Knoxville Weekend Feature: Crowdfunding

Video produced by Knoxville Weekend

Written by Susan Alexander

Kickstarter. Gofundme. Patreon.

The options for crowdfunding these days rival the number of choices on the menu at Matt Robbs Biscuits & Brew. 

Crowdfunding is a choice some makers use as they launch their businesses. Three Knoxville makers share their thoughts about how it worked for them.

Matt Robbins, Matt Robbs Biscuits & Brew

Former barista and coffee shop manager Matt Robbins, with encouragement from significant other (and marketing guru) Nancy Wilson, opened his downtown shop about 10 months ago. 

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“Nancy headed up a Kickstarter fund,” he said. “We had a month to raise $8,000. (With Kickstarter, users must raise their total amount in the time they set or they don’t get any of it.) We did well the first week and a half, then it dwindled off. Nancy came up with some great ideas, like golden ticket biscuits, sort of like Willy Wonka candy bars. People who donated were entered in a contest for biscuits for life. On the last day, we were still $4,400 away. I didn’t know what to do. Nancy made a video and posted it on Instagram. We raised $4,100 in an hour and 45 minutes. It was absolutely crazy.  

“Urgency is key. Give people a short amount of time to contribute and let them know how it helps.”

Matt opted for an $8,000 goal in order to buy an espresso machine, cover his business licenses and legal paperwork and stock his shop with the minimum supplies. 

“With Kickstarter, it’s make it or break it. I saw an opportunity with Kickstarter for Matt,” Nancy said. “He has a unique brand, and Knoxville offers the perfect opportunity to use it. People back each other; they want to see small businesses succeed. They rallied behind him. 

“It’s important to have a good story and tell it well. People have amazing stories and lives but they don’t know how to say it, and that’s the most important thing (for gaining support).” 

Dale Mackey, Dale’s Fried Pies


Dale Mackey also turned to Kickstarter when she launched Dale’s Fried Pies in 2012. She asked for $3,500 and ended up raising $5,452 to renovate the trailer she had purchased to house her business. 

“It’s important if you’re asking for money that you’re involved and supportive in the community already. If nobody’s familiar with you or trusts you, you probably won’t get support -- unless your product goes viral independent of you.

“It’s important to have a product or idea that people are excited about. In 2012 there were not many food trucks in Knoxville. People saw other cities with cool local food scenes and wanted that in Knoxville. 

“I really like the idea that if you don’t get fully funded you don’t get any money. People feel confident you’ll follow through with your project. It makes you work a little harder to get to where you want to be, and it makes you more careful about the money you’re asking for. You can’t be greedy about it. 

“Social media was huge. In 2012 if people followed me they would see my posts. Now it would be more challenging and time consuming, and you’d have to spend money promoting posts. Social media has changed a lot. 

“If you choose crowdfunding, make sure you’re putting in the time to make whatever platform you’re using look really good. Use good images, make sure you’re being really clear about your product or project. Show it’s something you care about. If you put in the time on the front end it indicates you’re more likely to follow through.” 

Hannah Bingham, High Five Hannie

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Artist Hannah Bingham and her husband, who performs as Adeem the Artist, both use Patreon to rally support for their work. Patreon offers a subscription-style format; supporters pay a certain amount per month and receive special access to the artist and their work. Hannah has used the platform for about three years.

“Patreon has tiers of support, where people subscribe to a monthly payment. I set mine up like a club. Most of my supporters pay $10 a month, and they get digital art or prints of things I’ve already made. My husband’s subscribers get a download of a song.


“For me it’s been a place where a consistent group of people can learn about my art on a regular basis. It’s a space where I can be vulnerable and have an audience to hear or read what I’m working on. They give me space to explore it and have a sounding board.

“I promote it on Instagram. I kind of do a teaser about what’s coming. The more I post the more I gain new subscribers. 

“For sure I’d recommend it. It’s kind of a lot of work to set it up, but it’s been a freeing experience knowing I have people who are supporting me and giving me the freedom to do art I wouldn’t otherwise do.” 

Make. Learn. Grow. | Crowdfunding

What is it? Lunchtime learning session on how to gain money and support from your online community, led my makers who have been there and done that. 

When is it? May 16, 12-1:30pm

Where is it? Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, 17 Market Square

Admission is free, but be sure to register!