01 August 2018
Your first Kickstarter campaign: How the greatest products are funded
Before I launched my first Kickstarter campaign, I didn’t read any guides or tutorials. Somehow, I was under the impression that the greatness of my product alone would be enough to magically generate hundreds of backers. My delusion even went as far as hoping I’d get funded on my first day. Guess what? I didn’t.
This is not a sob story. In the end, I managed to double my funding goal, but it was through blood, sweat and tears. Something I don’t wish to repeat ever again. And I succeeded only because I finally started reading about what to do, sometime after the launch. Better late than never, right? In hindsight, if I’d taken the time to plan better, I might’ve raised a lot more. And for my second Kickstarter campaign, I’m preparing with all my might. Let me share some things I’ve learned and plan on implementing.
Kickstarter then and now
When you see a 2-million-dollar Kickstarter campaign of a straw, you might think: “I should quit my job and do this instead”. But don’t hand in your notice just yet. True, successful campaigns and big numbers generate a lot of buzz. They might even create the illusion that it’s easy to get people to buy something that doesn’t yet exist, provided you made it. Among all the post-funding glory, it’s hard to see the effort that went into the campaign itself, especially before it had been launched.
The truth is, out of thousands of Kickstarter campaigns, only one third reach their funding goal. According to Marek Cieśla, a Kickstarter expert and an entrepreneur:
“The Kickstarter landscape has changed. Now, 80% of projects are disappointing while 20% have a huge potential, but these are campaigns organized by well-known companies with big budgets, like e.g. Xiaomi.
“They raise a lot of money because they already have a following and a brand.” The competition is getting fiercer, and so should you.
Should you run a campaign alone?
So, you’ve spent months perfecting your prototype or demo, all on your own. How hard one little Kickstarter campaign could be? The short answer is: very. Especially if, like me, you didn’t think to promote your product from the very beginning.
Product development and marketing are two entirely different things. You may excel at one and fail at the other. And, sadly, we don’t live in a world where a good product guarantees success. Your first Kickstarter campaign will likely last a month or two, during which you’ll be working non-stop to reach (and possibly exceed) your funding goal. The least you can do is hire someone to gather emails and do research. I’ve spent a crazy amount of time just searching for people who might be interested in my product. Contacting them took twice as that.
If you’ve got no clue how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, you might consider working with a crowdfunding agency. Marek Cieśla started such an agency because he saw the demand: “Through our own campaigns, we realized that some things just work, and some don’t. We created an effective framework and started selling it as a service.”
How to get help with limited funds
Lacking funds doesn’t rule out working with an agency. What Marek Cieśla values the most is potential. He recalls one of his favourite clients: “I worked with a couple of students with zero initial budget but a whole lot of ideas. One student’s dad drew all the Apple devices and they designed a poster out of it. Then they sent it to big Apple-focused blogs, asking for a mention of their first Kickstarter campaign. In the end, we collected over $50,000 for a very cheap mousepad.”
If you’d rather stay in charge and just hire people for specific tasks, remember to always, ALWAYS negotiate. They won’t take offence, and most of them will try to meet you halfway. You may even find those who‘ll work for free if your product is good enough to show off in their portfolio. Or if they simply fall in love with it. All you’ve got to do is share your story. People are not machines – appeal to their emotions and they will listen.
Many professionals will also appreciate the chance to gain hands-on experience with crowdfunding. After you’ve shown them how to get funded on Kickstarter, they may try it themselves in the future.
Of course, finding the right people for the job takes time and patience. If you’ve got a day job, consider taking some time off. Or, better yet, invest in someone who’ll find them for you. If US dollar is your main currency, pick countries with a beneficial exchange rate. You’ll get equally good quality for a smaller price.
Preparation is key: fans and influencers
The time has come. Your first Kickstarter campaign passed the review and you’re itching to hit that launch button. Stop right there! Let me ask you a question. How many people know about what you’re doing? If it’s your mom, your best friend and your dog, then you’re like me during my launch day. Which is a very bad thing.
