We made $142,000 on Kickstarter and you can too
Hello! We are the team behind The Contender. We had an idea for a card game, created a Kickstarter page and will soon have a physical product to sell to people around the world. Wait! Does that sound like you? Except you haven’t set up your page yet and you’ve got a million questions? Maybe you just have an idea, and an inspiring story about a bunch of knuckleheads will get you to pull the trigger.
Awesome. We are going to list everything we learned in preparing for, launching and promoting our Kickstarter. The goal here is for you to launch your project with as much of our knowledge in your head as possible. Like Neo downloading Kung Fu into his brain in the Matrix.
With our help you can understand how we raised $142,551 on Kickstarter. In our next email, which you can subscribe to here, we will tell you how we still went into 40,000 in debt, but let’s focus on the fun stuff now.
Before we begin, let’s go over the one thing this email can’t help you with…YOUR PRODUCT
As we detailed in our Kickstarter history, the path to the game we created was a winding one. John and Justin came up with a cool idea. They playtested it with Meg and Faun of Guts & Glory who had very important notes which lead to a complete refocusing on the game. This is all to say that after months of work we were very happy with our product before we launched it.
Everything you are going to read is a flight manual for your project, but you need to have a functioning airplane first. With that, let’s begin.
PLANNING YOUR CAMPAIGN
We wanted a limited number of reward levels that encouraged an impulse buy. We didn’t want to get in our own way. Everyone who visited the KS page should only think “is this cool?” And if the answer is yes, the next and final should be “can I afford it?”
Since we had the wizard design prowess of Guts and Glory on our side it would have been very easy to put awesome, iconic images on any and every manner of souvenirs. Shirts, mugs, etc. However, in the interest of keeping cost down and maximizing our resources we refrained from many physical perks beyond the highest donor levels. Why? Because physical products need to be customized by order and possibly create more expensive shipping. THINK OF THIS STUFF AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. Don’t get caught with your pants down when it comes to postage. Which is probably as good of a time as any to remind you to…
Do your math
If you skip this step, you’re screwed.
By math I mean find a manufacturer and get quotes for everything. We got quotes for 500–20,000 units before the campaign even started. Figure out exactly how much it will be to ship each unit. Now redo your stretch goals because they are impossible to afford and do the math again.
Plan ALL your stretch goals
Stretch goals are built into your campaign. You don’t have to tell people what they all are, but have them ready. When the campaign is live, you will want to spend all of your time getting word out about your campaign. Hastily created stretch goals can end up being extremely expensive and take forever to deliver. For reference, we had stretch goals planned up to $500,000.
You can’t see it from our campaign now, but we rolled tiers out over time. In the beginning, you just had the base game, and the politically incorrect deck. If we barely made our goal, we could produce those, split ~4,000 for our time and walk away. We predicted the percentage of backers who would also back for the expansion, and then didn’t offer that tier until we had enough backers to make it worth it.
If one person backs a tier, you have to do all of the work to make it.
Focus your stretch goals
Keep your stretch goals focused on making you base product better. Adding cards was the best way to make every copy of The Contender better, so all of our goals were about adding more cards. Now we don’t have to make special versions for certain people or collect T-Shirt sizes, and our main game is as good as it can be.
Set a bailout number
You may want to turn your campaign into a business. Well, just meeting your goal won’t do that. You need to do math. Figure out what is the number you need to raise to order another round of inventory after you sell out. If you don’t hit that, fulfill your rewards, pocket the extra, and walk away. Our number was $50,000. That turned out to be terribly optimistic.
Make yourself look good
The current state of Kickstarter is very favorable to campaigns that put effort into a clean presentation. Since most of the layout is standard, you really just have to create a short, polished video and adopt some of the tropes of layout and content.
Don’t undervalue the importance of presentation and design. John and Justin may have started this train down the tracks, but now Guts & Glory owns 33% of The Contender. When everyone has a meaningful stake in the game, everyone’s works to make it as awesome as possible. Justin and John may have a smaller piece of the pie, but it’s a much bigger pie.
Looking Good Part 1: Video
We shot in one day based on a script written by Justin and edited by the rest of the team. Guts & Glory directed the video shooting on a Canon Eos 6D and recorded audio on a RODE boom mic.
We opted for a spare style shooting primarily on one set with an American flag backdrop. This also echoed the awkwardness of political videos in general. We only break format to show an example of game play primarily focusing on people that weren’t otherwise on camera. In our case it was Justin’s wife Ashley and YouTube’s own Brian Brushwood. We also didn’t include a detailed ‘How To Play’ section. The video should be fun, capturing how enjoyable the game is to play, without bogging viewers down in the nitty gritty of the rules.
Guts and Glory did a fantastic job of producing surprising visual cues that gave the video a professional sheen including the Chinatown sparklers (which actually really hurt) and the balloon drop. The video was edited and finalized by Guts and Glory. It was our belief that a KS video is not only how you will be judged by consumers but also by Kickstarter itself. After all, if you couldn’t be bothered to put the attention, time, effort and money into a video why would you suddenly get MORE responsible for your funded project.
Looking Good Part 2: Page Layout
Not everyone is going to watch your video. Sometimes they can’t, sometimes they don’t want to. Your page should have all of the information that is in the video and more.
Keep your look and feel consistent. The artwork you create for your page is the only representation of finished work that potential backers can see. If you half-ass that, then they are justified in assuming you’ll half ass the project you’re creating.
