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Solar Roadways

Solar Roadways

By Roger Huang

NOTE: While this case study doesn’t fit the criteria for a creative project per say (given it’s a rather technological project), there are lessons to be learned here by those looking to create content and successfully crowdfund it. The facts presented in this case study were conveyed to us by Ayah Norris, Indiegogo Canada’s marketing manager.

Type of Project: Technology
Funding Period: April to June 2014
Funding Target: 1 000 000$
Funds Raised: 2 200 716$ (220% of target)
Number of Contributors: 48,475
Average Contribution: 45$

Crowdfunding is so powerful because it taps into the many-to-many network enabled by the Internet and gets money flowing from many supporters to many projects. It leverages the social web to create beautiful projects in the physical and digital worlds.

During a crowdfunding campaign, supporters become your lifeblood, your source of funding, and your greatest social advocates. It’s not only their money that pushes you to succeed: it’s also their reach and their belief in your idea.

From creating buzz on social media outlets to getting published in major news outlets, the most successful crowdfunding projects are those that manage to generate and maintain momentum on both social networks and media from the beginning to the end of the campaign.

Many have heard of Solar Roadways, the Indiegogo campaign launched to “smarten” our roadways through the installation of solar panels. The campaign raised $2.2 million and was featured by media outlets such as The New York Times, Fast Company and Wired that slugged it as one of the most highly funded projects on Indiegogo.

What are the lessons that can be drawn from this experience?

 

You have to start somewhere to get the ball rolling

A lot of work was done even before the Solar Roadways crowdfunding campaign was launched. Co-founders Scott and Julie Brusaw had won several profile-raising awards even before the first dollar was raised. They collected a ton of social proofing before they ever really needed it and set the foundation for a clear and simple idea that was easy to communicate within the web’s 140-character limit.

Not only was the foundation set for there to be support networks for the idea, but also a lot of thought was put into how to prototype and convey the idea. The campaign quickly cleared the 30% funding hurdle: Ayah Norris, Indiegogo Canada’s marketing manager, points out that the social proofing aspect of crowdfunding kicks in at this level and that it is at this level that people really start believing that there is some momentum associated with the project. Any money that follows is usually much easier to raise.

It’s important you set a foundation even before you launch your campaign. You can’t create social buzz from nothing. You need to have a good idea, a good way to convey it, and a network of people ready to deliver the message for you.

Stay engaged

Once your campaign has started, it’s important to realize that you’ll need to stay active to maintain the initial momentum. You have to constantly make updates and encourage people who were passive fans to become active donors.

A crowdfunding campaign isn’t a display piece; it’s a living call-to-action to a community of believers. The idea is to have them rally around an idea and see it come to fruition.

Solar Roadways had 126 updates logged—following their own narrative from beginning to end.

Updates included a stream of media coverage, endorsements from senior political figures, and long personal outpourings on what was happening with the project. Taken together, they formed a personal storyline relating a project that was gaining unstoppable momentum.

Co-founder Julie Brusaw constantly checked the social media feeds for Solar Roadways and, more importantly, made fans feel like they were part of the project. She constantly asked them what kind of perks they wanted and what they wanted to see Solar Roadways do.

Solar Roadways became a community.

The updates were genuine, and filled with excitement, and the tone conveyed a slight sense of disbelief that all of this was happening in the first place. Most importantly, it was a story people could endorse: two co-founders who were doing amazing things, helping to make the world a better place, and reaching out for that little bit of help to get promote their idea.

Reach out to influencers

While it’s good to reach out to existing supporters, you also have to recruit new ones. One of the most efficient ways to do so is to raise awareness of your project among influencers—from journalists to community leaders.

Getting an email list of targeted influencers—and outreach to them once or a few times—is a great way to ensure that you’re talked about on an ongoing basis. Here’s a tip: to get the attention of journalists, Twitter is often a good way of sparking a conversation.

Ayah Norris (Indiegogo Canada) makes a good point here: establish your relationship with journalists, but make sure you have a polished product that has gained a certain momentum before you really angle them to cover you. Journalists want to be associated with a winning idea, and you’ll actually convert their readers into donors rather than passive observers if you have already gained momentum.

There are individual influencers, and then there are the communities they head. It is important to reach both. Solar Roadways targeted perks to different communities they wanted to reach out to, tailoring prizes that would appeal to environmentalists, and others that appealed to techies. They made sure to reach the groups they wanted to reach, in a fun and interactive manner that was easy to share across the social web. 

Energize the social web, and get funded!

One of the largest factors behind Solar Roadways’ success was the ability to get people to share and join the campaign. They switched videos halfway through, and put up a fan-made video on May 18 (shown above). By May 20, the campaign had suddenly kicked up in contributions. They created a touch-point for fans to contribute to the momentum they had generated and came up with a reason for people to keep coming back.

By getting the ball rolling early, staying engaged and reaching out to influencers, you can energize the social web, get the media coverage you need and ultimately convert the buzz into funding.