To date, we (Tom and Dan, aka Studio Neat) have launched and successfully funded five Kickstarter projects, raising nearly half a million dollars in total. We were one of the first product design projects on the site, with the Glif way back in 2010, and we’ve continued to use the platform to launch new products, most recently just a few months ago. It’s pretty clear to us that Kickstarter is not a bubble, nor a flash in the pan, but a sustainable platform that is here to stay. As such, we wanted to unload all of the knowledge we have accrued in running those five projects in one mega-post, with the hope of it being helpful to future and/or aspiring Kickstarters.
(Note: If you read our book, It Will Be Exhilarating, some of this will seem familiar. This post is a greatly expanded, revised, and updated version of the Crowd Funding chapter.)
What is Kickstarter?
For the uninitiated, Kickstarter is “the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects.” The concept is simple: a person has an idea for a creative project, but does not have the money to make it. By using Kickstarter, that person can try to get “pledges” from “backers” on the internet. This is known as crowd funding. A pledge is kind of like a monetary donation, but with most projects, the backer receives something tangible in return for their pledge, known as a “reward.” The important twist is that every project on Kickstarter has a funding goal, i.e., how much money is needed for the project to be able to be carried out. If the goal is not met, the project does not move forward and nobody’s credit cards are charged. If the goal is met, everyone’s credit card is charged, the money is transferred to the project creator, the project creator is able to make the creative project, the backers get cool rewards, and high-fives are distributed accordingly.
Kickstarter has helped fund projects of all shapes and sizes. The range of project types is quite extraordinary, including music albums, films, video games, potato salads, dance videos, and pretty much anything that is considered a creative project. The only real rules are that you can’t have a project that raises money for charity, and you can’t have a project that offers equity in the creation of a business (the latter has recently become legal due to the JOBS act, but Kickstarter has stated that don’t have an interest in this type of crowd funding).
Kickstarter represents an exciting way to bootstrap ideas. Rather than seeking outside funding or a bank loan, Kickstarter allows you to collect money from individuals that believe in what you’re doing and want to support it. It’s also a great way to test the viability of your idea. People vote with their dollars. If the project fails, the only real downside is sadness, but at least you didn’t invest a huge amount of your own time and money to execute a project that didn’t have legs to begin with. And on the upside, you may learn why people weren’t interested, and how you can make improvements in the future.
A Brief Summary of Our Kickstarter Projects
Since they will be referenced throughout the post, here is a brief summary of our Kickstarter projects.
A Tripod Mount & Stand for iPhone 4.
Launched October 3, 2010
Ended November 2, 2010
Started shipping to backers in early December, 2010.
A Wide-Grip Stylus for Touch Screens.
Launched March 28, 2011
Ended April 20, 2011
Started shipping to backers in December, 2011.
An iPhone app for filling in March Madness brackets.
Launched February 5th, 2013
Ended March 5th, 2013
Delivered in time for the March 2013 tournament.
Neat Ice Kit
A set of tools to create beautifully clear ice for a variety of cocktails.
Launched August 28, 2013
Ended September 27, 2013
Started shipping to backers in July, 2014.
Simple Syrup Kit
A kit for making and storing your own simple syrup.
Launched August 20, 2014
Ended September 19, 2014
Started shipping to backers in December, 2014.
Is Kickstarter Right For You?
Kickstarter is one of the main reasons, if not the reason, Studio Neat is in business today. It’s an incredible platform that continues to explode in popularity, and there is a great variety in the types of projects featured on the site. That does not mean Kickstarter is for everyone, however. Not all ideas make sense as a Kickstarter project.
Kickstarter may not be right for you simply because of the type of project you’re working on. If you have a big, sprawling concept that involves building up a large social network, or lots of upfront work to make a proof-of-concept, seeking outside investment or venture capital funding may indeed be the better path. Kickstarter works well with smaller, self-contained ideas. On that note, if you make handmade, bespoke items, a platform like the wonderful Etsy might be a better choice. Quirky, the crowdsourcing design platform, is a better fit if you have a great idea but no idea of how to execute. Additionally, if you are located outside of one of the few countries where Kickstarter is available for project creators, then you are out of luck. In those cases, Indiegogo seems to be the go-to option.
