Ever wonder what it’s like to walk a day in someone else’s shoes (or spend a day in someone else’s job, as the case may be)? Us too! In our “Women at work” series, we’re talking to some of the most accomplished women we know about how they got to where they are in their careers, what advice they’d give their younger selves, and any tips & tricks they’ve picked up along the way.
Name: Alex Daly
Job: Founder of Vann Alexandra, a creative services agency that gets projects financed through crowdfunding
College Major: Philosophy, Spanish, with a minor in Film
You have been heralded as the “Crowdsourceress,” can you explain what that means?
At Vann Alexandra, clients come to us to prepare and launch their crowdfunding campaigns. We have now launched over 50 campaigns, and have raised over $20 million for clients worldwide across the design, technology, journalism, publishing, film, and music industries.
How did your title come to be?
A few years ago, I was working as a production manager at a documentary film production company. At the time I was writing grant after grant after grant to help raise funding for the documentaries I was managing. Then one day, a producer approached me about helping him raise money for his documentary about the radio station WFMU. I thought he wanted me to write some grants for him, but he actually wanted to try Kickstarter. I didn’t really know what Kickstarter was, but said yes (that’s something I still do to this day — say yes, then figure it out later).
The Kickstarter was a huge success. Then, I ran another campaign for one of the documentaries I was working on, and that was successful. By the time I was running my third campaign (which was also successful), a few friends started calling me “The Crowdsourceress” as a sort of joke, since I was becoming the queen of crowdfunding campaigns. Around that time, a journalist heard about me and the work I was doing and immortalized it in his blog about Brooklyn creatives.
When I told my lawyer about my nickname he advised me to trademark it. I didn’t think it was worth the money, but then as my business continued to grow, he called me and said something like, “I can’t sleep knowing that someone can take this name.” So, I trademarked it and received this amazing certificate saying that the United of America officially recognized me as “The Crowdsourceress.” It was hilarious, and now I realize it was a great business decision!
As the first ever “Crowdsourceress,” what advice do you have for other women who are creating their own unique career paths?
I find that I am still forging my own path, but something that I have learned along the way is how important it is to remind yourself of your value. I find that women always question if they’re good enough, or if they are charging too much, or if they are imposters in some capacity. Take a moment to recognize the good work you are doing, and be proud of yourself for it.
What is the strangest crowdfunding pitch you have received?
There are so many. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but let me tell you, there are some weird ones involving cats.
What factors contribute to your decision to take on a new crowdfunding client?
There are several factors.
The first thing I gauge is if there is a built-in audience. A built-in audience is the “crowd” in crowdfunding. The people who make up that audience are the people who make your project a success –– they are your fans, your followers, your engaged mailing list.
Second, was there a market test? I have seen that some of the most successful projects often have some kind of market test before they turn to crowdfunding. A version of a “market test” can be a website that features your product and goes viral, or a press piece about your product that readers flip out about.
Lastly, I do some digging into competition. I look into whether this is an original idea, or if other people are already doing it. Crowdfunding is already becoming a saturated space, so if other creators are raising money for a very similar product, it will be a tougher sell.
What is your favorite campaign that you’ve completed? Why?
My favorite campaigns have been for our clients Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed, both New York based designers. They stumbled upon a rare copy of the New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual in the basement of their office, Pentagram, where they worked in 2012. When they posted photographs of it online, it went viral.
The NYCTA manual is the style guide for the New York City subway, which has become the language and fabric of New York. We see subway signs everywhere, and they guide us around the city and take us home. The NYCTA manual is both practical and timeless. In 2014, we entered into an agreement with the MTA to reissue the manual as a hardcover book on Kickstarter.
After our success on the NYCTA project, we worked with Hamish and Jesse on a second manual reissue for the old NASA “Worm” logo, which was rescinded, but is still highly regarded in the design community. In a way, our Kickstarter to reissue this manual brought it back to life and gave it the attention it deserved.
What has been the highlight of running your own business?
I’m really proud that I’ve managed to retain complete control of my company and steer the ship myself. Beyond that, I have loved working with a dedicated team of people who believe in this company as much as I do. It’s incredibly validating and positive.
What has been the most surprising aspect of running your own business?
I learned early on how much appearances are critical to a successful business. If you want people to take you seriously, you need your presence to look the part — that’s everything from your website to your business cards.
Who is your role model?
What is currently on your nightstand?
The manuscript for my book: a how-to guide for crowdfunding with case studies from past campaigns and key takeaways on how to launch your project online.
Also, “Cherry” by Mary Karr.
Before managing crowdfunding campaigns, you were a documentary film producer. What three documentaries should all women see in their lifetimes?
“The Punk Singer,” “Finding Vivian Maier,” and “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live,” the documentary about Joan Didion we crowdfunded, which is in production now.
What are your 4 most used phone apps?
Mac Mail, Kickstarter, Instagram, Uber.
Who is your style icon?
What actress would play you in the film adaptation of your life?
Drew Barrymore? Susan Sarandon? My team thinks Drew Barrymore is the winner.