*** The BSidesVancouver Kickstarter was run from January 21, 2014 through February 7, 2014, was successfully funded and made a major contribution to our event. Hopefully this blog post helps people who are considering running a kickstarter project! ***
In 2013 Darren and I ran the first BSidesVancouver event, on a shoe-string budget, with the help of some awesomely flexible and helpful sponsors and volunteers. I may or may not have sold a kidney to help cover costs...
The thing that was really awesome is that on more than one occasion I had people at the event try to give me money; I refused... we didn't set up anything to properly handle income, and we didn't have proper accounting set up (we didn't handle any cash or payments; sponsors paid vendors directly).
The event was awesome, almost entirely flawless, and we got enough community feedback that, with several of our volunteers promoted to team members, we decided to create Mainland Advanced Research Society (I will blog more about that next week!), and start planning the 2014 event.
As we started lining up sponsorship pitches, and getting stuff sorted we were stuck with the decision that Security B-Sides events face - charge for tickets or not?
I advocated strongly for free tickets, and there were dissenting views, especially when we did things like commit to a pricey venue and catering package with only $1000 in sponsorships lined up (there were a few discussions on that). Eventually we settled on a model; we would sell tickets in advance, and then open up free tickets.
In August we came up with the idea of running a Kickstarter (I don't remember the exact sequence of events, but around the time we came up with the idea, I also found out that the Kickstarter folks were in town to do some promo stuff, so I coordinated a workshop at Mozilla Vancouver on behalf of the PixelCrafters group). We attended the session, and started planning how we could leverage crowd funding.
Planning the Kickstarter
We originally had it in mind to offer conventional rewards, and premium rewards - t-shirts, stickers, laptop decals, embroidered jackets and hoodies, as well as tickets. We contacted graphics companies, got quotes and estimates, explained the project, taught a few about crowd funding...
In the end, we simplified; as we prepared to launch the Kickstarter we had
- Pledge $10 or more - BSides Stickers! A sheet of stickers with BSides logos for BSidesVancouver and other participating BSides events!
- Pledge $20 or more - You get a Ticket! BSidesVancouver is a free event, but with this pledge you are committing to attend the event, and helping to keep BSidesVancouver a free event! This reward not only shows your interest in attending, it also indicates that you want to help the event stay free and accessible to the community!
- Pledge $25 or more - A vendor-free BSidesVancouver t-shirt with the BSidesVancouver logo on the front, and the core SecurityBSides logo on the back! (We will poll backers for sizes!)
- Pledge $40 or more - This reward combines Reward #2 and Reward #3. Note that there is no shipping! You get your shirt at the event (we will poll backers for sizes in advance!)
- Pledge $100 or more - A Bronze Ticket! The Bronze ticket ensures that an attendee gets access to BSidesVancouver 2014 and 2015, and early registration for local events after 2015! This includes stickers and a T-Shirt.
- Pledge $185 or more - A seat in the Build Your Own Drone workshop! Attendees of this workshop will get to build and fly their own drone! This workshop is run on a cost-recovery basis, so the pricing is as close to the cost of the hardware as we could make it!
- Pledge $250 or more - You like community events, and you support them! You also like a little recognition: Your name will be listed in the Program, and you will be recognized as an individual sponsor at the conference! Includes 1 regular ticket, stickers, and t-shirt.
- Pledge $250 or more - A Silver Ticket! This ticket ensures access to BSidesVancouver events for the next 5 years, in addition to showing your commitment to supporting BSidesVancouver! Includes stickers and t-shirt!
- Pledge $500 or more - The Golden Ticket! A custom made ticket that shows that you not only want to attend, you believe in the SecurityBSides movement! In addition to guaranteeing access to BSidesVancouver events in the future (invitations will be issued each year), the Golden Ticket also grants access to BSidesLV 2014! Includes stickers and t-shirt!
- Pledge $500 or more - You drank the kool-aid. Community is important, and you think things like BSides, VanSec and other things are important. etc. Your name will be listed in the Program, and you will be recognized as an individual sponsor at the conference. Includes 2 regular tickets, stickers, and t-shirts.
We had our prices and quotes from vendors for tangible fulfillment needs, then set pledge levels up, and waited for Kickstarter to approve us (a painless experience!), and fretted.
An aside - pricing rewards....
