Running a KickStarter Part 2

(More from guest columnist Hannah Lipsky of Chaotic Shiny!  She just finished her Kickstarter from this post, and is going to tell us what we learned).

One third. That’s the magical number that represents the biggest thing I learned about running a successful KickStarter campaign. One third.

One third is the portion of my backers that found my project via KickStarter. The rest – well over a hundred people – found my project via other means.

Why is this such a big deal? Because KickStarter is sometimes considered an “if you build it, they will come” type of platform. Create a slick-looking project, make a spiffy video, carefully calibrate your rewards levels, launch the project, and then sit back and watch the pledges roll in. Post an update now and then to keep your backers in the loop.

But if you do this, you’ll watch in amazement as other projects soar past yours in funding while you receive only a trickle of pledges. Because while KickStarter is an excellent platform, it is up to you to get the word out about your project.

Of course, this wasn’t the only thing I learned over the course of the project.

Where Did Everyone Come From?

Shortly after launching the project, I emailed a number of bloggers that have reviewed my products before. Some of them made posts about my project. What was even more exciting was that some bloggers I never before talked to also made posts about the Tavern Cards. Lesson learned – do the work, make connections, and unexpected gifts might come your way.

A very large number of backers also came via the Chaotic Shiny Productions newsletter. These were people who knew my site, knew my products, and were excited about what I was doing next. A full third of the pledges on the first day came via the newsletter, and that boost helped encourage others to pledge. Don’t have an existing fan base? You can make KickStarter work, but it will be much more difficult.

What about the backers from KickStarter? Many found the project using a time-based search, looking at either recently started or soon-to-end projects. More than I expected found the project by searching for keywords, but unfortunately I don’t know which ones. Category search for tabletop games yielded a relatively small percentage of backers, which surprised me.

How Wrong Was My Extensive Math?

Not very wrong, luckily! But not perfect. It’s still possible that I royally screwed upon shipping estimation, but there are two things I already know I got wrong.

The first mistake was fees. I thought all the transactions would go through Amazon Payments at once, leaving me with a 3% fee. Instead, they went through individually, triggering fees that varied from 3% to 10% and averaged at around 6% for the most common pledge level. Ouch.

The second mistake was failed pledges. I lucked out, with only 2% of pledges failing to come through. That’s a lot better than many projects I’ve heard about. Next time, I’ll assume that at least that many pledges fail to go through when I’m calculating my numbers.

Fortunately, my project was over-funded enough that the failed pledges didn’t matter much, and enough of the more efficient goals were pledged to that the extra fees didn’t sink me.

Are Updates Important?

I think so, but I have no certain way of knowing. Were backers more likely to increase their pledges or suggest the project to their friends because I had a lot of interesting updates with math and art? I don’t know.

But I do know the Tavern Cards ended up better because of backer interaction. A number of backers didn’t like the border, so my artist and I worked up a new version based on their suggestions. Another round of suggestions later and we had two final versions which we let the backers vote on.

I’m much happier with the border we ended up with than with the original, and I think everyone else will be too. The lesson learned here is that updates aren’t about the money, they’re about the final product. Sure, it’s important to keep enthusiasm up, but it’s even more important to have the coolest product you can, and your backers can help.

What Did I Learn?

KickStarters are a lot of work. You do work before, researching, preparing your product, writing up your story. You do work during, getting the word out to fans and bloggers, answering questions, and interacting with backers. You do work afterwards, updating backers, creating the actual product, and corresponding with anyone who pledged for personalized rewards.

KickStarters are also a lot of fun! You get to watch in real time as both fans and complete strangers pledge money towards your vision. You get suggestions and comments and compliments from all directions. You get to obsessively refresh little graph widgets to follower where the pledges are coming from and what the average amount is.

If I were to run another KickStarter, there’s a few things I’d do differently. Mostly, I’d incorporate the one third number into my math for how many backers I thought I could get, I’d allow more wiggle room for fees and dropped pledges, and I’d allow more time for advertising.

Would I recommend KickStarter as a platform to anyone who has a cool project they want to bring to life? Most definitely.