What is the value of information over time?

It has been a few years since A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter was published and the crowd-funding world has changed a lot since then. There are more crowd-funding sites, more crowd-funders, and more write ups about the process. As a result I’ve begun to wonder what is the value of my guide over time? As information gets older does it become less valuable or, dare I say it, worthless?
Continue reading What is the value of information over time?

Check out my new series, Inside the Campaign

IMG_0023

A couple months ago I wrote that I am moving on from Kickstarter Guide, but still wanted to find a way to share my crowd-funding insights. Well over at Medium.com I started a series called Inside The Campaign.

I will be posting weekly updates as I working on a campaign for my upcoming documentary film Identifying Nelson/Buscando a Roberto. The goal of this series is to give you a look into my thought and decision making process. This is not going to be a “course” or a “how-to series.” I won’t be giving general advice about how to structure a campaign. Instead, I will talk in detail about our campaign, so that you can learn from my insights and mistakes.

So I hope you will check it out and let me know what you think. Best of luck with your own campaigns, and as always drop me a line and let me know what you’ve built.

When it’s time to move on…

A few weeks ago I was contacted by someone from the Kickstarter.com legal department.

Dear Mr. de Witt,

We’re thrilled to see that you had a great experience as a creator on Kickstarter and are looking to help others with your experience. However, your site as it’s currently designed is likely to confuse people into thinking that it is an official guide or is endorsed by or affiliated with us. Please remove all uses of our logo from your site and your guides, and include a disclaimer stating that the site is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Kickstarter.

Thanks, and please let us know if you have any questions.
Kickstarter Legal

I always wondered if I would get this email. From the very start of the project I worried that someone at Kickstarter might take issue with it. I was calling the book “A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter” and in the design process I chose to include the Kickstarter logo on the front cover. I wasn’t quite sure if this was “allowed” but it just made sense to me artistically. I mean, what better way to represent the site than with its own image? Despite my concerns I decided to go forward. So I was thrilled when I got a chance to share it with someone who worked for Kickstarter.

In the process of writing the book I tried to interview one of the Kickstarter founders. I knew it was a long shot but I wanted to make the best book possible and an interview with Perry or Yancey would help with that goal. I got a really nice email back from someone on the PR team who explained that the founders where very busy but he would be happy to look over the book when it was finished. I sent him a copy as requested and to my surprise not only did he like it but he sent a list of connections! He did not mention the logo at all, which eased my concerns.

Honestly, I was pretty excited to get the buy in of someone from Kickstarter. I had put a lot of work into the guide to make it the absolute best it could be and their approval was important to me. The last thing I wanted was for them to think I was trying to trick or manipulate people into buying the book. So that is why I was pretty disappointed to receive the email from Kickstarter Legal.

I decided to write them back and state my case. I felt the email they sent me was a little vague. They had done some research into my project but it didn’t seem like they had taken the time to really understand it. You can read my full response here but I will summarize my three main points.

1) Why has the use of the logo only now become a problem?

I pointed out that the book has been out for almost 2 years. I explained how I had shared it with someone on the PR team in development. I pointed out that one of my backers worked at Kickstarter and another employee who I met at an event thought it was very well done. None of them had an issue with the logo, so why was it a problem now?

2) How did they determine that the site was “likely to confuse people?”

As said before, I have always been weary of people getting the wrong impression of the book. So over the past two years I’ve taken steps to try and make it clear that the book is based on my experiences and not a product of Kickstarter.com. For example, I’ve always had a disclaimer on my site. I do not feel like I have acted in a way that would confused people but I wanted to understand how they arrived at this conclusion.

3) Does using the logo on the blog constitute as fair use?

I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that one can use a company logo as part of a blog post to identify the company, as long as it does not imply endorsement. Using the logo in this way should fall under fair use.It only appears on one post but I wanted to make sure that my assumption was true.

I hoped that by writing back and explaining my side of the story they might reconsider or at the very least give a more detailed explanation. I pressed send on my email and a week later I got this response.

