Member News July 10, 2014
Just two years ago, ADC Member Alex Daly couldn’t have described her own job if she tried. Possibly because it didn’t yet exist. She knew she was becoming particularly adept at helping awesome projects get their Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns funded, but didn’t really think of it as her profession.
Now, she works her magic out of her agency Vann Alexandra, which she founded when it became clear that her passion and skill for crowd funding could no longer be relegated to a side hustle. Alex and her small, all-female staff have successfully collaborated with all kinds of directors, artists and product developers over the last two years, earning her the official title of “Crowd Sourceress.”
Alex explained the process behind what she does so well and talked about her own journey from denial to embracing the unique skill set that’s made her such a success.
ADC: How did you first become interested in crowdfunding?
Alex: I started out by producing documentaries. I was raising money for docs the traditional way, doing a lot of grantwriting. At one point I began crowdfunding because it seemed to be faster access to money and it was a space I had no idea about, so I wanted to learn about it. I then ventured into crowdfunding for theater projects, tech projects, and all different genres.
ADC: Did you have any kind of background in finance that got you interested in fundraising?
Alex: Nothing! I had a writing background. At one point early on, after I had crowdfunded two documentaries successfully, people just came to me saying “Oh, so you’re that girl that knows how to fundraise for films through crowdfunding.” And I always said, “Well…I guess.” Then after about eight campaigns, I crowdfunded for Neil Young and that’s when everything completely blew up. I started as a one-man show in my apartment kitchen, and then it turned into a business and I realized I needed some help. So now it’s a full-service agency.
ADC: How did you know that you were ready to make that jump into doing this full time? Did part of you feel like you might miss producing films too much?
Alex: Yes. I was sort of resistant to doing this line of work because it just felt like it wasn’t creative. I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was also doing this kind of work that nobody else was doing. I couldn’t really answer the question, “What do you do?”
“It’s really like running a business for 30 days from beginning to end. It has to be full velocity every single day.”
But there was this force that kept pulling me back to crowdfunding because I was naturally good at it. So at one point I realized, I should do this because I’m really good at it!
ADC: How does a campaign go from a pitch to being crowdfunded?
Alex: A client comes to me weeks before they want to start a campaign and says, “We have all these materials like some footage and a video about our project and some rewards ideas.” The client drops everything on me and I have to put it together in a coherent, crowdfunding-worthy way. There’s branding involved, there’s design, there are visuals, there’s video, there’s marketing, and there’s a PR plan. It’s really like running a business for 30 days from beginning to end. It has to be full velocity every single day.
ADC: Do you enjoy working on projects that have this kind of automatic expiration date?
Alex: Yes. I like it being project-based because I get to partner with all these incredible people in a very short period of time. It’s intimate, like a love affair for 30 days. But it’s also intimidating because you’re kind of taking their baby as your own. They are vulnerable, but they still have to trust you.
“I think being successful at something is your mind telling you, “This is what you’re good at for a reason.””
ADC: It sounds like part of being successful for you eventually meant letting go of what you thought was going to happen and acknowledging what you’re actually good at.
Alex: Totally. I had this childish fantasy that I wanted to be an “artist.” What I realized over time is that with crowdfunding, I get to partner with artists and actually bring their projects to life. I’m still part of the creative process but in a different way. When I went into film I thought I was going to be a director. But I realized I didn’t have to be the person that’s behind the camera; I now like to be next to the director, holding their hand, helping them get there. I had to trust my instincts and realize I actually wasn’t a director type. Even though I had this idea in my head that I was.
ADC: What advice would you have for someone who is trying to find her niche in the same way that you have?
Alex: If you see that you’re successful at something, even though it doesn’t immediately feel like that’s what you thought you would be successful at, keep on going with it! I think being successful at something is your mind telling you, “This is what you’re good at for a reason.” Follow your intuition, but also give yourself time to feel good about it on your own. Because everybody else can tell you’re good at it, but you’re not going to believe it until you feel it, too.
You want to know something? It took me a long time to accept this career. I crowdfunded my first film two years ago, but I was still working another full-time job. Then I crowdfunded another film and then another film all while working at another job. I was just drilling through these campaigns on my nights and weekends (and waking up early and in between my lunch breaks). I was really allowing myself to experiment with other things. I did journalism, I did documentary and I worked at a commercial production company.
I finally realized, “Okay, I’ve tried everything else out, maybe I should do this full time.” I allowed myself the time to feel right about making this change. Now I’m not going to go look back and say, “Well, I wished I had tried being a filmmaker.” Because I have!
“I have told people that are having a hard time to just pull the plug. Because what you can do is learn from your mistakes, focus on what you did right and really try to just knock it out of the park the next time you do it.”
ADC: What are the key characteristics you’ve identified of a project that make it crowd-fundable?
Alex: The crowd is so essential — having an audience of fans or supporters who believe in your project. And the project should have a universal appeal to it. That’s why documentaries have more of a chance than small indies because people are investing in something socially relevant. As opposed to an indie film like, I don’t know, Garden State — why would I care?
ADC: How do you establish an audience for the less famous or not as obviously charitable causes, like the film you are currently working on, The Dallas Project, which follows strippers through their everyday lives?
Alex: The Dallas Project follows an underrepresented community, and what we’re trying to do with the film is bring out this other world that people don’t really associate with. They’re all normal people, normal women with the same problems as you and me. That’s the selling point and that’s how we connect. It’s a very gendered film: it’s about women and made by women. In cinema sometimes it’s hard to represent the female experience.
ADC: What happens when a crowdfunding project is struggling? How do you change plans if you realize you’re not going to hit your goal?
Alex: I would have a very serious conversation with the client and say, “We’re wasting energy.” When you start a campaign a fire should light that ignites the campaign. If a lot of funding comes in the first 72 hours, and there’s lots of buzz, then it really should just keep on spreading like wildfire.
There will be ups and downs. Especially in the middle, it will slow down and plateau. But it really should move very quickly at the beginning and if it doesn’t, that’s a problematic sign. I have told people that are having a hard time to just pull the plug. Because what you can do is learn from your mistakes, focus on what you did right and really try to just knock it out of the park the next time you do it. At least keep that mailing list of the people that did donate in the first place. Go back to them and say, “We’re back. Can you support us now?”
“I only pay myself when I have to be paid.”
ADC: How do you see your company growing in the near future?
Alex: I don’t have any investors. I do it all by being very lean and staying cash-flow positive. I share an office space with a couple other filmmakers and a designer. I hired a freelancer and have a couple of interns that really want to learn while they’re in college. I refused to take money and give up a piece of my company. I told potential investors that it felt too early.
“I’m open to just about anything as long it’s creative. It doesn’t need to be some arty, abstract, experimental film for me to think that it’s cool.”
I would say try to do it all on your own. I made a promotional website and I did other things to get publicity, like writing a guest column here and there. And I only pay myself when I have to be paid. I’m just building the business from scratch.
ADC: Are there any kinds of projects that you have been approached about that you won’t work on?
Alex: I’m at the place where I can say no to projects now, but I’m open to just about anything as long it’s creative. It doesn’t need to be some arty, abstract, experimental film for me to think that it’s cool. It could be anything, because anything can be creative.