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Reflections on a pioneering private island crowdfunding campaign

The idea to buy the world’s first crowdfunded private island captured the minds and hearts of people from around the world. The idea was to crowdfund €200.000 in order to buy a Swedish island with 100 like-minded people. Despite extensive media coverage we did not reach our target: the campaign ended at €56.000. You win some, you learn some. This article describes (1) what we did, (2) what we achieved and (3) what we learned.

1. What we did

Step 1: Generated the idea

Sir Richard Branson, Jackie Onassis, Richard Gere, Madonna. To name just a few. What do those people have in common? They own a private island. Many people dream of owning a private island, but lack the financial resources to do so. The idea to turn a dream into reality and buy an island with 100 people was launched on Facebook on July 25th, 2014.

Within no time, the idea was picked up by respected newspaper Het Parool. Could this idea really fly?

Step 2: Had a first island meeting in Amsterdam with 25 people from the crowd

On September 25th, 2014, the First Island Meeting took place in Amsterdam, where the Böhemia Committee was formed. An eclectic group of people, consisting of two entrepreneurs, two consultants, a lawyer, a doctor, a psychologist, a banker and an NGO worker from The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, Australia, Israel and Cyprus.

Step 3: Had a meeting in Hamburg with the largest private island broker in the world

In October 2015 we had a meeting with Vladi Private Islands in Hamburg, the largest private island broker of the world. In the beginning they were a bit skeptical about our plans, since they normally do business with millionaires. However, after presenting our plans and team they were convinced that this could work and provided us with a shortlist of islands in the range of €100.000 — €500.000.

Step 4: Visited 2 islands in Finland & Sweden

In February 2015 we visited two islands in Sweden (near the Norwegian border) and Finland (near the Russian border). We fell in love with the Swedish island, because of the quality of the houses, the beautiful nature and the lovely neighbours, and thus chose it as our preferred option.

Step 5: Identified the crowd

To run a successful crowdfunding campaign, it is highly recommendable to know who your crowd is. To be honest, we didn’t really know this. We expected the crowd to be people like us, either in age or lifestyle, but maybe with a little more money to spend. However, we quickly learned we attracted lots of different people, most of them a few decades older than ourselves, but all in search for some free-spirit pioneering. Wandering about how big our crowd should be, we got into Robin Dunbar’s thoughts. This renowned social network guru and anthropologist states:

“The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. Putting it another way, it’s the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

Since our team already existed of 15 man and was still expanding, we’ve decided to select 100 crowd-funders to share costs and care of the Böhemia island with. All together we would go back to basics, in a natural environment, taking a digital detox from post-modern life. No electricity, let alone WiFi or social networks. For a few days a year, focus will purely be on the self and direct surroundings. To meet and discover new ways of living through meeting up with people who live different lives, yet share similar dreams and interests. Our goal was to develop a sustainable society wherein Scandinavian sky’s the limit.

Step 6: Prepared a crowdfunding document with all the nitty gritty details required

We started realising that preparing a campaign requires a whole lot of work and found a Creative Director of our campaign: Rolien Sandelowsky. Under her leadership and with a team of volunteers we prepared a crowdfunding document with support of lawyers, crowdfunding experts, notaries and bankers. We officially set up the entity and all investor’s contracts at the notary and got everything ready to go live on Leapfunder.

Step 7: Attracted a group of early investors

Unfortunately, setting up a crowdfunding campaign is not for free. The total set-up costs were €6.000. To finance the set-up costs we attracted a group of early investors that invested €1.000 each in this project. The deal we proposed was the following: In case the campaign would succeed they would receive a slice of paradise at a 50% discount (€1.000 instead of €2.000) and in case the campaign would not succeed they would lose their investment. With the initial funds we were able to establish a legal entity, design contracts and provide full-time team members with a tiny salary. We are very grateful for the fact that this group of early investors have made this project possible!

Step 8: Presented the idea to the crowd

We set up a website, a Facebook-page and an Instagram-account to present the idea to the crowd and to connect and inspire interested people. Over a couple of weeks we collected more than 500 likes on Facebook, 750 followers on Instagram and 1000 unique visitors per day at the website. We wanted to capture the spirit of our plan in all social media outlets. It was very important for us to reach the right audience, so we choose our words carefully:

“In times where materialism is no longer key and we’re all longing for experiences instead of possessions, we’re looking for new ways to manage our money and time. We focus on personal development and learning. New forms of media and transport enable us to get in contact with likeminded spirits from all over the world. We start sharing stories, cars, houses and supplies. We broaden our borders and start shifting our comfort zone. More and more we move towards the unknown, the unexperienced, hungry for new adventures and tracks other than the beaten. Böhemia wants to bring all of this together, both on- and offline. We’re crowdfunding an island in Sweden, where innovative minds from various backgrounds form a community to share costs and care of owning a private island. Together we’ll bundle the power of our different views and develop an island from an interdisciplinary perspective. Meet new people, be impressed and get inspired by all other ways of living. Connect, create and develop.”

Step 9: Ran the campaign

For a period of 30 days we ran an active promoting campaign, held investor meetings in Amsterdam and London, did radio interviews, newspaper articles, presented at several events; worked long days and short nights.

2. What we achieved

Achievement 1: Featured in major media outlets

We were slightly overwhelmed by all media attention we received. Different channels came up to us to help sharing our pioneer story, which resulted in being featured in major media outlets such as BNR Nieuwsradio, VOGUE,Quote, FunX, Radio10, Sprout, De Telegraaf, NRC, Our Ground, Guts & Tales, Roomed, AT5, She gets around, Colourful Rebel, Silicon Canals,Discover Benelux, Linda, Z24, Performance.nl and NOSop3.

