There’s no shortage of articles out there promising a step-by-step guide to running a 6-figure crowd funding campaign. You know the ones. The “How to make $1m on Kickstarter in 10 days!” or “5 easy steps to a $100k campaign” types.
And while the numbers alone in those headlines should be enough to set off alarms, I understand if you still want to believe there are shortcuts to a viral campaign.
Hell, I wanted to believe.
When we started researching for our own Kickstarter campaign for the Unsplash Book, we read most, if not all of them. And after wading through the muck we came out on the other side mostly unscathed with a holistic view of what it takes to plan, build, and launch a successful campaign.
And we’ve seen some incredible successes in the 2 weeks since launching: hitting more than 50% of our $75k goal in less than 48 hours and being selected and featured by the Kickstarter staff.
We’re also getting incredible feedback and comments from a community that until a few days ago didn’t even know we existed.
But getting to this point took time. A lot of time.
By highlighting the advice that has actually worked for us so far, I can hopefully spare you the tedium of having to find reliable sources, and get closer to the actual specifics of what sets certain crowdfunding campaigns apart.
This isn’t a step-by-step guide (because despite what some people will tell you, there really is no way to write one of those for Kickstarter) but rather a curated collection of the best resources available for those looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign and the unique takeaways that make each one of them such powerful and required reading:
The best place to look for advice on how to run a successful campaign is by looking at ones that failed. Which is the best part of what this post by serial crowdfunder Zac Park does.
Zac’s raised almost $3m from multiple projects over the past few years, and while the title of this post is more than a bit click-baity (6 Steps to Launching a $1m Crowdfund), he pretty much sums up everything you need to know about launching a successful campaign from pre-launch press coverage and pre-hype to crafting a sexy video and targeting celebrity and influencer endorsers.
The best advice this article offers, however, is on the ‘why’ of your Kickstarter and the key questions you must answer before launching:
- Who is this project for? (What’s their age, gender, location, hobbies, etc…)
- Where do they spend their time online?
- What is the fastest and most economical way to get in front of them?
But most of all. Will they care enough to do the legwork for you? If not, you need to go back to the drawing board.
“Create something that your target customer will NEED to talk about. I was fooled by the coolness of a product once; it didn’t solve a real problem. And all of the marketing and advertising in the world cannot fix this.”
Tim Ferriss/Mike Del Ponte
Mike Del Ponte of Soma teamed up with Tim Ferris on this post to talk about the unique ways they went about raising almost $150k for their water filtration system. It’s a good read overall, but the most eye-opening information came from when Mike drills down into the specifics of how to get the most results from the least effort in your campaign.
Here’s Mike’s breakdown:
- Find and focus on the 1–3 things that will bring you the most return with the least amount of effort. For Mike’s campaign, they used link tracking to research where their referral traffic was coming from and found that their top referrers were Facebook, Direct traffic, and Twitter. (These are the big-3 that most successful campaigns cite). So they spent all their effort focusing on social media campaigns and blogger outreach.
- Outsource and automate. Mike took a chapter from Tim Ferriss’s The 4-hour Work Week and hired virtual assistants to automate and delegate some of the more labor-intensive jobs, freeing up their time for the more important tasks. We didn’t go this far, but did outsource some of the more menial tasks of gathering emails and research.
- Prep and pick up. Do the work beforehand building and segmenting mailing lists, writing templates, and scheduling as much as possible so when you hit launch it’s a full onslaught of promotion.
Time is your most valuable resource during your campaign. Don’t go after every press contact you can find when you know there are 2–3 that are the most important to your audience.
How do you get an iPhone keyboard to become the most-funded app of all time? It’s all about everything you do before you launch. Like any product launch, you need to build hype around what you’re doing. Test the waters. See the response. Listen to the feedback.
Before we even started planning our campaign for the Unsplash Book we built a dedicated landing page for the Book, gathered almost 3k email addresses and involved the community on everything from selecting the photos in each chapter to choosing the title and cover design. I don’t have the stats to back it up yet, but every time we reach out to this list our pledges rise significantly.
But, as Next Keyboard creator Robleh Jama explains, you need to look outside of your own community as well. Robleh launched a teaser video early on and took it to communities like Reddit, Product Hunt, and Designer News, gathering 5k emails before their campaign even started.
We’re huge fans of the 1,000 true fans theory and utilizing communities like these is a great way to find those flag bearers who will champion your cause throughout the campaign.
For anyone making the leap from digital to physical product, The Great Discontent is an amazing case study of the hard work and dedication (and upfront cost!) that is required to complete a successful campaign.
After receiving 33% of their funding in the first 72 hours, TGD’s campaign slowed to a crawl in what founder Ryan Essmaker describes as “our Kickstarter desert walk”.
