How We Ran Our First Successful Contest as a Startup

Contests are a great way to get new people excited about your brand, but there's a lot of work that goes into giving things away. Here's how we ran our first successful contest and gave $15,000 to content creators.

How We Ran Our First Successful Contest as a Startup

This summer, I helped Kapwing give away $15,000 to content creators from around the world. Over the course of one month, more than 500 incredible creators from all walks of life reached out to tell us about the videos they're making and how a little extra cash could help in their journey.

My name's Antonia, and for my summer intern project, I was responsible for planning, organizing, and launching our startup's largest contest yet – The Kapwing Creator's Fund.

Kapwing's summer 2021 content intern Antonia Le

Truthfully, I'd never planned a contest before. I helped draw raffle tickets for a class competition in middle school once, but that's about the extent of my experience

As it turns out, running a successful giveaway that puts your brand in front of thousands of potential customers is very much doable when you have a great team and prepare for (almost) everything that comes your way.

Here’s how we did it.

The Background

A graphic featuring the winners from the inaugural Kapwing Creators Fund in 2020

The idea for the Kapwing Creators Fund first came about in Fall of 2020. The Kapwing YouTube channel was newly monetized and steadily earning ad dollars with each new video we uploaded. The company wanted to do something impactful with those funds and decided to give back to the community.

Initially, we chose several nonprofits to receive our monthly ad dollars, including The San Francisco Marin Food Bank and the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective.

We loved that the revenue from our fast-growing YouTube channel was doing good amid the COVID-19 pandemic and started brainstorming ways we could give back to the people who helped us get here – creators. If Kapwing’s product is designed to serve creators, could our YouTube revenue help creators, too?

We didn't have the billion dollar budget of creator giants like TikTok, but figured we could still do something.

We rounded up our funds and decided to give $200 to 25 content creators for a total of $5,000. The Kapwing Creators Fund was officially launched on November 16, 2020, and the contest ended several weeks later on December 21. During that time, the fund was promoted through a YouTube video announcement, multiple posts on Kapwing’s social media accounts, and many word-of-mouth referrals.

In the end, we received 62 applications in total. This was not quite the figure we had hoped for, but we took it in stride.

The inaugural Kapwing Creators Fund was a proof of concept. It gave our team valuable hands-on experience running an official contest. It also revealed just how difficult it can be to do something as seemingly simple as giving money away. We learned some great lessons from this round experience would be pivotal to our success in the next year.

  • Set a deadline: Rolling applications were confusing and people didn’t know when they’d hear back from us. Setting a final deadline gave applicants a better sense of the timeline and relieved the burden of our team having to constantly review new submissions.
  • Keep the contest top of mind: Applications dwindled after the first week, when the fund stopped being actively promoted on most platforms. To keep applications consistent, the fund needed to be mentioned regularly, especially on YouTube, where Kapwing has the biggest audience. One easy way to do this is to add a link to the entry form in the description of every new video.
  • Spotlight every single winner: People who won were likely to post about Kapwing on their social media, which helped promote the fund and led to more applications. Establishing a good relationship with winners also increased the likelihood of them championing Kapwing in the future.

Preparing for Creators Fund Round II

A screenshot from my internship Getting Started Guide

Armed with everything we  learned in the fund’s inaugural season, our team was ready to try again. Where season one of the Kapwing Creators Fund was scrappy and improvised, season two was calculated, thoughtful, and more likely to make an impact.

This is when I came into the fold to help Robert and Grace from our content team. Preparations officially started on June 4, 2021—three weeks before the applications were set to open. We met at least once every single week before applications opened, hashing out everything from how much money we would give away to which platform we would use for applications.

Here are some things we planned in those initial meetings:

Making a Splash on Social Media

A few of the social media assets we made for the contest using Kapwing!

