2 big reasons to cancel your Kickstarter campaign

Launching a Kickstarter campaign is hard, but cancelling one is even harder. Months, even years of work are put into developing your product or idea with the dream that one day you will successfully launch a profitable business around it. Access to funding is crucial and unless you are a millionaire, you need to raise external funds to realise your dream. Having worked on our product for over 4 years, we eventually launched our campaign only to cancel it 36 hours later. Our short-lived campaign had raised over £12,000, so why did we cancel it so quickly? The simple answer to this lies in momentum and metrics.

It is quite common nowadays for people to turn to crowdfunding to get the capital to launch their business, however launching a campaign is a long and arduous process. Fear, anxiety, hope, frustration and pain are all emotions that you will go through before, during and after your campaign, however you can get an idea of how your campaign is faring within the first couple of days. We raised over 8% of our total in 36 hours, however I will outline below the reason we cancelled our first Kickstarter campaign and what we learned from it.

Our ‘big’ idea

Our business is based around getting kids excited about coding and electronics. Standing in the playground on a cold February morning in 2012, waiting to pick our children up from school, Jason and I were reminiscing about the computers we grew up with; the BBC Micro, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC. Looking for ways to get our children started with coding, we were frustrated by the lack of easy to use resources. It was at that point that we conceived the idea for Ada; a computer for kids that could just be plugged into a monitor, turned on and would allow them to start coding and tinkering with electronics using built-in tutorials and bundled components. Despite knowing nothing about design or manufacturing, we put some deadlines in place and forged ahead. With some savings in hand, we knew we could bootstrap the initial development, however would require funds additional funds to manufacture Ada. The funds to manufacture would be raised by running a Kickstarter campaign in July and the first batch would ship by December 2012. With just under a year to achieve this, what could go wrong?

One prototype is not enough

This initial idea was to just make a computer housed in a keyboard, however the more we fleshed it out, the more complicated it became. Before we knew it, we were learning about PCB design, prototyping cases in a variety of materials and writing piles of custom software. Our (by now, patently ludicrous) self-imposed deadline slipped and slipped, but ever the optimists, we charged on, always with the belief that the elusive finishing line was never more than 6 months away. Every prototype we made felt like it was the version that would ship; from the glued sheets of acrylic (rev.1) to the 3-D printed cases (rev. 5). Each completed prototype highlighted new shortcomings, which could only be resolved by iterating and making a new prototype. When that prototype was almost complete, we would tell people the campaign would launch in 2 months, but then another unforeseen obstacle would set us back another six months as we started work on another prototype. Eventually, people stopped asking when we would launch, as all they would hear about were constant delays.

Do it yourself, before paying others to do it for you

Had we known it would take us 5 years to bring Ada to market, we probably would have given up on the idea early on and started a much simpler business. The biggest reason for the delays however, was that Jason and I were both still working full-time in other jobs. I was working as a locum Pharmacist and Jason as a freelance software developer. With bills to pay and a young company to bootstrap, it was impossible for us to cut off our income streams and focus on Ada full-time. Bootstrapping also forced us to have a very hands-on approach; we wouldn’t pay someone to do something we hadn’t at least tried to do ourselves. Outsourcing the hardware development would have cost us around £250,000 and based on the time Jason spent on the software this probably would have cost in excess of £150,000. Not having this money at our disposal was both a blessing and a curse. Although it had delayed our launch, we learnt A LOT. Developing the hardware ourselves and working closely with talented freelancers, we gained in-depth knowledge of materials, CAD design, 3D printing and injection moulding.

Launching without a proper plan will lead to failure

21st of June 2016 was the launch date we decided on, partly out of frustration and partly out of desperation. We had developed Ada as far as we could and the delayed launch was starting to affect our reputation and confidence. The software was good enough to demonstrate and the hardware was pretty much complete and with school holidays fast approaching, it would be a further 6 months if we didn’t launch now.

On the 20th of June, we started reaching out to journalists, bloggers and any other media outlet we thought would be interested in covering our launch. We sent an email to our database, alerting them to our pending launch and asked them to spread the word. Expecting a reasonable level of interest, we waited. And waited. Nobody replied, or showed any interest in our launch. Undeterred, we thought we had enough interested people on our database and enough friends and family to get some initial traction. Our haphazard approach to launching our campaign meant we could only sit and hope for pledges.

Your campaign needs momentum

24 hours into the campaign and with some pledges in place, a few hard truths started to hit home. The biggest realisation for us was that having spent so much time refining the hardware and software, we had failed to communicate with the people who would eventually buy it. Our determination to perfect the product came at the detriment of having any meaningful communication or relationship with our potential backers. You may love your campaign, however without momentum, Kickstarter won’t. Our ‘build it and they will come’ mentality was the wrong approach. Our approach should have been, ‘build it, talk about it, shout about it, keep shouting about it and someone may eventually hear you’. We should have built up a meaningful database by communicating with our existing backers and using other social media channels to sign up more.

Kicktraq is great website for looking at pledge details for completed campaigns, however is a terrible predictor of a live campaign’s potential success. It showed us that with our current momentum, we would raise around £180,000. In reality, the bulk of your pledges need to be made within the first 3 days.

It’s all about the metrics

All of Kickstarter’s successful campaigns have the same following patterns:

If you can raise 70% of your target within 72 hours, you are pretty much guaranteed to succeed. Otherwise, the momentum will die off quickly and the rest of the campaign will be too painful to watch.

If you want to sell 300 units, you need to build a database of 3,000 potential buyers. Only 10% of people on your database will consider your product as a ‘must have’, 50% will have you on their ‘nice to have but can do without’ list and the remainder are only there to watch you succeed or fail. We had only 180 people on our database.

Your campaign is most active during first 3 days and last 2 days. Unless you have a strong marketing campaign to cover the rest of the days, pledges during this period will be minimal.

Don’t rely on family and friends to make your campaign a success

Your friends and family may not know how Kickstarter works, so won’t appreciate the urgency of backing your campaign in the first few days (we had friends asking how to pledge 20 days AFTER we cancelled the campaign). If you have to explain to someone what Kickstarter is, they are not your target market and probably won’t back you.

Communicate, communicate and communicate

Journalists and blogger are not interested in being teased and have no time to investigate your product. They should be contacted early on to get their attention and should be provided with a detailed press pack. A good press pack should contain a professionally written press release, company info, logo and hi-res photos and will increase the chances of your product being written about.

Communicating with your potential backers is even more crucial. Get your product out to Faires, focus groups and in the hands of your target audience early on to get valuable feedback. Redesign and re-iterate based on their feedback to ensure your product meets their needs and requirements and communicate with them regularly to show your progress and to keep them interested. These are the people that will give your campaign the initial momentum it needs, which will then pique the interests of journalists and allow Kickstarter to give it the love it needs.

Having learnt some painful, but valuable lessons, our re-invigorated Kickstarter campaign to bring Ada to life and get youngsters coding will start in Q1 2017.

Register your details at thisisada.com to stay updated with our progress, find out about future blog posts and of course find out when our Kickstarter campaign for Ada goes live.

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