Local

Three Grand Strand area projects and their leaders who have tried crowdfunding

By Roger Yale

For The Sun News

Growler Chill
Growler Chill Submitted

As of March 19, crowdfunding juggernaut Kickstarter boasted $2.93 billion in funds pledged to more than 344 thousand launched projects since its inception in 2009, according its website.

While many of the projects on Kickstarter failed to reach their goals, successful campaigns raised $2.56 billion on the platform.

Kickstarter is just one player on the field of online crowdfunding platforms. Other companies with quirky names like Indiegogo, Fundable, GoFundMe, Patreon and many more dot the landscape – each one offering slightly different nuances but with the same purpose in mind; empowering individuals and organizations to bypass the traditional gatekeepers and go right to their tribes to raise the money they need for almost anything.

Fidget Cube, that strange looking gadget touted as a way to help people focus, raised more than $6 million on Kickstarter. The Broken Lizard comedy troupe funded the production of Super Troopers 2 with more than $4 million on Indiegogo. The film is slated to release this year.

While crowdfunding can be perfect for inventors, creatives and tech startups, it is also a force for humanitarian causes. The most successful GoFundMe campaign ever raised nearly $8 million for the victims of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

The ubiquity of crowdfunding has seen a rise in campaigns for personal use as well - everything from covering medical bills, weddings, a loved one’s funeral expenses and many more personal scenarios have been successfully funded.

The Grand Strand has had its share of successful Kickstarter campaigns in many categories. The Sun News spoke with three people who have used the platform for very different reasons.

VETERAN SUICIDE PREVENTION

Former Little River resident and Army combat veteran Justin Miller knows all too well the implications of PTSD, having served just over 11 years, including a total of 27 months in Iraq on two deployments.

The fall of 2014 was a particularly dark time in his life.

Miller was having serious difficulty transitioning back into civilian life, trying to find work and drinking too much in an attempt to numb what is known as survivor’s guilt. He was at his wits’ end and was thinking about killing himself.

Out of the blue, Miller got a call from Chris Mercado, an old friend from the Army.

“Chris could sense something was wrong when he heard me, and we talked for hours,” said Miller, adding that Mercado realized during this conversation that just listening to somebody who is suicidal can sometimes be the difference I whether a person is alive the next day or not.

It was this conversation that gave birth to the idea for Objective Zero [www.objectivezero.org], an application in development that will instantly connect hurting, struggling and suicidal veterans to a community of “ambassadors,” – fellow veterans, concerned civilians, mental health specialists, spiritual counselors and others counselors who are willing to simply listen.

Miller is cofounder and outreach director.

“That’s what we are building Objective Zero from,” he said. “It’s just giving an ear and taking the time to listen to somebody. A lot of times, that can make a huge difference.”

Miller said it was high time to quit pointing fingers at the Veterans Administration or the government and instead join together as a community to help veterans in need.

“Let’s show our support by saying, ‘hey – I’m willing to answer that phone call when a veteran is feeling suicidal or just needs somebody to talk to. I am willing to register as an ambassador. I am willing to receive VA training on suicide prevention,’” he said.

Objective Zero’s Kickstarter campaign ran from Dec 26 - January 25, raising $38,000 from 235 backers, overshooting its goal of $35,000.

Kickstarter takes a 5 percent cut, and payment processing fees range from 3 percent to 5 percent. If a campaign is unsuccessful, there are no fees.

The crowdfunding money is just a part of fundraising efforts for Objective Zero, but has given them the wherewithal to make a deposit to begin development of the app, which should be ready for beta release by the late May/Early June, according to Miller.

He said an additional $20,000 needs to be raised. Objective Zero launched a personal giving fundraising campaign on March 20.

Every dollar raised will go toward app development.

Miller said Kickstarter was the fastest route for the initial cash infusion – and the first pledges were from friends and family.

“We raised probably our first $19,000 from people we knew, and once we hit the $20,000 mark, one of our guys managed to get us on two segments of DV [Dysfunctional Veterans] Radio. Each time, the numbers started growing by the thousands – and that’s why we need to have faith that everything else is going to fall into place,” he said.

To donate, volunteer or sign up as an ambassador, visit www.objectivezero.org.

GROWLER PERISHABILITY SOLVED

Many of us have heard the phrase attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” Now imagine what the world would do if your mousetrap was the only mousetrap on the market.

The craft beer community is beating a path to the door of Penguin Tap, Inc. in Myrtle Beach for essentially the same reason with the advent of Growler Chill – a revolutionary product that has finally solved the growler perishability problem.

Growler Chill [www.growlerchill.com] is a countertop growler tap that can hold up to three growlers at a time, keeping them cold, purging oxygen and extending the beer’s life for up to three weeks.

