Opinion: How R&D saved Jaymes White’s Kickstarter campaign

Jaymes White is Ottawa’s answer to Grigori Rasputin or the Amazing Kreskin – mentalists who used their talents either to gain political influence or please an audience.

Mentalism is a combination of magic and psychology and, unless you’ve seen a show, you won’t understand how powerful the power of suggestion can be when used by skilled practitioners on human beings. It’s scary and fun.

Mr. White has been practising his art since he was seven. He’s performed many shows and completed a TV series (Mind Games on Rogers Television) but his goal, for a very long time, has been to launch a Canada-wide tour.

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That’s expensive. So how did he fund what became known as the Paradox Tour, which held its first two (sold-out) shows at Centrepointe Theatre on June 12 and freaky Friday the 13th? (Another show is happening Aug. 16 at Centrepointe.)

When Mr. White and his loyal acolyte Saad Rashid came to see me, I suggested they consider a Kickstarter campaign for two reasons. First, to raise the $8,500 they needed to launch Paradox and, secondly, to pre-sell tickets. Every artist is, by definition, an entrepreneur, and the first three things every entrepreneur needs to do are: Sell, sell, sell.

Paradox was launched in the performance art category on Kickstarter. It’s a tough group, with a success rate of only five to 13 per cent, which is on the lower end on the crowdfunding platform. Yet the team exceeded their fundraising goal, with even Mr. White’s stagehands constantly soliciting people to the cause. (Full disclosure: I am a backer of Mr. White’s Kickstarter campaign).

Both Mr. White and Mr. Rashid believe that a key to their eventual success was R&D – or, as they call it, “rob and duplicate.” They looked at dozens of other successful Kickstarter campaigns and noticed that they usually:

Have a catchy video;

Add something that differentiates their campaigns from others;

Simplify, simplify and simplify their message;

All have eye-popping graphics;

Stick to a budget. Most people support a Kickstarter campaign because they like it and want to feel like they are part of something special, not because they expect much of a financial return. This means rewards should be cool and easy to deliver, but not expensive;

Expect to go through at least 20 iterations before launching a campaign;

Line up sponsors and backers before launch so the campaign gets off to a fast start;

Push every day for more backers and funds;

Have an unreasonable belief in the campaign’s success even on days when things don’t appear to be going according to plan.

Paradox’s campaign raised $9,891 or 16.3 per cent more than their goal of $8,500, from 160 backers. It is almost certainly better for them to have raised nearly $10,000 from 160 people rather than to have raised the same amount from, say, four corporate sponsors, because their goal was to not only to launch a show, but to sell out all the seats while expanding Mr. White’s fan base. Having said this, both Mr. White and Mr. Rashid realize that many of their backers were already Paradox fans so, to an extent, the question of how to broaden Mr. White’s fan base remains.

All that Kickstarter required of Mr. White was an Ontario business registration number, which costs $70 and can be obtained online. With that registration, anyone can open a bank account, which is Kickstarter’s other requirement. The crowdfunding platform takes five per cent of the funds raised by successful campaigns (it’s all or nothing – if the goal isn’t reached, the campaign fails and backers are not charged) while Amazon takes a further three to five per cent for handling money transactions and hosting the service. The rest goes into the campaign’s bank account.

“It was 33 days of incredible stress while the campaign ran,” Mr. White says. “But the best thing was the incredible feeling our team got when we met – and then exceeded – our target a few days before the end. It felt like we were on top of the world, but it was humbling too – to receive all those good wishes and love. Now we have to live up to those expectations and deliver.

“In the end,” he says, “we didn’t have to go to a bank and borrow any money, which they probably would have said no to anyway. We created four jobs for our stage team and two more in marketing and sales. We spent $3,000 on a marketing campaign with Jackpine Digital, who did a ton of work for us. We did an ‘ask me anything’ campaign on reddit, which got 43 people involved that put us on top of the reddit page for the day. And we held ‘coffee with a mentalist’ on Sparks Street, which attracted 70 people.”

From talking to the group, I could see that they truly understand the difference between marketing and sales. Marketing builds the brand which builds trust. But sales are done one-on-one in the trenches, where that trust is converted to cash.

Bruce M. Firestone is founder of the Ottawa Senators and a broker at Century 21 Explorer Realty. Follow him on Twitter @ProfBruce.

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