If you’re thinking of starting up a business, chances are someone has mentioned Kickstarter to you. It’s a fantastic tool for generating money for independent projects. I’ve been tangentially involved in a handful of Kickstarter campaigns. All of them have been incredibly successful. Now that I’m preparing to publish my first novel, I’m in need of some money to get things up and running and I have no intention using Kickstarter to do this. As a marketing consultant and a guy who doesn’t like to see people fail, I think explaining my reasons why might help you decide whether or not you’re ready for Kickstarter.
First, let’s talk about why Kickstarter is a good way to fund your project. In the last three years, Kickstarter has successfully funded over 22,000 projects. They’ve generated over $200 million from over two million backers. If you’re looking for a way to quickly generate capital for your project and you’re not looking for venture capital, Kickstarter has some fabulous advantages.
For those of you unfamiliar with how Kickstarter works, it’s fairly simple. You come up with the minimum amount of money you need for your project. You estimate how long it will take for backers to fund your project. You put up a page advertising your project and depending on the amount of money backers contribute, you give them perks related to the project. If your project gets the amount of money you ask for or more, it’s funded. If not, it’s not.
Now before you throw up a Kickstarter page and start clicking ‘refresh’ every three seconds to watch the money roll in, keep in mind that 56% of all Kickstarter projects fail. That means if two of you start a Kickstarter campaign, odds are at least one won’t get funded. The reasons for failure are numerous and there’s not much reason to focus on them. Instead, I’d like to focus on the things I’ve seen that make a Kickstarter campaign work.
In order to have a successful Kickstarter campaign, you need at least three of four things:
- A good idea
- A clear plan
- A proven track record
- Good rewards for backers
You can get by with three out of the four but it’s not easy and you better knock those other things out of the park. And the thing of it is, I’m not sure why you’d want to when all four are fairly simple to accomplish.
A Good Idea
If you have a good idea, this is going to help more than anything else. Don’t just try to do a project because you love it. You’re not likely to get a lot of backers to fix your classic car. It’s good to have passion for something, but you’ve got to look at it from the backer’s point of view. Is this something they want to have or want to see? If it isn’t, then it’s probably not for Kickstarter. Who are your potential customers? Why should this project mean something to them? Why is your project important? If you can’t easily answer these questions, why would anyone back your idea?
New Pencil’s FlipSteady invention is a great example of a good idea. They saw a gap in the iPad case market and invented something to fill that gap.
A Clear Plan
A lot of people think that all it takes is a good idea. That’s understandable. Good ideas are exciting and when you have one, it seems obvious why people should fork over cash to help you out. The problem is that when people spend money, they like to know what they’re spending it on. So you need to have a plan. You need to tell them exactly what their money is going to do for you besides pay your bills. If you’re asking for $50,000 why do you need that amount of money and what exactly does that do for your project? If you’ve thought about your idea at all, you should be able to come up with a plan fairly easily.
WindowFarms.org had created a successful program for growing plants in your windows using water bottles, but when they created a more efficient and elegant prototype, they needed funding to get the molds made for mass production. You weren’t just ordering your own Window Farm, your money was going to making these things into a reality
A Proven Track Record
This leads us to the hard part. It’s the thing that people starting out don’t want to hear: you need to have a proven track record. I know you’re just starting out. I know you need money to get going and that’s the whole reason you want to use Kickstarter in the first place. And I also know that you wouldn’t give pay a guy who is sure he’d be a great mechanic if you’d just buy him some tools. You may have a great idea. You may know exactly what you’d do with the money, but who the hell are you? What have you done? If you’ve never done anything like this before, you might have some trouble.
Since this is the most difficult part of a successful Kickstarter campaign, I’ll try to help you out. This does not mean that in order to get money for your movie, you need to make a movie. What this means is that you need to show what you can do with limited resources. This will give potential backers an idea of what you might be able to accomplish with more resources. If you’re making a movie, make a short or a trailer for the movie you want to make. If you’ve invented something, make a few of them. This part is probably going to take you using some of your own money. If you’re uncomfortable with that, then don’t get upset when other people don’t want to spend money on your project either. That line from Field of Dreams is still true, “If you build it, they will come.”
Before Dead Gentlemen Productions created their incredibly successful campaign, they created season one of JourneyQuest, a seven webisode series that had quite the cult following thanks to previous endeavors and some quality storytelling. When it came time for season two, they asked for $60,000 and got over $113,000. This wouldn’t have been possible without the work they put into season one.
Lastly, you need to have good rewards. If you’ve got a good idea, a solid plan, and a proven track record, you’ll get backers, but if you really want to guarantee a successful Kickstarter campaign, you need to give back to your backers. You should take some time and think about what your ultimate fan would want. As long as these things don’t cost as much as they’re giving you, it’s worth doing.
When Jordan Weisman wanted to create a tablet version of his classic RPG Shadowrun, the top tier backers could have everything from NPC characters that look like them to a Shadowrun game developer come to your house and run a campaign for you.
Okay, so having said all that, let me explain why I won’t be using Kickstarter to fund my novel. Is the novel a good idea? Yes. It’s a thriller that combines relationships, crime, and lies in a way I’ve never seen before and it all takes place in my hometown of Tacoma. Do I have a plan? Yes. I have a step-by-step development and marketing plan. Do I have a proven track record? No. I’ve written one other book but it wasn’t a novel. It was nothing like the novel. And while it was successful in that it made a profit, it was far from a best seller. I have a successful blog with TacomaStories.com and a reasonable following, but I don’t have a track record as a crime fiction novelist so there’s no reason for your average person to think I’d be good at it. Do I have good rewards? I wrote the novel knowing I wasn’t going to use Kickstarter so I didn’t leave characters or locations open for perks. I could offer copies of my book but really, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it from the ground up. So once my novel comes out and if it’s successful, I might use Kickstarter to fund my next novel if I feel I need to, but until then, I’m on my own. As it should be. (I suppose I should mention that I’m not saying I would refuse help funding my novel. I’m just saying it’s not a viable Kickstarter project.)
There’s a lot more that goes into the successful marketing and development of a Kickstarter campaign and there are a lot of people who know a good deal more than me about it, but this should get you started in the right direction. If you need more information, as I mentioned, I’m a marketing consultant as well as a writer and I’d be happy to help out.
– Jack Cameron