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.
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.
A Year ago today I launched my third Kickstarter project called StreetXSW, which turned out to be my biggest entrepreneurial failure. The project was to create a photo book by shooting the SXSW festival in Austin TX in the street photography genre. I wanted to highlight all the cool stuff we miss while plugged into our devices.
I had worked for months on my photography, the video, and getting the project page setup. I wrote and rewrote the script countless times. I shot the video at least three different times. I knew how important a great story would be to my project, so I poured everything I had into making the best video possible.
Excitedly I launched the project and then… nothing happened. No one bought the book, a few people shared the project, but it wasn’t enough to get any meaningful traction. It got picked by the Kickstarter staff, as a featured photography project, but that still did not help.
After a few days, and some negative feedback I realized the project was broken. I could have promoted the hell out of it, but in the end it wasn’t going to do what I wanted. So with a heavy heart I canceled the project I had spent months working on.
After you’ve done your best
For the next few days I beat myself up , thinking about how badly I had failed, and how all my work had been for nothing. Then I read this from Seth Godin:
Successful people analytically figure out what didn’t work and redefine what their best work will be in the future. And then they get back to work.
I realized that I needed to get back to work and see the project there, even if I wouldn’t be able to do my project as envisioned. With the help of Jerry Hirsch and Robert Ortiz I went to SXSW and got some amazing photos.
I’ve been sitting on the photos for a year because I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I thought about creating a video with the photos, I thought about prototyping my photo book, I even thought about tossing them all because they were a bitter reminder of my own stupidity. However, as I’ve reflected on the past year, and everything that happened because of my failure, I thought this might be an opportunity to remind people that failure isn’t that bad after all.
The Consequence Of Failure
The most interesting aspect about this project has been all of the stuff that has happened after it failed. As a result of preparing for the project, I was able to raise my photography to a new level. In August I wrote a post called Studying failure: What I learned from a Kickstarter project that failed… badly which talked about what I learned from the Kickstarter campaign. It has been viewed over 3,500 times and has helped people avoid the mistakes I made. The connections and the response I got because of sharing my failure so openly made the entire experience more than worth it.
All of this is great but in the days after I canceled the project, the only thing I could think about was how badly I had messed up. However, over the past year I came to realize one very important thing.
Our failures do not make us a failure.
Whenever a something doesn’t work out, or when we are scared it might not work out, we create all this anxiety and stress about being labeled as a failure. I think we need to give ourselves permission to let go of our negative feelings, and to realize that failure is not the end of the world.
So in celebration of my biggest entrepreneurial failure, here are the pictures I took last year at SXSW.
Click to see more
I’m thinking of doing a project related to letting go of our fear of failure but only if there is enough interest. If this post spoke to you, or you know someone that is having a hard time dealing with failure, leave your name and email and I’ll contact you soon. http://eepurl.com/uL7AL
They were able to get the project covered by local media, but it wasn’t quite as effective as they thought. We also talked about how they made their project more interesting by shooting on location for 24 hours, and the importance of showing credibility.
In the summer of 2012 AJ Leon and his band of professional troublemakers helped the NGO Water Aid raise 2.2M£ to bring clean drinking water to remote villages in Malawi. This goes way beyond what most Kickstarter’s face when trying to raise funds for their creative projects. Thats exactly why I invited AJ on to talk about his experiences.
AJ talked about all the work they did before the campaign to make sure it would be successful out of the gate. He talked about doing things that are BLOD and how to deal with the down periods of your campaign. Over all AJ had some great insights that we can use on our own crowd-funding project.
You launch your Kickstarter project, email family, post it to Facebook, share it on Twitter, and then what? When running a campaign you quickly release that there aren’t as many ways to market your project as you thought. That’s exactly what happened to Susan Tinkham and Kyle Turgeon when they launched a campaign for their short film Figments of a Father.
Instead of sending out more email blasts they decided to get creative and reach out to there local community to help promote this project. Susan shared with me how they created signs, fylers, when door to door, and generally “made a fool of themselves” all in the name of promoting their project.
Now that your campaign is underway, how do you know if it’s going well or not? Here are some of the things I do.
The Short Link
Every Kickstarter project page has a short link. This is smaller version of its web address. It can be found on your main project page, below the picture/video for your project. You will see it to the right of the “<> EMBED” button.
