It’s not everyday you read someones true story publicly acknowledging their missteps, false starts, shortcomings, and mistakes. Especially not when they are still in the thick of it. Some lean into pseudo-humility and start talking about meaning-filled life lessons somewhere down the line but only once they’ve come out on the other side all shiny and successful, usually trying to sell a book. Well, I am not there yet. But I have been asked countless times in the last year or so, “What ever happened to Crazy Aunt Lindsey?,” my great love and proud work that essentially disappeared at the height of its promise. So, here’s the story.
I started CrazyAuntLindsey.com – a website and YouTube show dedicated to intersecting STEM education with the fabulous world of DIY to help kids find the science in everyday life – in the Fall of 2009. I was a starry eyed creative hopeful who had just quit her job in advertising, convinced that these new digital platforms and social media could help me turn my passion into a business. The website, which I learned to build myself, was beautiful. It had gorgeous photography, amazing projects, was wittily written. The show – starring my God children, nieces, and all the children I had ever babysat – was hilarious, smart, and got better at every turn. Talented friends who believed in the vision of CAL offered up their time and abilities freely to help bring to life this un-funded vagary and it. Was. GREAT. In a short period of time the big guns came out to hook us up with their stamps of approval: Scientific American Magazine, the New York Academy of Sciences, and BoingBoing all gave their online equivalent of a bear hug. Everybody LOVED their Crazy Aunt Lindsey. It was a dream come true. But I forgot one thing. I needed money. Moreover, I needed a business model.
I was so busy doing what it took to produce the show and site – that is, developing expertise in National Standards, and later, Common Core and creating science projects for kids, writing the scripts for each show, articles for the blog, proofreading everything, wrangling kids, securing locations, learning WordPress and HTML, designing a brand, learning how to delegate to an entire team of amazing talent – that I never got around to answering the big, important questions:
How would this make money?
Who is watching the show?
What are we selling?
Crazy, huh? As an artist, I just wanted to give something gorgeous and meaningful to whomever wanted it. But as a business person, I knew I wasn’t doing all I could to ensure the canvas and paints. So, I started emailing every contact I had and got meetings with TV people, book people, and investors. The good news is they loved it. The show. The book. The brand. All of it. The bad news is they ALL said the same thing: You need an audience before we can write you a check.
Then, one week before my last two BIGGEST meetings, the absolute unthinkable happened:
The Big Bang. That is, the hack heard around the world. Early in the Summer of 2012, the whole world was talking about the hackings of eHarmony, LinkedIn, and a few other major internet players. But lesser known are casualties of a lot of smaller websites that had practically nothing to offer hackers around the same time. CrazyAuntLindsey.com was one of those victims.
Everything was lost. More than two years, almost 100 projects, hundreds of photos, tons of profiles and personal interviews with major scientists, and all that SEO – gone forever. It was kind of the last straw. I was out of money. Had no job. And now I had nothing to show for a significant chunk of time that most mid-twenty year olds spend hitting their stride in their careers. So, like a poor old dog that just lost a fight, I limped home to my parents house, mourned, licked my wounds, and, when I was strong enough, moved across the county. More on that later.
And so without further ado, out of this disaster, I offer you this, all you visionaries, creators, entrepreneurs, and friends:
Build Your Audience – aka PROMOTE. There’s no need to be ruthless in this effort but you do need to be unabashed and diligent. Go out. Meet people. Talk about your project. Have a newsletter. Carve out time for Twitter. Write and create for lots of other people. Do whatever you can to get eyeballs and allies to your work.
Have a Business Model – If you don’t want to sell anything, great. But don’t be in the clouds about what it takes to keep going. Have a job, freelance, win the lottery, do something. Take it from me: having no money and worrying about how you’re going to live day to day really sucks the life out of ones ability to create. And if you do plan on selling something, see above. And really focus on it. Anyone that can give you money or help you make money is going to first and foremost want to know who and where your audience is. Have the numbers to back it up.
Back Your Shit Up – For God’s sake and for real. Time machine, a terabit, “the cloud,” wtf-ever. I know I am not the only person who has ever said this to you and I promise I won’t be the last. It physically hurts when you lose your entire life’s work. It hurts even worse when you know you could have done more to prevent it. Oh, and do yourself a favor and learn the art of file naming systems and cataloging. More on that later, too.
Keep Going – I AM a starry eyed idea person that has dedicated my life to faithfully stepping out into the unknown waters of hope still learning how to swim. In just more than a decade, I’ve re-routed two career paths, launched multiple blogs and web shows, mentored many and been mentored by many more. At 30 years old, I honestly do not know what I am. But I do know who I am, what I would like to do in this world, and I have every intention of doing it. So, as any risk taking dreamer will tell you, you take a lot of licks, learn a lot of lessons, and meet a lot of people on this journey. And it’s one I wouldn’t trade for the world.
You also must be certain of who you are. Everything you put out contributes to that person. And you must commit to running after them with all you’ve got every single day.
10/1/14: I’m on Indiegogo! I was asked to write this piece by a friend, Danielle Lee, who interviewed me for her AMAZING book about science blogging and journalism due out Spring 2016. She said something to me during that interview that hit me like a ton of bricks in its moment and has haunted me in the months since that I’ll keep to myself for now. But, then, in the process of writing this note to all of you, pulling from the depths of all things humble, I realized that I am not ready to give up the dream that is Crazy Aunt Lindsey. I am not ready to put her to bed before her last and, I believe, best season is finished for the world to have and enjoy. And so, this month, I have launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign hellbent on the goal of raising the $10,000 now thru November 5 – the amount it will take to FINALLY finish it right. Who knows? I may even take an honest stab at some of the bigger goals I thought died along with the site hacking 2 years ago. I owe it to the friends who helped me produce this project, CAL’s supporters from all around the internet, and myself to complete this project. I am both excited and nervous. But I couldn’t be happier. And I hope that you will join me.
Please visit my Indiegogo campaign and give! I am also asking that you share this fundraising project with your friends, family, on your blog and with you favorite blogger.