Some people feel the need to dictate what should and should not be on Kickstarter. For example, remember the shit-storm when Zach Braff funded his movie on the site? People felt that because Braff did not “need” the funds (i.e. he is a wealthy celebrity), he shouldn’t have funded the film on Kickstarter. We think this stance is, frankly, ridiculous. Kickstarter is for everyone, and it is so much more than just funding. It’s about creating a community around the process of bringing something to life. It’s also about idea validation, and mitigating risk.
After the success of our first Kickstarter project, raising much more than we anticipated, we were hesitant to return to the platform. We had the same fear that Braff ended up facing: people accusing us of being greedy and misusing the platform. After chatting with several people, including some folks at Kickstarter, we were strongly encouraged to give it a go. And it turns out, there was not one naysayer upon our return to Kickstarter. People were simply excited there was a cool new thing to be a part of.
One of the first things you will need to do is estimate the cost of your project, to determine your funding goal. This can be tricky, especially if it’s in an area outside of your expertise (e.g., manufacturing). Talk to as many people as you can before starting your campaign to make sure you have reasonable expectations of how much things will cost.
Kickstarter collects 5% of your funding total, and Stripe (previously Amazon) grabs another ~3% as the payment gateway. Also, factor in about 5% dropped backers, meaning backers whose credit cards are denied when the campaign ends.
One of the biggest “gotchas” from our first campaign was how much it costs to ship things worldwide. We find that project creators consistently underestimate this cost. Be sure to keep this is mind as you shape your reward tiers and funding goal.
Lastly, be mindful of Uncle Sam. Any money you raise on Kickstarter is considered taxable income for the calendar year in which your project is funded. The money you sink back into the project (like manufacturing and fulfillment costs) can help reduce your tax burden, but everything else is taxable. As with things of this nature, speak to an expert. Glenn Fleishman wrote an excellent and thorough piece about his own experience with crowd funding and taxes.
With all that in mind, it is a good idea to overestimate your funding goal, as there will be plenty of little unexpected costs, and maybe a few bigger ones, along the way.
When to Launch
Say you’re working on an idea that you’re really excited about, and you want to launch on Kickstarter. At what point in the design process is it safe to press that big green LAUNCH button?
We have launched five Kickstarter projects at varying degrees of “readiness,” but we can be blunt about this part: a napkin sketch is not enough. If you are making a physical piece of hardware, a working prototype is a must. Also, it’s important to start conversations with manufacturers beforehand to make sure your design is not impossible (or extremely difficult) to manufacture. In our general impression, projects that are successfully funded but fail to deliver (in timely manner, or at all) are a result of not doing the necessary legwork up front. Our experience being in the hardware and software categories, it’s harder to speak to other project categories, like film or dance, but the same general lesson should apply. Have a plan. Don’t wing it.
It is going to be very tempting to launch the project as soon as possible. We’ve found the weeks leading up to a launch to be a particularly anxious time. “What if someone swoops in and launches a project just like ours right before we do?” Take a breath, and try to resist the urge to launch prematurely. You will thank yourself in the end.
No matter how prepared you are up front, unexpected hiccups will occur. This is normal. Actually, you should be worried if no hiccups occur. No amount of planning will solve that. Just roll with the punches.
Formatting Your Campaign
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve decided to go forth and create a Kickstarter campaign. Well done. You are about to embark on a journey both strange and wonderful.
Opinion varies on the ideal length of time for the campaign. Conventional wisdom would deem the longer the better, allowing more days to receive funds. However, this line of thinking is not necessarily true, and we have found that shorter is actually better: the campaign stays fresh and relevant, and doesn’t appear to drag on forever. Remember, people have short attention spans on the internet. Thirty days seems to be the sweet spot for campaign funding duration, but plenty of projects have found success with even shorter funding periods.
