Alex Daly has worn many professional hats in her life—from magazine fact-checker to a production manager and grant writer for documentary films.
But Daly never planned on being a crowdfunding expert, nor did she ever envision being the brains behind Neil Young’s Pono Music Kickstarter campaign. But during her time as a documentary production manager, she was approached by a producer to help him raise money through Kickstarter for his latest film. Despite knowing very little about crowdfunding, she rose to the challenge, and the campaign was a success, raising over $80,000 and surpassing its $50,000 target.
The success of that campaign led Daly to take on more Kickstarter projects. For two years she kept her day job at the production company and spent her evenings freelancing as a crowdfunding consultant. Eventually her side-hustle turned into a company, Vann Alexandra, where she helps brands and creatives raise money for their next big idea.
These days, Daly is known as an expert in the crowdfunding space, boasting projects such as The Joan Didion Documentary and Massimo Vignelli’s NYC Subway Manual in her portfolio. She’s chronicled her lessons and tips in an upcoming book, The Crowdsourceress which comes out on March 28. Fast Company caught up with Daly to learn how she crafted a career for herself that didn’t really exist in the wild.
“When I was really young, I wanted to be a weather person. I grew up in Miami, so I was obsessed with hurricanes and storms,” Daly explains. “That changed when I went to college.”
In college she studied Spanish and philosophy and minored in film but had decided by graduation that she wanted to be a writer. Daly interned at New York magazine, became a fact-checker there, and eventually landed a gig at WSJ magazine. It was there, in her early 20s, that she thought, “Do I really want to be a journalist? I romanticized it and thought I wanted to do that, but I realized I didn’t know if it was a real fit for me–to be a writer.”
Through a friend, Daly got an interview at a documentary production company for a production manager role. “I was a huge newbie, but I smiled and nodded my way through the interview and just showed how precocious and ambitious I was.”
Daly reflects, “I also came in with the attitude that I was ready to work—hard. I really think that convinced them that I was the right person for the job.”
Daly found herself doing a lot of grant-writing in her new gig. “We shared an office with a bigger production company, and one of the producers there would always see me sort of pushing grants out on a daily basis.” When he told Daly he was raising money for a film, she recalls asking right away whether he wanted her help with grant applications, but he responded with, “Let’s try Kickstarter.” “I had no idea really what it was,” she laughs.
But she soon wrapped her head around the platform and got to work. She utilized her journalism skills to write engaging copy for the campaign, which she and her team then shared with colleagues and friends for feedback. They reached out to radio stations and record labels to obtain rewards that they could give to their pledgers.
After launch day, Daly writes in her book that she spent “every spare moment emailing everyone and their mothers and promoting the project online,” staying active on social media to keep promoting the campaign content. The approach paid off, and they raised 163% of their target.
Before long, other Kickstarter projects started landing in Daly’s lap. Six months later she got a call from a documentary filmmaker who was looking for help to run her Kickstarter campaign. She said, “I heard you’re the woman that knows how to raise money for documentary projects on Kickstarter.”
“And I was like, I guess I am.”
Daly soon found her film producing job taking a backseat as she took on more and more Kickstarter-related work. In 2014, she decided to incorporate a full-services creative agency to focus on her crowdfunding work full time. Today, Vann Alexandra employs two full-time project managers, and Daly remains the sole owner.
She admits that she was initially hesitant about the move: “I had a very romantic idea of what a filmmaker was and a writer was, but the idea of a Kickstarter manager seemed devoid of creativity. But then I really started to embrace the work that I was doing,” she reflects–especially its creative side.
“Not only because we partner with creatives, which is an incredibly inspiring thing to do on a daily basis, but it takes a lot of creativity to raise money for something,” Daly points out. “Because sometimes something doesn’t stick, so you have to fly ten other ideas.”
One of the biggest challenges Daly faced during her journey has been having to negotiate a new field while starting a business from scratch. “I’m very lucky to have two parents that started their own companies,” Daly says. She credits them with being her go-to resource whenever she faced big challenges or day-to-day confusion as a startup founder.
Daly also stresses the importance of constantly asking questions—advice she often gives to those who want to start careers in fields they know little about. “Send lots of emails, set up all the meetings that you can, and don’t be disheartened when people say no or don’t answer you.”
“When I was working in magazines,” she continues, “I would reach out to writers that I admired. I would find their emails, tell them that I was a big fan, and ask if I could meet with them to learn how they got to where they were in their careers. Sometimes people didn’t respond. But when they did, I would buy them a coffee or a drink, ask questions (but not take too much of their time), and then follow up with a handwritten thank you note.”
Daly’s other big piece of career advice is not to fear the idea of doing what you thought you wanted to do. “I think that when we’re in our early 20s, we have such lofty ideas of what we’re supposed to be doing.” She admits that it can be terrifying to realize that you’re not meeting those lofty ideals. “But that’s okay, you have the rest of your life to get there.”
For Daly, it was a matter of figuring out her interests, experimenting with them, and thinking about how it could be applied to the real world.