When I first discovered celebrities were raising money through crowd-sourcing, I wondered how millionaires, like Spike Lee and Zach Braff, could have the audacity to ask their fans for money when they make four, five, or 16 times what their average fans do. Then I realized that kind of chutzpah is how these stars became millionaires in the first place. While the rest of us commoners may not be flush in cash or connected to potential funding to get our businesses off the ground, crowd-sourcing proving a rare glimpse into what savvy entrepreneurs do.
The success of celebrities like Braff and Lee on Kickstarter are proving that the rest of us plebes have to kick up our game. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1) Don’t pony up your own money.
Luckily, I don’t have any, so this has not proven to be an issue. But Spike Lee surpassed his goal of $1.25 million without ever donating to his own campaign. He says he felt inspired by fellow celebrities, like Zack Braff, who scored $3.1 million. Neither of them, both of whom were already millionaires, offered to “match” their fans’ donations.
2) Befriend super successful people, preferably wealthy ones.
Most of my friends are reporters, social activists and starving artists, so they can’t help. But instead of making friends you like, buy, excuse me, make rich friends. One way to do this is to offer gifts, you’d have given them anyway or can serve as a tax write-off.
Like when Director Steven Soderbergh pledged $10,000 to Lee’s campaign, it came with a bonus of having dinner with Lee and sitting with him at a Knicks game. Of course, Soderbergh could have just cut Lee a check and the two probably would have had dinner and caught a game together, but doesn’t publicly acknowledging their mutual admiration seem more noble?
3) Get your mug in every major press outlet to spread the word.
News outlets are really just billboards to advertise and market your project. Lee wanted the platform to spread his gospel; but he didn’t want journalists’ feedback. He berated a Bloomberg reporter for “presuming” he was rich. She backed down. (Since I’m not a reporter, I feel okay saying people think Spike Lee’s rich because he is rich.) It’s publicly listed that Lee owns a multi-million-dollar Upper East Side mansion and a summer home in Martha’s Vineyard, amongst other properties. Lee named his production company 40 Acres and a Mule, yet can afford 40 Acres and a pool.
4) Buy a celebrity FRONTER to be the face of your project.
Companies don’t care if celebrities “do the right thing” if they bring their following and provide press. So if you can get a celebrity Fronter to front your campaign, that’s ideal to attract attention and get your project showcased on the main page. You could also try Photoshop if actually securing an icon proves challenging or they have their own Kickstarter campaigns.
5) Don’t show humility and transparency.
When Kickstarter posted a press release with its goals, transparency was not one of the corporation’s tenets. Kickstarter collects around 3-5% from all proceeds, be it over-funded projects or the ones set at $10. Other companies with savvy branding like Apple and Google aren’t anymore transparent. Do you have to be? No.
Humility isn’t necessary. Spike Lee dug in his well-heeled sneakers, which he designs for Nike, when asked if his project could find funding elsewhere. He was indignant, but at least he’s consistent. He’s had the same reaction in the past when asked why he shills for a billion dollar retailer which has repeatedly admitted to accusations of abusing labor laws. Did it bother his fans? No.
There are stars who utilize crowd sourcing with transparency and humility. Take the late actress Karen Black, who asked for money to help fund her cancer treatment on GoFundMe. She clearly laid out the purpose of the funds, explained why she didn’t have enough money to afford treatment, and humbly asked for support. She wasn’t raising nearly as much money as Braff or Lee. Obviously, not all celebrities are millionaires and/or shmucks.
6) If your Kickstarter campaign fails, try a bake sale.
You may want to make some cookies that are gluten-free, although that may require you invest some money up front.
Catie Lazarus is a writer and comedian. She has contributed drivel to The Daily Beast, Slate, Cosmo, Bust, Gawker, and edited the “Kvetch Section” for Heeb Magazine. She also hosts the podcast Employee of the Month, which is taped live monthly at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Photo: Danny Norton