Hi Nelson,

Thanks for taking the time to respond. In order to protect the integrity of the Kickstarter name and brand, we’ll need you to remove the logo from your site as requested and to include a prominent disclaimer of affiliation on the home page of your site.

Thanks again,
Kickstarter Legal

I was disappointed to say the least. Not only did they not reconsider, but they didn’t even take the time answer any of my questions. Honestly, it’s not their decision that frustrated me. It’s the fact that they didn’t even acknowledge my points or answer my questions. I totally understand that it is up to Kickstarter how to enforce the use of their logo; I don’t disagree with this at all. It is really the lack of a response, and their anonymous signature, that makes me feel brushed aside.

The kicker is I’m probably doing more for their brand then their brand is doing for me. A lot of people come here to find out how to learn about Kickstarter and then go on to run a project. Most of those people do not end up buying the book. I did the calculation and less than 1% of all visitors show any interest in actually buying the guide. That is fine by me. To me, what is more important than making money is that I hope the book is helping people. I felt that their email suggests that somehow my book is taking away from their brand in a negative or misleading way.

This experience has been interesting because I just finished a book written by the founders of the home cleaning company Method called The Method Method. Once of their core principles is to inspire their customers and fans. They talk about one of their biggest online advocates, Nathan Aaron, who runs the site Methodlust.com.

Having recognized the value of such a voice, Method has nurtured Nathan’s lust by responding to requests for interviews, sending updates on Method products, and supplying Nathan with pictures and other content… As a fan of the brand, Nathan’s blog methodlust.com helps spread our mission and keeps us honest.

Maybe Method understands branding in a way that Kickstarter does not. True branding has nothing to do with logos and company policy, but how you treat people. I’m not saying I deserve or want any special treatment from Kickstarter, just that I feel brushed off and not listened to. I put a lot of time and care into the guide and my site so that I could represent it as best as I could. I just wish they had taken the time to understand where I was coming from. I think my frustration can be best summed up by this recent Seth Godin post:

The complaining customer doesn’t want a refund. He wants a connection, an apology and some understanding. He wants to know why you made him feel stupid or ripped off or disrespected, and why it’s not going to happen again.

I’ve been a big fan of Kickstarter from the very beginning. I’ve told everyone I know about it. I’ve helped several people structure their projects. Hell, I even wrote a book about it. I’ve had a great experience so far and almost everyone I have interacted with has been great, but this just rubbed me the wrong way. It’s just disheartening to me to not have even been given the time of day. Perhaps the days of being a small start up are over. Will I still use a service? Sure, but I really hope this is not an indication of what’s to come.

So, reluctantly, I’ve created this new book cover.

A-Kickstarters-Guide

My interaction with Kickstarter Legal reignited an integral debate that I have been having since the start of the year about what to do with this project and website.

Where to go from here?

Over the years, while doing entrepreneurial projects, I’ve learned the importance of focus. To make any meaningful traction you can only really work on a couple projects at a time. Any more than two and all your projects start to suffer.

One thing that people tend to do is hold onto projects for way too long. We develop an emotional attachment to our project because of all the work we put in. We hesitate to let go or move on because we are fearful of missing out. What if this project takes off?

I’ve benefited greatly by letting go of old projects. It frees up mental bandwidth and allows me to move on to something new. All my old projects were great, and I am proud of them but it was time to move on. That is the way I feel about my work on the Kickstarter Guide. I also feel like I need to more time to finish my documentary film.

My original vision for the project was to write a book about my experiences and help people who are just starting out. I wanted to practice shipping an idea and get used to putting myself out there. I feel like I have accomplished this and more.

The guide has been downloaded over 600 times and helped several people (that I know of) to launch projects of their own. The site has been visited by more than 13,000 people in the last year alone. (I know that’s not a lot for bigger sites but it is the most impact I have ever had.) I’ve received a lot of compliments about the guide and it has led to new opportunities for me. As a project that was just done to practice shipping, it has been more successful than I could have imagined. But I feel like it’s time to move on.

