TL;DR: Funded Today left out critical information during the preliminary sales call, failed to communicate well throughout validation, and cost me $3500 and 10 days of my campaign for no substantial gain. Afterwards, hired CommandPartners for a lower price, a better return, and an extremely pleasant experience.
I found Funded Today a few days after my campaign launch while looking for a marketing company to help me give my my Kickstarter project a bit of a boost. Although it was well on track to making it’s goal, I was hoping to exceed my goal by a fair margin. I found this about.com article that covered not only a few good things to look for in a marketing company, but listed a few of the best ones.
I did a bit of research on my own, but most of the information about them I learned from one of their sales people, Lisa Juchau, on a preliminary call as they are known as being one of the more mysterious marketing agencies. Funded Today has a pretty aggressive pricing model. Projects must go through a “Validation” process in which Funded Today decides whether your project is worth their time. This process takes 1-7 days and costs $3500 and comes with no guarantees of any sort. They’ll run some ads, see if they can get traction, and then decide whether or not they want to work with you. By paying the $3500 to start validation, you agreed to paying them 35% of all of the pledges made from the day you start validation IF you pass validation and they accept you as a client.
As a bootstrapping solo entrepreneur, $3500 was a high price to pay for the risk of no returns. As such, it was of course of tantamount importance to me to figure out how likely it was that my campaign would pass Funded Today’s validation. I talked to Lisa at length about my campaign and similar campaigns that she had worked with. She was, of course, unable to provide any sort of guarantees which is very well reasonable as marketing is a far cry from an exact science. She admitted that only about 40% of projects that enter into validation pass, but did say that she was optimistic about my project based on the fact that it was a unique product and was priced well.
What she failed to mention, however, was something that I ended up only learning more than a week later after my project had failed validation and I began probing into the methods and the specifics for why my project may have failed. The key piece of information was that most of the projects that successfully pass Funded Today’s Validation process come into the process with a strong lookalike audience in the form of a similar that Funded Today has presided over or a list of emails from which they can generate this audience.
My project, Flickerstrip, had neither of these. We had collected only 100 emails prior to our Kickstarter launch and the most similar project that Funded Today had worked with was Luminoodle, an LED strip designed for camping and outdoor use. At first glance, you might agree that Luminoodle and Flickerstrip are similar products as they’re both strips of LEDs, however, that’s where the similarities end. Learning that Luminoodle was used as their primary lookalike audience was a bit of a shock for me. Luminoodle is being marketed as a lightstrip that you take camping or backpacking, a versatile lantern replacement that will primarily be used on the go powered by a USB battery.
Flickerstrip, on the other hand, is a decorative LED strip that is being marketed primarily as an smart home decoration that lets you create your own custom light show. Flickerstrip is a product that is generally plugged into the wall outlet and may adorn a holiday scene or decorate a Christmas tree. Most of Flickerstrip’s features require access to a Wi-Fi network, something that you rarely find on camping trips.
Now, I admit that the similarities are enough to warrant tossing a few advertisements up to see if you can grab the occasional crossover gadgeteer, but hearing that this project was being used as the primary lookalike audience and was thus one of the most important audiences for my project to validate was pretty upsetting. If I had known that this is the strategy that Funded Today was going to take in marketing Flickerstrip before I had signed over $3500, this story would have gone very differently.
I raised this issue with them and asked for a refund on the basis of being misled into engaging in a validation that was doomed to fail from the start. The resulting email conversation lasted for about a week and consisted primarily of ignoring the basis for my refund request and repeatedly citing their policy on the matter. In their defense, I did sign my life away on this and with it, likely all legal recourse.
For those curious, here’s a screen shot from my Google Analytics account showing the traffic and conversions driven by Funded Today:
This story is not all bad, however. After my engagement with Funded Today concluded, I reached out to Roy at (CommandPartners)[http://commandpartners.com/] to see if he’d be willing to take on marketing for me.
Despite having failed the validation process with Funded Today, a fact that I was upfront about. CommandPartners was willing to take on Flickerstrip.
In contrast, here is the screen shot from Google Analytics showing the traffic and conversions from CommandPartners:
CommandPartners managed significantly higher conversion rates on their two best audiences than Funded Today. So much for Funded Today claiming that they’re the “Best Marketing company in the business” a line that they repeated multiple times during the sales call.
That said, the true value from CommandPartners (and Funded Today’s failure) is that working with CommandPartners was truly a wonderful experience. I had multiple long conversations on the phone with their advertising specialist who explained in detail the audiences that he was trying and which ones were working well and which ones weren’t. After the campaign ended, I had a conversation with another team that focuses on post-campaign marketing to discuss the possibility of hiring them for continued marketing for Flickerstrip. Ultimately, they recommended against it for my project, but once that was off the table, the guy I spoke to spent the next hour giving some very helpful suggestions on how he would market my product and even offered further assistance down the line either free or at a low consulting fee.
I hope that this post convinces someone to pass over Funded Today and instead take a look at CommandPartners.