NOTE: A version of this article was also featured on Entrepreneur.com on May 29, 2013.
Sometimes it’s hard to examine failure while the pain caused by it still lingers, but I guess being an entrepreneur means sometimes getting back up off the canvas when you’ve been knocked down, and simply refusing to accept a result you don’t like. Failure is often a great chance to discover one of the many paths to success, and Kickstarter is no exception.
Kickstarter offers its project “Creators” a few analytical tools that can help determine what went wrong in a failed campaign, increasing not only the chance of success in a follow-up campaign, but also for your business in general. Simply running a Kickstarter product design campaign is a fantastic market feedback exercise for a product, and sometimes early mistakes in design, marketing, or positioning can be identified and corrected by the time a product transitions from Kickstarter to retail.
I currently have a Kickstarter campaign running for the YOGO mat, the iconic, folding, eco-friendly yoga mat that fits in purses and backpacks. The campaign’s original goal was $16K, but in the first four weeks of the campaign the YOGO mat has already raised over $24K, and the campaign will continue for another four weeks.
However, about 5 weeks ago the YogoMat was dead in the water. I ran a first YogoMat Kickstarter campaign for 36 days with a goal of raising $36K. It failed convincingly, having raised just over $10K when the clock reached zero on March 15. It was frustrating to watch the failure happen gradually over the 7 week campaign period, and during that time reasons for the failure became painfully obvious: most of my mistakes were made before the first campaign even started.
So what did I learn? What lessons did I take away from my failure that has made my second (Redux) campaign successful?
Here are 7 factors I’ve identified that helped me turn a failed Kickstarter campaign into later Kickstarter success:
1) Listen to your backers
Aside from your friends and family who back your project because they love or feel sorry for you, backers are people who want the reward(s) you’re offering, and are part of the same group of consumers who would buy your product if they found it on a shelf in a retail store. They are a concentration of people who like your idea and identify with the benefit(s) your product will give them. You should know the general characteristics of this demographic of folks because you want to reach more of them. I learned to listen to the backers who backed my first failed Kickstarter campaign.
I took many good pieces of advice about the YogoMat’s presentation on Kickstarter in correspondence directly from backers, but their backing behavior, easily evaluated with the Kickstarter “Creator Dashboard,” was extremely valuable as well. It gives you insight to 1) funding progress over time, 2) where backers arrived from on the Internet, 3) stats on your video (if you use one), 4) reward popularity graphs, and 5) individual backer activity (comments, backing activity, etc.). I also highly recommend the custom Kickstarter dashboard the Soma water carafe team built and shared.
2) Your Kickstarter “Story” and Rewards should be limited, simple, and clear
In the first campaign, in addition to the YogoMat, I offered other yoga accessories and t-shirts. Backers loved the YogoMat itself, but were not very excited about the additional reward items, which were too numerous and distracting from the YogoMat itself. Backers overwhelmingly selected only YogoMats as rewards, and tended to avoid the additional items.
The reward language of the first campaign was also much too verbose – someo f my rewards were 15+ lines long. No one except my mom is going to read a monster, over-written crowdfunding page. I discovered that 3-5 lines of very clear text is what an average potential backer quickly reads and digests. I’ve even caught myself impatiently skipping over crowdfunding reward sections that are too long when reviewing campaign pages. I’m positive that this factor alone lost the campaign many backers.
In my Kickstarter “story” of the first campaign, which is main body of the campaign, I was equally overly-verbose. There were too many ideas and there were visually too many paragraphs. I simply threw enough text at potential backers that I’m sure many of them couldn’t wade through it all to get to the core messages of the YogoMat. And then they lost interest and didn’t back the YogoMat.
In the Redux campaign only single and multiple YogoMats are rewards, plain and simple. The reward language is concise and limited in the page’s body and its rewards, and it’s all easily digested. Incidentally, more than twice the amount of people have backed the new campaign in the same period of time as the first one.
This is the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle in action.
