"...our job as a platform is not to be neutral to their success, it's to actually build what's important for them to be successful."
- Eileen Gordon Chiarello, Founder of Barnraiser
I recently had a chance to talk to Eileen Gordon Chiarello of the up and coming crowdfunding platform Barnraiser (think Kickstarter for Farmers).
Eileen is one of those entrepreneurial enigmas who not only has the vision, but also knows how to work hard and bring that vision to life.
As you'll read in the interview, her idea to build a crowdfunding platform specific to agriculture and food innovators stems from her life as a farmer herself. Eileen and husband/celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello know that successful storytelling is crucial for communicating in ways that grow exposure and help farmers resonate with their customers.
In addition to being passionate about building an innovative platform for farmers, Eileen came across inherently focused on bringing that platform to life.
I have to say that talking with Eileen and another Barnraiser team member got me fired up! I am so excited to see what their platform can do to amplify the voices of many farm and food innovators hoping to share their story and connect with an extremely passionate audience.
Here's my interview with Eileen Gordon Chiarello of Barnraiser!
Chris from Bright Agrotech: So, who are you and what is Barnraiser?
Eileen Gordon: My name is Eileen Gordon Chiarello. Barnraiser is a community for the millions of us who care about health, wellness and sustainability, who want to partner with (and help celebrate/fund), hundreds of thousands of innovators as they rebuild how we eat, how we farm, and how we live in a more healthy way in America.
Barnraiser is really a community for crowdfunding food, farming, education, media, and all kinds of projects in the future of food or health and wellness movement.
I got started in this because for about 15 years I've been in a entrepreneurial partner with my husband, Chef Michael Chiarello so we come from the food world... Hospitality, restaurants, specialty foods, all of which have a very deep relationship with the purveyors at their core.
We ourselves are stewards of 17 acres of farm in the Napa valley. We have two 100 year old vineyards that were planted before prohibition and have a special place in plant history... People may come to the Napa Valley for a great glass of wine or an amazing meal, but they leave with conversation and curiosity about sustainable farming. They learn about cover crops and they learn about how the winemaking process yields a whole bunch of material for composting and that dirt comes right back to the crop that it came from.
BA: Why Barnraiser? Why not just use Kickstarter? Why make an entire crowdfunding platform just for ag?
EG: For every aspect of the food movement, and really every movement toward heath and wellness, every project collects and audience of people who care about that topic broadly, and therefore can be ongoing supporters for more projects and more innovators. So the reason to collect it in one place is that overtime you amass a lot more power and you have a much higher success rate for projects. So right now, we've got a success rate that's easily double what all other platforms are because we're very focused and our backers and audience are very focused. And the other reason to do it is that it allows us to bring in other types of partners and bring the power, exposure, money, matching funds to the innovators of the projects, because they've got a unified focus... And that is not true of a generic [crowdfunding] platform.
Understanding the needs and particular challenges of this audience and the ways they should be employing crowdfunding is really our job. No one else is really paying attention to that. Other platform providers won't put in this much effort for a 4% return on your project. We think there's a lot to be done by really focusing on this audience and making sure the tools are tailored for them, the partnerships help them get more exposure and more success, and our job as a platform is not to be neutral to their success, it's to actually actively help them build what's important for their success.
Barnraiser uses a unique partnership model to help aspiring and existing farmers bring people together around important topics like local, sustainable agriculture. Recently, North Carolina locals Seth and Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers helped support a new generation of farmers at the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm.
BA: I saw a couple of different Barnraiser campaigns that really use those partnerships to their advantage. The one with The Avett Brothers was really cool, and you're right there's just nothing like that when it comes to crowdfunding. Harnessing the power of partnerships exponentially multiplies your reach and make things happen.
Is there anything else that's different about the [Barnraiser] platform that stands out from other crowdfunding platforms?
EG: There are two things that we have.
One is we're very high touch with our project creators and we'll give them personalized advice on how to structure their campaigns. You know, if you're a food business, you're going to use crowdfunding quite differently to pre-sell your food product than if you are a small CSA farm trying to do value-added products.
