage my public relations background and publish it myself weren’t a total surprise.

I was in, but only if I could do it with the integrity of a traditionally published novel, and without losing sight of long-term goals like turning it into a series and, eventually, a video game. It was possible but implausible. Quality isn’t cheap, and I’m a chronically ill woman with major medical bills. Enter crowdfunding: individuals pooling their money online to help people and organizations get projects off the ground.

How Indiegogo (Supposedly) Works

As a Canadian, my best option was Indiegogo. Their biggest selling points are an international platform, fixed or flexible funding options, and the much-touted gogofactor.

In their words: “Indiegogo measures the activity of a campaign using an algorithm we call gogofactor. Search rankings, placement on the site, featured spots in our newsletter or blog, and inclusion in our press outreach are all determined by gogofactor. Indiegogo is a merit-based platform, which means that campaigns earn featured spots by staying active. We don’t curate campaigns, nor do we offer paid placement. Your visibility on the site is controlled entirely by you and your community.”

What they left out: None of it matters if you haven’t hit 20% of your campaign goal.

Campaigns are sorted into categories, placement determined by gogofactor. Outranking a campaign in one category should mean outranking it everywhere else.

Most prominently featured and important of all categories is Most Popular. It implies inclusion of the best, and, well, most popular campaigns. It’s almost identical to the All Campaigns category.

Indiegogo offers an extensive list of tactics to maximize gogofactor, which is a rolling average of your efforts contrasted to those of other campaigns. They offer numerous statistics for determining campaign elements.

Their Campaign Field Guide recommends setting your funding goal based on the expectation of receiving 25-30% from your network. They suggest capping campaigns at 47 days.

Indiegogo and Me

My 47-day flexible funding campaign went live on February 12, 2013. My original goal was $70,000 USD, based on professional quotes and scrutinized by a financial advisor, and covered three stages of editing, formatting, cover design, illustrations throughout the book, website development, book trailer, promotional videos, administrative costs, taxes, perk fulfillment, Indiegogo’s fee, and payment processing.

It seemed achievable. Fellow Torontonian, Ryan North’s Kickstarter campaign for To Be or Not To Be: That is the Adventure (a choosable-path adaptation of Hamlet) asked for $20,000 to illustrate the book and raised over $580,000.

I followed all recommended promotional tactics, including a great pitch video, and added innovative touches of my own, like Pinterest boards for my characters, and e-cards with quips from the book. In week one, I was consistently on Pages 9-13 of All Campaigns. Twelve days in, I made Page Five, putting me in the top 45 campaigns. Sort of.

carrieinsta

After a few weeks, I began losing heart. Despite my All Campaigns ranking, I’d only received contributions from personal connections. I was absent from the 1,781 campaigns in Most Popular, despite dozens of campaign updates and gallery images, hundreds of Facebook likes, thousands of referrals, media pick up, etc.

Who was in Most Popular and promoted by Indiegogo? Help Ginger Mae – a campaign raising $1,500 for veterinary bills – who I was beating in other categories, awareness, funding, and visible campaign efforts.

With 18 days left, I began a series of emails to various levels of Indiegogo staff. I supplied my complete list of tactics and asked how to improve my rankings. I requested assurance my account was technically sound after a number of issues.

The first agent said I was doing everything quite right, but hadn’t “met a very high percentage of [my] goal. As a one time courtesy, [she] could lower [my] campaign goal- then the funds [I’ve] received will count as a much higher percentage.”

I should have been suspicious, but I was elated. And grateful. I lopped $30,000 off my goal and waved goodbye to the tactics it would fund. No improvement.

Assuring me I was “doing all the right things,” Indiegogo PR rep, Andrew Nunnely forwarded me to a “support ninja” who theorized my (new) goal was too high, and suggested tactics he’d already been told I was employing. I asked again about technical issues and waited three days for a different agent to not answer my question.

