I was really looking forward to this conversation. On Facebook and in their Kickstarter video both Virginia Jester and Chris Hopkins have a really cool, down to earth vibe, and I felt we could have a great conversation about being artists who have created decks. Also the way they approached their City Mystic • New York Tarot deck by listening to the story the city wished to offer was truly brilliant. In spiritual circles there is so much focus on our connection to the natural world as a portal to the divine. Without denying the centrality of nature’s power as an initiator and ally, cities also holds great magic. The tenor and style of the signs and synchronicities may be different, but it is an illuminated field none the less. So to have a deck created from the intention of “reading” what such an archetypal city offers is really exciting. And the potential for more decks to come from other urban centers feels like a merging of the sacred and the mundane; a gateway for more people to engage with the world in an intuitive, enchanted way.
Creating as a Couple
Our conversation began with how they work together as a couple. It was so apparent on the phone that they have a deep mutual respect for what each of them brings to the table, and it was such a gift to be a part of that. Chris Hopkins is the technology and graphics side of the equation and Virginia Jester is the mystical visionary of the project. They have been together five years and everything they have done independently and as a couple has woven into the creation of the deck. When I asked how long it took to produce the deck, they both agreed that the five years they invested in each other was the foundation for being able to do it, and then the actual production time has been since February when they went to photograph New York. Virginia also had a major initiation that I shall share in a bit that sent her on a quest to fulfill some of her Bucket List, and the deck emerged from those journeys.
They were also honest that working together as a couple has its ups and downs. Virginia said one of her morbidly favorite memories of photographing the deck was a complete meltdown they had on 5th Avenue in front of Central Park. How perfect is it that they had their movie-moment drama at such a quintessential New York location. Chris said he believes it was all possible because they brought such different gifts to the process. He is the scientist/technology/internet/marketing/graphics part of the team and Virginia is the priestess/seer/diviner/Tarot/photography portion of the equation who drove the heart of the vision. Bringing together both of these skill sets they were able to produce something neither of them could realistically do to this degree on their own.
I asked how they felt their romantic relationship influenced the deck. Virginia spoke of the image for their Lovers card as an analogy for any commitments you make. In the City Mystic • New York deck the Lovers card is a ruddy, indistinct image of the Brooklyn Bridge. Virginia said relationships and commitments can be like that, you choose the ones that are best for you, not necessarily the easiest. Making vows to projects and people can be murky and complicated, but if it’s truly yours, the deep levels of satisfaction you can experience cannot be gained anywhere else. And I see them both as bridges. As a couple they are bridging their own polarities of mind and heart as the deck bridges classical, historic architecture with an esoteric tool for reaching the intuitive and unconscious. As artists and city hipsters they are bringing more modern-day swagger to the new-age world that can distrust glamour and beauty. The deck itself is also a bridge by being so refined and artistic while retaining it’s oracular mystery that a broader swath of people may find themselves drawn to owning a Tarot deck (and actually using it). I can see lawyers and architects, interior designers and graphic artists, psychologists and the fine art world folks all embracing its sophisticated beauty. In their first art show with the work, those in attendance were a mix of mystics and architects, artists and photographers, many who had no interest in Tarot but the work speaks to the basic human level of city dwelling experience. You never know who is waking up to the mystic within, and oracles like the City Mystics-New York are the gateway drugs for living more intuitively.
In Virginia’s wonderful blog post on the Parisian inspiration for the City Mystic’s projects, she spoke of her near-death experience that brought her to the city of lights. Out of this primal experience, she decided to fulfill some of the longings she had always carried, and went to Paris alone to taste this great European capital. I always wonder what the turning point is for a person pursuing their dreams. All of us have desires that our souls yearn to fulfill, yet many people keep them locked up tight in their psyches and do not manifest the ideas. My own Oracle of Initiation deck would have never come to light without the death of my husband. Virginia said that this pivotal moment during her health crisis was not the only intense period of her life, she had a very chaotic childhood and this was just another ass-kicking initiation that propelled her towards her true destinies. She said the basis of living your passions is courage. You don’t have to be a genius or a savant, nor do you have to have had gut-wrenching traumas that drive your wounded artists soul, you just get to be really courageous over and over again. She said when she went to Paris by herself, and was moving away from more traditional jobs to become a Tarot reader her family was not happy. And yet she found that spark of courage within herself to move beyond her own and her families fears to follow her own bliss. As Joseph Campbell said, “It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you.”
