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Meet some SLO County residents using crowd funding to launch their dreams 

Timothy and Oliver Jolis want to start a dairy farm in Paso Robles, but not with cows. They want to buy three yaks and some large-scale cheese-making equipment, partner with a local dairy farm to house and pasture their yaks, and rent space in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room for cheese aging.

More importantly, they want you to pay for it.

click to enlarge GOT YAK MILK?:  Timothy and Oliver Jolis spent time in Tibet and were inspired to start a yak-cheese-making concern in Paso Robles. - PHOTO BY OLIVER JOLIS
  • PHOTO BY OLIVER JOLIS
  • GOT YAK MILK?: Timothy and Oliver Jolis spent time in Tibet and were inspired to start a yak-cheese-making concern in Paso Robles.

On their “California Yak” Kickstarter page, they explain how they snuck into Tibet, where they were inspired to create a yak dairy.

“We lived among monks,” they wrote. “Sometimes we slept out in the high plateau. At night, the sky was so clear it was like floating in the stars. We learned about yak husbandry and the importance of yaks in Tibetan culture. We found our dream: to create a yak cheese dairy in California. There is nothing else like the taste of yak cheese. Its flavor is strong and clean. The protein content is much higher than cow or goat cheese. Amazingly, this would be the only yak cheese dairy in America!”

The Jolis’ goal is to raise $18,000, and their window closes at 9:37 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 20. As of Wednesday, Feb. 18, they had only raised $2,444 in their 30-day campaign. Barring any last-minute major donor, America will remain yak cheese dairy farm-less into the foreseeable future.

So it goes in the topsy-turvy world of crowd funding, where dreamers reach out their hands and ask people to become philanthropists or micro investors. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t, but without the crowd funding craze, they may never had had the opportunity to try. 

The old 
college try

“The delicious taste of yak cheese is what got our attention,” Timothy Jolis explained of his yak farm dreams. “After living among the remote villagers and monks that produce it, we were inspired by their happy, fulfilled lives.”

What makes them think they can operate a yak dairy and make cheese?

“Our experience actually comes from amateur cheese making in upstate New York. We’ve experimented with various hard cheeses, such as Spanish style cheeses, as well as soft cheeses,” Jolis said. “One of our favorites is raw goat milk mozzarella.”

Do they have any idea why no one’s ever tried a yak dairy in America before?

“Yak cheese production is challenging,” Jolis explained. “Yaks don’t produce much milk, so it takes a lot of work to collect it and craft it into cheese.”

Their $18,000 goal is a pretty big one, and they’re still a long way away with the deadline looming. What have they done to try to drive investors to their site?

“We’ve had a fantastic response to our Kickstarter campaign,” Timothy claims, despite the slim donations. “We’ve been happy to see our project on blogs all over the Internet, on a celebrity chef’s page, and national news outlets. Kickstarter is a great platform, but it doesn’t do everything for you. Success requires hard work and dedication getting the word out.”

Major donor, wherefore art thou? 

The pro

Erin Inglish has mounted four successful crowd-funding campaigns, gathering money for everything from recording an album to funding free school music performances while traveling by bicycle to producing two pin-up calendars of female banjo players that come with a compilation CD of songs played by the models.

click to enlarge THE $50,000 WOMAN!:  Santa Margarita resident Erin Inglish has mounted four successful crowd funding campaigns. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIN INGLISH
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIN INGLISH
  • THE $50,000 WOMAN!: Santa Margarita resident Erin Inglish has mounted four successful crowd funding campaigns.

“I’ve raised over $50,000 by crowd funding in total, but I didn’t make any money personally,” Inglish said. “It all went toward production and distribution.”

After using Kickstarter for her first campaign to fund a solo album, A Melody So Sweet, she turned to Indiegogo to fund the 2014 Banjo Babes calendar and CD. Unlike Kickstarter, which requires you to reach your goal or get nothing, Indiegogo lets users opt to take however much is raised. Inglish and her 16 banjo-playing partners in the endeavor were shooting for $12,000. They only reached $8,845.

“Part of the understanding was that we’d all work together to encourage funding,” Inglish recalls. “With 17 of us, we’d each need to raise about $700 or $800, which seemed pretty reasonable.”

