For so many reasons, running a Kickstarter campaign is a great way to raise capital to fund your product's production. There's also a good chance that it'll be like working a full-time job while white-knuckling a roller coaster for 30 days—and a brand new business awaits when you step of the ride. Because we've been at the helm of nine successful campaigns (and backed well over a hundred), we thought it might be helpful to share the key lessons we've broadly learned in our experiences on the popular crowd-funding platform.
5 TIPS FOR RUNNING YOUR FIRST KICKSTARTER
1. Pitch the right idea at the right time
It's your due diligence as a designer to do thorough market research: Is there something similar already available? If so, be ready to tell in a hot minute WHY and HOW your product is better. In your pitch, be clear, concise and honest.
Before you launch, to protect your idea you could apply for a provisional patent. And hopefully you've thought of a catchy product name—see if it's already in use as a trademark by doing a TESS search, and consider applying for a trademark.
When you're planning, set your launch date at a time of year that makes sense for your product. If you’re raising funds for your line of swim trunks, do it during peak swimsuit-buying season! Would you buy swim trunks in the dead of winter? While it's true that they won’t ship for a few months, hitting the market with your message when people are primed to make a pre-order means your project is more likely to get Backers on board.
2. Craft your campaign with care
There's a good bit of strategy that can go into calculating your goal, but basically you want to determine what you'll need to raise to meet all of your costs—then add 20% to cover Kickstarter fees and surprise expenses. You'll want to answer questions like: What is the minimum order quantity? What's the cost to get those finished goods into our hands?
Then, let's assume you're gonna be successful—what will it cost to send those goods to your Backers? Estimated shipping fees can either be incorporated into your goal or charged directly to a Backer based on their location (the later is recommended). Also, take into account the cost of mailing supplies and your time to manage fulfillment. OK, that's your break-even number on at least the first order; that's the number you need to make this project happen. In general, we like to "under promise and over deliver."
Once your pricing and goals are calculated, it's time to create your assets. A video is the best way to tell your story to Kickstarter backers, and the objective should simply be to show your product (or prototype) and tell folks how it's going to make their lives better. You can easily spend thousands of dollars creating this, but we've filmed most of ours with an iPhone camera and edited it ourselves. Mind you, we had to watch a few tutorials... but we learned enough to get it done.
3. Build buzz, then keep it fresh
Know your audience and how you’re going to reach them. Perhaps you already have plenty of followers on social media, or a mailing list using a service like Mailchimp or Klaviyo. Reach out to everyone—including friends, family and familiar members of the press. Get everyone excited with some save-the-date teasers, and be sure to give your insiders a special heads-up if you’re offering a limited Early Bird Reward.
You’re likely going to experience some mid-campaign lag. That’s okay, because you’ll plan in advance some exciting updates! Keep the word out there, and keep it fresh. For example, when you add a great new Update with product video demonstration, create a quick video or animated gif to alert folks to the new content. Or maybe well before you hit LAUNCH, you sent some prototypes or early samples to a few key influencers (that was some smart thinkin')—now you can share how they're using your gear! And if your project is featured as a "Staff Favorite," grab a screenshot and humble brag about it so your Backers can share your project with added confidence.
4. Engage with your Backers
Once the campaign goes live, you can add FAQs. You can prepare these ahead of time to answer the usual suspects—like how to pledge for more than one item, how they'll pick which style they want, etc. There’s a good chance you’ll address these questions elsewhere in your campaign, but people will still ask, especially if you have a ton of content in your campaign (a good reason to keep it simple). And don’t assume they know what Kickstarter is and how it works—for instance, that the project will only be funded (and their cards charged) if you reach your goal. You can refer them to Kickstarter's own FAQ for a great introduction.
Your comment board is an open forum so be prepared to hear feedback of all kinds. Questions, comments, suggestions, constructive criticism—it’s all part of the community. It’s a great way to see if your product resonates with the target audience you’re hoping to market to, or if you’re capturing a wider/narrow audience, or if it falls flat—good to know you’ve got more work to do on your idea before going into full-on production!
5. When it's all over, you're just getting started
Goal: achieved! Campaign: ended! But your Kickstarter is far from over, friend—NOW you’re in business and accountable to your Backers! While the platform itself doesn't guarantee a successful project means a successful product, for better or worse, folks think of crowd-funding campaigns as pre-orders for goods, not as seed funding for your dreams (unless you're running a different type of campaign—in which case you're probably finding this post entirely unhelpful).
After your campaign closes, you’ll be sending out a survey to Backers to collect their pledge information, such as item color, shipping address, etc. We had used BackerKit to manage the chaos, but now BackerKit is doing its own crowd-funding thing entirely; instead, check out Kickstarter's PledgeManager for post-campaign follow up and sales. If you have thousands of Backers, complex product options or staggered delivery schedules, this will make things easier on yourself. And if you need more robust logistics and/or plan on running your e-commerce biz afterwards anyway, ShipStation is our favorite way to manage the whole shipping process.
Honestly, posting updates can be the hardest part. You're scrambling to manage a manufacturing team, making decisions about details you hadn't considered, or troubleshooting shipping snafus. If you've backed a crowd-funding campaign before, you might think Creators update you too much or not enough. Everyone and every campaign are different, so use your best judgement. Posts can be long or short, good news or bad news; make them as fun and informative as you want them to be. And don't forget: Social media is great for quick updates! Your instagram Stories are the perfect place for those Backers who crave that extra communication.
Hiccups and surprises are inevitable, but not all are impactful or interesting—share what feels relevant, especially if you can also reassure your Backers with how are you addressing those surprises. Is the product looking how you expected? Is production on schedule? We've found it’s good to be upfront with your Backers in particular about any set-backs that are going to affect the delivery schedule. Keep your community informed of new target dates you’re trying to hit. Backers might not be thrilled it's running late, but transparency is appreciated (expected) and typically met with understanding, especially if it means a better product. Sure you’ll get bonus points for fulfilling a Kickstarter on time, but a rushed product that’s unfinished or defective will certainly make a long-lasting bad impression of your fledgeling brand.
Speaking of transparency, we've even shared screen shots from our TeamGantt schedule.
Wait, am I a business?
Look at you, you did it! Now, how will you keep all this straight over the coming months—or perhaps even years if you've just Kickstarted your small business like we did way back in 2012? Over the years we've been through many different programs trying to manage it all. Some that stand out are Basecamp, Asana, Monday and TeamGantt—find what works best for you.
If you've ordered enough to fulfill all of your pledges and then some (which was our Kickstarter plan) set yourself up to be ready to continue accepting pre-orders by creating a Shopify store, or consider running an InDemand campaign on Indiegogo. And as for finding yourself as the CEO of My New Kickstarted Company—we could write an entire book about small-business adventures! Lucky for you we're too busy running this thing. To sum up:
Provisional Patent Application
DIY Provisional Patent Course
Trademark Search and Application
Mailchimp or Klaviyo
'Crowdfunding for Designers' zine by Craighton Berman
Go straight to the source: Kickstarter's Creator Handbook is informative and entertaining, and they're always making improvements. Whatever your next steps might be, feel free to reach out to us with any questions—and we wish you the best of luck on your launch!