They started rethinking and modifying rewards, researching new shipping options, and trying to tap into that initial sprint of success.
Looking at TGD, as well as a number of other campaigns, we found that most see a funding curve similar to this:
The Great Discontent’s funding graph. See that plateau? yikes!
Our first day of the Unsplash Book campaign we raised $21k! Day 2 and we were just shy of halfway to our $75k goal. Day 3? We raised a comparatively measly $2500.
Yet after reading Ryan’s analysis we prepared ourselves for the drop off after the initial rush of funding we saw and have been constantly looking for new and unique ways to keep us fresh in the eyes of Kickstarter.
Ryan’s real talk doesn’t end there, however.
While most of us like to focus on the positives of these campaigns, Ryan was also incredible transparent and forthcoming with what happened after their campaign ended ($5k over budget!).
“Not only did we reinvest all $105k back into the project, but we also threw a large amount of our own money into the pot — and that doesn’t account for the time we spent on it.”
Understand the risks you’re taking by bringing your project to Kickstarter and know that your campaign will need constant attention. Learning from Ryan, we planned our launch around a time where we were freed up from other projects to focus on it for the duration.
Marc Barros raised over $450k for his iPhone camera lens: Moment lens.
Yet, compared to most successful campaign retrospectives which focus mainly on sexy topics like getting major press coverage and stretch goals, Marc digs into the specifics of some of the more ‘boring’ parts of crowdfunding:
- How to craft your story
- The practicalities of making a good video
- How to structure your campaign page
This is probably one of the best overall posts on the universal ‘must haves’ for a successful campaign and is a must-read if you’re thinking of crowdfunding.
For us, the most important and impactful comments were about how to set up your pricing structure for perks:
“Keep it simple, simple, simple. From a creator’s perspective, every new level significantly complicates your ability to deliver. From a backer’s perspective they want the product and they want it for the same price as everyone else. Seeing early bird prices just tells the backer that your product should be cheaper.”
Another tip that stuck with us was on crafting your campaign’s message and deciding when to hit launch:
“The best test is to show your parents. If they understand what you do and how it works, then you are good to go.”
Lastly, Marc published some rare insight into the strength of the Kickstarter community by publicly showing the traffic split between pledges coming from Kickstarter and external sources.
Not all ideas are worth coming to Kickstarter, especially when you factor in how Kickstarter will take 5% of your funding plus card-processing and PayPal fees.
However, Marc’s transparency and openness shows the power of the community Kickstarter has built.
Everyone flaunts Kickstarter’s stat that “projects that have a video succeed at a much higher rate (50% vs. 30%), and tend to raise more money”. And yes, it’s rare to see a project without a video on Kickstarter’s front page.
The fact is that it’s not necessarily that you have a video, but rather that you tell your story.
Your narrative is more important than any camera tricks or production quality.
When it came time to put together our video (which we spent upwards of a month on), we came back to Marc’s retrospective on the Moment Lens campaign.
Here’s his breakdown that we followed:
- Show your inspiration: “Rather than jumping straight into the product details we wanted to first inspire people through beautiful imagery. Using video and pictures we created a series of scenes that showed the diversity of people and the unlimited ways they could use our product.”
- Answer ‘who’ and ‘why’: The story behind who you are as a creator and why you started this mission is what enables people to fall in love with your story.
- The ‘what’: Being succinct is really hard. Rewrite your script and tagline over and over and over until you get it down to the core of what it is. You only get one chance to tell people who you are as clear and simply as possible.
- ‘How’ you’re going to do it: Instill confidence in you and your project. “Both from an engineering and design perspective we wanted people to have confidence in answering the question: Why should I back Moment?”
- The ask: It may be hard to do, but you actually have to ask for help from your viewers. Make this as clear and direct as possible.
The best insight was in crafting a story both visually and through your narrative. We spent 5+ hours going over the script on camera and at least triple that in editing together just the interview portion of our video.
Don’t underestimate the hours and days involved in creating a 2–4 minute video.
Yancey Strickler (Kickstarter’s CEO and co-founder)
Planning on blowing past your funding goal? Good for you! If you’ve read through the above resources you’re probably well aware of stretch goals—perks that are only available once a certain funding milestone has been passed. Yet while many of these massively successful campaigns champion them as key to their success, there’s a reason that Kickstarter doesn’t officially back them:
“All-or-nothing funding is simple and clear: a project has a single goal, and backers support the project in its pursuit of that goal. Stretch goals muddy the waters… expanding a project’s scope can change the creative vision and put the whole project at risk. We’ve seen stretch goals leave some projects overwhelmed, over-budget, and behind schedule.”
“Money gets spent, but a strong community will last forever.”
