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.
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.
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.
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.
P.S. AJ recently release a manifest called The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit which he talks about in the program. It is excellent and has been downloaded over 30,000 times. Grab your copy here.
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.
The success of a Kickstarter campaign relies on the project being shared. Everything about the site from the share buttons to the all or nothing deadline are working hard to get the project to spread. But how does that process happen? Why do some projects get spread far and wide and other do not? Obviously there are many factors to a project’s success. Quality of the project, video, and pitch are all important. However, a great project that isn’t shared doesn’t get funded.
Over the years I’ve been really interested in how ideas spread. I wanted to understand the process because I realized that no matter how great my idea was, if I couldn’t spread it, it would go no where. One of the things that fascinates me about Kickstarter is that it turbo charges the process. When done right it can give your project wings may beyond what you normally could do. But being able to do that process over and over is a tough to learn. That is one of the reasons I conducted interviews with other Kickstarters, to learn what works.
What I’ve learned from my interviews is that your launch strategy is just as important, as your project page. Launching a project and hoping the internet will find it is not enough. In this post I’m going to explore the topic of how ideas spread online and try to define some things we can do when launching a Kickstarter project.
My first time actually seeing an idea spread online was with the campaign for Identifying Nelson/Buscando A Roberto. We ran the campaign for 60 days (back when you could run it that long) but for the first 7 weeks nothing happened. During that entire time we only managed to raise 27% of our $15,000 goal. Things weren’t looking very good for us. Then Friday night, a week before the campaign ended, we got a backer that pushed over the 30% Kickstarter tipping point.
Then something interesting started to happen. High school friends shared it on Facebook. At first it was one or two but with each post more people started sharing and backing the project. Then camp friends started posting about it. Later in the week it was college friends. The idea was spreading!
After a while I started to notice a pattern. For each Facebook share we got another backer. That backer wasn’t always the person who shared it either. This meant there was a direct relationship between my backers and the numbers of people exposed to the project. I quickly checked my visitor count for the page and realized that for every 100 views of the project page we were getting 10 backers.
The whole process was interesting because each of my friend groups did not know each other. There was no way for my camp friends to see posts from my high school friends. This told me the idea was spread in each group of friends separately. The other fascinating thing was I was no longer doing any of the heavy lifting. That week I really didn’t send out any emails asking for support. I didn’t have to, it was happening on its own.
What I was experiencing was an idea going “viral.” But instead of being shared by random people on the internet it was being shared by my friends. People who knew me, and who I had been close to me at one point. Seth Godin would call this a “Tribe.” I realized the project was not going viral with the internet at large, it was going viral in my tribe. It was going tribal!
Now I am not trying to create another buzz word here but I think it’s an interesting way to think about ideas spreading. We often assume that when an idea takes off its because masses of people come flocking to the idea all at once. Turns out thats not how it happens.
One of the reasons that this experience was so profound was because I had been studying how ideas spread for so long. When our Kickstarter project finally took off I got to see everything I had been reading about happen for real. It was that experience that really drove me to try and figure out how one could repeat the process over and over again.
In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore talks about how new businesses must target a niche to get traction. Once they have established themselves with an initial group of customers, they must work quickly to find other niches. This is because there is a “chasm” between early adopters and the mainstream. The only way to cross is to get a small number of customers from different niches. Once the business has a solid base of customers and is viewed as established, it can be embraced by the mainstream.
In The Tipping Point, Malcum, Gladwell agues a similar point. He says that for ever idea that takes off there is a critical moment when the project starts to take off on it’s own. This is the “Tipping Point” where the idea tips and starts to take off on it’s own. Enough people know about the idea and are talking about it that the idea has enough momentum to carry on its own.
Both books provide insights into what makes a project take off.
This describes the process of Kickstarter very well. Before a project will start to spread on it’s own there has to be a certain amount of social proof. So getting those early backers is vital to the success and momentum of the project. This is why the 30% tipping point is so important. Once the tipping point has been reached the project deadline acts as a force to motivate and energize the base. Share this project or it will disappear.
When you set out to launch your idea you should really think about the different groups you are going to hit. Crossing the chasm can be brutally hard. Ours took 7 long weeks to cross. You have to be patient and really think about how you are going to address it. Who will jump in right away no matter what? Who is going to want social proof before backing it? For example, I wouldn’t pitch a blog or newspaper with random strangers until there is solid social proof around your project. You really only get one chance to pitch your idea so you don’t waste it.