My biggest problem is that I am someone who needs a vision, something to work toward. Now that the guide has been published I’m not sure where to go from here. There are a lot of things I could do, like a second edition, an online course, or just continue posting here infrequently. But none of these scenarios appealed to me. I never felt like the project got enough traction to merit the creation of a second edition or a course and as I said before I like the idea of letting go.

So after my experience with Kickstarter legal and much deliberation with friends and family I have decided to move on. It was not an easy decision. Part of me still feels like I could make a big impact with my writing but I think this project has served it’s purpose. I might do something with the rest of my ideas and insights but it would be in the form of a different project.

I am going to leave the site up and running as is. The guide will still be available for download and I will continue to receive emails at dewittn@kickstarterguide.com. However, I will no longer be updating the blog. I will also delete all the social media accounts for the guide except YouTube which hosts all the interviews. Thank you for reading and thank you for all the wonderful feedback. I wrote the guide to help people and I’m so glad people are finding it a useful resource. I’m going to end this blog the same way I ended my guide.

You may think your project isn’t that important, but you never know who you will inspire. Many of the people I talked with, said how the success of other projects got them to launch their own. So go out there and make something happen.

We are waiting for you.

All the best,
Nelson/Roberto

Kickstarter vs Indiegogo, why the platform doesn’t matter and the five factors that do.

People often ask me which crowd-funding platform is the best. My response is, aside from the site guidelines and ease of use, it really doesn’t matter.

Over the past couple years, I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what successful crowd-funding campaigns have in common. Through this process I’ve been able to identify five factors which I believe are vital when trying to raise money from the crowd. While these factors come from looking at hundreds of Kickstarter projects, I believe that they relate to just about any crowd-funding endeavor.

Spoiler Alert: They have nothing to do with which platform you choose.


A brief History of Crowd-funding

Before we talk about specific factors, lets look at the history of crowd-funding. Even though sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have become popular in the past couple years, online crowd-funding has actually been around for almost 15 years.

Marillion

In 1997 a British rock group named Marillion was able to raise money from its supporters to go on tour. Ten years later, in October of 2007 Radiohead released their seventh album In Rainbows on their own website, allowing people to pay whatever they wanted.

Recently comedian Luis CK wrote about producing and releasing his own comedy special. After he recorded the special he released it online for $5. It has been downloaded over 500,000 times, earning him well over a million dollars.

What is interesting about these examples is that they were successful even though the creators did not use a site like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Each creator used the internet to leverage their existing fan base. You might be thinking, “I’m not like them, I don’t have thousands of fans.” That’s the point I will be trying to make with this post.

The success of your project has little to do with which platform or site you choose, and everything to do with your ability to reach an audience that cares, engage them in a compelling way, and offer them something of value.


What I’ve learned:

  • Audience – You must target a specific audience with your project.
  • Reach – You must be able to reach enough of that audience to meet your goals.
  • Engagement – You must engage that audience with a unique idea or a compelling story.
  • Offer – You must offer that audience a product or experience of value.
  • Explanation – You must make the description of the project simple enough that someone else can explain it.

Bonus:

  • My crazy prediction – My prediction about the future of crowd-funding.
  • Take it slow – It’s taken me a year to write this, so don’t try and process it all at once.

Audience

Audience

Audience is by far the most important part of getting a project funded online. The reason that people like Seth Godin, Amanda Palmer, and Louis CK have such an “easy time” getting funded is that they have spent years developing and cultivating an audience. When they launch a project they have a group of people who love their work and want to support them. It may seem obvious, but most people fail to realize this.

When you don’t have an audience of your own, you must be trying to identify one. Making sure that the project resonates with them is incredibly important. Projects are backed by people who believe in what you are trying to do, not random strangers online.

Built-in Audience

Crowd-funding works best when you have a build-in audience. But how do you know if you have an audience or not? If you have to ask, you don’t have one. But just in case you were wondering, here are some examples.

  • A following (Fan base, Community)
  • A permission asset (Blog, Newsletter, Podcast, or Video channel)
  • Proven track record (Existing customers, Industry experience)
  • An extensive personal network (Facebook, LinkedIn, Address book)

Most “built-in audiences” take a long time to build up. You can not start this process two weeks before launch. It can take months or years to build a sizable audience that is passionate about your work. A great resource for how to build such an audience is Gary Vaynerchuk’s, Crush It.

