Kickstarting a business, 21st-century style

Kickstarting a business, 21st-century style

What could you do in 27 days?

Emma Pope-Welch, 28, of Portland, created Shift, a gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender online news publication. In 27 days, she planned to run a successful fundraising campaign on Kickstarter to get Shift off the ground.

Kickstarter is entrepreneurism in the 21st-century. It’s a website described as the world’s largest platform for funding creative projects. Anyone can propose a project, but only 43 percent of proposals, which first must meet Kickstarter’s project guidelines, are approved, according to a Kickstarter rep.

Once endorsed by the website, the proposer defines the project’s Perimeters, such as the financial goal and how long the campaign will last. Each Kickstarter campaign gets a page with details about the project and information about the rewards for contributors (usually the larger contribution you make, the more valuable the reward).

There is one catch to Kickstarter: If the financial goal is not reached, the project gets none of the money donated.

The idea of Shift started at the end of 2011, when Emma was 27. She created a goal of raising $3,500 in 27 days, from Jan. 15 to Feb. 12.

Shift’s emphasis will be on covering issues and news in the GLBTQ community for the whole state, not just Maine’s largest and most progressive city, Portland. She wants the site to cover topics like health, family, politics, and art, all told from the perspective of many diverse voices.

“The hope is to create a true statewide model – there’s really neat stuff going on in Machias, all along the coast, just little pockets of great activity that I would venture to say a lot of people don’t know about,” she says.

Emma grew up in Pittsfield, N.H., but moved to Maine and went to Mount Desert Island High School. She attended the University of Maine, where she majored in journalism.

She enjoys “self-propelled” sports like running, biking, kayaking and taking walks with her 5-year-old Corgi, Kiwi, who can give high fives.

She has a day job in the nonprofit sector that helped her prepare for Shift’s fundraising goal.

Running a campaign on Kickstarter is “philanthropy 101,” Pope-Welch explains. “People don’t give if you don’t ask. They encourage you to make a video, which, if you look at the bigger nonprofits, they have a video that really touches the heart.”

Shift’s page on Kickstarter prominently features a 3:20-minute video of Pope-Welch explaining Shift and why to donate. She entices her viewers to watch the whole video by promising some sweet dance moves at the end, over the music of the Portland band Sly-Chi.

Katie Diamond, a Portland artist and graphic designer, ran a campaign on Kickstarter to fund a queer feminist magazine, Salacious, in 2010.

Diamond received startup funds from Kickstarter and introduced the site to Pope-Welch, thinking Shift might qualify for funding.

She also received advice from Alex Steed, who ran a successful campaign for Maine’s Food Coma TV last year. Steed put Emma in touch with a transgender comedian from California, who gave her advice, too.

An important part of Kickstarter is the rewards offered to backers at different increments. Pope-Welch said the most common gift is $25.

For $1 donation, contributors would get early access to the site. For $7, a handwritten card; for $9, video proof of Pope-Welch‘s toes in the Atlantic in February. Rewards could be whimsical or serious, with contributors receiving all the perks of the rewards below the increment of their donation. While $500 and $1,000 donation options were available, Shift had seven backers donate $100 and they will be listed as supporters.

The shiftmaine.com website was launched Feb. 16. Her web developer friend donated his time to create the site. She will be contributing to the site’s biweekly updates, writing stories when she has time. There will also be an e-newsletter available that she will be sending out for those less web-savvy folks interested in the project.

Since Pope-Welch is the only staff member, Shift will be based on a few different citizen journalism models. One aspect is the idea that almost everyone has a cell phone that can take video and photos. She’s also reached out to local journalism and multimedia students to contribute, too.

“People are excited to share their ideas and contribute to the discourse,” she said.

So does this story have a happy ending? You’ll be pleased to know Pope-Welch surpassed her goal by 109 percent and raised $3,843 in 27 days through the help of more than 105 backers, including former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.

Pope-Welch wasn’t worried about making goal; she knew she’d have enough money from cash donations that she would add as the campaign’s end date loomed. For her, the Kickstarter campaign was about the exposure, the support and the engagement.

“It’s created more buzz than anything else we’ve done,” she said, referring to Shift’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

“I have been surprised, and I guess I shouldn’t have been, by the generosity,” Pope-Welch said about her experience with Kickstarter.

“I thought, doing the math, I have x number of friends on Facebook and if they each gave $3, we would reach the goal in no time. Except people aren’t giving $3, they are giving $25 or $50. It’s really neat to watch someone that I would have never asked for more than $10, give $30.”

The money raised will go toward paying for the website, as well providing equipment to volunteers to record podcasts and videos.

Pope-Welch knew she wanted the name of the project to be one word. She wanted it to have meaning but also grab people’s attention. After a lot of feedback, the creator of the name is unknown but the message is there.

“With the name, we’re trying to say there are some people with the opinion that sexuality shouldn’t matter, but it does. It’s everywhere,” she said.

“This population has struggled to just live, for many more years than I’ve been alive. And we’ve gotten to a place where at least, we are seeing progress. But there’s still a lot of room to grow.”

Emma Pope-Welch
The Shift web site is at shiftmaine.com
Katie Bell is a graphic designer and freelance writer with Current Publishing.

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