Anatomy of a crowdfund, week 3: slow and steady

October 29, 2012

It took us 23 days, but we finally crossed the $10,000 mark! We are now officially in the second half of our grassroots campaign, Crowdsourcing Discovery, to change the way we fund basic biomedical research. And like all good campaigns, we’re taking the show on the road!


According to Google Analytics, the second largest source of traffic to my lab website is California, with 1,226 visits since the end of June:



So while I spend Week Four in the Bay Area spreading our message our transparency and engagement, here’s how we managed to raise $10,220 (as of last count) from 153 contributors with an average contribution = $66, and a median contribution = $25. I like presenting the data as a box score so you can digest the numbers at your own pace:



Lance Stewart, (@LJStewartTweet), one of the earliest pledges and then supporters of our effort, remarked in an email to me that we’re really doing two experiments – one scientific, one metascientific – for the price of one. So now that we have accumulated a decent amount of data, let’s plot daily contributor and daily contribution totals for the first 21 days, essentially just visualizing in graphical form the data presented above in the table:


The dotted line indicates the median, because the first day of our campaign was an outlier, both in terms of contributors and contributions. The second outlier was courtesy of my very generous 93-year-old Grandpa Walter,  though in absolute terms only 4% of contributors are members of my family. Another notable stat is the gender ratio of contributors. Turns out it’s 65/35 in favor of men.


By the third week of our campaign, all of the amplification generated by the initial volley of press coverage had faded, and fewer and fewer strangers were contributing. In order to keep the momentum going, I had to boost the conversion rate by focusing and personalizing our marketing strategy until the next media-drive spike in traffic came along.


Here’s a prime example. When we were mentioned in The Economist, I shared on Facebook a picture that I snapped of the actual article from my print copy. This picture received over 85 likes, including many by friends who’d already contributed. This got me thinking that a Facebook like might be a predictor of willingness to contribute, so I followed up with many of these likers in 1:1 correspondence. Lo and behold, it did the trick: 10/16 contributors in the 48 hours after I reached out on Facebook were my friends who had liked the picture share.


So what does this all mean going forward? If you were to imagine a perfectly linear relationship between the amount of money raised and the amount of time elapsed, we would be receiving contributions at a constant rate. Stop all the presses – we don’t live in an ideal world! Instead the world of crowdfunding is U-shaped, in that a disproportionate amount of contributions come in the beginning and at the end of a campaign:


We have a lot more work to do, and we intend to close strong. All I can say is that I’m looking forward to the next three weeks, and I hope you are, too!


If this was your first time reading about the behind-the-scenes of our campaign, I’ve been releasing weekly status updates since we launched Crowdsourcing Discovery on October 4th.


  • For the summary of Week Two, please go here.
  • For the summary of Week One, please go here.
  • And for the summary of the first 96 hours, please go here.


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  • GenoREAD

    Thanks for sharing this information. It’s really interesting. Did you try to estimate how much time you spent on this fund raising effort?

    • Ethan Perlstein

      Several hours a day; some days less, some days more. Prototyping is hard work!