Kickstarter Reflections

Last week, the Ei community and I completed a month-long crowdfunding campaign for Leap Kit. The days leading up to the campaign and throughout the month of October were full of twists and turns. This post will be a space to capture and share the lessons learned from leading the campaign. Hopefully, it can be a reference point for you if and when the time comes to launch one of your own.

What kind of campaign? Decide early on what kind of campaign you want to run. For us, we knew we wanted to go with Kickstarter. But, even within that platform, there are a couple of routes to consider:

Option 1: Product Test If you’re just trying to test an idea quickly, set a small goal and short timeline (ie: 2k – 10 days) and launch the campaign without too much effort. Be thoughtful, but leave polish behind for speed.

Option 2: Product Launch If you’re aiming to truly kickstart a product, then build a small team and give yourself 3-4 months to create the campaign and 30(ish) days for the actual Kickstarter.

In general, the notes below are with the Product Launch option in mind:

Pre-Kickstarter

Get the story out there. As soon as you think you might create a Kickstarter, launch a landing page to share the idea and invite people to sign up for email updates. We used Unbounce.com.

This will help you articulate and test the story behind the product while also building your community before launching the campaign. If possible, create your landing page three months before you launch your Kickstarter.

Build a team. Running a crowdfunding campaign totally alone is nearly impossible and may drive you batty. Recruit a few reliable friends or consider hiring a virtual assistant. The main tasks for us included:

  • Writing (Campaign Page, Video Script, Newsletters)
  • Community Management (Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter updates)
  • Press Outreach (influential bloggers, podcasts, news outlets)
  • Financials
  • Video creation

Start sharing behind-the-scenes updates of bringing your idea to life. Begin documenting and sharing the small steps along the way. Make a list of your closest friends, family, advisors, supporters, and the people who sign up on your landing page. You can use Mailchimp or a simple excel doc to manage the list. I called my emails “Sunday Leap Letters,” and sent them every other Sunday during the four months leading up to the campaign. Keep these brief and include helpful information that your friends might be able to apply in their life. A simple outline for these notes could be: Highs – Lows – Learnings – Next Steps

Prototype and test your product before creating your Kickstarter. Kickstarter should be one of your final steps, not your first. Start making simple versions of your product with the resources you have and test it with your friends as soon as possible. Ask them for honest feedback and what value they see in the product within their daily life. Take voracious notes. In our case, the amazing folks at Stanford’s d.school nudged us and invited us to spend time doing this in their space.

Also, if possible, capture the prototypes and conversations on video (camera phone is fine). The footage will help people see a glimpse of what you’re making and how you’re bringing it to life.

Keep the message simple. In the land crowdfunding in general, you need to be authentic with your own story and clear about the value of the product. The second part was especially important for Leap Kit because it needed more explanation than a familiar product like a speaker system or iphone case. In any case, make sure your video and campaign page are remarkably clear about how the customer’s life will be better because of your product.

Also, the video doesn’t need to be over-produced. I’ve even read that the more unpolished videos actually get more views. Personally, I love filmmaking and enjoy getting lost in the process, so I had fun with a few talented friends (Nick Martin Film & Northbound Studios). We made a couple of pieces throughout the campaign (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C). I learned a lot by pushing myself to write and direct a few different ideas, but I don’t think that’s necessary for everyone or for every situation.

Reward Levels Don’t go crazy. 5-7 levels max. I wish I would have done two things differently:

  • Created a small ($5) level from the beginning. We added one later in the month.
  • Created an early-bird level to generate interest quickly.

And, make sure your main level falls somewhere in the middle of your lowest and highest reward.

Aim for a small goal. It’s no secret that 44k was a high goal. At first, it made sense as I did the math for producing 1,000 Leap Kits – a lofty number but one that could create a strong community around the idea. But as soon as I launched it, I realized that I could have flipped my thinking – set a small goal, fund it quickly, and use the month as a success story. That was a tough-lessoned-learned, to say the least.

Thankfully, one of the positive consequences is that it brought our community together. The students, staff and new/old friends rallied. They used Slack to communicate regularly and set times to group-share various bits of content with their communities. It was amazing. Also, the higher goal forced me to explore various ways to improve the messaging around Leap Kit.

Still, the lesson is to set a small goal, reach it quickly, and use that success to invite others.

Bring your community to the starting line. After you submit a project to Kickstarter, their team needs to approve it. This may take 1-2 days. After you are approved, you can hit the launch button anytime.

Before you hit the final “launch” button, take time to rally your community and give them no-brainer ways to share the campaign. For us, this included: + Click-to-Tweet link + A link to launch a pre-written email (learn how to create one here) + A link to Facebook post they could share

For Leap Kit, I wonder if I launched too quickly after getting approved. It may have been beneficial to take a few more days to countdown to a specific launch day/time to make sure everyone knew exactly when we were starting.

Press & Cross promotion The most valuable thing you can do with your campaign is get it in front of as many people as possible. Tim Ferriss has a few great paragraphs about this in his 2012 post about Kickstarter.

Whatever you do, remember: permission is key. If you share lengthy requests with strangers who don’t care about you or your product, it will come across as spammy. That’s not helpful. Trust me. This is why it’s important to find the specific people who care about your idea before you launch and to foster that community (ask for feedback, give them first look at the product, share calls, ask questions, etc).

When reaching out to an entirely new person (or group of people), keep your request clear, brief, and communicate why you thought to reach out to that specific person.

For Leap Kit, the greatest shares were: Product Hunt (Thanks to Jason Zook for posting) Yorokobu (Thanks to Eduardo Vea Kating for the interview) Stanford’s Blog (Thanks to Emi Kolawole for editing & sharing) Chicago Tribune (Thanks Amani Elahi for the intervie!)

We also added a “Hello Bar” to Ei’s Website, which was surprisingly helpful.

Lastly, Kickstarter’s community is wonderfully strong. Backers like backing things. If you can find other campaigns who are rolling at the same time as yours, consider reaching out to them and suggesting a cross-promotion. This simply means that you’ll include their campaign as a PS in one of your updates to your backers. They’ll do the same with yours.

Roll out new content throughout the campaign. Throughout October, we regularly released new photos, videos, and blog posts. This helped with spreading the message without simply saying “Back our Kickstarter.” Communicating ideas, concepts, and research around the product shows that you’re trying to build something valuable…not that you just need money.

Put your computer away. Seriously. In order to stay healthy, find other things to occupy your time that has nothing to do with a screen. Increase your workout regiment, pickup flyfishing, ride your bike often, etc. Slot time for working on the campaign and then leave your computer behind. During the very last week of the campaign, the Ei staff, students, and community even let me take a trip to Patagonia that I’d been planning for months. I was actually in the mountains on the final day and didn’t know the final result of the campaign until two days after it was complete.

Of course, that was a unique situation, but it was a reminder that good ideas don’t revolve around just one person. You can (and should) step away at times.

Whatever happens, remember… Life is much bigger than one product or idea. Do your research, do the hard work of putting your best possible work into the world, press the launch button, and reflect on what you learn along the way. Then, keep going.

Thank you! If you’re reading this, you probably took the time to participate in some fashion. Thank you for watching the video, sharing feedback and backing Leap Kit. If you’re interested, there’s still time to place an order before we produce our first batch. And, if you took part in the campaign or if you watched it unfold, feel free to message me with any other reflections you think I should include in this post.

As for me, it’s back to working with the team to making you the best kit we can.

Thanks again, v

ps: If you’re seriously considering launching a crowdfunding campaign, you should read everything you can by my good friend Clay Hebert. He’s a pro in this space.