3) A reward’s language, value, estimated delivery and int’l shipping fees are unchangeable once a reward is selected
Despite having read everything before launching the first campaign, I didn’t realize that a campaign’s reward language is etched in stone after it’s made available in a live campaign and just ONE backer selects the reward. Once it’s selected by a backer, you can’t change anything about a reward except the number of those rewards available at that level of backing.
Complicating the process of crafting reward language is the fact that no text formatting is available for rewards – no bolding, no italics, no underlining, nothing. Only CAPS can be used to distinguish certain plaintext words from the rest.
4) Be conservative and realistic in setting your fundraising goal
The original YogoMat campaign sought to raise enough funds to pay not just for one run of 500 YogoMats, but two runs, in order to allow for two different color combinations of mats. In addition, the other yoga accessories and t-shirts added to the overhead needed to successfully fund the campaign and get rewards in the hands of all backers. $36K was not a realistic goal because it wasn’t the bare minimum amount I needed to raise in order to realize just a small first round of successful product production. It was unnecessarily ambitious.
In second the Redux campaign, I only sought to raise enough funds to bootstrap a starting run of 500 mats ($16K), the color of which will be selected by popular vote following the successful funding of the campaign. Additionally, I’ve communicated with my backers that if $25K is raised, I can afford to offer two colors, and three at $34K. By lowering my fundraising goal, I drastically increased my chance of reaching that goal, while leaving contingent room for campaign expansion and inclusion of additional bonus goals.
5) The length of your campaign matters
As news of the first YogoMat Kickstarter campaign spread, it grew both in backers and funds. However, when it failed after 36 days, it was only 30% funded. Had the campaign run for another 24 days (the Kickstarter maximum campaign time is 60 days), and had some level of virality developed, it’s entirely possible that the campaign might have reached $36K and been successful. But to be honest, I’m glad it failed for many reasons.
In the Redux campaign, building on the great word-of-mouth effect the YogoMat began to experience at the end of the failed first campaign, in 30 short days it has raised over $24K. The new campaign is set to run for 60 days, and it may well eclipse that original $36K fundraising goal.
6) You’ve got to be social, and you’ve got to show the value you’re providing
A video is wonderful if it conveys how awesome your product is AND conveys enough credibility about you, the Kickstarter Creator, to establish a sufficient level of trust that a backer needs to feel in order to back the campaign. But not many of us are filmmakers by birth, so the chances that your video alone is going to grow word-of-mouth virality is slim.
You, the Kickstarter Creator, need to talk to people about your project, both online and in person. Potential backers won’t trust the project unless they trust the person presenting the project first. If you’re crowdfunding a cool product, backers still need to know who’s offering it as a reward. Developing the trust of potential backers in this type of sales relationship is CRUCIAL to crowdfunding success. Talking to people about your project is also a great way to get instant feedback and to practice presentation of your idea.
Tim Ferriss wrote a great blog post on hacking Kickstarter, in which Soma inventor Mike Del Ponte shares his team’s online Kickstarter campaign strategy. If you’re starting a Kickstarter campaign, it’s fantastic reading and invaluable strategic advice.
In the analog world, without being irritating, if your idea is relevant to them, tell your friends, your neighbors, and any applicable groups to which you belong about your idea. Go stand on the sidewalk and demonstrate your product if that will be helpful – it’s the cheapest form of publicity. The more people you talk to who become interested in your project/idea, the greater your chances that one of them will become a crowdfunding backer, or tell a friend who becomes a backer. If you fail to reach out to anyone within your social reach who might actually, reasonably love your project/idea, you probably haven’t worked hard enough to get it in front of your core audience of likely backers.
7) You can still send a message to all backers of a failed Kickstarter campaign
When the first campaign ended unsuccessfully, my immediate and first thought was, “have I just lost all of the momentum that I just built?” Fortunately, even after a campaign fails, the Kickstarter Creator can still send all of the previous backers a message in the form of a posted update. In fact, such an update can also be posted for the whole world to see, which can also be a valuable redirect tool for potential backers who arrive at your failed campaign’s page by accident.
After starting the Redux campaign, I posted an update to the old campaign which included the URL for the new campaign. Within two days of launching the Redux campaign dozens – then later more than 200 – of the first campaign’s backers signed up to back the new campaign.