When you are promoting your project, you will want to use the short link as often as possible. Not only is it easier to share, but it can be used to calculate some important metrics about your project.
The only downside is that it doesn’t include kickstarter.com in the address. Some people might be hesitant to click on the short link, because they don’t know where it is taking them. However, if you are the one sharing it, and they trust you, then you should have no problem.
The conversion rate can be a powerful tool in determining the reach of your campaign and how much work you still have to do. This works best if you have been using your project short link during the whole campaign. WARNING: This will require a little math, but nothing too complicated.
First, find the total number of clicks the project is getting, by adding a + sign to the end of the short link.
This will take you to an info page for bitly.com, which creates and hosts all of Kickstarter’s short links. Towards the top of the page, there are two numbers, one in bold, which represent the number of clicks the link is getting. You will want to use the number NOT in bold This can be found next to the words: “All clicks on the aggregate bitly link”
Next you will need the number of people backing your project from the Kickstarter project page. Divide the number of backers by the total number of clicks your short link has received. This will be the conversation rate. For example, if a project has 14 backers and 180 clicks then the conversion rate is 7%.
14 Backers / 180 Clicks = 7% Conversion rate
Average Pledge Amount
The next important metric is the average amount pledged. This will help you figure out, on average, what each person is giving to the project. Later it will help you figure out how many backers you still need.
Take the amount pledged towards your project so far, and divide that by the number of backers. If your project has raised $245 from 14 backers, then the average pledge is $17.50
$245 Pledged / 14 Backers = $17.50 per backer
Remaining Views and Backers
Next you want to calculate the remaining views in order to get enough backers to meet your minimum funding goal.
Divide the remaining pledge amount by the average pledge amount. If your goal is $900, and you have raised $245, then you still need $655. Take this remaining amount, and divide that by the average pledge amount. So, if the average pledge amount is $17.50, then you need 38 more backers to finish the project. (I rounded up, since you don’t want to underestimate the number of backers you need.)
Once you know how many backers you still need, you can use the conversion rate to figure out how many views you need to get those backers.
Take the number of people you still need, and multiply it by the conversion rate. In this example, there are 38 backers remaining and a 7% conversion rate. This means the project will need close to 542 clicks to get the project funded.
These numbers are not exact, of course. They depend on a number of factors. As your project evolves, the numbers will change, so you can recalculate them as often as you need. These are just indicators of how your campaign is going. Your might post the link somewhere and get 500 more clicks, but if it’s the wrong 500 people, then you will not meet your goal. These metrics will give you valuable feedback, but they are not predictive of the outcome.
However, I have found these numbers to be very relevant and helpful. The example above uses numbers taken from my campaign for A Kickstarter’s Guide. If you did all the math, then you may have realized 54 backers were needed to get the project funded. The actual number, ended up being 56 backers. Not bad at all.
Most people think you launch a project when it goes live on the Kickstarter site. However, you may want to consider doing a soft launch before actually launching the project.
A soft launch, involves building awareness and gaining support for an idea before you are ready to start. This can be an important part to a successful campaign that is often over looked.
The actual launch is when you finally push the button on Kickstarter and your project is live. Once your project is launched you will use the contacts built up during the soft launch to help promote the project.
“(7) Do a soft launch for the project on your website and via social media at least 30 days before you start the actual Kickstarter project. You want to get the word out and get people interested and talking before you start the fundraising drive itself. At this stage, you’ll need to be able to tell people firm dates for the start and end of the Kickstarter drive, reward levels for backers, and so forth; use your own website as the central location for this because you won’t have a Kickstarter page to send people to until later.”
“Go to any message boards you frequent to post about the project (but don’t be spammy — if you don’t regularly post somewhere, don’t announce in that forum). Include links to the project in your message board profile and signature.”
“There are plenty of other websites and blogs that might be interested, so don’t be shy about getting in touch with them to tell them about the project (perhaps as a formal press release). For example, if doing a roleplaying game project, you might submit a short press release to ENWorld to see if they’ll include it in their news feed for the day.”
“Get all your friends and colleagues on board; the more voices you can get talking about the project, the better your odds will be.”