“What should a creator do if their project is funded with significant time on the clock? The same thing every creator should do: make an unforgettable experience for their backers. Use updates to share the creative process as it happens. Make a connection that goes beyond funding.”
We brainstormed a ton of ideas for stretch goals and in the end decided that we didn’t want to dilute the message of our campaign by including additional complicated reward tiers. If we raise money beyond our goal it will all be pumped back into the project and the people who have contributed to it.
After 5 successful campaigns raising nearly half a million dollars, the founders of Studio Neat put together a list of what to do in those days after you hit launch.
The biggest insight is to look for the tastemakers in your product’s industry and get their backing.
“These individuals are often more influential, in this context, than larger publications like The New York Times. Three cheers for the Internet being the great equalizer.”
Here’s the studio’s breakdown of getting press from these people:
- Identify your industry’s tastemakers: These are probably people you already follow so it shouldn’t be too hard.
- Send them a personalized, direct email: “Keep it short and sweet, but try to convey why you think that writer, specifically, might be interested in your project.”
- Send them a link to any press photos or additional assets you have
- If a writer posts a link to your project, send a short thank you note. These relationships will come in handy in the future.
Your backers most likely didn’t just buy into your product idea, they want to be along for the ride. Next to your video, updates are the most important part of maintaining your project’s momentum.
Did you know the money you raise on Kickstarter counts as income? Because we didn’t. After almost having a serious tax disaster after raising funds for his book project, Glenn Fleishman of The Magazine wrote a compelling piece diving into the realities of your tax situation post-Kickstarter.
While your exact situation will of course be different and unique, this is an important primer for anyone looking to raise a significant amount of money and what your responsibilities will be after the fact. Taxes may seem like a boring subject, but understanding how you will be effected by your campaign is crucial before you start out the gate.
Kickstarter gives you some great insight into who’s coming to your campaign, but if you want to go even deeper and see conversion rates this article from the team at Spellforge Games is probably the simplest step-by-step guide on how to set up Google Analytics on your campaign.
If you use Google Analytics, setting it up on your campaign page will quickly allow you to see:
- Who is coming to your page
- How long they’re spending there
- Where they’re from (which has been amazing for us in realizing we need to research different shipping options for international backers)
- When and how they backed your project
- For the Unsplash Book campaign, we’ve even set up link tracking so that we can track which team member is referring the most traffic to the page.
· Staying motivated throughout your campaign
- You might hit your funding goal in the first 24 hours, or you might be begging for pledges up until the final minute. But no matter what, there will be some dark times during your crowdfunding campaign. They just come with the territory.
- When we hit a bump in the road, here are a few of the posts that we return to time and time again to remind us why we build products in public and rely so heavily on our community:
- Louis C. K.
- The Kickstarter community rallies around causes that are bigger than just making a new product or hitting some arbitrary goal. There needs to be a bigger cause, a bigger purpose, in order to get the support of their creative community.
- Louis’ words on money were probably one of the biggest driving forces behind us launching our campaign:
- “I never viewed money as being ‘my money’ I always saw it as ‘The money.’ It’s a resource. If it pools up around me then it needs to be flushed back out into the system.
- “I learned that money can be a lot of things. It can be something that is hoarded, fought over, protected, stolen and withheld. Or it can be like an energy, fueled by the desire, will, creative interest, need to laugh, of large groups of people. And it can be shuffled and pushed around and pooled together to fuel a common interest.”
- Build and invest in your community. The more you put into it, the more it will give back to you.
- When we openly share our ideas and our work, we all benefit. As Isaac Newton said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
- The reason we came to Kickstarter was to be a part of their community and the greater creative community. This conversation with Sir Ken Robinson is one of the best resources for reminding you why it’s so important to show your work and be a part of the community:
- “Nobody lives in a vacuum. Even people who live on their own — like the solitary poets or solo inventors in their garages — draw from the cultures they’re a part of, from the influence of other people’s minds and achievements… So there’s no doubt in my mind that collaboration, diversity, the exchange of ideas, and building on other people’s achievements are at the heart of the creative process.”
- Be a part of the conversation. When we openly share our ideas and our work, we all benefit.
- · Kickstarter and other crowdfunding communities are amazing places to validate and grow your ideas, but they require a huge amount of upfront work in order to be successful.
- We’re well on our way towards the funding goal of the Unsplash Book, and while we can say that a HUGE part of this is thanks to the community we’ve been building over the past 2.5 years at Unsplash, we can’t downplay the research and upfront legwork we did for our campaign.
- And like Louis C.K. said about money, we wanted to flush this research we’ve done back out into the system.
- So if you’re looking to crowdfund your own product I hope that our work can cut down some of your upfront time investment and get you creating and promoting your idea faster.
- The more we share and work together, the more cool stuff we can make.
- Happy building!