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Nerd HQ Indiegogo Campaign: The Turning Tides of Crowdfunding

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Nathan Fillion hosting the Doctor Who Panel, Nerd HQ 2013 – Image Property of The Geekiary

For the past three years during San Diego Comic Con a little event has taken place off-site called Nerd HQ.  It’s offered smaller panels for the low price of $20, all of which goes towards the charity Operation Smile.  The event has raised around $250,000 for the charity and provided hundreds of operations for children in the developing world while also offering fans a more intimate venue with their favorite celebrities. It also created a pretty cool party space with a lot of fun things to do throughout the day.  The event is the brainchild of Zachary Levi (Chuck, Tangled, Thor: The Dark World) and his company The Nerd Machine.  Overall Nerd HQ has been an enormous success and a positive experience for almost everyone involved, Geekiary staff included.  When he floated the idea of doing crowdfunding this year, response was overwhelmingly positive.  The #IWantMyNerdHQ tag had a ton of support.  Now that it’s launched via Indiegogo the tides have started to turn against the project.  Funding started off with a large push, but has since slowed to a crawl.  People have begun to question many aspects of the campaign and support is starting to dwindle.  Something big needs to happen to keep this project afloat and it needs to happen soon.

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Orphan Black Nerd HQ Panel 2013 – Image Property of The Geekiary

I want to start off by saying I very much want this project to succeed.  I went to a Nerd HQ panel in 2011 and went to three of them last year (Hannibal, Orphan Black, and Doctor Who).  I truly believe that Zachary Levi has the best intentions here and I really appreciate everything he’s done.  This event has greatly enhanced my Comic Con experience, especially on days when I didn’t have a badge for the main convention going on down the street.  The charity he chose for the event is also deeply personal to me as I was born with a cleft pallet, which is the condition that this surgery helps fix (along with cleft lips).  I’ve known about Operation Smile for many years and having a celebrity back it in such a public way has touched me on a personal level.  My criticism of the crowdfunding campaign is in no way meant to be a slam against Levi, the event, or the cause.  I truly support it, but I feel like there have been many missteps here that need to be addressed if the funding goal is going to be reached.  And I really really want it to get reached.

The first misstep is the massive amount being asked for with not even a general breakdown of what the money is going towards.   He’s asking for $1 million to put this event on.  Renting out Petco Park isn’t cheap, so a high price tag isn’t exactly going to be a surprise, but there’s been no break down for how much of this will go to what portion of the costs.  The prices to rent out Petco Park are publicly listed and range from $2,450 to $35,000 depending on what space you want to rent.  If you want to overestimate completely and say he’s renting out multiple spaces (he did rent out the field for Serenity, which is the most expensive space to rent) you can say it’s going to cost $50,000 a day.  Let’s say he has to rent it for an entire week to count for set up and tear down.  That’s $350,000 right off the bat on rental space alone.

The problem with this estimate is that I’m pretty sure he didn’t rent out the field for an entire week, which would mean it’s far overblown.  Even if it were accurate, that’s only a little more than 1/3 of the cost.  If equipment and set up costs are genuinely hundreds of thousands of dollars that needs to be stated.  In his interview with the Hollywood Reporter Levi alludes to the fact that sponsors pulled out of the event last year and he had to pay for some of it himself.  That’s pretty terrible and I feel for the guy.  If part of the funding this year is to recoup losses from last year, that’s understandable.  But how much?  If he would tell us what the costs involved were and how much is going towards recovering last years losses it would put a lot of people’s minds at ease.  Badass Digest wrote an article critical of the campaign and, while the tone of the article was harsh and there was some misinformation about what Nerd HQ is (it’s more than just a celeb party, you guys), it brought up a lot of valid concerns over the project.  Levi actually left a comment on the article saying that if people had questions they could just ask him.

