Photo Credit: Julia Hembree
The career journey of Alex Daly, the founder of Daly a crowdfunding and PR consultancy, is unique and unconventional. She carved out her own area of expertise by leaning into her strengths and accepting what she is really good at. Six years and $20 million later, Alex has run over a hundred crowdfunding campaigns with a 100% success rate and worked with some of the biggest industry names such as Neil Young. The Times referred to one of her campaigns as “The most artfully managed crowdfunding campaign ever”. She is also the author of the groundbreaking book The Crowdsourceress: Get Smart, Get Funded, and Kickstart Your Next Big Idea.
Here, Alex discusses how she accidentally fell into crowdfunding, Imposter Syndrome and her tips on disconnecting from work.
On Starting Out
When I graduated school I thought I wanted to be a journalist because I enjoyed writing and it seemed like the most obvious thing to do. When you’re trying to become a journalist you start in the fact-checking department which is what I did for New York Magazine on a daily basis. I did this whilst doing some freelance writing gigs. After this, I moved to the WSJ. Magazine as a full-time researcher and fact checker position which required me to fact-check the whole magazine. I did this when I was 23 and it was a really big job for me, whilst doing this I was still writing on the side and this was when I was at a crossroad and wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a journalist.
Figuring it out
Luckily, I found a mentor who at the time had written a piece for the magazine. I reached out to her and I told her how much I found her work to be amazing and would love to one day sit down with her and understand her career journey, we eventually got on very well and became friends. She was very helpful in my journey of understanding what I wanted to do next, I really didn’t know what I wanted to be doing at 24 and I felt lost.
I had quite a few majors in school and she had asked me “What do you really like?”, I responded with “I really enjoy film”. Off the back of that conversation, she introduced me to a documentary company her friend owned. After making the introduction, the owner said he’d let me know when they have a position, he eventually got back to me and said they were looking for a production manager. When I had the interview I completely winged it and knew that I was going to have to completely figure it out on the job. After starting the role, I noticed what they really needed was a grant writer for documentary films. For documentaries, the main work is for you to raise money so most of my work was focused on writing grants.
The break into crowdfunding
One day an editor in the office mentioned that he was working on a project at a radio station in Jersey and was trying to raise money for it. He said he was raising money through Kickstarter, this was 2012 and Kickstarter had only been around for 3 years. I did some research on Kickstarter and found out it was a way to raise money online, I then agreed to do the project with him and he hired me to help him launch the campaign. I focused on all the copywriting on the page and all the rewards. I literally googled how to write a press release, I learned everything from the ground up. We eventually raised $80,000 which was quite crazy for our first time. The radio station had a very built-in loyal customer base who wanted to keep the station going, this is what drove the success of the crowdfunding campaign. In crowdfunding the crowd is what motivates the funding, we were able to get these people energised as they wanted the radio station to last. We had people from all over the world donating, they were committed to making it a success.I literally googled how to write a press release, I learned everything from the ground up. Click To Tweet
From here, I started raising funds for people who were filmmakers, my name got out as “the woman who knew how to raise money for documentaries through Kickstarter” and then people just started calling me. This was all due to word of mouth, in the documentary world everyone needs money and when they heard I could raise and do it fast they were keen to hire me. There was also a blog post someone wrote about me which is where I was named “The Crowdsourceress”. This was also a very niche area at the time, there was rarely anyone doing it, so it was quite a unique opportunity for me.
I remember telling my partner “Everyone is calling me an expert but I don’t think I am, I am just lucky” and he said, “There’s a term for that it’s called Imposter Syndrome”. I felt like an imposter, it took a very long time before I could accept that I actually knew what I was doing and even though I had a 100% success rate on paper and was working with these amazing clients, I just felt like I was getting lucky all the time.
Side hustling and managing high-pressure projects
I multitask and I’m very high functioning with multiple projects at the same time, it is very stressful but I have always loved it. I loved when I was side hustling, working nights and weekends that could help bring the projects to life, it was a lot of work but I was in my mid-20s and had the energy to do it. Juggling things was never that hard for me, these early days were very exciting and I just felt honoured to work with these awesome filmmakers.
My parents were both entrepreneurs and I grew up seeing that and felt this is what we are supposed to be like as adults. I expected that level of ambition from myself. From a young age, I was always the go-getter trying to get good grades, I was in sports after school, I was doing a lot but that’s what I thought was the model.