See that drone session up there? We had the idea of running a cool workshop, and our organizing team had the talent to do so. The only problem is that running a technical build workshop is expensive. Parts aren't cheap, and there is alot of risk (the cost of the parts is fully 10% of our entire budget!). Offering the workshop through kickstarter gave us a no-risk way to run the session on a cost-recovery basis (i.e. free, except the cost of hardware)! Well, not no risk. We flubbed it. We priced kits, verified availability, confirmed shipping costs, and all was rainbows and kittens. Oh... what's that? CAD dropped from 0.96 to 0.89 between when we priced and built the plan, and ordered parts?
Err what? That part is sold out, and back ordered? Doh.
Gear shipped - oh, btw the battery packs don't include chargers! Lolwut?
Lesson learned - Free workshops are nice. Cost recovery basis is (imho) a code word for "Offsetting your losses". Pad your estimates. Add a small contingency (either a percentage or a flat fee). Fortunately all told the costs were easy for us to absorb, and when we found out the price of the kits went up by almost $20.00 (chargers), we communicated that to participants, and let them know we would include the chargers, but a voluntary contribution to offset the costs would be grealy appreciated - hooray for community; people were very understanding, and people committed to pay the difference to support the event.
Building the Kickstarter Page
BSidesVancouver is an awesome crew; Darren is awesome at kicking butts to keep people on track and moving forward, Alex is responsible for almost all sponsor funds we aquired due to persistence, Colin has a strong sense of community and helps us keep connected with other groups with likeminded interests, but Ruan... Ruan is the creative talent.
The BSidesVancouver logo - Ruan. The videos - Ruan. The VanCitySec logo - Ruan. The Kickstarter videos? Ruan.
At the Kickstarter session Stephanie told us that the video is a make or break thing for a crowdfunding session. We brainstormed, and settled on interviewing folks at a VanCitySec meetup and stringing the videos together to illustrate why people want to go to Security B-Sides events. So we pulled it all together and on a spur of the moment, pulled together a quick interview questionnaire, and (literally) in a dodgy looking back stair case (I think it was a fire exit) in the bar, Ruan interviewed like a mad-man. Within a couple of days he had knocked together a couple of quick videos, and we had our video.
Having a good, creative, talented person to run point on this stuff is critical. Having one who is also a killer operations and technical resource is just gravy :D
With our videos in place we were ready to launch.
Launching the Event
It is just a button press. Click. One click of a button and your job switches from socially awkward hacker to social media marketer. Everything was about getting tweets, retweets, shares on facebook, upvotes on Reddit, and OMG drama from people who thought it was just a cash grab (well... yeah, it is!)
What drew pledges, what didn't?
Some of the things we thought would be popular got nothing... The golden ticket was my idea, I reached out to the BSidesLV folks, and was pumped about sharing in the opportunity to raise funds for multiple events. Crickets...
Bronze Sponsorships? We ran out. I had to add more!
Stickers? I thought they would be more popular, but very few people bought them. That's ok, I like stickers, so we are providing them anyway!
One thing that is popular is adding stuff in when thresholds or goals are met in the fundraiser. We came up with a couple of things, but there are only so many variations on "Give us money for tickets and swag" that you can come up with. None of our extended rewards got any traction.
Making the last stretch...
We set our goal to $5000. This was approximately 25% of our anticipated budget. We ran the kickstarter for 15 days, which is a short run, but also meant we got good turnaround times, and guaranteed we would receive our funds before the event.
Two things - $5000 was too high for our event. We almost didn't make it. At one point, we knew that we had community funds that had been committed by our organizing team, and after checking the rules for kickstarter to make sure it was ok, we decided to make the contribution through Kickstarter. I also did a sanity check with one of my mentors before doing this; the goal was to prove the community could support these events, but in the end we decided that the organizing team members are also a part of the community, and leaving the money that the community had pledged because we would have come up short was not acceptable. People may question this decision, and I welcome debate on this!
As I write this blog post I know that tomorrow morning I will be picking up all of the rewards for the various backer levels. We raised $5,881 in funds from 67 community members. At the closing of the Kickstarter we 79 free tickets "sold" in eventbrite; some of those were duplicates from Kickstarter Backers who thought they needed to register as well. All in all, almost 50% of the seats had been filled by individuals who had chose to pay between $20 and $1000 for a ticket!
In my opinion, the BSidesVancouver kickstarter was a validation of supporting the community through free events, while allowing the community to have viable options to support the event. Our intention was to only have free tickets after the Kickstarter, but due to demand from the community we had to add $25.00 and $250.00(!) ticket levels on Eventbrite. As it stands, via ticket sales the community has opted to commit an additional $1,805 in funds.
For those keeping score, our budget for the event is approximately $20,000, which means that almost 39% of the event is funded directly from the community.
Thank you! Thank you for your support, and making the effort of planning these events worthwhile!