Conversations: Melissa Sueren

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Screenshot of Melissa's Kickstarter Page
Later, during the same day that I had spoken to Jess De Wahls, I headed over to Marylebone to meet Melissa in the tiny but heaving, hipster mecca, the Monocle Cafe. Over black coffees on more of a shelf than a table, perched on bar stools Melissa was fantastically frank about her experiences, sharing her thoughts and ideas whilst I leant in to hear over the din of orders being taken, friends catching up and teaspoons tapping. In contrast the the bohemian chic stereotypical of the artist, every bit the professional curator Melissa was composed; engaged and enthusiastic about her project, and in equal measure to a balanced, business-like, realistic outlook. Her beautifully manicured nails a deep, almost black purple.

Confab with Melissa Sueren, Tuesday 10th February, 2015

Zara Worth For your project ‘Art Cube’ you asked for a considerable amount of money; you asked for £38,000, and you exceeded that goal, had you always been aiming to fund the whole project on a crowd funding website?

Melissa Seuren Yeah, though it isn’t as fairy tale as everyone thinks, it is super, super difficult to achieve that. I have to admit that most of these backers were my friends, family, and so on. It’s not that Kickstarter would support your project in anyway. There is the preconception that if your project is on Kickstarter and you have a great video then it will go viral by itself, but it doesn’t work that way. If you don’t have five thousand Facebook friends to share the video with it is super difficult to get the money. The more clicks your project has, the higher up it is featured on the Kickstarter page, but if you don’t have five thousand Facebook friends then your project will just sit at the bottom, and you won’t get the attention. Luckily I had lots of people sharing my project on Facebook but, ultimately it is one thing to share it on Facebook and another thing to actually donate money. So we had lots of ‘shares’, but very few donators.

ZW Yeah, I saw you had 62 backers, which is actually quite a small number for such a large goal. Also unusually, the spread of donations across the reward bands was fairly evenly paced, usually donations are grouped in the lower areas, but you had an even spread of donations, even amongst the much higher donations.

MS These backers are also our investors. They knew of our project already and are already investing, so I said, please can you also support us on Kickstarter, I knew almost all of them. Lots of family, friends and investors or people already interested in ‘Art Cube’, almost no strangers.

ZW As far as I’m aware you set up this whole project independently, was there any form of institutional or organisational support that helped your campaign?

MS No, nothing.

ZW Before starting the campaign had you sought any institutional support?

MS So, we thought when we would go on Kickstarter that it would somehow push you. But, no, nothing. I wouldn’t do it again. If you see it from the outside it looks like everyone is successful and everyone succeeds their goal. But because you only get the money if you get the full amount, so at the end if I had only raised £30,000 then I would get nothing. So you have to achieve your goal. So if I’m at £36,000, just before the deadline, obviously your friends and family will just give you the remainder so that you don’t lose the rest of the money.

ZW Were you disappointed with Kickstarter then? Did you feel a bit disillusioned after having used this platform?

MS Yes, definitely. On Kickstarter they suggest that a high percentage of users achieve their goals, but you never think when you are starting out with your campaign how they have actually achieved their goals. At the end, you want to have the money and you will only get the money if you achieve the full amount, so obviously you end up asking parents or friends to help you get your target and you will then pay them back, all so you don’t lose all the money.

ZW In the end did you feel backed into a corner by the campaign, that you had to borrow money and use your own or else you could lose everything?

MS Yes.

ZW So did you end up promoting your campaign entirely yourself?

MS Yes, no support from Kickstarter, not at all. It is all down to you using Facebook, emails and we also had our ‘Pop-up events’, where we were driving home the message; ‘Please go on Kickstarter and donate!’. But, nothing from Kickstarter.

ZW Did you end up spending a lot of your own money in order for the campaign to work?

MS Yeah, because you have to have a good video that will go viral, because otherwise no one will click on it. If you have a good video (which I think we had), one that is funny, creative it will hopefully do well. So I invested time and money into that video.

ZW And then after that it was totally dependent on your contact list?

MS Yes, if I have been a person who was a technophobe, not on Facebook, or Instagram etc, we would have ended up with nothing.

ZW Did you feel uncomfortable having unexpectedly found yourself in a position of having to ask people for money directly?

MS Yes, and you are kind of disappointed, because you are used to seeing these ‘big stars’ of crowd funding, big success stories, but you never see the failures and how difficult it is to get to that point. So we had thought it would be much easier to get to our goal. We knew we had a high goal, but still we thought it would be way easier to get there, because we were promoting a fun project. But, our problem was that we don’t sell a ‘product’, we sell an experience, and time to be creative. So it’s not so tangible. And also we are just focused on London right now. There is no product you can buy or ship to the U.S.

ZW You had 11 reward bands, without ‘selling a product’ how did you decide what to put in those reward bands?

MS We just thought what can we give, it is very difficult when you don’t have something physical.

ZW Do you think if you had, had something ‘physical’, a product to give away then it would have been an easier process?

MS Yeah, and it would be a worldwide thing rather than just in London. I do think it is easier if you produce something.

ZW You were asking for a huge amount, as discussed earlier; why did you decide to go for such a large sum of money having not crowd funded before?

MS Well, because ‘Art Cube’ is a big project in what we are aiming to achieve. As they said in the press it is billed as ‘the next big thing in the art world’. So we did our ‘pop-up events’ over ten days. We used a massive warehouse on Brick Lane and we did various events; an art student competition, we had a black, grey and white dinner, we had a celebrity dinner and invited big names, we had an arts and crafts fair. So all of this went on publicity to market our brand, because we needed to make it professional. We are not a group of students looking to market a one-off event, this is a long-term project, we are creating a brand. So we had to start at a high level.

