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9 Lessons On Crowdfunding A Show, From The Man Behind TV’s First Kickstarter-Funded Series

Zane Lamprey, host/executive producer of NatGeo’s Chug, shares his lessons about everything from the best incentives to unexpected costs.

9 Lessons On Crowdfunding A Show, From The Man Behind TV’s First Kickstarter-Funded Series
[Photos: courtesy of Nat Geo]

Zane Lamprey, who has made a career out of traveling and drinking as the host of shows like Three Sheets and Drinking Made Easy, had an idea for a new series: It would be called Chug, and it would follow him around the world as he explored the greatest drinking destinations, learning about the customs and culture of each place along the way. But he couldn’t find a network interested in backing his latest project. “They were all like, ‘Yeah, we’re not really sure about a drinking show,’ and they all passed,” Lamprey says.

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When he told his mother about the problems he was having getting Chug off the ground, she made a suggestion. “My mom said, ‘Well, why don’t you just do a Kickstarter like that Veronica Mars show is doing?’” he recalls. “And I’m like, ‘Mom, I think I have a better grasp of how things work in Hollywood than you do living in Syracuse.’”

Lamprey, founder of Inzane Entertainment as well as spirits brand Monkey Rum, just didn’t think Kickstarter was a viable means of raising cash to make a television series, though he changed his mind after he took a look at the Kickstarter set up to fund a feature film based on the Veronica Mars television series. When he saw that only three days into the campaign the producers had already earned twice their goal of $2 million, Lamprey was amazed, and he realized his mother back in Syracuse, New York wasn’t so clueless, after all.

Working with the staff at his production company, launched a Chug Kickstarter page with the goal of raising $500,000 and raked in more than $591,000 from 8,177 people, who gave amounts ranging from $1 to $5,000.

Chug later went into production, taking Lamprey to locales like Kuala Lumpur, Vienna and Sydney, and the show–what’s being called television’s first-ever Kickstarter-funded series–premieres on National Geographic Channel November 24.

But there is much more to this story. Raising money on Kickstarter isn’t as simple as creating a page and waiting for the money to roll in. “There are a lot of logistics you need to figure out,” says Lamprey, who admits that he went into the endeavor flying blind. Here, Lamprey, who recently launched another Kickstarter to fund a product he calls the Drinking Jacket, takes Co.Create through the process and shares some of what he learned from the experience:

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Kickstarter Will Take Over Your Life

“Going on Kickstarter is all-consuming,” according to Lamprey. And while raising money for any project is stressful, there is another layer of stress when you are doing so in such a public way. This shouldn’t be an impediment, of course, but it’s good to know what you’re getting into before you dive in. “I felt like, ‘This is me. I’m putting everything out there. I’m trying to make a show, and everyone knows. If I’m successful, great, I did it! If I fail, it’s a public failure, and it’s big.’ ”


Provide Real Incentive For People To Back You

“The objective of the campaign was to become funded, and I wanted to do anything in my power to make that happen. So I threw every possible incentive out there,” Lamprey says.

He’s not exaggerating. In addition to items like limited-edition Chug T-shirts, hoodies, posters and medallions, Lamprey’s Kickstarter rewards also included digital downloads, DVDs and Blu-ray discs of extended versions of every episode of the first season of Chug. He offered to dole out associate producer credits and insert photos of backers into the opening credits of the show, too.

Beyond all that, Lamprey even promised to film 15-second custom messages for donors about pretty much anything–within reason–and record outgoing voicemail messages. A sample: “Hey, this is Zane Lamprey. Kevin can’t come to the phone because we’re doin’ shots! Leeeeave a message!”

But where he really went all out was by inviting donors to Chug parties in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, where they could hang out with him and preview the show once it was completed.

Comedian Steve McKenna, a good friend of Lamprey’s, attended all of the parties. That wasn’t part of the deal as presented on Kickstarter, but Lamprey thought it would be fun bonus if his famous buddy was there, so he paid to fly McKenna from Seattle all around the country to make surprise appearances at the shindigs.

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“It was about giving people more than they expect. We never wanted to go half-assed on anything that we were doing. If we were going to do the medallions, I wanted the medallions to be awesome, and they were. I wanted the hoodies to be awesome, and they were. I wanted the T-shirts, I wanted the posters, I wanted the parties to be great. I always want to under promise and over deliver–thankfully, my mom instilled this in me since I was young,” Lamprey says.