Many applicants last year discovered the fund through social media, so we spent a lot of time preparing assets for different sites that we could use while the fund was open. These included:

  • “x weeks left to apply” reminder images for Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube
  • A supercut of winning submissions from previous winners
  • An Instagram carousel post showing step-by-step how to apply for the fund

Creating a landing page for the contest

The Creators Fund landing page on

Last year, the only place to find information about the  Creators Fund was a single blog post. This made it difficult for people to find the rules and deadlines for our contest. This time, Kapwing's CTO helped us create a brand new landing page on our website that would be more easily discoverable on Google search and help the fund look more credible to new visitors.

Using Typeform and Notion to stay organized

The Creators Fund Application in TypeForm

A major point of discussion was whether we should use Google Forms to accept applications or a premium service with more features like Typeform. We ultimately opted for Typeform due to its built-in analytics, design capabilities, and ability to embed aesthetic forms on a landing page. Our first Creators Fund was managed through a series of Google Docs, but we switched to Notion this time around for better task-tracking and application organization.

The Kapwing Creators Fund prize amount

A screenshot of our YouTube ad revenue from the past few months

To generate more hype around the Creators Fund this year, we raised the prize amount to $500 for 30 winners. Kapwing was flush with ad revenue from a big year on YouTube (shoutout to our viewers and subscribers!) and wanted to offer a prize substantial enough to make a real impact for each recipient.

More ways to win the contest

We added a new dimension to the contest this season: anyone who applies is automatically entered to win a lifetime subscription to Kapwing Pro. Giving applicants more ways to win makes the contest more dynamic and an easier sell for those who have never heard of Kapwing but want to try it out.

A large outreach plan

YouTuber Justin Brown helped promote the fund on his Instagram and YouTube pages

To promote the fund, we developed a full outreach strategy that included previous winners, journalists, influential YouTubers, organizations, and creators we loved. We didn't want to delve into paid advertising or promotion – we simply asked them to help us share the fund with a creator audience. As a result, we managed to get some great people to talk about our contest -- including Justin from Primal Video.

This summer, we wanted to reach at least 120 applications, almost double the amount received in Fall 2020. We knew this wouldn’t be easy, so we worked on establishing our credibility as a contest, leveraging our partners for promotion, and developing a comprehensive social media strategy to keep the fund top of mind for our audience.

Launching our Contest

All of our planning paid off.

We received over 60 applications on the first day alone and surpassed 120 before the week ended. Many submissions came from current Kapwing creators, especially those in our Discord community.

As time went on, submissions began coming in from people who had never heard of Kapwing and were sent by their favorite creators to apply. Former Creators Fund winner Ishan Sharma inspired more than 70 creators to apply after he posted an Instagram Reel encouraging his audience to check out the fund.

Despite quickly meeting our goals, we didn’t just rest on our laurels after the first week. Instead, we set a new stretch goal for ourselves: 500 applicants.

We constantly gassed each other up about new applicants in our company Slack

We continued promoting the contest as much as we could. Reminders about the fund were posted on Tik Tok, Instagram, and Twitter at least once a week. We also used every aspect of YouTube, our biggest social media platform, to remind viewers about the fund.

These efforts were kicked off with a big YouTube announcement video, which was followed by mentions of the fund in the description of every video and regular posts on the YouTube community tab. We also hosted a livestream with former Creators Fund fund winner Ishan Sharma. In the stream, he joined Grace from our team to give viewers advice on improving their content — all while a banner advertising the fund rolled across the bottom of the screen.

The thumbnail for our Creators Fund content review stream with Ishan Sharma

Of course, not everything went as smoothly as we’d hoped. Many of the journalists and creators we approached about the fund either weren’t interested or didn’t reply to us. Those who declined stated that mentions of the fund wouldn’t mesh with their own content. One journalist even said that they only covered creator funds  associated with a larger social media platforms like TikTok – it's hard out here for a startup!

It didn't matter. We still managed to receive over 500 applications  over a one-month period, absolutely smashing our expectations and exposing our team to many fantastic creators we wouldn't have otherwise discovered.

Judging the Contest

The Creators Fund form closed at midnight on July 27

Our work didn’t end when applications closed. We still had to sift through over 500 applicants to decide who would win $500.

We started by creating a rubric. The rubric contained four parts:

  1. A list of prerequisites that all winners must follow: 13 years old or older, a history of creating content, less than 500k subscribers/followers on their primary social media platform
  2. Criteria for evaluating general content: Did they have 3 or more pieces of original content? Was the content made with care? Was their work remixes/reuploads or genuinely original?
  3. Criteria for evaluating written content description: Did they go into detail? Did they indicate an understanding of what made their content different from other creators? Is there an awareness of how content impacts the audience?
  4. Criteria for evaluating video submissions: Did the video tell us what they would use the money for? Were the creator’s overall goals clear? Was the video well-made?
Part of our judging template for the contest

Those who did not satisfy all of the prerequisites were eliminated in the first round of judging. In the second round, everyone who remained was scored on all categories with 1 being the highest score in each categories and 0 being the lowest.

Finally, the score in each category was added up, so that the highest score anyone could get was 3 and the lowest was 0. The submissions with the highest scores were our winners.

Contacting Winners

We're currently in the process of contacting our winners and there's a decent amount of work that goes into this too.

The first time we ran the contest, we used a mailing platform called MailerLite to notify our winners and found that our emails got stuck in their spam folders. This is a critical issue when trying to deliver good news! Our solution was to manually contact the winners with plain text messages from our work email addresses.

We created an email template congratulating our winners and asking them to send over  payment information along with a headshot and short bio that we'd feature in a blog post announcing the fund's winners.

The email sent to winners of the 2020 Kapwing Creators Fund

We also sent emails to all other applicants telling them that they were not chosen this time around, but they should stay tuned for future seasons of the Kapwing Creators Fund. It was important for us to tell creators that there would be future opportunities to win and that we want to continue supporting their content creation journeys.

Overall, we spent one week reading through applications and preparing announcements. This, combined with the three weeks we spent preparing  for the fund, meant that we spent about as much time preparing content for the contest as we did running it.

What We Learned

We learned many valuable lessons this year that will help make the Kapwing Creators fund even better in the future.

You can't do it all by yourself

A screenshot from our livestream with influencer Ishan Sharma

In our application form, we asked people where they heard about the fund. An overwhelming number of applicants said it was from their favorite creators like Ishan Sharma (70+ applicants), Justin Brown (50+ applicants). We've been fans of Justin's content over on Primal Video for a long time and all it took to finally connect was one email. Tapping into these creators' audiences helped us spread our contest and mission so much further than we ever could've on our own.

Coordination and planning are vital to success

One reason our contest was a success was that we tried to do as much of the work as we could in advance. Every social media asset was prepared ahead of time (and for those that couldn't be, we had pre-made templates). Parts of this blog post were even written while applications were still open. By doing this, we made things easier on ourselves and made it so that we weren’t always rushing to meet a deadline.

Eliminate the Barriers to Entry

While we're proud of our applicant numbers this year, we still believe that we could've reached more creators. Requiring an original video as part of the application seemed hod back many worthy creators from applying. We found that people didn't feel they had the time or energy to create another video in their busy work schedules for this prize amount. We also realized that this application video isn't often as telling as looking at a creator's body of work. In the future, we want to make the contest even more accessible to those with busy lives and schedules.

Running a contest is  a great way to help more people find your business, but running a successful contest that garners a lot of attention and achieves your goals requires a great deal of time and planning. It took two attempts, dozens of emails, and weeks of meetings to make the Kapwing Creators Fund as a success.

Our work isn't finished either. Kapwing plans to support creators for a long time and we are only just getting started here.

If you’d like to help us out on our journey to support creators, subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We're already thinking about how to make next  year's Creators Fund even better and hope you can come be a part of it.