Historically Brewed Compilation Book: The prefect project for first time Kickstarters

Computer History Compilation Book: The prefect project for first time Kickstarters
In July of 2011 David Greelish set out to revive an old computer history “zine” called Historically Brewed. I sat down with David to talk about his thoughts on Kickstarter, and why I thought he had the perfect project for first timers.

David had small but interested following, and hosted a podcast about historical computing. He pick a reasonable goal and project. All of these factors allowed him to easily hit his goal and almost triple it.


The misperception of crowd-sourced funding and the reality of Kickstarter.

We often hear stories of someone posting a creative project online. Then hundreds or thousands of people come rushing to them and it takes off. It seems so simple. Come up with a brilliant idea and the Internet will take over to make our dreams come true.

Somewhere deep down inside we know there is more to it than that. There must be some explanation as to why their idea took off. We’re just not sure what it is. We launch our own project, hoping the masses will show up, but they never do. We are left feeling disappointed and full of doubt. Why not me? Was my idea not good enough?

The truth is that there is a lot of work that goes into a project before it will take off. Simply posting an idea online is rarely enough to get meaningful traction.

In the fall of 2010 I posted my first Kickstarter project for a documentary film that I wanted to make with a friend of mine. Our project finished just two days before the launch of the TikTok Multi-Touch Watch. TikTok went on to raise $942,578 set a new record for amount raised via crowd funding. It was the first time people started to realize the true potential of Kickstarter.

TikTok held the record for over a year until the Elevation Dock and Double Fine Adventure broke the $1,000,000 funding mark. After that it seemed like every week I was hearing about projects raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. By the time the Pebble: E-Paper Watch had set a new record at $10,000,000, I had run three different projects of varying size and results. Throughout my three projects I had yet to experience anything like what I was reading about. In fact my campaigns had been much different.


My three experiences

During the campaign for Identifying Nelson/Buscando A Roberto we raised $15,212 from 170 people, the majority of which were family and friends. Not exactly a crowd but it was my first project. After that, I ran a campaign to create A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter. This ended up being 150% over funded and raised $1,303 from 104 backers. Definitely a great success but still this mythical “crowd” had not shown its face. Granted, the guide was a small project so that could be one reason why the masses didn’t flock to it. Then in February I ran a campaign for StreetXSW: Capturing The Moments You Missed. It was an attempt to create a project that would go beyond my family and friends and attract a larger crowd. Despite all my hard work the campaign flopped and I end up canceling the project a week in.

I started to wonder why none of my projects caught on like the ones I was reading about. Were my ideas not good enough? The projects in the news were pretty damn cool but I didn’t feel like my mine were unworthy of more attention. After all, my documentary film was about how I had been separated from my birth family during El Salvador’s civil war and then was reunited with them when I was 16.

The story involves revolutionaries, kidnappings, government cover ups, loss, regret, and redemption. It’s one of those larger than life true stories that you can’t make up. If anything had the legs to go big wasn’t this it? Now, I am in no way suggesting that I deserve or that our film deserves that kind of attention. I’m just trying to say, that even an incredible story like mine doesn’t necessarily catch on with the crowd.

I probably would have felt like a complete failure had something not happened, which started to shift my perception of crowd funding.


The first 10,000

On June 19th, 2011 Kickstarter posted 10,000 Successful Projects, which highlighted how far the service had come in two years. Along with the post was this video which featured a screen shot of all 10,000 successful projects.

I went looking for my project. It was a bit tough because the pictures went by so fast but I realized that the projects were being displayed by amount raised. Great! I thought, I’ll just click a head until get into the ball park and then I can slow it down. I clicked about half way through the video to where I thought my project should be but the projects at that point had only raised a couple thousand dollars. I thought it was a little weird but I kept clicking.

To my amazement I was 2/3 of the way though and still no where near the amount of money I had raised. It wasn’t until I got to 5 minutes and 9 seconds, out of the 5:33s video, that I started to get close. I finally found our project at the 5:11s and thats when it hit me. Identifying Nelson was one of the most funded projects on the site! Doing some quick back of the napkin calculations I estimated that we were in the top 10% of projects funded. I’m sure this is no longer true but at the time it was a big shock. That was when my perception of crowd funding started to change.

