10 Kickstarter Commandments [Aphorism Free]

There are many of articles containing tricks on how to run a successful Kickstarter. This isn’t one of them. Instead, here’s a look at a product’s journey from idea through Kickstarter into a fully-fledged business.

I’m John Teasdale, co-founder of Contender Games. I know from experience that you can run a successful Kickstarter campaign and still end up in debt. We pulled out of that tailspin, learned a lot from the experience, and would like to share it with you.

Our second game, Action News: The Game of Television News, is currently funding and should progress more smoothly. Base your judgement of this article on how strained our emails seem when we start shipping those.

Now, without further ado, here are the 10 Kickstarter Commandments:

I. Have an Idea

You have them all the time. Pick a fun one.

II. Simplify and Prototype

Get to this as fast as you can. Can you make a dirt-simple version in 15 minutes? You probably can.

Coming soon: The Fidget Spinner Spinner

While making card games, I tear up printer paper because I never have index cards.

For example, here are the top 6 most funded Kickstarters of all time and how you could test them in 5 minutes:

#1 (also #3 and #5 top funded) Pebble Smartwatch — Give a friend your phone and have them read your push notifications to you when you ask.

#2 Coolest Cooler — Cooler, battery, blender, speakers + duct tape

#4 Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5 — Paper + pencil

#6 World’s Best Travel Jacket — Hoodie + dinner napkins + stapler

III. Test and Refine

You are never going to be the best judge of your product, so you need to show it to other people and see how they use it. You’ll test and refine both the product you’re making and the way you present it.

This is not a single step. Continue to do this until the day you send specs to your manufacturer.

Here are some groups of people who you should get to test your product:

Every friend’s feedback.

Friends/Acquaintances: They’re biased; don’t believe anything they say. The best way to get feedback from people you know is to watch what they do. Pay attention to where they get confused. If you must ask questions, ask “what DON’T you like?”

Strangers: Do this. If only because they’ll tell you when things suck. Join a Meetup, ask Reddit, do public demos, make cold approaches on the street or in a bar. Watch how people interact with your product without you explaining anything. Film it (ask first). You will quickly find the rough edges.

Industry People: When strangers start liking what you’re doing, reach out to people who know the industry. These can be bloggers, reviewers, other creators, manufacturers, distributors, etc. Anyone who gets back to you will have great feedback that you wouldn’t get otherwise.

IV. Make a List

The one thing you should ask every single person who tests your game is to join your mailing list. Use a simple tool like signupanywhere.com.

This list of people excited about your product will become your most valuable resource.

V. Make it Real

Your product is great. Now figure out everything you need to make it real. Finish the files that the manufacturer needs, the packaging, the instructions, the inserts. What does the design on the box look like? Better yet, how big is the box? How much will it weigh?

VI. Show Me The Money

Still relevant.

Get quotes from everyone that you will need to pay. How much will it cost to make 100 units? 500? 1,000? 10,000?

How much will it cost to ship to the US? International? Hawaii?

Are you sure?

VII. Make a Plan

Take your quotes and put together a business plan. There are two big numbers to figure out:

1. The amount of money you need to make to be able to fulfill all of your Kickstarter orders. This is your Kickstarter goal.

2. The amount of money you need before you will order EXTRA units and continue to market the product after the campaign ends. This should be higher than your Kickstarter goal. Considerations for this level include:

  • How will you accept pre-orders when your campaign ends?
  • Where are you selling your products? Amazon? Your own store?
  • Where are you warehousing your products?
  • Do you really want to keep doing this?

If you’re going to have stretch goals, plan them before you launch. If you start making promises while money is pouring in, you’ll make mistakes.

VIII. Make it Look Nice

Kickstarter is all about trust. Here are ways to earn a potential backer’s trust:

1. Provide quality content, for free, for years. (The Oatmeal)

2. Have a track record of delivering products. (Cool Mini or Not)

3. Already be funded. Nothing says “you can trust me with your money” like a lot of people trusting you with their money.

4. Have positive reviews and recommendations from people who are already trusted.

5. If you don’t have the access or experience for the above, then have an entertaining video. Have a professional web page. Have high attention to detail. When you’re just getting started, this is how you show your ability to execute.

IX. Shuck and Jive

Once your campaign starts, don’t expect to do much else but drive people to the web-page and handle questions. Here are some tips:

1. Answer every message someone sends you through Kickstarter. Respond to questions in the comments by both messaging the asker and posting a public reply.

2. Social media buries posts. I posted 10 times on launch day, but many of my friends missed all of them. Reach out to people directly, ask them to reach out to other people directly.

3. Marketing is most effective in the last few days of your campaign. You can see other people doing this with Facebook ads that say “only 24 hours remaining”.

4. Kickstarter lets you create custom tracking links on your dashboard page that you can use to gauge what outreach methods are working. For example, I’ll know exactly how many backers came to Kickstarter from clicking this link. If that number is big, I’ll make more self-referential marketing meta-jokes in the future.

X. Execute

Just follow the plan you made in step VII. No problems. lol.


Oh, by the way. I’m running a Kickstarter campaign. Check it out.