1000% Funded: 10 Kickstarter Tips from a Beginner Who Interviewed the Experts
I recently launched my first Kickstarter campaign (a parenting book+app called “Superpower Your Kids: A Professor’s Guide to Teaching Your Kids Everything in Just 15 Minutes a Day”). This campaign has been a big success by my humble standards (200% funded on day one, 1000% funded in the first week), though the total is modest by Kickstarter standards. Fair enough, a parenting book isn’t exactly catnip for Kickstarter fans. But I learned an enormous amount during the process, because I approached it as I approach any new project — as a researcher whose job is to “translate” the complicated stuff into a format accessible to all. I’m a professor of art history, and I do this for my students. I’m a best-selling author, and I do this for my readers. I’m a TV presenter, and I do this for viewers. I’m a columnist (for The Guardian, the Washington Post and, of course, Medium, among other venues) and I do this for each article. And so, if I’m good at anything, it’s taking in a huge amount of information from a wide variety of sources, pulling out the core, most valuable aspects of it, and presenting them in a clear (and hopefully engaging) way.
After several months of research into successful Kickstarter campaigns, before launching my own, here are ten tips for when you start your own campaign. These were thoroughly researched through reading but also interviewing established experts, particularly heads of PR agencies that focus on crowd-funding. The tips will be useful for Kickstarter, Indiegogo or your choice of crowdfunding system. May they bring you good things in your own campaigns!
1. Work with a PR Agency on the Live Campaign Promotion
Campaigns rarely do well without a crowdfunding PR agency for at least the live campaign promotion (which mostly involves very carefully-calculated Facebook ads). The likes of Goat Story (a goat horn-shaped travel mug) and Zen Egg (a wooden egg fidget gadget) are some exceptions to the rule, but it’s a dangerous game to go it alone. PR agencies will sometimes work for a percentage of sales that they drive to your campaign (usually 15%), with no flat fee. This means that anyone can work with them, but you have to have a great campaign page already — they decide whether or not to work with you based on looking at your preview. You don’t need to hire them to help from start to finish — that’s good but expensive — but you really want specialists to run ads for you.
2. The Final Amount Raised Does Not Indicate the Total Income
So you’ve raised $100,000? That sounds impressive and it is. But that does not mean that you have $100,000 in your pocket. Kickstarter takes a 5% fee. Credit card companies take around 3%. If you work with a PR Agency, 15% of the income their ads bring to your campaign goes to them. Around 10–20% of the money for most campaigns goes to pay for ads. So you’re only getting around 60–80% of the total raised. Then you have to invest some of the money into actually producing and sending off the product. In the end, if you end up with a profit of around 20–30% of the total raised that’s considered pretty good.
3. Change Things as You Go
Your work isn’t done on launch day. You can change a lot of elements of the campaign as you go, adding rewards and, most importantly, changing the category around. By some estimates as much as 70-80% of traffic comes from organic browsing — people enjoy browsing Kickstarter and find projects that way. So you can try out your campaign in several categories to see what gets the most attention (it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t “match” the category). My campaign is for a book + app. It should go into the Publishing category, but very few people browse there. Kickstarter is known for Design, Games and Technology and that’s where the most eyes are. I’ve bounced around in various categories and, so far, Games-Toys seems to have worked best. But you should experiment.
4. Use Minimal Text but Lots of Images, Gifs, Videos, Infographics
Most people just scan campaigns. They watch the video and skim the rest. Their eyes are drawn to images and infographics that visually explain the product. We humans are lazy and only around 10–20% of people actually bother reading all the text. If you can tell your story, and what your product does, with pictures they are worth a thousand words.
5. Load Up on Publicity the First Two Days
Line up as much publicity and as many backers as you can in the first 48 hours. If you pass your target within 48 hours, Kickstarter’s algorithm considers you “trending” and will promote you themselves, in their own newsletter and higher up on their pages. Statistically, less than 30% of all campaigns meet their goal, so if you can’t pass your target in the first two days, then it is unlikely to succeed.
The best of all is if you can arrange for some high-profile media coverage, or at least coverage on blogs, and coordinate them for the first two days. This is very tricky to do, and requires organization, luck and calling in favors. But it’s the way campaigns start big. The more expensive and expansive PR agencies will help you do this, maintaining relationships with magazines that really bring clicks (Upworthy, Mashable, Tech Crunch, Forbes, Business Insider, Cool Material, Uncrate, Inc, Fast Company — these get the most eyes and cover what Kickstarter is famous for, tech and design) and loading up with pre-campaign mailing lists, websites, and more.
