It’s been a while since I ran a Kickstarter campaign, so I’m sure some of the features and limitations have changed, but I’m going to share with you some of the lessons I learned from running a successful Kickstarter. There are hundreds of these articles out there, but this one may shed some additional insight into how to make sure you come out successfully funded.
Lesson 1: Kickstarter is Only the Vehicle
I see a lot of campaigns that don’t get funded because they think Kickstarter will do all the work. That is a huge mistake. Kickstarter is just the vehicle, you have to be the driver. It’s up to you to drive people to your campaign and, ultimately, convince them to back your project. Merely putting your project up and expecting people to find it and back it is lazy. If you can’t be bothered to put in the work and treat your campaign like a real business, don’t expect people to want to place their faith in you to deliver the final product.
One important caveat to this is that you’ll increase your odds of success if you take the time to build an audience before you launch. After you launch is not the time, because you only have 30-60 days to get funded. It takes time to build an audience, so start way in advance. I made the decision to wait to launch the Darkana Tarot deck until I had 1000 fans on the Facebook page (Inappropriate Tarot). I now have over 13,000.
Lesson 2: Convince Me
A follow-on to the previous lesson is that hoping people will take pity on your project isn’t going to work. Hoping that they will back it simply because they like you isn’t going to work. You have to give them something of value. You have to sell what you’re doing. Convince them that backing you is worth their hard-earned money. In order to do this, they have to trust that you will deliver something of value. Give them the best quality product you can. Build their trust in you. You can’t do that if you half-heartedly throw out a campaign that seems more like a charity GoFundMe than a Kickstarter campaign.
Take the time to properly research other successful campaigns. Pay attention to what they do. You will start to see patterns among all the campaigns that get successfully funded. Concurrently, you can see patterns in campaigns that aren’t funded. See if you can spot their mistakes and avoid them. You have to put in the work, as I said before. If people see you are passionate about the project enough to put effort into your campaign, they are more comfortable about backing you. With Darkana Tarot, I emulated what I saw in a lot of other campaigns.
Use quality images. People want to see what they’re getting. Having poor quality images gives them the impression that you don’t care enough, again, to put any effort into producing a good product, and they won’t want to back you. In the case of Darkana Tarot, the entire project was dependent upon the art. That’s why people buy tarot decks. So I included some of the best cards on the campaign page and I kept some to share over the course of the campaign to keep people excited.
Share your story. People back other people. They want to know who you are, why you care so much about your project. What motivates you. If you are passionate about your project, if they see your personality, that you are more than just an anonymous avatar, it will lead to more backers.
Lesson 3: Get Your Costs Figured Out
The biggest lesson I got from the Darkana Tarot deck was that you absolutely need to know what the costs are going to be, especially with shipping. I vaguely had an idea on shipping, but I drastically underestimated how much it would cost to ship the decks. It’s hard to know how much a product will weigh beforehand, so you need to ask the manufacturer for as much of that info upfront as possible. My other mistake was that I incorporated the wrongly-estimated shipping costs into the tiers so that it was like they were getting free shipping. I thought I knew how much it would cost to ship to backers, but I didn’t factor in the cost to ship the final product from India to me. It ended up being $900. I mistakenly thought that was added into the total price of manufacturing. It was a huge oversight on my part because I didn’t get the costs upfront from the manufacturer.
It all bit me in the end because I ended up paying out of pocket to ship many of the decks after the campaign ended. So I lost money on the Kickstarter, but I managed to get everyone their rewards. Had I not been able to do that I would have likely killed any chances of successfully funding future campaigns.
Lesson 4: Be Interactive
Give frequent updates during and after your campaign. It’s easy while the campaign is going, but there may be a lot of time between when your campaign ends and when you ship. The backers want (and deserve) to know what’s going on. I didn’t do many updates afterward because I didn’t have any to give. All I could say was, “They’re being manufactured right now. They estimated six weeks.”
Don’t try to hide information from the backers, even if it’s bad news. People understand that there are sometimes hiccups. It’s best to be honest about these and tell them about any delays you’re experiencing. People also get that you might be learning as you go, and being upfront about it only increases your credibility. It helps to maintain trust. Backing a project when there are horror stories out there of people who took the money and ran can be intimidating for some. If you withhold information from backers, you only reinforce their fears and give the impression that you’re trying to pull off a fast one.
Lesson 5: Don’t Be Afraid to Tell People About Your Project
You don’t want to seem pushy, I get it. You don’t want to seem like a spammer on a site you aren’t familiar with. That’s understandable. But the real deal is that you need to be okay with sharing your project on sites that will help bring you traffic. Be discerning with where you post about it, though. Only post in places where the audience is likely to be interested. In other words, post in relevant places. I posted a link to the campaign on the Aeclectic Tarot forums, because I knew the audience there would be likely to want the deck. I made sure to join way ahead of time and participate in the community there. By giving first to the community you want to ask for help from, you are less likely to run the risk of coming off as someone who just wants people’s money. Give value first.
The same thing applies to blogs, podcasts, etc. Be active in the comments section on the blogs you want to ask help from. Give first. If you help them, they are far more likely to want to help you when you ask them. Again, plan this in advance. Make a list of sites you want to ask to help promote your campaign and contact them before you launch. Blogs and podcasts take effort to run, and they likely already have material planned in advance, or at least their scheduling. Don’t be the person who asks them to rearrange their schedule to accommodate your campaign. It’s rude. Help them by giving them advance notice. It is also helpful to provide them with material in advance, unique images, questions for interviews, descriptions of the game, or review copies. Make it as easy as possible for them to promote you.
Lesson 6: Give Yourself Plenty of Time
When I launched the campaign, I didn’t realize Kickstarter wouldn’t let me update the estimated ship date after the campaign began. I drastically underestimated how long it would take to manufacture and ship everything. People were upset that I wasn’t able to meet the deadline, and I had to do a lot of explaining. It’s better to get them the product early than it is to get them the product months after they thought they were going to get it. If this happens, again, just be honest and upfront about it.
Lesson 7: Don’t Give Up
You may find that your campaign doesn’t get funding even if you seem to do everything right. That’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. It could be that the timing isn’t right. Or whatever. Don’t throw in the towel just because your campaign didn’t find success the first time. Step back, improve your product, continue to build your audience and your relationships with bloggers and podcasters. Keep the original backers in the loop and let them know you will try again. There are lots of projects that didn’t get backed the first time around.
Most of all, continue to learn. Gather information on how to handle Kickstarter campaigns. There are tons of sites out there. I recommend looking at this great list of articles by Jamey Stegmaier at Stonemaier Games. He has also written a fantastic book on how to be successful on Kickstarter. I suggest reading it, even if you’re not making a game. Stay the course and continue to improve, always.