Gadget Flow Podcast Episode 16 – Khierstyn Ross of Crowdfunding Uncut

On this week's podcast we sat down with Khierstyn Ross of Crowdfunding Uncut to discuss the secrets of launching an explosive Crowdfunding campaign.

Gadget Flow Podcast Episode 16 – Khierstyn Ross of Crowdfunding Uncut
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Can you give a brief snapshot of your world?

Khierstyn: Yeah definitely! I’m Khierstyn, I’ve been in the crowdfunding space, online marketing, for about four years now. I won’t go into my backstory just yet, but I help product creators bring their ideas to market and we use that through Kickstarter. We’re slightly different from other marketing things because we come in and do prelaunch. We help with; essentially when you have a prototype, how to have momentum when you launch your crowdfunding campaign as well. Consider me a product launch master so to speak with the before stuff that really needs to be done as well. I’m Canadian so you might pick up some A’s or whatever, I love making fun of myself, so yeah, I’m in Toronto.

How did you get into the crowdfunding world?

Khierstyn: I really fell into crowdfunding. To date, I’ve raised over 2.5 million on Kickstarter and Indiegogo mainly, but I’ve been a startup adviser for about eight years now. The short version is, in university I was taking biopharmaceutical science and in my second year I was recruited by an organization to learn how to run a business and so the picture of franchise model, the model was a student house painting business, so at 18 years old I was knocking on doors in Ottawa, Canada trying to sell house painting. If you had a bedroom that needed painting, or windows, or a porch, or whatever, that was the service I was selling and then when I got a contract I would then hire painters and facilitate that whole production process. That’s how I got into running a company at 18 years old. I was a glorified contractor and I did that for three years and I was one of their top franchises in terms of revenue in Canada and so when I graduated the company asked me to come onboard as a startup adviser, which would be someone who would recruit students that wanted to learn how to run a company and teach them in six months how to go from zero to $80 to $100,000+ in revenue. So I learned a model for consulting that would take someone from literally nothing to being a profitable entrepreneur in six or seven months. And I loved it! I love the transformation when someone has a model they can replicate and execute, going from I know nothing about running a company to running those kinds of numbers at such a young age, I loved it! I ended up working in that capacity for four years. I launched over like 100 different entrepreneur franchises with the company and I knew, like, I wanted to be a consultant, I wanted to work with people early stage, but it took me about three years from leaving that company to actually find crowdfunding. After seven years in that company; I was like 24 or 25, I went and did the typical “let’s go find myself.” So I went traveling. I ended up living in the UK for a couple of years, I backpacked Australia and just trying to like find my feet. And it wasn’t until about 3 to 4 years ago that I discovered consulting was my thing and I think it was something I had to wrap my brain around like it was one thing to teach a very specific model, which was house painting. But, I was living in the UK at the time, I started going to all these entrepreneur events and I found myself speaking to freelancers and they all had issues like “I don’t know how to find my customer,” “I don’t know how to be profitable.” Whatever it was I used to help people with that I found myself just giving them advice and they were getting results. That’s the a-ha moment for me, when I was like “oh my god, I could work with people and get paid as a consultant in different niches, ok!” I started learning the online space and it wasn’t until 3 years ago when I walked into a networking event in Toronto and I met the founder of my first Indiegogo campaign. And at the time he’s like “do you know what this crowdfunding thing is?” I was like “nope, but your product sounds cool so let’s like just try a campaign.” And of course it was, fast forward three months, it was an absolute disaster. Like they all are, right? So that first campaign we ended up failing, we raised a third of what we needed to and we, after figuring out why it failed, we decided to re-launch it and a few months later we re-launched that same product and ended up raising over $600,000 for it; which of course that turn around for us started getting me speaking gigs around Toronto and I started to land a couple more clients and it just kind of snowballed from there to today.

Learn crowdfunding tips from Khierstyn Ross of Crowdfunding Uncut

Learn crowdfunding tips from Khierstyn Ross of Crowdfunding Uncut

What did you do after it failed the first time for the campaign to become a huge success?

Khierstyn: Two things, but the main thing was we did not gain ourselves for having momentum on the first day. Like you hear on all these podcasts – you need to have an audience going into it. Well, we didn’t have an audience going into it and not only that but we didn’t understand our customer. We even the friends and family we sent to our crowdfunding page, they didn’t really resonate with the offer because we hadn’t taken the time to get to know our customer. It was a mix of making sure we get a ton of traffic on that first day but also once the traffic got to the page, being able to position the product properly. Those are the two things that we changed with that.

Do you have a team that helps you with these projects?

