Some thoughts and advice from my recent Kickstarter campaign.
NOTES ON THE HARD STUFF (FACTS AND FIGURES)
:: This campaign was created to help re-start an online video blog I had done in 2006. It was fairly popular and there was a significant amount of interest in my doing it again. I have a good-sized audience that I have kept up communication with for the past ten years, so in a way this campaign aligned an existing audience with a desired good, and therefore might not extrapolate very well to many other sorts of campaigns.
:: I chose a $50,000 goal. The base operational cost of the show will roughly be $25K a month and I wanted a minimum of one month runway to start. Beyond that the goal was a bit arbitrary. I was told by Kickstarter that the mean contribution is around $70 and you can multiply that by your expectation of backers to get a rough idea of the money you will raise. I hoped for about 1000 backers, and pared back to 50K to make sure I could hit it. As you can see below my mean contribution was lower (~$40) but a lot more people backed the project than I expected. I am very fortunate to have so many generous people in my camp.
:: I was told that the majority of money raised on Kickstarter is raised in the first three days and the last three days of a campaign. The folks at Kickstarter were interested in my trying a very short campaign (6-7 days) given those statistics. I decided on 11 days which is quite a bit shorter than the average campaign, but gave me a little bit more padding.
:: Below I have included two charts, the first created by Kickstarter, and the second (created by me) which shows the progress of the funding over time.
The Kickstarter graph shows the aggregate of money pledged:
… and I overlaid the amount of money raised per day.
:: As you can see above over 2/3 of the total raised was raised in the first three days. There was a slight increase in daily pledges for the last three days, and there was a noticeable stagnant period in the middle. I was told by Kickstarter that extending the campaign length mainly extends the stagnant middle.
:: HUNCH :: My guess is the shape of the blue curve is mainly defined by pretty basic network properties of information spread - a short period of exponential growth followed by exponential decline. The initial spike has to do with novel interest and many overlapping points of broadcast (initial marketing, retweets, blog posts, sharing) Once you are in the phase of exponential decline, you will have to fight to maintain interest, either by enlisting larger broadcast nodes (news articles, bloggers) or by creating shareable events (new reasons to share your campaign.)
:: HUNCH :: I assume that there is some downward psychological pressure on giving after you have exceeded your goal. You cannot change the stated goal once you start but you can hint at new personal goals by editing the video or the main info page. It would be nice to see an aggregate graph across Kickstarter campaigns showing the rate of acceleration in funding before and after the goal is reached to test this assumption. If true, this would suggest choosing a slightly higher goal than feels safe, but you would want to make sure you had a backup plan of rounding out the funds yourself if you failed to hit your goal.
:: I marketed my campaign by posting to twitter and to facebook as well as on my blog. I had a fair number of retweets by popular videobloggers (notably Hank and John Green) which helped spread the word. Over 2/3 of the money raised came from social sites or direct traffic. Below you can see some of the top sources of pledges. A few blog posts in particular were especially valuable. (thanks) And Kickstarter’s internal marketing/search was also significant. (also thanks)
:: HUNCH :: I would love to see more detailed information about inbound traffic from these sources vs. giving rate. I have a hunch that more personalized (single author, like kottke) blogs do better than broad scope platforms (reddit for example, or a NYTimes article.)
:: I created a large number of reward tiers, starting at $1 and going up to $7500. The highest pledge I received was for $4000. As I said above I had a conversation with Kickstarter where I was told that the mean (average) contribution would be around $70 (mine was $40) and the mode (the most # of donations) contribution would be $15 (mine was $25)
:: Below I have added two graphs - one provided by Kickstarter (showing the popularity of reward types) and the second made by me (overlaying the percentage of the total raise for each reward type):
:: Roughly 56% of the money raised came from pledges under $100, and 44% came from pledges of $100 or more… pretty even considering the giant discrepancy in the aggregate number of backers in those two categories.
:: The most money was raised in the $50 category (which corresponded to the signed signature and “save a baby” rewards)
:: I raised a total of $146,752. After the Kickstarter fee and the Amazon fee roughly $133,000 was deposited into my account. We spent about around $5500 fulfilling rewards in material costs and postage, not factoring in any labor costs. The $133,000 will be taxable income for this year in addition to any personal income I have.
