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A gamble or a sure thing? Here’s how to succeed with Kickstarter (& don’t forget the deductions)

fundedMarket-leading crowd-funder Kickstarter recommends you spend two weeks or so crafting and honing your campaign. I agree, and add that most of those two weeks will be spent in a maelstrom of self-doubt. Or maybe that’s just me? In this stat-packed posting I’d like to explore how I succeeded with my Kickstarter project but I’ve got to be upfront about the doubts. There were many of them and I was genuinely surprised when pledges for my book came in thick and fast, and funding was guaranteed on the first full day of the campaign. I didn’t plan for that, I didn’t expect that. It was a beautiful, warming, touching surprise.

UPDATE: since this article was written I put another book on Kickstarter. This, too, was successful – it’s the sequel to the first book, and raised £14,692 in a three-week campaign.

Once the funding was guaranteed, I had a relatively easy month. I didn’t have to badger my Twitter followers or send out increasingly desperate emails to anybody and everybody on my computer’s email client. With hindsight I can now dig down into the stats and analyse how the Kickstarter campaign did so well, so quickly. I can also throw in a few warnings, especially about the amount of money you think you may get after a successful campaign.

TESTING, TESTING, 1, 2, 3
Before hitting the ‘launch’ button I shared the campaign with a number of trusted friends and associates. They helped me fine-tune the text, the video and the pledge amounts. Most of them said I’d easily reach my total but I wasn’t so sure. When I first broached the idea of launching on Kickstarter I got five or six comments and tweets to “go for it” and that these folks would pledge. Great, that’s an indication there could be some life in a funding campaign but, in reality, the five or six comments only accounts for five or six pledges. To go out on a limb, I felt, was risky. Asking for angel investor cash is done in private; Kickstarter is a very public place. Fail, and it’s noticed, and thanks to Google, it’ll be noticed for ever and a day.

kickstarterembedI asked for £4000 and eventually got £17,407 from 648 backers. Only one pledge was from family, and that was three weeks into the campaign.

I pressed the ‘launch campaign’ button via my iPad while sat on an evening train to Coventry. I then emailed the 2000 or so names on an opt-in list placed on this blog-of-the-book. Within seconds of the email going out (it might have been minutes, time telescopes these things) I started to receive pledges. The first was from a lawyer in the US, for £65. The project was now real to me. People were pledging cold, hard cash. More pledges started to come in. The Kickstarter app on my iPhone started going crazy fast, updating me with pledges. I went to sleep in a Coventry hotel knowing I was a quarter of the way to my target already. The next day I was researching the book at the National Cycle Archives at Warwick University and had to turn off my connectivity because of the pledge pinging. I have to say, it’s rather nice doing research in an archive room knowing the book you’re researching is being so actively and wonderfully supported.

My project reached its funding total while I was sat in a coffee shop chewing the fat with a Coventry cycle campaigner, waiting for my train back to Newcastle. Twenty hours had elapsed. Naturally, I was elated.

But how and why did my campaign work? Let’s look at some stats, taken from the admin section of my Kickstarter project.

Funding was guaranteed within 20 hours. The next spike was when Kickstarter.com plugged the project in a global email.

Funding was guaranteed within 20 hours. The next spike was when Kickstarter.com plugged the project in a global email on March 27/28th.

HOT LIST
The early success of the campaign wasn’t down to the video or the images I placed on the Kickstarter campaign page or the finely-honed text. It was due to trust. I got pledges before people had a chance to read the copy or watch the video. There were people out there (lovely, intelligent people, people with impeccable taste) who wanted to back the project no matter what the Kickstarter campaign said. This has to be due to my email list of 2000 names. These are people who trusted me enough to pop their email addresses in a digital opt-in box. Many will be happy to wait for the free version of the book but a large number were clearly primed and ready for my announcement – I’d plugged it on the blog and on Twitter – and pounced as soon as the campaign went live. I wasn’t expecting this level of support, I wasn’t ready for this. It’s a history book FFS, it’s not a flashy digital doo-dah, of the type that seem to do so well on Kickstarter (I should know, I’ve bought two of ’em: an iPhone thermometer and a Bluetooth amp) or a smartphone accessory such as the Millimount.

PERSONALISED VIDEO
Kickstarter School says having a video is the cornerstone of a successful campaign.

“A video is by far the best way to get a feel for the emotions, motivations, and character of a project. It’s a demonstration of effort and a good predictor of success. Projects with videos succeed at a much higher rate than those without (50% vs. 30%).”

having-a-video

Research by MWP Digital Media found that having a video on a project gives the owner an 85 percent better chance of achieving their funding goal. MWP Digital Media analysed 7,192 projects on Kickstarter in order to understand the effect that a video has on whether or not the project achieves the funding target.

I enjoyed making my video and spent a long time fine tuning the edit, choosing the music, and generally faffing about. Was it worth it? I’m not so sure. I invested time, effort and money in that video (the 1.5 second appearance from the Roman Centurion cost me sixty five quid) and yet not everybody clicked into the video, and even those who did, didn’t make it all the way through. Which is a shame because, in my opinion, the best bit is at the end, with me riding an 1890s bike around an architect’s office.

kickstartervideo

However, later in the campaign, when I was reaching out to those who didn’t know me from Adam, perhaps the flaky pieces-to-camera helped persuade pledgers I was real? It’s hard to tell from the stats.

