# Chapter 11. How We Crowd-funded $484k to Make Glowing Plants One of the goals of the Glowing Plant project was to inspire others to look at crowdfunding as a way to reach their own goals within DIYbio/synthetic biology. We’ve been pleased to see a number of bioengineering campaigns launch; however, they have been unable to raise similar amounts of funding. Therefore, we want to share our tips and tricks in hopes that they will be useful to others embarking on a crowdsourced funding journey. ## Preparation Once a crowdfunding campaign gets underway, you will become overwhelmed and insanely busy. Also, crowdfunding campaigns have a significant momentum effect, so it’s important that they are as well presented and developed as possible at launch. Planning for the campaign is critical. We started formal planning eight months before the launch date. The most important thing at this early stage was discussing our plans to engineer a glowing plant with everyone we knew and met in person, including at meetups and other events. Sharing the project openly and transparently up front achieved three goals: 1. We wanted to know if people were excited by and wanted to talk about the project. From our discussions, we learned our supporters wanted the engineered seeds. 2. It established a personal relationship with people, so when they saw the project, they felt a personal connection to it. 3. It allowed us to build partnerships broadening our social network, as the reach of the campaign is proportional to the size of the network. Many of these partners also became part of the project and helped in other ways. We also did research online, looking at other campaigns (backing a few we liked) and seeing what did and didn’t work. Both Kickstarter and Indiegogo publish information helping project creators plan their projects, and we took note of what they deemed important as well as what other people online thought. As part of this research, we learned that 80% of projects that get to 20% of their funding succeed, so this became our first target milestone. We realized that getting to 20% would be easier if we closed a few big backers early on, so we went on the road and sold those rewards in person, sometimes giving them additional perks as part of the package. One of these was a$10k backer, Cambrian Genomics, which supported the project within the first hour. This gave us instant credibility that we could reach the target, igniting a wave of optimism online.

Another tip we got was from the founder of Pebble, who gave a talk at Singularity University. He convinced us to look at the landing page and treat it like a product in itself. You don’t launch a product without getting user input (I’ve made that mistake before!). We showed the preview page to over 100 people in the month prior to launch. These people included our advisors, roommates, friendly mailing lists, and even a few people I stopped on the street in San Francisco.

The feedback we got from this group (e.g., your rewards are too expensive, the landing page is too complicated, and the video could be more exciting) was incredibly valuable. This was an iterative process; as we made the changes, we sought more opinions.

We also received landing page feedback from the Kickstarter product design category manager. We got criticism from scientists about this after launch, but it was the right decision. The landing page should be simple and most importantly actionable (back the project today!). That’s why we stripped away all the text and just used images on the page. Remember, most backers don’t understand the details and trust you to know them yourselves. Another reason for not going deep into technical details is that people will start discussing on social media platforms how you are going to do the science, which drives traffic and maybe some new ideas you hadn’t considered.

Clarity around regulation is incredibly important, because backers want product, and they want to know what you need to do to get it to them, as well as the project-execution risks. You have to reach out to the relevant regulatory agencies (USDA, EPA, or FDA) before launching the campaign. We found all of these agencies keen to engage early and approachable and frank in their opinions, especially if you get a personal introduction.

One campaign we studied intensely was "The Ten Year Hoodie." We were amazed at how much money they raised for such a simple product. We were really inspired by the story arc and energy of their video. What really struck us, though, was how the campaign was about more than just the hoodie: it was about inspiring a whole new movement in manufacturing to improve quality and be based in the US. Our campaign goal was to inspire people about synthetic biology, so we made that a core feature of the video. Backers support a project and take a risk because the campaign is about more than just a product.

A good video is critical. Kickstarter says you can make it yourself, but we suck at videography, so we decided to outsource it, which turned out to be a great decision. (If you’re looking for one, talk to Rick Symonds.) Doing this properly takes capital (in the range of thousands of dollars), but it also signals to backers that you are serious about the project if you have put your own money at risk before launch. Good music is important, and I spent two days reviewing clips on Audio Socket and The Music Bed. Shoot the video, get feedback on the draft, then reshoot and repeat.

Setting the target goal is hard—you want a low goal that looks attainable (and that you can get to the magic 20%), but not so low a goal that executing will be impossible. Momentum matters, and people like to back a winner, so the lower the goal you set, the better—most projects that reach their goal go significantly over it. We set our goal at the minimum amount necessary to still actually want to do the project. This approach means you can do an all-or-nothing campaign, as raising less than our goal would make it a struggle to execute.

## Running the Campaign

We split the campaign into three phases:

1. Getting to 20% of our target funding goal by reaching our friends and family, who all knew the campaign was coming in advance and had promised to back within the first few days.

## Conclusion

The campaign was one of the most rewarding events in my career. It was an intense but incredible feeling to see the numbers go up and knowing people were putting their faith in us. We take the trust and responsibilities of the backers very seriously, and the plants are already glowing. We can’t wait to ship them to everyone next summer!

We benefited from so many people’s advice before launch, and we want to pay that forward to others. If you are planning a similar campaign, please do get in touch—we want to help! Just make sure to give us at least a couple weeks before your launch date to get back to you.

## Appendix

For the geeks, here are our traffic stats:

• Video views: 358,000
• Backers: 8,433
• Funds pledged: \$484,000