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Fundraising & Strategy

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  • Tim Ventura
    Dear All: I ve had some surprising feedback about the funding email that I sent out yesterday, so let me give you a bit of background info on the situation &
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2006
      Dear All:

      I've had some surprising feedback about the funding email that I sent out
      yesterday, so let me give you a bit of background info on the situation &
      what the strategy was supposed to be...


      Our story begins last year, in January of 2005. Basically, since 2002 I'd
      been bouncing around doing a bit of contract work in the IT industry, but
      the economy here was pretty hosed, and it was getting harder to land
      contracts. I picked one up in the summer of 2004 that was supposed to be a
      6-month contract-to-hire, which I planned on keeping so that I could work on
      the website after hours and still pay the bills. I'm not one of those people
      who likes to work from home - for whatever reason, I'm more focused in an
      office setting - and so working telecom during the day and doing AAG
      after-hours would have been a sweet deal. Unfortunately, myself and 4 others
      from the group that I was hired into had our contracts cut short pending the
      2005 takeover of AT&T Wireless by Cingular, so after only 3 months on the
      job, I was back out looking for work.

      So in January of 2005, my wife and I agreed that I'd turn AAG into a
      full-time job, and incorporate as a non-profit. Initially, our plan had been
      to fund the company through non-profit donations, and then invest those in
      infrastructure and funding key experiments to validate new technologies. It
      was an easy choice: after all, I was already putting in every spare minute
      that I had on the website, doing interviews and writing stories, and the IT
      industry was unpredictable enough that I believed that even if it took AAG a
      year to get rolling, we'd still have more stability than bouncing around the
      tech-industry looking for contract work. Another key element was being able
      to do what I love and I'm good at full-time, and being able to put my time
      into something that I think actually helps the human race. Maybe the telecom
      industry does this also, but there are thousands of people out there doing
      that already, and not too many doing AG-research.

      When we incorporated in March, we had a great fundraiser and pulled together
      $2,500 to hire a lawyer, incorporate the website, and get setup as a 501c[3]
      to collect donations. Thank you all for that, as without your help that
      would have never happened. It was an exciting time, but then I had to begin
      addressing the realities of actually finding funding for AAG. I started with
      a donations drive, which didn't work, and moved from there immediately into
      writing grant applications to the government & major corporate foundations.
      What I found is that not only did we have a lot of competition for the grant
      money, but that our competition was from social-causes like "AIDS
      prevention" - the kind of thing that people like to donate to because they
      feel good about life, meaning that the grants we applied for invariably went
      to other organizations.

      That's the point, last summer, where I rebuilt the website with the content
      management system, added author logins, and put up some products to sell.
      The products were a no-go, although we sold a few CD-Roms to help pay the
      web-hosting bills. My hope had been that if we could enlist the audience &
      other researchers to write articles for the site, then I could take a step
      back to work on finding a way to fund the site, but for whatever reason that
      was also a no-go. I did have several people contribute articles, so it
      wasn't a complete failure, but it was a bit depressing to realize that as a
      community-forum for advanced propulsion & technology, I was still pretty
      much the only person actually writing articles for the site. Anyhow, towards
      the end of the year I switched from grant-applications to first attempting
      to sell advertising on the website, and later simply putting up Google
      Adwords, which pays a couple of hundred a month, but again isn't really a
      sustainable income.


      Part of the reason that I formed the non-profit was the no-so-subtle
      observation in 2005 that the entire aerospace industry was really beginning
      to fall apart at the seams. NASA had already shut down the BPP program in
      2003, but most of the people who'd been hangers-on after it closed down were
      starting to move on to more mainstream work. I had Boeing and Lockheed
      engineers telling me that there were completely bored at work - because all
      of the projects they were assigned to involved either oversized RC model
      planes ("UAV's"), or else were simply refinements on existing aircraft
      technologies without any innovation involved. At around this same time, some
      of the ex-NASA and other types started asking me to publish some of their
      work on AAG, because they didn't have anyplace else to go.

      This downturn in aerospace was coupled with a massive die-off in the
      alt-science community. New Energy Technologies had shut down for lack of
      funding, TeslaTech seemed to be really struggling, and the rumors were that
      Infinite Energy was going to shut down. Also, the death of Charles Yost at
      The Electric SpaceCraft Journal brought in a new editor who wanted to revise
      the magazine to focus exclusively on electromagnetic propulsion at the
      expense of anything not "proven", and to cap it all off a bunch of the
      websites that used to pick up traffic from the Coast to Coast AM radio-show
      began having troubles because the show wasn't sending them any traffic

      Richard Hoagland and myself had some interesting conversations about what
      was happening, and how universally pervasive it seemed to be, and I started
      to realize that the "fight the power" mentality I'd founded American
      Antigravity on no longer worked, because there was nobody left to fight. The
      capstone to this point was realized after our BPP presentation for Mike
      Griffin: only a couple of days before he reviewed our joint-BPP proposal,
      he'd walked over to Tony Robertson's advanced propulsion group at NASA and
      had them sell all their test-equipment for scrap (literally). He didn't do
      this because he's a jerk - the simple truth in fact was that NASA's budget
      was far too tight to accomodate this new "Apollo"program mandated by
      President Bush, so Griffin was cutting as many corners as possible to simply
      do his job. Needless to say, he wasn't able to take us up on our Open-Source
      BPP Proposal, but I think that it was nonetheless a statement worth


