The badass witches from The Coven raised more than $300,000 for a business idea they hatched over brunch. In less than a year, four women with a shared passion for diversity and inclusion brought their idea to life, and on International Women’s Day, The Coven, a co-working and community space in Minneapolis, officially opened its doors. Talk about #goals.
We sat down with this incredible team - Alex Steinman, Bethany Iverson, Liz Giel and Erinn Farrell - to get the scoop on what drove them to become co-founders, how they crushed their crowdfunding goals, and where The Coven goes from here.
iFundWomen: How do you all know each other?
Erinn: We all met while working in the advertising industry in Minneapolis. We were part of an organization called MPLS MadWomen, which Alex is now the president of. The aim of MPLS MadWomen is to create content and spaces for women within our industry to connect.
It’s funny, now, being in this position that The Coven is a real thing. You look backwards and you can see all of the seeds that were planted along the way that you didn’t realize you were planting all along. For us, we were really passionate about the mission of MPLS MadWomen and we were committed to tearing down the walls between the different agencies and making meaningful connections for women at all different levels.
One of the things we find often here, in Minneapolis, is we don’t have an awareness problem. We have an action problem. The four of us came together to try and drive that change and help to organize it. Within that, again, there are all these seeds for The Coven that, looking back on, it’s so obvious that this happens to be the next thing. So that’s how we all know each other and now we’re all in a four person hetero-life partner situation.
iFW: A crowdfunding campaign is another full-time job. This team raised more than $315,000 for a business that hadn’t even opened. Tell us about the planning, the execution, and the delivery. What made this campaign work?
Alex: One benefit of working at an agency is two of us had done crowdfunding campaigns before. My agency had a whole crowdfunding arm, so I had worked on projects like a 3D printer that raised $3 million dollars. It was kind of amazing because we had this knowledge of, at least, how to do it and we had both been on the creative side of it before. We knew what needed to go into a crowdfunding video. We knew the types of rewards that we needed to offer.
But because of all of that experience, I was the person who said, ‘We are not doing a crowdfunding campaign.’ I had done six campaigns before and they are a TON of work. If you have never done one before, you feel like, ‘Oh wow, they’re just so turnkey. You just put your campaign on a website and then it sells.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a lot of work that goes into it.
Erinn: The merchandise game was something we were really scared of at the time. Early in our planning process, we had an idea but we didn’t know the value of it yet. There was that element of ‘Oh, we’ll give them pens and then we’ll give them notebooks!’ and Alex was like “We’re not getting in the merch game. I refuse to do that.”
Bethany: Here’s where we kind of turned a corner on the crowdfunding campaign. Our organization is totally a mission-driven organization, but it’s also business. Once we allowed ourselves to say the thing that we’re building is big enough that people will find an altruistic angle, [we agreed] we don’t need merchandise.
[Our community] believes in the idea and they think that there is a need for this in our city. We had a hunch. And we did the work to verify it. We talked to hundreds of women the summer before our campaign ever went live. We concluded there is a group of women who are both affluent enough and who will see the value of something like this, and they will fund it. And maybe dudes will fund it. Maybe dudes will fund it at like $100 because they believe that women deserve something like this. We then spent our time putting together packages that would allow us to give parts of The Coven experience without having to manufacture tchotchkes to send to people in the suburbs of Minneapolis.
Alex: Those focus groups became our pool of women that we built our email lists from. They became our ambassadors. There were women who were saying “Yes, this makes sense.” There were people in there who were like, “I wouldn’t use a space like this, but I can appreciate what you’re doing so I will send this to three of my friends.” We knew by July that we were going to do a crowdfunding campaign.
We had started collecting those emails. We launched our social channels in September. We soft launched in October for two weeks - pumping messages to those folks that we had talked to over the summer, which is kind of like crowdfunding 101. Getting the word out early and often to your closest community to establish momentum and demonstrate traction. We were so grateful that there was a soft launch option on iFundWomen. We raised $20,000 before we officially launched and then when we opened the gates within four weeks we raised $100,000.
iFW: Because your campaign was for a physical space that did not exist yet, how did you make people feel that The Coven is real?
Alex: We were intentional about who we reached out to early on. When we did our initial focus groups, we would invite five or six women that we knew, and we asked them to bring a friend that we didn’t know so that our network got extended. Behind every great woman are seven other amazing women.