I specifically asked how heavily gogofactor weighed a campaign’s funding ratio against other factors. Reply: “the algorithm takes into account many different aspects of a campaign that often may not be visible from an outsider’s perspective – such as the number of views and referrals a campaign receives. …it may be frustrating to see other campaigns get featured or raise higher in the browse pages, but often there is a great amount of background work that the campaign owner has done to bring views and visitors to their campaign page… a successful campaign has three critical elements: a good pitch, a proactive outreach and an audience that cares.”

Notice how she avoided my questions? I’d compared my campaign to many others and knew I had them over a barrel in gogo-tactics, so the only logical way the 1,781 Most Popular campaigns could provoke so much traffic was media coverage. I had some. Where was theirs? Ginger Mae’s? Why didn’t it result in social media shares?

The next 11 days were a gong show. I sent emails to Indiegogo, they stalled with redundant, contradictory half-answers to questions they should’ve been able to answer while unconscious.

Highlights:

- I repeatedly asked why campaigns outranking others in all categories were absent from Most Popular while the others were included. No answer.

- I was denied access to senior staff, locating Indiegogo Principal, Adam Chapnick myself. He assured me he’d address my concerns. Crickets.

- I was told others were using substantial “offline” campaigning efforts. Apparently these barnburners are absent from Indiegogo’s Field Guide, and foreign to me – a PR professional. How does the algorithm know about them? Is gogofactor actually Skynet?

- I was guilt-tripped over how hard other “worthy” campaigns worked to make Most Popular and told to be proud of ranking so highly everywhere else.

- “A strong, active campaign,” gave way to implications people just weren’t that into me, and that my network wasn’t doing enough.

- They’d offer to answer all of my questions by phone, but suddenly had no answers when I insisted on getting everything in writing.

Let’s Get Back to the 20% Percent Thing

My big brother figured it out, and we felt dumb for not seeing it sooner. Then we remembered four levels of staff went out of their way to avoid telling me the truth, which is: Most Popular requires a minimum achievement of 20% of your goal.

Actual popularity does not matter to Indiegogo. If your goal is $1,000 and you raise $200, even if you put no other effort into your campaign, you’re eligible for Most Popular and the promotional trappings that come with it.

Eight days left and everything to lose, my brother loaned me $3,500 to reach the 20% mark. I knew I’d move up, but the outcome was disgusting. Instantly, I went from position 81in All Campaigns and nowhere in Most Popular to the 15th Most Popular campaign on the site, and the Most Popular campaign in Canada.

Astoundingly, I outranked The Minuum Keyboard Project, which had raised 500% of its $10,000 goal, had thousands of social media shares, and was regularly featured by Indiegogo. If that doesn’t say my campaign kicked ass on merit alone, what does?

Curiously, neither of us was ahead of good ol’ Ginger Mae who was still featured prominently as a top campaign. She closed with 15 Facebook ‘likes,’ 9 campaign updates and 29 images in her gallery. Boggling.

With five days to go, I finally got a taste of Indiegogo promotion. Too little too late. I was short 80% of my goal, and flexible funding meant that if I failed, contributors wouldn’t get the book or a refund. Who takes that risk, amirite?

Thanks to All Campaigns, I know that, had I been ranked by actual popularity instead of the gogogreedfactor, I’d have reached Page Five of Most Popular within two weeks of going live. Given my proactive efforts, I’d likely have remained there or moved up, resulting in more unique page views and funding.

When Indiegogo broke their rule and offered to lower my goal (So much for the integrity of the algorithm), they gave no direction as to how far to drop it. Why? The same reason the 20% rule isn’t in their materials: failed flexible funding campaigns are super-profitable.

Sure, they have occasional juggernaut success stories, but more campaigns fail than not. If they really wanted you to succeed, the suggested statistic would be to set goals based on raising 20% from your network, not 25-30%.

Once More with Feeling!