Over the past couple months, some new information about Kickstarter has come out that has furthered my belief that our perception of Kickstarter as we read about it is much different from the reality of what most people experience.


What I learned 


The “crowd” is actually a lot smaller than you might think

Recently, Kickstarter released a new statistics page that gives us some insights into what is happening behind the scenes. One of the most interesting statistics was that only 2,200 out of the 28,600 projects launched have raised more than $20,000. Of those only 251 have raised over $100,000. That means roughly 92% of all projects launched on Kickstarter have raised under $20,000!

Again I was surprised by how few projects ended up raising large amounts of money. I’ve done enough research to know that is easier to get funding for smaller goals but I didn’t expect the number of “high end” projects to be so low. If you’ve been following crowdsourced funding in the news you may get the perception that there are a lot of large projects bringing in well over $100,000. Turns out that’s not the case at all.

I think part of the misperception lies in the name. The words crowd-funding or crowd-sourced funding represent the idea of a project raising tens of thousands of dollars from thousands of backers. Partly because the definition of the word “crowd” means a large group of people. However, if our perceptions of the amount of money being raised is off, could we be wrong about the number of people backing a project as well?

On a side note: What is this mythical crowd anyway? Is it made up of people living in some corner of cyber space with credit cards at the ready, waiting for someone to launch a project? As great as that sounds I doubt thats the case.

One way of figuring how many people make up the crowd is by looking at the average pledge amount on Kickstarter. According to Kickstarter the average pledge amount is $70. This means that a project with the goal of $10,000 should be funded by roughly 142 people. Right away this is interesting, because the number of backers is a lot lower than we might expect. Using the $70 average pledge as a benchmark we can estimate that 92% of all projects on Kickstarter are funded by less than 300 people. Not exactly a crowd…


The number of friends you have matters

I have a theory that the average Kickstarter project is primarily funded by a small number of 1st degree connections, not a large group of anonymous strangers. This is something I experienced in Identifying Nelson. Less than $1000 of our $15,000 came from 2nd degree connections. People who had never personally met John or or myself before.  My theory has to do with something called Dunbar’s number. You might be familiar with it but if your aren’t here is a refresher.

Robin Dunbar is a British anthropologist that suggested humans have a limit to the number of social relationships they can maintain. While there was no exact number that was proposed by Dunbar, it said to be between 100 and 230 people, with the most common number being 150 people. Does that number look familiar? It’s roughly the same amount of people that it takes fund a project of $10,000. If humans are limited to roughly 150 social connections, I’m willing to bet those connections are somewhat meaning. I’m also willing to bet that the people who make up those meaningful connections would be willing to pitch in $70 to help a friend. It happens all the time with charity walks and bake sales, why should Kickstarter be any different?

I recently came across an article entitled, The Untold Story Behind Kickstarter Stats, that seams to support my theory. In this post Jamie from appsblogger.com teamed up with Prof. Ethan Malik of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to dig deeper into Kickstarter statistics. Prof. Malik found that the number of Facebook friends you had mattered:

For that $10K project, holding everything else constant, if you had 10 Facebook friends, you would only have a 9% chance of succeeding. If you had 100 Facebook friends, your chance jumps to 20%. And if you have 1,000 Facebook friends? Your chance of succeeding is now 40%.

Facebook allows us to extend the reach of our campaign to people who care about us but might not be in our, day to days lives. Not all of those friends will chip into our campaign but some will share it and pass it along to friends who will back it. The larger the group of people you have to draw from the easier it is to find the group of people that care enough to help you out.

In A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter I argue that projects are funded by a specific audience or group of people. Most of us do not have “fans” but we do have family and friends. I think your family and friends acts as a kind of build-in audience. The mistake we make is thinking that our project has to the strength to go beyond our family and friends. In my experience creating something that resonates with a people beyond family and friends is a lot harder than you think.