Doing a soft launch is something I have not been very good at. For both, Identifying Nelson, and A Kickstarter’s Guide, I did not spend enough time reaching out to people before they launched. This meant that during my campaigns, I was forced to spend a lot of time looking for an audience, instead of promoting the project. Not only is this stressful, but finding the right audience can take a long time. Trying to do it during a campaign is very challenging.
By now you should have found where your audience communicates and become part of that community. Then you should start talking with them about the project and when it will go live. Share with them your idea and let them know you are thinking of running it as Kickstarter campaign. They may like it or they may hate it. Either way, take it with a grain of salt. I’ve had plenty of people love my ideas and then never back my projects. Conversely people might not understand what you are trying to do until it is live. The point is to start the conversation as early as possible.
Once you have reached out to your communities, it is time to push the button and go for it!
At this point your nerves will probably start to “kick in” and you will be wondering if you got everything right. There is only one way to find out. Launch.
“Real artists ship.” – Steve Jobs
Best Time to Launch
I’m not sure if it matters. Just know that the campaign ends at the same time that you press the button. So, if you push it at 2 a.m., your campaign ends at 2 a.m.
During A Kickstarter’s Guide I realized that in the future I am going to want my campaign to end at night. This is because I had difficulty falling asleep knowing my campaign was ending in the morning. The project was already funded, but I was so excited to see the result that I just couldn’t fall asleep. Next time, I will be sure to start my project at night so it will finish before I go to bed.
Find The Fans
When you start your campaign, you will want to be on the lookout for your fans. They are the people who are going to go out of their way to make your project successful. They will help spread the word by writing on your behalf. They will get their friends and family to back the project. They will help you “cross the chasm.”
During my first campaign, Identifying Nelson, my friend Caroline was my biggest fan. She went out of her way to email friends, get her family on board, and anything else she could think of. Without her, I’m pretty sure my project would not have succeeded. Caroline, if you are reading this, thank you!
How Does it Spread?
Once the project has launched, pay attention to where people are talking about it. During my first campaign, Facebook was the most effective marketing tool. During my second, it was Twitter and Kickstarter.com. If you have been doing your homework, you should have an idea of where your audience hangs out. Concentrate on the sites and methods that gain the most traction. Don’t try to promote your project on every medium because you think that’s what you need to do. If your audience isn’t on Twitter, then don’t post as often. Posting on networks that aren’t part of your audience annoys people, makes Kickstarter look bad, and won’t get your project funded.
These are a very useful both during and after the campaign. During the campaign, you can post about its progress. It’s a great way to keep your backers involved and enlist their additional support. You can thank them, and ask them to share the project with their networks. After the campaign is over, you can keep in touch with them about the project and let them know the status of their rewards.
Project updates are great. Use them! During Identifying Nelson I don’t think I used them enough. We didn’t write our first update until halfway through the campaign. You don’t need to write updates if you don’t have anything to say, but you want to engage the people who backed you. Even if its just to say thank you. In fact, you can’t say thank you often enough.
Each project page on Kickstarter is essentially a pitch for an idea, your idea. When people come to Kickstarter they are coming to be pitched. They aren’t actively thinking this of course, but they want to hear about you and your project. The pitch can make or break a project, so having a good one is important.
A Kickstarter pitch usually consists of an image, video, and written copy. While most people choose to do a video it is not required. However, the Kickstarter School highly recommends that you do a video. It is a great way for people who don’t know you to learn about you and your idea. When people come to look at your project they will have several questions they will want answered. Answering them effectively can, in some circumstances, double your chances of a viewer becoming a backer.
Over the next few posts we’ll look at what those questions are and how to use the project page to pitch your idea and get backers. I won’t get into specifics of about how to make your video or what to write because that is really up to you.
What Makes a Good Pitch?
Good pitches have three essential elements: narrative, credibility, and clarity. You don’t need to have all three in your pitch, but a successful project does at least one of them very well.
Narrative – Your personal story and the story behind your idea. If you can explain why you are excited about the project and what led you to create it, then people will have a much easier time connecting with you.
Credibility – This is one aspect of the pitch that people often miss. You want to show people that you are the right person to do this project. You achieve this by showing prototypes of your product or samples of your art. The more previous experience you can demonstrate, the more people will trust you.
Clarity – Keep it simple. Don’t make people guess what your project is or what the result is going to be. The easier it is for people to understand your project, the easier it is for them make a decision about whether to back you.