Apr 24, 2012

Crowdfunding: Sweet Swag vs Crap

So, I’m working on a “little” tangible narrative project to fund on Kickstarter – little in that, it’s half couture accesssory line launch, half collection of short stories. A lot of thought has gone into planning the rewards for it, so I thought I’d share some of those thoughts, and walk you through some of my logic.

My campaign is a mixed bag of mass produced stuff, handmade stuff, and services. In my spreadsheet, each reward has an efficiency score.

Unit Price x (1 – (Sales Tax % + Kickstarter % + Amazon %)) – (Material Cost + Shipping Cost)

Unit Price

Efficiency =

This is basically like a profit margin that leaves out certain costs. The score shows how much of the revenue actually goes toward paying the project’s fixed costs, and (maybe! even!) making a profit.

Mass-Produced Stuff

(Average Efficiency: 61%)

This includes t-shirts, posters, hats, stickers, magnets, copies of a book – basically anything you take out of a box from a supplier and put into a box going to your backer. The upside to these is that they’re easy; but they also come with their own pitfalls.

There’s nothing wrong with mass-produced stuff, but it’s worth it to think through how that stuff is going to relate to the project as a whole. Copies of your book are highly relevant; t-shirts featuring the logotype for your horror movie aren’t, even if it’s a very pretty logo. Which I’m sure it is.

In my experience, things with logos printed on them are for giving away at events, not for making money. I’ve taken breaks from planning my rewards several times; when I come back to them, anything that doesn’t “fit” with the project jumps out at me right away and I can nix it.

Batch size is also a critical consideration, and you should budget things differently depending on how many of them you need to buy. It’s not wise to count the cost of anything you’ll be buying in the hundreds or thousands as costing you “$1 per unit” if it costs $100 whether you sell one or 100. The best way to stay safe on your budget is to pick a likely number of orders and roll the cost of covering them into your fixed costs.

Finally, anything mass produced has a market value. No matter how awesome it is, a t-shirt is basically worth somewhere between $10 and $30 to a consumer, which means that charging $100 or $1,000 for it won’t seem fair. In the end, that means you are only creating a small amount of the value on that item, which means you’ll only get a small amount of the money.

Handmade Stuff

(Average Efficiency: 73%)

This is the central model of my project; people pay me money to buy supplies, turn those supplies into finished goods, and mail those to them. Handmade items require a lot of your time, but they also net you more money because you’re creating the bulk of their value.

I highly recommend counting time as part of your unit cost when you go to determine your reward prices. Put a reasonable dollar amount on your time, and estimate how much of it you’re using to make your rewards.

This is important to do because all the time you spend on reward fulfillment is time you could be spending on larger project goals. It’s easy to discount the time commitment when you think about making one or two reward items, only to find yourself overwhelmed when you have to make hundreds.

I keep my labor and materials costs separate, and assume that all or most of the labor costs until I fund are going into paying off the project’s fixed costs. The other advantage to assigning a budget for time spent, is that if your project overfunds, you have the budget to hire skilled collaborators. For money. That’s very helpful if your kickstarter ends up being a runaway success, as it should be.

Remember, signing posters and writing thank you cards takes time, too.

I find it’s easier to keep handmade things relevant because of the time commitment; I want my time spent to overlap with the main goal of the project as much as possible.

Also, unless you plan to close up shop and never offer these products again after the Kickstarter, you should also plan to stock yourself for retail or online out of your Kickstarter funds. Raise the money to make more product than you’ll sell in the campaign.


(Average Efficiency: 74%)

These are the things that usually live below the fold on any Kickstarter page; they’re usually reserved for backers who pledge a lot of cash. In fact, I could overfund my campaign just by selling one of each of my services! Wait, is that right? *Doublechecks the spreadsheet.* Wowza!

I may differ from others on my philosophy for high end rewards; I’m looking to sell high end work, rather than get a large grant from a generous donor. I want my high end offerings to sell, and sell well. Someone out there would actually be giving my the listed amount, so I want to offer something that’s worth that much to them.

