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How I Crowdfunded The Biggest Project in Australia and Why you Need to be Smart About Your Co-founders

IRL Shooter


The idea was one that came to me while sitting at my desk working a 9-5 job at Sensis running PPC campaigns for their Click manager product. I had just read an article about a group of guys in the UK who were doing air soft fights in a shopping mall. Basically they had people dressed as zombies that chase you round and you shoot them with pellets… I thought, that was fun, but I think I can do better.


I knew that I couldn’t do it on my own, so I had a think about all the people I knew that could help me. I spoke to a co-worker about it, Raj, but it wasn’t really his type of thing I though, so he wasn’t really much help. But then I thought of a guy that I knew called Dave that was working in the film industry (he said he was a producer, but that was an exaggeration I found out about later)

So, I come up with the whole concept, told Dave about it, and we met up with another gamer mate of his (Drew) to have a few beers and pizza and talk about it.

The concept was this, a real life, multiplayer, first person, zombie shooter, role playing game, called IRL Shooter. What that meant to the non gamer, was an event that you could go to, with a group of friends, that was like a shoot ’em up computer game. You run around a warehouse, with lazer-tag guns being chased by hundreds of actors that were playing zombies. In the game there were puzzles to solve, a course you had to go through, characters in the game that you could talk to, who could give you things or information that you would need to use further into the game,different levels, boss fights at the end of each level.. it was as close to a real life computer game as we could get.

But what I wanted was something more than just the event, I wanted to create a universe, so I developed the outline of a huge back-story for the event, involving a evil mega corporation (Dee Baxter Drake Industries, DBD = Dave Ben Drew) their private military force (Grey Area Protective Services), the not so nice research department (DBD Research Institute) and the crack pot conspiracy theorist at DBD Watch.

All of these story elements have a website, with articles and videos that you can read or watch, they all interconnect so when an article about human gene sequencing was posted on the Research Institute site, a corresponding one was posted on DBD watch.

There were characters in the stories that were being developed and some of these characters in the online story were ones that you met in the game, and fought as the boss at the end.

I wanted to build something that blurred the lines between on/offline and real/fiction. Something that would inspire fan fiction (which it did *I’ll post an update on that later), something that would build hardcore fans, people that would get into the story line and then develop their own characters that we cold expand on. I wanted to some how bring the world that was created to the fans so they could really make it their own and guide us on how it shold develop.

The back story was also built with the intention to grow more stories and so on, DBD was into space mining, so there was the potential for an aliens game, it was into robotics and AI so there was a robots V Humans game.

The idea was huge and for those who know me, not surprising that it was as far reaching as that.

So that was the idea, and over a few beers, we put the whole concept together… Then we needed to put a plan together (That plan was basically notes on a napkin) and define the roles of what we had to do. My job was to do the marketing, build the websites, booking engines, and lead the team to develop the technology of the weapons.


IRL Shooter Guns

We needed the technology, and as airsoft is illegal in Australia we needed to go another route. Laser tag was the only real option, so I started looking for local makers, what I found locally was pretty ‘meh’ to be honest…..

So we thought we needed to build our own, but I had never taken on a project like that before, and I have to say, that it was totally mental. I’d never worked in project management, with so many different suppliers that all had crucial dependencies on each other, so I was going into this build, so so very blind, and now we had the very real problem of money.

I come from a very poor family, so no cash to be borrowed or invested there, Dave and Drew had none either so we had to think of something. Originally I thought of crowd funding, but had never done that sort of thing before either, so we thought maybe that we could find an investor.

We tried to think, how much it would cost, but had absolutely no freaking idea.. Our initial thoughts were that it would be about $300k to run the entire event. I remember thinking that $300K was so much money, that we would never find it and that its just too much, we had no plan, no budget and no idea and I can tell you we were so wrong in that estimate, so damn wrong.

Of course, finding an investor to give 3 guys 300k on an idea (with no plan or budget). Yeah! No chance, so crowd funding it was.
I started looking into what makes a good funding pitch and this is what I found…

A good idea of course and a great, emotive and well produced video (basically essential), rewards that make sense, are decently priced and have exclusivity (limited numbers).

So, we made a video and put the campaign together (Above).
Then we released it. Still without a plan mind you, or a budget, or a real idea on what we had to do. It was all shooting from the hip

It took about 3 days to reach $1000 and we were freaking blown away! Then a week later, it had hit $50,000… I think that the realisation that we had to now actually do something hit and we freaked the hell out… The money kept coming in… 80k, 100k… It just kept coming and we had a target of 10k in total. That $10K target was what we thought it would cost to build a website to sell tickets, HA! another wildly inaccurate estimate.

This was mental…. Then the questions started coming, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the Pozible campaign page. I started getting emails every hour, the posts on Reddit sent so much traffic to the site, it crashed the servers… INSANE…

I recall quite clearly when we hit $100k, I was still at my office job in Melbourne, I had just refreshed the campaign page and saw the 6 figure total. Without a word (I think I told one of my colleagues that I was leaving though) I got up from my desk at work, and walked out, I think I still owe them a resignation letter. I called the other guys and said we had to start doing something.

Zombie Used for IRL

From there on in, I was working 7 days a week, about 14-16 hours a day, answering every question on every place I found it, I had Google alerts running for brand mentions, I was using the Google date range tool, to see if anything about zombies and so on was talked about, forums etc.. And I was there talking to people, my goal was to answer every possible thing within 10 minutes of finding it and I did well…. I got pretty good at writing long stories and touch typing on the iPad after a month of that…

But shit, we still needed to make the thing happen, within 50 days, we had raised 200k and there was only a week left on the campaign. We had so much to do, find staff, a venue, an office, build the guns, build the technology and the list went on and on.

First of many massive challenges for me, was to work out how the hell do we take bookings? There are 6 people to a team, and they all need a ticket, and to book a time, book the extras. Te generate more revenue I came up with the idea to sell addons, like a helmet camera recording and merchandise, we event were looking at selling dvd’s of the cctv camera footage, that what was too much work.  (links to the helmet cam footage here ). But how do you book that? Oh, and we still had no budget for the event, no location, no technology.

I had worked with an agency in Thailand so I called up my mate Carl, and we started working on the booking engine trying to think our way through the process of the booking and the information that we needed, individual call signs, team names and of course, personal details, payment and they all needed to be able to access the second website that held the information for the back story.

We started building the websites for the back stories, 4 in total, with tonnes of content on them (Drew was managing the content production along with one outsourced writer). And we needed to start building the technology…

As I had said what was on the market was pretty dismal, so we wanted to make our own, I called around a few friends and finally found a hobbyist dude who had been working on IR for a bit, we had a chat, I told him about the event and the idea, he told me sure, can do, So I hired him and put him to work.

Oh, I think I forgot to mention that we had set a launch date of Halloween for the event and were maybe 3 months away.

To be Continued..HERE


Guys with the guns

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Benjamin S Powell

CEO & founder at DSA global
A Digital Marketing expert and CEO & founder of DSA Global. Ben has over 10 years experience solving complex business problems in both client and agency-side roles.

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