A couple of Arkansas entrepreneurs who recently reached their business funding goals through Kickstarter say the crowdfunding platform may be even better at generating interest — and potential customers — than it is at raising money.
Patrick Cowan, a Little Rock lawyer with Clark Mason Attorneys, is launching Blue Canoe Brewing Co. with his wife, Ida, an anesthesiologist, and their friend Laura Berryhill, a surgical assistant. Blue Canoe, a craft beer microbrewery, will be at 425 E. Third St. in downtown Little Rock, and the trio hope to have it open around Thanksgiving.
Blue Canoe raised $18,455 last month through Kickstarter, blowing past its original $10,000 goal in one week. The money is to be used to buy a three-barrel brewing system.
Cowan and company self-funded their initial expenditures before turning to Kickstarter for additional cash. Kickstarter is “almost analogous to your traditional small-business funding, where you go to friends and family, except that they actually get something out of it in terms of all of our various incentive levels — T-shirts, mugs, glasses, all of the various merchandise that we had,” said Cowan, who started his brewing career in the dorm kitchen of Martin Hall at Hendrix College.
With the help of a strong video produced by a friend, Dr. Clark Smith, Blue Canoe not only raised needed funds through Kickstarter, it gained priceless exposure, Cowan said.
“We picked up a pretty good amount of our funding from various people that we don’t know,” but who just liked the concept, he said. “Our video was watched 2,000 times or 2,500 times or something like that,” he said. “So even for people who may not have contributed, I hope that they at least are interested.”
Wilson Wood opened Native Nectar Juice Co. in Fayetteville about 11 months ago after selling his house, car and most everything else he owned to raise almost $20,000.
Wood, who graduated from the University of Arkansas with a finance and real estate degree, soon realized his business needed at least twice that amount. That’s when serendipity stepped in, introducing him to Helen Hammond, who first became a friend and then became interested in his mission to sell 100 percent raw, organic, unpasteurized, cold-pressed juice. Hammond invested in Native Nectar, becoming a co-owner with Wood.
Native Nectar, at 1442 N. College Ave., was growing, Wood said, but he and Hammond wanted to expand the business to include not just juices and “detox waters,” but also ready-to-eat organic meals, “geared towards healthy lifestyles with options for vegan, paleo and gluten-free.” That was Native Nectar’s “new model,” as the company’s Kickstarter site explained. Native Nectar also had plans for a second location, in Bentonville.
Wood and Hammond reached their $30,000 goal in September, raising $31,247 pledged by 258 backers. They’re hoping to have the new location open by mid-December or the first of January.
The secret to the success of Native Nectar’s Kickstarter campaign was “our core customers,” Wood said. “The majority of the people who backed our project were people who were everyday customers who love our product. If you have a legit, good-quality product and you’re in a town that can sustain it, there’s no reason your Kickstarter shouldn’t get funded.”
In addition, he said, Native Nectar works to fully exploit social media with a prominent Facebook and Instagram presence, and “we did a post about our project every single day.” That effort to make Kickstarter followers feel invested in the project helped the company reach its funding goal.
“Most of these campaigns that don’t get successfully funded are because people don’t know about the product or don’t have a feel for it,” he said. “And I think if you have a good product and people have already tried it, people want to be a part of something that they know is going to be successful.”
Wood said he never considered going to a bank to raise money. Kickstarter has an advantage, he said: “the marketing and the exposure that it got for us. We got over 1,000 more Facebook likes. We got 1,000 more followers on Instagram. People in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Little Rock were all talking about it, sharing the posts, sharing what was going on. It was a month of just great exposure.”
“Now we already have the core customers,” he said. “We already have the excitement for it. Now all we have to do is just open it because everybody’s now patiently waiting for it.”
Next in Native Nectar’s sights, Wood said, is Little Rock.