My total funds raised were $9,045. Take 12% off the top for Indiegogo and payment processing fees, then deduct $3,500 for the loan from my brother (yep, I paid 12% on it) and you’ve got $4459. I had contributions from 124 people (only three were strangers), 810 Facebook ‘likes,’ 66 page updates, 59 comments, 61 gallery images, four media hits, thousands of referrals, etc. I contributed to and supported other campaigns (mostly cats), which Indiegogo says boosts gogofactor.

If I’d asked 121 people for money directly, I’d have around $1,000 more for the project. The $1,500 I spent on the campaign could have gone toward medical treatment.

It’s the contributors who lose biggest here. I didn’t raise enough to finish editing and, while I’ll publish come hell or high water, I can’t fulfill their perks. (Though, I’ll think of something).

Crowdfunders give strangers money in hopes of being part of something special. They accept the risk of no return on investment but, like campaign owners, they don’t have all the facts.

Indiegogo’s stated philosophies, practices and policies create the impression that the most popular (worthy) campaigns rise to the top by the merit of owners who cultivate with consistency and enthusiasm; and those campaigns will be seen by thousands who will hopefully stumble across something that makes their socks roll up and down (maybe literally!) and support it with money and word of mouse.

That’s crap!

Most Popular is the place to be. No 20% in dues? Prepare to be buried in pages no one looks at, making it unlikely anyone you’re not Kevin Bacon connected to will find you. Indiegogo visitors browse Most Popular not knowing it should be called Campaigns that Reached at Least 20% of Their Goal, Negating Actual Popularity.

I’m Mad as Hell, and I’m Gonna Take it for 45 More Days!

Turning to crowdfunding was like giving over my life’s blood – and my last chance. I had to give up my career five years ago when I became sick with Fibromyalga and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Told I’ll never work again, this book is a lifeline and a chance to improve my quality of life. Honestly. Not greedily. And Indiegogo knew that. They don’t owe me special treatment, but they owe campaigners and contributors honesty and transparency.

This experience took a major mental and physical toll on me (which is why this post was originally titled “Indiegof*ckyourself”). I took some time to think about what to do next and decided I wouldn’t let their shady practices kill my dream. I’ll do everything possible to publish Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda with professional quality and honour contributions.

That means launching a second campaign for bare minimum production costs and, yes, giving Indiegogo more money. I’m using funds from the first campaign to unlock the 20% gogofactor requirement, I mean element.

I’m hopeful the wonderful people who’ve invested so much money, time and energy into my project will help me once more. Not with cash, but by sharing the new campaign, and this post, to help me recreate the popularity of the first campaign.

I want to see what happens when my project gets a fair shake. It’s entirely possible I’m going to face-plant, but if I do, I’m doing it on my terms – not Indiegogo’s.

UPDATE: I guess I’ll fail on Indiegogo’s terms. In response to these posts, they wiped out my social media shares and have willfully kept me out of Final Countdown on the homepage. Proof? Sure. Here.

Thanks for reading.  Have similar experiences to mine? Tell me! Post ‘em here. Make ‘em accountable!

April 20, 2014: Indiegogo has redesigned its site for the second time in less than a year, also renaming the “Popular Now” category “Trending,” I’m guessing in attempt to escape my posts in Google searches. Malfunctions still an issue.

April 14, 2014: Earlier this year, I turned down offers from Berkeley and Harlequin to publish my novel, but I opted to resume my plans to self publish. You can find Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda at stores now.

August 31, 2013: Well, I made Indiegogo change its business model, dropping the 20% – but I was punished for it. And they STILL haven’t fixed the rampant malfunctions, particularly for social media. Read more here.

JUNE 20, 2013: Indiegogo Running Two Systems at Once: Campaigners Paying to Get Screwed.

MAY 22, 2013 Post: Indiegogo Doesn’t Care About PR. Site Ignores Tech Issues Impacting gogofactor.

With gratitude,

Tara Reed

AKA: Wordsmith & Wesson

 

CWS LOGO

 

 

 

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

bcmoney July 31, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Why not try your luck with another free/low-cost crowdfunding alternative like Kickstarter, RocketHub or even Kiva (which is now available in North America too)?

