Lessons Learned from One Week of Kickstarter

I had a very atypical sort of Kickstarter campaign.  I tried to sell a book to fund a movie.  My ultimate goal was to raise $1,500 to pay for a 5.1 surround sound mix for the film I’ve been working on for the last 4 years.  I couldn’t do an outright “pre-sale” of the film the way some Kickstarters will do since I am wanting to pursue the traditional method of film distribution, as the point was hammered home that I have a limited reach with my personal networks  (and their extended networks even).

But after much research and successfully running a campaign for a friend’s project, I still learned a lot from running my own campaign, and even though I’m only a week into a 25 day campaign, I felt like I should share my experience thus far.

1) People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.
Thanks to Simon Sinek for teaching me this lesson, but I believe that if I had just gone out and said “I’m writing a steampunk novel!” I would have shot myself in the foot.  I would have reached my close friends and family that shared the interest or just wanted to see me succeed in whatever creative endeavors I undertook… but not everyone is a reader, and certainly not everyone wants to read a book from a first time novelist unless they believe he can hammer home a good story based on his track record with storytelling in other mediums.

The motivation to use the Kickstarter campaign to finish Greyscale still would have been there, but if people didn’t know the WHY of the campaign, I don’t believe people would have been nearly as motivated to contribute.  The book seems almost like an extra gift for giving money to help me out instead of the book being the motivator to give initially.  Also, if I had kept silent about Greyscale to try to save face and seem like I was going to be able to finish the film all by myself, I wouldn’t have had a network of the 160+ people personally involved in the film, nor the networks built around the film that have grown over the last 4 years.

2) I believe some backers were more motivated to support me in my creative endeavors moreso than a movie or book.
Almost every backer level has its own type of people (with a few exceptions).  I had hoped that I would have pulled in people at the $1 from Vimeo and YouTube by offering the Leave Me track, but nobody bit.  I also expected more $5 hits from people that might be interested in just reading a book… but again, I don’t have an author track record and I also realized I spent most of the video I made telling the story of Greyscale, giving about :30 to the book… which hearkens back to focusing on lesson #1, but I wasn’t ‘selling just the book’ so I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

I also expected the $25 level to be the most popular level, but was pleasantly surprised that $50 overtook that handily and I believe it was partly because of a nicer backer reward and also because people felt that $50 was a nice amount to get a limited 1st edition hardback (and their name in the book) as well as a lot of other things from the earlier levels.

3) Once you reach your goal, the urgency is gone.
People will click over to a Kickstarter campaign, see if you’ve met your goal, and if you have, they might leave because they don’t think they can help further (unless you have outlined targets for where extra money would go or a really cool backer reward).  When you’re setting your dollar amount, you’re essentially wagering how much you believe people will come together to help you, and when you’re setting the date, you’re gauging how long it’ll take for that to happen.  Also, you might be in danger of coming off as greedy if you keep upping the ante and saying “I know you all were generous, but let’s try to get me even more!” without having a clearly defined structure to begin with.

I almost undersold myself and set the goal at $2,500 instead of $3,000, which would have taken care of the $1,500 for the 5.1 mix, but would have left me footing the bill for all of the book related costs.  And even though I’m at 109% of the $3,000 mark, I’m still sitting about 95% having all of my costs covered for the book, but since the primary goal of the 5.1 mix was accomplished, I’m quite willing to pony up the last $100 or so myself in order to get the book published for everyone else if nobody else decides they want the book.  Which leads me to…

4) Pay attention to margins.
The reason I’m not at 100% net currently is because the $50 option wound up being the most popular… and hardback dust-jacketed books cost 3 times as much to print and ship than it’s paperback brother... and I couldn’t ask $75 for a hardback book to keep the same net margin $… so I decided I would just take the margin hit and give away something cool at that level.  I’m not complaining that people decided to give $50 over $25, it just means that my initial estimate of $3,000 was just a little bit low for the net margin %.  So, figure out what you think will be the most popular target, and be sure to estimate properly with that in mind.

5) Be transparent.
Going back to #1, if you’re not selling a really cool gadget, people are more supporting the people behind the project, so making sure you’re on the level with everything goes a long way.  Be honest, be real. I think with all the advertisements and slick ways people try to get you to part you with your money, people are maybe more interested in supporting the actual artists via Kickstarter than a faceless promo video of the project.  But, every project is different, and you have to know up front what it is you’re actually selling.

6) I really dislike self-promotion.
In the first project I helped craft, we reached the goal in 27 hours.  I only had to send out the link once and the ripple effect of everyone else associated with the project posting made the project successful in a very short order.  With The Wind Merchant/Greyscale, I had a larger financial goal, a larger number of people directly involved with the project, but many of those people hadn’t been directly involved with Greyscale for well over a year now.

I have decided that I love Kickstarter as a concept.  I love seeing bleeding edge technology and supporting artists that need help getting their dream produced.  I hate asking people for money.  I hate posting repeatedly with status updates asking for money.  But on the other hand, I also know that there have been several projects done by friends that I would have happily supported but never found out about their project because I just didn’t happen to make it to Facebook when they had posted.  It’s a balancing act and you have to gauge when you’ve hit saturation in your circles and when you might start hacking off friends who have already given and might start growing tired of seeing nothing but your pleas for donations popping up in status updates.

7) Checking email becomes addictive, so moderate exposure and don’t let it determine your mood.
After the first two days, I had hit almost $2,500… and each time someone would donate, I would get an email letting me know.  So, pulling out my phone for an update that someone out there has decided to support me felt pretty great… and on Day 1 with 24 backers and Day 2 with 18 backers felt pretty great with how frequently I got those emails.  Then Day 3… 5 emails, but I was still checking with the frequency of Days 1 and 2.  I started to get burned out and wondering why people “stopped caring.”  Well, I had stopped posting the link, and a lot of the people who would have given to me if I had asked them had already given, so I was reaching my saturation point… but the emails were addictive.  I guess the real lesson on this one was to not let my mood be influenced by the frequency of backers coming in, and just appreciate that people love and support me enough to see my dreams materialize.

Overall, it’s been a wild ride.  A humbling, exciting, affirming ride that I hope I don’t have to take again, but am thankful that the path is there.  With 18 days left to go, I don’t know where it’ll land or if it’ll pick up with Steampunk enthusiasts for the book (which would be nice, but I’m not fully anticipating that to happen).  I’ll have to post something again after everything is said and done with my final thoughts on the matter, but I hope this has been helpful if you’ve been considering running your own campaign!


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