How I Launched a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

“You can always back out,” a dear friend who had successfully completed a few Kickstarter campaigns told me a few days into my own campaign. “You just have such a short timeline.”

“You probably aimed too high,” said another, just beginning her own campaign, having carefully lined up a roster of advisers and marketing backers. “Next time, shoot a little lower.”

“Let's try for $6000,” said one of my partners when I said $8000 was really the minimum sensible goal. Then, a few days before the end of the campaign, “If we need to, we can contribute more to unlock the Kickstarter piggybank.”

“We can do it!” I said, over and over. “We will do it.”

And you can do it too. If you've ever wanted to create something — a magazine, like mine, or a documentary video or a line of handmade jewelry or the next thing in pooper scoopers (I will not divulge my b-school friend's Big Idea on this topic here) — but don't have the money, crowdfunding is a fantastic way to do it.

Are you sure?
This is what my friends kept asking: “Are you sure?” They wanted to make a backup plan in case we didn't reach the funding goal (which, for the record, is a smart idea). In Kickstarter — as in most crowdfunding sites — you have to reach the full funding goal to get any money at all; your friends and new fans won't be charged if and until the campaign successfully ends.

Note: Indiegogo.com is one exception to this rule; the site will give the organization seeking funding the money as your contributors pledge it, if you sign up for the “flexible funding” option. The fees are higher if you don't reach your funding goal.

I was sure. Part of this is my sunny optimism and part of it was just…my certainty. I knew this project (a literary magazine for parents) was a winner. I'd spent my life doing (informal, social, and honestly quite lovely) “user analyses” for the product. I knew what my market wanted and I knew I could sell myself as the person who could deliver. The thing is that you have to be sure, at least in your interactions about the campaign; like any small business, you need to be your biggest cheerleader and your biggest fan.

Very few goals are truly out of limit. I've seen campaigns succeed from $235 to $200,000. And part if it is just that people enjoy being part of a winning campaign. As Kickstarter founder Yancey Strickler said, he didn't know what was the reason, but 90% of campaigns that get to 30% funding eventually succeed. I think it's because everyone believes if the central figure in the campaign believes — and that's critical mass.

This is the really key thing. You have to believe, and you have to love the product you want to produce in a way that is very much like a mother loves her child, and you have to believe you can do it better than just about anyone. You have to believe all that (and be ready to tell everyone else that, too).

Find your choir
The best thing I did with this project was to assemble a choir to whom to preach. From my Twitter and Facebook pulpit I announced my idea and I had more of my team sign up to support me with a couple of 140-character tweets than any long eloquent blog post. (I hope they were eloquent.) Getting an editorial team behind me was integral.

The platform of the crowdfunding model is star-based. One person has her name and profile attached to the campaign; typically, it's hard to fit a bunch of voices into a one- or two-minute video. But I may not have achieved this on my own.

My editorial team (and even my logo designer) had a vested interest in getting this project funded. We put a bunch of time and effort into creating the campaign, launching a web site, writing essays and stories and spending countless hours reading and editing submissions. Everyone wanted to see this be real. A partner's dad was the one who made that contribution to send us to 100% funding. Another partner's friends began contributing and encouraging still other friends to contribute. My husband posted about it, and his cousin gave a generous donation. I would see a donation come in from someone I'd never met, and someone would say, “That's my high school friend!” or “That's my uncle!”

You need to preach to your choir, and your choir has to sing it. You probably can't do it all alone, so line up talented friends who are willing to go to bat for you simply on the promise of eventual, possible payment. What I discovered? The love of their family and friends will be so greatly felt that they probably can do without money for a while.

Get so excited, you just can't hide it.
One day when we were nearing 100% funding, I was very literally so excited that I could not hide it. I downloaded the song on iTunes and played it over and over at top volume, dancing in my kitchen. That was me, when my friend's dad contributed, screaming so loud all my neighbors could hear.

And I spent two weeks (the maximum time I thought I could conceivably spend constantly promoting myself) dancing, literally and figuratively, singing the praises of my project. I posted, sometimes, four or five times a day on Facebook and Twitter. I sent emails and direct messages to friends. I went up to strangers or bare acquaintances at coffee shops and parks to tell them about my project (only if they said something that seemed to connect them to, as I saw it, my customer base). I posted photos of my project on Instagram and left fliers at ice cream shops and only avoided Pinterest because I didn't get around to it.