In Unleashing The Ideavirus, Seth Godin argues that ideas are like virus. They “infect” the population as they spread from person to person. Once you have been infected you can’t help but share it. However, not everyone is susceptible to the idea virus so starting the idea in the right place is important.
Seth Godin’s formula for creating an idea virus goes something like this:
Is your head spinning yet? Don’t feel bad, creating an idea virus on purpose is hard. I got this book in 2005 and I am still working on understanding the formula. I really don’t want to overcomplicate things, so I’ll only talk about the three most important parts of the formula, that relate to a Kickstarter campaign.
Understanding the concept that an idea is transferred via a medium is something I still struggle with. But I think the simplest example of this is the project video. When someone watches your project video they are interacting with your idea virus. Like sitting next to someone with a cold, the contagiousness of the disease has a roll to play in whether or not you get infected. Your job is to make that interaction as compelling as possible.
The story you tell in your project video is going to draw people in and “infect” them with the idea virus. You are going to have to work really hard to make sure it’s a good one. I think one mistake a lot of people make is not telling a compelling enough story. Simply putting up a video that says “I want to do this” is not enough to get people excited. You have to layout what are the stakes if the project fails, and why it is so meaningful to you.
The hive is a group of people that can relate to, and will back your project. In A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter I called this audience. Figuring out who your potential hive is, before you launch is very important. If your project does not meet the expectations of that group and it will have a hard time spreading through it. You are going to want to list several potential groups. Sometimes the hive that backs a Kickstarter project is not the one the creator imagined at the start.
Make a list of all the different hives, or audiences, that your project might relate to. Then try to figure out how close you are to each group, and how you can reach out to each group. The best groups to reach out to are the ones that you have a personal connection to. People often start by looking for audiences that they think might back their project but have no connection to. Selling to strangers is tough, so start with the people you know and move outward from there. Maybe they can connect you to the groups that you seek.
Sneezers, or influencers (as are called in today’s web culture) are people who in touch with a hive and can spread your idea virus far and wide. If you can get them on your side, they can be a big asset to help spreading your message. But don’t wait until the last minute to get in touch with them. If you start contacting sneezers the day your project launches, then you are just using them for their audience. Respect their time and attention, and get to know them before you need their help. Finally, before you ask for their help, think long and hard about what’s in it for them, that has nothing to do with you.
One of the biggest challenges to launching an idea virus is knowing if your message will resonate with the hive/audience you are trying to reach. I recommend that you send your project people you trust (preferably within the hive you are trying to reach) and get their feedback. This was one of my biggest mistakes with my StreetXSW project. Had I gotten feedback earlier in the process, I might have have realize that my project had some big flaws. Instead I worked on my project alone and when I launched, I had built something no one wanted.
One of the best features Kickstarter has recently created is the preview link. This allows you to build your project and then send it to people before it goes live. Often time you are too close to the project to spot the big mistakes. You also want to judge their reaction to what you are sending. I look for phases of excitement and high approval.
“Wow, this is great!”
“I can’t wait to get this!”
If you aren’t getting this kind of reaction out of people, it might be a sign of problems to come. Keep working on your pitch until you start to get these types of reactions. It will make the whole campaigning process SO much easier.
I don’t worry about people hating my work, or liking my work. I worry about then not LOVING my work. If they don’t love it they won’t pass it along and my idea goes no where. If you don’t get a lot of this excited feedback them either you should hold off to reevaluate or understand that it will be an uphill battle to get backers.
The final piece to understanding how to launch an idea came by reading Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness, by Dan Zarrella. In his book Dan lays out a framework for understand why things are shared online. There are three parts to the framework, exposure, attention and motivation.
Dan explains his framework like this:
In summary, for people to share something they need to be exposed to it (or the creator) before hand, it needs to catch their attention, and there needs to be a call to action. This means surprising people with a Kickstarter project is probably the worst thing you can do. Instead, try to build support for your project as you develop. Feedback and buying is key, especially from the sneezers and hives you are trying to reach. View your Kickstarter launch as the end of a venting process, not the beginning of the project.