I sent out an inquiry email asking for a budget breakdown and have yet to receive a response.  I know several others who have sent emails as well.  In fact, in a recent Q&A many people asked the same question and none of them got a breakdown either.  While I don’t expect him to answer each of us individually, it’d be great if the message got across that this information is wanted by a lot of people and that it should be stated publicly somewhere.  It seems to be the vital piece of information that is being ignored here that would put a lot of people’s minds at ease.  While I have no doubt that Levi’s intentions are honorable, it’s been interpreted as a pretty shady practice by a lot of potential donors.

Hannibal Panel, Nerd HQ 2013 - Image Property of The Geekiary
Hannibal Panel, Nerd HQ 2013 – Image Property of The Geekiary

The large funding goal can also be rather disheartening as time goes on and we don’t get close to the goal.  In the first 36 hours we blew past 10% of the total being asked of us, but in the following days it’s slowed down massively.  In the next 8 days it only gained 7% of what it needed.  In order to get back on track something major needs to happen or we are going to fall way short of our goal.  If $1 million is an over estimate, it seems the better strategy would have been to ask for the bare minimum, then state the “stretch” goal to increase the size or quality of the event.  When a crowdfunding campaign nears the end of its funding period and is nowhere near its goal it doesn’t really help inspire that last minute push that’s often needed to put projects over the top.

The lack of perks is also a major point of contention for a lot of people.  Levi makes a good point that he’d rather the money go towards the event instead of making and shipping rewards, but there are a lot of onsite rewards that can be offered that wouldn’t really cost them anything.  For example, for a few hundred dollars maybe you can have lunch with Levi or one of his many celebrity friends who always seem so supportive of the project.  Maybe for a thousand you can be guaranteed seats at several panels or invited to the private party.  Maybe even set up a raffle system for some lower end funding goals.  If you donate $50 your name would get entered into a raffle to attend the private party, which would give people with very little money a chance at some of the bigger perks.  None of this would really cost anything and it would motivate people to donate more than they are right now.  At this time the only perk is getting your name on a wall and signed up on their mailing list.  You get these perks whether you donate $5 or $1,000.

Despite the perceived flaws in the campaign and the sudden rush of negativity being thrown at Levi and the Nerd Machine, I really am hoping this succeeds.  I hope that Levi listens to the questions being asked by his supporters and releases a budget, even if it’s just a very general outline.  That alone would boost a lot of people’s confidence with this event and we could see a sizable bump in donations.  It may be too late to add perks to this campaign, but he has hinted at possible referral perks being added in the near future.  That would also give this project a much needed shot of adrenaline.  Whatever route he chooses to go, he needs to act fast.  There’s only a month left to go and it still needs about 82% of its goal funded.  At the rate it’s currently gaining donations, it won’t meet it’s goal in time.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.


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10 thoughts on “Nerd HQ Indiegogo Campaign: The Turning Tides of Crowdfunding

  1. Good piece. I’d also rrecommend they add a breakdown to the campaign.

    Just a small note, you may want to replace most of your “Kickstarter” mentions with “crowdfunding campaing” as Kickstarter is a brand and Levi is only using Indiegogo for this.

    1. Thank you. Yeah, I’ve heard “kickstarter” used like “google” and “kleenex” where it’s technically a brand, but it used interchangeably with the general term. I’ll change it, though. Thanks for the feedback!

      -Admin Angel

  2. I haven’t finished reading the article yet, but I do want to point out that those rental costs are for a four-hour event. For Nerd HQ they are renting out multiple spaces for probably six days, twenty-four hours a day, including set-up and breakdown. You need to multiply your figures by quite a bit. I’m sure that based on the type of event they are throwing, they are given a rate that is completely made up and not in any brochure.

    1. We’d love to see those inflated numbers and know because a lot of people who don’t have a history of attending this event and seeing what Levi has accomplished will view the lack of transparency as extremely shady. As I states many times I don’t doubt Levi’s intentions, but the avoidance of releasing figures for how much things cost is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. Are the costs for the venue way higher? Fine. Tell us that.