Make sure you have a range of rewards, not only in dollars amounts, but also rewards that appeal to those outside your region, things that can be delivered electronically, something that can create excitement around a bigger trend.
There's a lot of simple tips that can make your project more successful. Creating your project and your goals in such a way where your tipping point is set appropriately is a really big one. Making sure you have stretch goals as opposed to putting your original goal into one big number that may be harder to attain.
We also have a very robust dashboard where the minute you create a draft in our platform, you get to start using our audience-building, campaign management tools. We identified a real knowledge gap in how to run your campaign, (literally how to do the communication and marketing of a campaign). So we built a dashboard that will give you the best practices and things you should be doing at each stage of your campaign, with automatic reminders, as well as examples of other communication and other tips.
We find that the number one thing we can stress for people is start to build a community and audience now. It doesn't necessarily have to be all digital. If you have a really strong email list or if you have some way to be out in your community talking to people (that might be a farmers' market stand or some other way to do it), or if you have really interesting partnerships... Sales and distribution partners, or community partners, all of those things should be considered when it's time to get your campaign out there.
Awareness and visitor is one of the big keys that people don't typically understand how to do.
BA: What would you say is the average amount raised per project on Barnraiser?
EG: It ranges between $12,000 and $16,000. The exciting part to me is that for many of these farms, a small amount of working capital goes a long way toward getting them to the next level of their business... and, it's not the type of working capital they have a lot of good sources for. So businesses need to think about it as a marketing campaign and use all the best practices they would in any kind of marketing campaign.
The idea of pre-selling or pre-orders is a really nice thing to do when you're going to need to raise that funding anyway. One of the things that people don't often consider is that by making their campaigns public for crowdfunding [with Barnraiser], they get all kinds of downstream benefits that you might not otherwise get like new distributors, additional press, conversations with investors, etc. That wouldn't be true if you were using a less public form of fundraising.
BA: How easy is it for Upstart Farmers to mobilize their networks and push people towards a Barnraiser campaign?
EG: Well, all the tools are built in for emailing people and doing the social sharing. The best thing to do if you don't have a large email database or social networks is to start building one now. And, start collecting emails! You never know who might be interested in what side of what you're doing. For example, if you're at the farmers' market every week and you're not collecting emails, or getting them to sign up on your Facebook page, then you're missing opportunities to grow your business and talk to people.
The other things we counsel people is to think about their network and who they could ask to be part of sharing their story? Who do they know that might have a bigger email list that would be willing to share that story? Who do they know that has a blog or has written about them? Or who do they know locally in terms of the media? Do they have restaurant clients? Would these clients share the story or maybe even give rewards? It's important to find out who they can ask to partner with them either in the reward side or the story telling side.
BA: So Barnraiser has been around for around 6 months or so and already a lot of big things are happening... What does Barnraiser look like in a year or so?
EG: What I'm most excited about is the growing tapestry of stories from the front lines of the food movement. This really is Americana - it's America taking it's true destiny in it's hands, and all of these individual stories make up a really interesting mix. We are all walks of life, in all parts of America that are engaging in this movement and it doesn't matter if it's a medium or large way of engaging... what matters is people are engaging.
So in a year, you'll see a lot more examples from all parts of this movement including media and apps. It will be a great place to come and nose around to see who's doing what and really learn something. These stories and projects represent stories that are so informative to people who may not be eating and breathing it.
You'll see a lot more curation partners too. These are people who have their own channels on Barnraiser and people who are representative of a certain community who can speak directly to the innovators and help illuminate great things that are happening.
Want more information?
We teamed up with the experts at Barnraiser, to bring you a webinar on how to "Master Crowdfunding: Maximize Your Campaign’s Success".
This webinar course dives deep into the most important elements for having a successful campaign including things like how to authentically earn community support, what gifts to give, how to master your social and email promotions, and even how to turn your campaign success into long-term sales.
For more information on Barnraiser, visit Barnraiser.us