Warning: The Costs Of Fulfilling Rewards Add Up

That was one of the biggest lessons Lamprey learned from his inaugural run on Kickstarter. “One of the tough things to figure out is the backer rewards, and the finances of all those things. We raised $591,000, and the Kickstarter fee [which is 5% of the money raised] plus credit card fees equaled about 10% of that, and our shipping alone was $60,000–that was the cost of getting all of the rewards out to our backers, things like hoodies and T-shirts and posters and the DVDs and the Blu-rays,” Lamprey says. “You do all these spreadsheets to make sure that you had figured all these costs, and then all of a sudden there’s a cost that’s a surprise.”


But Fulfillment As Promised Is A Must

“Your reputation is everything,” he stresses, so fulfillment must be completed as promised, or your backers will lose faith in you and your project. Lamprey notes that there are “no Kickstarter police making sure you’re doing what you said you were going to do, so you are on the honor code as far as fulfillment.”


Promote Your Kickstarter With Lots Of Compelling Content

“Every time you reach out to someone, they need to see something fresh that they didn’t see before,” Lamprey says. “You can’t keep saying, ‘Hey, did you go to my page? Did you go to my page? Did you go to my page?’ You should say, ‘Hey, I added this video,’ or ‘We just did an interview with this person!’ Then people can get excited about what you’re doing.”

Lamprey reached out to his fans every day via social media, and he was also doing interviews to promote the project. When the campaign was in its final two days, he whipped up interest in Chug by attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the longest live audio broadcast streamed over the Internet. (While it appears that Lamprey did break the record, proof of the accomplishment has yet to be submitted to and verified by Guinness.) “It was me standing in my studio and interviewing people for 26 hours straight–no breaks,” Lamprey says, clarifying, “There were seven bathroom breaks–that was it!”

And if you are going to post a trailer for your television show or film or even a product on your Kickstarter, don’t cheap out on production quality or rush it just to make a deadline–it should be impressive. “No one should watch it and say, ‘Oh, I they could have done a better job with this,'” Lamprey says. “Make sure you’re presenting it in a way that it’s something that you would want to invest in, that you would Kickstart.”

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People Donate Early And Late In The Process

This may not be the case for every Kickstarter, but Lamprey found that most people contributed to his cause in the first three days and the last three days of the campaign. So while you won’t be able to resist checking in to see how you are doing as the campaign progresses, don’t lose hope if all of the money doesn’t pour in right away, Lamprey says. You could very well see a big surge like he did toward the end of his Kickstarter. With only three days left in the campaign, Lamprey had raised close to $320,000, which was was $180,000 short of his goal, and he feared the worst. “We were like, ‘We’re not going to make it,’” he recalls. “Then there was just an explosion [in money coming in those last three days], and we exceeded our goal.”


The Money You Raise On Kickstarter Might Not Be Enough

This is hard to hear, but if you are relying 100% on Kickstarter to fund your project, you might be disappointed. Costs can fluctuate, especially when it comes to television production. “When we started making Chug, we realized we didn’t really have enough money to do the show that we wanted to do. So I had to put in pretty much an equal amount to what we had raised from backers,” Lamprey says, noting, “I had to put up my own money just to make sure the show worked because at the end of the day it is all about doing what you said you were going to do.”


Ask Kickstarter For Advice

When Lamprey launched his Kickstarter in 2013, he couldn’t get any guidance from Kickstarter beyond some basic information on their homepage. “I didn’t have one conversation with Kickstarter. I tried. I tried to reach out to them, but we didn’t hear anything back,” according to Lamprey, who says things have changed since then. “I have a great relationship with Kickstarter now, and I do talk to them a lot [regarding his second Kickstarter for The Drinking Jacket]. They now have people that are there for support. They’re more customer-service friendly.”

In fact, Lamprey was invited by Kickstarter to visit the company’s Brooklyn office to discuss The Drinking Jacket. “They were like, ‘Look, we know what we weren’t around last time, but now, we are,’” he says. “Now, it’s a much easier company to work with, and we’ve talked a lot about strategy and costs and all kinds of stuff.”


You Can’t Stop Your Family From Donating To Your Kickstarter

Lamprey told his family not to contribute to his Kickstarter campaign, but neither his mother or his brother-in-law listened to him. “I was like, ‘Mom, what are you doing? Don’t do that!’ I don’t want my mother’s money,” Lamprey says. “She’s helped me out enough.”

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About the author

Christine Champagne is a New York City-based journalist best known for covering creativity in television and film, interviewing the talent in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes. She has written for outlets including Emmy, Variety, VanityFair.com, Redbook, Time Out New York and TVSquad.com.

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