Lately we’ve seen more and more people turn to crowdfunding and kickstarters to garner attention, grow their audience and fund the creation of their course. 

It's not something we've personally done at Teachable so we decided to reach out into our community to hear from the people who have done it before.

In doing the research, we found that crowdfunding is a buzz-worthy way to get your online course off the ground while generating a budget to invest into its creation. That's why, in this post, we'll walk you through the various crowdfunding options & explore how other course creators have used them. 

What is crowdfunding?

If you didn’t already know, crowdfunding is exactly what it sounds like - sourcing funds from a crowd to help you complete a project.

More often than not, successful crowdfunding campaigns also have something in it for the people contributing, too. These incentives can be anything from early access to the product that’s being funded or a personalized thank you video from the creator to the supporter.

Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter lets campaign creators add rewards for supporters who pledge a certain amount, so your reward can be more extravagant depending on how much each supporter donates.

kickstarter.jpgCrowdfunding is a great way to  fund your online course, but a lot of people don’t know where to begin.

Something to keep in mind is that while every funding site is a bit different. Many take an “all or nothing” approach and supporters won’t be charged until a project is fully funded. If a product never reaches that “fully-funded” milestone in the set timeframe supporters will be refunded and the creators will have to come up with a plan B.

Who can crowdfund?

The beauty of crowdfunding is that it’s open to anyone working on any project.

Whether you’re set on creating the ultimate hiking boots, or you’re someone from our tribe hoping to create a killer online course, you can crowdfund.

Lately we’ve seen more and more people turn to crowdfunding and kickstarters to garner attention, grow their audience and fund the creation of their course. In doing the research, we found that crowdfunding is a buzz-worthy way to get your online course off the ground while generating a budget to invest into its creation. That's why, in this post, we'll walk you through the various crowdfunding options & explore how other course creators have used them.

The most successful crowdfunding campaigns tend to be for products or services that have never been done before and have an audience.

For example, if you’re trying to launch a fitness tracker that monitors your steps and heart rate - no one will care. We have Fitbits for that. BUT! If you’re funding for a fitness tracker that monitors your steps and heart rate all while acting as a personal trainer and customizing workouts based on your fitness levels, well, that’s something that people might get a bit more excited about.

What platforms are available?

There are a few key players in the crowdfunding game - Indiegogo, GoFundMe and Fundable just to name a few.

Crowdfunding is a great way to  fund your online course, but a lot of people don’t know where to begin.

Another platform that we’ve seen a lot of people use, though, is Kickstarter.

In fact, we recently talked to a few of our course creators who have either ran or are currently running successful Kickstarter campaigns. Here are their stories...

Case Study: Philipp Muellauer of London App Brewery

Philipp Muellauer is a self-taught programmer and one of the names behind London App Brewery. Philipp has a Kickstarter to help the London App Brewery team create the world’s best programming school - and it's still active!

Crowdfunding is a great way to  fund your online course, but a lot of people don’t know where to begin.

When it comes to his Kickstarter, calling it impressive would be an understatement. With one day left, they have already surpassed their goal by around thirty-two thousand dollars .

Philipp founded L.A.B with another programmer, Angela, and the two of them pride themselves in the fact that London App Brewery is the fastest way to learn to code and with their new school they will be able to effectively teach their students how to create an app from start to finish.

Crowdfunding is a great way to  fund your online course, but a lot of people don’t know where to begin.

The London App Brewery is really about three things: teaching, events, and app development. With that said, online courses only made sense in their business, and from there, their logical next step was crowdfunding.

While they still have another day for their Kickstarter (go jump in on the action before it’s too late!) they’ve already seen great success and were kind enough to answer a few questions for us, too!

Any tips for setting up a Kickstarter with courses in mind?

The key is differentiating your offering from other providers. We want our students to know that they’re getting access to a course that’s been crafted by people who’ve taught over 4,000 students including employees from tech companies like Google and LinkedIn as well as venture backed founders.

If you are someone who is going to sell a virtual product on Kickstarter, you have to realize that it is going to be difficult. So make sure you use the description box to elaborate and fully flesh out what you are offering. Images are worth a thousand words!

