October 19, 2011

By: Kyle Garrett, Founder 7 Squared Project

When I hear the words “economy” or “entrepreneurship,” I immediately think “community.” A strong community is the hallmark of any thriving economy and the foundation upon which entrepreneurs succeed. Amber Crosby and I formed Seven Summits Productions to help in that process, and together we came up with The 7 Squared Project – a crowdfunded video series that aims to directly connect and engage the San Francisco community with local economic growth.

The 7 Squared Project originally set out to fund and create 14 mini-documentaries (7 about local businesses, 7 about local non-profits and their powerful combination the namesake of the project). Those 14 partners do purposeful, socially-responsible work in San Francisco, and together, we spent a month fundraising for the project on IndieGoGo. Through crowdfunding, we were able to fund two documentaries. 

There was a time not long ago when crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo were groundbreaking vehicles with which to finally fund dreams that were once far from reach. Small donations suddenly wielded tremendous power due to the multiplicity of social networking. But in only a few years, those sites have become saturated, spreading all those small donations thin and making a successful fundraising campaign more elusive. Coupled with the general deficiency of attention that is one of the more disappointing cornerstones of social media, our project never quite caught on in that sphere.

Our assumption was that we would garner attention and momentum primarily online – rapidly – in a snowballing surge of social networking. And because of the way The 7 Squared Project was designed, providing contributors gifts that were required to be redeemed in-person at the respective locations of all our partners, our hope was that this groundswell of online participation would lead to lots of interesting face-to-face interaction and patronage. The result, however, was actually the reverse of this.

It turns out that, for a project like ours, face-to-face interaction is what leads to that online participation, not the other way around.

The underwhelming response online was one of the more unexpectedly encouraging outcomes of our campaign. In our discussions with donors, we discovered that we were able to fund our two documentaries about Four Barrel Coffee and Mission Pie almost entirely due to our print materials and in-person promotions. It turns out that, for a project like ours, face-to-face interaction is what leads to that online participation, not the other way around. And why wouldn’t that be the case? After all, the folks who are interested in connecting with their community are out there doing it.

It is to those people that we owe much of our project’s success. We went out and shook hands, had conversations and got involved in our community. Our word-of-mouth was formed in cafes and on street corners. We were encouraged by many people to create a new, more sustained version of The 7 Squared Project. Businesses and non-profits in San Francisco can join our project on a continual basis and offer up gifts to potential donors in exchange for funds for their respective mini-documentary. This is what we envisioned from the outset – a community engaged with its best organizations, simultaneously supporting individual and communal growth.

To be truly entrepreneurial, and to influence your community and economy, sometimes you have to logout and get active.