From Brainchild to Book Store—Using Crowdfunding to Bring Your Passion to Life

25 Nov 2015

If you have a passion—be it matcha tea, vintage cameras or records, or romance novels—chances are there are others who share that joy. While the upfront costs of starting a business around that passion may be intimidating, it’s this like-minded community that you can turn to for support. Not just emotional support, but funding. Crowdfunding to be specific.

In the same way pop up shops have made it easier for young brands to have a retail presence, crowdfunding has made fundraising more accessible. In 2015 alone, $34 billion was raised in crowdfunding campaigns, turning many niche passions and dreams into successful businesses, including a number of physical spaces.

If you plan to open a pop-up, consider crowdfunding to get your idea off the ground. Here’s the story of how two women used crowdfunding to turn their passion into a physical store.

America’s First Romance-Only Bookstore—The Ripped Bodice

crowdfunding pop up
Source: LA Magazine

A book store that sells only romance novels? It sounds like the far-fetched pipedream of a few wistful young women. But The Ripped Bodice, a Los Angeles-based bookstore that opened a year ago, began as just that. The store, which was indeed founded by two young women, sisters Bea and Leah Koch, has proven to be much more than an impractical idea. In fact, in October 2015 the Koch sisters raised more than $90,000 in funding on Kickstarter and in February 2016 they opened The Ripped Bodice.

Since they were children, Bea and Leah have shared a love for romance books, from Jane Austen novels to the infamous “bodice rippers,” which serve as inspiration for the store name. In their quest to find new novels over the years, they frequently encountered store clerks who were either disapproving of the genre or useless when it came to providing recommendations. The sisters longed for a welcoming and safe space where they could find a community of readers and expert advice on what to read next.

They wondered what it would take to open a store themselves, and calculated startup costs would included $57,500 for inventory, $18,000 for fixtures and furniture, and $14,500 for everything else. Barely out of college, with little credit history or business experience, the sisters knew they’d face a challenge finding the money on their own or convincing venture capitalists or banks to provide a loan.

“We were young and inexperienced, at least in a traditional sense, and did not think we would be approved for traditional financing,” said Bea. So they turned to Kickstarter and put out a call to romance readers everywhere to support their idea.

The Makings of a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

Ripped Bodice
Source: Huffington Post

When they launched the Kickstarter page, Bea and Leah put extra effort into two key elements of the page: a video to tell their story and rewards to incentivize donations. According to Kickstarter, projects with a video succeed more frequently than those without (50% of campaigns with videos success vs. 30% of those without videos). The sisters put together a thoughtful video that summarized the idea for the store and spread their infectious love for romance reading.

As for the rewards, each one reflected The Ripped Bodice brand, a bold and feminist, pink but edgy vibe. For $7, they offered a hand-drawn digital wallpaper download to “add a bit of romance to your digital devices.” For $25 to $75, things like branded tote bags and sweatshirts. And for $500, a hand-stitched quilt with cheeky, on-brand phrases like “Smart girls read romance.” Many of the rewards also added a feeling of truly investing in building the space, with things like bathroom door signs and plaques in the reading nook that honor various top-tier backers.

Promotion Is Key

With only 30 days to reach $90,000 (Kickstarter has an “all or nothing” policy), the sisters knew the importance of good promotion and public relations and hired a publicist who had experience with crowdfunding campaigns. “If you're looking to raise a large amount you need lots of eyeballs on your project, so press is key.” Just a few days into the Kickstarter campaign, they were featured in articles in the Huffington Post, Hello Giggles, Bustle, and The Daily Dot.

“It's a ton of work to raise a ton of money. Don't expect to post your project and watch the money roll in. You need to promote, promote, promote!” said Bea. To promote the campaign, the two took to social media to get the word out there and encouraged every backer to post as well.

They also turned to influential people in the romance community. “We asked a number of big authors and influencers in the romance community for their opinions before we launched, and they helped spread the word from day one,” said Bea. One influential, best-selling romance writer, Tessa Dare, wrote a blog article featuring the sisters and compelling her fans to support the cause.

From Dream To Reality

Ripped Bodice pop up
Source: Huffington Post

On the last day of the campaign, Bea and Leah reached the $90,000 goal, and just three months later, on February 27th they opened the shop, which is still up and running today. The Ripped Bodice opened as a permanent storefront, but crowdfunding can be just as helpful in opening a short-term space.

Whether you decide to launch a pop-up store or go straight for the permanent space, a successful Kickstarter campaign not only validates the idea but provides a built in audience that is ready and excited for a brand’s launch or store’s opening. “It's always fun when someone comes in and says ‘I was one of your original backers!’ or tags us on Instagram or Twitter wearing our Kickstarter swag,” said Bea. “It's also an incredible benefit to Kickstarter that people feel that connection and even ownership over the store. It's really special to share that.”

And one final perk? “If you can start a business without having to pay back a large loan, why not?”