The Do’s and Don’ts of Kickstarter – A Backer’s POV

Well, this has taken longer than I was hoping or planning on to get done. But I have only myself to blame, since I started it 3 different times (besides this one) and kept writing about things I didn’t want to say. I am hoping this time I have narrowed things down enough that I won’t be starting this again and saying I had tried 4 times.

As I mentioned in my last post about Kickstarter, I have never started a project on any crowd sourcing site. I have only backed projects, mostly on Kickstarter. The numbers since that post have changed somewhat. I have now backed 35 projects in 2013, and overall have received 65 complete rewards, 6 partial rewards, and have 35 rewards that are past due. And have backed 20 unsuccessful projects. I’m always disappointed when that number increases.

While I don’t know what it is like to actually create and run a Kickstarter project, I have tons of experience with what does and doesn’t appeal to backers. At least backers like me, other people obviously have other tastes. So let’s take a look at them.

Videos

Kickstarter has lots of numbers about the videos that appear at the top of most project pages and how they can affect a project’s success or failure. I’m not going to argue with them, they have actual data while I am stuck with anecdotal information. And it is my own anecdotes at that.

I almost never look at the video. Partially it is the method I am using to access the site. My phone is small and I am on the go, while my home computer is really old and doesn’t play videos well. So I have probably looked at less than a third of the videos on projects I have backed. And many of them were after backing.

The most important thing about the video is make it good. Kickstarter has good advice in their school about videos. Use it. There have been a few videos that if I had watched them before giving the money, I wouldn’t have pledged. And there was one that was so bad and disjointed, I figured they couldn’t pull off the project and cancelled my pledge. A bad video is much worse than no video.

Rewards

More! More!

This can be really difficult, depending on what your project is. If you are creating a record or a book, offering a digital download for $15 or $20, and a physical reward for a bit more, is pretty easy. But after that, the ability to have lots of tiers of rewards can be tempting. You want to have lots of options, to pull in lots of pledges. You want to give your supporters what they want, because they are helping you succeed in something very important to you. But it is very easy to have too much of a good thing.

The Order of the Stick Reprint Drive was wildly successful. And Rich Burlew (@RichBurlew) added many levels of rewards throughout the project. His supporters kept asking for more, he wanted to reward the immense level of support he was receiving, and keep it going as much as possible. There was a downside to that however. Over 15 months after the end of the Kickstarter, he is still working on fulfilling rewards. With months of work to go before the end. (To be fair, he was slowed drastically by an injury to his drawing hand. But while that added months to the time it has taken him to work on the rewards, it is most likely that he would still not be finished with them, just due to the sheer amount of work involved.)

The Ogre Designer’s Edition project by Steve Jackson Games (@SJGames) had the same sort of mission creep. And so they ended up with a game costing $100, in a 25 pound box. With a launch date almost a year after the scheduled delivery of November 2012. (And it looks beautiful and I can hardly wait for my copy.)

And both projects had tons of stretch goals, which added to their workloads and the size of the projects. It is hard to argue with their success as projects. But the downside is the very long time it has taken them to get rewards to their backers. Their backers are mostly fans, who are more than willing to wait to get what they have been promised, so it is not a large problem.

But it can be. I’ve seen several instances of backers wanting their money back because of a long wait for the promised rewards. They backed because they were interested in a particular reward, not to support someone they were already a fan of. Not getting that reward in a reasonable amount of time (or even an unreasonable amount for some projects) soured them on the whole project.

Less!

On the other extreme there is the Planet Money T-Shirt project. One reward. No stretch goals.  And in the end, they did not have enough rewards. They did not offer enough sizes of the T-shirt, and only had 2 colors. Some of their backers were evidently quite upset about not being able to get what they wanted (I am one of the people who can’t get a shirt in my size, so my niece will be getting a very late birthday present.)

They could have made more people happy with a wider offering, but their project was not really about producing t-shirts. It was about creating stories for their radio show/podcast. And in that, they have been extremely successful. Which has made most of their backers happy, even if they couldn’t get a shirt out of it.

And one of these…

What appears to me to be a growing trend with Kickstarter projects is the adding on of extras. This isn’t new by any means, both the Order of the Stick and Ogre Designer offered add ons. And it is understandable, since it allows the project runners to give their supporters exactly what is wanted, and make more money for the project.

Leaving aside the added work this can make for the project creator, I have found one problem with this trend. It can add huge amounts of complexity to the backing process. It was easy to start with, I found the reward tier that included the reward I wanted and went through the process of backing it.

Now, I have to do that, then look at the various add ons, figure out if any of them are already included in the level I have chosen, then decide if I want to get them and add that money to my pledge. And then I need to let the project runner know what I have chosen, in what ever manner they have decided is best (comment on an update, email, message through Kickstarter, or a third party that is helping with fulfillment), and then hope that all the communications went correctly and they are able to fulfill things correctly.