Every day, from the day you make your video to the day you complete the campaign, you are going to have to be amped up! This is something you should prepare for and something that should guide the timing of your campaign.

Be strategic. Be calculating.
I didn't go to business school to avoid doing math when it came down to it. Nor did I forget any of my marketing lessons. Here are a few practical things I learned:

  • Guess at the monetary size of your friend base. You'll need at least five times the amount you're shooting for in “capacity.” I thought of many friends who could afford the higher contributions — say, $100 to $1000 each. Only about 10% of those who I thought could give at these high levels did (while many gave at lower levels, many didn't give at all). This could be anything from simply not being on social media during your campaign, to a reluctance to give money to relatives, to a distrust of the online payment process. About 1/5th of my Facebook friends gave.
  • Facebook, by the way, is it. I have a lot of Facebook connections (thank you 20th high school reunion for connecting with my dear old friends) but my Twitter audience and blog readership eclipses that. We got almost 50% of our contributions from links from Facebook. Unless you have an email list or some other very effective way of communicating with your audience, you'll have to be on Facebook!
  • Give and ye shall receive. I have given to lots of campaigns; I found a lot of my friends were giving back to me, even if they didn't have children or for some other reason didn't seem like my audience. Likewise, people for whom I've recently done favors were so eager to give. I didn't give any of these things out of some hoped-for return, mind you; but generous people do inspire generosity and it can't hurt to start practicing now!
  • Add up the cost of your promised rewards. Be practical here. I've watched many a campaign where the reward seemed like it might cost as much as or more than the pledge. Unless your reward is your project (in our case, we could quite easily promise subscriptions for about the retail price), make sure you're making enough with your goal after fulfilling those stickers and buttons and totes and serenaded al fresco lunches to cover your costs. If you're not good with this sort of financial estimates, find someone who is.
  • Give people rewards they might want even if they're not your friend. In the end, the best way to get contributions to your project is to produce something people want. People want a new set of dishtowels painted by hand even if they don't give a whit about your project (maybe). People do not want stickers with a logo they don't admire for a product no one has ever heard of, because this is the launch. People want useful (or, at least, pretty and iconic) stuff. If your market is national, perhaps it's not a good idea to send out invites to a VIP launch party in New York. (Maybe it is. If your VIP ticket might encourage people to travel. But then they're going to have to calculate that cost, too.)
  • Make a short video. Be adorable. Be funny (if that's your thing). Be to the point. Don't just repeat all the text you've written beneath the video. Sell yourself. Be memorable, in a nice way. Be positive. The worst thing is a several-minutes-long video in which you feel so, so sorry for the subject of the video the whole time. This is not charity. You want people to love you, in a happy warm fuzzy way, not a pathetic pat you on the head way. I suggest about a minute. Any more than two won't be watched by the majority of your viewers and people are so grateful for short videos.

I'd love to hear your ideas. Have you been thinking about crowdfunding a project? Tell us about it! Have you completed a campaign? What advice do you have?

J.D.'s note: Sarah isn't the only GRS staff writer to have launched a succesful Kickstarter campaign. Former staff writer Adam Baker used Kickstarter to fund his documentary, which has now screened in (at least) three cities around the country.

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William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago

A lot has been said about how the internet has changed our lives. Kickstarter is definitely one of the better ones. Wall Street comes to my laptop.

Your advice is great – it’s definitely one of the best summaries of how to do it right!

Thanks

Lance @ Money Life and More
Lance @ Money Life and More
7 years ago

Kickstarter is definitely a cool idea. I feel like if you can identify with those that look into your project and can give something of value to the person contributing you have the best chance of success. Ideally, the cost to produce the “something of value” should be very low or you’ll be eating into your funds. I imagine a digital product or something on a DVD would work well as long as it is exclusive.