BACK OTHER PROJECTS
When I look at which projects to back on Kickstarter I’m influenced by whether that project is a Kickstarter pro or just a crowd-funding beginner. I’m much more likely to back a project if they too have backed projects. It’s not just a karma thing, it’s about being part of a community. I’ve bought e-books on Kickstarter; and real, letter-press printed books, too; I’ve pledged for LED-lit pot plants. Before you set out your Kickstarter stall I think you should become part of the crowd. Fund some stuff.

30 DAYS TOPS
My project lasted a month. Any longer than this and you risk boring folks to death. I limited the amount of tweets I did for the Kickstarter project; to keep them going for longer than a month would be punishing for any social media audience you may have. More time does not mean more time to pledge, it means more time to potentially annoy people. If I did another Kickstarter campaign I’d probably limit it to two or three weeks; four is too much.

Kickstarter School recommends keeping it short:

“Funding can last anywhere from one to 60 days, however a longer duration is not necessarily better. Statistically, projects lasting 30 days or less have our highest success rates. A Kickstarter project takes a lot of work to run, and shorter projects set a tone of confidence and help motivate your backers to join the party. Longer durations incite less urgency, encourage procrastination, and tend to fizzle out.”

TAKE YOUR TIME & GET OTHERS TO CRITIQUE YOUR PROJECT
“The average successfully funded creator spends nearly two weeks tweaking their project before launching,” says Kickstarter school. This is exactly how long I spent, albeit on and off (I have a day job, too; in fact I have more than one). Don’t rush it. You can edit your campaign text, the main body of words, but you can’t edit the blurb or the financial amounts on the rewards. I spent a long time working out my costs and testing the prices on the rewards. I asked a number of key associates to look at the rewards structure for me: some said the rewards were priced too low, some said they were too priced too high. I took a middle course and hoped the market would bear the costs. It did. Some of the rewards sold out; the £275 reward was bought once; and the Karl Kron £105 package (hard-back book and name in lights in the book) was bought by seven people. No matter how good you are at video editing, graphic design, project management or writing, it pays to seek out the opinions of others. I’m glad I did, and thankful, too.

‘HIDDEN’ COSTS
I raised £17,407 but that’s not how much I ended up with, 14 days after the campaign ended. Kickstarter takes a cut (they gotta eat) and there are credit card charging fees, and VAT to pay.

Here’s the breakdown:

kickstarterfunding

Kickstarter gets a fee of 5 percent of whatever your campaign raises. Payment processing fees slice off another 3 percent, plus £0.20 per pledge. Pledges under £10 have a discounted fee of 5 percent plus £0.05 per pledge. Value Added Tax is assessed on the fees.

If you have a fixed amount of money you have to raise, you really ought to factor in these deductions from the start. Need to raise £15,585? You’ll need pledges worth £17,407.

On the subject of credit cards it’s worth pointing out that not all nations are fixated on plastic. If you expect to sell loads into Germany or Denmark or many other European countries, Kickstarter may not be for you. There are other crowd-funding services available and they often have more ways to pay.

kickstarterreferrersgraphic

KICKSTARTER IS LISTENING
Part of the two week research and testing of the campaign involved reading Kickstarter’s comprehensive guidance notes. I noticed they pay attention to social media and to mentions on Google News. Hammering away on Twitter by constantly mentioning @kickstarter ain’t gonna achieve much. The company has too many followers to notice the @ messages. My goal was to try and get Kickstarter to take notice by getting mentions in news sites, sites crawled by Google News.

By asking nicely on sites such as Road.cc my project appeared in news stories. The plan was to accelerate the appearance of these news stories, outside of the world of bike media, in week two in order to maybe get handpicked as a Kickstarter staff pick.

As it so happened my project was a staff pick very early on. This led to some pledges from outside my social media reach but my biggest break was appearing in Kickstarter’s global email. In the graph near the top of this piece you can see the spike in pledges on March 27/28th when this email went out. The weekly global email picks out three projects: get in that and you fan out to a whole new audience. And here are the results in more depth.

Nailed it was the title of that week’s global Kickstarter email.

kickstarterreferrer1

Nearly a fifth of all my pledges came from the Kickstarter global email. I got lucky, but from the get-go my goal was to get in that email. Only three projects out of thousands get picked: getting in front of Kickstarter staff can be the difference of an OK campaign and a stellar one.

Direct traffic is made up of emails from CTC and my opt-in email list of 2000. CTC sent out one email newsletter about the project, I sent out seven emails, spaced over the month. I didn’t email friends and family. There were sixty pledges via Twitter. I have 10,800 followers on Twitter. The embedded widget appeared on this blog and so should be counted alongside roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com: so that makes 11.5 percent of cash pledged. The two articles on Road.cc brought in more pledges than the article I wrote on the Guardian Bike Blog, which surprised me.

kickstarterreferrer2

KICKSTARTER IS JUST THE, ER, START
Raising the money pays the bills but I feel Kickstarter’s greatest value is in raising a project’s profile. I can’t go into details right now but let’s just say the £17,407 (which turned into £15,585) isn’t the end of the story. I’ve had approaches from TV companies and major US publishers; I’ve appeared on podcasts in America and on mainstream radio shows in Austria. Success breeds success and a successful Kickstarter campaign is able put your project in front of new people, and in a manner that would hard to do in any other way.

LEARN FROM OTHERS
From the comments below, and from emails, it’s clear that this posting is reaching out to others thinking of launching their own Kickstarter projects; projects nothing whatsoever to do with cycling. Google’s great (mostly). If you want to pick up more tips check out the Green Lighter podcast show. This interviews crowd-funding creators, driving people to projects when there’s still time for them to make a difference.

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