In setting up reward tiers, simplicity is key. Kickstarter now allows for shipping costs to be added on top of the tier price, which is nice. This wasn’t an option when we launched our first campaign, and it was a pain in the ass to try to collect shipping costs after the campaign had ended. For simplicity, we now include the cost of U.S. shipping in the pledge price (essentially giving free shipping to U.S. backers), and there is an additional cost if you are located overseas. Also, it’s going to be tempting, but don’t get carried away with too many reward tiers. Variety is nice, but don’t overwhelm your potential supporters with too many options, otherwise the burden of choice might deter them from backing your project altogether. Be wary of “swag;” your time is better spent working on the project rather than shipping out stickers and t-shirts. That said, don’t be afraid to have some fun with your reward tiers. Ze Frank is the poster child for this (love that $69 reward tier), although taking the tiers to that extreme is usually better suited for projects, well, by Ze Frank.
There is definitely room for creativity in the way you format your campaign. For the Cosmonaut campaign, we decided to try something different. Rather than launching with traditional tiers, we instituted a “pay-what-you-want” system, inspired by how Radiohead released In Rainbows. Tongue firmly in cheek, we also liked the socialism tie-in with the Cosmonaut branding (“pay whatever you can afford!”). There was a key distinction between our campaign and other pay-what-you-want projects, however. We had a funding goal ($50,000) and a limited number of slots (3000). This created a natural tension that was quite fascinating to observe. If too many people “under-pledged,” the funding goal would not be met, and no one would receive a Cosmonaut. People who had pledged a “fair” amount had to decide either to pledge more, or use the comments page to coax/harass the under-pledgers into giving more.
Initially we sold out of the 3000 slots within the first 48 hours, and were about $5000 shy of the $50,000 funding goal. After some brief deliberation, we decided to open up new, unlimited tiers, to ensure the funding goal was met and make sure everyone who wanted a Cosmonaut could get one. The final product was more important than our game theory experiment, after all.
At the end of the day, was the pay-what-you-want experiment worth it? We think so, although that doesn’t mean we would do it again (and indeed, we haven’t), nor would we necessarily recommend it. It was a tool to generate some great press and excitement for the project, but we don’t see it as a sustainable funding method on Kickstarter.
All of our projects, with one exception (Simple Bracket), were hardware projects, but the way a project is formatted can vary greatly depending on the category it falls under. It’s a good idea to look at other successful campaigns for products that are similar to yours, and see what they did right. Checking out unsuccessful projects to learn from their mistakes can be helpful as well.
Like the hashtag on Twitter, stretch goals on Kickstarter were created and embraced by the community without initial support from the company. Unlike Twitter, however, Kickstarter doesn’t seem likely to officially embrace this community hack any time soon. In a post on the official Kickstarter blog, CEO Yancey Strickler makes a compelling case for why stretch goals are generally a bad idea, and we tend to agree with his assessment.
Yancey defines stretch goals as “unofficial targets beyond a project’s funding goal, with promises of new rewards or other incentives if they are reached.” It’s not surprising that stretch goals are popular; if your project has quickly exceeded your initial funding goal, it makes sense to try to find ways to keep the good times rolling, as it were.
The problem is, these stretch goals risk “muddying the water.” Kickstarter projects are elegant in their simplicity, and things can get out of control quickly with the addition of stretch goals. The last thing you want to do is create confusion for a backer. Worse, stretch goals are a slippery slope that can lead to biting off more than you can chew. Sketch goals are writing checks that your body can’t cash. How many more metaphors can I cram into this paragraph?
That’s not to say there is never a place for stretch goals. I recently backed a project for a book from the creator of Perry Bible Fellowship comics. Nicholas introduced stretch goals after he blew past his initial funding goal, but rather than offering other rewards, the goals were simply to improve the quality of the initial offering: the book. For example, if X amount of dollars are raised, it would now be cost effective to print on higher quality, recycled paper. In this scenario, everyone wins. Current backers are encouraged to share the project, as any additional pledge will result in the thing they already backed improving in quality. I love that almost as much as I love this PBF comic.
