December 18, 2014
In 2012 they became famous with their campaign to “End a War” in Uganda and find Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a violent Christian fundamentalist group led by Joseph Kony. The campaign’s official hashtag, #Kony2012, achieved an incredible reach and the video peaked at more than 100 million views on YouTube. They raised $12 million from this particular campaign alone. Since the launch of the campaign, they’ve invested $16 million in Africa. So what went wrong?
In a recent interview, Invisible Children co-founder and CEO Ben Keesey shared his thoughts on the experience. Here are the lessons entrepreneurs can take away:
Know How to Tell Your Story
“One of the obvious things that we learned in the wake of the Kony 2012 campaign was how important it was to be able to simply tell your story. And I don’t think we did that very well during the media backlash. And what I mean by ‘tell your story’ is have your organizational strategy and your financials all lining up to your mission. We struggled to have the language to explain that.”
Founders and entrepreneurs must understand how important their story is when approaching customers as well as investors.
Prepare for Public Feedback
“As the video and the social media campaign went viral, however, the tone of the conversation surrounding Invisible Children grew more and more cynical. Invisible Children’s public financial records were dissected. “
Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell had a public breakdown that that was posted online and lowered the credibility of the entire campaign and organization in the public’s perspective. Founders need to prepare for the backlash from customers to be able to respond appropriately.
The organization’s finances were in the spotlight, and Watchdog Charity Navigator awarded it only two stars for accountability and transparency.
By mid-2012, Invisible Children had nearly $26.5 million in revenue and $17 million in net assets, BuzzFeed reported in March. But by the following year, it had just $4.9 million in revenue and less than $6.6 million in assets.
Unable to Pivot
“It was about a year and a half ago that we really started seeing how difficult it was going to be for us to reinvent our model after the Kony campaign…Of all the things that are unique about Invisible Children, that’s one of them, that we’ve taken this very focused approach to one issue. We don’t work on anything else in the world. We’ve used very bold statements since the beginning of “End A War,” “Every War Has An End,” and “Kony 2012,” meaning this guy, this year, this war needs to end. That hyper-focused approach has been one of our greatest strengths as an organization, but as you get closer to the finish line, the next hurdle is harder. And to get people to understand and to support the final laps of a long race has been more challenging than we thought it would be.”
Once you take a lot of money it gets harder to change direction. In this case the approach was very specific and when it came time to change directions after raising funding.
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