The Ultimate Guide to Launching your Education Project on Kickstarter: the CodeSpeak Books Case Study
Earlier this year I started dreaming up CodeSpeak Books, a series of Children’s Picture Books that teach kids ages 2–6+ the fundamentals of coding through fun, interactive stories.
But I wondered, “Are there enough parents/teachers out there who would want this?”
Luckily, Kickstarter is the perfect platform for testing an idea for a new education product.
The structure of this crowdfunding platform enables creators to channel people’s desires to contribute to a cause while essentially being a pre-order system for new products.
The overall strategy that I used was getting my contacts (personal friends and friends of my company, CodeSpeak Labs) to be early backers and then using that momentum to attract other backers, particularly from the Kickstarter community.
Within 8 hours of our launch, we hit our goal. Within a few weeks, we blew past 8x our goal and raised $25K. Everything I did was replicable, and I’ve documented the key steps here.
1. Test a prototype of your product and take pics!
My oldest son Maxwell loves reading, and I repeatedly tested revisions of my prototype with him. The way I could tell if an early draft was good was when my son kept asking me to read it over and over again!
Once the stories passed the Maxwell Repeat Request test, I tested them in our classrooms (I’ve spent the last 2.5 years building a company, CodeSpeak Labs, that runs computer coding classes in schools). Once it was clear that our students loved the book, I wanted to get feedback from strangers — parents and educators with kids who aren’t in a CodeSpeak class.
One of my partners was kind enough to send an email out to their users to ask for beta testers. We hoped to get a dozen people to volunteer and ended up having more than 750 ask for an early copy of one of our stories.
This process both helps you refine the product as well as gather photos and quotes that you can later use as client testimonials for your page and for social media.
For example, one mom in Wichita, Kansas who received the prototype emailed me: “OH MY GOODNESS! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I am in love with this book.”
2. Make a list of SPECIFIC people who you know would order it and line up a bunch of them to order it as soon as possible after launch
If you can’t think of a good number of people who would buy your product, maybe the product doesn’t have enough potential. “Good number” of course is relative to your goal. With a $3K goal and a primary reward tier of $35, I was comfortable with about 30 people I could specifically list, with about 10 people lined up to be a backer as soon I launched.
You want the project to look popular and successful by the time a stranger sees it. Your friends don’t care if there’s $0 raised — in fact, I even had a friend say “I really wanted to be your first backer!” — but a stranger who doesn’t know you only has 2 numbers to look at as a Quality Measure — Amount Raised and % of Goal Reached. Think of it as your Yelp score.
3. Draft your campaign page, including your LOWEST possible goal
I drafted everything in a Google doc so that I could get feedback from lots of people. You want to get your messaging tight — mine is “CodeSpeak Books: Picture Books for Inspiring Little Coders. Fun children’s stories that teach kids (ages 2–6) the foundations of computer coding without needing a device!”
People need to be able to skim the headline and immediately understand what your product is.
For the goal, all the successful Kickstarter creators that I spoke with advised me to set the goal to the lowest possible number I needed to hit in order to make the project happen. People like being on a Winning Team — it’s much better to reach 3x your smaller goal than 30% of your bigger goal, even if it’s the same total amount. And, Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, so if you do not hit your goal, you won’t recoup any of the costs that went into it.
Remember your goal should include the costs of the campaign. One major cost is making a professional video, which is a must. I negotiated with the video production company that I used for 40% of their regular fee, and I agreed to pay more if we hit stretch goals.
4. Tee up all the initial emails and social media posts you’re going to send right at launch, including getting your email lists together
The first few days of a campaign are critical. Some estimates find that on average 28% of the total amount raised comes in the first three days.
Here’s an example Kickstarter Pledges Per Day breakdown from a Trading Card Game.
The first days matter a lot. You want all your launch stuff planned in advance so all you have to do is click send once the time comes.
I first sent an email to my personal friends — literally I pulled my wedding invitation spreadsheet from 6 years ago as a starting point. The message to my friends was basically, “Can you help me make this personal passion project a reality?”