A Word on Patents
One of the most common questions we get regards patents. Should you get one? Obtaining patents for our products is something that at first seemed like a good idea. I remember when our first project, the Glif, started to blow up, and I was freaked out we didn’t have a patent on the design.
As with things of this nature, make sure you contact an expert rather than relying solely on the advice from two dudes with no legal expertise. However, it is our understanding that the path to obtaining a patent is a black hole that sucks up money and spits out sadness. Many people seem to have the misconception that patents are magical things that act like a force field around your product, preventing anyone from ever ripping it off. Sadly, this is not how they work.
Here are a few things we’ve learned about patents:
- They are very expensive.
- There are different varieties of patents. A design patent, which is the “cheapest” to obtain, only protects the visual ornamentation of an object, not its function. A classic example of this is the glass Coca Cola bottle. They can patent the specific shape and design of the bottle, but obviously they don’t have a patent on a “container that holds liquid.” Utility patents, which do include the function, are much more expensive (and are sometimes impossible) to obtain.
- Most patents only protect infringement within the United States. There are international patents, but these are even more costly to obtain.
- Patents do nothing to prevent people from stealing your idea. All they do is give you the legal authority to take action if you believe someone is infringing. You would still need to hire a lawyer to take the perp to court. This point may seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook the cost of pursuing legal action, on top of the cost of the patent itself.
Ultimately, we have realized that patents are basically designed to protect large corporations, and the idea of a small company of two people obtaining a patent is fairly ridiculous. We decided to pass.
To put things in perspective, since launching the Glif, there have been a few direct imitations that have cropped up, out of Germany and Taiwan. There is not much we can do, other than shrug our shoulders and carry on. Let’s imagine for a moment we did have a heavy-duty international utility patent. How would that change things? Would we really be willing to sink the time and money into going after them? Our guess is no. We’d rather just spend that time designing more great products. As long as our brand remains strong, we think enough customers will choose the real deal versus the knockoff.
The most important aspect of a Kickstarter campaign, besides a great project, is the video. Video is the language of Kickstarter. It is generally the first impression a potential backer will have when they view your project.
So, what makes a good video? Kickstarter videos vary widely, but they all contain some key elements. Here is what we have found to work well:
1) Keep it short. Your video should be about 2 minutes or less, and should show the project you are pitching within the first 15 seconds. Be as economical with time as possible; people have short attention spans on the internet.
2) Be personal. Share your story. Nearly all successful Kickstarter videos feature the project creator(s) speaking directly to the camera, and there is a reason for this. People want to see your passion for the project, and this is the most direct way to do that. If you are not comfortable in front of a camera, it can be incredibly difficult, but it’s necessary. We found that taking a couple shots of whiskey helps take the edge off. Keep the camera rolling and do several takes, eventually the passion and excitement (and booze) will overcome the awkwardness.
3) Be honest. You are not a huge corporation, so don’t make a fancy video that tries to imitate one. Speak directly to the viewer/potential backer, and let your passion for the project shine though. By all means, your video should be polished and well crafted, but keep your audience in mind. Don’t use hyperbolic language or marketing terms, just be clear, concise, and honest.
Our project videos are generally like a Pixies song: quiet, loud, quiet. We start with a quick talking head of us introducing the product, quickly cut to a montage of the product in action, demonstrating various use cases, and then close the video with another talking head, this time addressing why we need the funding. It’s a format that has worked well for us, but your mileage may vary. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
I’d like to point out two project videos, that represent opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is Flag. This video was produced by Sandwich Video, and it’s as good as it gets. It’s professional, tight, and funny, and comes across as genuine. If you’ve got the budget (or know-how) to produce something like this, go for it. The beauty of Kickstarter, however, is that a video of this professional quality is not required to have a successful project. Our friends CW&T produced a great video for their Kickstarter project, the Pen Type-A. They recorded the talking bit in one take from what looks like a Macbook iSight camera, and it is ridiculously charming. If that doesn’t come across as authentic, I don’t know what does. Sure, they get a little bit fancy with the side by side video footage, but this video does a good job of illustrating how lo-fi a video can be, but still succeed at conveying the project goals in an honest way.
