GIVE CROWDFUNDING A HUG

It's been exactly one month since I started on Patreon and, I have to report, it isn't turning out as I expected. It is, however, possibly something so much better in ways I did not imagine.

Crowdfunding isn't a new concept. If you look back at its historical usage through time (call it donations, bonds, or tithing) , it is a basic method of collecting capital. It doesn't have to happen on a large scale either – think of boys growing up in the 80s, pooling their coins to co-invest in their first dirty magazine; and even here we see it is not without problems because no fucking way is Jimmy going to take it home with his shitty 25¢ contribution!

Most sources point to Brian Camelio, a Boston-based musician and programmer, for triggering online funding platforms with the advent of ArtistShare in 2003. Its first crowdfunding project was Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden which raised $130,000, allowing her to pay musicians, rent the recording studio, produce, and market the ablum. It was then distrubuted exclusively through ArtistShare and won her the 2005 Grammy for best jazz ensemble!

Today, crowdfunding is pretty much everywhere and fall into 5 primary categories: Lending, Donation, Reward, Equity and Real Estate. Based on industry reports, crowdfunding growth is just plain on fire -- Kickstarter has exceeded $3B in pledges; 2015 hit a total funding volume of $34.44B; equity crowdfunding could reach $36B by 2020; Duncan Niederauer, CEO of NYSE Euronext said equity crowdfunding “will be the future of how most small businesses are going to be financed.”.

This is serious shit!

For me, on a professional level, this is important to have a handle on. It is not only relevant for my early-stage clients, but to myself and large organizations too as it is having a broad impact across industries.

A month ago, while researching ecommerce and crowdfunding, I just realized there was absolutely no barriers for me to shift into practical, hands-on research. Just reading about this shit get's pretty academic after a while. 30 minutes later (really), Patreon account was made, fully populated with About, Rewards, Goals and a tingly, naive hopefulness that, magically, people would not be able to resist my clever projects and fork over their credit card numbers.

Decades ago, I supposedly said, on more than one occasion, "it would be great if there was a way I could harvest a small percentage of my friend's earnings so that I could concentrate on more ambitious things." Understandably, this was all very obnoxious and no one found it remotely amusing. In retrospect, I'm quite happy with how things have transpired in my life, my legitimate career, and corporate exposure as I firmly believe paying my dues has afforded me a modest level of perspective, if not some rudimentary wisdom.

How fucking insane is it to find myself actually doing what had been joked about so long ago. Unbelievable... and awkward too.

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Patreon is interesting because its platform allows content creators to build their own subscription service. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms that help creators raise a single round of funding, Patreon enables recurring fan support.

Though my decision to just do it was impulsive, I already had all the ground work. My business had work-in-progress from my existing projects and Patreon seems to be a completely low-risk, complimentary channel to my existing business plan. The fact it was low-risk afforded me to be nonchalant about it... without great expectation, what harm could it do?

Okay, so I said it didn't turn out how I expected. This is true, not because I had little to no actual expectations, but because I didn't realize how much the act of committing to the platform would impact my expectations of myself!

This reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend, Patrick Byrne (an excellent business & M&A consultant at www.5-zero.ca). He was talking about the importance of commitment. That this fundamental state (or statement) can drive individuals or businesses to actions that have a direct impact on positive outcomes... Or, using a relatively recent sporting example, the Patriots, he claimed, despite being down 21-3 at halftime Superbowl LI, came back on the field committed to win. Okay, I've watched movies about epic coach pep-talks... why can't it be that simple? We all know this analogy only works because they totally came back to win it, so let's just go with it.

In my case, even though my Patreon adventure started off as a shits'n giggles experiment, I instinctively play it out as a full real-world scenario. This meant not leaving it as a dormant account, but going through the recommended motions of inviting friends to be initial patrons. It is awkward enough asking your closest of friends to 'subscribe' to you, but even more so when you know how much they hate subscribing to anything. Once half-a-dozen of them did me a solid, that is when it all clicked for me.

I'm taking people's money, damn it. Not just any anonymous, random people, but people I care about. And shit, they care about me and want me to succeed, despite stealing their money on a monthly basis. BOOM!

Yes, this may be a means to generate sustainable income. The platform is certainly capable of supporting recurring revenue and many people offer the right services that do amazingly well. In 2016, Patreon featured top creators that earned more than $150,000 and because it is subscription, they are more likely than not to make that much or more next year.

My discovery about the platform, though it pales in comparison with monetary gain, is the value of a gated community. I have but 11 patrons, but in my first 30 days, they have become a welcome part to my creative process, like muses. When I rolled out my newsletter reward at the end of April, I did an entertaining recap of noteworthy activities and shared sneak-peaks of what was in store for the weeks ahead. It wasn't like writing a press release or a blog, rather, it was like writing a letter to friends or advisors. Then, I moved on to make my 2nd reward, a collectible greeting card. Perhaps it was the virtue of doing it the first time for a small exclusive group, but I fucking loved doing it. Finding that meaningful, personal angle and hand-crafting it, which draws upon cognitive and physical skills that differ from my day-to-day activities, was simply rewarding.

My patrons deserve quality shit. That's my job.

Of course, this reward is still en route to most of them, so I have no testimonies to prove my shit doesn't suck. Until then, I'm going to stick with the positive sense of self-gratification and pat myself on the back for a job well done.

On May 4th, I held my first company event, a fancy soiree that I called Meta Olympia Night with the purpose of reviewing my project to-date. It was bound to happen eventually, but having mentioned it in the patron newsletter the prior week, I was super motivated for it to happen and with the flare that truly reflects the business as I aspire it to be. I confess, I suddenly find myself regarding my patrons as though they are advisors; their opinions matter that much more than an average human being.

In this manner, my attitude on social media has also been affected. They are two different things entirely, but now when I think of sharing content, Patrons become a factor. By comparison, standard social media likes are like empty-calories. No doubt, participating in that ongoing popularity contest has its purpose, so all I'm saying is, patrons satisfy a parallel purpose that I previously was not aware of.

It is early days still with lots of new discoveries to come with Patreon and other services. Considering my business model doesn't dependent on outside investment, crowdfunding or otherwise, my first exposure to crowdfunding has been enlightening and encouraging. I'm planning on continuing to use and exploit its service as a versatile membership network, where I can bend it to support my process and exercise a healthy cadence of micro-milestones.

Best of all, I feel pretty fucking good today. I'll take these little victories that come along the way. Success can be a lot of things when you let it and especially when you don't obsess on the failure. 

P.S. Thanks to my awesome Patrons! This article would have been totally different without you guys. 

Chris Cheung