Personal networks act similarly to a built-in audience but they are usually limited in size and resources. That is why having a real, sizable, built-in audience is such a powerful asset. You have a group of people who are interest in your type of project, trust you, and that you can easily reach.

Exercise 1: Think about all the people you could possibly reach out to (family, friends, co-workers, church members, etc.) Say it’s about 500 people and of those, 10% back your project. 10% is actually a high conversion rate when selling online but we will use it for simplicity. 10% of 500 is 50. If 50 people gave you $70 (the average pledge on Kickstarter) would you hit your goal?

What if you don’t have a built-in audience?

Creators without a built-in audience must actively look for communities or tribes where their message will resonate. I’ll talk about how to do this in the Reach section. But, before you reach out to people you need to think about who they are and why they would like your project. Who are the people that are actually going to pay money to see your project come to life.

To often people don’t spend enough time thinking about this and they struggle to get enough backers to reach their goal. One of the biggest misconceptions of crowd-funding is that the “crowd” will just show up and fund the project. From my research (and personal experience) this is just not the case. It is completely up to the project creator to bring the audience to the project.

Chances are you already have a group or several groups of people in mind. They might like jazz music or tech products or SiFi films but your probably need to get more specific then that. Try to define your audience by their world view not by there age sex or location. What do they believe in? What do they wear? Where do they hangout?

Keep these groups in mind while you put together your campaign. It might be your project, but they are the ones who will make it happen.

Exercise 2: Try making a customer archetype, a profile of a person that is a member of the audience you want to reach. You can make the person up or base it off of someone you know. This will help you get out of your head and into theirs, so you can view the project from their perspective. You can constantly ask yourself, would “Joe” or “Susan” like this?

What about the Kickstarter/Indiegogo audience?

You might be wondering about the existing audience on whatever crowd-funding platform you chose. Won’t they help fund your project? Maybe, but probably not to the extent you are hoping.

In the Kickstarter project to write this guide I got several backers who also backed multiple projects on Kickstarter. For the most part they only gave my project a couple of dollars. When I looked into their profiles I saw that some people had backed as many as 50 projects or more. (One even backed 170! ) So if people are backing a lot of projects, they probably aren’t spending a lot of money.

Cedric Front Page

Another example of the limited impact of site specific audiences is a project that my friend Cedric Victor did. His project was a staff pick and ended up on the project page of Kickstarter.com. The result was $240 in sales. Not too bad for his goal of $3000, but for larger projects that’s barely a drop in the bucket.

 


Reach

Once you have defined who you think is going to back your project, you need to figure our how you are going to reach them. It’s tempting to think that the internet will always find and promote the best material but from my experience I don’t think that is the case. As I’ve tried to point out, it is up to the project creator to bring the audience to their project.

Reach is about two things, how many, and how much. How many people can you reach and how much do they trust you?

How many people can you reach?

The best way to explain this concept is with an example. Using the numbers from exercise 1, when 50 people back a project, at $70 each, the creator raises $3500. In order to get $3500 from 50 people they had to reach out to 500 people.

Now, let’s say your funding goal is $15,000. To figure out the reach needed, divide the goal by the average pledge ($15,000/$70 = 200 backers), which gives you the backer count. Then divide the backer count by our optimistically high 10% conversion rate (200 backers/0.1 CR = 2,000 views) and you get the number of views needed to hit a $15,000 funding goal.

This is where things get difficult. The larger your funding goal, the more people you will have to reach. With a goal of $50,000 you might have to reach as many as 6,700 people or more. Since the average person can only reach a small group of people (family, friends, or current customers) this might explain why there seems to be a limit, around $20,000, to how much most projects raise.