Part of the challenge is that it just takes a long time to understand what gets people excited and how to communicate your ideas in a meaningful way. If you look at the most successful projects on Kickstarter they are done by established artists, entrepreneurs or skilled individuals with proven track records.


The reality of Kickstarter is much different than what we read and that’s OK!

I think what we are presented with here is the reality of Kickstarter and perhaps crowd funding in general. Kickstarter works well for projects under $20,000 and only a few top-tier projects, get more than that. Sounds like the 80 to 20 rule to me. But does this hurt the crowd-funding and sites like Kickstarter? I would argue not at all. If anything, it means project creators need to adjust their exceptions and understand what they are up against.

Don’t try to hit a home run right away. Launch small and launch often. Over time you will figure out what works and what doesn’t. Be realistic in your expectations. If you’re project takes off great, but it should be a reward for working hard, not your strategy. (Hey even Amanda Palmer did it that way.)

Sure I would love for one of my projects to take off, but I’m not expecting it anytime soon. I’m not sure thats the point either. Kickstarter provides a safe and reliable way to test ideas and learn what it takes to create something that resonates with people beyond family and friends. It also provides a platform for skilled project creators to reach a large number of people. It’s pretty clear that on Kickstarter there is room for both. The challenge is being honest with ourselves about where we fall on that scale.

Let me be clear, without Kickstarter there is NO way I could have raised $15,000 to start our film. Maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit, but I just don’t think asking friends to send money via paypal would have had the same impact. There is just something about a project on Kickstarter that people respond to.

It gave me an opportunity to launch an idea and learn with very little risk. What bothers me is when people present Kickstarter as an easy source of capital or a lottery where your project just might get picked. I think that completely glosses over all the work that goes into a project and sells people false hope. Projects that take off represent solid ideas, skilled creators and hard work. Anyone who says otherwise is lucky or lying. Now, stop reading and go make something happen!

The Paradox of Choice

We love choice. In any given year every single film on Netflix is watched at least once. The Long Tail is an economic theory and excellent book, which explains why this happens. It states that due to the infinite shelf space of online retailers, people will now have almost limitless choices as to what they consume. We are living in a world where people can find exactly what they’re looking for and are willing to pay unbelievably high prices to get those special unique items.

At the same time, we hate choice. Having too many choices when we don’t have a lot of time, can be overwhelming and confusing. Limitless choice works when people have the time and energy to pay attention and look for the very best. When they don’t, people want quick and easy choices.

The Coffee Joulies project is one of the top-funded design projects on Kickstarter, and it has only three backing levels. It’s simple, and people visiting the page do not have to think much about what level they are going to choose.

Then again, the Womanthology; Massive All Female Comic Anthology! project was incredibly successful with a very complex system of rewards and almost 50 different backing levels. They even had unlockable rewards that, like in video games, became available when a certain goal was reached. This, however, was probably planned out ahead of time, and a lot of work went into putting them all together.

When creating your rewards, it is probably to best make ones that have meaningful value. If you are having trouble coming up with a $5 reward, then maybe you don’t need one. Having too many rewards ultimately clutters up your page and makes it difficult for people to decide. However, you may want to have a lot of different rewards. Either way, make it a conscious decision. Creating rewards just to fill price points probably won’t be meaningful enough for backers.


A Kickstart’s Guide to Kickstarter TOC:

pssst…you can read all of this offline by downloading the e-book.

