Of Beards and Men

Funding a Personal Project with 440 Supporters on Kickstarter

In 2013 Crowdfunding generated over 5.1 billion worldwide (Wikipedia), precisely the year when Foliolink client Joseph D.R. OLeary launched his Kickstarter campaign with wild success. This accomplishment followed on the heels of two personally challenging years for him. In 2011 and 2012 OLeary struggled with the loss of his brother to a car crash and his own debilitating bout with Lyme disease that had him on crutches for nearly 5 months. As a way to cope with his personal struggles during that two-year period he focused on his photography using it as a positive creative outlet. The concept for his project was to photograph men with beards and mustaches. Over an 18-month period OLeary shot studio portraits. He put out a call for “models” in public places and online, and waited to see who would show up. As some of his initial portraits were released to the public, people began to understand his project and respond to his portrait series. Requests for studio sittings came in from around the United States. OLeary never charged for sittings in an effort to encourage a diverse cross section of cultural backgrounds for his subjects. He photographed over 150 men.

Oleary_3_JakeStrouf-85_1200Whether anticipated or not OLeary’s project struck a cultural cord, which made it easy for him to create a strong social media presence for his project. His Facebook and Twitter pages effectively launched his work into the blogosphere and into online news sources, ultimately garnering worldwide attention.

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Q&A

Did you know right from the start as you started your studio portrait project that you were going to put a book together and use crowdfunding to support your project? I knew I wanted to put together a book, but I wasn’t planning on crowdfunding it. My original intention was to create a book that could be purchased through Blurb, but as the project evolved and the interest in the portraits gained, I decided to create a more involved book which ultimately resulted in 3 editions (softcover, hardcover, and slipcase edition).

Why did you use Kickstarter? I chose Kickstarter for a few reasons. First, Kickstarter is “the” crowd-sourcing brand…like “BandAid” is to “bandages.” But, why did I use crowdfunding? It really was to see if my project had legs to stand on and to see if people were interested in what I have to “say.” It allowed me to offer the book as a pre-order essentially. If you like what you see, you actually get a copy of it by backing the project. It ends up being a win-win. The project moves forward and you get the “product” (in this case—the book) for making it happen.

Do you agree that a successful Kickstarter campaign is typically the outcome of a pre-existing strong social media presence? I’m not sure that a pre-existing strong social media presence is required, but it definitely helps. Before I launched my campaign, I spent about 9 months building my social media presence and established a page specifically for the project. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have an audience of people who were interested in helping to make my project happen.

Did Kickstarter help expand the scope of your social media presence? Definitely! The day I launched my project, Kickstarter selected my project as a “Staff Favorite” which essentially moves it to the top of the list and most likely helps it get more attention and hits. I was thrilled they liked my project enough to give it that status.

You secured more than your target for Kickstarter why do you think that is? I think there are many reasons. In one of my promotional pieces I asked the question: Do you love beards, men, or men with beards? And the answer is often “Yes. Yes. And, yes.” No matter if you are gay or straight, man or woman, this project appeals to a really wide audience. In addition, people are attracted to people. The portraits in this book are people like yourself not movie stars or super models, but normal, average, regular people who we can all identify with. But the way they are photographed almost gives them “rock star” appeal. I wanted all the portraits to showcase the uniqueness of each person. What makes him different and what is his “story.”

I’m still in awe of the fact that the Kickstarter campaign raised nearly twice as much as expected in just 30 days. That was incredible.

Oleary_7_Gregory_R141Why do you think Facebook has been a more successful outlet for you than Twitter? I once heard that social media only works when the person using it really enjoys using it. Facebook felt more comfortable to me than Twitter so I used it more. However, I did use Twitter too and I think it helped drive people to my Kickstarter campaign. I did find a direct correlation between my postings and when contributions were made… the more I posted about the project, the more money seemed to be generated. Nice!

Was your website an important part of this whole experience? I would have to say absolutely! My website was the 5th driver of traffic to my Kickstarter campaign. I definitely think a professional looking site is key to a successful campaign. People want to know that an artist takes himself seriously, and knows how to present himself professionally. Foliolink definitely helps artists do that.

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About The Book
The 212-page limited-edition coffee table book is handsomely designed and exquisitely printed. It contains 150 portraits, three essays by photo critic George Slade, photographer and educator Douglas Beasley, and arts writer Andy Sturdevant and an interview by Beardrevered. The book is available in softcover, hardcover and hardcover with slipcase.

To discover more of OLeary’s work and to order his book visit: http://www.ofbeardsandmen.com