How did this work within your overall course marketing strategy?

Kickstarter is really the first place where we’ve been actively marketing our courses. All of our in-person courses have been booked out since January based on organic search traffic from Google.

What were the results of your Kickstarter campaign and would you call it successful?

Crowdfunding is a great way to  fund your online course, but a lot of people don’t know where to begin.

The result of our campaign definitely exceeded our expectations. The response from our backers has been phenomenal and we managed to reach far more people through the Kickstarter platform than we anticipated.

On a personal note, the campaign has been a trial of fire, but at the same time an incredible learning experience. At the time of writing we’ve raised over $29,000 from over 400 backers.

How did you get the word out about your Kickstarter campaign and get people to start backing you?

As with many platforms, the winner takes all, particularly in crowdfunding. 

Kickstarter has a large community and organic traffic, so people can actually discover your project on the site, which is very important.

However, your campaign can’t rely on the platform alone. It’s important to have a way of generating interest in the campaign prior and during the campaign. For example, prior to launch we asked all our friends to help spread the word by signing up to a service called Thunderclap.

With Thunderclap anyone who signs up donates one social media post on Facebook or Twitter to go out simultaneously with everyone else on launch day. It allowed us to generate a viral loop and help spread the word of the Kickstarter.

During the campaign we also organized several talks and seminars around London as well as published a number of articles on Medium to help get the word out too.

Content marketing worked really well for us and we would definitely encourage anyone else who is considering doing a Kickstarter to prepare some relevant written pieces/free eBooks/videos to encourage people to sign up to your Kickstarter email list.

Any advice for other course creators and online entrepreneurs looking to start their own Kickstarter campaign?

Kickstarter campaigns are an incredible amount of work, more so if your feature video is ambitious. The key to managing a successful campaign is plenty of planning and setting aside a generous amount of time. We were constantly in touch with our backers through personal messages, answering questions, responding to feedback and publishing updates on the campaign.

I would advise anyone looking to run a Kickstarter to set aside at least three months: two months of prep prior to the campaign plus one month for the actual campaign itself.

The timeline is skewed towards the time prior to the Kickstarter for a reason. We found that by having an engaged audience who wanted to hear about your Kickstarter, we generated far more conversions than through untargeted lists such as those signed up to our newsletter.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before getting started on Kickstarter?

We decided it would be a good idea to do a rap video about programming as part of our feature video. To anyone who is considering doing a music video out there, I say: don’t! Autotune can only help so much and it’s an incredible amount of work getting the video to sync with the music.

We thought really hard about the music video and wanted to make something fun and shareable. But the production process took over a month, including lyric writing, recording, remastering and filming. We even included a number of geeky jokes but no one seemed to notice those!

The other important thing to keep in mind is timing. We set up our Kickstarter to go live in July because we wanted our students to start learning in September when the new iOS versions come out.

But we realized that July/August is a notoriously quiet period for Kickstarter as people go on holiday and are generally not in the learning mindset. If we could go back in time we would have probably pushed the Kickstarter back to September where people are actively looking for courses and learning materials.

Case Study: Aaron Ralby of Linguisticator

Aaron Ralby is a medievalist and Germanic philologist by training and now runs a company  called Linguisticator based in Cambridge, UK developing memory and language training programs.

Crowdfunding is a great way to  fund your online course, but a lot of people don’t know where to begin.

The company specializes in using spatial memory techniques to teach complex subjects like languages. They take complicated and daunting subjects such as the entire grammar of a language and teach it in the same way that one would learn their way around a new building or home.

Aaron decided to create a Kickstarter back in April to help in the development of his virtual reality software that will accompany the courses he is running online in addition to working independently.

The VR software is a tool for building memory palaces in VR. Rather than relying purely on the imagination to see mnemonic images and their locations in a space, users will be able to see these images physically with their own eyes bringing their imagination to life and allowing them to visualize complex systems quickly and easily.

Aaron’s Kickstarter was a huge success and they funded nearly 400% of their target all while garnering a good deal of press and attention.

Of course, after seeing success like Aaron’s we wanted to dig deeper and see how he went about setting up and promoting his Kickstarter, and he was happy to answer a few questions for us.