Here are some more Kickstarter videos we really dig:
Music in Your Video
Now comes the part that is a little uncomfortable to talk about. An ethical grey area, if you will. Can you use copyrighted music in your Kickstarter video? The answer, pretty plainly, is no, although that hasn’t stopped many people. Including us, sheepishly.
If I had to hazard a guess why others (and ourselves) do this, it comes from a belief that it does no harm. You could even construct an argument that it is beneficial to lesser known artists, providing exposure if the project becomes popular. Further, I have yet to learn of a Kickstarter project video getting a take-down request due to the music used.
However flimsy these arguments, the bottom line is you probably shouldn’t be using copyrighted music. Thankfully, there are couple good resources for licensing music guilt-free, namely Marmoset and The Music Bed. Both of those services are paid, but things like Vimeo Music Store have some Creative Commons selections that can be used for free.
We will strive to be better internet citizens in the future. Join us?
Many people make the mistake of thinking that once their project launches on Kickstarter, their work is done, and they can sit back as the money rolls in. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, launching a project is the moment the real work begins.
Kickstarter has a few ways to feature projects, namely on their homepage or in their weekly email newsletter. However, these shouldn’t be relied on. It’s your responsibility to get people to discover your project, not Kickstarter’s. Having a Kickstarter project is a lot like having an app in the App Store: that fact, in itself, does not make it interesting. The novelty of both has for the most part worn off, and the quality and originality of the product is what needs to stand out.
When you are running a Kickstarter campaign, it’s a bit weird to be spending money on advertising when you are trying to raise it to make your thing, but there are plenty of ways to get “free” publicity, as illustrated below.
One of the most valuable (and humorous) classes I took while in grad school at Parsons was called Internet Famous. It was taught by Jamie Wilkenson, James Powderly, and Evan Roth, no strangers to the Internet fame game. The goal of the class was simple: to try to get noticed on the Internet. As silly and narcissistic as that sounds, it provided an invaluable exercise in attempting to understand what makes the web tick, and more specifically, how to get traffic without spending money. The key lesson, in a nut shell, is to be proactive. The bloggers will rarely come to you; it is your task to make their job easier by seeking them out and providing the pertinent information.
If you are looking to promote your project, it likely falls into a niche category that is covered by an influential blogger, and you probably already follow and are huge fans of them. Send them an email, but not just a blanket, copy and pasted PR statement. Write to them directly. Make it personal. Keep it short and sweet, but try to convey why you think that writer, specifically, might be interested in your project. It is often a good idea to reference something they have posted in the past, by way of explaining why your project is a good fit for their blog. Some bloggers also like for you to include a link to press images, thus saving them some legwork.
If a writer posts a link to your project, send them a short note of thanks. Use those manners your mother taught you.
Over the years we have built up a fairly extensive press contact spreadsheet in Google docs, and would recommend the same. This makes it easier to reach out to the right people when you have something new to promote.
The Gruber Effect
John Gruber is a man of exquisite taste who writes for Daring Fireball, a website focusing on technology and design through the lens of Apple products. He has an enormous following; anyone with more than a passing interest in Apple likely subscribes to his RSS feed. Remember back in the 90’s when Oprah would add a book to her Book Club and it would immediately become a best seller? Gruber has that type of influence in the tech community.
We had the good fortune of having a modest rapport with John, as he had linked to my old blog a couple of times in the past. The day we launched the Glif campaign, we sent him an email with a link to the project page, and offered to send him a prototype to check it out early.