I asked Chris if there was a defining moment for him in choosing to go for his unique visions, and he said he grew up very poor, and that he believes many people stop themselves from the fear of having nothing. He already experienced that, and it holds no power over him. He and Virginia make it work and are investing in themselves and the power of their shared passions.
Chris was the driver in this portion of the program. Last year he was part of a Startup creating a social network for scientists and artists to collaborate and raise money for their projects. This ambitious idea of Facebook mixed with Kickstarter fell apart, but Chris had done a tremendous amount of research about the Crowdfunding phenomenon. He also charmingly admitted that he though he knew more than he did going into the City Mystics campaign. Some of the things that surprised them both was the balance between a slick and professional campaign and more approachable and down to earth offerings. They worked really hard on all of the graphics, text, branding, and videos for their Kickstarter campaign and they believe that polished presentation was what got them picked as a Kickstarter staff favorite. And contrary to that, the videos that got the best audience numbers were the low-production value ones they did on their laptops. I have also found this to be true, if you can open up and authentically share your passion people don’t notice the quality of the sound and video that much. So the real goal is to be relaxed and sincere, and let the camera (or iPhone) roll.
The other thing that really surprised them was who came through with support, and who didn’t. They both have large communities of creative people, and 90% of the folks they thought would really promote the project were noticeably absent. And then there were the unanticipated people who were incredible allies, helping to make the deck a reality. Marcus Katz of the 13,000 member Tarot Professionals Facebook group with Tali Goodwin was a powerful champion for their campaign. They actually believe his glowing reviews were the tipping point for the campaign’s success. This area of who supports you and who doesn’t is one of the tricky parts of crowdsourcing. One of the articles I read in my own research said you will have to let go of your ego attachments to who supports the campaign because you just don’t know why they will or won’t. I found this in my own campaign, there were incredible surprises in who rocked it on Facebook, and then some core people in my life who did not pledge at all. That savvy article I read said you do not know where people are at in their lives. They may be going through struggles we do not know about, so you just need to let it go and move on. And be grateful for all the support you do get.
In many of the things I have read on Crowdfunding they all say you need to be prepared and positioned if you really want to be successful with this resource medium. Some of the articles suggested you start planning a year before if your goal is more ambitious, and at least 2-3 months if your social network presence and branding is in place. Chris agreed with this saying they had their branding presence down and large networks of colleagues and supporters online and off. Now that said, as was offered above, its surprising who will come through from your tribe and who won’t, but overall if you build it they will come. And “they” are the new folks who have not discovered your offerings yet, but are hungry for them. So having grounded, accessible, understandable channels for people to find your work is essential. That means easily navigate-able websites, blogs, and committing to a *few* social media sites that you can keep up with. When you undertake this enormous task, this is all an investment in your future growth as an artist and creator, so you want to be ready for the possible onslaught of love for what you are bringing.
Having your campaign go viral and taking on a life of its own is everyone’s dream for this process. Because crowdsourcing has no single template for success and it is really quite mysterious and magical the potential is there for miracles. During the campaign Chris says they noticed that a handful of pledges were coming from the online site Tumblr. He went to investigate and found that someone had been posting about the deck and another taste maker with a large following picked it up and they were getting reposted all over Tumblr. Chris quickly capitalized on the situation and opened a Tumblr account and thanked everyone who was sharing the project. Then they offered a contest mid-way through the campaign where anyone who pledged $5.00 or more went into a drawing to get a free deck. Chris said when something is going right, capitalize on it. Social media moves so quickly that you need to be aware and agile enough to move with what is emerging. As both Chris and Virginia said, trust the internet to do what it does. It was created to expand webs of information and connection, and Crowdfunding is simply an outgrowth of that original intention.
Conversion Rates & The Tipping Point
Chris also watched the conversion rates for people pledging from watching the campaign’s video. They found that 10-12% of people who watched the video pledged to the campaign. That is about three to five times the average rate, and a valuable piece of information about how the campaign is drawing people in. So strategy wise their goal became getting people to watch the video, and then about one in ten of those folks would support the campaign. Virginia said this was one of the places that Chris’ background in marketing and internet navigation offered a tactic she would not have recognized.
