5 Things I Learned Running a Successful Kickstarter

| October 8, 2012

It’s been two months since the Oxymoron 2012 campaign wrapped up.  Prior to launch, I promised to share some lessons learned after the fact.  After a little over 30 days of pushing the campaign, I had a small case of KS fatigue, and decided to take some time to NOT thinking about Kickstarter.

But, as I’ve had some time to reflect, I’m going to knock off a series of Comix Counsel articles on the subject.  The next two will tackle ways Kickstarter could be improved and predictions for where the Kickstarter/Crowdfunding movement will go in the future.  But for today, here are five things I learned running a Kickstarter…

1. Running a Kickstarter is stressful…even when it’s a success.

I think I had one of the least stressful Kickstarter campaigns ever…and it was still stressful! The perception of most people is that the most stressful aspect of Kickstarter is whether you’ll hit your funding goal.  It is all for nothing after all, so it stands to reason that much of the stress would be gone AFTER the goal was hit.  If only.

Certainly, I did all I could to stack the deck for my campaign.  (Read  My Approach to a Kickstarter Campaign for an in-depth look at my winning strategy.) Some of things I did to maximize the chances of successful funding included:

– Taking my time on my KS campaign page, getting feedback on it, revising it,  and emphasizing visuals.  I recognized I would only get one chance to launch the campaign, and wanted to make a great first impression.

– Waited until the book was 90% done before launching, which gave me more to show, more to sell, and meant almost no risk that the project wouldn’t happen.

– Leaned heavily on the many creators contributing to the project to help get the word out.  It was a true team effort.

– And finally, and most importantly, I made a good product! Oxy is a compelling character, with a unique hook, and it’s the kind of project that historically has done well on Kickstarter.

So, when I launched, I felt very confident that the project wouldn’t be a dud. That said, once I clicked that LAUNCH button, I still had knots in my stomach.  I was open for business and the clock was running.

At the same time Oxy was running, Joe Martino was hustling his THE MIGHTY TITAN campaign. Joe told me that he couldn’t believe how unbelievable tough and stressful running the campaign was for him.  I couldn’t believe that this was coming from a guy who has beaten cancer…twice!

As awesome as it is to see those pledges coming in, you wonder whether each one will be the last.  I spend most of the work week in front of a computer screen for eight hours plus a day.  I often watched live as pledges came in.  What surprised me was that the daytime hours were usually the slowest pledge-wise. I was also surprised at  how much KS activity happened overnight.  Let me tell you, waking up to find another $500 has been raised while sleeping…well, now I know what the cobbler from that story with the elves felt like!

As awesome as it is to hit your funding goal, the stress of running a campaign never really goes away.  In fact, it  doesn’t go away after the campaign ends, either. Until every reward has been delivered and every backer is satisfied, there’s going to be a certain level of stress.  I owe a debt of gratitude and product, not just to all the backers, but to all the creators involved.

I guess the broad take away is, know what you’re getting into, and be prepared to deal with the inevitable stress of crowdfunding.

2. Kickstarter is a textbook example of the magnetic property of money.

There are plenty of adages out there about money — it takes it to make it, and the like.  I think Kickstarter demonstrates that the more money you make, the easier it is to make more money. This definitely played out in the Oxy campaign.

Early on in the campaign, I got a $1,000 pledge from a complete stranger. I was blown away. What was even more amazing was that he was only interested in the $10 digital reward. Too good to be true, right?

In fact it was.  A backer from south America typed in his pledge as $10,00 (apparently when they type currency, commas take the place of zeroes.) KS, however, ignores commas, thus it came up as a cool grand.  Luckily, we got it sorted, and the $10 reward was appreciated nonetheless.

But here’s the strange thing that happens as more and more money comes in… On Day 3, a one thousand dollar reward was mind-blowing.  By Day 25, it didn’t seem nearly as far-fetched.  The Oxy campaign ended with three $1000+ backers…which is amazing!  But once you get one, your realize, hey…anything is possible.

There is a downside, however to this property of money.  If it makes it easier for the winners to win, it also makes it easier for the losers to lose. One of the things people look at when pledging is the  current money total of a project.  No one wants to back a loser…and momentum plays a big role in a campaign’s success.  For this reason, it’s important you come out of the gate as strong as possible.

