"Who knew Fairbanks was so fabulous! " Michelle
photos courtesy of Alaskan Arctic Expeditions
For a man who’s spent a lifetime breaking trails on purpose, Joe Henderson is an unlikely proponent of the happy accident. But that’s really the only way to explain his success as the first and only Fairbanks-based Kickstarter story.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is all over Joe’s on and offline real estate. From his website to his blog to the page before Chapter 1 in his book, you are met time and again with the quote:
“Do not go where the path may lead,
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Emerson could not have hand-crafted a more perfect mantra for Joe Henderson. An expert dog musher, Henderson’s been exploring Alaska’s pathless wilderness for the past thirty years. He runs the only all-malamute dog team in Alaska (some of whom appeared in the Disney film “White Fang”) and, as touted on the jacket “Malamute Man,” his debut memoir (released on January 12), he is “the only person in recorded history to ever have traveled solo with a dog team in the Arctic for up to five months at a time without resupply.”
Come summer, Joe is at his Two Rivers home with his wife, their 7-month old baby girl, 28 malamutes and a black lab. His long treks are made possible by the tapestry of sources that Henderson weaves together in the off-season: sponsorships, fees garnered from film appearances, private expedition bookings (starting at $3600 a pop), speaking engagements and maybe a little construction work. And this is how it had gone on for years until…the book.
“My dad was encouraging me for twenty years to write a book,” explained Henderson. “So I did.”
Now that he was committed, he needed to buy some time. At the suggestion of his wife Andrea, Joe launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2010 to raise the money to fund the time off to write the book which would chronicle his dog-mushing and arctic survival adventures. He sought to raise $5000. Once the page was set up, he sent a message to his email list of about 100 friends, fans and followers and within 45 days 40 people were on board as backers, pledging $5190.
Creating demand for the book was a total accident.
“I just discovered this stuff [social media] recently,” said Henderson. “I’m not a Facebook type internet guy. I was fooling around posting pictures and I accidently pushed the wrong button and posted the title on Facebook and I had a bunch of people respond ‘I wanna buy it, I wanna buy it, I wanna buy it!’ and I was like ‘Holy smokes!’ So we started building up from there.”
Creating the Kickstarter rewards was a little more mindful.
“When I first started doing talks I had calendars on the table for people to have,” he recalled. “And then I had a jar on the table that said ‘Dog Food Donations’ and man, they just filled that sucker. I realized people want to hang onto something. Creating the reward structure was OK. It really gave people incentive. The incentives drive the backers.”
In the case of Joe’s campaign he offered everything from a glossy calendar to a signed copy of the book to a 15-day dog sledding expedition as his Kickstarter rewards.
Joe’s advice for anyone looking to re-create his funding success?
“It worked well for us because we already had an audience. That’s the key.”
(Joe Henderson’s book, Malamute Man: Memoirs of an Arctic Traveler” is out now and can be purchased via Amazon.com.)
Note: Alaska is fairly light on the crowdfunding front. There are about twenty-five Alaska-based projects on Kickstarter, one or two on IndieGoGo, one on Rockethub, three on Fundly, and none of Sponsume. Of those, aside from Joe Henderson’s project, only two come close to having a real connection to Fairbanks: Ben Huff’s “The Last Road North” and Chinonye Chukwu’s “Alaskaland.”
Maybe you’re next?