Any tips for setting it up with courses in mind?

Our Kickstarter was for a software that works in conjunction with our courses. It allowed us to use all our existing courses as perks for the campaign itself.

This was great for a number of reasons. Backers had no risk in pledging because they were guaranteed their perks and guaranteed them right away. They could see exactly what they were getting and view loads of samples before contributing. Many claimed their perks and started using the courses within a few days of the Kickstarter ending.

From our end, it also made things easier. New projects always come with unknowns and unforeseen challenges, so it’s nice not to have the pressure of having to have the new product built by a certain deadline to fulfill perks for our backers. It also meant that we could raise funds for a project that will itself be free in its basic version.

How did your Kickstarter work within your overall course marketing strategy?

The tool we are creating through our Kickstarter is designed to make the rigorous material taught in our courses more accessible and easier to digest. This will make it easier to reach more people, and the Kickstarter itself helped to raise the profile of Linguisticator. We have been testing and refining our courses over the last several years, and have really only begun marketing this year now that we and our users are happy with the courses we have.

How did you get the word out about your Kickstarter campaign and get people to start backing you?

We used a number of channels to get the word out. We have our email list of students from our courses, social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and press.

We’d also set up a landing page weeks before and started collecting emails for the project.

Family and friends were of course hugely important, and we worked to make sure that we lined up as many backers as possible who could contribute early in the campaign. This created momentum that allowed us to hit our target by the fourth day. We also held a launch event at Barclays Rise accelerator in London just a few hours after going live on Kickstarter. We had over 100 attendees with guest speakers from VR and education, including Dr. Kate Saunders, head of the British Dyslexia Association. Our launch event was a great success and really helped us get people excited about the project.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before getting started on Kickstarter?

One thing that’s really important is to realize how long the approval process can take. When you create your Kickstarter page, you have to submit it for approval, which can take several days.

It’s good to get your page created early with the bare bones and submit it for approval. You can add information and edit it throughout the campaign, so it doesn’t have to be perfect before you submit it – it just needs to meet all the requirements. Then you can go live with the campaign as soon as you are ready. It came down fairly close to the wire for us with our launch date, so I would’ve preferred to have given it a bit more time.

Any advice for other course creators and online entrepreneurs looking to start their own Kickstarter campaign?

Do it right. Don’t just launch into it. Do your homework and line everything up as best you can before doing it.

A Kickstarter is a lot of work and you cannot just expect things to go viral and hordes of random people to contribute. While we did have a lot of complete strangers back our project, a lot of our backers came from people we knew either personally or professionally.

I’d say that probably more than two thirds were from people we’d “met” in some way and had some interaction with prior to their backing the project.

Those “meetings” may have been online or in-person. Many were from students of ours or from people we met at events. The face-to-face relationships were really important in our campaign in addition to all the online marketing. We went to conferences, events, and meetups to get people excited about the Kickstarter.

You can find Aaron’s Kickstarter page here and check out these sites where his campaign was featured:

Other ways to use Crowdfunding

You all might remember when we featured Lydia Lee of Screw the Cubicle a few months back as a Change Maker.

Since then she has been keeping busy and working on an incredible new project - a book! Lydia is crowdfunding to publish her book highlighting other entrepreneurs who escaped the 9-5.

Crowdfunding is a great way to  fund your online course, but a lot of people don’t know where to begin.

In the last 3 years she has traveled the world and met some amazing people who have inspired her in her own journey.  From families, couples, and people from all ages of life.

She’s interviewed them to ask them not only about their successes in breaking free, but how they managed to get past obstacles and fears to allow them to receive their own personal growth and have the things they once dreamed about.

She is crowdfunding the creation of the book and is already 37% of the way through her goal as I type this.

Crowdfunding is a great way to get the word out about a new project you may have up your sleeve, and help pay for you to create it. Have you ever crowdfunded a project? What was that experience like?

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Morgan Timm

Written by Morgan Timm

Morgan Timm is a content marketer at Teachable with a background in blogging and social media. She runs Mostly Morgan, a lifestyle blog with over 4 million lifetime page views, and she recently started a blogging and business site, MorganTimm.com.