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VOL. 39 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 15, 2015

Got a dream? Launch it with help from crowdfunding

By Jeannie Naujeck

Print | Front Page | Email this story

One friend helped Annie Klaver get into her corporate job, and 131 helped her get out. More specifically, 131 people pledged a total of $15,556 on Indiegogo, enabling Klaver to launch her new outdoor company, River Queen Voyages, this month.

Klaver is one of a growing number of entrepreneurs who have bypassed traditional funding sources to finance their businesses or creative endeavors, instead using online crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter to raise money from friends and fans.

Klaver said the idea of starting a river outfitter came to her after 15 years of working for corporations and startups. Several years ago she and husband, Robby Hecht, a singer-songwriter, moved to a riverfront house on Neely’s Bend.

That’s where she started taking stock of her life, and decided to spend less time in front of a computer screen and more time outdoors, as she had done growing up in Wisconsin.

Klaver quit her job at a video production company and changed some habits, getting in shape and forming a plan to turn her love of river kayaking into a business.

Annie Klaver, left, with her dog Dede and Sarah Gavigan paddle down the Cumberland just past Opryland and the General Jackson.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“I was like, ‘Why don’t people kayak this river? We kayak it all the time.’ It was a combination of quitting my job and living up here,” says Klaver.

“I’m not going back to the corporate world so I’ve got to keep riding this train and figure it out.”

She had saved about $10,000 from her last job to start River Queen Voyages, which offers guided and self-guided kayak tours down the Cumberland River.

Klaver figured she needed about $15,000 more to buy a van and single and tandem kayaks, and pay for liability insurance, marketing and Metro Parks permit fees, which are $150 per ramp per month.

RQV uses three ramps: one at Lock Two Park in Pennington Bend, one in Shelby Park and one at Riverfront Park downtown.

Klaver says she made $3,800 in the first two days of her campaign. There was a lull in the middle – something that happens with most campaigns – then another spike at the end.

Annie Klaver, owner of River Queen Voyages demonstrates for clients how to properly hold the kayaking paddle before getting in the river.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“People knew I’d quit my job and knew I was going to be doing this, so I think it was good to have a platform for people to be able to support it,” she adds.

“They’re basically putting money in the bank to cash in on a beautiful day to go float down the river.”

As Kickstarter campaigns go, Klaver’s was relatively modest. The most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time – and the fastest to reach its goal – was Pebble Time’s second smartwatch campaign, which raised $1 million in one hour and $20.3 million total from more than 78,000 backers.

Fully funded in three days

Tamara Saviano met her $75,000 goal on Kickstarter within three days, and with 10 days to go in the campaign had raised nearly $160,000. The money will fund a documentary film she is producing about the life of singer-songwriter Guy Clark titled, “Without Getting Killed or Caught.”

More information

Crowdfunding helps individuals, nonprofits, businesses, artists, musicians, other creatives and entrepreneurs to raise money, usually through small donations, for a project using social media.

There are more than 600 crowdfunding platforms worldwide, according to Entrepreneur magazine. Two of the most popular are Kickerstarter and Indiegogo.

Here is an example of a Kickstarter campaign in progress:

The company: Twist Cupcakery by Alexandra “Kate’’ Rivers

The pitch: Twist Cupcakery needs your help launching our gourmet Cupcakery in downtown Dayton.

The stats as of May 11, 2015: 63 percent funded, $3,786 pledged, 30 backers, 20 days to go.

In addition, donors may also be eligible for rewards that could be anything from receiving a free product to actually being involved in the creative process.

On Kickstarter, there are currently 2,642 projects that appear under the search, “Nashville.’’

Beyond the straightforward idea of giving a cupcake business $5, there are more sophisticated sites such as LendingClub, which allows members to invest and borrow from one another (peer-to-peer lending), according to Entrepreneur.

“Intellectually, I knew that he had passionate fans so I felt confident that they would come to the table,” the artist manager, publicist, record producer and author says of the campaign’s stunning success.

“But I didn’t know it emotionally, until we launched, how passionate his fans are. They are the most incredible people.

“The money’s great, but boy, just the community of people who are into it – that’s mind-blowing.”

Saviano, who is also working on Clark’s biography, plans to release the film in time for festival season in 2017, around Clark’s 75th birthday.

Crowdfunding is the modern version of artist patronage, she says.

“Before there were commercial entities making all this money on art, that’s how art existed. People were patrons and they supported artists. So I believe in that, but at the same time, I like to do things by myself; I like to be independent,” adds Saviano.

“I don’t like to ask for help, so it was really hard for me to put myself out there and being vulnerable. I geared myself up to be prepared to fail and have a Plan B.”

She didn’t need one.

Saviano planned the Kickstarter campaign as carefully as she would a client’s record release, taking four months to craft the message, reward tiers and fulfillment strategy. It launched April 27 and ends May 20. As of May 10, more than 1,400 backers had raised nearly $160,000.

The Kickstarter campaign money is earmarked for licensing music from publishers – the biggest single item in the budget. The film will actually cost about $500,000 to produce, and another $500,000 to market and distribute.

Saviano will approach private investors for the rest, armed with a list of Kickstarter fans who might convince potential backers that Clark’s story matters and has an audience.

“In the film world, $1 million is nothing. But it is a lot of money to me,” she says.

