Local entrepreneur Sean Baker used crowdfunding to validate his business concept, gain encouragement, and launch the Med City Beat to the next stage.
When Sean moved to Rochester from Green Bay, he was frustrated with the quality of the media establishments in the city. As a transplant to Rochester, he saw the opportunity to produce a higher quality of journalism in the area.
Sean started an online news website, called the Med City Beat, in November 2014 to bring a new voice to the publishing and news scene in Rochester.
“I started out with just a couple hundred followers who were mostly just my family and friends. And I had a part-time job and I just started banging out content,” Sean related.
As those in the online publishing world know, growth happens slowly. Sean started out small and gradually built up his name, brand, and connections in Rochester. He invested the time and the breaks finally started to happen. He landed some high-profile interviews; his first in-person video interview was with City Councilman Randy Staver. Shortly afterwards, he interviewed Sheriff Kevin Torgerson.
“In that winter of 2015, my audience grew considerably. So I had a couple thousand followers. And I actually saw the opportunity to make this a real asset for the community.”
Sean had worked in the broadcasting and journalism industry for several years. He attended University of Wisconsin-Green Bay for Journalism and also worked at WBAY-TV during that time. He studied players in the field, from the big fish to the smaller, regional participants. They all had a similar problem: bringing in revenue was difficult. While social media allowed the Med City Beat to gain a large audience quickly, it also disrupted the traditional advertisement revenue model, Sean said.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to go out and just start pitching advertisements like maybe I could have ten years ago. But I knew there was a hunger in the community for something different, for something alternative, for another voice, another platform.”
The Med City Beat had a strong following in the community, but it, “…was not where I wanted it to be. But I knew there was potential. And I was hoping that other people saw that potential in me as well,” Sean explained. He decided to just ask the Med City Beat audience to support the news site if they thought it was something of lasting importance to the community.
Sean turned to crowdfunding to help support the Med City Beat. Crowdfunding involves raising small amounts of money from a large number of people, usually online.
“Whether you have an album, or an independent news website, or a food truck, something that’s not going to go about getting the traditional sources of funding but has strong community support, I think [crowdfunding] democratizes a business,” Sean explained.
Crowdfunding offers an alternative form of funding, where people all over the globe can chip in whatever amount they can afford toward creative ideas. It opens up revenue models not available even ten years ago.
After several weeks of research, Sean chose the online crowdfunding platform Kickstarter for the Med City Beat fundraising campaign. He selected Kickstarter because it uses an all or nothing funding mechanism; if the total fundraising goal is not reached, all the money is returned to the backers.
“I was at the point where it either works and this is a good idea, or I decide to head in a different direction and get a real job,” he said.
Sean launched a three-week Kickstarter campaign to raise ten thousand dollars. The money would go toward the continuation of the Med City Beat, plus some specific projects. One project was a special report on the Destination Medical Center initiative where Sean worked with a team of students from the University of Minnesota Rochester to produce a five-part written series and video documentary. The funds would also support more in-depth interviews with community leaders and advocates.
A compelling video telling your story is one staple of a Kickstarter campaign. Sean full heartedly agrees that his video was not the best, but that didn’t seem to matter. The important part, Sean said, was that, “I put my face out there so that people knew that it was actually an individual behind the Med City Beat.”
People recognized that he was someone just trying to do something new.
“Being as specific as possible about your goals is more important than having a good video,” Sean advised.
He was very clear and transparent in the intention of the raised funds. He provided a clear outline of the planned projects and followed through with the promises. He also kept backers very informed throughout the Kickstarter campaign using his Med City Beat Facebook following. He marketed the campaign through Facebook and thanked people via the site to incentivize others to contribute. He updated supporters about the progress and totals of the fundraising efforts. Even post campaign, he informed his followers of upcoming interviews that were possible because of the Kickstarter. He was even able to collect some questions from backers for an interview with Congressman Tim Walz.
Good incentives are also a key piece to a Kickstarter campaign. Sean had a donation range spanning from five to over one thousand dollars. The incentives started with a ten-dollar donation, where backers received a Med City Beat sticker. At thirty dollars, backers were given a mug. And at seventy-five dollars, supporters received tickets to a joint Med City Beat and Forager Brewery launch party at Forager. Above this range, contributors received free advertisement on the Med City Beat for a period of time or were listed on the website as a founding contributor.
Although the rewards were well thought out, “I don’t think anyone did it for the incentives, though. I think people really thought it was a good idea. They were waiting for something like this to come along for a long time,” Sean said.
When the pledges started coming in, Sean was astounded by the level of support shown from the community.
“I got ninety-six backers. The vast majority of them I did not know prior. I mean yeah, you might get your mom to pitch in. But if your Kickstarter comes down to your mom and a couple of friends backing you up, that’s probably not a successful idea.”
Sean’s Kickstarter was highly effective; he received the ten thousand dollars he set out for and the Med City Beat is alive and thriving today.
“It wasn’t just the funding that helped this succeed to this day. But it was the actual support that really drove me to realize that this has value. This is important to the community.”
For more information about crowdfunding and the lessons learned from members of the Rochester community, check out the other pieces of this series.