The Big Picture for Our Side Step into T-shirts

The trail video project has always been a good idea. We’re so ready to do that. There’s the matter of paying for everything though. We’re not ready for the successful funding campaign that has to come first. Frankly, now with Russ’ job loss, we’re worried about paying for the basics of life.

There Wasn’t a T-shirt Option Before

We’re intentionally making the video project low impact, so when originally considering supporter rewards for the video project, we considered a t-shirt, but decided to go digital for all the rewards. There were several reasons. First, because “no reward” support levels are often close to the same price point as “t-shirt reward level” support options. That can cause a supporter to think “Well, it’s free, I might as well go ahead and get the shirt.” When a person chooses a shirt that way, they aren’t necessarily interested in wearing it. It may go straight to a thrift store, or worse, it might even get round filed before it ever gets worn.

As a frequent thrift store shopper, I see Kickstarter rewards from time to time. Don’t get me wrong. Just because a reward made it to the thrift store shelf doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t a worthy item from a good project. But, if a lot of any given item makes it into the mega dumpster out behind the thrift store, that, of course, would be a different story. For a T-Shirt, that would be the worst form of Fast Fashion. Fast Fashion has big environmental and human costs, so we didn’t want to offer clothing that might not be used.

On top of all that, there’s the real dollar cost of production to the project. For every t-shirt reward the project gives away, the price of the project goes up and it needs more supporters to meet the project budget, which produces even more t-shirts that may never be worn. The negatives compound.

What Changed?

Life Changed. When Russ lost his job, he broke the news with the joke that he’d have plenty of time to work on the video project. In truth, the newfound freedom could be a potential stroke of serendipity that would make everything work out for the best, and things may still work out that way, they just haven’t yet.

The job loss blindsided Russ, and we needed to reassess personal threats and potentials to see how much actual freedom we had for the project in stress mode. We went in a few directions all at once without knowing what to prioritize. It doesn’t help that I’m so overdue to be earning something myself. Ongoing family obligations, the pandemic and the project have tacked years on to what would have otherwise been a short break from paid work for me. I don’t have any regrets about choosing family, or pursuing the project, but the financial downside to those choices has been life changing.

As much as I need focus, direction, progress and movement right now, Russ has needed time. It’s just a really good thing that we love each other because we’re not in the same place and it feels like love is all we have right now. We keep recommitting to the project, but the challenge is how to get there from here without having epic failure rock our world even more.

What’s Different About a T-Shirt Now?

The T-Shirt we’re thinking of now IS the point. It’s the product.

When our life changed drastically, we came to the idea of doing a t-shirt as it’s own project, one that people would buy because they wanted to wear it. That makes all the difference. A loved T-shirt that gets worn is worth producing, especially when we’re going to resource it as responsibly as we can.

We’re willing to offer T-shirts as a stand alone project because people wear them. People wear them a lot, and the ones they buy because they want the shirt won’t have the short life cycle that is the trademark of fast fashion. So we’ll do our best to create and offer a t-shirt that people will want to wear and use, responsibly sourced shirts that last well and can be recycled or up cycled.

I can’t wait till we have them ready to show you! They’re going to be great!

Budget Items: The Needed Things

I’ve agonized over the budget. A good understanding of the real cost of having or doing a thing started young for me. My first job wasn’t babysitting, It was keeping books for Mom at the wholesale grocery business that my parents took over from her parents, and I’ve had more than one micro business over the years. I didn’t expect to redo this budget so many times.

That this budget is higher than I expected makes me nervous. If people think it’s padded in the wrong way, they won’t want to support it, and if it isn’t padded to some extent, in the right way, we don’t have a buffer to deal with expected inflation, or with the UNexpected, whatever that may turn out to be. Advice to include every little expense shows up over and over. There are no budget do overs for this. We just get the one shot at project funding.

I thought the cost at Goal (the Lowest level) would be about a third of what it is, but for good reason. Most of the excess is because I shifted some fairly big expenses down to the lower levels based on some reading about successful Kickstarter features. I hope that was good advice. It smooths out the progression of the budget across the goals, but it puts some expenses before they are technically needed, which is totally irrelevant in the end if everything gets funded.