Determining their value is kind of a fuzzy proposition, but generally the following things increase the value of a service: luxury, personal attention, exclusivity, collaboration, credit, and relevance to the project.

The classic example of a good upper level reward is inserting your backer as a character in your book/movie/game/comic. That’s exclusive, requires personal attention, gives credit in a spectacular fashion, and is deeply relevant.

You may notice that their efficiency is only marginally higher than handmade items. I tweaked my services a lot to keep them close to the median efficiency, even though that has meant offering more stuff. If the efficiency is much higher, it means I’m offering too little and won’t likely attract a buyer; and if it’s much lower, it means I’m spending too much time or cutting too deeply into my funds.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to services on the high end of the reward spectrum.  Make sure all of your services have concrete limits and deliverables. The more specific the service is, the better you can set a price for it.

Crunching Some Numbers

So, to figure out all of this, I built a set of spreadsheets. I won’t go into ALL of the details, because it’s pretty detailed. Here are the sheets I built:

Costs – The costs of all common materials, including labor, printing, time on CNC machines, paper, boxes, bubble mailers, etc. It calculates the total for each. This sheet takes also tallies the fixed costs for the project.

Each item in the sheet has a package price, and units per package. The average number of backers for a project of my size is about 250, so for anything that comes in boxes of more than 250, the costs sheet calculates the unit cost as the package price divided by 250, to keep costs from getting “hidden” in large package sizes.

Services – On this sheet, I enter the time it takes to perform each service offered, and it calculates the total cost.

Parts – I enter the materials used and labor time needed to make each part, and it calculates the material and labor costs for each.

Packaging – Each type of packaging has fields for the cost of its base unit (such as a box), parts that need to be printed and cut, shipping, and assembly time. It calculates the materials and labor total for each. This includes both retail packaging and shipping methods.

Kit Builder – In this sheet, I mark off which parts, services and packaging I need for each reward, and assign it a price. It calculates a whole host of different things about each reward, including profit margins, net pay, and how many I’d need to sell to fund the project with just that reward.

This sheet also averages the calculations for all of the “active” rewards, so I can see the average profit margin and average amount needed to pay for the fixed costs.

Campaign Modeler – This works much like the Kit Builder; you can set numbers of sales for each reward and see how you’d do in different scenarios. For each scenario, it tells whether I’ve funded, and whether I’ve met my net goal and overfunding goals.

This may be more complicated than you want to get into, but I’ve found it extremely helpful in eliminating areas of doubt in my funding plan.

So, that’s essentially how I’ve gone about developing this.  Of course, everyone’s projects are going to reflect their needs, strategy and philosophy.  And after all, I’m describing a project that hasn’t even launched yet.  I’d love to hear your advice for me, too!

UPDATE: I felt this needed an addendum, so I wrote one.

Feb 7, 2012

Instructable! How to Cover Webbing to Make a Bag Strap, With (Almost) No Pins

(click for Etsy link)

So, I’ve been making Starbags like the one above for over a year now, and every single one of them needs a custom strap that matches, like the one in the photo.  My first attempts at making them looked great, but took hours upon hours to get right.  One problem was the pinning.  How do you pin something paper thin to a piece of webbing 1/8″ thick and have it come out right?  Not to mention, the seam was a cool 70 inches long.

So, over the past year, I’ve perfected the technique of covering webbing with fabric to make it match.  The most amazing part is that you only have to use a few pins for one very small part of the process.  As a bonus, you end up with a strap you don’t need to edge, since the edge is already encased in the fabric.

All along the way, I was looking for tutorials that might give me a clue to how to do this one thing better, and finding zilch.  So now I’m putting it up there for other intrepid bag makers.

Check out the Instructable.

