Kickstarter’s rise to prominence this year has filled the world’s creative types with a mixture of hope and anxiety. If you’re the kind of person who has always wanted to launch an invention, write a book, make a game, shoot a video series or just about anything else, the crowdfunding platform offers you a shot at collecting the money you need to get your dream off the ground — without all the downsides of taking out a bank loan or securing a traditional investor. You can raise money from friends, family, fans and strangers by getting them to buy into your product before you produce it.
But the platform can be a source of heartache as well. Multimillion-dollar projects such as Double Fine Adventure get all the attention, but if you spend any time on the site, you’ll find that most campaigns are aiming for much more modest sums of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars — and even raising that much can be difficult. Less than half of all Kickstarter projects were successful through 2011. And as media attention around the sight continues to increase (to the level that some people are worried about a Kickstarter bubble) competition for donor dollars is only going to increase
So what can you do to make sure your campaign is one of the projects that succeeds? At the recent BlogWorld & New Media Expo, three video-series directors who had recently completed successful Kickstarter campaigns shared the secrets of their success. Desiree Akhavan is the co-creator of “The Slope Show”; Rubidium Wu is the writer, director and producer of “The Silent City”; Reed R. McCants is the producer, director and editor of “40 and Leroy.” All three creators shared what they’d learned from the successful Kickstarter experiences — as well as what they’d do differently next time.
- Don’t assume your fans have heard of Kickstarter. Just because the platform is all the rage with techies and creatives right now doesn’t mean your next-door neighbor, your great aunt or your biggest fan are familiar with the platform. Be sure to explain the Kickstarter concept explicitly in your pitch, letting people know that they’ll only be charged if the campaign is successful and that backers aren’t donating to charity — they’re buying a product in advance. It’s also a good idea to post information for international backers, explaining how they can use Paypal to contribute with minimal fuss.
- Make the pitch stick. You only have one chance to make a first impression on Kickstarter with a knock-out pitch. Put everything you’ve got into making your initial video or post as enticing as possible. Both Akhavan and McCants were looking to fund additional episodes of existing series, so they had a backlog of material to draw on: If you like the early episodes, wanting to fund more should be a no-brainer. Wu explained that he’d come from shooting commercials, so his previous work wasn’t going to translate to his new, post-apocalyptic narrative video series. He shot a trailer on his own that gave potential backers a sense of what they’d be supporting if they invested in his work. McCants suggested that it’s important to put yourself into your pitch. People want to know who they’re supporting as much as what they’re supporting.
- Be realistic about how much money you need. Finding the right funding level isn’t easy. Ask for too much and there’s a good chance project won’t “kick” — meaning you’ll get no money at all. But if you ask for too little, you might find you don’t really have enough cash to finish the project — which could leave you with a lot of angry backers. All the panelists warned that it’s important to be aware of hidden costs that can stem from a Kickstarter campaign, including Kickstarter’s 5% fee, the 3% to 5% in fees that Amazon will charge for any payments they process, and any shipping costs that stem from shipping backer rewards, such as physical copies of your project, t-shirts, posters, etc. McCants added that you should leave room for some of your backer’s transactions to fail, as at least a few people will have their credit cards declined and those transactions can mean the difference between success and failure for a campaign.
- Be shameless. Your Kickstarter campaign won’t succeed if you’re timid about it. Go out there and trumpet your cause from day one. Akhavan expressed regret that she didn’t have a bigger initial push to launch her campaign, while McCants and Wu noted that between the initial flurry of activity and the excitement of the countdown at the end of their campaign, there was a lull in backer activity. Remember that this isn’t just an opportunity to attract donors — it’s also a public relations event. All the panelists noted it was important to use Kickstarter’s built-in backer notes system to keep fans engaged and encourage them to spread the word. “Go to bed every night asking yourself how you pushed your project out into the world,” said Akhavan.
- Make the countdown an event. Time your campaign so that it ends at a time when most of your potential backers will be at their desks at work. That way you can easily reach people with last-minute donation pleas and have them be in a place where they can respond immediately. If your campaign ends during the wee hours of Sunday morning, chances are you won’t see a rush of last-minute donations.
- Don’t bet the farm. Kickstarter is a great tool — but it’s just one of many at your disposal. Make it a complement to your existing strategy, rather than your only hope for success, said McCants.
Have you used Kickstarter? What did the experience teach you? What are some of your favorite Kickstarter projects?