ZW Did you find that all this time spent on marketing your project whilst trying to publicise your crowd-funding campaign took you away for working on the project itself.

MS Yes, it took a lot of time and money.

ZW Did you not make any new contacts through crowd funding?

MS No, not through Kickstarter.

ZW That must have been really disappointing.

MS I was really disappointed by my experience on Kickstarter, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone else. I don’t know about other platforms like Indiegogo but I found crowd funding very disappointing. My business partner, David, and I had thought it would be like getting a ball rolling; that we would start it and then it would gain momentum, the project would go viral. Also we thought that during the last few days your project would get a further kick, but nothing.

ZW Was there any momentum, at any point during the process?

MS No, not really, well at the beginning in the first few days I was pushing it on Facebook and in the last days I was pushing it at the Pop-Up event again.

ZW I’m guessing you wouldn’t do it again.

MS I don’t know of any other way we could’ve done it. We definitely needed it at that time. I think that Kickstarter is a great opportunity for small projects, if you are only looking for £5000, but for bigger projects it is too difficult to raise large amounts.

ZW So if later you were looking for say £2000 you might use it again?

MS Exactly, up to £5000 I think you have much more of a chance. People are willing to pay £10 and it is easy to see how the target will be achieved. But if someone sees that it is a target of £38,000 I think that people think, “oh, they will never achieve that anyway so why would I donate even £5”.

ZW Do you think without your existing contacts, family and friends you would have achieved your goal?

MS Never ever. So that’s why we had such a high goal to begin with, because we had thought it would be so much easier to raise the money.

ZW There is this impression that it is all very easy; that any project could succeed and people with donate. It all appears effortless.

MS Exactly, but it isn’t at all. First of all you need the great video, then great tags and all these rewards, so you spend weeks forming a great concept. And it’s not just the time, you put a lot of money in it.

ZW Did at any point you consider giving up the campaign?

MS Yeah, I did, I thought we might never achieve the £38,000.

ZW But would there have been any other way of achieving it?

MS No, and that’s the problem, you are trapped. Like I said, I think it’s a great, great platform for smaller events, or smaller amounts, and a specific product.

ZW In contrast to other campaigns for art events which are often geared to raise money for a single event or exhibition, do you think then that your disadvantage was that you were raising money for a long-term project, you were wanting to set up a whole organisation.

MS I think so. I think that was a disadvantage for us.

ZW One of the arguments in favour of crowd funding is of course the idea that anybody is able to do anything in the arts. Would you agree with the idea that crowd funding is a more democratic way of funding the arts?

MS No, and you have to deliver a lot to get the money. What is ridiculous is that you will then see someone raising for a banana, or a silly, joke campaign and then they get thousands. The joke projects that are ridiculous are the kind of projects that go viral.

ZW Did you get any media coverage? Did anybody pick you up?

MS I had to pay for a PR agency.

ZW Had you expected to have to do that?

MS No, it was towards the time of our ‘Pop-Up event’.

ZW Have there been any other benefits of being on Kickstarter since the campaign was successfully funded?

MS Once we got the money it covered our ‘Pop-Up event’ and my team, but now we are working towards the big opening event for ‘Art Cube’ I have had to go to investors. I think that our project was just too big for Kickstarter.

ZW In retrospect, do you think you would have preferred to have funded ‘Art Cube’ completely like that, by approaching investors instead?

MS No, looking back, it was a great experience and I think that in theory Kickstarter is a great idea for smaller projects. I think it was ok for us, although I expected way more, but for big projects you can’t depend on Kickstarter, you have to go to investors. It was a great experience and it was fun to do the video! We got great feedback and people loved the campaign.

ZW Would you say it gave you more freedom by using Kickstarter?

MS We did what we wanted to do. We tailored our campaign for a creative crowd, but Kickstarter is in general already for the creative crowd, it is more for the arts and the ‘creatives’, people looking to make fun products, rather than a serious business. I thought that Kickstarter would be a great platform and that everyone on Kickstarter would see the campaign, but they didn’t.

ZW Have you supported other Kickstarter campaigns yourself?

MS I have supported four or five. On Kickstarter if you support others there is a system that will then place your higher in the project rankings, so there is this other motivation for people to donate to other campaigns. £1 is the minimum pledge.

ZW Do you think having donated to other campaigns helped yours?

MS Not at all.

ZW Looking back how do you feel about the campaign?

MS It is definitely better to fund smaller projects. If I was back at the beginning I would do it again, but only because there is no other option. Maybe, I would have had a smaller goal. It took a lot of time, money and nerve. Although it looks so simple there is a lot that goes into it, the audience expects something cool and fun and creative. The campaign sucked out a lot of time that could have been spent elsewhere, but unfortunately there is no other option as a young business you have to use it or look for investors. But, I would recommend Kickstarter for everyone who is looking for a small amount, but definitely not for big, business projects, it works best when there is a tangible output and a one-off goal.

Summary of Melissa's Project

Melissa's project Icon on Kickstarter
  • Project Title: Art Cube - The world needs more creativity!
  • Crowd funding platform: Kickstarter
  • Initiator: Melissa Sueren
  • About the Initiator: An independent, professional curator and director
  • Associated with other institutions: No
  • Arts Council Support: No
  • Goal: £38,000
  • Actual: £38,168
  • Date successfully funded: 6th May 2014
  • Total number of backers: 62
  • Number of Reward Bands: 11

For more information on Art Cube please follow the link below:

Research conducted by Zara Worth

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