      As it stands right now, American Antigravity probably isn't only venue out
      there covering and promoting advanced propulsion research, but right now we
      don't have a lot of competition - and that's probably an understatement. It
      changes the picture considerably, because even though AAG hasn't had a lot
      of money, we've had the stability of being around for a while as everybody
      else folds up shop. The more of this that I saw happening, the more I
      started realizing that my responsibility was greater than just my website,
      and that I had to start thinking about how to help the rest of this
      fledgling industry.

      Hoagland and I talked about attempting a plan based on consolidation -
      similar in practice to what OSEN was proposing for energy. Simply put, we
      could try to put together financing to begin onboarding some of these
      BPP-style materials into a single venue, which could then end up becoming
      something like the "CNN of Space". For instance, a good case-example is Dr.
      David Livingston, who runs "The Space Show". He's done about 300 excellent
      interviews across the space industry, but since he's so focused on the space
      business, he doesn't have the resources to effectively promote or manage his
      website. Our thought was to consolidate his online site into ours, help to
      support him with a monthly stipend, and ultimately he'd benefit from greater
      exposure + ease of management and we'd benefit from having additional

      Additionally, we talked about archiving conference papers on BPP, which I've
      already started doing for the STAIF and HFGW conferences. Again, this helps
      the community by increasing ease of access & raising the online visibility
      of this material, and it helps AAG by raising our search engine relevance,
      which means more traffic.

      Our final goal was to begin building a solid media operation to support the
      space industry. My thought had been to capitalize on the "proof of concept"
      TV-webcast that I'd done with Matthew Carson in January to create a "morning
      show webcast" that aerospace industry employees could watch in the office. A
      great idea, but like the consolidation concept, it requires funding.

      Associated with all of this is infrastructure: simply put, it's expensive.
      For instance, migrating from the remote host that I use now to a dedicated
      hosting solution might cost several thousand dollars, but to effectively
      host all of this new web-content, the direction to go in is a real "Content
      Management System", which can cost upwards of a million dollars (when you
      factor in servers, backups, load-sharing, bandwidth, etc). Matthew Carson
      was able to do a professional job putting his site together for only about
      $600,000, so while we are able to find a workable model, it's still

      Also, based on the OSEN model, consolidation has some real advantages. For
      one thing, most people stink at web-design, and even if they don't, it's
      easier for them to get the message out by publishing it on a site like AAG.
      There's an existing audience, and that makes it easier for people to get the
      message out. Also, publishing on AAG means that you reach an audience that
      cares, unlike publishing on Slashdot, which ends up getting you a few
      million flame-emails from self-righteous computer-geeks surfing the site for
      stuff to trash-talk.

      Finally, this model builds credibility for new ideas in general by putting
      them on a dedicated forum alongside other comparable ideas. We have a
      non-political, non-religious format, which keeps authors from becoming their
      own worst enemy by trash-talking the president or the war in Iraq when they
      really should be focusing on talking about their ideas for propulsion. Also,
      by using a polished online format for presentation, it helps to present the
      material in a more professional manner than a lot of the other sites out
      there - and of course, with the funding to refine the website over time,
      there's no limit to where it can go.


      In any case, that was the plan, but every single attempt that we made to
      raise funding for the website seems to have failed completely. A monthly
      subscription-drive is our only remaining option at this point, but if it
      doesn't generate enough revenue to actually move foward with the website,
      then I'll have to call it quits for good. I've also considered converting
      the website into a for-profit to better raise the capital required, but
      that's a lengthy process and will take a while to complete, and given our
      horrible track record in terms of reaching investors, there's really no
      incentive to undertake that at the moment. I'd figured that $10 per month is
      fair, since I spend that much on Wired Magazine and Scientific American
      every month, and end up disappointed with both of them every time.

      Personally, one of AAG's strengths (and BPP's weaknesses) I think is
      realizing that the themes for the 21st century are far different from those
      in the last century, and that providing any type of media coverage for this
      research takes a new approach. I think that's why Coast is having trouble,
      and that's why Space in general doesn't have the sizzle that it once did. So
      if this is able to work, hopefully we can play a community-based role in
      rivitalizing the space-industry.

      A couple of people have asked me about a "members area", which I'm thinking
      about, but it'll take me a bit to figure out a good way to do something like
      this without cutting off the public to AAG's content. If I did that, then it
      would ultimately undermine the very purpose of the effort.


      Timothy M. Ventura
      American Antigravity, Inc
      http://www.americanantigravity.com <http://www.americanantigravity.com/>
      Phone: 425-605-0928
      Mobile: 425-260-4175

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