NOTE: For my upcoming book, The Lean Brand, we intentionally passed on the traditional publishing route to focus on creating a community around the book. It was a bit risky, but we felt it gave us the best chance at having discretion and flexibility with how we went about bringing the book to life. Part of our community building plan involved running a pre-order #CrowdPublishing (crowdfunding for books) campaign a few months before the release of the book on an emerging new platform, Publishizer.com. This is the story of those 28 days. As you’ll see, a lot can happen in 28 days. (Warning: this is a long post, but its also a long story. If you’ve got a minute, this might be worth your time. Thanks for taking the time to listen.)
On Tuesday, May 13th at 6AM, the #Crowdpublish campaign for The Lean Brand went live.
It was a big moment. Not only were we finally selling a book that had taken up the better part of a year to write, we were doing it in a way that disrupted the traditional publishing industry and attempted to prove that there was another path for successful book publishing. We had sweated over every detail of our campaign, filmed launch videos, prepped a full 28 day content calendar, collected an email list north of 20,000, and built anticipation with our Early Adopters for months.
I was confident.
Confident in our pre-work, confident in our product, and confident that, once live, the pre-orders would flow in, wave after wave, like an endless tide crashing over the beach.
That morning, I got up early and immediately reached for my phone. Within the first hour, we had already knocked out 10% of our $12,500 goal. By the time I reached the office, 15%! And in our first 24 hours, we had already funded 30% of our goal, setting a new record for the biggest launch in crowd publishing history on Publishizer. I was all smiles as the tweets and emails started to pour in congratulating our success and orders continued in at a steady pace.
Lesson #1: Confidence is a gauge of morale, not necessarily of success.
Staring Fire In The Face
On Wednesday, everything changed. As I drove to the office, I was filled with joy, spirit, and the type of assured poise that comes with a big win. Then San Diego caught fire.
The first fire started about a mile from my office. Wildfires aren’t necessarily uncommon in Southern California, but one of this size was alarming. I watched from my office window as the grey smoke continued to fill the sky (for those not familiar with wildfires, grey smoke is bad, white smoke is good).
About midday, the Santa Ana winds shifted away from the office and towards my house; and I got the call. We were being evacuated. Another wildfire in the city in which I live had broken out, and we were being told to leave. In that moment, it’s amazing how little you actually care about physical stuff. I wanted my wife, my bulldog, and the watch I got married in. That’s all I could think of. Everything else was replaceable.
In what seemed like only moments later, we were huddled together as a family at my brother-in-law’s house hanging off the edge of the couch, flipping through the local news channels, desperate for updates.
We had evacuated less than an hour before, and for the next 5 days we were in the epicenter of a surreal whirlwind of fear and uncertainty, wondering if our home would remain standing through the fire storm. We were up night and day, experiencing the gamut of human emotion — doubt, joy, hope, hopelessness, despair, anger, and so much more.
With each news broadcast, we saw neighbors homes aflame in the background, fires come toward our house from every direction, and the heroic efforts of countless firefighters fighting to save our home. Our house was saved, literally, by only inches (check out the picture below).
When all was said and done, over 9 fires had broken out throughout the county. We finally got the green light to go back home on Sunday night. To sum up those five days, I don’t think I could express it any better than my wife did, “It’s incredible how clear life gets in moments of distress. You gain a laser beam focus of what matters, what makes your heart roar, and who you want giving you bear hugs in this life.”
Needless to say, the campaign didn't matter, family did. I hadn't checked the status of the campaign once since the fire had broken out. It was completely silent to me, completely out of mind, completely impossible to be relevant in the chaos of those 5 days.
But, as is the nature with all time limited efforts, time is the only thing that matters. You either hit your goal in your first week, or you suffer through the trudge of the next 20 days. When I finally did check, we had lost our momentum. Lost our initial push. And the campaign was in serious jeopardy of being a drastic mistake.
Lesson #2: You only have control over what you can control. Concentrate your energy on those things you have influence on, and accept external elements that you can’t avoid or change.
The Pit of Despair…
For the next two weeks I strove to regain our momentum. I tried everything from clever emails to massive blog posts. I was working 14 hour days to try and refuel our depleted thrusters. The result — 51% funded with just over a week left. The truth is, we had just lost our mojo.
With 10 days left, my confidence had turned into desperation. I had officially hit the pit of despair. And desperation never leads you anywhere good.
I can remember so clearly the call I had with my team with 10 days left. I had, I can sadly admit, been researching 3-day sales tactics to try and find an edge. Desperation changes you. My language had moved from words like, “engagement” and “community” to words like “blast” and “conversions.” My posture was slumped. My pace was frantic.
I remember thinking, “if we fail at this, we have proved everything I’ve written completely irrelevant. This failure isn’t just egg on my face, its a death sentence for the book before anyone ever even had a chance to read it.”
During the call, I attempted to convince my team that we needed to be aggressive and forward with our sales. “Aggressive” and “forward,” as they reminded me, were synonyms for “sleazy sales tactics.” Thank god for my team, because without them, I probably would have jumped off the cliff into the dark pits of fly-by-night marketing. They walked me back from the ledge. Reminded me who I was and what we stood for. And challenged me to stop moping and start focusing on our audience once again.