      -Admin Angel

      1. He has given the figures that he can in the video chat . You must realise that for legal reason he cannot give exact figures.He also explained about the venue and has mentioned that so far he has always had to use his own money for nerdhq.He just wants a place for fans.He personally pays for anything that is just for him like the celeb party.Anyway i am not good at explaining as i have autism so please check out is video where he goes in money issues.

  3. I agree that the breakdown probably can’t be given for legal reasons, very possibly because he’s getting a great deal on some things and making the numbers public would force the company to have to honor that rate for anyone who happens to stumble upon it. I wish they would come out and say why they’re not providing them, though. It would set people’s minds at ease, especially those that don’t know anything about putting on an event of this size.

    Also, several people have thrown around the idea of perks that don’t cost anything. The problem with any perks dealing with celebrities is that he can’t make promises for anyone, or himself, at this point. There’s no guarantee of there being time for him and a celebrity to have lunch with one person, let alone multiple people. So they’d have to put a really small cap on how many of that perk can be offered.

    The same is true for guaranteeing a ticket to a panel. There are only 250 (possibly 300 this year) tickets sold. It would be unfair if all tickets to a popular panel sold out before they were on sale because of demand from people who donated a lot, not to mention that panel wouldn’t make any money because none of that went to Operation Smile (for tax purposes, it would be too complicated to make a portion of the contribution go to OS). So they’d have to put a cap of 25 on that perk, too, on the off chance that everyone wanted to go to the same panel. Sure, they could just put a cap on how many tickets per panel, but how would you determine who gets to pick first? Most people who can contribute $1000 also work during the week, when the campaign started, so should people who are able to be online while they work be rewarded more than those who had to wait until they came home?

    Also, putting a cap on perk levels, or limiting perks to those who attend the event, would dissuade people who don’t qualify from donating that amount. Granted, it’s a non-issue, since there have been few people who have donated the higher amounts (that we know of, since some may have and not chosen a perk), but it’s a tricky slope when you add perks, especially things that would be as highly desirable as those. Either people complain a lot or people break the bank because the higher contribution perk is so appealing. I can’t tell you how many times I go to a crowd funding campaign expecting to spend no more than $25 and spend like $50 because I couldn’t pass up what was offered.

    The way they have it set up may not be the most ideal, and definitely not the most desired in our “what’s in it for me?” society, but I do think it’s the most fair. And if they’re using the campaign to also calculate interest in Nerd HQ, the most accurate. It’s unfortunate that the experiment doesn’t appear to be successful, at least so far, but hopefully the remaining buzz around the campaign will not be defamatory and potential sponsors will look favorably and decide to be part of it. Or fans who have resources to help the event be amazing for less money will step up.

    1. You bring up a ton of good points. It’s obviously a very complex issue with no easy answer (just like Comic Con badge sales, honestly). Not being able to legally break down how much things costs is really damaging, but it is what it is. I’m glad that he at least said that the event cost around $950k, which at least shows that the amount he’s asking for isn’t an over estimate or to recover costs from last year as many people assumed. Having a number of some sort, even if it’s vague, is helpful. Unfortunately people want more and he can’t/won’t provide that.

      Lots of great points about the perks. I was thinking that people would still have to pay the $20 for their panel even if it’s guaranteed. If someone can afford to spend $1000, they can definitely put $20 towards charity. Putting a cap per panel does come with a host of problems. You could limit it to something like 25 people per panel, but even with the super popular panels (Stan Lee or Doctor Who, for example) there might be a ton of people who want to see it and will be upset when those 25 spots are gone. But I wonder, will there even be up to 25 people willing to donate $1000? Not sure. But if there were and they were all Stan Lee or Doctor Who fans, there’d be hurt feelings. The only free perk I’ve seen that doesn’t have a downside is the exclusive party perk. I think that would have been a good one.

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