Reply

Wordsmith August 8, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Kickstarter wasn’t available in Canada at the time, and the others don’t have any brand-recognition that I’m aware of. Add to that the fact that I clearly already knew how to work the system at indiegogo and it just wouldn’t have been practical to move to another site. Had I known about the ongoing technical issue that they STILL haven’t fixed, I’d have waited, but alas…

The bottom line is that this company doesn’t actually offer its customers/contributors what they say they do. It’s full of glitches, customer service is terrible, and they favour campaigns that they think will bring in the most money as they equate to the most brand awareness in a time where they know they have to compete with Kickstarter now that they’re coming to Canada. It seems rather fraudulent to me.

Reply

Someone August 20, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Hey, thanks for sharing this online, that’s what I suspected and this is a proof that not “the most popular” matter, while I’m not 100% sure of the algorithm and it may have changed a bit it’s sad the indiegogo site only favor the best marketed and donated campaigns it kind of undermines it’s purpose; there should be an autoshuffle or random way to show campaigns not only the “meritous” way or else your projects might never be noticed in the pond of projects; I recently started my crowdfunding campaign and I fear will be a total failure as the fb/gplu/twitter pages I maitain are not such a great deal as those percentage donations

Reply

Wordsmith August 21, 2013 at 2:09 am

Thanks for comment! I’m glad that this blog sparked a change to the site to remove the 20% minimum from the (now called) Popular Now category, but it’s an absolute disgrace how many of us were misled and set up to fail prior that, and the fact they’ve yet to fix the technical malfunctions on the site. I can guarantee you that the shares on your page are not being accurately counted and distributed, and because of that, you’re inaccurately ranked.

If you haven’t had a chance to read my follow up piece on this regarding the fact these malfunctions mean inaccurate gogofactor for all campaigns, and a huge disadvantage for “the little guy” as it’s severely limiting exposure, unique page views, exponential re-shares and, of course, funding. All of which feed gogofactor.

http://www.couldawouldashouldabook.com/22-days-of-tech-issues-no-action-from-indiegogo-screens-of-social-share-malfunctions/

I’d be most gratified if you would verify the issues for yourself using the Facebook, Twitter and G+ buttons on multiple campaigns and sceen-capping the process. For example, before, during and after a tweet, as well as a cap of the tweet in your feed. Make sure you keep the date stamp in the file names. I’d ask other campaigners to do it as well, especially brand new campaigns who are more likely to see a spike in social media in their first days. IGG says more users need to complain, so let’s complain!

At this point, absolutely, an auto-rotation is the only way to make up for the fact that Indiegogo isn’t holding up their end of the bargain by offering a fully functional site that operates as described and competent staff with transparent answers and resolutions for valid and urgent complaints. They simply cannot continue to claim they’re a fair democratic platform based on their precious algorithm when that algorithm is compromised by bugs they’re completely aware of.

If you have any contact with them (please never let them convince you to talk to them over the phone), I’d appreciate if you’d share the information with me at tara / at / wordsmithandwesson.com, and especially if you’d allow me to post them here.

Thanks again and good luck!

Reply

instant loan January 9, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Good blog you have got here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours nowadays.
I honestly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

Reply

Sharon Maas January 11, 2014 at 3:45 am

I don’t know much about crowdfunding, but I do know a little about (self) publishing and know hundreds of successful people in publishing, in particular authors. I know about self-publishing, and i know you can produce a perfectly decent book for a fraction of that insane $70000 budget. Sorry, but you went overboard on this.

Reply

Wordsmith January 11, 2014 at 11:57 am

Thanks for your comments. Sharon.

I actually justified the pricing and the reason for it, as I was not trying to simply put up a single novel at the lowest possible price and hope for the best. I’m a professional marketer who know that is simply not enough to stand out against the din of poorly executed novel that makes it hard to spot quality. The overwhelming majority of self-published books I see look like self-published books. I’ve spent five years on my book and it’s the first in aeries of many, so that’s the last thing I want.