As Chris said, any business you start on your own is about the tipping point. There is an incredible amount of front-end investment for any Startup, and the amount of time, money, and psychic energy you will exert will not initially look like a fair exchange. Crowdfunding can also look like this, the actual amount of cash you end up with is honestly a pretty low wage unless you are a technology invention that brings in six-figures. But the amount of exposure and connections that are cultivated is priceless. 700 people watched the City Mystic • New York video for the campaign, so 700 more people in the world have a sense about Virginia and Chris and their unique offerings. And people really do remember things they are drawn to. I have had people purchase decks from me four and five years after they first learned of the Oracle. And when Chris and Virginia do future campaigns for the next cities, they already have a built-in tribe of devotees which will help them expand their outreach even more.
Three of the people I have watched do multiple deck campaigns have seen their amount of supporters go up exponentially with each round. Robert Place saw in his three campaigns a rise from 192 pledgers in his first, 249 in the second, and 417 for he and Rachel Pollack’s Burning Serpent Oracle. Amy Swartz went from 355 backers in her first Major Arcana only Wooden Tarot deck campaign to 648 in the offering for the full deck. And Doug Thornsjo started with 103 pledgers for his first Majors only Tarot of the Zirkus Mågi campaign, and 162 pledgers came through for the entire deck. This is an investment in your future projects, and treat it that way.
Cultivate Happy Customers
I just read on Kris Katsuko Oster’s Enchanted Entrepreneurs page on Facebook these statistics about client building and retention:
- 80% of your future profits will come from just 20% of your existing customers (Gartner Group).
- A 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by 75% (Bain & Company).
- It’s 50% easier to retain a customer than it is to recruit a new one (Marketing Metrics).
- Attracting new customers will cost your company five-times more than keeping an existing customer (Lee Resource Inc. via Forbes).
- A discouraged person is 59% more likely to share an experience with their friends than a satisfied person (CMO.com).
So, how are you keeping your customers happy today? Reminds me to do my annual survey and give a nice treat…like a free workshop as my thanks.
Great wisdom Kris about catering to those who already are on your team.
Black and White Elegance
An important question about the deck is why they chose to do the images in black and white. They both articulated clear and succinct reasons for this choice, and on a fate level both of them have been deeply drawn to monochromatic photography for years. I point this out because once again, they were the perfect team to bring this project to life. What if one of them had been deeply opposed to the black and white design choice, how would that have effected the outcome of the deck? Chris has been passionate about black and white photography for years, and he says color comes with biases and strong associations for people, where as the subtleties of darker shades allows people to put their own meanings onto the imagery. Virginia has also been drawn to black and white photography since she was a teenager and took two years of classes in it at college. She says it is a sanctuary for her stormy emotions to gaze upon the abstract minimalism in shades of gray and black. And on an extremely practical note, they both said black and white was more affordable to print, making the creation of the deck more feasible.
Next Generation Mystics
Another reason Virginia saw the deck in black and white was her powerful connection to young people. When Chris was speaking about what a good graphic designer really does, it is to read between the lines of what the client really wants and deliver that to them. When he listened to Virginia’s visions for the project, part of her intention was to create a more modern deck for a younger audience. City Mystics is a direct reaction to Virginia’s frustration with the cartoonish and uninspiring illustrations of Medieval characters in some Tarot materials that lack artistic beauty. We live in a visually rich and complex society, and to reach young people the deck needed to speak to their experiences and offer a view of their world that is more accessible to them.
Virginia’s passion for young people comes from a very personal place. With her own formative years being very tumultuous, her heart knows the challenges and confusion many youth are struggling with. When she lost her own mother at eleven, San Francisco became her surrogate mother and she understands the isolation many young people experience in a world with so much wounding. This deck has emerged from the healing journeys Virginia undertook as a teenager when she would stalk the “city streets looking for answers and spiritual codes she could follow.” Exploring the Bay Area and taking countless photos was what saved her from more destructive behaviors as she was buffeted by strong inner emotions. She had no concepts of Spirit Guides or the intuitive, but she had an internal drive to make sense of it all. And these yearning were what eventually brought her to creating the City Mystics deck with Chris.
