Which of these would you invest a few bucks in: A table-top game that uses miniature tiles? A guitar hanger? A sculpture filled with fluid that moves to music? Handcrafted syrups for cocktails and sodas? An organic fruit and vegetable juicery?
Well, each one of those ideas from entrepreneurs around south Louisiana attracted people willing to put up a few dollars here, a few dollars there through crowdfunding. Using Kickstarter, the entrepreneurs found crowdfunding is becoming a real option for getting the word out about their businesses and raising money.
Blue Dungeon Tiles in New Orleans had no problems raising funds, taking 52 days to attract more than six times its original goal of $9,500 to make it one of the more effective Louisiana projects on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
“It was way more successful than I thought it would be. I was kind of surprised,” said Kevin Chenevert, who markets game tiles through his company, Red Kobold Games. The laminated map tiles, used with role-playing and miniature wargames, work with dry-erase, wet-erase and permanent markers. Chenevert, an architect and gaming enthusiast, had the idea about a year earlier. There were commercially available miniature tiles for table-top games, but most of the tiles were made for a specific genre, such as science fiction. Chenevert wanted something a little more versatile, which would allow people to decide what the tiles would be: a corridor, a cave, a dungeon, etc.
It turned out a lot of other gamers did, too. In addition to funding, his backers helped in another important way: by providing ideas to make the tiles better. Backers suggested adding tiles that allowed gamers to make buildings or sailing vessels.
“It was a really neat interactive process with the backers. … That wasn’t something I was really imagining,” Chenevert said.
Russell Garehan, a Baton Rouge engineer, went the crowdfunding route for several reasons, launching two Kickstarter campaigns since 2012. Mainly, he wanted to see how much interest there was in his ideas to help determine whether there was potential for actually selling his products.
Garehan raised $3,377 for his closet guitar hanger, which allows people to store guitars and basses alongside their shirts and slacks. He also raised $15,528 for Ferrocious, a sculpture that contains magnetic fluid that moves to music.
“I was uncertain if there was even a demand for these things,” he said. “There was a low cost if I was wrong. It cost a little money to produce a video for the Kickstarter site and to make prototypes.” He chose Kickstarter because it was the most prominent crowdfunding site.
Crowdfunding was appealing to Garehan because entrepreneurs don’t have to give up any ownership, like he would if an angel investor bought a stake in his business.
Garehan said Ferrocious fizzled. It turned out the sculptures had hidden costs that made profit margins too low.
The closet guitar hanger is sold on Amazon.com and has become a source of recurring income for Garehan.
Entrepreneurs looking for crowdfunding should be aware of several things. If a Kickstarter campaign falls even one dollar short of its funding goal, you don’t get any money. Kickstarter returns the funds to the donors.
There are also costs. Kickstarter takes a 5 percent fee for projects that are successfully funded. Credit card companies also take a fee for contributions.
“The combined amount between the Kickstarter and credit cards can be 7 percent to 10 percent,” Garehan said. “You have to be very meticulous about accounting for costs.”
To make the campaigns successful, Garehan said he sent out dozens of emails to tech and musical instrument blogs. Those sites frequently spotlight interesting crowdfunding projects and can be a source of contributions.
Chenevert believes his game tile campaign’s popularity was sparked by a community of Kickstarter backers more than an advertising push on his part.
Chenevert had looked at a few other Kickstarter campaigns and hit some websites where people talked about how they ran a successful campaign. He also began advertising his idea on social media, pushing the tiles on different gaming blogs.
“I really kind of hustled it,” Chenevert said.
“There’s sort of a group of people who do Kickstarters, and they do lots of them. They don’t just do one,” Chenevert said.
The vast majority of his 962 backers had funded five, 10 or even 15 projects. The backers surf through projects every few days and pick one they like.
But Chenevert never thought about raising his product’s profile on Kickstarter or lobbying for the tiles as a staff favorite.
It just happened. Blue Dungeon turned up as a selection of the day and a pick of the week.
Kickstarter’s “all or nothing” fundraising rules generated some tense moments last year for Melodie Carbuccia McMath, one of the owners of Evolve, a Lafayette organic fruit and vegetable juicery looking to expand its business.