We’ve been very intentional about growing our diverse population, so doing specific outreach to women of color, women from the LGBTQ community, women who are differently abled to really bring them into our space because they’re not just going to show up at our things. Actually, the last event that we had was extremely diverse and it’s because we built relationships with each and every one of them. And then each person of color then turned around and brought another person of color. Our spaces are becoming really diverse, but they didn’t start that way. Unfortunately, that’s typically where people stop.
Bethany: For our business, we don’t need a million people to buy into The Coven. We need 390 women by the end of year one to be members of The Coven in order for us to be a financial success. You can network your way to 390 women. It’s not an impossible number. When women are like, ‘How are you going to build a diverse audience or a diverse member base,’ we’re just literally going out and meeting them and emailing them and reaching out to them one-on-one. An investor would probably be like ‘this is horribly inefficient’, but for us we’re building a community and communities are built on relationships. I don’t know how else we could possibly do it other than the one-to-one.
iFW: Were there any surprises during the campaign?
Alex: The biggest surprises have come in how we communicate with people. First, it was just teaching people that it’s okay to invest in yourself. It’s okay to buy something for yourself. The second was probably that you don’t have to be a founding member to contribute to this. That was a huge thing for men in particular. Teaching men that this is how you can contribute to the community. Give at a lower level or gift a membership to somebody. You don’t have to buy it for yourself. It’s been just those education pieces that we wouldn’t have known starting.
iFW: What was your most successful reward?
Bethany: 95% of our money has come from founding members - we offered a discounted Founding Membership for $1,800 and let people know that after the campaign the cost would increase to $2,200. There was no way that we could take $50 or $25 donations and get to the amount of money that we needed to open The Coven. If we had only needed $20,000, we would’ve felt very differently, but we obviously are trying to raise six figures so you have to go high value with your rewards.
iFW: Now that you’ve exceeded your stretch goals, can you kick back? Where do you go from here?
Erinn: There’s definitely an element of, yes, we’ve had tremendous success but it’s still scary. We purposefully are not in an entrepreneurial mindset of ‘We got a ton of funding upfront.’ We’re incrementally building this thing. One of the things we learned really unintentionally, byways of our values and our qualitative figuring out between each other, is that we have less of an entrepreneurial mindset and more of a small business mindset. And that was a huge shift for us.
We want to change the lives of the women in this community. We’re building a legacy for the city. For the women of Minneapolis and St. Paul. There’s still a lot of fear and scarcity in our future and it is an incremental build, but it just feels so much more true to who we are.
iFW: What are some pieces of advice you have for female entrepreneurs considering raising a round through iFundWomen?
Erinn: There’s definitely a lot of ‘stick-to-it ness’ and working with three other co-founders helps ensure that. It’s funny, when we first started, and especially when we were talking to potential investors, everyone’s like “Oh, four people. Oh gosh, That’s gotta be tough.” The reality is we never would've made so much progress in such a short period of time.
We had this idea when we were at brunch in April of 2017. That was the first time we ever talked about building something like this in the real world. The fact that it’s moved this fast is because there are four of us. We can go in so many directions. Not that I would suggest that everyone who’s launching on iFundWomen have four co-founders. What I do think you need, is to build your community before you put it out there. Especially if you think of crowdfunding as community funding. Those relationships have to already be there. Then, when you go and make this ask, it’s not a surprise. Crowdfunding should feel like the next natural step. I’ve already bought into this because I have this relationship or connection with this person. I’m invested in their vision and I already feel a part of it.
Alex: Be open to pivoting and changing your idea. Yes, stick to your guns to what the true mission of your business is, but your members, your funders or audience are going to tell you what they want. Crowdfunding is as much about gathering product and market research as it is about raising money.
Erinn: And we should also say, we’ve had all of this success without press. Press is not something that has driven the emotional connection and the investment to what we are creating.
Alex: Honestly, a lot of the business press is like ‘Cool, prove it when you’re open.’
iFW: How did you find out about iFundWomen?
Alex: Our other founder, Liz, found you guys when I was like we’re not doing crowdfunding. She had done a ton of research. She came back with a deck and was like “This is why we’re going to use iFundWomen.”
Erinn: We went with you guys because of the alignment on values. At the end of the day, we are making choices. Every choice we are making is an intentional choice to further our vision and the values that we are trying to share with our members and iFundWomen was the [platform] that fell within that. For us, iFundWomen felt like the obvious choice.