So how do you get a project out to more than just a hand full of people? There are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Pitching blogs, websites, and news outlets
  • Pitching people with existing audiences (Influencers)
  • Pitching communities or groups of people

When reaching out to people and groups you don’t know there is always a risk that they won’t embrace your project. That can be a scary but an important part of the process. My advice: If you aren’t getting traction with your outreach efforts then back off. After awhile even the most well intentioned outreach becomes spam.

Some great resources on generating press for your project are:

How much do they trust you?

I want to point out that it’s not just about how many people you can get to see your project link. Trust is a huge part of the equation. This is another reason why having a build-in audience is so powerful. They already know you and trust you.

It’s very hard to get people who don’t know you, or haven’t been exposed to your work, to back you. Besides the financial risk, there is also an “emotional” risk. People want to back winners and since they don’t know you, they are skeptical that you can deliver.

One way of combating this problem is by having someone, who is trusted by the audience you are trying to reach, share your project. This provides social proof and minimizes the perceived risk of backing you. However, most influencers and people with large audiences aren’t just going to talk about your project because you ask them too. They also need to know you and trust you.

Tip: Build as many meaningful relationships as you can before you launch, and then ask them if they will help you get the word out.


Engagement

To get the audience interested in your project you must engage them with a unique idea, or tell a compelling story. Projects that represent unique ideas are much easier to market, but they are also harder to replicate. Projects that tell a compelling story require a certain level of skill, and experience with storytelling and must meet the expectations of the audience you’re trying to reach. It’s important to know which type of engagement you are going to use to market your project.

Unique Idea

Robo Cop

From The Million Dollar Homepage, to One Red Paperclip, to the countless memes created every day, the Internet loves unique and quirky ideas. The trouble is, it’s hard to create one of these on purpose. The idea has to be truly unique and represent something that has never been done online before. However, if a project does fall into this category it will have a much easier time spreading online. Some crowd-funding examples are Detroit Needs A Statue of Robocop! or the OUYA: A New Kind of Video Game Console. Since most projects to not represent truly unique ideas, you should focus on telling a compelling story.

Compelling Story

Telling a good story about your project can make all the difference in the world. What makes it hard, is that not everyone has experience with telling a compelling story. If you haven’t had experience with writing copy or creating online videos, then it would be beneficial to find someone who has. Let them help you highlight the most important aspects of your project.

Tip: No matter what type of engagement you choose, you want to make sure that it resonates with the audience you are trying to reach. Share your project with some people from the audience before you launch to get their feedback. If they get really excited, you are on the right track. If not, you might need to rework your pitch before launching.


Offer

When someone backs your project you are offering them a product or an experience. How can you tell the difference? Unless you have a working prototype, that you can show on camera, then you are offering an experience. The difference is subtle but important.

When you are offering a product people are usually backing you to get that product in it’s final form. They have a different set of expectations then someone who is backing an experience. When you are offering an experience people are less concerned with the final product and might be backing the project just to support you.

It’s also important to note that people do not consciously think about backing a product vs experience. Most of the time they are backing your project because of the story. However, as the project creator you need to be clear on what type of offer you are making, and then structure your project accordingly.

Product

I use the word product in a very broad sense. A CD, film or theatrical production could be a product. The main distinction between a product or experience is the prototype. A prototype could be anything such as album art, or scenes from the film, or video of your rehearsals. You just need something to show, in the project video, that you have done 80% to 90% of the work.

Many of the highest grossing crowd-funding campaigns have been for products with working prototypes that needed a little extra funding to be finished. In this scenario the crowd-funding site acts as a powerful pre-sale mechanism. Pebble: E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android, The Present and Capture Camera Clip System are all wonderful examples of this.

Experience

If you don’t have a working prototype of your final product than you are offering an experience. People are really backing you because they want to support you, or your idea. They are less focused on getting the actual product. You should still deliver on your promise, but hopefully they will give you a little more leeway if things don’t go according to plan.

The limitation of experience based projects is they typically do not raise as much as product based projects. This is because there is more perceived risk when backing ideas in their initial stages. What if the project never gets finished? How do I know the project creators can actually do this? You should expect that most of your backers will be people who already have a relationship with you.

