Andy Bell draws on his experience as a television producer to explain why the impact of the crowdfunding revolution may prove greater than some commentators think.
Eileen Burbidge, a partner at Passion Capital, recently tweeted: “honeymoon period around crowdfunding beginning to close”. This seems to be a popular opinion at the moment.
Having launched a traditionally funded web business - Picklive, backed by Eileen, amongst others, as it happens – and this week launching a crowd-funded project, Foldable.me, I feel that crowd-funding may be underestimated.
What’s brilliant about crowd-funding isn’t the money. Money is nice, but in this age of ever-cheaper computing and ever-cheaper money, it’s rarely the biggest problem. What’s brilliant is the format. A good format generates eyeballs and eyeballs are what a start-up needs more than anything else.
I’m using format in the sense a television producer might. Reality TV producers are the champions at shaping real life into a great story. What makes a good format? Well, before Mint Digital, I was at a TV producer called RDF, on the distant fringes of a team that created Wife Swap and Secret Millionaire.
And, in the industry, I learned that three questions are always asked when pitching a new format, each of which is dealt with remarkably well by crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter.
Where’s the jeopardy?
Jeopardy means something needs to be resolved. In The Apprentice, each hour drives towards the “You’re fired!” climax. The viewer cares who gets fired because much of the preceding hour is spent establishing how lovable, horrible or incompetent each protagonist is.
Creating a format with good jeopardy is harder than it sounds. In business, most outcomes are hard to evaluate (was the iPhone 5 launch a success or a failure?). That doesn’t work on TV, so The Apprentice tweaks real life to make it more black and white.
Kickstarter, too, has great in-built jeopardy: a project either succeeds or fails, publicly, on a countdown. The result is never a shade of grey. The funding is the focal point of a bigger, emotionally richer story: an individual putting their dream to the public.
Is it repeatable?
A repeatable format is good news for a TV producer. If you crack the format once, you get paid for dozens of episodes (or hundreds of episodes in dozens of countries, if you really hit the jackpot).
Perhaps surprisingly, a repeatable format also helps the viewer. It lets the viewer know what’s in store, while allowing room for a little surprise and variation.