“UNDER THE SMOGBERRY TREES: The True Story of Dr. Demento” basically just offered all of their rewards as add ons. They created a couple of charts to let backers know exactly how much to add to their pledges to get extras. It worked for them, at least as far as making their goal and keeping their backers happy. How well it will work when it comes time for actually putting together the rewards and sending them out will have to wait.

Personally, the extra complexity is unwelcome, even when it allows me the chance to get something that I want. You really need to balance what you offer as an add on with keeping it easy for people to back you and get what they want. Not an easy needle to thread. And speaking of complexity.

I get what?

It is fun to give the various reward tiers their own names that fit the theme of the project. Goblins: Alternate Realities does just that. If you are familiar with the webcomic the game is based on, the names of the tiers mean something to you. Something else they do is very clearly tell you what is included in the tier, by telling you what earlier tiers are included in it plus what is specific to that tier.

This means that you have to look at each of the earlier tiers in order to figure out exactly what you are getting. But it is easier for the creator than having to relist everything over and over again in each tier. And it helps the backer because everything is spelled out.

One of the problems with lots of add ons and stretch goals is the confusion that can occur about who gets what at which reward tier. This can result in backers not backing what they want, extra time spent by creators and backers both trying to get it all clear, and increased mistakes when sending out rewards.

What’s Going On

Prior Planning Prevents…

Confusion. Chaos. Failure. Unhappy backers. It can never be said enough, because people seem to have a hard time hearing it, you need to plan ahead for your Kickstarter project. I have seen people announce during their project that they forgot to add in shipping costs, so could everyone increase their pledge by $5 or $10? And others that didn’t realize how high shipping could be and ended up losing money instead of making it.

Marian Call (@mariancall) had a very successful project and wrote a blog post about it, including stuff about planning and costing out rewards. She has also said that when she is finished with rewards (almost there) she will be writing more, which is something that you should be on the look out for if you want to so a project. She obviously worked hard and planned as thoroughly as she could, which didn’t eliminate problems during the project, but did help minimize them. And made it easier to deal with them when they happened.

Read the Kickstarter FAQ and the Kickstarter School sections on the website. The information is basic, but is a great starting place. You can also look at the Geeklist How to change a Kickstarter from a Fail to a Win on Board Game Geek. It is focused on game Kickstarters, but it has plenty of basic information good for any project.

Let Me Know

Kickstarter includes a couple of different ways to talk to your backers. Besides the front page, you can send out updates, private or public, or messages, and you can use the Comments page. And you have access to the email addresses of the backers. Use these things to keep people informed.

During a project you want to let backers or prospective backers who have starred your project know about goals that have been set or met. Or about new developments in the project, like a new artist or getting featured in a story on the web someplace. And you especially want to keep them fired up and publicizing the project, to get more backers.

You don’t want to spam them too much, because irritating people is a poor way to get them to give you money. But during the actual run of the project, especially right at the start and the end, most backers will be more forgiving because they want to see goals met, whether the funding goal or stretch goals.

After the end of the project, and the money has been taken, it is even more important to keep communications open with your backers. You don’t want to keep up multiple updates a day, or probably even a week, but you also don’t want to stop talking to them at all.

Even if the update is just “Nothing has been happening, we are waiting to hear back from the printer.” it lets the people who have believed in you know that they haven’t been forgotten. When things are happening, and you have photos or news to share, it is even better. They can see that their rewards are coming, and progress is being made.

And when you have to tell them that the rewards are going to be late (you may not have to do this, but in my experience, the odds are you will, especially if your project is very successful) they will take it better if you are up front about being late and why you will be late. Letting your backers hang with no information is the worst thing you can do.

Only slightly better than that is constantly contacting your backers after the project is over and rewards are delivered. Tell them thanks for everything, then leave them alone. If you do another project, whether a sequel to the first or something new, then you could do an update to the first project to let them know.  But don’t do like one creator did. Every time the sent an update to the second project, they sent it to the first one also. Apparently they thought it might generate interest in people who had backed the first project but not the second. What it really did was irritate everyone that had already backed both projects, since they got every update twice.

And finally

Well that was more wandering than I was hoping. But better than the other attempts, at least I stayed on Kickstarter this time. With luck some of what I wrote will be useful to someone. One last tip. After planning everything out, looking at how long planning and production will be, taking into account shipping times, customs delays, mistakes at the printers and finding a new one, so you know just how far out to set your delivery date, double it. Maybe you won’t be late that way. 😉

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2 Responses to The Do’s and Don’ts of Kickstarter – A Backer’s POV

  1. Nathan Ohle says:

    Tom,

    I love your article. It was very helpful to me. I hope that you will consider backing my kickstarter project at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1579855602/in-the-arena-radio-show.

    Thanks

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