Font Awesome, or How to Make “Free” Pay Off

Font Awesome is a font and icon toolkit based on CSS and LESS. Since I redesigned my sites in 2014, I have been using it to display the icons that you see pepper throughout the sites.

The Font Awesome icon pack has been free, but perhaps sensing that free was not a sustainable revenue model, the creators offered a series of subscription tiers for the upcoming version 5.

To raise some initial money, the creators turned to Kickstarter and offered early backers a discounted Pro membership. Their goal was to raise $30,000 to fund development of Font Awesome 5. The crowdfunding campaign ended early this morning, obliterating that goal. They raised over a million dollars. After reaching their initial goal, they set up several stretch goals after reaching certain fundraising milestones. Many of them are a little too technical for me to understand, but the last one in particular is that they pledged to open-source some of their frameworks. That’s pretty cool.

This however didn’t happen by accident. Raising funds of Kickstarter is now a cottage industry, and the guys at Font Awesome were very methodical in launching their campaign, even hiring a professional video production firm for their video.

The result is certainly impressive, and initially I thought they had produced it themselves: “What? These guys can make videos, too!?!” Knowing that they outsourced the video work—and that it cost them like $15,000—makes the Font Awesome guys seem a lot more human.

At the same time, though, their success shatters the myth that crowdfunding is a revolutionary way to raise funds. The Font Awesome campaign is extraordinary, being the most successful Kickstarter campaign to date. But it shows that to successfully raise funds, it helps that you already have funds.

As risky as it may sound to spend $15,000 on a three-minute video, it clearly helped Font Awesome raise a lot of funds. That’s not bad for something that started out as a free product.

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