“We reached our goal, literally, on the last day,” McMath said. “Someone put in some last-minute money and just saved us.”
Evolve has operated since late 2013 at Bibi’s Patisserie at 1321 W. Pinhook Road on weekdays and sells its wares on Saturdays at the Lafayette Farmers and Artisans Market at the Horse Farm, 2913 Johnson St.
“What we don’t have is our storefront,” said McMath. “We’re stuck. We can’t grow where we are anymore.”
Thanks to Kickstarter and lots of altruistic friends and customers, Evolve’s campaign raised $25,945 in September. Evolve’s owners plan to move in “a couple of months.”
“This grounded me spiritually, going through all these obstacles,” McMath said. “For me, it was a huge blessing from God.”
Messier has been working on one side of the bar or the other in New York since 2008 and had created his own cocktail recipes. But a move to New Orleans in mid-2013, and the loss of a job, convinced him pursue his business dream using Kickstarter.
There are lots of syrups and drink mixes on the market, but nothing that’s intended for classic cocktails, such as the Old Fashioned and Tom Collins, Messier said.
Messier had some experience in liquor marketing and promotion. In the late 1990s, he worked in San Francisco, helping dotcoms raise cash from investors. So he knew a little bit about building buzz, he was familiar with crowdfunding and he understood all too well what happened to businesses that didn’t have capital.
He put together a video and a bio and submitted them to Kickstarter. His campaign launched a little before Thanksgiving. By the end of the year, he had raised $10,321. His goal was $10,000. Messier launched with four products: Spiced Demerara Syrup for Old Fashioneds or Sazeracs, Oleo Saccharum for gin or Vodka Collins, Honeysuckle and Peppercorns for margaritas or whiskey sours, and Mint and Lemon Verbena for daiquiris or mojitos. The bottles also have recipes for the drinks.
On Jan. 1, Messier began trying to convince bars, restaurants and retailers to stock his syrups. So far, Cocktail & Sons syrups are featured on cocktail menus at French 75 and Doris Metropolitan in the French Quarter and are available in a handful of New Orleans area bars and restaurants. People in New York, Las Vegas, Rhode Island and other areas have told him they want the syrups, too.
“It’s been insane, to be honest with you,” Messier said.
The company will focus on the New Orleans and Louisiana markets, for now. But sometime around April or May, Messier expects to begin online sales. He’s in the process of approving labels, bar codes and nutrition panels. Then it’s off to the races.
In a year or so, Messier may look to raise additional capital, which would allow him to expand the product to more cities and hire marketing teams there.
“It’s been a really fantastic start to the business,” he said.
McMath, the Lafayette entrepreneur, said the Kickstarter project evolved into more than a financial goal for her with the juicery business.
“This really allows people to come together as a community,” she said. “It’s about the health and evolution of our community.”
Organically grown and non-pasteurized fruits and vegetables — either juiced or blended into non-dairy smoothies — contain more essential nutrients and enzymes than most processed versions sold at grocery stores, McMath said.
McMath said Evolve’s juices and smoothies are not sweetened with refined sugar. If sweeteners are added, they are in the form of Medjool dates.
For example, a Loving Cup smoothie on its menu contains cashews, Medjool dates, Brazil nuts, vanilla, cinnamon and organic cold brew coffee. McMath said the concoction is packed with 17 grams of protein.
Because Evolve’s juices, smoothies and other products are not pasteurized, they have a refrigerated shelf life of only 72 hours.
Customers pay $8 for a 12-ounce juice or $9 for a smoothie.
A raw hot chocolate, containing neither sugar nor dairy, costs $4. Cashews, Brazil nuts, raw cacao powder and Medjool dates are blended and heated to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the highest temperature fresh fruit and vegetables can be heated before they begin losing nutrients and enzymes, McMath said.
Most of Evolve’s organically grown fruits and vegetables are purchased from local farmers, who McMath said often collect the company’s waste plant material for use as compost. Any other leftover plant wastes are donated to a nonprofit urban farm, EarthShare Gardens, 241 Encore Lane, in nearby Scott.