Kickstarter tips from a fan of crowd-funding

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I've been a huge fan of Kickstarter since they launched just two years ago. My friend Andy was one of the first employees, I got to put my money where my mouth is when I became a small investor in the project, and I do run a curated page of all MetaFilter members with Kickstarter projects.

All those disclaimers aside and though I've yet to launch my own Kickstarter project, I wanted to post some tips on having a successful project on Kickstarter from someone that has funded almost 30 projects. These are trends and tips I've noticed in watching a few dozen projects succeed and fail over the last two years.

Have a compelling idea

I know, this is obvious, but it's worth stating that every successful project on Kickstarter starts with a great idea for a thing that no one has seen before and does something cool. You can get every other tip right and still fail if you mess up this core thing.

A compelling idea is unique, it addresses a need that nothing else does, and it helps if it does so in a clever way. Now that can be an iPhone tripod mount or a movie about BMX, but it helps if it adds to the world as being a new form of creativity.

Don't ask for too much, tell us what you need the money for

The number one reason I'd say projects fail is that they ask for too much money. I know product design and manufacturing doesn't come cheap but if you have a small little item you want to produce that will have a final price of maybe $20 or less, don't be surprised when you have trouble raising many tens of thousands of dollars for it.

Whatever you need in terms of money, be sure to explain in as much detail possible how the money will be used and what it will be used for. Sometimes I've seen too-high $ projects get more funding when the creators came back to explain how much equipment was really necessary and what the going rates were.

This applies equally to products as it does to things like film or music production. If you asked a random person on the street if <$5,000 was enough to record and engineer and album in this day and age, I think you'd get agreement. If you said you needed $25,000 to make a record, I think most people would say that is too much. I've seen a lot of film projects ask for upwards of $100,000 for paying a team of editors, but very few of those projects get funded and I think that's because people are used to seeing smaller films done in something like Final Cut or even iMovie and would prefer to see them done for much cheaper.

Structure your rewards carefully

Here's something I've noticed in a few projects: they have a great idea for a cool thing that I want to help fund (mostly because I want one of the things they will produce), and they are asking for a significant amount of money, but their rewards are structured in such a way that you get one of the things they are producing for a small amount of money.

So imagine you were making a thing and you needed $15,000 for it, but if you gave just $10, you got one of the things. You could offer more copies for $30, $50, and $100 pledges, but imagine that a normal person only has use for one of these things. Chances are, you're going to have trouble finding 1,500 people on the internet that want your thing in the month or so you run your Kickstarter campaign. If instead you were giving away the thing at $30, you'd need just 500 people to get you to your goal.

I find I fund most projects in the $20-40 range, which I consider a "what the hell" level equivalent to a single visit to an ATM (your mileage may vary on what you feel comfortable with). Given that level I hit most projects at, I feel a sense of doom for a project when I get a digital download or an item mailed to me for on $5-10. I've funded projects in the $100-500 range when there has been some sort of amazing reward attached to it (either a special edition version of an expensive item produced, a reward with retail value near that amount, or some special acknowledgement of my backing), so try and offer a range of rewards with the "sweet spot" in the $20-40 range. Also, don't forget to offer bigger rewards with more compelling, customized options. The more creative you are on the upper end, the more likely you are to get someone actually giving above and beyond the normal backing amount.

If you are producing an item that will eventually be for sale, by all means offer that item at a reward level slightly below retail. That way, people can not only back your project, they'll get one of your things, and on top of all that, they'll save a few bucks on something they already wanted anyway. It's win-win,-win.

Have a good video

I've watched a lot of Kickstarter project videos and I can definitely say that the better your introduction video, the more likely are to get funded. A good video shows off the product or creative work you intend to produce, explains where the money is going, and offers up some entertainment value. I am I is a great little uncut funny video about a movie production and Allison Weiss did a funny simple video at home that pushed her project to over 350% of her goal. The Loog Guitar video does a great job explaining what the project is about and relates the creator's passion for the project, pushing it over 400% of its goal with the most popular reward level being $150.

Even if you can't be funny or don't even want to be on-screen, just doing a voiceover video of screenshots and/or photos about your project can be enough if you explain what your idea is, what you'll do with the money, and what rewards are available to backers.

Other tips

The Kickstarter blog had a great 2-year anniversary post last week where they compiled stats on all projects to date. There are tons of lessons and tips there, like getting a previous backer to back your project being very important.

I tweeted the other day that I've been getting a steady stream of cool stuff in the mail to the point where it felt like Kickstarter was becoming a store. I've bought a lot of toys and things for my daughter on Kickstarter and the way I do that is by doing to the "Ending Soon" page. These are all projects about to be funded and I'll check that page about once a week and if something is fully funded and they have a cool reward in my "what the hell" pledge level of $20-40, I'll often kick in some money. It also means the month or two campaign time is cut to almost nothing, getting rewards into your mailbox that much faster.

Answer questions quickly and honestly as they get posted to your Kickstarter project. I've seen some project comments/questions languish as the creators were nowhere to be found, while I've seen other project creators relish the ability to keep their project up to date and answer questions quickly and fully when asked by potential backers.

Overall, I'd say if you had a project fail on Kickstarter, the best thing you can do is to try and cut your costs and scope of the project accordingly, and relaunch it. I've seen several projects fail at $10,000+ and come back in a slightly more limited form for less than $5,000 and get funded fully.