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!

 

Tips to Overcome the Challenges of Being Your Own Business Person: For Authors and Game Designers

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So I’ve been at this blog thing for more than a year, though I wish I had more time to get to posting. Today I want to talk a little about the challenge of being your own businessperson.

It doesn’t matter if you are an author or aspiring game maker, it is REALLY HARD to stand out. Even if you have an above average product, you still have so much competition from many other people. Part of the extra challenge when you do creative work is that your product (with very few exceptions) is a WANT and not  a NEED. This I will explain in my next post.

No one needs your book or game to survive. However, there is a human need to be entertained, which is where you must fit things in.

Since I’ve been selling Heroes of History for about 3 months now, I can say I’ve done way more than the average person in terms of sales, going well into the 4 figures in total sales, including Kickstarter. This is considered exceptional for an indie game, which I am proud of. The fact that I got nominated for an award is even better. But, it’s even less likely that I will earn a living from making tabletop games than from writing, and neither is very likely.

I am aware that many indies, authors and game developers, are not very good at self marketing and promotion. So here’s what I’ve learned, and hopefully some of these tips will help you:

  1. don’t use conventions and  trade shows as a primary means of making sales. I’ve been to more than a half dozen comic cons and tabletop cons. I have yet to meet an indie game designer who plans to attend major conventions and actually turn a big profit, if any profit at all. The primary reason you go to those things is to network with fellow indies, meet bigger publishers that you might consider either selling your work to or at least get advice from, and collect information from your customers, such as their purchase habits, hobby enthusiasm, and what future products they might like (such as posters).
  2. You must make as many contacts as possible. One of the reasons I’ve been so successful in selling Heroes of History is that I’m willing to drive out and meet game shop owners from across the Mid Atlantic region, and even in New England (I also visit some Museums too). Now many of the owners will say no, but if even only a few say yes, you will make some sales that your fellow indies won’t because they work a day job and just sell on Amazon and at conventions. Many owners will allow you to do a demo day at the store, which is a good way of meeting potential customers and gaining fans. This rule also applies to authors: Find indie book stores (while they last) and talk to owners about buying a few copies or letting you have a book signing event to get your name out there.
  3. A lot of the stores and museum shops you reach out to will either forget, mislead you, or be careless with, their promises to buy copies. I have more than a dozen stores owners who allegedly were going to buy my game and simply did not return phone calls or emails. Most likely these owners are overwhelmed with running their stores, but many may think they want your product, then change their minds later.
  4. Carry sales receipts! The government counts what you do as a business, even if you’re self employed or file as a sole proprietor (meaning you’re the only employee and will always be the only employee), so you need to pay taxes. Not only to sales receipts give the store or museum a track record of your sale, but for taxes. I use Wave Accounting to log my expenses (disclosure: I have a friend who is my bookie) but I use printed receipts as a backup record.
  5. Use the MileIQ app to record your mileage expenses. Believe me, this is the best purchase I ever made.
  6. Be proud of your product. Even if you know it has flaws, you did what few people ever do: Actually produce something.

 

Got anything that I missed on this list? Share it below. And don’t forget to follow my page.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a Winner! Maybe

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I am pleased to announce that Heroes of History will be a featured game at the Boston Festival of Indie Games and is a finalist for a Figgie. Check out their site:

Welcome To The Boston Festival of Indie Games!

You: What does this mean, Mister Friedman? And why should I give a fruck?

Me: This is their Fifth Annual awards and considering that this is my first try at designing games, the fact that Heroes of History is a finalist makes me proud.

A big thank you to the following people for all their help: Eric Friedman, Benji Seyler, David North, the rest of my illustrative crew (Mackenzie Brewer, Michelle Graves, Dagmara Gaska, and Ben Ramos), and all of my product testers for helping me to get Heroes of History to where it needs to be. Special thanks to Mark DiPaola, Danielle Oliano, and Yeshaya Cohen, Dakota Fuller, the Friedman family (including relatives), the entire Breakie family, and everyone else who assisted in helping bring the Heroes to Life.

Tomorrow: I’ll talk about what I’ve learned from my time selling as an indie. Authors and Game Developers, take note.

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.