The mistake people make is thinking that projects without a working prototype will receive massive amounts of funding. Unless the project creator has a large built-in audience, this just isn’t the case. As long as you keep this limitation in mind and set your goals accordingly, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Transreality

There are a ton of ways to make your project more fun and inclusive for backers. Christopher Lackey did an amazing job of this with his project Transreality. Want to be a character in the comic book? You can! Part of the fun of backing his project is the experience he created around the actual product. Creating amazing experiences requires a bit of creative thinking, but it’s one of the biggest untapped resources when trying to get funded.

Tip: Obviously there is a huge benefit to waiting until you have a working prototype to launch a project, but this creates a paradox. The more money you need to create a product, the longer you should wait to crowdfund. The way around this is to start with a really small project, or find alternative financing that will get you to a working prototype.


Explanation

You must make the description of the project simple enough that someone else can explain it. A critical aspect to a crowd-funding campaign is sharing the project. If someone cannot easily explain your project, it will have a much harder time spreading.

This does not mean your project has to be simple, but the explanation and description does. Make sure you spend a lot of time refining your pitch so that it is easy to understand. Share it with people and get their feedback. If they say “I don’t get it” then you need to keep working on it.

It may seem like a waste of time to put so much effort into the explanation, but you can avoid a lot of problems down the road. I typically spend the most amount of time getting the pitch and description right. Once you have a solid pitch the video, project description, and even the rewards fall right into place.


My crazy prediction

Most crowd-funding sites will not be around in the next five years. The same reason that the platform does not matter, is the same reason why these sites will not be around. It all comes down to audience.

The biggest factor to a the success of a crowd-funding campaign is having an audience or being able to reach and audience. The actual site that hosts the project really does not make that big of a difference. That is why I think most of the smaller crowd-funding sites are going to struggle.

People will launch on one of those sites, expecting that their will be a crowd of people waiting to back their project. When no one shows up they will give up or go somewhere else. And unless the crowd-funding site has a steady stream of successful projects it won’t be a feasible business model. The only way smaller sites can stay alive is by cultivating and maintaining a passionate audience that funds a few projects.


Take is slow

So I know there is a lot of information here. My advice is to sit with it and not try to use it all at once. Looking at the history of this post I realized that it has taken me nearly a year (Started Sept 24th, 2012) to write this. The writing process has been slow but it’s also taken me a while to be able to explain this information clearly.

Give yourself time to process it all. You should bookmark it, save it to Evernote, or whatever works for you but come back to as your work thorough your project. I hope it helps you make the best project that you can. I look forward to seeing you in the comments.

Nelson/Roberto

C-Loop Camera Mount: How to use blogs to build momentum for your campaign.

C-Loop Camera Mount: How to use blogs to build momentum for your campaign.
In November of 2010 the team at Custom SLR launched the C-Loop Camera Mount. Having never launched a project before they quickly realized that their friends and family would not be enough to fund their project.

They got to work making lists of blogs and websites they thought might be interested in their project. Starting with smaller sites they worked their way up to bigger blogs. Eventually it was picked up by Engadge and their project took off.


Glif an iPhone Tripod Mount: The design project that started a revolution.

Glif an iPhone Tripod Mount: The design project that started a revolution.
In October of 2011 Dan Provost & Tom Gerhardt launched a design project that would spark a revolution. Almost anyone who has done a project design project on Kickstarter has heard of the Glif. So, I had to sit down with Dan Provost to talk about what lead to their success.

Besides having what they thought was a solid product idea, Dan & Tom got a plug from a high profile blogger. Of course it wasn’t that simple. In this interview Dan talks about how his existing relationship with this blogger was the key to getting his project picked up.


Capture Camera Clip System: The perfect mix of product and passion.

Capture Camera Clip System: The perfect mix of product and passion.
In May of 2011 Peter Dering launched a wildly successful design project to being production on his Capture Clip System. In this interview we talk about how a single tweet from someone on twitter sent his project skyrocketing.

More then just a cool product, Peter’s project shows us what happens when someone who loves what they are doing shares their idea with the world. He put in A LOT of up front work but it all paid off in the end.