Overview and lessons learned from running my third Kickstarter campaign
My Kickstarter campaign for my third book, Hello Web Design, wrapped up about a month ago, raising $22,362. Not bad!
This is my third Kickstarter (previously: Hello Web App, Hello Web App: Intermediate Concepts) and over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about running Kickstarter campaigns that apply to any Kickstarter campaign, not just books.
- No matter how well your Kickstarter is doing, it’s going to be 30 days of stress.
- A good rule of thumb: Set your minimum to half (or less) of what you actually would like to raise.
- Make a weekly plan for your marketing and outreach efforts throughout the campaign.
- Somewhat successful for me: Book speaking events during the campaign.
- Don’t run a Kickstarter campaign without a video.
- Prep, prep, prep before you launch your campaign.
- Schedule self-care for after the campaign ends — you deserve it.
These points, more in depth:
No matter how well your Kickstarter is doing, it’s going to be 30 days of stress.
During the 30 days of my Kickstarter campaign, my Fitbit’s resting heart rate steadily increased. I knew I was stressed and it’s interesting to have an actual physical metric confirm it.
Running a Kickstarter is stressful. Backer emails are addicting, and you’re primed during the first week of the campaign to expect a constant influx of pledge emails. You’re trained to check your email every hour to see if any new folks have backed (and getting stressed when you haven’t gotten a backer).
Kickstarter campaigns aren’t a “set it and forget it” kind of fundraising. Clear your schedule, schedule self-care, and go into it knowing that it’ll be a stressful and hectic time.
A good rule of thumb: Set your minimum to half (or less) of what you actually would like to raise.
My Kickstarter’s minimum was $15,000, which tells you that I was really aiming for $30,000. So while my campaign looks wildly successful, it actually hit less than I was aiming for.
A couple reasons why you should aim your campaign for less than you want:
- With Kickstarter, you don’t get your cash unless you hit your minimum, so it would suck to raise less than you hoped and not get anything.
- A lot of folks will only jump on already-successful campaigns, so by setting your minimum lower, you can psychologically induce more folks to pledge.
This leads to quite a few frustrating conversations. I emailed a lot of folks to ask about shares or additional support, and a lot of those emails came back, “Oh, don’t think I can help, but looks like you already raised enough so great job!” It’s hard to explain to outside folks that, yes, I hit my minimum, but I still need more help.
Of course, make sure your minimum is still a viable amount in case you only barely make that amount. $15,000 for me would mean making some cuts in hiring external editors and designers but still enough for me to develop and publish the book.
Make a weekly plan for your marketing and outreach efforts throughout the campaign.
A typical four-week campaign looks like this:
- First week: Excitement! So many backers! This is when your friends, family, and supporters all pile on and your campaign gets a big initial boost.
- Second week: Things start tapering off. Still have some excitement, but the “easy” pledges have already come in and it’s time to start finding folks who haven’t heard of you to back your campaign.
- Third week: The doldrums. Pledges drastically slow down.
- Fourth week: Things get exciting again! The campaign is almost done, and pledges will start coming in again from folks waiting until the last possible moment as well as being featured in Kickstarter’s “ending soon” list.
Which means as a Kickstarter creator, the second and third weeks are going to be the most depressing and stressful weeks.
Knowing the above, I created a marketing document that takes the typical Kickstarter schedule in mind so I can schedule marketing efforts in the appropriate week to keep my motivation up and do marketing tactics in the most effective week. In a nutshell:
- Week one, get the word out to friends, family, and supporters. Announce campaign on personal and book email newsletters. Schedule social media, write blog posts on personal and book blogs. Add Twitter cards to Twitter accounts. Add announcement bars to websites.
- Week two, widen the net to supportive communities. Message backers of previous campaigns. Post related blog posts on Medium. Email tech- and women-in-tech email lists. Email conferences I spoke at and ask them to tweet the campaign. Pay for ads on relevant communities (I did Reddit and Write the Docs). Make Hello Web App (my programming book) free to read online as a promotion for Hello Web Design.
- Week three, miscellaneous marketing tasks. Do an AMA on Reddit. Research and ask friends with large Twitter followings to share the Kickstarter campaign. Share Medium articles on Hacker News and Reddit.
- Week four, ride the campaign-ending wave. Marketing tasks from before should continue through this week. Wrap up the campaign.
Scheduling marketing efforts by week helped me from feeling overwhelmed, especially in the first very exciting, very distracting week. Moving specific marketing tasks to the second and third weeks meant I could keep up momentum during the slower parts of the campaign — also keeping myself focused on specific things to do to avoid feeling depressed when the campaign naturally slows down.