Jan 31, 2012

Snow People in Felt

Here’s a quick craft project I designed for my friend Jan. It’s one of her “snow people.”  They live in Snow Town, Maine, where they appear in the dead of winter.  This one is particularly adorable, not at all creepy, which is sort of a deviation from the norm.

Jan created the Snow Town ARG last winter, and like a fool I missed playing this amazing game.  Luckily, now she’s raising the money to turn her ARG into an app that we can all play.  The project is up for funding on Kickstarter.  If you have a minute, and a few bucks, check the project out and perhaps even donate. The clock is ticking, and I’d really love to have Snow Town on my phone.

If you want your own snow buddy, you can download the pattern here!

You Will Need:

White Felt
Black Permanent Marker

Jan 20, 2012

“Hobbyist for Hire” Isn’t a Profession

So, yesterday I finally figured out what my New Year’s resolution is going to be.  I resolve to stop acting like a hobbyist.  A couple of people have asked me what that means.

Does it mean giving up your creative voice to chase profit, or taking less care in your work?  I don’t think so – at least, that isn’t my plan.  Here’s what I think it does mean.  If you’re making art, and getting work, but not making a lot of money, these thoughts might be helpful to you, too.

The bad news: Not acting like a hobbyist means trying to make money.

As a professional artist, you have to also be a businessperson, which means choosing your projects based on practical considerations, managing your time well, and pricing yourself appropriately.  And pricing yourself appropriately.  And pricing yourself appropriately.

If you think like a hobbyist, you are never truly invested in yourself.  You tell yourself you don’t have to spend time building a business plan, doing cost analyses, optimizing the ways you spend your time, or even promoting your own work, because, hey, this was just for fun anyway, right?

I’ve been doing this thing – design – as a professional for more than six years now, and I still think this way.  As though I think one day I’ll wake up with an entirely different set of skills, motivations, and ambitions that will make me NOT an artist.  Maybe I’ll turn into an investment banker or something.  I have been alive for a while now, and discovered that it just isn’t happening.

More bad news: Not acting like a hobbyist means not doing everything yourself.

As a designer who sells her work directly to buyers, I do a lot of things by hand, on my own time, that could be done by someone else.  I hand cut my own stickers.  I hand label and hand assemble all of my packaging.  I spend hours assembling my own sewing kits.

These things sound very authentic, but really, it woudn’t diminish anything if I paid someone else to do them.  I have the industrial design and communication skills to get pretty much anything made at a shop, if I decide I want to pay them to do it.  If I choose to delegate the right things to the right people, the final product might even be more valuable, because the quality and consistency might be better.

Picking the things you want to entrust to others can be tricky, but remember that as The Artist, your time is worth a lot.  The time you devote to something trivial that you could pay for, you could spend promoting your project, making it better, and even making more art, which is the whole point of the endeavor.

Imagine your time is worth what a tech consultant might charge, say $150 an hour.  If you spend 15 minutes cutting out a set of stickers, those stickers are worth at least $37.50.  Are you going to charge that much for them?  Don’t discount your time to make a price work –  the next thing you know, you are paying yourself sweatshop rates, which is great for getting your stuff done on the cheap, but lousy for making money and sustaining you through to the next project.

But the best reason to outsource the trivial, secondary things, is that at the end of the day you know exactly what your expenses are, and how much you need to ask for the work to make a profit.  Pricing is one of the hardest things to do as an artist who sells her own work, but when you have hard expenses that need to be covered, the math becomes incredibly simple.

Worse news: Not acting like a hobbyist means simply not doing some projects.

If you’re like me, you come up with many creative ideas that are worth doing every single day.  But when you think like a hobbyist, it’s easy to get sidetracked by new ideas as soon the thing you’re working on becomes “not fun.”  So, you can cull your ideas down to a select group and gradually work through them.

The truth is that some of those ideas just won’t get done, at least not in the near future.  You’ll be too busy doing things that pay.  Not being a hobbyist means letting go of the idea that you can do everything, while still generating those great ideas.

The good news: Not acting like a hobbyist means being a better artist.