Introduction
A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter: Introduction
How Kickstarter “Kickstartered” it’s own website
Understanding Kickstarter
The Basics of Kickstarter
Kickstarter is an updated version of the Parton Model
Kickstarter is like girl scout cookies…without the calories!
Make sure your project has an ending
Some additional benefits to running a Kickstarter project
Perry Chan’s Six Principles on why Kickstarter projects are successful
Yancey’s thoughts on getting funded
Brainstorming Your Project
What is this damn thing about?
Simplify your project for success
Is your project a Purple Cow?
Making Lemonade And Telling A Good Story
Reward The Patrons
Naming Your Kickstarter Project
Doing Your Homework
Before you launch, do your homework
No one cares about you
Some People Care About You
Who is Your Audience?
Where is Your Audience?
Resonating With Your Audience
Crossing Chasms
What Will it Cost?
Understanding Profit Margin and Costs
Setting Your Goals
Make or Break Decisions
Running the Numbers
Focus on what you need
Reasonable funding goals
Why be Reasonable?
How long your campaign runs depends on one thing, momentum
30 days or less
Managing Deadlines
Going for the BIG bucks
The Allure of a Large Backer
Pricing theory, thoughts about pricing your Kickstarter rewards
The Paradox of Choice
Crafting Your Pitch
Creating a compelling pitch for your Kickstarter project
Four questions people want answered when visiting your Kickstarter page.
Show some credibility to get more backers
Clarity is your friend
How to ask for Support
Kickstarter is a video-driven site
Examples of great pitch videos
Launching Your Project
Launching your project
How to track the progress of your Kickstarter campaign
The 30% Kickstarter project “Tipping Point”
Conclusion
How to engage an audience with a Kickstarter project: Idea & Story

Pricing theory, thoughts about pricing your Kickstarter rewards

The psychology of pricing is very difficult and complex. This book is too short to really get into it, but here are some things to think about. If you would like an in-depth look at pricing theory, I recommend Smart Pricing by Z. John Zhang

People enjoy a purchase more if they pay more for it. This is counter-intuitive. A common misconception is that people are very price sensitive, and always look for the best possible price. That might be true for food or gas, but most people coming to Kickstarter want to connect with other people. Stay away from really high reward levels, but don’t undervalue your rewards either.

If a higher priced reward is not significantly better, then why pay more? The tricky part about creating rewards is increasing value to match the increase in price. For example, if you are making an album you could offer a digital download and a CD as rewards. But, how much more valuable is a CD vs the digital download? I don’t mean monetary value but sentimental value. If the download is $10 and the CD is $25 is there enough of a difference that I would purchase the higher priced reward? For me, no. In fact I might pay you $15 extra NOT to make a CD. What’s the point? It wastes resources and gets scratched. However, if your CD is personally burned, and has an extra track, and sold for $50, then it might be a compelling enough reward.


A Kickstart’s Guide to Kickstarter TOC:

pssst…you can read all of this offline by downloading the e-book.

Introduction
A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter: Introduction
How Kickstarter “Kickstartered” it’s own website
Understanding Kickstarter
The Basics of Kickstarter
Kickstarter is an updated version of the Parton Model
Kickstarter is like girl scout cookies…without the calories!
Make sure your project has an ending
Some additional benefits to running a Kickstarter project
Perry Chan’s Six Principles on why Kickstarter projects are successful
Yancey’s thoughts on getting funded
Brainstorming Your Project
What is this damn thing about?
Simplify your project for success
Is your project a Purple Cow?
Making Lemonade And Telling A Good Story
Reward The Patrons
Naming Your Kickstarter Project
Doing Your Homework
Before you launch, do your homework
No one cares about you
Some People Care About You
Who is Your Audience?
Where is Your Audience?
Resonating With Your Audience
Crossing Chasms
What Will it Cost?
Understanding Profit Margin and Costs
Setting Your Goals
Make or Break Decisions
Running the Numbers
Focus on what you need
Reasonable funding goals
Why be Reasonable?
How long your campaign runs depends on one thing, momentum
30 days or less
Managing Deadlines
Going for the BIG bucks
The Allure of a Large Backer
Pricing theory, thoughts about pricing your Kickstarter rewards
The Paradox of Choice
Crafting Your Pitch
Creating a compelling pitch for your Kickstarter project
Four questions people want answered when visiting your Kickstarter page.
Show some credibility to get more backers
Clarity is your friend
How to ask for Support
Kickstarter is a video-driven site
Examples of great pitch videos
Launching Your Project
Launching your project
How to track the progress of your Kickstarter campaign
The 30% Kickstarter project “Tipping Point”
Conclusion
How to engage an audience with a Kickstarter project: Idea & Story

The Allure of a Large Backer

While large backers definitely give your project a boost, they also take away from the size of your new audience. One of the biggest benefits to Kickstarter is that it allows you to talk to more people. Every time you post an update, you get into the inbox of people who want to hear from you. Large backers are, in a way, a double-edged sword. They help your project, but hurt your reach.

