Newhouse’s Kick it Up Initiative Furthers the Crowdfunded Efforts of Student Campaigns
Getting people passionate enough to shell out money for an idea is no easy feat. Dan Pacheco, chair of journalism innovation at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, wanted to help student ideas become realities by introducing them to the power of crowdfunding.
Pacheco created Kick it Up, an initiative to give projects already on Kickstarter an extra boost to help them more easily reach their goals. In conjunction with qualifying student Kickstarter campaigns, Kick it Up will feature the project on both its Newhouse page as well as a curated page on Kickstarter itself. Kick it Up will also promote projects to alumni and other students as well as give projects additional backing based on certain levels of backers a project has. A fostering initiative, Kick it Up helps student projects along the way with training on how to make a successful campaign and tutoring to finesse Kickstarter components such as rewards and campaign video.
Juiced magazine is one of the inaugural projects supported by Kick it Up. Created by Newhouse freshman Kate Beckman, Juiced magazine aims to give Newhouse freshmen opportunities to write, edit and produce a magazine in a competitive environment dominated by upperclassmen. The Kickstarter campaign will fund print versions of the magazine.
To help Beckman and her team, Kick it Up provided the team with basic coaching, using the Kickstarter School as a resource. Kickstarter also sent staff members to Syracuse to teach the students how to make a convincing campaign while also creating a supportive community.
I spoke with Pacheco and Beckman about both Kick it Up and Juiced and how crowdfunding brought the two together through a successful campaign.
Q&A with Dan Pacheco, creator of Kick it Up
What inspired the idea of Kick it Up? Why not just a regular cash competition?
Dan Pacheco: Providing a cash prize was not as impactful as something like Kickstarter where people not only get funding for their ideas, but they also grow a community of supporters. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to refocus my efforts away from a traditional contest to celebrating a crowdfunding initiative.
How does letting students make a Kickstarter campaign help them with their idea of a project?
Pacheco: In the past, if you have an idea for something really innovative and you wanted to promote it to people and also get funding, there was nobody you could really go to to see what people in the past have done and see what they pitched. [With Kickstarter] you can look at campaigns similar to yours, give them a dollar and get updates — you can actually have a front row seat and see how they manage that campaign.
What’s unique about Kickstarter is that it’s kind of like an online entrepreneurial community that didn’t really exist in that form until crowdfunding came along. It’s almost like a school in a way for fundraising and community engagement.
How does it relate to how students will approach their audience? Does it help them cater more to a specific audience?
Pacheco: It definitely forces them to think about what problem they’re trying to solve. In the entrepreneurial journalism class that I teach, the most important thing that I teach is if you’re just creating something — if only you think it’s a unique thing and you can’t wait to see it yourself and that’s the only reason you’re creating it — you don’t have a business. But if you know that there’s a problem you’re solving for somebody and people care about it so much that they’ll pull out their wallets and back it because they’re interested in that project, if it’s something they really care about, they’re voting with their dollar. It’s like going one step beyond the Facebook “like” button.
In terms of how catering to an audience affects the content produced, it probably is going to affect the direction that they take, but I would argue that that’s going to happen anyways if they successfully find an audience and then speak to the interest of the audience. I don’t think it’s a bad thing and I don’t think money changes that equation at all.
What are some of your own suggestions for making a successful campaign?
Pacheco: Make sure you’re doing it in a unique way. A big problem that a lot of people face is that they launch something and people say, “That’s just exactly like this other thing.” What’s unique about Juiced — and the problem that they solve — is that these freshmen came to Newhouse, they’re the cream of the crop and they get here and they’re not publishing stuff. They want to contribute to magazines but they’re not allowed to because there’s so much demand for so many other smart writers and producers. The problem that Juiced solved is that it’s for freshmen. They don’t have to get permission from any upperclassmen. It’s made by freshmen for freshmen.
So that’s the most important thing. You’re solving a problem for an audience — if you can be the painkiller for a specific pain, then money will follow from that, doesn’t matter what the pain is. People hire you for jobs for that.
Then you have to come up with digital ways of how it’s going to look, come up with prints and mockups, and then put them into your video. You want to have a pretty simple explanation of what you’re doing. If you can create analogies to something else that already exists — but you’re still making something different — for example, “We’re going to be the Yelp for student businesses,” that actually works pretty well. People start to understand. They say, “I’ve used Uber before, but I’ve never used Uber for catering,” for example. Then they can kind of relate to it.