On the morning of October 4th, 2010, John Gruber linked to our Kickstarter campaign on Daring Fireball. The post was innocent enough, only 167 characters. 1 hour and 25 minutes after the post went live, we surpassed our funding goal of $10,000, and finished the day with over $25,000.
The point of this anecdote is not to tell you to email John Gruber so your project will be successful. Don’t do that, in fact, as we’re sure he’s inundated with Kickstarter related emails at this point. The point is, communities often have “tastemakers” that set the conversation. Malcolm Gladwell refers to these people as “Mavens.” For all things Apple, that person is John Gruber, but there is likely someone similar for the community to which your product belongs. These individuals are often more influential, in this context, than larger publications like The New York Times. Three cheers for the Internet being the great equalizer.
The Kottke Boost
As we mentioned earlier, if you are trying to raise money on Kickstarter, it might feel a little weird to be spending money on advertising. There is one exception, however, that we highly recommend: The Kottke Boost.
If you are somehow unaware, Kottke.org is one of the best blogs on the internet, and has been chugging along for well over a decade. In Jason’s words: “The editorial direction of the site is all over the place but clusters around a pair of hand-wavy ideas: the liberal arts 2.0 and people are awesome.” In other words, the audience for his site and people that like to back interesting Kickstarter projects are two circles nestled neatly inside one another.
Not long ago, Jason began to offer a special kind of sponsorship post, available only to Kickstarter projects, for the absurdly low price of $500. And if that wasn’t good enough, the payment terms work just like Kickstarter, in that, if your project ends up not meeting your funding goal in spite of the boost on Kottke.org, you don’t pay the $500.
Because this is a fairly new offering, we’ve only been able to use it once, with our latest project, the Simple Syrup Kit. Kickstarter analytics tells us traffic directly from Kottke.org created $900 in pledges, but that doesn’t account for traffic from the Kottke twitter account, or people that saw the post but backed the project indirectly. So, in short, it easily paid for itself, and then some. Definitely a buy.
While you will likely send project updates to backers while funding is occurring, the vast majority will be sent after funding has closed. Project updates are the second most important aspect of any successfully run Kickstarter campaign, after the video. The majority of backers did not just buy in to a product idea, they want to be along for the ride, and it’s your job to provide that experience. This is what makes Kickstarter a unique consumer experience: everyone is let in on the “behind the scenes” action. Amazingly, people actually do want to see how the sausage is made.
We love to create “making of” videos for our products. Aside from the fact that they are a blast to make, they are a polished and concise way to present the creation of a product. We created a couple for our Glif campaign, and they were our most popular updates for that project. Likewise, our Mr. Rogers Cosmonaut video was a big hit. For the Neat Ice Kit, we made short little videos for nearly every piece that was manufactured. And again, these to do not need to be super professional. For the making of the wooden muddler for the Neat Ice Kit, for example, we weren’t able to make it to the factory, so our contact there simply recorded the manufacturing process with his iPhone, Dropboxed us the footage, and we cut it together.
One tricky part of updates is finding the right cadence. If you send too many it becomes spammy and they are largely ignored. Send too few, and backers become anxious. We generally like to wait until we have a lot of things to report, and then bundle them up into a meaty update. Keep in mind, the update is sent to every backers’ email inbox, so be mindful and respectful of the number of updates you are sending.
Having 5000 backers is a gift. It is, however, like having 5000 bosses. They are not literal investors, but a strange relationship is created between a project creator and the backers.
Our Glif campaign went astoundingly well, especially in hindsight. Funding ended on November 2nd, 2010, and backers began receiving their Glifs in the mail a little over a month later, in time for the holidays. We skated through the production process unscathed; all of our material choices and tolerances were right on the money, so nothing needed to be redone. Part of that is to our credit for intentionally designing a very simple product, but beginner’s luck must have been a factor as well. Unfortunately, we used up all our luck on the Glif project, leaving little for our next project, the Cosmonaut.