Khierstyn: Yeah! I have intentionally not built a large agency around this. I like to work with a select few clients, so we have about three to four on the go at any given time because I don’t want to outsource the work I do. I like to have a high touch point with the clients we have on. However, in saying that, when you go to orchestrate a crowdfunding campaign there are certain skills that you need, like you need Facebook Ads, you need a good videographer, you need a good graphic designer. So, I do have, I’ve set it up so that I do have specialized contractors that I work with so that people can come to us for a done-for-you service but we’re pretty selective with who we work with. I have about four people that work with me on campaigns, so that gives me an opportunity to focus on the strategy myself while outsourcing the experts type work that frankly I’m not the best at Facebook Ads, so I don’t want to be hired for Facebook Ads, but we have someone on staff that’s really good at doing that for launches.

What are some challenges you face in working with a team and what are some ways you’ve found to overcome those challenges?

Khierstyn: I think with having a team of people, it’s going to be communicating the vision. Every client we get on is different, and their goals are slightly different, and I need to make sure that deadlines are communicated properly and the outcome is communicated properly just so you don’t have things like… Let’s just say the client wants to have a conservative approach to Facebook Ads, or they want their brand to be goofy; if I don’t communicate that little thing then my Facebook Ad girl may not create the ads in alignment with that and then the branding across the board; because we have different people, like the video is not going to feel in alignment with the Facebook Ads, the photos won’t be in alignment with that; I think really if I can distil that, it’s truly understanding how the client wants their brand represented online and make sure that we communicate that with all the freelancers so that we are on board with that project because is not a cookie cutter solution. We do custom stuff so like I find that we are reinventing stuff a lot of the time and that can be hard to communicate. A second thing is expectations management. I find that crowdfunding is very wild west and you have to be careful not to promise the world, like I have had leads come to me and say “we’re going to be the next million-dollar campaign.” And I don’t want to kill your dream but the odds of that happening are slim and we’re more for, I like to be very realistic with what the client’s getting into and make them understand that they have to be able to pivot. I think managing client expectation just from my end is difficult because if they have a new product and customer feedback comes back that they, basically are saying that someone doesn’t want to pay the price that the founder wants to charge, or if the founder is a hundred percent sold that is going to be the athletic community or males between 50 and 70 that are going to buy their product but the data comes back as something completely opposite, they have to be willing to pivot and it’s like I think just clients for a first time entrepreneur venture or a product launch such a crapshoot that they need to be open and I have to set good expectations with  what the process looks like so that they don’t come back to me later and say “this isn’t what I wanted” or whatever right.

What would you say is the biggest issue with people that have failing crowdfunding campaigns and what do they have to get right before launching their campaign?

Khierstyn: I would say getting their audience right. I’ll give an example. One of our clients, they didn’t launch their brand on crowdfunding, but their first product they made the assumption, like every founder does, that their demographic or their customer is a specific person. They started advertising to their assumed customer, so they assumed their customer would be males between 24 and 45 and when it came time to actually looking into the data after they become a seven-figure brand it turns out that the people that actually resonated the most with their brand and made purchases of this product were females between 45 and 65, pretty different. So you can imagine how much money was left on the table by advertising to the wrong demographic and so that’s a thing, too. When you launch a crowdfunding campaign all founders, we all need to start with an assumption, but if you don’t test the assumption and pivot to actually cater to who your real customer is, basically test who your customer demographic is and really understand your customer, you’re not going to have a strong or compelling marketing message and you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. I think that’s the hardest part, is when you start with Facebook Ads or you start just trying to sell a product online, you need to give yourself two to six months to really figure out who that ideal customer is because if you advertise to the wrong age group, or it’s males vs. females, or you don’t understand the main motivation for why someone is going to buy your product, you know your advertising is going to fall short. So I think that’s the one area that people don’t spend a lot of time on because they just assume that “it’s obvious that my customer should be person” when in fact your assumptions are probably what wrong all the time.

How do you find your target audience?