Unfortunately, some partners didn’t gather their share, and to top it off, Inglish did manage to find other funders who donated personally, helping them reach their $12,000 goal even though not all investors went through Indiegogo.

“The problem with that is it looks bad on Indiegogo,” Inglish admitted. “If you Google the project, it looks like it wasn’t fulfilled. I requested they take the page down, but they wouldn’t let me.”

That’s when Inglish decided to take matters into her own hands. Instead of paying a platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo a portion of what was raised, she searched the Internet for software to create her own crowd funding site where, aside from the costs or Paypal and credit card fees, she could keep all the money for her projects.

“When I realized how simple of a program it was, I thought, ‘You’re giving them 5 to 7 percent of your money for this?’”

After her first Earth Bike Banjo tour, for which she traveled by bicycle and played shows, including schools who could afford her stipend, she decided to crowd fund her next Earth Bike Banjo tour, this time raising enough money to cover the costs of performing at schools that couldn’t afford to pay for music programs. She teamed with Anna Cosper, a puppeteer out of Portland, and together they created a show based on sustainability, which they took to schools throughout the West Coast via bicycle.

She also did her own crowd funding for the 2015 Banjo Babes calendar and compilation CD, this time with 14 partners who understood their responsibilities.

“We had a motto,” Inglish joked: “You pick my banjo, I’ll pick yours.”

They pooled all their email lists, easily raised their goal, and printed 2,000 calendars this year. The various performers have booked shows together and sell the calendars at their performances.

“I recently sold two of the leftover 2014 calendars for $100 each,” Inglish marveled. “They’ve become collectors’ items.” 

Big pimpin'’!

Forrestt Williams, leader of the popular gypsy jazz band The Tipsy Gypsies, first used crowd funding in 2012 to raise money for his band’s most recent album, Little Victories.

“We were aiming to raise $3,500 and got $3,610. We were kind of insecure about it, having never done it before. We were afraid to shoot too high and not make our goal because on Kickstarter, if you don’t make your goal, you don’t get anything.”

As with a lot of Kickstarter campaigns, The Tipsy Gypsies offered perks to supporters. Pledges of $5 netted a three-song digital download. Pledges of $10 earned the full album digital download; pledges of $15 got the album download and a shot glass with the band’s logo; and so on up to a $1,000 pledge that received a physical copy of the CD, a shot glass, CD release party tickets, and a performance by the band at a private party.

“One perk for $150 was for Hillary [Langdon, the band’s vocalist] and I to sing happy birthday to the backer,” Williams laughed. “And we did, video recorded it, and uploaded it to YouTube.”

The band didn’t want to appear to merely be pre-selling CDs, which is why they offered so many interesting perks.

click to enlarge PLAYERS!:  SLO Towners Forrestt Williams and Jason Main, the creators of A$$et Management, a Monopoly-like game with pimps trying to control the most hoes, will launch a crowd funding campaign in the - next few months. - PHOTO BY KAORI FUNAHASHI
  • PHOTO BY KAORI FUNAHASHI
  • PLAYERS!: SLO Towners Forrestt Williams and Jason Main, the creators of A$$et Management, a Monopoly-like game with pimps trying to control the most hoes, will launch a crowd funding campaign in the next few months.

“Kickstarter frowns on the whole ‘presale’ aspect because it detracts from the whole experience somehow,” Williams said incredulously. “It supposedly takes you away from the whole experience that you’re involved.”

Williams will soon launch a new Kickstarter campaign, and this time he’s aiming a lot higher: $15,000 to produce a board game he and his business partner Jason Main developed.

“It’s really terrible! A cross between Cards Against Humanity and Monopoly,” Williams explained. “We call it A$$et Management, and it’s basically all about pimps and hoes.”

They came up with the game many years ago, then calling it Pimpopoly, and they made a prototype and played with friends.

“With Kickstarter blowing up, we thought it was time to re-brand it and see if we can finally get it off the ground,” Williams said. “We’re gearing up to launch our campaign, probably in April. I’m really nervous about this one because we’re going to need to raise $15,000 to $20,000 just to get it off the ground.”

