At the End of Full Sail

Nearing the end of my program at Full Sail University, after having spent a year studying how to make a living from Entertainment Web content, my views and expectations of this industry has changed a great deal.

Current news stories exemplify the overall reality. Phillip DeFranco, one of the most iconic figures of online entertainment, has sold all of his assets to Revision3 and become an executive in the company. Season 2 of web series Continuum is going to be available through subscription on JTS.TV before it is ever available for free on YouTube. Even the biggest online acts need the support of bigger companies to monetize their endeavors. It’s not as simple as “go viral, get advertising, and you’re set.”

Developing my business plan for Linzer Dinzer was a sobering experience. Even if my videos went viral, even if we sold 60 T-shirts a month, even if I moved my show to a subscription-based model, and even if I sold private advice sessions, I would still not generate enough revenue to hire my team. To put it bluntly, I learned that business is hard.

On a personal note, I think my fascination with YouTube celebrity may have come from a sense of fear. Fear of competition, fear of those who are more advanced than myself in the industry, fear of being seen as a “child” or a “newbie” to traditional media companies. YouTube gave me hope that I could bypass all of that, to avoid the scrutiny of harsh criticism for a slim chance to be being chosen. I could just sit back, make videos, and watch the numbers rise.

But like my mom used to tell me, “the long way is the shortcut.” I have to put myself out there – and not just out there in terms of uploading videos. I have to network within the industry. I have to form partnerships. I have to compete. I have to work so hard at perfecting the content that I create that I can rub elbows with the big boys.

I entered this program with one question on my mind – is YouTube the end goal, or is YouTube a training ground? Now I know. YouTube is a training ground.

My journey at Full Sail is coming to a close, but the real adventure is just beginning.

Reflections on Crowdfunding

It’s a month until I graduate with a Master’s in Entertainment Business, and it’s a month until my IndieGoGo fundraising campaign ends. Yes, I timed it that way on purpose.

My team and I have produced our YouTube show, The Dinz, for the past 9 months. In those 9 months, our subscribers have more than doubled, but our average view count hasn’t shown a measurable upward trend. We’re treading water, and not making nearly enough ad revenue to buy the crew lunch, much less pay a fraction of our deserved wages. We turned to IndieGoGo as our last hope to turn this thing into a job as we figure out how to turn our work into actual profits.

Despite all our greatest efforts, and the incredible generosity of more than 50 friends and fans, we have barely made a dent in our goal. However, sometimes things can be learned from not-so-successes just as well as successes. Here’s a list of the things I’ve learned, and how I would advise other YouTubers attempting crowdfunding to run a successful campaign.

1.     Do not set a goal that is higher than your subscriber count. If you need more than that, too bad so sad. If you can’t get 80,000 people to hit a “subscribe” button, you won’t get 80,000 people to give you a dollar. One dollar per subscriber is already an ambitious estimate. 2/3 of your subscriber count is an attainable goal.
2.     Never depend on solo funders to spend more than $100. If you want to offer a perk that is extremely resource intensive, like a custom video, crowdfund the perk. I.e., “If 200 people claim this perk, we will do xyz!” Offer some sort of small, free prize to the donors if that capacity wasn’t reached – like  a shout-out or digital photo.
3.     Limit the physical objects – like photos and T-shirts – that you include as perks. You’ll have to sell more than 100 of them to even afford to offer the perk at all. Focus on perks that cost nothing and are personalized – like  a shout-out or digital photo.
4.     BE REAL. I tried to be chipper, positive, and bubbly for the first two weeks of the campaign and barely made a dent. As soon as I made a blunt and honest video explaining what was at stake, how much we needed the money, why we needed so much, and how sorry I was that we had to ask for donations, the amount of donors exploded. People tell you not to do this in fear that you’ll sound like you’re “begging,” but I find that people respond empathetically when you’re just being honest. You can state your need without guilt-tripping people.

I wish all the best to anyone attempting crowdfunding. Some people think that it’s begging, but frankly – they are wrong. We are working for our money. Crowdfunding is a full time job, and I believe that with that attitude, crowdfunders are more likely to be successful. Maybe we won’t be this time, but next time, I’ll be armed and dangerous!

Business Plan Experts and My Business Plan

Andrea Cockerton’s wisdom about business plans has made me very critical about my own business’s ability to address a needed market. She also points out that a business plan should address the innovativeness of the company’s ideas along with its abilities to execute those ideas, but my company already has those qualities in spades. It’s the need in the market we appear to currently be lacking. Doing amazing and incredible things has little meaning if the market doesn’t have any legitimate need for what the company is creating. It doesn’t seem like there’s a very high demand for motivational/inspirational web-based video that has a biting edge to it.

Kevin Geiger and Chuck Blakeman both addressed the issue of committing to the execution of your plan. Geiger was more in favor of it, Blakeman was less so. This makes me think about the relationship between my own business plan and how it will be executed, and the more I am honest with myself about it, the more it feels like I couldn’t expect myself to be completely loyal to the original plan. Mostly, this is because of lack of experience. The brutal reality is I will never have experience executing a business plan until I get that investor’s approval the first time. Therefore, while completing my first business plan, I won’t have the capacity to be completely realistic. It’s hard to picture obstacles I have not yet faced or witnessed. My first business plan is going to be a good old-fashioned educated guess.

All three of these experts have confronted me with the reality that I am currently poorly-equipped to join the gap between the work I want to do and the realities of putting that work on the market. What I may need to do is go back to the drawing board, give serious thought to everything I have learned about the market I want to compete within, and use my current experience and creativity to build a project and a business that the market actually wants rather than what I want it to want.