NOTES ON ALL THE SOFT STUFF
:: I tried to keep mine under 2:30 in length, kept it punchy and tried to instill a sense of what the new show will be like without actually creating one. I tried to keep in mind that a fair number of people who watched the video wouldn’t know anything about me or my background. I kept it fairly simple - brief project summary, idea of what I was trying to raise and why, some reference to the rewards I will be offering… and out. I use humor to get my point across, but that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Authentic, to the point, and brief is always a good rule of thumb.
:: HUNCH :: If you are relying mainly on an audience that doesn’t know you, it would be good to frame the campaign around the benefits of crowdsourcing or audience participation. For example: “This is an alternative to the network hegemony of TV production,” or “Let’s bring back alt gaming.” I would think about how you can involve the audience in the production of your work even at the smallest level so that potential news outlets and bloggers have something to write about beyond the fact that you are raising.
:: I updated the video a couple times after the goal was met to include a brief title that announced a new goal, but beyond that I didn’t change the original message.
Below the video I basically summed up the project goals, added any additional information I had left out of the video, and got into more detail about the rewards. Since you have limited space in the reward tiers, I would refer people back to the center column to see pics and get a sense of what they were getting. This area was updated often throughout the process as we started making the rewards and got more information about what was popular and what wasn’t getting chosen.
I also used this space for general updates on progress. Kickstarter has a dedicated “update” tab, but it is a click through and will most likely not be seen by first time visitors.
:: HUNCH :: although it is nice to acknowledge when you hit your goal on the main page, be careful not to overstate the point while your project is still going - it may be a disincentive for new backers.
I tried to play a little with the reward tiers to make them worth talking about on their own. There was a mix of virtual goods (downloads), physical goods (books, cards, prints), experiential goods (opportunities to be in the show, phone calls), and conceptual fun ($69 non-reward, walk a mile in your shoes.)
I also included a mini event (“save the babies”) which had it’s own microsite and live webcam, and allowed backers to participate in real time by naming the babies they adopted. In hindsight I should have built in sharing opportunities around the adoption to help spread that reward.
:: HUNCH :: Real-time rewards were something I wanted to try more of in this campaign but never got around to - for example create videos for people on the fly and delivering them the day of. There is a risk in this (backers can pull out after they receive their reward), but it could be a great way to create media that people would share on their FB wall or on twitter providing extra lift to your campaign.
Many of the items were set to limited quantity. Sometimes this was out of necessity - I could only realistically accomodate a set number of show appearances and personal conversations for example. In other cases it was with a starting idea that the reward would be too difficult to make and send iterations of, for example the blackout poems or babies. As the pledges came in, many of those categories maxed out and I decided to add to the quantity in order to keep opportunities open at each of the pledge levels.
For physical rewards I tried to keep the cost of fulfillment to roughly 10% of the pledge. Overall this worked out fine, except for a lack of real research on the cost of shirts (Spreadshirt) which ended up being the single largest expense (~$2000)
:: HUNCH :: Browsing through Kickstarter I am surprised by the number of campaigns that offer higher value physical goods at low reward tiers. This is basically a pre-order strategy, which although potentially effective, might mask supporters’ genuine interest in just helping out. I would strongly recommend doing a detailed cost analysis of your rewards down to postage before you start your campaign and thinking about personalized virtual and physical goods that are lower in cost but greater in love.
:: Kickstarter has an “Updates” feature, allowing you to create new posts which are auto-sent to all your current backers. You can allow these updates to be seen by anyone, but realistically they are mainly a mass messaging tools for people who have already pledged.
:: I used Updates in three main ways - 1) to thank everyone for pledging, 2) to give updates on the progress of the rewards, and 3) to start planning and thinking about the creation of the show. Giving updates on the rewards gave me a chance to give a bit more detail on some of the physical rewards as I made them. When I started the campaign, for example, I didn’t know what the signed signatures would look like (or almost any of the other artwork for that matter.) As we got going I started to work things out: carved stamps, practiced my brushpen, made potato stamps, etc… and I wanted to show the backers what they were getting. Reward updates had the unintended consequence of inspiring many people to increase their pledge amounts so that they could receive a crafted gift, which was a nice surprise. (Note - people can also decrease their pledge at any time, which did happen, but less frequently)
:: I tried to use a few (private) Updates to jumpstart some participation and get the backers to give me ideas about what we might try and accomplish with the show. I also updated the main page so that it made people aware that there was a conversation going on that they could join by pledging. I really liked the interactions, but overall Kickstarter is not an ideal place for doing this sort of thing. Messaging is very limited, comments aren’t threaded and people can’t really message each other behind the scenes. Still I think it was worth doing, as a way to have the backers meet one another, and as a way for me to start up some conversations about the future.