The message had sunk in. I was asking the wrong question. It wasn’t about how I could sell more, but about how I could deliver my audience more value and and where they were on their journey towards joining our story.
I had the audience, I had just stopped holding up my end of the relationship. I was trying to squeeze another drop of juice out of the lemon rather than just serving the lemonade. No 3-day email tactic, advertising campaign, or fancy blog post can ever stand in for a passionate, strong relationship with the right audience. It was time to refocus.
Lesson #3: Desperation can blind you from the thing that really matters — your audience. If you lose sight of your relationship with your customer, you’ve lost everything.
And The Peak of Redemption
Looking at our campaign with empathetic eyes changed everything. No longer was I focused on selling, but I was focused on relationship building. The difference is important. Selling is about you, relationship building is about “us.” It’s amazing how much of a difference the distinction makes.
I started to think about the campaign through our audience’s eyes. Where were they on their journey toward joining us? What would this book help them become? What questions did they still have? Although I had been thinking about, teaching, and talking about the content in the book for months; my audience was just barely aware of what we were doing. At best, those that were aware, needed to become convinced that these concepts could help them. We followed their lead.
We revamped our content to invite people to dive deeper with us and shared it in our emails, in our social media channels, and with our network of friends. I started to reach out personally to people who had been active in our email campaign but hadn’t bought a book yet, not to sell them, but to understand them. I gave, and they gave back.
With 8 days left in our campaign (on my birthday) I got the best gift I could have imagined — we had just tipped the scale right over our goal, 105% funded. I can remember the moment — fist pumps, redemption, smiles, relief, and a few leaps of joy. I wasn’t so much proud of myself as I was grateful for our community. They had come through. They had chosen to respond. They had made the campaign a success.
No matter how clever I thought I was, or how carefully articulated my plan of action was, or how hard I worked; none of it mattered without the support and passion of an engaged audience. WE had done it. WE had pushed it over the top. WE, all, shared in this win. And WE weren’t done.
Lesson #4: WE. Business is rarely a solo activity, but more of a contact sport. Focus on the WE, not the I.
One More Flat Tire
In the days following the success of hitting the goal, it would have been easy to relax, settle back, and ease off a bit. After all the crazy ups and downs that had already been thrown at me during this campaign, no one could have blamed me. But there was still time on the clock, and there were still people to invite to the party. I continued to have conversations with our audience. I continued to focus on delivering them value. And I continued to give as much of myself, the book, and our campaign away. And people continued to respond.
But life wasn’t done testing our resolve. On Sunday, with 4 days left in the campaign, my wife and I had decided to take a little hike with our bulldog (Sir Hamilton) around a local lake. It was a beautiful day, and before we headed back into the office, we thought it’d be nice to soak in some sun. We took two laps around the lake and walked back to the parking lot to head home, shower, and head to the office. Only, when we got back to the car, there was no car…just a scattering of broken glass and a curiously empty parking space.
A good samaritan approached us and asked us if we had a black car. I said “yes.” He went on to inform us that he had seen someone steal the purse out of the car, leave, and come back for the car. They got the car, the purse, our credit cards, phones, and, ironically, a printed advance rough draft of my book. Whoever stole our car is officially the first person to have the book in their hands! How’s that for dumb luck? We spent the day shutting down our credit cards, dealing with insurance, and sitting by the house phone waiting for the police to call with good news. Good news never came, the car was gone.
All things considered, I wasn’t really upset. It was much more comical than it was disheartening. Theft, unfortunetly, is a part of life. It never feels good, and always feels personally violating, but it is just part of our human condition. I thought back to the fires — what was important was still safe. A car is just a car, just like a house is just a house; both can be replaced. Call it karma, call it luck, or call it fate; the timing was impeccable. When the universe gives, I guess sometimes it has to take as well.
Lesson #5: Learn to smile and enjoy the lows too. Life moves on whether you’re laughing or not…so I’d rather be laughing.
The Final Push & The Moral of the Story
With three days left, I was on the edge of my seat. Not out of fear, but out of anticipation. How many more people would join us? How far will this rocket launch? Where will this crazy, rollercoaster of a campaign leave us? Orders continued to pour in and people continued to respond. I was astonished. Two days left, 138% funded. One day left, 147%. 10 hours left 161%.
In the final hours of the campaign, so many people tried to order that it crashed the site. With just a little over an hour left, I was taking orders through email and processing payment myself. The clock ticked down, and within the last 5 minutes of the campaign, the number kept steadily rising. One minute left, 181% funded. When the buzzer went off, we had raised just north of $23,000 in just 28 days. That’s 184% of our initial goal of $12,500.
I sat silently for a minute as the refresh button on my browser finally got a break. The word that came immediately to mind was, “We.” Yes, I had written the book. Yes, I had run the campaign. Yes, I was successful. But the truth is — and the moral of this story — is that I is just the starting place. It was WE,as a community,who brought this book to life. WE,as a community,who had rallied around a new way of thinking. WE,as a community,who had shed light on a new path for publishing.
Those 28 days taught me just how important WE really is. Through the risk and reward; joy and despair, hope and hopelessness of this campaign, it was the people around me and the community I had now become a part of that made it all worth it. I will never again take for granted the power of WE.