Watching your product come to life through public support after pouring blood, sweat and tears into it is every entrepreneur's biggest dream. Kickstarter has become famous for making that a reality, serving as the birthplace of many now-thriving small businesses.
But just because Kickstarter has made it easier for you to raise awareness about a product doesn't mean that your campaign will be successfully funded. In fact, just assuming your product will be a hit with consumers and not taking intiatives before, during and after the project launch is a surefire way to fail.
We spoke with some online entrepreneurs who found success on Kickstarter about what small businesses need to know before launching a campaign, and more importantly, what they wish they would've known before launching their own.
Meet the Entrepreneurs
Filmmaker Shaun Seneviratne found success on Kickstarter just two weeks before he started shooting How Will We Cross the Seas?, his short film project. Seneviratne set a small goal of $1,300 based on his budget and the $1,500 he'd be putting in himself. The project received $2,330 in funding.
Musician Simon Joyner set a goal of $6,000 for his double album, Ghosts, to cover recording, mixing and manufacturing expenses. The funding nearly doubled his goal, garnering $11,862 from backers.
Dave Petrillo asked for $9,500 for his product Coffee Joulies, a stone-shaped object that helps maintain your drink's temperature. The project was well-received, resulting in $306,944 from backers. Petrillo is now president of the Coffee Joulies company and is currently teaching classes on Skillshare.
Jared Brickman pledged a $5,000 goal for his music project, One Hello World, a series of anonymous voicemails set to personal composition. He received $5,405 in funding and the website expanded, featuring some of the hundreds of voicemails received daily.
Game designer Jason Rohrer created two-player strategy game Diamond Trust of London for Nintendo DS. The game was finished and approved by Nintendo, but Rohrer faced a manufacturing minimum with the company. Roher decided to put the game on Kickstarter to see how many would respond, asking for $78,715. The project was fully funded.
Before the Launch
"Take a real unemotional look at your ability to enjoy and run a project at a range of different scales. Start with the smallest the project could be to get you off the couch (this is how you set your goal) and then imagine at what point the project would take over your life, and what you would do about it. Try to break that up into more of a continuous spectrum and understand what that means to you personally."
"I researched successful projects on Kickstarter to see what they had in common before designing my project–that's really important. What I found was that having many options for rewards at many contribution levels was key. So, I went wild with the options, and it really paid off."
"If you expect people to donate money to your project, especially if it's a film project, you should show them a film. It's important to make this connection with your prospective backers and show them either a video sample of what the project could be or a taste of your personality. Half the film's story is the filmmaker's story, and backers want to be a part of that story."
"Study the data! One of the most interesting aspects of Kickstarter is how transparent the whole thing is. They've obviously been gathering tons of data over the past three years, but unlike the other web-based spooks out there, they're not keeping the resulting insights a secret. Are you planning for "the trough" in the middle of your campaign? Should you make your campaign longer than 30 days? Which reward tiers should you focus the most effort on? The answers to all these questions are there in the data."
"Detail out the budget for your project to determine what you'll need to raise in order to fulfill your needs. When you've established that figure, try to determine if you can realistically reach that fundraising goal with your online audience. If your need outstretches your expectations of what you can raise, consider lowering your Kickstarter goal and supplementing your budget through other means."
What I Wish I Knew Before
"In my video game campaign, I planned up-front for only 1,000 Limited Edition versions to make them more special, but after those sold out, the remaining Kickstarter supporters felt left out. I had to scramble, mid-campaign, to devise some additional special rewards so that pledging felt worth it to people. Otherwise, why not just wait until the game comes out post-campaign and buy it then?"
"I wish I had more content to share with my audience to drive buzz during my fundraising period. If I had my letter-pressed album covers and postcards during my campaign (rather than after), I think it would've made the project more tangible and driven more donations overall–it certainly drove actual sales when I posted about it recently."
"With respect to manufacturing, one of the best things we did was test early, often and in small batches. We scaled up production very steadily from a handful of units a week to more than 7,000 units per week over the course of 10 months. Since this was such an attention-suck, we didn't have the same approach to the marketing side of our business during the same period. We ultimately had another big learning curve when we transitioned from a Kickstarter project to a month-over-month business that has to go out and find its customers and sell to them just like every other company."
"Despite raising more than my goal, I was still short. Given the amount we raised, I would've set the goal amount higher and hoped that we went above and beyond that amount. I would also reach out to websites and blogs that reflect the issues in the film. I also wish that I didn't start this two weeks before production. The day the Kickstarter ended was the first day of production–and all the money was still with Kickstarter. It takes about two weeks for that money to get into your hands. I had to pay for everything out of pocket until the money came in."
What You Need to Know
"Kickstarter's great, but don't let your project live or die by it! Find other sources of funds that will help you realize your dream. For many cases, there will always be the buzz and subsequent sales that follow a successful Kickstarter campaign."
"Rewards are also really important. Not just what you choose as rewards, but the levels you set them at. I get so mad when I see people offering a DVD or download of the film at a very high level. Why should backers contributing $75 or more be the only ones that get to see your film? That seems really unfair to backers who can't afford to contribute more. It's annoyingly proprietary. Also, everyone with a project on Kickstarter is a creative person–the rewards should reflect that creativity! Have it be in line with the theme of your project. Don't just offer a DVD and a t-shirt."
"Kickstarter has helpful information on the site about what to consider before creating a project. All I really did beyond following Kickstarter's advice tips was to look at successful campaigns in my field, and build on the strengths of those projects. The great thing about Kickstarter is that past projects do not disappear after they are funded. You can search through a history of successful campaigns."
"Using Kickstarter gives you two extremely useful things that you don't usually get elsewhere. First, your project gives you early and 100 percent customer feedback. If your project went viral, you've got a hot idea on your hands. If your project raised $10 from mom, then you need to go back to the drawing board. Second, you get to use funds raised from customers in order to finance your growth. No debt, no equity. Having explained this starting point to investors and other startups for the past year has taught me just how exceptional and revolutionary it is. There is no better method out there."
Photo credit: Kickstarter