Adult student
Adult student
7 years ago

Congratulations on funding your magazine, and good luck! This part makes me uncomfortable though: “Guess at the monetary size of your friend base. You’ll need at least five times the amount you’re shooting for in “capacity.” I thought of many friends who could afford the higher contributions – say, $100 to $1000 each. Only about 10% of those who I thought could give at these high levels did (while many gave at lower levels, many didn’t give at all). This could be anything from simply not being on social media during your campaign, to a reluctance to give money to… Read more »

Katie
Katie
7 years ago
Reply to  Adult student

That part kind of made me raise my eyebrows as well. Were I friends with her, she’d probably assume I could afford to donate at that level. Except that I already make regular charitable donations to charities I’m passionate about. The fact that I perhaps can technically “afford” to give it to her doesn’t mean I’m going to prioritize her cause over the ones I already support. I might or might not give something, depending on whether or not the project sounds interesting to me – I’d view it the same way I would buying a book to support an… Read more »

David
David
7 years ago
Reply to  Katie

You don’t have to give, ya know. I see this a lot in the comments, and I feel for those who let social pressure force them to behave inconsistent with their goals and values. (I’m not picking on you specifically, Kate). This seems to be the worst with birthday, wedding, shower, etc. gifts. My nephew just had his 2-year b-day party. Ordinarily I would never buy a gift, between parents and grandparents kids have enough crap. I guess this time I felt different since my sister just moved out to the west coast, and all our family is still on… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  David

Thumbs-up for hilarity.

chenoameg
chenoameg
7 years ago
Reply to  David

I bet he loved them!

David
David
7 years ago
Reply to  David

Hehe, yeah. Immediately when after he pulled it out of the Target bag (I don’t wrap gifts, either), there was a chorus of little boys going, “I need a band-aid”. =)

Kaytee
Kaytee
7 years ago
Reply to  David

It all gets worse when you have a baby. We didn’t have a shower or register for gifts and when people asked us what we wanted for our baby, we said “nothing.” Most people went out and purchased new baby clothing for us (“but it was on mega sale and just too cute to pass up!”) We sold all of these new clothes to a consignment shop and are buying the baby a lifetime hunting/fishing license.

Nancy
Nancy
7 years ago
Reply to  David

I put band-aids in my kids Christmas stockings and it is usually one of the most beloved gifts. Kids love band-aids! I used to be a preschool teacher and whenever a child got hurt and I gave him/her a band-aid, all of a sudden ALL the kids had injuries to show me.

Jo@SimplyBeingMum
7 years ago
Reply to  David

We call them ‘plasters’ in the UK but the same principle applies. The amount of Kids I’ve seen feign injury to get one stuck on their knee is countless! My Kids love them going on…not so keen with them being pulled off!

sarah gilbert
sarah gilbert
7 years ago
Reply to  Katie

sorry I haven’t been in the comments before now. Heck no, I didn’t assume anyone WOULD give to be just because we were friends. (Well, there were a few, but we were close enough that I knew they supported the project before I launched it and would give because they’d put a lot of input into the idea as well as the execution. Also, they told me before I launched, “I’ll give!” 🙂 ) But I thought it was important to ESTIMATE how much people might be able to give so I knew I wasn’t going beyond the potential of… Read more »

Sara
Sara
7 years ago
Reply to  Adult student

This really rubbed me the wrong way, too, as well as the part about posting four or five times per day on Facebook and Twitter. I wouldn’t be too annoyed if someone posted one or two low-pressure announcements about a Kickstarter campaign, but filling up my Facebook feed with constant begging for money would be enough to make me remove her as a friend.

sarah gilbert
sarah gilbert
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

Sara, I worried about high pressure, which is why I only went with a 15-day campaign. I felt like most people could handle 15 days of asking for money. And I was surprised how many of my Twitter and Facebook friends said, afterward, that they’d missed hearing anything about this. I never checked to see if anyone removed me as a friend, but if they did, I guess they felt like you. I ended the campaign with more friends than I started with, so it’s hard to know. I think the key here is, however, that I was only “selling”… Read more »

Bella
Bella
7 years ago

I had a similar (not criticism) but uncomfortablness when I first read this paragraph too. Except, then I thought about it – this is using your established social network to launch something you believe will better you, your family, or your world (in Sarah’s case it seems she was shooting for all three so go her!) Let’s be honest – if none of you’re entire friends and family network who also have a vested interest in seeing you succeed don’t have use for your product – who does? This is how all successful businesses get started. You make something that… Read more »

Jessica
Jessica
7 years ago

How is using kickstarter or one of the other crowdfunding web sites better than just sending an e-mail around to everyone you know and asking for a donation, and then following up with a phone call? It seems you could raise more money this way and wouldn’t have to deal with the fees or strict rules or banking restrictions of the crowdfunding sites.