Remember, KS only makes money when projects are successful. Like it or not…they DO play favorites. They highlight their studs, and bury their losers. My goal was 30% funded on Day 1, knowing that 90% of all projects that ever hit 30% are successful. A 30% Day 1 performance would make funding seem inevitable — essentially, it would make our project okay to back.

I’d strongly recommend creators come up with a strategy to hit 30% funding or better Day 1.  If that seems like a stretch, lower your goal, or wait until you’ve got a better plan…or a better project.

3) Kickstarter metrics rock!

[Click for full-size metrics!]

I did a ton of research on Kickstarter prior to launch, but the one blind spot I had was what happens on the KS platform side once the launch button was clicked.  After going live, I was very impressed.

My finished dashboard screen is to the right, and this is what I saw updating in real-time throughout the month.

Kickstarter  provides strong metrics and useful details of who is backing, how much they are pledging, and where they’re coming from.  This information is golden.

Some have pointed out that the data isn’t entirely accurate, and that KS might overstate the power of their own platform.  All that may be true, but some data is better than no data.

Some insights:

– Ad were pretty worthless.  My Project Wonderful ad spending, limited though it was, had next to no impact on backers, so I stopped it.

– Articles and endorsements DO have a big impact. The article about our campaign on Bleeding Cool alone translated directly into more than 20 backers and $1300 dollars.

– Twitter and Facebook are also incredible traffic generators.  Build those social media platforms!

– The overseas and foreign backers made up at least 30% of my supporters.

4. The Kickstarter supporting economy is growing.

Watching the recent  Massachusetts  senate debate, one of the candidates brought up crowdfunding, saying it had the potential to create a boom in manufacturing in the US.  I’m not sure about a boom, but while  running the campaign, I saw signs of a thriving support economy being built around Kickstarter

Three days into the campaign, I received a quote back from a printer.  Though I requested it a month earlier, it wast until my projects was 40% funded and looking like a good bet that this quote magically appeared in my inbox.  It wasn’t a coincidence, as the rep even mentioned seeing Oxy on KS.  Savvy vendors are looking for work on these crowdfunding sites, and, if they provide excellent service, as Westley from Cross Blue did, they’re going to get a lot of business.

Likewise, I’ve had a number of other vendors contact me about everything from t-shirt printing, to full pledge fulfillment services.  The idea of letting someone else handle the fulfillment of some 400 physical orders sounds great.  The problem most of those services will find is that a lot of KS thrives on providing personalize orders (signed books, sketches, prints, etc.) which makes it more difficult to fulfill by a third-party.

I’ve also talked with others about the need for more KS support services. You’re already seeing the rise of the KS consultant/ campaign manager as a real thing. (And honestly, there will be a lot of creators who just aren’t good at this sort of thing.  For them, hiring someone to keep the crowdfunding machine running would be smart.) I believe you’ll also see more support services offered around the legal and tax implications of a successful KS project.  Crowd funding is a powerful tool…but there is the potential for creators not used to thinking like business people to make some costly mistakes.

5. Kickstarter CAN be a platform extender.

I didn’t go into my campaign with delusions of grandeur and expectations of easy money flowing in. No, I was prepared to rally my base — friends, family, previous supporters, ComixTribe readers, etc.   Over the past five years, I’ve built a decent amount of good will in the comics community, and with the size of my current platform, I was confident we could hit our goal.

But $26k? No freaking way.

Kickstarter is a real marketplace now. People are shopping on Kickstarter, and I’d venture that at least 40% of the people supporting the campaign were new to my work and ComixTribe.  The 30 day campaign has allowed me to expand my platform to a greater degree than expected.

Recognizing that, I took advantage of it…it was also an opportunity to introduce the work of many of the creator’s participating to an interested audience. As KS bonuses, we gave out a bunch of free PDFs of creators’ works, and I’m confident some new fans were made.  I know we’ve seen an uptick in sales at  shop.comixtribe.com  during and since the campaign.

So, while in the past I’ve said KS isn’t a great first step for creators, it IS a powerful tool to not only raise money, but to raise your profile and build your platform.

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Category: Comix Counsel

About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at tyler.james@comixtribe.com.

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