6. Aim Low, Hope for High
This last fact means that you should choose the lowest target that you can and still fulfill the promise of the campaign. Campaigns usually either fail altogether or they make far more than their target. Backers like projects that have surpassed their target. They see it as a trending, popular thing and want to jump onboard. I wanted to set my target at $1 but was advised that this was too low and looked like a gimmick. Instead I chose $1515 — which was as low as I could without making it sound like a gimmick. In fact all campaigns have the public goal and the actual, secret fantasy goal.
7. The First 15 Seconds of the Video are Key
Studies show that most people will only watch the first 15 seconds of your video. A much smaller percentage watch the whole thing. So be sure that everything you want to convey about your product appears in brief in those first 15 seconds. (Here’s the video I made). For making videos, I worked with Ezav Mrgole, whom I’d recommend.
8. Prepare at Least 10 High-Resolution Images and an Extra Video
PR companies will need a variety of photos to promote with (and you will, too). They usually ask for at least 10 good photos — of the product and “lifestyle” shots of people using the product. You can also make short videos that are basically slide shows with text added to promote — try free Lumen5 online software to do this. (Here is what I made using the software). You’ll want variety not only in potential ad targets, but also in what you feature.
9. Use Alternative Promotion Agencies and Methods
Live ad campaigns are most important, but there are all sorts of companies out there, some as small as a single person, some effective, some sometimes effective, some scams, and it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. To know which are most likely to be helpful (as none can guarantee backers, just increase visibility), ask campaigns they worked with in the past for their opinions. I had good luck with BackerClub and Backers Info. BackerClub is one of the firms that maintains email lists of “super backers” (some 20,000 of them) who have backed over 100 campaigns and enjoy getting updates on what’s new and exciting. Backers Info is a multifaceted promotional agency which does a variety of outreach approaches (direct email to 6000 “super backers,” outreach to relevant journalists, social media promotions and more). I particularly liked Backers Info because they were highly communicative and transparent. They showed me their lists of super backers, showed me each message template and social media posting for approval and to get my input, and talked me through each step of the process. Few agencies do that, preferring to remain mysterious influencers. Amy from Backers Info and Matt from BackerClub responded quickly to emails and went above and beyond what I’d expected. Many other options feel far more automated, do their thing (which may be effective), but otherwise want you to leave them alone. It’s like doing business with a robot, and even if the robot gets you more eyes on your campaign, it feels good to have that human dialogue.
When you use various sources for promotion, use the Kickstarter dashboard to generate a different, unique URL link to your campaign page for each. This lets you track exactly how many backers came to you from each source, so you can see which were most effective.
10. Master Facebook Ads
Facebook/Instagram ads are the key to success beyond your own personal outreach. It’s easiest to rely on a PR firm to handle these for you, but if you try yourself, here’s the trick. Set up a variety of target audiences. Experiment with several ad images or videos and various target audiences. Put just a little money, say $10 each, into a lot of varied ad sets. You might try 20 ad sets, each running for 1 day, each for a different audience. See which result in clicks. Those that don’t, eliminate. Put more money into those that do, and then try more, different ones until you find your most successful ads. This is fiddly and time-consuming, but it works. Aim for a return on investment of at least $3 for every $1 you put into ads — that’s considered solid but nothing to write home about. The best ad sets will return $10 for every $1 you put in. Or, if this feels too complicated, work with a firm. (If you’re curious which firm I chose to work with, browse to the bottom of my campaign page).
Your PR agency (or you, if you’re feeling plucky), will want to come up with dozens of ad sets, each with different target audiences, lead images and tag lines. Since my project is aimed at parents of kids age 3–12, I might go with parents aged 30–40 who live in cities or suburbs and have listed among their interests “Montessori,” “Waldorf,” “homeschooling” and similar clues that they are interested in early childhood education and are proactive about it. I might try one set in Cleveland, one in Wichita, one in Miami, one in Burlington, one in London and see which catch on. After one day, eliminate any that do not, and put more money into those that do. If none are rockin’ it, try more various targets.
Keep in mind that a good conversion rate is 3%. That means that for every 100 people who click on an ad, it’s pretty good if just 3 of them actually back your project. That sounds bleak, but it’s worth keeping in mind. You can then calculate your ad budget backwards and figure out what is most cost-effective and beneficial to you. First you figure out your average profit per backer (price of the reward minus shipping and manufacture cost). Then you can calculate the conversion cost. A good ROI (return on investment) for ad spend is 6–10 (meaning for every $1 you spend on ads, you generate $6–10 through buyers who clicked on that ad). Most agencies considering 1:3 to be the lowest ROI that is acceptable (otherwise you risk losing money with ad spend outpacing income).
Now all this is very helpful…in theory. There’s an element of luck involved, and I have no idea how well my little campaign will do. But it’s always best to be informed and work wisely. Good luck!
If you enjoyed this, you might also like Noah’s other articles on crowdfunding, including this one.