I had the opportunity to attend the Kickstarter Project Jam at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Saturday, May 18. It turned out to be time well spent in a variety of ways.
Once most of the 50-or-so attendees had arrived, the Jam started with some introductory words from our moderators, Aurora Thornhill (@spacehurricanes) and Leland Rechis (@leland), both from Kickstarter’s New York City headquarters. Though this was apparently one of five inaugural Project Jams happening that day, both Aurora and Leland did an effective job of running the show. And their knowledge of and passion for Kickstarter were obvious.
They then proceeded to host a panel discussion featuring four successful Kickstarter project creators:
- Robin Sloan (@robinsloan) of Robin writes a book (and you get a copy) (Publishing- Fiction, $13,942 raised / $3,500 goal)
- Carin Agiman (@carinagiman) of Geltfiend Chanukuh Sweaters (Fashion, $20,884 / $20,000)
- Jessie Phillips Andersen of Wobble Bowls (Design, $42,384 / $10,000)
- Shandy Brown (@boardcrafting) of Boardcrafting (Games – Tabletop Games, $44,721 / $8,000)
The whole group then created an ad hoc pseudo-project of its own in order to illustrate the project registration process and give attendees a chance to ask questions. Our project ended up being a pretty funny breakdancing baby performance, for which we targeted $500,000 as our goal.
Following a pizza and soda lunch, we separated into three groups of about 10 each (we had some attrition along the way) for breakout sessions focused on buzz, video, and rewards.
The day wrapped up with a chance for attendees to present their projects to the group for feedback, followed by drinks at a local bar. A few days later, the Kickstarter team established a private Facebook group for those of us who attended the event to continue talking and share our projects with one another.
My specific takeaways from the afternoon include the following:
- Do not count on Kickstarter and the Kickstarter community to promote your project. If they do it’s “gravy.” But you have to spend the time and effort to build buzz around your project.
- The algorithm for Kickstarter’s “Popular” feed looks for projects that are being funded (of course) and shared, whether on Kickstarter or elsewhere in social media land.
- The top two aspects of your project that others will share are the video and updates. Private updates only to those who have already backed the project are not shareable, while public global updates are.
- It is typical to experience “the doldrums” in the middle of a campaign, once the initial thrust of your PR tactics take effect. It’s important to establish a plan for this time in the project to continue building buzz and working towards reaching the funding goal. Think of establishing an editorial calendar for your project updates beforehand and use the opportunity to tell stories as a different way to engage constituents.
- People–whether they are potential backers, bloggers, the media, or social media sharers–love to support projects that are doing well. Even if you don’t get bloggers or the media to write about the launch of your project, you may be able to re-pitch them to write about the successful project that is underway. Continue to build support as you go along.
- When reaching out to bloggers, don’t spam lots of blogs. Only approach bloggers whose readers would be interested in what you have to say. Also, differentiate yourself from soulless PR agencies by being human and authentic when reaching out to bloggers.
- Send bloggers pictures to make it as easy as possible for them to write about your project.
- Good pictures are a worthwhile investment for design projects.
- Long-term, the most valuable asset from a Kickstarter campaign is the list of backers you build. After all, these are the people who voted for your project with their wallets.
- You don’t automatically get all of your backers’ email addresses. You must use Kickstarter to send updates or somehow get them to give you their email address through your site.
- Remember the perspective of your backers. To them, the campaign is much longer than 30 days. They interact with the project site for, perhaps, two minutes and then months of updates until the reward finally arrives at their door. Make sure you build goodwill during that entire time.
- “There are successful Kickstarter projects that are unsuccessful. And vice versa.” If you raise the money but tick off all your backers during the fulfillment process, you might not call that a success after it’s all said and done. Conversely, a project might not reach its funding goal, but the process can still link you to people who understand and support your vision, and they might be of help in other ways.
- Using time limits to for early-bird specials can help introduce some urgency early on in the process and jumpstart your funding trend, so your project will then get picked up by the “Popular” algorithm.
- Your rewards for manufactured products need to be based on some anticipated level of production, which is also related to your project goal. It is best to start with your expenses and back out your reward levels from there.
- Since people who donate as little as $1 to your project become members of your backer list, it is good to include some small rewards.
- You may be able to find professional cinematographers in your city for $50 on Craigslist.
- Prepare by writing a script and storyboard, and setting up the room(s) in which you will film the video.
- Editing the video in iMovie is often more than sufficient
- Make the video personal and human. One way to do this is by including your own handwriting in the video’s captions.
- Per Aurora, three minutes is too long for a video. Two minutes or less is best.
- Kickstarter provides project creators with analytics on how many people click on the video, watch it all the way through, pause it, or stop watching before it’s done.
- Several backers indicated that having a few drinks prior to filming their parts of the video dramatically helped lubricate their performance.
- The GoldieBlox video was cited by many in attendance as the best Kickstarter video in existence, as was noted on this blog several weeks ago.
- Kickstarter has launched a new feature that lets project creators share a preview link with friends prior to launching the project. Those friends can then comment on your as-yet-unlaunched project (they will be able to see each other’s comments).
- You don’t get your project URL until you actually go live, somewhat complicating efforts to build buzz beforehand. One way to get around this may be to build a redirect from biy.ly or your own site to the Kickstarter page and update it once you learn your URL.
- Logistics are a big, overlooked bugaboo:
- Mailing takes forever
- Suppliers are typically behind schedule, especially if you give them more orders than you expected to
- International shipping costs more than you think it does; test this out before deciding on your reward levels
- If you multiply the time it takes to fulfill one order by 500 or 1,000 backers, you start to get some idea of the effort involved in fulfilling a project
- If your project fails to reach its goal, you can still use the Kickstarter project updates system to solicit feedback from the people who backed you and to build relationships with these people.
- Use pictures to break up the text on the project page.
- One attendee mentioned TheKickbackMachine.com as a tool to study past Kickstarter projects, particularly those that have failed. Those who do not learn from the failures of the past are doomed to repeat them.