Interview with Daniel Zayas by Elizabeth Mays
From the Field
Daniel Zayas is a Verified Kickstarter Expert. He has run numerous crowdfunding campaigns as the marketing director for board game publisher Eagle-Gryphon Games, has a prominent weekly blog about successful Kickstarter campaigns and consults regularly to optimize campaigns. Three years ago, Zayas was studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he took two classes on journalism entrepreneurship, much like the ones you may be in now.
While the road post-graduation led to roles in his field of passion, tabletop board games, Zayas says the media entrepreneurship courses prepared him well for what he’s doing today.
He says this was not only because they imparted a foundation in how crowdfunding works for digital ventures, but because one of the keys to crowdfunding is storytelling–a central tenet of journalism education. Helping your audience understand the value proposition quickly is crucial to converting them into funders, Zayas says. “The storytelling aspect of it–the inverted pyramid–that specifically, as a broad concept of ‘hook them early,’ is 100 percent applicable to what I do today.”
Zayas says board games make the most money on Kickstarter as a group, which may be because crowdfunding in this context is one form of pre-ordering. But Zayas says some core keys to success are the same for any Kickstarter project: namely, a clear and compelling story of how your product will benefit the funder.
He offers these tips for media outlets seeking crowdfunding on Kickstarter:
“The number one rule in crowdfunding is that you need a crowd,” Zayas says. ”You already need someone to care about you or your project.” This might be friends and family, your audience from a previously successful campaign, or a celebrity voice in the industry who might give you testimonials and a shout-out. If you don’t have a network already that can bring about 70 percent of the funding for your campaign, Zayas says, you’ll need to reach out to some tastemakers who can lend their following.
To fully fund your campaign, Zayas says, you’ll need to also attract the “scrollers” who are searching for projects on Kickstarter–and capture them very quickly with storytelling hooks. “The idea is that people know immediately what they are getting and why it’s important,” he says. “Not everyone is your customer but if you can capture your customers through an ease of understanding, then you will be in better shape.”
With media projects, Zayas says there are two models that work the best:
- Fund your season of content; or
- Fund a specific project.
Zayas advises against trying to fund your whole business or company as it’s too nebulous for the funder to care about. “People need to know when they’re giving you money what they are getting as concretely as possible,” Zayas says. “When you say I am funding my business, that is too many steps removed from ‘how am I benefiting?’” Businesses don’t lend themselves to stories well enough, he says, whereas with a project, you can show how your coverage is going to benefit the potential funder directly. The exception might be a media company whose whole operation could be considered a project–for instance, coverage of a niche topic or a certain geographical location.
Zayas notes there are usually some costs to do a successful project. It’s important to have great visuals, so you may need graphics designed. In addition, a minor investment (even $100) in highly targeted paid social media marketing campaigns can pay off exponentially if you are effective in targeting it specifically to the types of people who will want your product. Social media marketing, using A/B testing, retargeting and optimization, is a low-cost way to do this. If this isn’t your specialty, you may want to hire someone, but make sure they’re an expert in your niche.
Finally, while your mother may give to your campaign no matter what, remember that you should be targeting an audience that will benefit from your project in some way. There’s some altruism in being a crowdfunder, Zayas says, in that you are helping someone make something that didn’t exist before, but there’s also always self-interest. “You’re also needing to see some verifiable proof that it’s going to exist and that I’m going to 100 percent benefit from this,” he says. You have to convince contributors that you’re ”going to do good work that will benefit (their) life.’”
Elizabeth Mays is the operations and marketing manager for Canadian nonprofit the Rebus Foundation, which is building a new, collaborative model for open textbook publishing through the Rebus Community. She is also an adjunct professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, teaching its first online course in audience acquisition. Reach her on Twitter at @theeditress.