The budget is also higher at the top Super Stretch level than I expected. That’s partly about some research I did on successful Kickstarters, but also about shifting my project mantra toward “If I’m going to work this hard and put myself out there, I need to spend the money it takes to do it well and make it matter.” I have more redundancy built in than I need to meet the minimums for this project if everything goes right, but, sometimes redundancy is the reason you made your goal when things didn’t go right. The expense of extra cameras on Russ’s support bike are pretty low cost insurance. Any day that my cameras fail for whatever reason, his provide back up.

That’s not the only opportunity they could provide. I hope to get enough quality video to do a follow on project too. I’m not very specific about what that follow on project is because I haven’t decided for sure exactly what it will look like. I need to get through this project first, and do things in a way that leaves doors open to as many other potentials as I can. So, yes, I’ll be ecstatic to meet my top goals, and at the same time, I expect myself to exceed the goals I’ve promised for this project in a way that allows me to be in the best position to pursue a second one.

In some ways, the budget is exactly what I expected. I expect the budget to be solid, on target and justified every step of the way. I’ve trimmed, then remembered something else and those dollars go right back into the plan. I’m afraid to trim too much. There’s no saying “Oops I need more” and I want successful completion of the project.

But I’m done now. It will take something big to make me edit again before I put final totals out there to be seen. One thing that will help is that many of the costs are pretty equally exchangeable. As I shuffle through all of the potential scenarios, choosing one way of doing things has about the same final cost as choosing another. That’s a really useful feature. It gives us some freedom to make changes without jeopardizing the project.

39% of Kickstarter projects fund. That’s down a little bit from earlier years, but still sounds pretty good. Only 5.5% of launched Kickstarter projects reach the range of funding we need to complete this project at the highest level though. That sounds scary, super scary in fact. I’ve put a lot of time into this. It’s super duper scary, but many projects just cost less, some because they have much of their cost already taken care of from running inside an established company. Others only pay a portion of overhead because production is outsourced. Projects have so many different structures.

The first thing I’ll be hoping to do is reach 20% of goal. 78% of projects that reach 20% funding will be fully funded in the end. So, here it is, a write up of what is included in the budget items and, just to be extra thorough, what will happen if we reach the magic land of being over budget.

What’s in the Budget at Every Level

Cycle Clothing (kit) and Gear for 2 people. Our number is based on last year’s costs adjusted up to project level mileage and back down some because we don’t need as much specialty clothing on the recumbents. We also adjusted for clothing or gear that we didn’t need, or didn’t need much of last year (like cold weather kit) but will need for the project.

Maintenance: Repairs we can’t DIY, Lubricant, Tools, Tires, Chains, Cassettes, and other wear parts. We allowed last year’s expenses adjusted to project level needs, new equipment and increased trail mileage. Our numbers are a little low here because we are likely to get some bike features that require manufacturer maintenance, not DIY maintenance.

Automobile Mileage at the current deductible allowance (.56) multiplied by expected number of miles.

Safety Equipment Lights, Protective Gear, Emergency communication and fall detection

Tech Support, Web Services for Downloadable Rewards and other Technical Advice. Full disclosure: My tech guy is my son. He’s overqualified, working for a fraction of his regular rate.

Emergencies, margin of error for a change in inflation/conditions/the unexpected.

Streaming Cost

Kickstarter Fees and Processing Fees

Tax Liability for those expenses that cannot be paid or prepaid in 2022

What’s in the Budget at Goal Level

Photo Equipment: Multiple GoPros per bike, Mounting Gear for Everything, Sound Equipment and Buffers, Power Supplies and Batteries, Media Storage Drives, Motion Dampening, Memory Cards, On Bike Gear Storage.

Recumbent Bikes with shock absorbing and endurance features to provide ergonomic and cross training relief. The photography gear for the recumbents may be mounted on an overhead canopy. We will make a final decision on exact mounting after test shoots.