We learned a lot from the Cosmonaut project, specifically when it came to managing expectations. The campaign launched in late March, and we set an initial goal of delivery in June, which seemed totally reasonable based on our experience with the Glif. After several manufacturing delays too painful to go in to, June turned to “late summer,” which turned to “fall,” and we ultimately delivered at the beginning of December. We cringed each time we had to send a project update to the backers notifying them of the delay, but obviously it’s better to bite the bullet and be honest than to leave backers in the dark.
When we experienced delays with another project, the Neat Ice Kit, we felt much better prepared, since we had faced it once before. For starters, we gave ourself a very generous timeline, so we ended up only delivering a couple months late. By keeping the communication channels open and delivering consistent and interesting campaign updates, we experienced much less backlash than we did with the Cosmonaut campaign.
There still needs to be more widespread understanding about what Kickstarter is, exactly, although it is has been getting better. This isn’t surprising, given that it’s a newish platform with an unconventional mix of commerce and patronage. One thing we noticed in running our Cosmonaut campaign was that there seemed to be a real split among our backers. The majority “got” Kickstarter, and totally understood that delays and manufacturing complications were all part of the process (and frankly, one of the selling points of backing projects, in that you get to observe how a product is made, warts and all). A vocal minority, however, expected a more traditional, Amazon-style experience. When delays occurred, they would get upset, and even demand refunds. Thankfully, we noticed with the Neat Ice Kit campaign that much fewer people had their expectations set unreasonably, so things seem to be getting better.
Based on our own experience as well as observations of other Kickstarter projects, rewards tend to be delivered late. Delays and snags are inevitable, and first-time project creators seem to set ambitious (and perhaps naïve) delivery schedules. However long you think the project will take to complete, you may do well to simply double that estimate. After all, it’s better to overestimate and exceed expectations, rather than the opposite. Under-promise and over-deliver, as they say.
When your Kickstarter campaign ends, you will obviously no longer be accepting pledges from people interested in your project, but you should find a way to capture the people that missed out on the campaign but are still interested in what you’re doing.
We did this by setting up a simple webpage with a form field, which allowed the user to enter their email address so that they could be notified when the product became available for general sale. Creating Twitter and Facebook profiles is another wise move. This may seem obvious, but you want to make it as easy as possible for interested people to connect with you.
Most recently, we tried using a service called Celery to continue collecting pre-orders on our website after the campaign ended, and it seemed to work well. The nice thing about a service like this is it integrated with our already existing e-commerce site, so it was a cinch to implement.
Others have used and recommend a service called Backerkit, but we have never personally used it. It is meant as sort of a replacement to Kickstarter’s built in survey, and makes it easier to manage backer information, as well as sell additional rewards after the campaign ends. We have not quite felt the need for something like this, but I could see it being useful for huge campaigns with many different rewards that need to be fulfilled. The fees also seem to suggest it is better suited for larger campaigns.
There is nothing quite like the satisfaction of finally getting your project into backers’ hands.
The first step to delivering your project to your backers is sending out a “backer survey.” This is done through Kickstarter, and it sends an email to all your backers directing them to the site to fill in their shipping address and other pertinent information. This whole survey process used to be one of Kickstarter’s real weaknesses, as it was quite kludgy, but it has gotten better in recent years. The aforementioned Backerkit can be used if your project is so huge it warrants it.
We recommend holding off on sending the backer survey until as late in the game as you can. Ideally, just a few weeks before you are ready to start shipping. If you send it too early, some people will inevitably move and manually managing address changes can get quite cumbersome. Also, don’t annoy backers with additional, unnecessary questions on the survey, e.g., “What do you plan on using Product X for?!” Save that for a different and optional survey, if you feel it’s necessary. The Kickstarter survey should be about the brass tacks, such as getting the backer’s shipping information and reward preferences.
Once all of the survey results are in, you can easily export all the results as a spreadsheet, which can then be used as a checklist if you are fulfilling orders manually, or uploaded directly to your fulfillment service if you take that route. Kickstarter also has some built-in features to “check-off” orders that have been shipped.