EMH
EMH
7 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

You could definitley reach out to your friends and family without Kickstarter but I have donated to Kickstarter campaigns for people I have no affiliation with because I like their project. I would have never known about the project without Kickstarter. Also, most projects offer you something at different pledge levels so if you really love a book or a designer or an idea that somebody has, you not only assist them to reach their dreams/goals but you also get something in return.

Bella
Bella
7 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

I think that one of the reasons is that it’s an official step forward. It shows people you’re serious, and that you will have what you need when teh time comes to actual give the money. I have lots of friends and family who I would probably help start a business – however, I would probably not give them money in response to an informal email with phone call follow up.

Megan
Megan
7 years ago
Reply to  Bella

This. I’ve seen a few friends of my own use Kickstarter for their own endeavors. You really need to push and promote your cause, as well as make a compelling reason as to why people should give some cash to your idea over someone else’s.

sarah gilbert
sarah gilbert
7 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

I loved Kickstarter for a lot of reasons, but not the least because I am terrible at the phone and direct asks seem to make people very uncomfortable. I doubt I would have gotten even a quarter of the money by just calling people up and asking for it. Part of it is the format — people are comfortable with Kickstarter — and part of it is the momentum. Once you get a lot of donations, people think “hey, this is a winning idea! lots of other people think so too!” and are more willing to commit. There are a… Read more »

Smart Military Money
Smart Military Money
7 years ago

Sarah,
Sounds like you had a unique idea that people got behind. To me, that’s the most important part: having a fresh idea. When I peruse KickStarter, I find lots of regurgitated ideas that don’t excite me.

So the key to a successful campaign is a new, creative idea. Coming up with one is easier said than done, but sounds like yours was a success!

-Christian L.

B
B
7 years ago

Apparently, I am the only one who had never heard of “KickStarter”. Clarity in the beginning of the article would have been beneficial for me. Congratulations on achieving your goal.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  B

You’re not the only one! The whole first part of the post made no sense to me whatsoever until I visited the link. Clarification would have been helpful!

From what I can see, Kickstarter isn’t as common here in Canada as in the U.S? (If the pitifully few posts in Toronto are any indication.) I’m glad to have been introduced to it 🙂

sarah gilbert
sarah gilbert
7 years ago
Reply to  B

Sorry, you all. That’s a helpful criticism. I’ll see if J.D. will give his blessing to an edit to the post. For now: Kickstarter is a method of obtaining funding for an artistic or creative project by raising it from individuals. You post a campaign, including a funding goal, an approximate time of delivery of your project (which can be just about anything other than a charitable goal — for instance, I’ve backed recently an ebook, a documentary, a small vegetable farm, a line of gluten-free snacks, and a stainless-steel coffee filter), and awards for different funding levels (which could… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

I did a Kickstarter last year, but rather than a donation for a future project it was more of a presale– give us the money today and we ship your DVD in a month. People loved it and we raised 50% over our target. Agreed that Facebook is huge for this, but so are corporate/business donors. I don’t have the time to figure the exact numbers, but for us something like 30% of our total raised funds came from businesses. In terms of returns on the efforts, one email to businesses was much greater than all the Facebook poking. The… Read more »

Josee Moore
Josee Moore
7 years ago

I have been thinking about using Kickstarter to fund a recording project I started in 2010, but have put on hold due to lack of funding. Having donated to Todd Boston’s CD project during that time, I was inspired when he reached his goal. I had never heard of this yound man before, but was encouraged by my piano teacher to donate. Todd’s CD is now available and is breathtakingly beautiful. Reading this article has been so inspiring and informative. It has revealed some things I needed to know and hear. Thanks Sarah Gilbert and best of luck with your… Read more »