The game’s dark humor should appeal to the same types of people who like Cards Against Humanity, which is basically like an R-rated Apples to Apples.

“Everyone who’s played it has really enjoyed it,” Williams claimed. “Of course, it’s going to make some people angry. It’s pretty rude. But it’s a classic American board game where you roll dice and move pieces around the board, and draw cards when you land on certain squares. If you land on someone’s hoe you have to pay them. You can battle other pimps and take their hoes. It’s interesting because we’ve played it with some pretty conservative, mild-mannered folks, and by the end of the game they’re screaming and cussing.”

For funding The Tipsy Gypsies CD, Williams had a fan base and email list to drive people to his Kickstarter page.

“That’s not going to cut it,” Williams admitted. “We’re going to have to get prototypes into the hands of people who can spread the word to people with real money.”

He’s also hoping to get many of the online gaming communities, forums, and game bloggers to generate interest in the game.

“We’ve already had one published review, and at first he said he was skeptical, but he had a blast playing it,” Williams said.

As it says on their website, assetmgmtgame.com, “It truly is a terrible game where you are rewarded for greed, misogyny, and narcissism.”

Think of it like Grand Theft Auto, but you don’t need an expensive gaming system and you can play it in person with friends. Will he meet his goal and mass-produce A$$et Management? Time will tell. 

Ka-ching!

One guy who knows his project will come to fruition is Stuart Mason, who used Tilt to raise much more than his initial goal of $3,000 to fund his second solo album Tradition, a recording of public domain American songs.

“I’ve been collaborating with ethnomusicologist Ryan Davidson of Chico to create scratch tracks, and we’ve already recorded 16 potential pieces,” reads Mason’s Tilt page. “Help keep this wonderful tradition alive and at the same time, become a patron of the arts by helping to support my career as a folk artist.”

click to enlarge MOOLA MAN:  Stuart Mason of Los Osos used his tech wizardry and online marketing skills to quickly raise cash for his next solo CD. - PHOTO COURTESY OF STUART MASON
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF STUART MASON
  • MOOLA MAN: Stuart Mason of Los Osos used his tech wizardry and online marketing skills to quickly raise cash for his next solo CD.

Like Erin Inglish, Mason is no stranger to crowd funding. He’s in two bands, Little Black Train and Molly’s Revenge, the latter of which used crowd funding to record an album.

“Molly’s Revenge did a fan funding campaign when the phenomenon first started happening,” Mason recalled, “but I can’t remember which record. It was spearheaded by another band member.”

Mason had no trouble quickly reaching and surpassing his goal for his new album.

“It worked in my favor that I’m a techie, a web designer, and more or less a guru in web marketing since it first existed in 1984 and I got my first computer.”

Instead of going with Kickstarter or Indiegogo, Mason found Tilt, which he called “a little start-up.”

“The way Tilt works is you set a tilt amount and then a goal amount,” Mason explains. “If you don’t reach your tilt amount, you get nothing.”

Mason’s Tilt amount was $3,000 and his goal amount was $5,000, and he raised $5,186.

“I liked Tilt because it provided a platform and didn’t take a percentage, only credit card processing fees,” he said.

Like all crowd funding, the key is getting people to the site—people who are willing to donate.

“No. 1, you need to realize your super fans are where you need to focus, but I also wanted to get it out to the general public,” Mason said. “The bulk comes from the super fan, but I had donations from people I know and some from people I’ve never heard of. I used a lot of social media—Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and my blog Fiddle Freak—and word of mouth. One thing more about spreading word—email lists—that’s where I got into some sensitive issues. I had access from my other bands of email lists as well as email addresses of people who’d purchased CDs on our Bandcamp pages, and I scraped them altogether and blasted them all. I got so many spam complaints from Mail Chimp that I got a warning, something about ‘they may have received advertisements for products or services they hadn’t signed up for,’ which is exactly what I did! I posted an apology on my blog and social media, and every time I did I asked people to sign up for my email list.”

And that’s how you make lemonade! Plus, he easily funded his project.

