On February 1, 2016 I took my first step into the world of crowd funding by launching my Kickstarter campaign to mass produce galaxy bat plushies. 30 days, 1,182 Backers, and $51,311 later the project ended as a huge success.
Keeping up with that success has been a challenge, though. I've run into issues from supply delays, to manufacturing errors, to a simple lack of time. What started as a fun project to have my best seller mass produced turned into a massive undertaking that took up almost an entire year of my life.
Now that the majority of the orders have been sent out and things are winding down, I've been looking back on my journey and thinking about what I've learned, what I will do differently in the future, and what I will do again.
1. Promote Ahead of Time and Offer Incentives for Early Backers
One thing I did before my Kickstarter even began was to create a Facebook event page. I invited all my friends and promoted it on social media to generate as much hype as I could before the Kickstarter even launched.
To go hand in hand with these efforts, I also offered a limited tier of custom bats. This gave incentive for future backers to join and follow along with the event so they didn't miss out.
The response to the event completely blew me away. Facebook is traditionally one of my worst social media sites in terms of site traffic and audience interaction. My facebook event, however, translated very well into traffic on Kickstarter and the vast majority of my early pledges came from Facebook. I'd estimate around 80% of my traffic was from Facebook during the first week of the campaign. As time went on and other traffic trickled it, it still remained very strongly towards the top of the list.
The limited custom tier also proved to be very popular and sold out within an hour.
I think the combination of advanced promotion and early pledging incentive helped to jumpstart my campaign and reach an early success. I hit 100% funding within 24 hours and doubled my funding within 48 hours. A strong start helped propel the project to the front pages of Kickstarter's most popular projects, which helped greatly in the long run. It was especially helpful since I did not receive a feature or staff pick from Kickstarter. Thus, the popularity of the campaign was the only thing keeping it on front pages and at the top of searches.
2. Make all Images Before the Campaign Starts
My campaign included images of the bats with hand written text as well as hand written headers and diagrams on the campaign page.These images helped the campaign look more professional and less thrown together and they showcased the product well.
I actually planned on many more images than what was shown. I assumed (mistakenly) that I would have plenty of time to make them as I went during the campaign. After all, 30 days is a lot of time.
The reality was that most of the images I planned (such as meters to track the project's funding, or notifications of important milestones) were blown past within the first 24 hours.
If I could go back, I would have all the images created ahead of time. Another thing I would look into was scheduling regular promotional posts ahead of time so they would post right when I wanted to, regardless of what I was doing.
2. Don't Announce Too Many Stretch Goals Ahead of Time
Stretch goals should be just that, goals to reach for beyond your original goal. They should be a stretch, not something easily accomplished. I did my research and I knew what to expect. The average Kickstarter for an artist with a similar following to mine had 100-300 backers and made about $7,000-$11,000 in funding. I planned my stretch goals and rewards accordingly.
The problem was that once I announced them I was committed to them, even though they were very easy goals for my project to reach. By the end of the campaign I was struggling to come up with stretch goals to keep people interested.
If I were to do another Kickstarter, I would start off with a few minor stretch goals, then announce new goals based off my projected funding. I would hold back on announcing what these goals were to allow room for change. I could use "minor" rewards for lower levels, but throw in a "major" reward at points I felt particularly needed a push to get past.
3. Plan for Growth
Which leads to the next lesson I learned the hard way. Plan for growth. Make sure the rewards and stretch goals you offer are as realistic for 1000% funding as they are for 100% funding.
I offered several rewards that were realistic for 100-300 people, but not for 1,000+. I offered holographic stickers, but the holographic adhesive is very limited in supply, which made the task of acquiring it more difficult for me. Another issue was that I planned (and budgeted) to make all pinback buttons by hand. What started as a simple enough idea turned into me making 6,686+ pinback buttons by hand. I spent an entire month making nothing but buttons. This was a time consuming processes. Worse, for a self employed person, this was also a huge drain on my finances as I was not able to work my regular job during that time.
On top of all this, I simply offered too many options for such a large campaign and the problem worsened as I continued to add color variations as stretch goals. Backers could choose between 2 bat options, 2 sticker options, 4 pinback button options, 4 pillow options, and that's not even getting into the custom bat tiers I allowed which had 8+ fabric choices. Then I allowed addons to further customize orders. Finally, I planned on hand writing numbers on each individual adoption certificate as well as offering to write in names and dates when requested. In the end there was hundreds of combinations and I had to keep track of. Yikes.
I created a list of things I will avoid in the future:
- No personalized products
- No handmade products
- Limited combinations
- Limited addons
- No rewards that I cannot guarantee a large supply of
This way if my project grows far beyond my original scope, I am still giving myself a realistic work load.
4. Don't Go Overboard with "Freebies"
Nothing in life, or Kickstarter, is free. Any incentives you choose to offer backers comes out of your budget. I offered "free" stickers, pins, adoption certificates, and postcards. The cost of these items was included in my overall budget, but I did not raise the prices of my individual products accordingly, which was a complete newbie mistake. Each item costs very little on its own, but in the end I spent thousands on freebies that didn't actually add much to my campaign.
If I were to run another Kickstarter I would offer 1 "freebie" such as a pin or sticker as a stretch goal and perhaps a Kickstarter exclusive item such as an adoption certificate with each order. After that I would begin charging more for more little goodies.
5. More Time is Not Always Better
When choosing a campaign length, I hovered between the maximum amount of time and 15 days. In the end I decided on a standard 30 days.
What I didn't know is that all projects slump in the middle of the campaign. After the initial rush, it's very hard to drum up any interest for your project without stretch goals or new products being added. Momentum fizzles out until the end when you get another funding spike as people rush to pledge before it's too late.
