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!

 

Lessons in Selling Your Product

My Heroes of History Kickstarter campaign is about halfway over, and I’m halfway to my goal. Unlike some other projects, I am way short of them.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1497895052/save-the-heroes-of-history-from-textbook-doom

I looked at a few other campaigns, and try to figure out “why”. Why do they get more/less money than mine does? Why do they have more/fewer backers than me?

What most people don’t tell you about Kickstarter is that the most successful campaigns have one or more of the following:

  1. multiple partners with equal investment in campaign success.
  2. An established fanbase and/or easy access to national/international media.
  3. A network of support where they can focus on Kickstarter and not have to worry about paying the bills or feeling like a “loser” for turning to Kickstarter.
  4. Previous experience running this.

I came in with only a little  bit of #3, in that in the worst-case scenario, I can move home with my parents and focus on my business, which would help a lot. But I lack the others.

A lot of Kickstarter advice is geared towards people whose projects a) depend on the success of their campaign and b) have a bigger team. In my genre for example, most gamers are happy with $10,000 or less, which doesn’t require a massive media push. But the projects in the s6- or 7- figures often have a well-known, established figure and a wider network than I have. I assume most have friends with more money than mine do, which might explain why so few of my friends have bothered to support my campaign. They are happy to like a Facebook post, but actually giving money is proving a problem. I hate cyber begging, but I really have no choice. You’d think some of my ‘facebook friends’ would be more supportive, but I think most of them could care less. They are more worried about their own lives and the idea of charity, that is giving up something for nothing, is foreign to them. Unless it’s something they REALLY care about, and I guess my idea just doesn’t excite them enough.

You are likely to experience the same thing when you run your crowdfunding campaign, or try to sell your book/product to someone who may not want it. So here are my takeaways:

For Kickstarer-

  1. Make sure you have at LEAST 30 people locked in to buy on day 1- Kickstarter is more likely to boost you if you get a big number on day 1. Even better is if they pledge a lot of money. Say $25- that means on day 1, you’d get $750, and that looks great.
  2. Better to have a partner- a spouse, friend, co-worker, or co-founder EQUALLY obsessed with your goal. As much as my parents and family and a few friends have been supportive, no one is more invested in this than me. Not only will having an equal partner help you reach your goal faster, but you can set loftier goals. So if I had 3 people on my team, I might ask for $12,000 instead of $4,000. Granted, partners can bring headaches. But I’d probably be at $6,000 by now if I had more investment.
  3. Most likely, your first product won’t have big attention. It will take subsequent campaigns, with a bigger fan base, to build interest.
  4. Plan! I did not spend a lot of time planning Kickstarter. Most of the more successful campaigns planned theirs out weeks, if not months, or even years, in advance. Without a reliable base of money, my campaign is mostly cyber-begging.

For business:

  1. Build a bigger team- I learned the hard way how hard it is to try to do everything yourself. In hindsight, I would have liked to have a Co-Founder to help share responsibility and also expand what we’re capable of. But the partner must a) have a different skill-set than me, b) be willing to work hard, and c) be willing to share or take responsibility as needed.
  2. Don’t assume your network will support you- big-shots who write for big-shot media outlets will tell you that if you aren’t getting people running to your book or product, it’s your fault and your  book/product probably sucks. That may or may not be true, but accept that if you thought your friends and family would back you to show support, don’t count on it. Some will, and many will not. Don’t assume. Makes an Ass of U and Me. But also don’t listen to ‘experts’ opinions over your product. Trust your instinct and customer feedback, not judgmental morons on TV.
  3. Network- one thing I’ve done is brought my product to game clubs and to kids who game to have them test the rules and give feedback. But, I should have done more of this before, in order to not delay my product launch, which will likely be one more month past when I had hoped to begin selling (may be a blessing in disguise- most people’s refunds will come through by then)

This is only the first post in this category, but if you have any unanswered questions, please ask them.