All those things listed as being in every level.

What’s in the Budget at Stretch Level

Stretch level doubles goal level time and production and some costs, but not all because much of the equipment bought at goal level works for both. I’m adding in the endurance bikes here to smooth out the jumps in expenses, and potentially a 360 degree camera or a mount for a series of GoPros to create the 360 degree affect. Most of the expenses here are additional equipment and adjusting up on expenses that are incremental.

Dropped Level

We had a comfortable in between-level here where we were started doing full rides on both trails, but monthly instead of weekly allowing Russ to maintain his regular employment. Having this level smoothed the progression in levels further and seemed like a great compromise goal at the onset, one that seemed to balance production and cost pressures, a logical sweet spot, maybe even the most likely level to fund.

The problem is, that when I wrote out the hourly requirements for this level, there weren’t enough hours in a week to sleep. This level was actually a trap that would cause us to fail. If all we were doing was riding, it might be tempting to try. Many people who would consider riding a century could do two of them per month without quitting their day job, but riding is only part of running the project. We also have to run the funding project, record video and maintain equipment, keep supporters updated (write the the Blog and/or stream) and produce 4 kinds of rewards. This level was reluctantly canceled to avoid the heartache of failure.

If our funding were to exceed the lower 2 levels, but falls short of the final Super Stretch level, we’d be trying to figure out the best way to adjust. It would be tempting to revisit this, perhaps do it in combination with partial employment. I’m afraid to even mention that, and I’ve almost deleted this paragraph more than once.

This is more complicated than a weekend of back to back centuries and employers want you to be available at their convenience, not when the weather is too bad for riding. We have hard commitments every other weekend. Scheduling and logistics could become overly complicated as windows of opportunity close. Rewards aren’t completely scalable either. The writing rewards are scalable work, but photo rewards are not. I will produce the same number of photos regardless of how many supporters download them. I know intellectually that I need to explore every potential, but landing here would be the limbo level where I will have to fight hard not to over promise. Overpromising leads to underperformance. If fate or funding lands us in a place to revisit some components of this option, making decisions will be difficult and avoiding the temptation to go bigger than we should will be hard.

Super Stretch Level Budget Items

This is it. The whole enchilada. This is where we video all of both trails in both directions every week for a year plus and capture the changing seasons with the best natural audio we can get. We will upload one video from each trip to Youtube and anyone with a screen and a connection can have hours of unique trail video every week for whatever purpose they choose: exercise, escape, meditation, wellness, biophilia, entertainment. At this top level of the project, where my heart is, things get real. Russ takes a leave of absence and a leap of faith to support this endeavor. This level includes:

Weekly overnight lodging in Anniston and related travel expenses at standard deductible rates. Support and gear by automobile backup is possible, but that is not less expensive, not low impact and it doesn’t provide the backup video from a second bike. We’ll only do it when we have to, maybe in the beginning as we are getting up to speed, or if some unknown like an injury makes it necessary. Because the cost of lodging versus the cost of automobile backup is similar, that gives us some extra freedom to adjust to unexpected events.

Safety equipment like Fall Detection (probably an active watch) is most important while spending that much time on the trail. We will ride together for safety, and to get back up video for each other in case of equipment failures, but we’ll ride at a distance from each other so that we don’t film each other riding. Fall detection is how we will back each other up while traveling far enough apart to create backup video.

Storage expenses in Anniston One pair of bikes will stay in Anniston. We’ll ride to Anniston on, say the recumbents, then ride back on the endurance bikes. This will make for the greatest distribution of variety (in filming perspective, body dynamics and ergonomics).

At super stretch level we want the best barometric elevation data we can get. That’s primarily to keep the door open for a follow on project. GPS triangulates location very well, but GPS elevation has a larger margin of error. If I can correlate the video and good elevation data, a number of other projects might be possible, and they would become a great deal more economical once the video and data already exist. Some devices that measure barometric elevation also offer fall detection, so it is likely that we would choose one device for both features. One possible thing that could be done with good elevation data in a future project would be to match exercise bike resistance to changes in elevation on the trail.