Creator Randy Hollister said the idea for his product came after he and his son discovered that there was not a product like this on the market.

Hollister’s son was looking for a housewarming gift for a friend, and decided to look for a kegerator for growlers.

“My son called me up on Father’s Day of 2015 and said there was something I needed to invent. I started digging into it and it looked like there was a market. It was hard to believe that it didn’t exist, so I went to work,” Hollister said.

Two months later, he said he made the decision to shut down his commercial real estate practice and jump into development of Growler Chill with both feet – and has been working at it for the last 18 months.

Hollister does not come from an engineering background, but he had done two successful startups in the past to do with technology solutions for the real estate industry.

“This is the first time actually building a widget, and I had to hire engineering talent,” he said. “I figured out what it needed to do, what the features needed to be.”

He and cofounder Tonia Speir went looking at places like Williams Sonoma and Bed Bath & Beyond to determine what the look and feel of a small appliance had to be to have people want to put it in their homes.

Hollister said Growler Chill was the prefect product for crowdfunding on Kickstarter.

“There had already been more than $3 million raised on various craft beer-related projects that kind of nibbled around the edge of the growler problem without tackling it head-on,” he said, adding that it was clear to him that his audience was comfortable going to Kickstarter.

Growler Chill raised a jaw-dropping $668 thousand from 1793 backers in 33 days, ending on February 28.

“In our first ten hours, we moved into the top three percent of all successfully funded Kickstarter campaigns, and we hit or goal of $175,000 in our first 19 hours,” he said.

But Hollister and his team were ready for this – having made the circuit of beer festivals and gathering email addresses along the way.

“I had 16,000 email addresses from people who had been waiting for this product, and that gave me the ability to have a fast start,” he said.

Growler Chill is set for release on October 15 and is available for preorder.

FOR THE SAKE OF THE BAND

Local singer/songwriter Brian Roessler crowdfunded his 2015 album “Songwriter’s Lament” with an eye to paying the musicians who performed on the project.

“Even though people offered to play with me for free, I didn’t want to take anybody’s art and not compensate them for it,” he said, adding that he had enough money to record an acoustic solo album, but felt the material strong enough to include other musicians.

“Songwriter’s Lament” raised $3,600 from 63 backers on Kickstarter.

“If you didn’t make the goal, then you didn’t get any of the money,” he said. “If I didn’t make the goal, I would have gone ahead and done a fully acoustic album.”

Roessler said that Kickstarter doesn’t take money out of anybody’s account if the campaign fails to reach its goal. Indiegogo offers a flexible funding option, which allows people to keep any amount raised, regardless of the goal.

“I didn’t want to be on the hook for anything if I didn’t make it,” he said, referring to incentives offered such as downloads of the demo sessions, downloads of the full album, a signed copy of the album or house concerts within a tiered radius, depending on the amount pledged.

“If I fell short, then there would be an expectation of all the perks that people paid for, but I wouldn’t be able to pay the musicians too.”

He was satisfied with the results of his Kickstarter campaign.

“We had enough to pay the musicians and for studio time. We had enough to take them out to lunch or dinner, depending on what time they showed up. I even threw in gas money because we were recording in Florence. My goal was to take care of the musicians, and crowdfunding did what it was supposed to,” he said.

Social media consultant Dorien Morin-van Dam of More In Media [www.moreinmedia.com] told The Sun News that crowdfunding offers anyone an opportunity to pitch their concept to the world.

“Anyone with a dream or a goal can try to find financial success virally, but note that I said ‘opportunity.’ Many, many crowdfunding campaigns end in failure,” she said, while noting the behind-the-scenes preparation that goes into successful campaigns.

“This does not just include preparing the campaign itself with written and visual content, but also writing out a plan to utilize email lists, influencer marketing (paid), blogger outreach (paid), Facebook Advertising (paid), brand ambassadors, social media sharing and more,” she said.

Morin-van Dam stressed the importance of having a great product, service or dream that is different, unique or one-of-a-kind, coupled with a compelling backstory – sad, funny or capable of pulling on heart strings.

“You have to have an emotional hook. People need to feel invested and feel like this could apply to them,” she said. “You have to have great photography and an appealing video (visual, visual, visual), and a strategic marketing plan for your campaign once it goes live.”

She said many campaigns fail because they are just plain dumb.

“[Sometimes] the subject matter is selfish and does not serve anyone but the person putting up the campaign.”

Roessler suggested that timing is everything.

“A lot of times, people want to give – but they might be in the wrong check of the month. Sometimes every bill is due on one check and they might have a little bit of spending money on the other check. Make sure your campaign is a full month and try to start and end it near a pay period,” he said.

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