:: HUNCH :: In my experience backing other project, I have noticed a tendency to give updates related to trying to get more money - “We are almost there, help me raise another X amount.” I don’t think this is a good strategy. You are speaking to people that have already supported you, and if you want them to promote you further I think you owe it to them to come up with new interesting and fun things to share instead of just asking them to restate your cause . I would think foremost about giving back, and then about creating new, shareable media.
:: TECHNICAL GLITCHES :: The updates editor is not very good. Adding images inline is tricky, they have to be links (no uploads) and it is nearly impossible to move them after you have added them. I lost a number of posts while in the process of writing them. You can add video to an update (as an upload) but there is no progress bar while you are uploading - and considering it takes a good hour to upload HD I was completely in the dark about how much longer it would take.
After Your Campaign Ends
:: After your end date has passed it is impossible to edit the front page of your campaign. I assume this is to freeze it so that any promises that were made can be referred to in the future. I found this annoying when I wanted to add a general note of thanks as well as a link for people who came too late to donate to the project. Make any of those changes before your campaign ends!
:: When the campaign ended I went into full production mode on the physical objects. Sara, my project manager and all around bad-ass, dealt with all the logistics (among other things.) Below is a list of notes and observations that she made in the fulfillment process:
Ideas for Kickstarter to Make the Platform Better (from Sara):
Both during and after the fundraising process, I often found myself needing more fine-tuned control over the messages sent. Not a lot of information about the messages sent to backers is available at a top level and many of the actions available are “all or nothing.”
• It would be great to set up a message that was automatically sent each time a contributor selected a certain reward. The message could be written and saved once and you knew that each contributor would receive it once she selected a certain reward. The message could be editable, but only future donors would receive the updated version (it would not be sent again to past recipients).
• Having a set message per tier could also help reduce the message inbox. The inbox was very quickly filled with the messages I’d sent to all backers, making it difficult to find one-on-one interactions with specific donors.
• To keep up with reward preparation, I’d have to send mass messages to new backers, but was forced to write individual messages as there was no way to select a group of donors to message, without selecting everyone (and thereby sending to some people twice). It would be great to select a group of donors to message.
• On the top-level Backer report, it would be really helpful to have a mini-feed of messages sent to each person.
• It would be great to be able to sort the Backer Report by each category. There were times I needed to find a backer by name (alphabetically sorting) and other times I wanted to know when they donated (chronological sorting). With thousands of backers, it took a long time scrolling down before everyone’s info was loaded and I could search via the browser.
I found the survey and reward reporting system overall really useful. There times, though, at which I wanted more control and information.
• The survey questions worked really well and it was great having them download-able as .csvs. I found myself needing more “announcement” space in the survey. I didn’t want to send another message on top of a survey, so I wrote information as a question and had two choices (“sure thing” and “got it!”). This hack worked fine, but it would be great to be able to provide either just one choice for the multiple choice questions, or have a simple message, instead of something that needed to be answered. (The introductory space could be used for these notifications, but I was afraid it would be overlooked. It was nice to see the acknowledgement of the backers with their “answers.”)
• It would be great to have more detailed information of whose survey answers are “new.”
• It would be great to have a Backer Report of all backers in addition to each individual report.
• On the Dashboard, I’d love to be able to sort the “adjustments” — see all the decreased pledges or changed rewards, for example
Tips from Sara regarding Rewards, Preparation, and Fulfillment
• If a reward is a product that you need to order from a third party see if a credits system is available for the donor to arrange their own ordering and shipping. Otherwise you will be stuck filling out order forms one at a time for days. Spreadshirt has this for example - which we found out about too late.
• International shipping can be extremely expensive. although i don’t like asking people to add money to their pledge, it might be necessary if you have a lot of foreign backers.
• Make sure you remember to factor in the cost for shipping material (bubble wrap, envelopes, boxes, etc)
• Although we didn’t do this I think it would be worthwhile to calculate postage for any physical good before determining the reward tier.
• Be careful with waterfalling rewards (having each category include all previous ones) — We had t-shirts in too many tiers; and they ended up being one of the most expensive rewards
• Prep as much beforehand without overbuying rewards
• Wait to make labels until you have at least a majority of the backers’ info
• Keep all correspondence
• Keep spreadsheets organized and well notated
:: If you have any more specific questions about the process, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(P.S. overall I am a big fan of Kickstarter and fully endorse their platform)