KSR
KSR
7 years ago

What do you do Nerdo? I was under the impression you were an artist (physical art sculpture maybe)for some reason. I get that you’re all around talented and I wouldn’t be surpised if you did it all–and then some. I also have to ask since I’m here and have to purge it from my brain–when you put together your doomsday list on, I think, Honey’s post–you listed oil, grits, and eggs? I’m curious.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  KSR

Movies, video, animation, writing, that kind of thing. Not very good with the “real” objects– I have clumsy hands! “Art” is just a general blanket term. I usually team up with people who are good with their hands so they can build and paint things we then shoot (with cameras, not guns… though that would be fun too). And yeah I listed that. I meant to show it’s possible to eat for very little money in America– not the healthiest hippie food, but very cheap. The oil at $6/gallon is insane. There are like a million calories there to beat… Read more »

KSR
KSR
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Thanks Nerdo! You just gave me the perfect gift and I’m able to print out your comment to boot! I have a friend who is building off the grid. I call him a doomsdayer which drives him nuts (he’s green). Anyway, he’s having a kind of open house really soon to celebrate his last nail in the place and stamping a big DONE on the thing. I exchanged out the egg idea with a 50 pound box of powdered eggs (up to 5-10 year shelf life). This is so much better than the rice and dried beans I was going… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  KSR

Oh hey, yeah! If you wanna get fancy check, this out:

http://www.amazon.com/Hominy-Grits-White-10-Bag/dp/B0017OB3CM/

5- star review and it looks awesome.

I’ve been wanting to order those but last I checked the shipping was pricier than the grits 🙁

Anyway, if he’s going off the grid, I’d also throw in a few of these 😀

cls
cls
7 years ago

I would be interested to know how Sarah calculated how much she thought her friends could afford to give.

I have donated to a few KS projects. I wonder if I’m now on friends lists of “those who gave less thab I expected”.

Marcia C.
Marcia C.
7 years ago

This is the first time that I’ve heard of Kickstarter.

abby
abby
7 years ago

Sarah do you get mad at your friends if they don’t give? Like do you bring it up to them or is it you just send an email and if they give they give?

sarah gilbert
sarah gilbert
7 years ago
Reply to  abby

I think I’d have to be a very un-generous person to be mad if anyone didn’t give. There were probably two people whose lack of giving was noticed. But I wasn’t mad; I figured either they had less spending money than I’d assumed or they simply missed my email or post. Maybe I went to spam! I thought 🙂 I’ve done enough craft fairs to know what it’s like to sit behind a table, selling one’s wares, and watch one’s friends walk by and not buy them. I’ve realized that bad feelings about the lack of sales will only end… Read more »

Katelyn
Katelyn
7 years ago

I hate when people assume I “can afford to give” and then target me for donations. It’s not about if I can afford to give. It’s about if your project is cool, if I want to support you, and what else I have going on in my life financially at that time.

sarah gilbert
sarah gilbert
7 years ago
Reply to  Katelyn

Katelyn, I can totally understand this feeling. I tried to make something great to which people would WANT to give and I wouldn’t have to assume or target any (or at least not many) people 🙂

Paul
Paul
7 years ago

Great stuff! My kids and I have recently completed a children’s book together and our project is already loaded on Kickstarter (we just need to finalize our video). We are very excited and will review your suggestions again before submitting the project. I’ll drop a follow-up comment once it’s live or you can check out our blog where we’ll be writing about it. I should note I’m trying to teach my kinds about entrepreneurism and the Kickstarter project could be an interesting lesson.

Kathy
Kathy
7 years ago

This article assumes we the readers know and understand Kickstarter. I think it would have made more sense if you had added a couple of sentences on the Kickstarter process. Then we could all read the article from an equal starting point. I read a lot of my emails including GRS on the train using WiFi and linking to other sites is just not all that easy. I was disturbed to see the analysis of what each person could afford.

Fede Graciano
Fede Graciano
7 years ago

I’m running the last 10 days of my Kickstarter project and I would love to share it with you because this article was really useful for us!

Thank you a lot and have a nice rest of the week!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/380391897/ameressence-sketches-of-the-american-continent

Anisa
Anisa
6 years ago

Thanks so much for this! going to be doing my video here soon, I have my business plan done. I am so excited for whats to come!

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