Let’s say you launch a project for $3000. You get six backers and raise $400. Then a BIG backer pledges $2000 and almost completes your project. Now you only have a handful of people you can talk to. One of the best things to come out of my first project, Identifying Nelson, was the 170 people I can now talk to directly. Next time I want to launch a creative project I have a small group of people that I can share the idea with first.

Quantity OF Quality

When creating rewards the goal should be to have an adequate quantity of quality backers. You want to design the rewards so that most people will pledge right in the middle of your reward levels. You want some high backers and some low backers with most falling in the middle. Having a good spread of rewards, especially in the $25 to $250 range, will really help get a solid group of backers.


A Kickstart’s Guide to Kickstarter TOC:

pssst…you can read all of this offline by downloading the e-book.

Introduction
A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter: Introduction
How Kickstarter “Kickstartered” it’s own website
Understanding Kickstarter
The Basics of Kickstarter
Kickstarter is an updated version of the Parton Model
Kickstarter is like girl scout cookies…without the calories!
Make sure your project has an ending
Some additional benefits to running a Kickstarter project
Perry Chan’s Six Principles on why Kickstarter projects are successful
Yancey’s thoughts on getting funded
Brainstorming Your Project
What is this damn thing about?
Simplify your project for success
Is your project a Purple Cow?
Making Lemonade And Telling A Good Story
Reward The Patrons
Naming Your Kickstarter Project
Doing Your Homework
Before you launch, do your homework
No one cares about you
Some People Care About You
Who is Your Audience?
Where is Your Audience?
Resonating With Your Audience
Crossing Chasms
What Will it Cost?
Understanding Profit Margin and Costs
Setting Your Goals
Make or Break Decisions
Running the Numbers
Focus on what you need
Reasonable funding goals
Why be Reasonable?
How long your campaign runs depends on one thing, momentum
30 days or less
Managing Deadlines
Going for the BIG bucks
The Allure of a Large Backer
Pricing theory, thoughts about pricing your Kickstarter rewards
The Paradox of Choice
Crafting Your Pitch
Creating a compelling pitch for your Kickstarter project
Four questions people want answered when visiting your Kickstarter page.
Show some credibility to get more backers
Clarity is your friend
How to ask for Support
Kickstarter is a video-driven site
Examples of great pitch videos
Launching Your Project
Launching your project
How to track the progress of your Kickstarter campaign
The 30% Kickstarter project “Tipping Point”
Conclusion
How to engage an audience with a Kickstarter project: Idea & Story

Going for the BIG bucks

I see a lot of rewards in the thousand dollar range on Kickstarter. Sometimes projects even skip the most lucrative pledging tiers altogether, going from $20 to $200 to $1000. To me this is another example of people misunderstanding how Kickstarter works. The idea of crowd-sourced funding is that a lot of people will pledge smaller amounts of money. Pricing rewards in the thousands of dollars contradicts this idea. It is very hard to get people to spend large amounts of money on a perfect stranger.

In my experience, pledges of a $1000 or more came from people who knew me BEFORE I ran the campaign, not people who found me online. They are close family and friends who wanted to support our work. If someone is going to pledge in the thousands, you probably already know them. They already believe in your project, and you may have an inkling they will pledge at that level. You could have the coolest rewards in the world, but it probably won’t convince people who don’t know you to back at that level. Then again, if you are catering to an audience that regularly pays $1000+ for products, it just might work.


A Kickstart’s Guide to Kickstarter TOC:

pssst…you can read all of this offline by downloading the e-book.