In terms of how to set up your campaign, you want to do some research into other products like your product, how much they’ve raised. What did they raise relative to what they asked for? You could be asking for too much money, or you could be asking for not enough money. That’s something I talked to Juiced about quite a bit. I think they came to the right number, but I know that after seeing how quickly they approach their goal, they’re probably now just wondering, “Maybe we should have asked for more?” Being able to go through all the campaigns on Kickstarter really helps a lot.
Finally, the way that you set up your rewards, that’s a whole art itself, coming up with rewards that can relate to your product. You can’t be offering all these tchotchkes like pens and T-shirts and stickers that people don’t really care about, especially if they have no connection to your brand. If you have a magazine, you’re making a magazine. You’re doing journalism, you’re not a T-shirt company, so don’t offer a T-shirt as a reward.
You’ll notice that in the Juiced campaign, they do offer an orange juice glass. It kind of fits in with the brand. It’s kind of like a tchotchke, but it’s sort of like a cool limited-edition thing. You can also get a book version of the magazine, so something on nicer-quality stock. That’s something for the parents and all the contributors and people who are part of the publication who will want to have that keepsake item.
People don’t really think about rewards until the last minute, which is a mistake. If you’re going to go out and put all the time and energy into a Kickstarter campaign, as soon as you come up with your idea, you should probably start thinking about what your rewards will be. [For example, with] an NPR fundraising campaign, they’ve always got the special item for people who give $100. As much as everyone wants to think, “I will still give $100 even if I didn’t get the special item,” the reality is they won’t. They care about your brand, but then what gets them to go ahead and contribute, to open their wallet and give you money, is that they get to hold something that is related to your brand. They’re willing to pay for that because they love your brand. It’s kind of human nature.
It’s something that journalists don’t really think about. They don’t really like to think about the money side of things that much. What’s good about crowdfunding, it gives people a way to raise money and also gives your community of people who are going to stick with you through thick and thin, long after they’ve contributed to your project.
It’s not really about the money in the end. There are a lot of different ways at the university for students to get funding for their ideas, but there are few ways that they can get funding and go through this process that forces them to then build a community of supporters. The startups that begin with the community behind them — whether or not they raise a lot of money — are going to be more successful than those that didn’t engage anybody until they launched and had a whole lot of funding.
What do you look for when picking projects to be part of Kick it Up?
Pacheco: We’ve cast a pretty wide net. Any ideas for this round have to be reality-based, non-fiction. In the future, we totally anticipate that it will expand to other areas. We just need to get the sponsorship to get behind that.
I require them to have a faculty member or some kind of a coach who’s had some experience in the realm that they’re working to tell me, “I’m behind this.” It’s not so much to weed people out as it is to make sure that they’ve really thought through this idea and it’s not just something that’s in their head. They’ve really talked to other people about it and gotten feedback.
In the end, everything that they go through is not really that different from what you’d go through in an entrepreneurial program. The most valuable thing is that you’re talking to other people about your idea, you’re getting feedback and you’re finding people who are in your target audience and you’re making changes to your ideas. You’re willing to kill some of your most treasured parts of your ideas through the feedback that you get because you’re being responsive to an audience, to real people, real potential customers.
When you’re creating a crowdfunding campaign, you’re forced to do that without realizing that’s what’s you’re doing. You get a dose of reality of running a startup. Your community of supporters will hold you accountable. With Juiced now, they’ve got people who have backed them. Once they get funded, then the clock is going to start ticking for them because the first magazine gets shipped to the people, they’ll be expecting it. That’s a good level of stress to have, that’s a good thing to worry about versus people wondering, “How many hits are we going to get?” With crowdfunding, they’re well past that. Their main goal is “How are we going to have the best first edition ever because people are going to get these keepsakes and they’re going to be on their bookshelves for the rest of their lives?” And that’s pretty cool. I don’t know if we can teach a class to get people to do that. It’s a learning experience.
Pacheco: This is a big experiment for us. There are right now two other projects that are under way. I anticipate on having four next semester after word of this gets out there. We really have gotten a lot out of working with Kickstarter. It’s really the category of crowdfunding is interesting for us. I want to make sure that no one thinks that this is a big advertisement for Kickstarter. They’re really one of many different crowdfunding platforms. We’re looking into a lot of them right now.
There’s also an initiative for SU to be doing things like this directly. I think in the future we’ll be expanding this to more than just Kickstarter. But Kickstarter is a leader in the area — we’re really appreciative of them being so open and bringing people out and doing Google hangouts with the students.