If you have physical rewards that need to be shipped out to backers, the decision of whether to handle that yourself or utilize a fulfillment service really comes down to numbers. For our first campaign, we hand-mailed 500 Glif prototypes to backers, and in my opinion that represents the upper limit of what you should expect to sanely do yourself. Anything higher, and consider a fulfillment service.
So what exactly is an “order fulfillment service?” Remember watching late night TV ads where the product would cost X dollars plus Shipping and Handling? Order fulfillment is the Handling part of that equation. You send a fulfillment company your inventory, bulk packed from your manufacturer. They stock your inventory, and when an order comes in (either through your e-commerce site, or bulk uploaded as after a Kickstarter campaign) they process it, pack it up, and ship it to the customer.
Ever since our first campaign, we have used Shipwire, and they’ve been a fantastic partner. They have six warehouses across the world (we stock inventory in three of them), which makes it easy to grow without inordinate complication and headache. Depending on the quantity shipped per month, Shipwire takes around $2 per item shipped plus the cost of the packing materials and shipping. This is a pretty standard rate for fulfillment services. They also charge a small monthly fee for renting space for your inventory in their warehouse.
For the Neat Ice Kit, we needed a fulfillment service that could assemble all the disparate parts into the completed kit, and we ended up going with Amplifier for that. They are local here in Austin so it has been nice to be able to physically visit the warehouse, to make sure things are going smoothly and the kits are being assembled correctly. They now handle fulfillment of the Simple Syrup Kit as well.
Ideally, we wouldn’t have two different order fulfillment companies, as it does add some complication and causes some problems with our e-commerce site. So if you can avoid that, try finding one that can do everything for you, and has room to grow.
During this whole shipping process, communication with your backers is key. Keep them up to date on delivery schedules. If you need to send the rewards out in batches rather than all at once, communicate that, ideally in a way that properly sets the expectations for when backers should receive their reward. With both the Glif and Cosmonaut campaigns, we were able to send all of the rewards out at once, which is great if you’re able to swing it, but not a big deal if not. The Neat Ice Kit orders ended up going out in batches over the course of a month or so, which was fine, so long as we communicated that clearly to our backers.
When everything has been delivered, take a deep breath. You have run a successful campaign, and you should feel pretty chuffed. There are going to be some stragglers who never filled in the survey, so be prepared to handle those ad hoc for the next year or so (seriously) after the initial delivery. Aside from that, have a drink. You deserve it.
Hopefully, funding a project on Kickstarter will lead to something more than just the completion of that project. For us, it was the foundation of our business, and we have continued to sell and evolve our products since our first launch in 2010. The Glif, for example, has add three incarnations, including most recently, an adjustable version.
If you are selling physical or digital goods, you will in all likelihood want a website to sell those products. We have used Shopify since the very beginning, and have been happy with them. There are many other options for setting up shop online, including Squarespace, Stripe, and Gumroad.
While selling directly on your own site is a no-brainer, choosing to sell in retail or Amazon is a trickier proposition. Jason Stoddard, the founder of Schiit Audio, has written an excellent piece that discusses the pros and cons of each. We have chosen to forego traditional retail for many of the reasons he states, but we do sell on Amazon.
The closing of your Kickstarter campaign should be the beginning of your journey, not the end.
We hope this post has been illuminating, but obviously there is only so much our experience can cover. These excellent pieces below will help fill in some of the cracks.
Kickstarter Creator Handbook
Nice overview for building your project campaign, straight from the horse’s mouth.
Kickstartup, by Craig Mod.
Invaluable post we referenced prior to launching our first campaign.
How We Raised $450k on Kickstarter, by Marc Marros.
Sage advice from the folks at Moment, the very popular iPhone lens attachment.
Pay Caesar His Due, by Glenn Fleishman.
Sorting out all the tax issues that arise when raising money on Kickstarter.
The Trials and Tribulations of Amazon, by Jason Stoddard.
In-depth overview of the pros and cons of selling your product on Amazon.
Header photo by Fred Benenson.