Next, I downloaded all of my contacts from LinkedIn. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn will actually put all of your contacts’ emails in a CSV file for you! (Here’s how). I wanted to be careful with this list, since while I know all these people, I know them from different stages of my career and none of them opted into a mailing list about awesome kids’ books. I sent this group just one email, a couple hours after the launch and after some friends had backed me.
Using these strategies, I hit my goal with a few hours.
5. Make sharing easy, especially for the education community
A couple days in, when we were 70% of the way to our first stretch goal, I asked partner organizations to share it on their social media, giving them example language. We’re a member of the CSforAll Consortium, the national network of CS education providers, and there’s a really active group of us in NYC.
Although I don’t know all the individuals personally, we’re all working toward the same mission. And, because I was able to share that we already surpassed our goal, they had the social proof suggesting that the product I was sharing was legitly awesome.
I used the same example posts and shared them with my backers via Kickstarter Updates. As I mentioned earlier, people love being on a Winning Team, and a lot of Backers want to be a Cheerleader who can be part of your success. I spent a lot of time in the first few days directly thanking people who shared CodeSpeak Books via Facebook and Twitter.
There are a lot of teachers and education organizations on Twitter, so asking people to share is an easy way to get help.
6. Leverage the Kickstarter Community
By the 3rd day of our campaign, we were in the Top 3 of our category (Children’s Books). A week into it, we were chosen as a “Kickstarter Project We Love” and the #1 Project for Kids and the #2 STEM Project. 42% of our backers are directly from Kickstarter referrals, meaning Kickstarter suggested it when people were exploring projects on the platform.
For additional context, the other 2 Kids projects in the Top 3 are Kickstarter Gold projects, which means this is not their first Kickstarter campaign for a new product. They’re already successful companies focused on the campaign product, well beyond my project’s side hustle stage. It’s great company to be in!
How did I do it?
This is mostly based on the Kickstarter algorithm. I am guessing it is pretty comparable to Indiegogo, another crowdfunding platform, which told me it “promotes campaigns, regardless of size and goal… by reading all the activity on your page, which includes traffic, shares, clicks, comments, interaction, etc. As that score grows Indiegogo reciprocates with promotion and better ranking.”
All the work you do getting early backers gets you boosted in the system. Success fuels success.
Another thing that may help is being responsive and active on the Kickstarter platform. I sent several Updates to my backers (you can read them all here), and I immediately replied to Comments.
In addition to the automated algorithm, the Kickstarter editorial team plays an important role. They control curated tags, like STEM, Just for Kids, Art, Games, etc. These can help you get noticed by people who are interested in projects like yours. It’s much easier to become a big fish in a smaller pond.
I originally tweeted the Kickstarter team to try to get tagged but no response; when I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org after having become a Kickstarter Project We Love, I got a fast response.
One last way to leverage the Kickstarter community: I started noticing that on others’ Project Updates, they would list their own Projects We Love at the bottom. Find like-minded people so you can share each other’s projects with your respective backers. I reached out to innovative products for kids, especially those with a STEM bent and other Children’s Books.
You should wait to do this after you’ve already gotten good initial traction from your own networks — fellow Kickstarter Creators need to see the social proof that your product is good.
7. Stretch Goals and Giving Back
Stretch goals are not an official part of the Kickstarter platform but almost every successful project does it when they reach their goal early on. It’s a fun way to offer treats for backers, so that we can collectively celebrate when we hit major milestones. Generally everyone gets the bonus, and as the Creator, you want to give people new updates that motivate them to continue sharing your campaign. Just make sure you don’t come up with ideas that are so onerous that you’re unable to fulfill your rewards on time.
Our first stretch goal perks included (1) Parent & Teacher Guide with Lesson Plans for all backers, and (2) the CodeSpeak team would run an in-person Introduction to Coding workshop for low-income students and bring CodeSpeak Books for the students to take home.
I wanted to offer something that would directly benefit backers as well as something to help the larger community. The nature of Education projects lends itself well to a “Good for the World “ stretch goal; many projects include product donations as part of stretch goals.
You can now order CodeSpeak Books through our Hour of Code Resource Portal!
I’m also happy to write a follow-up post on the campaign if people have further questions. I’d love to hear about what you’re working on, too! You can reach me at jen [at] codespeaklabs.com.