I think this whole field is going to constantly evolve in the next few years. I wish I were graduating college right now. It’s kind of like the early ages of the Internet when it was like the Wild West and there were lots of opportunity, and we’re kind of entering an era like that again. And it’s things like crowdfunding portals that are drivers of that.
Q&A with Kate Beckman, creator of Juiced magazine
What made you want to start Juiced?
Kate Beckman: [At Newhouse,] there’s no place where freshmen can write about their freshman year and be in charge of writing and having editing positions. It came because there wasn’t that opportunity. You could get involved but a magazine just for freshmen didn’t exist.
What were some roadblocks you came across when you tried to launch Juiced?
Beckman: Originally, I wanted to apply to be a student organization. I held an interest meeting a week after I thought of the idea and we actually got a lot of people to show up. There were about 30 or 40 people who were interested. But we weren’t a recognized organization; we didn’t have a website, and we were still new. They originally denied our application. But now that we have our website and the Kickstarter, I’m pretty sure we’ll be approved by the school and we’ll get funding for future years.
Also, just getting everything organized and figuring out everything that needs to be done. We launched our website about a month and a half into school. It was just getting all the content together and getting everything we needed in addition to actually doing schoolwork.
Why did you choose to use Kickstarter?
Beckman: There will be a new freshmen staff each year and I knew we wouldn’t get funding this year. How else would we get enough money to do print issues? I had heard of Kickstarter but I wasn’t exactly sure how it worked, but then professors at the Newhouse school had told me about it. They introduced me to someone who is a sophomore at Syracuse and he had gotten a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary project. I thought that we would definitely be able to reach our goal because we’d reach out to family and friends and social media.
I thought that it would also be a good way to be transparent with what we were doing because it would be us out in the open trying to fund this idea. It’s still not the most reliable way to raise money because we’re still raising almost $4,000 but I just thought that I couldn’t think of any other way because we wouldn’t be able to get money from the school at this time.
Has making the Kickstarter helped you get a better idea of your project?
Beckman: I think it did, especially because someone filmed our video on the Kickstart page on a really quality camera — he’s a student at Newhouse — and I edited the whole thing together. The video is really a good representation of what the publication is. If someone asks, “What do you do at Juiced magazine?” You can just show them the video; it explains exactly what we are. It really captures the work that we put into the magazine and the spirit of the magazine.
I think it helped a lot, too, because it explains what we are. We’re called Juiced; it’s a play off Syracuse orange. Our tagline is “the freshest magazine on campus,” which implies something to do with freshmen, but you don’t really know right away. So I think this video helped because it easily explains it.
How has Kick it Up helped you and your campaign?
Beckman: They taught us the best way to use social media, the best ways to get people to donate, like sending emails specifically to people, not just sending a mass email, asking them to support your idea and why they should support it. They helped us to pick which rewards would be the best. On Kickstarter, it’s really important to have good rewards, something that makes you look legitimate and it’s not like you’re just selling a product. It’s a complement to what you’re funding.
They also helped us get a lot of media attention. They helped us get an article on the Newhouse homepage. They helped us make our Kickstarter campaign really strong. They’ve helped us from the beginning and I think that made a big difference in the success of our project.
Do you think your campaign would be any different if Kick it Up had not been a part?
Beckman: It might have been slightly less polished. We would’ve figured it out along the way, but I think the rewards wouldn’t have been as strong because it helped to have that professional help. We still came up with all the ideas, but they helped us narrow down what would be better. I think the campaign still would’ve been successful, but not to the degree that it is. I don’t think we would’ve gotten as much attention for it and it wouldn’t have seemed as professional. So it’s been a really good program.
Would you say you know most of the backers or are they strangers who are just passionate about the project?
Beckman: I’ve looked at the backer reports and it tells me all the names. I do know some of them, but there are some names that I don’t recognize. I’m not sure if they’re relatives of people on my staff, but some of them are from different parts of the country and they’ve back four or five projects. I know we were featured on the Staff Picks page on Kickstarter, so I think that may have helped us get attention that way.
What are some of your key takeaways from this experience? If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?
Beckman: I think being transparent is really important, being really clear about what you’re doing, the costs and the updates. I might post a few more updates if I were to do another Kickstarter with progress that we’ve done, communicate with people a little bit more.
Denise Lu is an editorial intern at PBS Mediashift. A journalist focusing on culture, tech and online media, she has contributed for Mashable, Pretty Much Amazing, Evolver.fm and other publications. Denise is currently a senior at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She will be joining the design team at the Washington Post in January as part of her journalism residency.