“I’m just going to keep moving along, and we’ll see what happens. I’m doing this film one way or another.”

Without Indiegogo, Klaver says she probably would have had to take out a home equity line of credit to launch River Queen Voyages.

Now, with the season well underway, Klaver is marketing her self-guided and guided tours to visitors as well as locals whom she encourages to unplug from their “normal” lives – as she is doing.

“We’re checking our phones constantly,” Klaver explains. “There’s something calming about getting in the water. I want people to go outside and sit in a boat for a couple of hours and just stare up at the sky.”

The message seems to be resonating.

On a recent corporate float, one paddler, the young CEO of an Internet-based startup, looked up at the blue heron nests along the river and had a minor revelation.

“Those birds don’t give a (expletive) about YouTube,” he marveled.

“Things can get complicated really quickly,” Klaver adds. “It’s nice to have a reminder of where we came from.”

Many music projects

The majority of Kickstarter campaigns are music-related. More than 35,000 music projects have posted on Kickstarter to date, though less than half have been successful and reached their goals, according to a Billboard analysis.

Naturally, most Nashville-based crowdfunded projects are music projects, too.

Chuck Mead raised more than $10,000 through Kickstarter to finance a record and documentary about the legendary Quonset Hut recording studio on Music Row.

-- Submitted

In 2012, Chuck Mead exceeded his $10,000 goal on Kickstarter and used it to fund the recording of a book and documentary film, “Back at the Quonset Hut,” honoring the legendary Music Row recording studio of Harold and Owen Bradley.

Last month, traditional throwback country singer Cale Tyson raised $10,696 through Indiegogo to help pay for his debut album, which he is cutting at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals.

Premiums (special deals for investors) included everything from a home-cooked meal and night of honky-tonkin’ with Tyson, which four people claimed at $250 each, to a house concert anywhere in the country.

This year, seven albums financed through Kickstarter campaigns were nominated for Grammy Awards. Two won Grammys: Jo-El Sonnier’s “The Legacy” for best regional roots music Album, and Mike Farris’ “Shine for All the People” for best roots gospel album.

Farris, who lives in Nashville, raised more than $40,000 from two Kickstarter campaigns for the album, which was released in September 2014.

While Farris was initially skeptical of Kickstarter, he did not have the backing of a record label. However, he did have a passionate fan base, developed over years of electric live performances, says Tyler Pittman, vice president of sales and marketing for Sony Music Entertainment, who was executive producer for the album.

Rising country singer Cale Tyson, who will record his first full-length album in Muscle Shoals using money raised on Indiegogo.

-- Submitted

“I am absolutely, 100 percent in favor of people crowdfunding,” Pittman adds. “Especially in music, if you have fans who are chomping at the bit for whatever you can produce or create.”

“A lot of artists, they feel like they’re holding their hat out, like they’re begging,” he adds. “You’re not begging. You’re including your fans in the creative process, and it’s rewarding for them just to see it happen.”

Both Farris’ campaigns hit their goal in the first week, and Pittman points out fans were remarkably patient over the five years it took to produce and deliver the record.

Farris offered rewards ranging from a limited-edition download for $10 to an acoustic concert at the donor’s church for $5,500.

Sony Music’s Tyler Pittman (left) and singer Mike Farris with the Grammy Award for Farris’ album “Shine for all the People.” Farris and his team raised more than $40,000 on Kickstarter to make “Shine,” one of two crowdfunded albums to win Grammys this year.

-- Submitted

Other tiers offered autographed merchandise, a personal phone call from Farris, a custom-painted drum head, the chance to sit in on a recording session, a house concert, a golf excursion and Farris’ Stratocaster.

Pittman says the biggest downside of crowdfunding campaigns are the time and labor needed for campaign administration and rewards fulfillment.

“There’s a lot of legwork and updates and admin you have to do,” he explains. “You have to follow through. They’ll funnel the money to you but all the back end, all the fulfillment is on you.”

Platforms like PledgeMusic, a direct-to-fan site that allows music fans to preorder albums, do all the campaign administration and rewards fulfillment for artists but take a bigger cut of the funds.

Saviano, who is offering 30 different reward packages for the Guy Clark film, ranging from merchandise to experiences, says she doesn’t mind the back end work.

“For me, the goal is to have as many people on board as possible. I just want people to come along for the ride.’’

“Some people want to support a project, but they don’t have $100 to spare. But they have $5 or $10 or $20.

“So you try to make it worthwhile for them to be a part of it and get something cool even if they can’t afford to buy film premiere tickets. Something for everyone.”

Saviano says when she initially told Guy Clark about the Kickstarter campaign, he was supportive but somewhat perplexed. Clark, 73, spends barely any time online, let alone on social media.

But when the campaign launched and pledges started pouring in, he began to realize the impact.

“When I went to his house and told him how much we had raised at that point, and all the people and what they were saying, he was really touched,” Saviano says.

Now, as the campaign nears its end, Saviano has established a new goal: she wants as many people as possible to pledge even $5 – so she can show Clark how many lives he’s touched.

Saviano says her Kickstarter campaign hasn’t just helped fill the film coffers – it’s also filled her heart.

“I didn’t know if I was going to have fun with Kickstarter. But it has been so much fun,” she adds.

“I feel less alone in the world because I’ve found all these people who love Guy as much as I do.”