Not being a hobbyist means always creating the best thing you can, because you’re going to get paid for it.  Whether that money comes from selling your finished work, or taking commissions to be as totally badass as you can muster, you’re still getting paid.

I don’t know about you, but I behave differently when I know, for certain, that I’m creating value.  I stay focused, hit deadlines, and avoid distractions – which I don’t have to do when I’m working “just for fun.”

Allowing yourself to say you’re really doing art for fun is a way to let yourself walk away when you don’t live up to your full potential – when you create something half-baked or just don’t finish it, which happens to everyone.  It’s a way to fake yourself out.

Better news: Not acting like a hobbyist means panicking less.

This may seem a little insane – after all, trying to make money means putting an extra level of pressure on yourself – but pressure and panic aren’t necessarily the same thing.  It all has to do with what kind of problems you’re forced to deal with on a project.

When I think like a hobbyist, I’m always wondering, “Is what I’ve created so far good enough, or is this a waste of my time?” and then, “My god, if I can’t create something worth my time, is my time worth anything at all?”  This creates anxiety, which leads to panic.

When I’m getting paid or otherwise creating value, I think, “Am I on track?  Do I have time to do anything extra to make this better?  Is this worth what I’m getting paid for it?”  The big difference is that those questions have answers.

Big questions about our absolute worth keep artists up at night.  Questions with answers are so much easier.

In short, not acting like a hobbyist isn’t the same as becoming a professional artist.  It’s how you accept that you already are one.

Nov 19, 2011

Desert Bus Shades!


You’ve seen them in the image above! You’ve seen them on my Twitter icon! They’re completely unofficial Desert Bus For Hope 5 shades! Now YOU can wear them too!



How to Assemble

You’ll need a PRINTER, CARD STOCK, SCISSORS, and TAPE or glue, and a HOLE PUNCH.

Step 1: Download and Print

Download the PDF and print your glasses out on card stock.

Step 2: Cut Out the Parts

Step 3: Attach the Earpieces

To attach the earpieces, first fold them along the black line near the square end of the piece.

Flip your front piece printed side down.

With the blue printed side of the earpiece down, and the curved end pointed toward you, attach the folded end of the earpiece to the back of the shades, close to the outside edge of the shades.

If you have a small head, like I do, you can fold the ends of the earpieces back more… and use more tape.

Step 4: Punch Some Eye-Holes

Once you have your shades assembled, you might feel the urge to actually look through them. For this, you’ll need a hole punch.

Figure out where your eyes land on the glasses. Depending on the size of your head, this could vary. Punch holes in those spots.

Congrats! You have a completed pair of Desert Bus Shades!

Step 5: Dramatic Effect

Nov 17, 2011

And That’s the True Meaning of Desert Bus, Charlie Brown

Only 32 hours to go, folks, before Desert Bus 5 starts rolling! If you haven’t already signed up for a donor account, please do so, before the madness starts.

This is, by far, the wittiest charity event of the year. If you don’t know, then let me break it down for you.

“Desert Bus,” a minigame on Penn and Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors for the Sega CD, was designed to be the most realistic game ever. In it, you drive a bus, whose top speed is about 40 mph, from Tucson, AZ to Las Vegas in real time. The highway is completely straight with no landmarks, and the bus drifts ever so slightly to the right, requiring you to actively play the game. If you complete the task, which takes eight hours of real time, you earn one point – and then, you turn around and have to drive back. The game has no ending.

Desert Bus for Hope is a marathon, in which a team of gamers are forced to play this game for hours on end. The more money you donate, the longer they will have to play. The fruits of their efforts go to Child’s Play, which provides hospitalized children around the world with toys and video games (all of which, I am assured, are better than “Desert Bus.”)

So, to extend the players’ misery, their friends have lovingly set up a whole internet telethon, which happens in the room where Desert Bus is being played. They raise money by taking donations for performing sketches – for these are no ordinary gamers, but in fact a geektastic sketch comedy group called Loading Ready Run – by holding contests, and auctioning off prizes, some of which were handmade by Desert Bus fans.