I appreciate your opinion, but as I said, “My original goal was $70,000 USD, based on professional quotes and scrutinized by a financial advisor, and covered three stages of editing, formatting, cover design, illustrations throughout the book, website development, book trailer, promotional videos, administrative costs, taxes, perk fulfillment, Indiegogo’s fee, and payment processing.” And it was based on my wish to be transparent in the event I might have exceeded the bare minimum goal as another other with the same format did, also mentioned in my post.

And as is the point of the post, my marketing ability and tools prove that I didn’t fail. Indiegogo did – by having their most popular campaigner(s) hidden because of a secret percentage of goal not attained, which this post had them remove. And when I did launch the second campaign with the bare minimum goal, their incompetence and failure to fix API issues dramatically affecting their “gogofactor” ensured that couldn’t happen, as I was still relegated to the back pages and my social media shares (the back bone of crowdfunding) failed just like everyone else then and now because they still won’t fix it.

You’d be unfortunately not at all surprised by the people who contact me with their problems, being told they’re not getting their money, they’re not getting answers, they’re getting different answers than I was given for the same issue.

My mistake was the pricing of my perks, which should have been lower. As you say, self-publishers, as well as readers in general aren’t familiar with crowdfunding, but they are familiar with book pricing, so while the point of the site is individual venture capitalism in order to see a concept/product come to life, readers/my demographic are stuck on the typical price of a retail book. Instead of hoping a minimum of people would take Perk X valued at Y, I should have hoped many, many people took the lowest price perk.

Good luck with your publishing efforts. It’s a jungle out there.

Reply

Bryan March 17, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Hey i just wanted to say that i feel like indiegogo basically made it impossible for people to discover my campaign. I just started it 3 days ago and i was first on the third page for my category on most popular and second for new this week. Now all of a sudden you can’t even find my page when you browse my category. Im not on any of the 11 pages. You can only find my campaign if you type the name on the search bar. I have contacted indiegogo’s staff and they said only active campaigns can be found while browsing categories. I have been very active. In the first 3 days i have uploaded a video, added perks, and had 9 updates.

Reply

Wordsmith March 24, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Not even a little surprised, though I’m sorry for you. I think by “active” it’s more likely they meant “live” and are just stalling you as they do everyone else. They probably don’t even know why your campaign isn’t showing, and they most definitely don’t care.

Please feel free to post their actual responses to you in the comments. I invite everyone to do so.

Good luck!

Reply

bret February 1, 2015 at 11:36 am

Greetings Tara,

I’ve tried Indiegogo and currently GoFundMe. Both efforts are dismal failures. Upon reading your article, the reasons became painfully obvious. Processing your chronicled, tireless efforts and pitbull determination to bring life to your campaign made my pitiful attempt seem like the dumbest kid in the dumb class. An abject failure. I remain slack-jawed as to what was required for you to get what you did. I must say exceptional and outstanding. Thanks for the excellent, informative squeal-all.

Reply

jeff schleede May 2, 2015 at 1:58 pm

hey…probably a little late for a comment, but we ran an Indiegogo campaign. After the 1st day my friends could not find our campaign using the search bar. After 2 days with the same issue, i wrote an email to them. after 4 days i wrote another email. after 5 days they told me about some baloney ranking system. i countered back that no one who searched for my campaign could find it without a direct link from another site. after 7 days, i QUIT.

jeff

Reply

Wordsmith May 16, 2013 at 8:35 pm

You are a doll, Raymond! Thanks for spreading the word!

Reply

Wordsmith March 7, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Thank you so very much!

I’m thrilled you found success. Looking forward to seeing it unfold.

I left a comment on your post with a bit of an update (what my post led to). Hope that’s okay!

Reply

Leave a Comment

*

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: