It’s all over :,( for #kickstarter

After 20 days with the Kickstarter I realized I am nowhere close to my goal so I decided to pull the plug and cancel the campaign.

I could go on about the problems with Kickstarter and crowdfunding but I won’t. Instead, I’ll focus on what I think went wrong:

  1. Too many campaigns in one year. I had a successful campaign in Feb/March but I think a lot of my backers were supporting me to be polite. Maybe in a couple of years I can get them to back again but there was less enthusiasm and it came off as asking for too much money. At least one of my previous backers thinks so.
  2. Not a big enough audience. Crowdfunding is not exactly an “even playing field” when it comes to raising. Sure, a frigging cube or potato salad prank could go viral and earn you hundreds of thousands of backers. Or, you could get a great PR campaign and get some quality publicity. That might work. But if you lack that type of press or virability, then you better have a big group of people prepared to back you. And if you don’t, then you’re likely not to make much money.
  3. Video didn’t feature me. The video is really good and great thanks to Benji Seyler and his friend for their help in putting it together. But some people prefer videos with the creator in it, and this one is very professional but did not feature me.
  4. Demand? I always wonder how demand works. The problem with business (and yes, if you make and publish your own game you are a business!) is that it’s not always easy to know when your products and services are in demand. The marketplace is made up of too many moving parts so you can spend a lot of time on something you’re proud of, only to find out the market really doesn’t care what you made or how you provide service. I think this is the number one reason 80-90% of new businesses fail!

The Ten Hard Kickstarter Lesson’s I’m learning

So we’re close to halfway through my Kickstarter campaign  and I am still well short of my goal. I’m not quitting in the hopes of getting more  backing and who knows, maybe I can still pull off a surprising comeback.

So far here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Crowdfunding really is all about you. Platforms do nothing for you besides make it easy for you to organize your idea, and then take your money.
  2. Treat crowdfunding like market testing Crowdfunding is basically a combination of product testing, marketing, pre-ordering, and the online version of people who used to have community fundraisers for causes like “Help Bill with his medical bills” or “raise $10,000 to pay for school building renovations”. This means people who come to your page will determine whether or not to support you based on your project’s offering, not on your company’s value to society or your mission statement. It’s NOT a real investment platform! To some extent Indiegogo and GoFundMe are more like social mission driven, but not much more.
  3.  BUILD YOUR LIST! If you can’t rely on getting at or close to 50% within your first week, your campaign is pretty much screwed. The only exception is getting a major celebrity to endorse your product or someone just happening in the middle or late campaign. I don’t have a huge list, and I think this has hurt me. If you’re not sure you have
  4. DO NOT do 2 Kickstarters in one year. The first time, I had reasonable support from people wishing me well. I suspect a lot of them backed me to help out, not for any desire to have my game, so they are not as enthused the second time around. Once I get Iron Phalanx vs. Dragonboat Raiders published, I am taking off at least one year, if not longer, from crowdfunding, so I can build support and get my old backers back.
  5. Presentation counts- mostly. You must have a solid, professional look with video, clear goals, stretch goals, game rules (games only of course) third-party reviews (for games at least- some products don’t require this), backer’s promise to fulfill your campaign promises if you’re funded, and some info about your product. However, product is still #1.
  6. Hustle for money– if you’re lucky, people might comment on your page or share it and you can go viral overnight and not worry about cash. However, your chances of going viral are not much higher than getting bitten by a shark in Colorado so expect to cyberbeg everyone you know for cash, particularly if you’re short of your goal. So far I’ve tried multiple strategies and few of them seem to be working. This includes e-mail everyone I know, speaking to everyone I know, and doing trade shows and demos of the new set and handing out postcards asking people to check out the page. I’ve even ran ads. All for maybe minor gain.
  7. Speaking of postcards, PROMOTE THE DATE WAY IN ADVANCE! I started telling people 4 months out about Greeks vs. Norse and I set the date 6 weeks in advance and began telling people. Appears not to be enough! I’d say I should have picked the date 12 weeks in advance and while I don’t think that would have helped much more, it would have helped somewhat. Still 15 days so there’s time. One of my friends promoted his a year in advance and it worked for him; he finally beat his goal.
  8. I haven’t seen any proof yet that the time left matters, but boy I wonder where I would be if I had say 40 days left, instead of 15.
  9. Goals should match what you need, but I’m wondering if I should have lowered my goal as to not frighten people off. 10k is a lot more than say 7k.
  10. Finally (for now), accept that it’s unlikely your campaign is going to be a big hit. Realistically, your campaign is unlikely to net you $100,000 or more. Only 36% of Kickstarters in 2015 succeeded, and 70% of those raised less than 10k (source: Kickstarter). Statistically speaking, it’s very difficult to raise lots of money crowdfunding without a big name, built-in base, massive PR campaign, an outstanding idea, and/or some insane luck in discovery and timing.

Lastly, I want to add that you don’t need to crowdfund your project. I’ll talk about why I don’t believe you need it when I do the post-mortem, whether or not I get funded.

What do you think? What has been your crowdfunding experience?

Children Starve while a Cube makes Millions

Have you ever tried your hand at crowdfunding? You build a network of supporters and ask them to support you in whatever campaign you’re trying to raise money for. Sometimes your ideas will get funding, sometimes they won’t. If you don’t get funding, then you figure out what went wrong and either try again or shelve your project.

 

What you cannot count on is how the internet is changing commerce. Since people behave differently online than in real life, you don’t know what will work and what won’t.

Enter Fidget Cube, a minorly useful toy for people like me who are restless and can’t sit still. The toy is being sold on Kickstarter for $19 and will retail for $25. For the record, Heroes of History is $20 plus shipping for $25. So for $25 you can learn something about history and world cultures, or you can buy a cube that, as a heavy fidgeter, isn’t something that would seriously add value to my life.

The reason I bring this up is that I don’t think even the creators expected their joke to go viral. yet this is largely how a lot of crowdfunding works, for the same reason someone’s potato salad prank netted more than $50,000. To quote the genius behind the potato salad prank:

“What began as a joke between Zack Brown and his friends blew up into an international story, became the fourth most-viewed Kickstarter page ever and, ultimately, led to Brown ending the campaign $55,492 richer. “The potato salad Kickstarter being more popular than ‘Reading Rainbow’ and Oculus Rift, to me, makes no sense,” Brown says. “How did potato salad get more page views than ‘Reading Rainbow’? I have no idea.”

Well, since people don’t really read anymore, that’s not hard to surmise.

The better question is: How does a cube, while certainly a funny idea, actually get people who are allegedly poor to put down $20 for what amounts to worry dice with a switch and a glider?

One of comments on the blog gave a reasonable answer:

People just love to jump on bandwagons… it’s not about helping at all but doing what everyone else is doing, so they appear to be part of the popular crowd. It’s simple psychology, really.

To be fair, the video itself is funny and well done, and I know the creators were doing this as a joke. I don’t blame them, and in fact I admire their ability to come up with a half-hazard idea and still walk away with a lot of money. Interestingly enough, this is the brothers’ fifth Kickstarter, and easily their most successful one.

The point here is more about what gets funding on Kickstarter, or which goes viral: The problem with trying to build a brand is how stories like this impact us:

a. People see a fidget cube or potato salad campaign go viral, then get the idea that they can go viral too if only they’re just as funny or clever. They cut out the hard work part and immediately try to come up with something funny.

b. People see a fidget cube or potato salad campaign go viral, then get the idea they are idiots for building their fanbases slowly while some guys just throw something up and it happens to go viral. They try to emulate the successful creators but end up disappointed they cannot duplicate the randomness of these creators, and waste time chasing the gold instead of building their brand.

c. people see a fidget cube or potato salad go viral and look at their ideas, some of which might be legitimately innovative or helpful to people, and wonder why they didn’t just do that instead. This causes distraction away from the main goal in order to try to capture some of the viral magic.

d. People see a fidget cube or potato salad campaign go viral,  and simply give up on society because they  can’t figure out why people won’t donate $5 to education or helping people with cancer, but will spend $25 on a joke.

 

Idiocracy GIF 2.gif

“Next  innovation for Kickstarter: A stick that goes in a hole! We gonna call it Stikole! Helps you fidget and feel better about yourself.”

The problem I have with campaigns like these is they expose three beliefs of free enterprise capitalism that are not true on the internet:

a. people with great ideas can make lots of money if their ideas are sound and executed. This is otherwise known as the “cream rises to the top theory”. The potato salad should have show this up! I suspect a lot of what becomes popular on the internet is by total random chance.

b. The marketplace is in your control- that is, your products or services are totally dictated by needs of the marketplace, rather than random events or fortunate circumstances.

c. There is no such thing as luck- wealthy people make their own luck.

Again, give the Fidget brothers their due- the video is well-made and entertaining and I get that this was supposed to be a funny joke. Yet how more than 105,000 people can decide THIS is the “innovative” product this world needs, when there are inventions that are more useful to your lives but which maybe don’t entertain you get little to no attention or money. And yes, 46 million Americans are using food stamps just to make ends meet.

The truth is, there are things you can do to increase your chances of a successful crowdfunding campaign. Trying to go viral is not one of them. You just have no idea what will work and what won’t on the internet. That’s why no one is entirely sure why some social media accounts become famous and others, doing the same thing, don’t. All I can recommend is, try not to bank on going viral and yes, it’s okay to focus on growing your base slowly!

