The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

April 1, 2014

The Stupidest Idea I’ve Had All Week: How to Crowdfund Your Way to Fame and/or Fortune

Filed under: Bad Ideas, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:12 am

A Pile of Money

The expected result. – Image Credit: Flickr user Veken Gueyikan, Creative Commons

Note:  This was originally intended to be an April Fools Day post, but I realized that even by my admittedly low standards this was a pretty harebrained idea.  It is for this reason that I will present it as just another one of my run-of-the-mill bad ideas.  I seem to have no shortage of these lately…

I have been writing on this Blog for close to seven years now, and although during that time there have been ups and downs involved with this, over the past few months there has been one overriding concern that has arisen in my mind about this Blog and its future:  Somehow, I have failed to get rich off my Blog.  Now part of this is my own fault:  I haven’t made much effort to pursue the monetization of my Blog, but that’s really beside the point.  After all, some random article I read on the Internet ten years ago told me I could make a fortune in Blogging, and if it’s on the Internet it must be true.  Sure, I may have inadvertently forgotten to buy the $495 guide explaining how to do it, but how hard can it be to figure out?  Naturally, the most obvious way to make money by Blogging is to plaster ridiculous ads all over the pages.  Just a few banners here and there, and I could easily be making as much as .02 cents per visitor, which would add up to…  Hang on, let me do a bit of math here…  Around $10 a year, give or take.  I figure that would cover about a third of what I spend annually on image hosting (in the form of a Photobucket subscription,) which doesn’t exactly result in a whole lot of getting rich.  Clearly a different plan is needed here…

Then again, lately we’ve seen some interesting examples of ways to do just this.  If you’ve been reading the news over the past week or so, you will know that Oculus, a small startup company designing virtual reality hardware for (eventually) consumers that got its start primarily on crowdfunding through Kickstarter, was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion, in spite of never shipping (or even announcing) any sort of consumer-focused product, just a bunch of development kits.  In the process, they’ve set a new standard for cashing in on riding questionable fads, which raises some interesting questions:  Just what would it take to crowdfund something out of thin air and/or whole cloth and parlay it into big bucks?  For that matter, just what does it take to sell an idea for big bucks without actually following through on any of it?

In theory, the idea behind crowdfunding is to take some idea that you have, find enough people to back that idea, then use their funding to implement it.  In practice, the whole process tends to be kind of hit-or-miss.  Frequently you hear stories of projects that met their funding goals, then never quite panned out beyond that.  It’s hard to say how much of this comes from people getting in over their heads and finding their projects to be more than they had bargained for, but there have been some accused of doing the whole “take the money and run” routine.  In this case, we’re not actually trying to scam anyone here, we’re just trying to find just enough work to get someone’s attention.  We’re not looking to change the world here, all we’re looking for is something that someone with ridiculously deep pockets thinks might change the world, and is either too willing or too shortsighted to think the whole thing through.  The best way to do this seems to be to latch onto the latest big fad.  Preferably something big companies are throwing a lot of money into in an effort to try to get consumers to adopt it by sheer brute force.

Of course, you also need something for the big companies to throw those big bucks at, which means you’re going to need a team of engineers to build it.   It can be a little bit tricky hiring engineers without some startup capital, which is where the Kickstarter is going to come in.  For whatever it is that you decide to make, be sure to keep the backer rewards vague, at least at the lower levels.  Assuming you execute this strategy correctly you will probably end up with a product of some sort somewhere along the line, but you’re not trying to make something for the masses.  Keep the backer rewards at the lower tiers as things like T-shirts and tote bags, and put the actual products on much higher tiers.  That way you can deliver the actual rewards to the majority of the backers without too much fuss, and you can buy some time to “develop” stuff.  In the meantime, keep talking about your prototypes.  If you can manage to produce something that won’t crash and burn too often, try releasing a few as development versions to the higher-tier backers.  They don’t have to be perfect, just good enough that people who can work their way around some bugs can deal with them.  Again, it helps if you’ve got plenty of people willing to chase the latest fads and see potential whether it’s there or not.  Hubris can be your friend, just as long as you don’t fall into it yourself (that’s a job for your marketing people.  You DO have marketing people, right?)

If you can manage to pull this whole routine off and get the right kind of attention, start insinuating about what you could do with the “right kind of partner” to take your product to the next level.  Feel free to go into full-on vaporware mode for this; after all, the engineers can figure all that stuff out later.  As soon as the right combination of excessive money and deficient sense arrives, jump on it.  In the end, you’ll make out like a bandit, and it’ll be someone else’s job to figure out how to put your wild ideas to work.  At this point, it’s usually a good idea to stick around for a few months before quietly bowing out to “pursue the next big thing”.  What you do at this point is entirely up to you, but if you implemented the previous steps correctly, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve got a large number of people who would love your head on a silver platter.  I’d recommend finding a nice quiet island with poorly enforced extradition policies, low taxes and which is somewhere that’s really expensive for disgruntled Kickstarter backers to travel to, and just lay low until everyone has forgotten who you are.

You would think this kind of idea would be just as terrible as it sounds, but if you ask the guys at Oculus, apparently it works…

 

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