Somewhat successful for me: Book speaking events during the campaign.
I love public speaking, and since I have a very successful conference talk (“Design for Non-Designers”) that inspired my upcoming book, I thought it would make good marketing sense to pitch the talk to private companies for internal or co-branded events.
Ideally, I was hoping those companies would help me pay for airfare, so I could go to different cities during my campaign and bug folks in person, not to mention being able to tell my story and promote the Kickstarter on stage at different events.
I made my goal a speaking event in Toronto (where I live), New York City, and San Francisco. I prepped for this by making a list of every company I thought would be interested and I have a personal connection to, and I started emailing these companies before the campaign to see if they were interested. I ended up with one “corporate” talk in each city.
An overview of how well these events went:
- Toronto, internal event at PagerDuty. Went great, but definitely helped that I didn’t need to book travel — their office is literally a block away from my condo. The PagerDuty folks were great, supported my campaign, even gave me a review of my talk from the attendees afterward.
- New York City, internal event at Buzzfeed. This event turned out a lot smaller than I hoped, a small conference room. No compensation for my time or lunch that day (as I spoke at 11am, was kind of hoping to get a meal out of it.) No campaign pledges. I regretted spending the amount of money on Airbnb + flights, and thankfully was able to book a last minute talk with NYC Python’s event that meant my NYC trip was more cost effective.
- San Francisco, public event with Stripe. Stripe hosted an evening public event featuring my talk — my first time ever “headlining” an event. I love the Stripe folks, and they were wonderful hosts (and I got dinner after!) Pretty sure I was able to score a few pledges from the audience. I wasn’t compensated for my flights, but I think the event was worth paying to fly in for.
I want to be clear that I am very happy that I had the opportunity to speak at these companies. However, I should have only combined speaking and travel during the stressful campaign only if I absolutely knew beforehand that things would go in my favor. I should have tried harder to get travel compensation, or guaranteed a comped meal, or guaranteed a pledge before I spoke, not after.
Overall, it was a great learning experience but if I did speaking events during the Kickstarter campaign, I would do it differently so I don’t completely overwhelm myself.
Don’t run a Kickstarter campaign without a video.
I’m lucky that one of my oldest friends is a videographer, so I get a pretty great rate for a video plus a pretty awesome day of hanging out with one of my besties. Check out the bloopers at the end of the video. Hire her, she’s awesome.
I have gotten quite a few questions from folks thinking about running a Kickstarter campaign, hoping they don’t need to have a video.
If you want to look like you’re taking the campaign seriously, have a video.
In terms of costs, videos aren’t cheap. I hesitate to give my rate as I get a deal from my friend, but a video from a professional videographer will cost at least a couple thousand dollars. Some videographers will forgo a fee for a percentage of the campaign raised — I haven’t used that kind of deal myself so I am not sure how effective it would be. You can create a video yourself but if you’re hoping to raise over $10,000, I would recommend a professionally-made video.
Prep, prep, prep before you launch your campaign.
I started working on my plan for the campaign in August 2016, planning to launch the campaign in November 2016 (videoing in September, which was the piece that took the most amount of time.) Due to the holidays and the US presidential election, I punted the campaign start time to January 2017.
You can share your Kickstarter page with others for review before launch. Use this feature to get as much feedback and advice from others. All in all, I probably spent a month overall nitpicking over my copy, planning my rewards, and making my marketing plan.
Also, solicit some campaign pledges before the campaign launches. I was able to get email commitments for a large amount of money from a few folks, and was able to schedule their campaign pledges for middle of the campaign to make the campaign look more active during the doldrums.
If you’re running your first campaign, getting pledge agreements upfront can also validate your campaign idea before actually launching the campaign.
Schedule self-care for after the campaign ends — you deserve it.
I was lucky to be invited to speak at PyCaribbean in San Juan, Puerto Rico right when my campaign ended. Nothing quite like chilling on a tropical beach in February to reward oneself with a job well done.
A few other tips can be found in my first post about building and launching the Hello Web App Kickstarter campaign here.
Any questions? Feel free to send me a message on Twitter or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org — I’ll do my best to respond.
Interested in the upcoming Hello Web Design? I’m teaching design concepts, fundamentals, and shortcuts, aimed at anyone who isn’t a designer and wants to become stronger in design. Sign up for news and be notified when the pre-order campaign launches by signing up for the newsletter here.
Thanks friends, hope this helps!