We copied the blueprint of other campaigns we liked. It looks like this:
- Testimonials (Get some)
- Basic Overview
- Story (How much work you’ve put into it already)
- Reward levels (With pretty pictures)
- Stretch Goals
- About the Team (Why we’re great and will do a good job with your money)
- Risks and Challenges
Pick your launch date and time
Remember, day 1 is about momentum. Launch at 8am Eastern Time and get all of your east-coast people to back early. We decided to launch on July 30th. Why? Because Justin was a guest at the Nerdtacular convention and would be on stage five times that day, including in front of the full convention for the big morning panel at 9 a.m. Mountain Time. We hit our initial funding goal of $15,000 within 13 hours, during Justin’s last panel of the day. He was excited.
Remember: Taxes exist. If you can’t spend all of your Kickstarter money before December 31st, you’ll have to pay A LOT of taxes on it. Talk to an accountant.
Remember: Everybody’s making things in October/November to get them on the shelves for Christmas. If your plan includes manufacturing in China, it’s going to take WAY longer leading into the holiday season. Alot more on this in our next email about spending every penny we made and then some.
Plan to become a Kickstarter Staff Pick
Kickstarter wants projects that reflect positively on them. Good video, well written campaign page, interesting story all fall under this category. Kickstarter is a MASSIVE platform for games. Making them proud of our product was a massive boost. John met one of the Kickstarter gang at XOXO and HE thanked US for creating an awesome game on their platform. 51% of our funding came from Kickstarter traffic, and getting Staff Pick was instrumental in that. Funding fast helps to get there, but a polished campaign is more important.
Plan for virality
Lots of Kickstarter base their stretch goals on dollar amounts. This makes sense from a business perspective, the more money you have, the more stuff you can afford. From a backer perspective, it feels like your only option is to increase your pledge. We made all of our goals based on number of backers. Every backer counts, even $1, and all levels benefit from unlocking the stretch goals. This means the only thing backers can do is tell their friends.
Plan to get 100% Funding on Day 1
In order to over-fund a campaign, you have to get momentum fast. Having this as a goal shows just how much work you have to do before you click ‘Go Live’. We already had an audience and connections, and we made sure friends, family and acquaintances knew about the game and were on board to back on day one.
Got all that? Now it’s game time, baby! Let’s get to zero hour!
DURING YOUR CAMPAIGN
Re-do your math
All your guesses from pre-launch were wrong. Also Kickstarter adds shipping costs to your funding total and that threw your stretch goal calculations off. Fortunately, you should have already done the math twice so it will be easy.
People seem to have a problem with this. You are your only employee and your biggest fan. If you’re not going to promote your creation, no one will. Self promote until you feel ashamed of yourself, and then self promote some more.
Some people don’t know how Kickstarter works! They think it’s a sketchy, scrappy, upstart where people’s credit cards and money gets stolen. Let them know that Kickstarter is secure, and they can put as much trust in a project as they’d put it it’s creator ( YOU ).
Sometimes your friends won’t be able, or don’t want to, to back your project. That’s fine! Ask if they’ll tell a couple of their friends about it.
What is important to focus on here is your narrative. Have a story to tell your audience. Believe it or not, getting excitement from friends and family isn’t the hardest part of spreading the word. If you are a good and decent person, people will rally to your cause. No, your biggest hurdle is giving THEM a reason to share your page and share it multiple times.
For example, this narrative can be your tiers (“my friend is only 3 people away from unlocking 50 more cards!”) or it can be your personal story (“my friend just quit his job and now he’s making cards for a living, check it out!”) or it can be something silly (“if this Kickstarter raises $10,000 in one day my friend it going to rap a whole Rick Ross song like Richard Nixon”).
No matter what, think about the Facebook or Twitter post your FRIEND would post about your call to action. Is it different than the last one? Is it compelling? Would YOU click the link?
Also, we totally should have held out for $10k on the Richard Nixon rapping thing, Justin just went and did it for free.
Constantly talk to your backers
Backers have questions, answer them. Backers have ideas, consider them. Talk about your stretch goals and why your backers should tell their friends about the game. Talk about funny things that are happening behind the scenes, just keep talking.
SOME THINGS WE HAD THAT YOU MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE
It’s a pet peeve of ours when mega to semi-famous people write guides like these and don’t acknowledge their advantages going in. So here are a few things that we knew we had going for us.
- Justin’s internet audience. With fairly few exceptions, Justin hadn’t done a retail product Kickstarter and that helped. Justin reaches about 25,000 people weekly on his various podcasts and appearances. This was obviously a huge help. However, it was only a multiplier and it’s debatable how much it multiplied our effort.
- Guts and Glory’s experience. G&G is a respected and busy design firm that also has a reputation for political work. The work they put it was exemplary and professional. Being about to turn over production responsibilities like shooting and editing to them was massive. While you don’t HAVE to work with a design firm, it’s important to note that in our campaign we had one of the best.
- John’s game instinct and number crunching. John did a huge amount of work in our prep to set our levels and tiers. He is relentless and that’s something uncommon. If you are not that person (most artists are not) it would make a TON of sense to bring in someone who is.
- Kickstarter know-how. All us have been part of Kickstarter campaigns before. While we’re trying to be as thorough as possible in this write-up, there is still no substitute for pushing a campaign live and going through it. Remember, if you flub your first try, there is no penalty for cancelling your campaign and trying again.
And that’s it! We raised $142,551 on Kickstarter and you can to. If for some reason you’d like to buy our game you can do it here. Now make sure you come back next week when we tell you how we spent all of it and more.