Khierstyn: We do have a process that we’ve created. There’s two ways we do it, the first one is if you want to hire us to do it. Any time we bring on a new client we put them through an eight-week market testing period where we set up a landing page, we drive ads to that landing page to see how much it’s going to cost for us to get an email address, so that’s how we test interest through a cold audience online. That’s one way, you could just outsource this and at the end of the eight weeks we could say “ok, we’ve tested all these audiences, this copy, these images, and we’re getting emails of like $18 to $25, so the offer isn’t quite ready.” But then there are other clients that after a two to six week testing period, after a bit of automatization, we see that we can get emails for $2 or less. At that point that’s a good gauge of interest; this is a product that we think will be successful. That’s one way to test. A second way is if you just want to do this yourself, by you doing Facebook Ads and testing different audiences, different copy, different price points etc. etc., If you can get an email address for less than $3 to start, then that’s going to be a good gauge of interest. Otherwise what you can do is, I have a friend who runs a brewery here in Toronto and they’re really releasing a new cider that’s completely sugar free, no artificial sweetener… blah blah blah. He sends me a survey because he wants his audience to tell him what design to use for this new can. So he was testing branding at this point and so he sends me a survey with different visuals of which kind of visual do I like better for the can? That’s something you could do through customer surveys or you can use surveys to ask people, just say your product has five different features; I’ll take the Jamstack for example, it’s one of our products that is an amplifier for electric guitar users. It’s a small amp that clips onto the base of your guitar, that means that you can now play anywhere cause amps are typically really expensive and really bulky but this is an in-hand pocket solution that you can use. If we list out the features, one of them can be it’s completely portable, one can be there’s a volume knob on it, one can be you can attach your smartphone to it, to do cool music effects. But the thing, is that we don’t want to shove this information down someone’s throat by listing off all these amazing features on a crowdfunding page, so we need to figure out what is the one that resonates the most to people. Through our email list of friends and family we can send a survey around that says “how important are each of these features to you?” And from that we can figure out what the most important feature is so we know where to focus our advertising. Things like that – right.

What makes you different from the competition?

Khierstyn: We treat; I think there are two kinds of crowdfunding campaign services. There are the ones that you hire before you launch and then the one that you hire after you launch. The ones you hire after you launch are going to be ones that are designed to take your little success you’ve had so far and gives you more backers throughout the campaign. So it’s more like an amplification model; whereas with us, what we do is a model that we use for clients with any product launch so is not necessarily for Kickstarter. We are different because we focus on the prelaunch, so someone is like “alright, I have a product I need to build an audience around this and awareness.” So we do the Facebook Ads, we do the marketing and stuff like that for it but I’m super paranoid of failure because Kickstarter is a very public thing. We’ve created a system so that when someone, before someone launches a campaign we’re testing a lot of the criteria like we talked about on that last question; so we don’t just build an email list, we are constantly testing that list, we are doing things to really get to understand our customer so that if we look at where the failure points of a project are, we can gamify that by doing some research ahead of time as we’re growing the audience. That’s what makes us a bit different, is that we do the prelaunch but we also make sure that we’re testing for failure points along the way.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is starting up in crowdfunding?

Khierstyn: From a marketing standpoint is having an audience. But at the very base of any idea that you have, before you start spending money on prototyping and manufacturing whatever, you’ve got to make sure that you have something that is going to sell. It’s getting that early feedback. If you are creating a journal that’s super different because you’ve created this amazing frame work that’s helped you get through your exams, whatever it is. Again, you assume it’s a great idea because it worked for you but don’t launch a campaign off of that, you actually want to look around your peer network and see if you can get any beta testers or anyone in your network to use the journal, get feedback, iterate the product, and create a final product that people actually want to buy. I think is step one and that’s completely underused because again, until you have a product flop and you’ve wasted $10,000, typically people don’t think to validate the idea. As applying this in the internet marketing space for example, I have a lot of friends and that’s how I’ve learned not to do this, but I have a lot of friends who’ve spent six months creating this amazing digital course, or writing this book and then they try and sell it, and they can’t sell it, and they don’t understand why. So there’s this hack we all use in internet marketing which is ask people if they want this thing and if they do, get them to buy it and then you create it. So it’s like kind of like Kickstarter. A few years ago I created a membership site for crowdfunding, it’s not active anymore but I didn’t even know if people on my email list wanted a membership site with crowdfunding courses and whatever, so I sent an email to my list, I’m like “hey guys based on a lot of questions I’ve been getting I have this idea, if you like this idea and you would buy it for $29 a month or whatever, just hit reply and say “heck yes”!” And I had like about 60 people come back and be like “yeah, I really want that!” And that for me was enough validation to say “ok, well I’m going to do a launch, I’m going to presale a bunch of this stuff” and then I was going to create a bunch of content because you know at that point it’s something people want.

Where can people find you online and keep updated on what you’re up too?

Khierstyn: I think the best place is, it’s mostly a podcast, so there’s about 120 different episodes I’ve done. And if you have, if you can’t find the episode you are looking for or you have a very specific question about your project you can email me at, it’s That’s probably the best place and just mention “Gadget Flow” in the subject line so I know where you are coming from.

For more such interesting podcasts on crowdfunding, marketing, product placement, and everything in between, subscribe to the Gadget Flow podcast now.

Meet Alex Sugg

Alex is a content creator living in New York City.
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