“I’m pretty stoked,” Mason gushed. “There’s nothing that reinforces what I’m trying to do with my life more than having people support my projects, so it’s been a good thing.” 

Dream big!

Amber Spring Bixler owns a small spa on Upham Street called Elevenses, but she also teaches therapeutic yoga and mediation, so when she discovered the space next to her spa was coming up for lease, she decided to realize her dream to open Be Love Den, a yoga studio and mediation center aimed not only at healthy people but, more importantly, people with MS or other serious disabilities such a para- and quadriplegia, people with PTSD, and cerebral palsy.

Her brother is a contractor, and after looking at the site, he drew up an estimate for what it would cost to make the space ADA compliant.

“I know $50,000 it is crazy amount,” Bixler said, “but that’s the bare minimum.”

click to enlarge SPREADING THE LOVE:  Therapeutic yoga instructor Amber Spring Bixler dreams of opening a SLO Town yoga and meditation studio geared toward people with disabilities. - PHOTO BY BARRY GOYETTE
  • PHOTO BY BARRY GOYETTE
  • SPREADING THE LOVE: Therapeutic yoga instructor Amber Spring Bixler dreams of opening a SLO Town yoga and meditation studio geared toward people with disabilities.

The building is currently unplumbed, so just to put in an ADA compliant bathroom is $8,000, and constructing the great room is another $30,000. Then there’s equipment, and fixtures, and all the rest.

“That was the round number I thought I could get to that didn’t sound impossible,” she said. She’s got a long way to go. As of Feb. 18, she’d raised just $1,195.

“After years of bartending, I’ve seen a lot of people who self-medicate,” Bixler said, “and as kid, I had terrible anxiety of my own, but after first doing yoga and mediation, I realized how healing it can be.”

Bixler has since dedicated her life to helping people overcome their challenges and believes a center like her proposed Be Love Den will fill a community need. She’s already got a list of 500 yoga clients, and between them, social media, and word of mouth, she hopes she’ll reach her goal. She chose to mount her Indiegogo campaign as all or nothing, because if she can’t raise the $50,000, she simply doesn’t have the resources to do it on her own now.

“The biggest gift is raising awareness of the need for these services, so if that’s all I’m able to do, I’m fine with it,” she said.
Sometimes dreaming is its own reward.


Glen Starkey is a New Times staff writer. Contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

 

Sidebar: Get weird!

Perhaps the most celebrated and well-known weird crowd funding campaign was Zack “Danger” Brown’s pitch to make potato salad.

“Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet,” he wrote under his campaign’s goal.

Under risks and challenges, he wrote, “It might not be that good. It’s my first potato salad.” He wanted to raise $10, but 6,911 investors loved his idea so much he raised $55,492. Seriously.

click to enlarge PI PIE!:  Garrett H. raised nearly nine times his $2,000 goal to produce pi-shaped pie tins. - PHOTO COURTESY OF KICKSTARTER.COM
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF KICKSTARTER.COM
  • PI PIE!: Garrett H. raised nearly nine times his $2,000 goal to produce pi-shaped pie tins.

Currently, the multi-national group Freedom Now is seeking $10 million to set up a rebel communications network in North Korea, which they claim will be the first step in ousting the current dictator, Kim Jong-Un, and establishing a democratic state. They have a campaign on Kickstarter and Coinfunder, the latter of which accepts Bitcoins.

Math nerd Garrett H. raised $17,542—way past his $2,000 goal—to make pie tins in the shape of the mathematical symbol pi .

A site called Rob Ford Crackstarter raised more than its $200,000 goal to purchase a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford allegedly smoking crack. Unfortunately, they couldn’t reach the seller and instead donated the money to four Ontario nonprofit organizations.

The Especially Mysterious Letters campaign promised to write a letter to every person in the world. They were shooting for $2,000 and received $3,956, which doesn’t seem like it would cover postage for 7 billion letters.

The Grilled Cheesuz was a sandwich press that toasts Jesus’ face onto bread, and yes, they surpassed their $25,000 goal with a total of $25,604.

Zach Braff’s last film, Wish I Was Here, raised $3,105,473 to make his film with 46,520 backers. His goal was $2 million.

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