In my search of Kickstarter best practices, I asked Marek Cieśla how exactly his agency operates:
“After a short phone call with a potential client, we organize a so-called “sprint” – 32 hours of service based on strict rules. It starts with a 4-hour workshop, during which we gather materials for the campaign overview, movie, script etc. We also prepare forms for qualitative research. Next, we publish a short campaign video on social media, trying to get as many likes and shares as possible. We do it in order to build strong social proof and minimize customer acquisition costs. Then we show the same video to select viewers and gather the focus groups.”
“We launch a Kickstarter campaign only after we’ve secured a big email list of targeted customers.”
“Plus, we have to turn cold leads into warm leads. The campaign founder’s job is to engage and activate – build a connection with potential customers. Then, the conversion can skyrocket from 4% to as high as 12%.”
Don’t lose yourself in trying to get new fans – always prioritize the ones you already have. They’ll support you when you launch your first Kickstarter campaign and might even become your 1,000 true fans. Then, you won’t have to worry about who’ll pay your bills ever again.
The next group you should contact are, of course, influencers. During my campaign, I wrote to around 100 YouTubers and a couple of bloggers/journalists in the same field. Many were genuinely interested in my game, recorded a playthrough or wrote about the demo – an ideal outcome. What’s less ideal is the time of publication. The promotion still gave me a big boost, but it would’ve been much more effective if I had contacted everyone before the launch. You should try to schedule as much coverage as possible for the first day of your Kickstarter campaign.
Why record a Kickstarter video?
While I refuse to believe that our attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish, we do get distracted. A lot. That’s why we generally prefer videos over words. It’s much more difficult to commit to a wall of text. Plus, our eyes are naturally attracted to movement and our brain is better at interpreting visuals. Videos make us absorb information faster and more easily. A well-crafted promo movie with a good hook at the beginning will grab the viewer’s attention and ensure they hear your story. It takes them one step closer to clicking the pledge button. If you haven’t already seen it, I advise you to check out the video made for the FinalStraw campaign.
Don’t underestimate the time that goes into creating an effective Kickstarter video. The end result may last only 2 minutes, but you’ll have spent days re-writing it and fitting everything you want to say into this small timeframe.
You’re live! Now what?
How to run a successful Kickstarter campaign after you’ve hit the launch button? If you’ve done everything I didn’t, it shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, even my poorly-executed campaign doubled its funding goal. So, assuming there’s any justice in this world, you who prepared so well should hit your funding goal day one. And get featured by the Kickstarter staff. It’ll give you an amazing boost of visibility, so it’s definitely worth fighting for. Even if you don’t get a wink of sleep for the first 24 hours.
If you can, launch on Monday. The first wave of your supporters’ pledges should elevate you in the Kickstarter search on Tuesday – the most popular day funding-wise.
Next, good rewards and stretch goals are a must. During my first Kickstarter campaign, I had a gap between $30 and $90 pledge tiers, without rewards attractive enough to fill the void. Plus, my stretch goals were all listed beforehand. Bad move. It’s much better to reveal them one after another so that backers have something exciting to look forward to.
The last piece of advice I have for you is: persevere. Your campaign will last a month. Or two if you are a masochist want to play it safe. At times, you’ll feel stressed, exhausted and overwhelmed. You may obsess over why a $1,000 backer disappeared suddenly, like I did. But, no matter what happens, don’t give up. You chose Kickstarter because you want to make your dream a reality, right?
Till next time…
I hope that my poorly-executed first Kickstarter campaign and the lessons I’ve learned will be of some use to you. When I launch the next one, I’ll tell you if going by the book paid off. If you think you’d benefit from professional help, contact Marek Cieśla. He knows what he’s doing. Otherwise, find people who’ll get excited about your product and believe you can make it. They will become your core following that will help you at the very beginning and throughout your campaign.