All of this madness starts tomorrow, and you can watch the whole thing go down at DesertBus.org. While you’re there, take a look at all the sweet stuff they have for auction this year. One item in particular should interest you.

If you are AT ALL interested in making these people do ridiculous things on camera for your enjoyment, OR in bidding on any of the auctions, there is a signup thing to do first, so they can contact you properly when you win. Please consider donating, for the childrens.

Nov 9, 2011

As seen on north Texas public media

The people at KERA’s Art and Seek were nice enough to come out and shoot a video of me demoing some things at the Dallas Makerspace open house last weekend.

The real agenda is to promote Art Conspiracy, a fundraising event where I’ll be making some art LIVE! to benefit a local organization that teaches piano to hospitalized children.

Oddly enough, one of the hospitals it benefits is also a Child’s Play member hospital, so between this event and Desert Bus, those kids should be swimming in video games and music lessons!

Oct 26, 2011

Assembly Step 3: ??? Step 4: Profit, for Charity

Ladies and Gentlemen, my Majora’s Mask laptop bag….is complete.

And damn if it isn’t beautiful.  Let’s talk features.

The front is a hand-assembled fabric mosaic, made from around 200 pieces of laser cut felt and fleece, hand edged and stitched together.  I cut all the pieces on the laser at the Dallas Makerspace.  Then I assembled them into smaller mosaics, which fit together like puzzle.

The bag itself is made from cotton, felt, fleece, and heavyweight interfacing, and features the following awesome pockets:

  • 1 14″ zippered laptop compartment
  • 1 tablet pocket
  • 1 smartphone pocket
  • 1 pen pocket

The front flap snaps down with a pair of magnetic clasps.

So, do you want this bag?  Damn skippy you do.

The Desert Bus for Hope live stream starts on November 18, and as part of that live stream, this bag will be auctioned live! Check out Desertbus.org and follow @DesertBus on Twitter for up to the minute updates.

I know they also have a bunch of other colossally beautiful items for auction, including some amazeballs Cooking Mama aprons by my good friend Julisana, and they’ll be taking requests and giving out prizes, entertaining celebrity guests, and doing more Disney singalongs than any of them will care to admit come December.

In addition, your donations will condemn a team of poor gamers to an ever-lengthening hell marathon of the worst video game ever made. And all the proceeds go to buy toys and games for very sick kids. It’s sadism for a good cause!

Photos by the lovely and talented Nicole Greeley.  The dude is our hackerspace president Andrew.  The peeping girl, is me.

Oct 3, 2011

Assembly Step 1: Mini Mosaics

The first step in putting the felt mosaic together is to glue the smaller pieces to a series of larger base parts.  I’ll be able to do the stitching on each part by hand this way, much more easily.

The eyeballs, eye enclosures, and spikes are sub-mosaics, because I’ll be adding stuffing to raise them a little from the plane of the design.  Once I’m done, I’ll employ the same glue and stitch technique to arrange the base parts on the bag.

Did I mention this is going to be a bag?

It will be a messenger bag, padded with fleece, with an interior pocket for a 14″ laptop, a second pocket for a tablet/netbook/wacom, and pockets for mice, pens, etc.  I’ve designed it in Inkscape, using the original Majora vector I created as a guide.

Sep 15, 2011

Majora’s Mask Felt Mosaic, Almost Done!

I’m in the final stages of laser cutting all these felt bits for my contribution to the Desert Bus for Hope Craftalong, a handmade auction benefiting Child’s Play that will be happening over several mad days in November.  This is what all the parts look like, arranged on my kitchen counter while I shoo the cats away.

Everything fits together, but I think I’m going to re-cut some pieces to remove little parts hanging off the edge of the design, before I start hand-stitching all of these bits down. Also, I forgot to cut a piece. Do you see where it would go?