3 Lessons from my first Kickstarter Campaign

Late last month the rest of the Mach 30 board and I launched our first Kickstarter campaign.

Since the goal of the campaign is  to create a SourceForge for Open Source Hardware and I don’t expect there are a ton of open source hardware folks hanging out here* I’m going to skip the “give us money part.”

On the other hand, almost all of you are interested in how to fund the work that drives you, so I’ll focus on the three big lessons we learned from our first attempt at a Kickstarter campaign–as well as a bonus lesson that applies to successful projects of all kinds.

1.  They aren’t kidding about the “project” thing.

Kickstarter is focused on funding projects–projects that have a clear beginning, middle and end.  In most cases they are also looking for some sort of deliverable.  If you are an individual looking for funding for a particular idea, this won’t be a problem, but for nonprofit peeps who often raise money for less concrete purposes it’s a potentially difficult paradigm shift.  If you are able to view that hurdle as a tool to help your organization really focus on what you want to accomplish, the process of developing a Kickstarter campaign will be of great value.  If you are really just looking for diversified funding sources–Kickstarter is probably not a good fit.

Note:  This does not mean Kickstarter is not an option for nonprofit organizations, just that they don’t provide traditional funding.  Nonprofit projects–so long as they meet the rest of the site’s project guidelines are welcome on the site.

2. Give yourself time

All Kickstarter projects require manual approval from Kickstarter staff.  Our project was approved in less than 24 hours, but that’s not always the case.  If your project isn’t well defined, or if your rewards are not concrete enough, it takes extra time to get your project approved.

Also note, if you are raising money for an organization rather than an individual, your Amazon Payments set-up requires you fax a copy of your bank statement.   Amazon verifies these accounts fairly quickly–within 24-48 hours, but it’s not instantaneous like the individual accounts.

Finally, the projects that get funded almost always include a video, so also make sure you give yourself time to produce a compelling one.  Mach 30 is an all volunteer organization, and none of the people currently volunteering have extensive video experience  so, instead of trying to make a dynamic video on a too-short time-frame we used a text-to-video service–with mixed results.

Were we to use Kickstarter again on a more reasonable timeline, we would create a more traditional video using these guidelines.

3. Embrace the “All or Nothing” funding model

This lesson was the biggest surprise for me.  In fact, we almost didn’t use Kickstarter because of the all-or-nothing funding structure.  Now that we are 1/3 of the way through our project–and even though we’ve not yet hit our goal, I’m a believer in this funding model, because it makes it easy for people who are interested in seeing your project succeed, but don’t have a strong connection with you personally to make a pledge.  It’s much less scary to pledge $25 to strangers when you know you will only have to pay if the project generates significant support from others as well.

Bonus Lesson:  Good management can make or break a project

This lesson doesn’t apply to Kickstarter directly, but after helping Mach 30 launch its first campaign, and managing the process of securing our 501(c)3 status, I noticed the main difference between the projects that built momentum and the ones that lose steam was that the successful projects had someone dedicated to managing the work flow and keeping participants motivated.  I also remembered, that I am an amazing project manager.

So before you start your next project make sure there is someone on your team ready and willing to take on the project management role.

Don’t know anyone who fits the bill?  I may be able to help.

Your Turn

If you’ve got advice from your own Kickstarter campaign, or have questions about how to make the most of your first attempt at raising money on the site, please get the conversation going in the comments.

*of course if you are an open source hardware person, you should absolutely click the link and give us money 🙂

14 thoughts on “3 Lessons from my first Kickstarter Campaign

    • edited 5-16-12 to update indiegogo feature link

      Hi Fabian,

      Great question–Kickstarter really isn’t for everyone.

      I really think the all-or-nothing model is a benefit for projects, but if you want a site that has a similar feel to Kickstarter without that requirement, you might try IndieGoGo. I’ve not used the site myself but it looks like they are much more flexible–they can also be used for causes, and other non project based fundraising

      For ongoing fundraising there is Chipin (which I also haven’t used) And Pledgie. There is nothing fancy about Pledgie, but I really do recommend it. The site is simple and straight forward which makes it easy to get a campaign up quickly.

      Finally, if you are new to fundraising and/or just need to raise a little bit of money to get started, check out my free fundraising guide. It includes lots of ideas for small fundraisers, as well as provides a good introduction to the philosophy of raising money which is an important place to start.

      Hope that helps!

  1. Great article!

    My question is this? How can I get “the right” people, or simply, a lot of people to notice my project. The last thing I want to do is spam my social network and annoy everyone. I’ve put out a disclaimer that I’ll be talking about my kickstarter project a lot for the couple of weeks, but outside of that, how do you suggest reaching new eyes? So far I’ve tweeted with hash tags. I’m not sure what else to do.

    I would love to get many people to pledge a small amount instead of gunning for a few people to chuck out a load of cash. Is my approach backwards?

    • Hi Katina,

      Thanks for your questions! The key to spreading the word is find people who care (almost) as much as you do about getting the project funded. That way when you send updates about the project they will **want** to support you both by becoming a project backer and (perhaps more importantly) by spreading the word about the project to their social network. In other words, where do the people most likely to want to read your books hang out on the internet? Atlanta based parenting groups and local artist/writers collectives come to mind for me, but you know your audience better than I.

      When you do share links with your own social network (and you should–don’t worry too much about feeling like a spammer, this is a good project) Ask them to share your project with their friends about twice as often as you ask them to ask for money directly. It’s easier from them to say “yes” to sharing, and in the long run it helps you as much or more than their actual donation.

      Finally once you get 20-30 donors, start posting updates asking your current backers to help you get more backers–remember they won’t be doing it for you–they will be doing it because they really want to read your (newly edited) stories. So don’t use a “please help me” tone–try a “we can only do this by working together, tone”

      Finally, your editor has quite a bit to gain here as well. ask her/him to spread the word about your campaign through his/her social network as well.

      Good luck!!

  2. I’ve backed 4 projects on Kickstarter – all were successfully funded. I was really excited to submit a project idea myself and submitted an application. A couple of days later, I got a very unhelpful rejection letter that just says they don’t think its a good fit – but it’s basically a “form letter” that is unspecific about my particular submission. Could it be the rewards I offered? Is it because my project is too early stage? (I don’t have a working prototype yet) I’ve followed their guidelines and there’s no way to modify or resubmit my submission. My project is a technology/hardware project that is somewhat similar and complimentary in many respects to one of the projects I backed – but it’s still a different product. I wish I could get more specific feedback as to why my project was rejected, but they don’t seem to welcome any discussion – there’s no way to contact them about this.

  3. @John–I don’t work for Kickstarter so I can’t say what the problem was. If you were building something (a product) were you planning to make the plans and designs freely available–i.e. open source? If not, that could be the problem. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience!

  4. Wonderful post, thank you so much for all the great info. I was wondering, after your project gets accepted, does it go up right away or do you pick a date, or how does it work after acceptance? Thank you <3!

    • After you are accepted you can spend as much time as you need finishing your pitch. Once it’s ready, you can hit publish and your clock starts right away. Some of the sections are required so if you try to leave them blank you can run into trouble, but you won’t need to be approved by a person again. Does that help?

      • Maureen, I could hug you right now! Thank you so much for your super-quick reply, yes, this helps immensely! We are trying to get our project together to launch by the beginning of October but I couldn’t find anything on how it worked after acceptance, like a timeline. It’s nice to know that the timeline is in our hands after acceptance. Gratitude, skies full, xoxox, Amanda

  5. I’ve been waiting over a week for my submission to be reviewed. No response at all on any attempt to contact them.

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