Accepting what I’m good at
In 2014 when I had about a dozen films under my belt, I was still doing the film stuff—as I thought I really wanted to be a director. But I began to notice I was actually very good at helping artists get funded.
During this time, Neil Young’s team approached me to crowdfund for a project he was working on. The goal was $800,000, which was ten times the amount I had ever raised before. When I got that job, I threw myself into it, working 24 hours a day. I couldn’t even wrap my head around how terrifying the dollar amount was. When the campaign launched, we hit the goal on the first day. It was so bonkers how we had raised that much money, it was the third most funded project ever on Kickstarter, Time magazine was saying it was the most artfully managed crowdfunding campaign ever, it was so incredible to witness and I just decided that it is time for me to embrace that I am really good at this and maybe I’m not an artist but I’m more of the person that helps the artist. I accepted what I was good at and leaned into it instead of trying to be someone who I’m really not.
People get so shy talking about money which is why I love Otegha Uwagba and how upfront she is about how important it is to talk about money. It is so important because we need money to make things, it empowered me to know that I had a hand in bringing these creative projects to life because they wouldn’t have been able to do so if they didn’t have money. When this dawned on me and I realised I played such an important role that is when the acceptance of it and the embrace of it felt so much better.I accepted what I was good at and leaned into it instead of trying to be someone who I'm really not. Click To Tweet
After the Neil Young campaign, I made the company official and stop doing it on the weekends but made it a full-time consultancy. I wasn’t sure what to call it; people were saying “Crowdsourceress,” but I did not want to get pigeonholed into only doing crowdfunding—a decision which I am very proud of now. At first, I settled on using my name, Vann Alexandra; then, Daly PR was born when clients began asking us to manage their PR. This year, we merged the two companies and relaunched as Daly to offer both crowdfunding consultation and PR services.
The art of crowdfunding
Crowdfunding is scary and no one wants to fail. From doing over 100 campaigns we can see when a crowdfunding campaign will do well, what we can’t predict is when it will takeoff. You can’t really predict virality unless you are putting tons of money behind the media. When we see a project is doing really well it has a lot to do with their mailing list and if they have an engaged community around this idea they are trying to raise for, this is the most important thing that we look for these days. Also, if there is a good story that we can share with the press that can elevate the project in a different way but what I think it boils down to is if there is a crowd that will be excited about this. You have to have that very eager and built-in audience for the project to be successful, they are the crowd that will fund you.
For Women founders
Crowdfunding started as a democratic platform for people that couldn’t get their ideas funded in the traditional way, that’s why it started out with a lot of art projects because the grants for that can be very slow and there is a very low chance of you getting a grant. It is so much easier and more accessible for men to raise money through traditional VC than women that is why there are new VC funds out there trying to support women and people of color and other marginalized communities. There is a statistic that women outperform men in crowdfunding. I think there are two reasons why: 1. There wasn’t another route as they couldn’t get it traditionally and they had to turn to crowdfunding. 2. Because crowdfunding has a lot to do with the emotional connection so you have to tell a very good story in order for it to succeed. Women have that special touch in telling great stories and have an emotional connect with their audience/communities.
Giving back and becoming an author
An agent reached out to me when she saw my work in the press I never considered writing a book but when the opportunity was presented to me I just decided I have to do this. I gave myself a very unrealistic timeline, it was a 6-month timeline. When I started my career I had no idea about crowdfunding, it was all about working super hard and learning along the way, if I can do it then anyone can do it and I hope the book helps people along the way.
Disconnecting from work
After I wrote my book I experienced a massive burnout and was also going through some mental health issues, I recently published a personal op-ed about being diagnosed with OCD. I realised that I needed to start taking care of myself, I changed the way I was running the company to make it much more manageable so that I and my team don’t burnout. This year I worked on establishing a really great company culture in terms of when we leave the office, how we communicate with each other or even how we hire and take on new clients.
A few ways I disconnect from work:
- I never bring my phone into my room
- I exercise every morning whether that’s a run or going to the gym. Running helps my anxiety, I avoid bringing my phone with me.
- Therapy, this has changed my life in a positive way.
- Surrounding myself with friends or hanging out with my partner and watching something cool.