When we ran the campaign for Identifying Nelson/Buscando A Roberto I had no idea how important it was to make people aware of your project before it launches. Had we known it might’ve changed our entire strategy. By dumb luck, we ran the campaign for 60 days (back when you could do that) which I gave us enough time to make people aware of the project before the last week. What we should have done was run a 60 day campaign, but only made the project live for 30 days. The first 30 days should’ve been spent contacting our biggest supporters, and closest friends to let them know that our project was about to launch. That would have brought a lot more momentum into the campaign, and made it a lot easier to hit our goal.
Another interesting take away from Dan’s book is that ideas are not as viral as we think they are.
Those interested in actual science use a more precise term, borrowed from epidemiology: “reproduction rate.” The reproduction rate, or R0 (pronounced “R-naught”), is the number of new infections that a case of a disease will cause in a single generation, averaged over the entire life of the epidemic. If I have a cold and I give that cold to two people, and each of them gives it to two more, the R0 of that cold is two.
With many biological pathogens, R0 is greater than one, meaning that the pathogen spreads to every susceptible person in a population over time. However, every example of idea viruses I’ve studied, from retweets to email messages, has an R0 well below one. Some pieces of content out there, particularly those that spread through small groups, have a higher R0 for short periods of time. Typically, when those ideas jump into larger populations, the average reproduction rate declines and the ideas die.
Zarrella, Dan (2011-08-23). Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design, and Engineering of Contagious Ideas (p. 14). AmazonEncore. Kindle Edition.
Zarrella is saying that the ideas aren’t as viral as we think they are. When something gets posted on Facebook or Twitter only a small percentage of people actually pass it on. This means seeding our idea with a large number of people is important. The challenge is that most of us cannot reach a very large number of people. Most of us probably can probably reach a couple hundred people via email or Facebook. Once we have contacted them, then what? This is why sneezers, and resonating with a larger audiences is so important. you have to figure out how to get your idea into larger groups, your friends and family can only do so much.
We tend to think that once we hit the green launch button, our work is done. Over the past few months I’ve learned from other Kickstarters, to videos on the web, that this is not the case. It turns out that the way you launch is just important than what you launch. I admire the way other project creators have found creative ways to pitch and promote their projects. This is definitely something that I have not been great at and need to improve. Here are a couple examples, from my case studies, of ways Kickstarters were able to reach audiences be on the friends and family.
During their campaign the Custom SLR team spent a lot of time reaching out to the writing staff of various blogs and websites that they thought were part of their target audience.
First they gathered a list of web sites within their niche. For each blog they looked at what had already been written on similar topics and who wrote it. Then they reached out with a template email that was customized to each blog. They approached smaller blogs first knowing that they only got one chance to pitch their project on each blog. This gave them a chance to refine their pitch before approaching the bigger blogs.
Eventually they were picked up by the blog Engadget. After that the project had enough momentum to not only reach their goal but go well over.
Dan Provost, co-creator of the Glif, had a small connection with the prominent blogger John Gruber, whose blog has over 400,000 readers. Dan sent Gruber an email about the project and he thought it was cool enough to post about it on his site. From there the project was picked up by many other blogs. John had linked to a couple of Dan’s posts in the past so Dan was not a complete stranger when the email was sent.
Having a relationship with an influential person, no matter how tenuous, especially if s/he is also in your market niche can be a powerful tool. They can help you get the right kind of traffic to your project. As Dan said: “Your project is not going to explode if it hits the New York Times. It’s going to explode if you hit the audience perfectly.”
Linsky.me is a very cool web app you may have never heard of. I met it’s creator Adam Loving earlier this year at SXSW. His site provides a interesting and fun way to help spread an idea. The site works like this:
The Linksy software makes this entire process easy to manage. In my eyes the real benefit is making the project launch exciting for the people who support you the most. Your advocates, or biggest fans are the ones were going to go out of their way to help you succeed. Giving them a platform and tools to help spread your message can make all the difference in the world. Oh, and make sure you thank them when you’re done.
PS If you are interested in using Linksy.me for your project you can sign up here.
The topic of spreading ideas online is an important and complex one. More complex than I can possibly covered in one post. Below are some resources that I’ve used to help understand this topic. if you are interested in launching projects repeatedly over time these can be valuable resources.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!