As she has matured and deepened her own studies of metaphysics she realized we need a bridge between going on a vision quest in the Amazon and seeing a psychologist. We need a hybrid of ancient wisdom in the contemporary landscape. People are desperately looking for answers, and the old guard is not offering the guiding insights and solace needed to bring us into this next millennium. As the book The Story Wars by Jonas Sachs offers, we need new myths and channels of information to guide us in a world that is in a Digitoral Era. This is the merging of the oral tradition of sharing wisdom through storytelling and how we are now using digital platforms to disseminate this information. We all need new visions about navigating our modern world, but young people with their less formed psyches are even more vulnerable to imbalances in our conflicted society.
Virginia is also concerned about how some of the metaphysical world is overtly focused on the transcendent aspects of spirituality and doesn’t feel that saying a young person is a “star seeds incarnate” in a reading supports them when they actually need a place to sleep and nourishing food. She sees the City Mystic • New York deck as a tool to help earth and ground them so they can navigate both the spiritual and earthly aspects of their lives finding the foundations they need to thrive.
Home Town History
Finally it occurred to me that Virginia had not mentioned San Francisco as one of the upcoming cities for the project. London has been mentioned for it’s ties to Masonry, Occultism, and Hermeticism, and Paris is on the list for its role in the emergence of Alchemy during the Renaissance, but not her beloved home town. I asked her about this and she said there remains too much psychic baggage there for her to see it clearly. She hopes to one day return with a fresh eye, but for now she is drawn to new territories to explore the City Mystics projects.
Coming Out Party in Sacramento Tomorrow!
This weekend in Sacramento, CA Chris and Virginia will be part of TBD Fest, a music, design, and art gathering in their current home town. They have designed art installations and interactive Oracle experiences with the deck through music, art and performance. Here is the text from one of the campaign updates:
“We are fortunate and honored to be an opening party for TBD Fest, a local music, culture and arts festival in town. AND this will be the launch for the deck!
This year headliners include Blondie, Justice, Gramatik, and so many more of our favorites (see the poster below). We are building several art installations to commemorate the start of a very exciting path with City Mystic • New York this week. We will also be attending the festival itself all weekend long showing the deck, offering pre-sales, networking with attendees from all over the US, and doing our darndest to get this deck into at least a few musician’s hands (Moby, who was involved in the creation of Tarot of the Boroughs by our friend Courtney Weber, will be doing a DJ set on Friday night… its a bit of a dream to show him our baby CMNY 😛 )”
So if you are anywhere in the area, go play with Virginia, Chris, and the new decks!
And order your City Mystic • New York decks here if you have not already:
The Nuts & Bolts of the Campaign
City Mystic • New York Tarot Kickstarter campaign
It ran from July 29th, 2014 to September 4th, 2014-36 days
Their initial goal was $5500, and it raised $6,602.00-120% of the original target
The run was to be of 1,000 decks but will now be an initial printing of 700 (with about 700 views of their campaign video-interesting)
110 people contributed with 101 decks sold (cool numbers). Two backers chose the $5 level with a thank you on their website; six backers came in at $10 for a signed 4×6” postcard; no backers chose the PDF download of all the cards alone or the cards that could be printed out at $20; three backers chose a one-card email reading at $20; one backer chose five signed postcard at $20; two backers got the digital download of the deck images and companion book at $25; two folks got the complete 22 Major Arcana images from the deck in 4×6” postcards for $40; sixty-two deck lovers got the first commercial printing of the deck at $50; seven backers got two decks at $90; five backers got two signed and numbered 11×17” tabloid prints with two copies of the deck and the companion books at $95; four backers chose a tabloid print, a postcard, one copy of the deck, the companion book and a thirty-minute reading with Virginia for $100; two supporters got one 11×17” print, three postcards and three decks with books for $125; one lucky backer got one of the two remaining Boutique Collector’s Edition of the deck and the original companion book for $150; no backers came in at the $200 levels for five decks and books or Virginia’s Magnum Opus Beginners Integrative Tarot Class; one person chose a postcard, two 11×17” prints, two copies of the deck and book, and an one-hour reading with Virginia for $250; no backers came in at the $250 or $350 levels for a deck, book, and Virginia’s seven-week integrative Tarot class or ten copies of the deck and book; one backer came in at $500 with four postcards, four 11×17” prints, three copies of the deck and book, and two one-hour readings with Virginia; no rock stars brought in the $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 levels where they offered all of the goodies above and then an extra two-hour “get to know your deck” session with Virginia at $1,000, and then actual City Mystics experiences at 5 and 10K where you would be part of the process being a model for some of the cards, and at the 10K level even having your own city memorialized as a deck with you along for the ride.