Introduction
A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter: Introduction
How Kickstarter “Kickstartered” it’s own website
Understanding Kickstarter
The Basics of Kickstarter
Kickstarter is an updated version of the Parton Model
Kickstarter is like girl scout cookies…without the calories!
Make sure your project has an ending
Some additional benefits to running a Kickstarter project
Perry Chan’s Six Principles on why Kickstarter projects are successful
Yancey’s thoughts on getting funded
Brainstorming Your Project
What is this damn thing about?
Simplify your project for success
Is your project a Purple Cow?
Making Lemonade And Telling A Good Story
Reward The Patrons
Naming Your Kickstarter Project
Doing Your Homework
Before you launch, do your homework
No one cares about you
Some People Care About You
Who is Your Audience?
Where is Your Audience?
Resonating With Your Audience
Crossing Chasms
What Will it Cost?
Understanding Profit Margin and Costs
Setting Your Goals
Make or Break Decisions
Running the Numbers
Focus on what you need
Reasonable funding goals
Why be Reasonable?
How long your campaign runs depends on one thing, momentum
30 days or less
Managing Deadlines
Going for the BIG bucks
The Allure of a Large Backer
Pricing theory, thoughts about pricing your Kickstarter rewards
The Paradox of Choice
Crafting Your Pitch
Creating a compelling pitch for your Kickstarter project
Four questions people want answered when visiting your Kickstarter page.
Show some credibility to get more backers
Clarity is your friend
How to ask for Support
Kickstarter is a video-driven site
Examples of great pitch videos
Launching Your Project
Launching your project
How to track the progress of your Kickstarter campaign
The 30% Kickstarter project “Tipping Point”
Conclusion
How to engage an audience with a Kickstarter project: Idea & Story

Managing Deadlines

Another factor to consider is your own personal deadlines. In both of my Kickstarter projects the timing and length of my campaign was set by outside factors. I wanted to hit deadlines and timing windows which forced me launch at times that might not have been optimal.

You may have some timing windows that you are trying to hit. Meeting these timing windows can be tricky, because you run the risk of not putting enough work into your campaign before it launches.

The most important factor here is the size of your project and how much you’re going for. If you have a tight timing window and a smaller size project, then you might need to launch before you have worked everything out. If you’re going for a large amount and have a big project, then it will pay off to wait until you have everything ready to launch a campaign. Trying to launch before you are ready in order to hit an arbitrary deadline might hurt you. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve spent several months preparing for my first Kickstarter project instead of rushing to get it out the door.


A Kickstart’s Guide to Kickstarter TOC:

pssst…you can read all of this offline by downloading the e-book.

Introduction
A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter: Introduction
How Kickstarter “Kickstartered” it’s own website
Understanding Kickstarter
The Basics of Kickstarter
Kickstarter is an updated version of the Parton Model
Kickstarter is like girl scout cookies…without the calories!
Make sure your project has an ending
Some additional benefits to running a Kickstarter project
Perry Chan’s Six Principles on why Kickstarter projects are successful
Yancey’s thoughts on getting funded
Brainstorming Your Project
What is this damn thing about?
Simplify your project for success
Is your project a Purple Cow?
Making Lemonade And Telling A Good Story
Reward The Patrons
Naming Your Kickstarter Project
Doing Your Homework
Before you launch, do your homework
No one cares about you
Some People Care About You
Who is Your Audience?
Where is Your Audience?
Resonating With Your Audience
Crossing Chasms
What Will it Cost?
Understanding Profit Margin and Costs
Setting Your Goals
Make or Break Decisions
Running the Numbers
Focus on what you need
Reasonable funding goals
Why be Reasonable?
How long your campaign runs depends on one thing, momentum
30 days or less
Managing Deadlines
Going for the BIG bucks
The Allure of a Large Backer
Pricing theory, thoughts about pricing your Kickstarter rewards
The Paradox of Choice
Crafting Your Pitch
Creating a compelling pitch for your Kickstarter project
Four questions people want answered when visiting your Kickstarter page.
Show some credibility to get more backers
Clarity is your friend
How to ask for Support
Kickstarter is a video-driven site
Examples of great pitch videos
Launching Your Project
Launching your project
How to track the progress of your Kickstarter campaign
The 30% Kickstarter project “Tipping Point”
Conclusion
How to engage an audience with a Kickstarter project: Idea & Story