 

My 3 Biggest Crowdfunding Mistakes you can avoid

KS project photo

support our Kickstarter, set to go live this Wednesday the 7th!

Crowdfund is a $60 billion industry  and isn’t showing signs of slowing down, especially if our government continues to make getting access to capital that much more difficult.

Of course, the definition has evolved from theoretically “micro investing” into what it really is, crowd donating. You take the old concept of a community getting together to raise money to say refurbish a church or school, or a dinner to raise funds to help someone who was sick pay medical bills. These “revolutionary” platforms are exactly the internet version of things we used to do in communities, except now your community is a) the whole world and b) mostly people you’ve never met.

For people who cannot bear the expense of taking on an expensive project like game design (or big companies just using a pre-order platform), we can go to one of more than 400 platforms, each with its own niche. Except for Kickstarter and Indigogo, the two biggest on the planet, which have campaigns which encompass pretty much everything.

Kickstarter is THE platform to go to for gaming plans, whether tabletop or video gaming. Slides in my presentation show Games are generally more likely to be funded than other projects, but you are still likely to fail. By the way, if you’re trying to raise money for your novel, there is a company called Pubslush that was sold a while ago. I spoke to their former owners about the platform but I was not a fan, which I can address for anyone who wants to know more about crowdfunding novels.

Why do campaigns fail? First off, Kickstarter, like most crowdfunding platforms, does NOTHING to help you. Unless they like your campaign and promote it on their platform, they literally do zilch. YOU are the one who must direct traffic to their site. Now people with large followings can get people to the site, or if they have celebrity friends or backers, which is how Exploding Kittens took off so much. Occasionally, something random like potato salad can go viral and get you the bump. But unless you are a celebrity or get lucky, prepare to draw traffic or struggle to raise $.

Second, I didn’t know that if you make a game, you need to get reviews. Period. Even if it’s just 2, get a third-party to vet your game. It’s possible but much less likely to raise funds if you have a game, no community interaction, no plan, and no third-parties to vouch for you.

Third, the pledge levels need to make sense. Remember, CROWDBACKERS ARE NOT INVESTORS. They are literally campaign donors, no different than sending a $10 pledge to a politician’s election campaign and getting stuff in the mail. A real investor would review your business plan, meet your team and visit your  facilities (if applicable), and review your financial projects before deciding whether or not to invest, and then you get into the details of what percentage they will take, who sits on your advisory board or board of directors, etc. In Crowdfunding, I like your project so I give you $10 in return for a t-shirt if you meet your goal. That’s not investing, that’s donating.

So when you set those pledge levels, think about what your ideal backer wants. My first campaign, I set a weak $3 pledge and then had too many prize levels that didn’t offer enough value. I started offering t-shirts and hats which I had done research on the cost of, but which I don’t think offered enough value.

So what am I doing  the second time?

BGG-Banners-ANIM

For problem 1, I made connections, met people, shared their campaigns, played their games, chatted with gamers on forums and on Board Game Geek, and introduced myself to the local tabletop community. I visited stores, sat down at weekly game nights, and directly appealed to past backers or people on my e-mail list. I made postcards and left them with store owners, and sent out reminders to all my previous backers. It’s still not a huge community, but it’s a start.

For problem 2, I got reviews and posted an interview I had with Board Game Geek, made a couple of funny memes, and put them together. The result is a page that shows higher quality than just “hey guys, I’m some dude, back me.”

For problem 3, I only posted 6 goals, was more clear with potential international backers about my pricing strategy, and kept them limited to the game. My bonuses are things like exclusive KS-only cards. This should keep people from being distracted by merchandise. By the way, all these tips are credible for any crowdfunding platform, since the biggest ones all have the same problem.

There are more things I did wrong I’ll share later, as well as my problems with crowdfunding platforms that I want to address. Feel free to share your experience crowdfunding on any platform.

Question of the day: Does crowdfunding work for you? What has your experience been like?

 

News and notes:

HEROES OF HISTORY
I will be at the Boston Festival of Indie games in Cambridge, MA to show off Heroes of History and maybe win a FIGGIE.

I will be in Newington, CT for the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games

I will be in Washington, NJ at Arcana Toys and Games to do a demo for kids.

I at BW will also make an appearance in Stroudsburg, PA to do a demo of the next set.

 

Books:

ERA OF BRADAN is now closing in on 37k reads, and with 3 weeksto go before Wattpad stops featuring the novel, it did a little worse than I expected, but better than I feared. Part of the reason I don’t get more reads is because I don’t go on a lot.

ECHOES OF THE OTHERWORLD is almost at 2k, which is good for a novel that’s 1/3 done.

Still no plan as of today to publish either, since I keep getting rejections.