With a 30 day campaign, that is a lot of days with nothing happening and you are working the same amount to promote your project, but not making the same headway. A shorter campaign gives a sense of urgency to backers and leaves less down time in the middle.
It would also give people less time to change their minds. Towards the middle of the campaign I had hundreds of cancelled pledges as interest began to die down. Cancelled pledges are perfectly normal, but I don't think I'd have had quite so many if I were able to wrap up the project sooner.
In the past, I don't plan to do a Kickstarter than runs longer than 21 days.
6. Don't Expect the Full Funding Amount
It came as a shock to me when my campaign ended, yet many people who had previously pledged their support did not pay. Several thousand dollars worth of funding never came through at all either due to incorrect information, lack of funds, or other credit card errors.
There are also chargebacks to deal with. I had one backer cancel a very large pledge well after the campaign was over, they had answered the survey and chosen their rewards, and the money was already spent to purchase those rewards. Despite providing all the information I could, I lost the case and had to fund the chargeback out of my own pocket. The worst part is the Kickstarter or Stripe fees you paid on that money initially you don't get back.
So don't rush out to buy things out of pocket right when the campaign ends and assume you'll get the money back later. If your project just barely met its funding, understand that this might leave you underfunded and yet still on the hook for completing your project.
7. Plan for Problems
I had my fair share of problems with the galaxy bat project. The biggest of which was that many of my bats looked nothing like my prototype.
Another problem I ran into was with my post cards and adoption certificates which had jagged, uneven cuts and white lines printed onto the edges.
While these were the only major issues, I also had minor delays. After I already ordered my black fabric for custom bats, I was told it was on backorder. One of my custom printed fabrics was lost when I moved, then misprinted twice before it was finally replaced. The custom fabric for the pillows wasn't able to be delivered, so I had to pick it up myself and arrange for someone with a large enough car to transport it since it wouldn't fit in mine. Finally, like one last blow to my already strained workload, my printer died suddenly in the middle of printing pins. Ouch.
All of this taught me to have a plan in place for a worst case scenerio. While Kickstarter exists to help fund the project, I would not run another without first building up a large rainy day fund to cover broken equipment or damaged products.
I would also give myself more time to allow for delays caused by these problems. I assumed that my bats would arrive in late July and I'd be able to ship them all by the end of August, but that was an unrealistic goal from the start as I can only ship out a maximum of 30 packages a day. Even working every day and sending out a full 30 packages a day, I wouldn't have had enough time. There was absolutely no room in my time frame for the delays I encountered and the only thing that saved me from being several months late with delivery is that many items arrived early.
8. Use Third Party Websites to Organize and Ship Large Projects
There are not enough ways I can sing the praises of Backerkit. It absolutely saved my life when it came to organizing my large, unwieldy Kickstarter project. Between offering hundreds of possible reward combinations, personalized options, and having thousands of backers, I needed something a bit more robust than what Kickstarter offered.
While Backerkit does cost money upfront as well as a portion of the funding, I ended up raising enough on Backerkit from additional addon sales after the campaign ended that it paid for itself (and then some).
The sheer amount of export options available completely blew me away and these were just for one package "group". I had even more options available for manual export.
One of the best features is that each buyer has their own unique link. They can change their order (until it is locked down), update their address (again, until locked down), check their order status, track their package, and more. All from the one page and without involving me. And if they have any issues and submit a support ticket, it routes through Backerkit support before involving me, saving me valuable time..
The only complaint I have about Backerkit is that they offer commercial base pricing, not commercial plus on their shipping labels. It was very, very convenient to print labels through their service, but for international orders it often cost $1-3 more per order.
Since Kickstarter does not offer a shipping option, you must find a good third party to work with.
I personally used Endicia for my postage. While their program was clunky to get used to, their support was excellent. On the other hand, I tried using Stamps.com and ended up in one of those frustrating never ending loops where you cancel your account, they charge you, they claim you never cancelled, you cancel again, and the next month the same charge shows up. Their site was easier to use, but didn't allow you to re-print postage for free if your label didn't print correctly.
While I might sound like a giant ad at this point, I am not being paid, endorsed by, or otherwise affiliated with any of these companies. It's just my honest opinion based off my experience. I can't imagine doing another campaign without Endicia and Backerkit. So don't be afraid to spend a little bit more to get the tools a third party can offer you.
9. Update Regularly
This one should be common sense, but it's surprisingly easy to just forget to keep backers in the loop.My goal is to post an update about once every 10 days. At first I worried that it would seem "spammy" or annoying to my backers. Overwhelmingly, I've received nothing but praise for the frequent updates.
Sometimes all the news I had was bad news, but I knew it was important to keep everyone in the loop. Even if that meant bringing attention to a problem that many people might have never known about if I had kept it to myself. I'd rather buyers hear about issues from me as soon as they occur rather than from hearsay farther down the line.
If anything, I would post more regularly should I run another Kickstarter with weekly updates at a set time and day. Perhaps even a dedicated social media page just for the project, separate from my other business pages so that my non-backer followers don't have to see the updates.
10. Request That Your Backers Share Their Photos
Throughout my campaign I've requested backers share their photos with the hastag #galaxybatinvasion. While this may seem silly, it was greatly beneficial.
Most obviously, it helped me to advertise my business which was critical given that most of my time was spent packing orders and doing customer service for Kickstarter. I did not have time to create my own original content to share on social media to keep my followers active.
Less obviously, it was amazing for my own morale. It's hard to sell online and Kickstarter is not different. You almost always hear back from unhappy customers, but happy customers rarely let you know. The extra boost I got every day from seeing galaxy bats in their new homes really made it all worth it.
There you have it!
Those are what I felt were some of the most important lessons for me. Whether or not I run another campaign is still undecided, but I do know that if I choose to tackle Kickstarter again i will be much more prepared.