Achievement 2: Collected a large amount of ambassadors and volunteers that supported us

We expected the first investors to be people we know, either friends, relatives or colleagues. However, the first shift of investors were all unknown and purely intrigued by the project itself. Half way into the campaign, we set up a dinner to get to know each other and discuss possibilities to emphasize the chance of a succesful campaign. While getting to know our crowd, we quickly realized that there wasn’t really a distinction between team members and crowdfunders, since we we’re all busy trying to realize our shared dream. The investors became part of our team communication tools such as WhatsApp and Facebook and since then, we sent a daily email update to inform them about all achievements. Since all investors worked full time, we attracted some extra volunteers to help us out at the office to answer all questions and media requests we received and to get in contact with possible investors.

Achievement 3: Won the Pitch Contest at Dutch National Crowdfunding Day 2015

We won the Pitch Contest at the Dutch National Crowdfunding Day 2015, held in the Amsterdam Arena. We got to pitch our project at main stage in front of all hundreds of visitors; crowdfunding experts, investors and entrepreneurs.

Achievement 4: Raised €56.000

During the 30 days we were live on Leapfunder, we raised €56.000. Not bad right?

Achievement 5: Inspired people to follow their entrepreneurial dreams

When the idea got more and more widespread, we received phone calls to come and talk about it at different venues. People got inspired by the oddness of the project and the energy with which we were working on it. When we were 7 days from the deadline, we already realized we were probably not going to make our target set at €170.000, but kept our spirit in spreading the word and still attracted both investors and volunteers. After the deadline of June 1st had passed and we had not reached our goal, we had a closing dinner party with our expanded group of investors. Even though we were disappointed by not reaching the target, we got so much energy out of being together and inspired each other in chasing dreams and give all plans a try, even when they seem too unreal to be true. Talking about crowd-funding castles, being part of a Papua New Guinean tribe, we realized we’ve did form the community of inspired free, like-minded spirits whom we will keep in contact with, despite the future of Böhemia island.

3. What we learned 

Lesson 1: Facebook is a great platform to test early stage ideas

Test your business or project ideas at your Facebook wall. If you receive 100+ likes it is probably a good idea.

Lesson 2: Prepare your story for journalists early on

Prepare your story for media at day 1. They get hold of you before you realize it.

Lesson 3: Work on your influencing skills

Getting an innovative project from the ground is not an easy task. Many people will ask questions or attack plans. Be prepared to share your energy in a positive way with island brokers, potential investors, volunteers, jorunalists, etc.

Lesson 4: Do a proper due diligence with support of the locals

The private island industry is not very transparent, so it is difficult to assess whether the property price is reasonable or not. Do a due diligence by asking local people in the area about the valuation of the island that you would like to buy. We managed to negotiate the price down from €165.000 to €145.000. We still aimed at raising at least €170.000, to cover for all buying costs and have a little buffer for unseen costs.

Lesson 5: Have a big enough team and a large group of ambassadors

Managing a crowdfunding campaign requires a lot of work. Basically you need a Project Manager to guide the team, a Community Manager to answer questions from the crowd, an Operations Manager to organize events and a Fundraising Team to get investors on board. The power of ambassadors can not be underestimated. Even though they might not invest, they love to be part of the project and spread the word.

Lesson 6: Test the concept a couple of times with potential investors

Test your concept and practical game rules with potential investors a couple of times according to the Lean startup methodology. There are many potential investors with different opinions and it is important to reach a consensus before finalizing the crowdfunding document.

Lesson 7: Stay flexible and find a good balance between maintaining your philosophy and creating a healthy business plan

While working on your personal dream, it can be quite tough to compromize. However, since you cannot manage it all alone, you need to let some of your preferred details down and find a way of working that is both in line with your main philosophy and has a realistic future ahead of it. You’re depending on your crowd’s wishes and demands, so make sure to listen to them carefully.

Lesson 8: Don’t be impatient, it will take a lot more work (time) than thought before you’re ready to go online

Do be too enthusiastic about going online too quickly. After putting all that extra time in finalizing entitites, contracts and investment documents, we understand that you want to get real ASAP, but once your online, there’s no return. Make sure all details are triple checked, since you can’t make any more changes as soon as investors get on board. Also, don’t get impatient while running your campaign: it’s normal that you start off with a peek and the waves settles down after a while. Getting closer to the end of the campaign, there will be another shift of last-minute deciders.

Lesson 9: Create a possibility for all interested people

In our case, it was only possible to step aboard when investing €2000 and becoming one in 100 islanders. However, lots of people wanted to join, who did not have that amount of cash on hands. If we would do a similar campaign, we would make sure to also offer cheaper options such as a weekend at the island á €500, a €1 sticker, a €5 poster or a €10 cd with island theme songs for people who love the idea and want to help out, but lack the cash or commitment.

Lesson 10: Prepare a plan in case your crowdfunding does not succeed

Of course you don’t want to think about this scene, but you need to make sure what to do and tell when your dream falls apart and it’s Monday again. Especially when lots of people heard of your project, it’s important to keep your head up and an eye on the positive outcome you’ve reached. For us, it has been a huge lesson in entrepreneuring, we’ve met so many interesting people and got very inspired.

So how does the future look like? As described above, we failed to reach our target the first time. However, we are proud of the results and have learned many valuable things. We are keen to share all our documents, contracts and knowledge with other people for the greater good. If there is any people that are interested in starting similar projects in the future, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@bohemianbirds.com

Yours sincereley,

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