Member Interview with L Carlene Raper
Last year we ran the news on our blog about one of our Vermont member’s fundraising projects at a popular crowd sourcing website. To learn more about Carlene, Kickstarter, and her successfully funded project, we had a phone interview. Read On!
A bit about Carlene: Carlene Raper of Westminster West, Vermont, has had a long and fruitful career with her business ‘Colorquilts’, focusing on creating and selling her one-of-a-kind abstract, colorful art quilts and wall hangings. She’s been self-employed for over thirty years since she started playing with fabrics in 1981. For many years she exhibited her work at high-end craft shows, managing a busy schedule of about six to eight shows a year. Having been diagnosed with MS, Carlene no longer travels to shows. Every year she participates in the Putney Craft Tour where “people travel to her!”. She also markets her work mainly through word of mouth and through her website.
(image left: Carlene with her piece entitled 'Leaf Village')
First off, let’s find out about Kickstarter:
Kickstarter is the world's largest funding platform for creative projects. Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields. Projects are big and small, serious and whimsical, traditional and experimental. They’re inspiring, entertaining, and unbelievably diverse.
A new form of commerce and patronage. This is not about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work. Instead, they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project.
All or nothing funding. On Kickstarter, a project must reach its funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands. Why? It protects everyone involved. Creators aren’t expected to develop their project without necessary funds, and it allows anyone to test concepts without risk.
About Carlene’s Kickstarter project: Ever since Carlene’s husband Julian gave her a custom-made jigsaw puzzle using one of her hangings as the image, she had it in the back of her mind to someday have a jigsaw puzzle made of her work.. When she learned about Kickstarter last year, she remembered the puzzle idea. Carlene then spent a little time last spring researching. Who makes puzzles? How many do you need to order? What will it cost? First she learned about cardboard puzzles, but then remembered the special wooden puzzles she’s been collecting for the last few years. Through research, she found three companies and got samples of their work. From there she decided who she wanted to work with most.
Liberty Puzzles in Colorado impressed Carlene with the best, highest quality product. Liberty Puzzles makes classic wooden jigsaw puzzles, constructed with quarter inch maple plywood and the finest archival paper and inks. No two pieces in any of their puzzles are alike, and each puzzle features dozens of intricate, charming whimsical pieces. Their puzzle designs are modeled after some of the most intricate jigsaw puzzles ever made. The designs are dry mounted to the wood and then the puzzle is lazer cut.
Not only would Carlene’s quilt design look great in this format, the puzzles would be well-made, right here in the USA. Carlene also researched the Kickstarter site to see the range of projects and learn about the types of ‘rewards’ people had for the different levels of funding. It turns out that puzzles on Kickstarter are not very common, so she may have stumbled onto an interesting niche. She wrote up her project proposal and submitted it to Kickstarter. After only a week, Carlene heard back that it had been approved!
Who was the audience? Carlene has an email list of about 200 people, so she sent out news of her Kickstarter project to the list, as well as to her family and friends. The first few pledges were from people she knew and her collectors. But in the end, she received twice as much funding from people new to her work, so it was a great way to widen exposure to her work. She’s had great feedback from the people who bought puzzles through Kickstarter, and many have said they are excited for her next Kickstarter project and want to be notified when she is ready so they can be first in line. She’s hoping to build on the success of this first project and keep growing this new avenue for her work.
(image above: Phoenix with puzzle whimsies from Carlene's Kickstarter)
What advice would Carlene give to someone to have a successful experience on Kickstarter?
Carlene replied, “Really consider your ideas and options. Figure out what your rewards are going to be so that they are something that is doable for you, but is also worth the money level you are setting them at. It’s good to research it a bit to see how other people have done it. Kickstarter is a really good platform for getting a product made.” It is also a way people get ‘orders’ for their work, i.e.,their rewards are all things that they make once the funding is over, or maybe they have some of the work all ready to go.
What was the most challenging thing about this endeavor?
She considered, and said, “Making the video was something I didn’t know how to do.” Shortly after she got the ok from Kickstarter, she had a customer who came to her studio to buy fabrics. While there, Sarah very graciously shot some video. After getting the raw footage, Carlene taught herself video editing, adding still shots of her art quilts using ‘iMovie’. For Carlene, she found that she’s good at learning things herself, not one to follow the manuals. In the end she created a 2:35 minute film to upload to her Kickstarter project. Carlene provided additional advice: “Keep in mind there’s a technical learning curve if you don’t know someone who has video editing skills.”
*Click HERE to see Carlene's Kickstarter VIDEO*
Carlene added that another challenge was that she started late. “I wanted to have the puzzles in time for Christmas, so I had to order the puzzles first.” Translation: she had to spend money before she knew whether her Kickstarter project would get funded or not. She committed to buying fifty puzzles. Her project goal was $2,100. She hit that mark, and had to order more puzzles! On October 6th, the last day of the fund drive, her project had raised $3,789, well over her original level. Carlene said that whole month “was nerve-wracking and exhilarating -- all at the same time!”
She sold sixty one puzzles, kept one, and gave one away for a Christmas gift. Another great way that Carlene generated more funds was by updating her rewards page. A person can add items as the fund drive is happening to encourage more pledges. During the process of ordering the puzzles, she was sent one puzzle as a color proof. She realized that the puzzle pieces would make great refrigerator magnets, so she updated her rewards, offering sets of 3 or 7 interlocking magnets - it was a big hit! For one $65 puzzle, she brought in almost $200, so it was a clever use of the proof and brought additional interest to her project.
Is there anything else to know about this venue?
Someone had funded Carlene at the highest level of $1,400, so she wrote the funder, but then didn’t hear back. It turns out that person had funded several projects, all at the highest levels. Kickstarter monitors the site very well, and they caught this and withdrew the pledges because the funder wasn’t on the level. For Carlene, it happened early enough that she still had time to push her project to the finish line with real funders.
Adding updates is a way to keep your project interesting - you can do email blasts to remind people about it so they will check out what is new. Also, Kickstarter allows you to conduct a survey once you’re funded, where you can get a lot of information and feedback from your funders. So it’s a great learning tool where you can ask specific questions that will help you in your business.
What was the most fun thing about Kickstarter for you?
Carlene responded, “Just like at the craft shows, people are throwing money at you for something you just love doing....then they are taking your work home and enjoying it every day in their lives. It doesn’t get better than that!” She also was able to bring to life the dream of having one of her quilt designs become a puzzle, which was reward in itself. And a real bonus that so many other people liked it too!
What is Carlene’s next project going to be?
She wants to do a bigger puzzle. The first project was a 254 piece puzzle, so the next one will be 500 pieces. The really exciting this is that she wants to design the cut pattern also. The cut pattern is the line design that creates the shapes of the puzzle pieces. She’s not sure that Liberty will allow that; she has to negotiate this. To get started, she’s designing her cut pattern in Illustrator, another computer program she’s enjoying teaching herself. Carlene noted that, “since my work is abstract, it lends itself well” for the cutlines of a puzzle.
The work she wants to use for this is titled “Awash”, and the cut pattern had shapes like seashells, a crab, a lobster, a jellyfish, sea urchins, etc. all living in the wild and wiggly lines of an abundant coral reef.
(image above: 'Awash' by L Carlene Raper)
For this larger puzzle, she’ll set the fund drive for 45 or even 60 days, rather than just 30 days, since it will be a more costly project to fund. ....
Then she’s going to do a smaller puzzle!
We’ll look forward to seeing the next Kickstarter projects!
Thanks, Carlene, for taking the time to share this story with us.
(image above: Awash Whimsies)