Overnight Lodging has been figured at 2 nights per week, but we may be able to get an efficiency/studio apartment, an over the garage room for rent, or something similar at the same cost. If we have a base of operations work flow becomes much easier with a place to leave battery chargers and other equipment, wash gear, store bikes and so on. We also get the ease of always having it available when the weather changes. Last minute changes to a hotel room can be costly and knocking down unknowns and frustrations reduces stress makes success easier.

The last big expense at this level is that I have to pay Russ. He’ll have to take a leave of absence. It’s a big risk for him, which makes it a big risk for our entire household. I thought a lot about the appropriate salary for him, not just what I’d like for him to have. I considered what he makes now, I considered average for his job title, and average per capita for our zip code. I’ve settled on a Dan Price minimum wage, (which is the lowest of the averages I was considering, but easy to support). I decided on Dan Price’s 70K minimum wage because it supports his proposition that every worker deserves to earn enough to have a decent life. I believe that, and we can make that work. It’s not hard to defend, and it puts Dan Price’s ideas in front of anyone who reads this and clicks on the link. That could carry his ideas to new people, which could be good, even if my project doesn’t fund.

The Silver Linings

This is the beginning of the project as far as Kickstarter goes, but it is far from the beginning for me, for us. Being far from the beginning is actually our first silver lining. I’ve done a lot of research We’ve had some time to look back in hindsight. I’ve been able to confirm that some of my thinking was right, and to change what I learned was wrong. I know from business school that most ventures fail due to under funding. The silver lining is that we are much better prepared to succeed with less pain now that we would have been if I’d been able to start the funding portion of my project sooner.

What if We Get Funding Above Goal, or if there is Money Left Over?

The best problem to have, right? The rewards that require extra hours to produce in quantity are limited to amounts we can manage, so there is no level of support we wouldn’t welcome, but the potential does require thought.

Here is another place where I’m thankful for some of my reading. It’s not that I expect to need this section, it’s that I want to be prepared for whatever happens. I read two different types of articles about “extra” funding, or funding that surpasses the goals. This can happen at any level because the project could exceed a lower goal while not making it through the next goal.

One article I read was from someone who wrote in to an ethics column, I think, on what to do with leftover project money. I wish I had bookmarked it so I could reference it properly, but I was in investigative mode, not project writing mode when I read it.

Here is what I remember. The person running a Kickstarter project asked if a certain use would be appropriate for leftover funds. I thought the answer was an obvious yes. The columnist did too, sort of. The response was that the person’s idea was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but since it had not been explicitly stated beforehand, it might irritate some supporters. I don’t want to irritate supporters, I thrive on my Etsy reviews that say “exactly as described”, and I want to carry that level of satisfaction through to this adventure. In honor of learning from my reading, here is a list of things that I / we will consider doing with any funding we receive over and above goal levels. Beginning with the obvious, they are listed in order of greatest likelihood.

  1. Cover unexpected costs and overages.
  2. Review the project for potential improvements beginning with any upgrades in equipment that would make the project (or future carry on projects) better (like 3D cameras, some type of mount that I didn’t know about before, or some feature or equipment we hadn’t thought of before that makes our video better suited to a more technologically ambitious 2nd project).
  3. Look for things that will make the project move more smoothly.
  4. Look for things that will improve rewards and deliverables.
  5. Reduce risk with things like additional safety equipment or health care coverage for the riders. No, sadly, the riders don’t already have that.
  6. Film one or several additional rides in a different location. Whether that is another rail trail, a trek around an island (like Kauai, The Big Island or Yakushima Island) that could provide Blue Mind benefits, or something like the End to End ride would depend on just how much was left over, if there were amazing travel deals in a particular location, Coronavirus status when that happens and other unknowns.
  7. Pay or Profit for Karen. I don’t object to compensation for myself. I just didn’t include it because I want the project to fund.

All those things are covered in blog posts like this one from Kickstarter, so spelling them out might not have actually been necessary. But, I’m big on transparency, happy supporters and learning from my reading.