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I just launched the LAMP website, the house that will hold LAMP now that the Kickstarter campaign is over. (You can see it here.) Winter and the holidays are falling off the gears and things are starting to turn in earnest now.
But! While it’s fresh in my mind, I’ve been meaning to do a post on Kickstarter itself. What’s Kickstarter, you ask? Well, it’s the really fantastic site that lets you crowd-source fundraising for projects, and is how I funded my upcoming album. During the campaign, lots of friends and strangers wrote asking how it worked and if it was good fit for them, or how to make their current project better. I mainlined Kickstarter projects & related blog entries for four months before launching my own project, with lots of friendly help from the folks at Kickstarter itself (I’m looking at you, Cindy Au!) so I have a small country’s worth of thoughts on the subject.
For the friends who asked and the strangers who might be wondering, here’s a tiny map that might help you get started funding your own forays into awesomeness.
FOCUS ON THE PROJECT
Kickstarter is excellent for launching your play, book, product, album, or whimsical Nintendo-scarf knitting project. What it’s less excellent for is subsidizing general, non-specific ideas.
Bad example: “Help me pursue more art in my life!”
Good example: “Help foot the costs to build an eight-foot tall lego replica of Diagon Alley!”
Think concrete, and finite– something with a beginning and an end goal, that you can define easily.
Take these two examples by Polly Law. In this one, Polly focuses on how she doesn’t have enough time and energy to be an artist, and how she wants to be able to cover her bills for four months while she pursues her career. And in THIS one, Polly focuses instead on what she’s trying to accomplish with her actual art, The Word Project. Project A = Unsuccessful. Project B = Successful, with Polly reaching 147% of her goal.
It is much easier to be able to say: “Yes, THIS project, I want to help make it exist!” as opposed to “support you as an artist, wha…? What does that mean?” The latter is amorphous, while the former gives people something concrete to attach to.
REWARDS, REWARDS, REWARDS
If you’re thinking about putting up a project, you also have to consider what you’re giving people for their money. Each project has backer tiers from a dollar to a squillion dollars, and each should come with a reward appropriate to that level.
Kickstarter has a lot to say about this in terms of how to make your rewards fun, but personally, I think Kickstarter works best as a pre-order model– take, for example, TikTok, a campaign to produce iPod Nano/watch conversion kits. Of the 13,512 people who chose to back the TikTok campaign, nearly all of those humans were pre-ordering a TikTok. Which is to say, they while they were funding a dream, they were also buying something they wanted.
So think about what that looks like. If you’re making an album, that’s easy– you offer pre-orders for the album. If you’re choreographing an interactive dance event in the middle of a zoo, maybe you make dvds of the event, or photo-books, and offer those as rewards. There should be a concrete something that people can take away that is a piece of your project. Be creative, but more importantly, find rewards that get people to feel involved in your project.
GIVE PROOF OF WHAT YOU’VE DONE BEFORE
You have a project idea! Awesome! But before you put up your project about building a giant bee-powered flying machine to the moon, a few things… whatever your project is, it’s best if you give proof that you’ve done this sort of thing before– or something like it. (In this example, perhaps, you have a long resume of building medium-sized bee-powered flying machines.)
I’ve seen lots of negative feedback against Kickstarter projects that ask for money without demonstrating some background in their field. It’s not always needed, but it’s hard to get people to back you without seeing some of the effort you’ve put towards your particular expertise, especially since backers get no guarantee their money will be used towards the project itself. Kickstarter is pretty good about remaining scot-free by telling backers: any money you donate is effectively forfeited. And for that reason, backers need to be sufficiently inspired and have faith in your demonstrated abilities before they’ll financially support you.
GIVE PROOF OF WHAT YOU’RE DOING NOW
So you’re planning a theme park in Venezuela built entirely around the adventures of sea monkeys? First of all, ridiculously awesome. Second of all, it might be a good idea to show off some of the legwork you’ve spent on getting this idea off the ground. Theme park blueprints. Miniature models of El SeaMonkeyLandia. Building permits, prototypes for working rides, that sort of thing.
It’s best to already have some of your ducks in a row when you hit Kickstarter so people know you’re serious, and so you know what you’re getting into.
Have a video on your actual Kickstarter page. It seems in lots of cases, videos on the project page make or break a project getting funded. People want to see who you are, and very specifically they want to know in a short amount of time why they should be excited about your project. Specifics about the project are really good. Specifics about rewards that people receive from funding you are also good. Demonstrate your passion for what you’re working on, and let people get excited with you.
LOOK AT OTHER PROJECTS
Look at successful projects on Kickstarter– those that have made 100% of funding to those that have made 1000% of funding. Also look at the projects that have failed. Figure out what’s different in the presentation from one to another that makes the successful ones successes, and the failures fail. (Some things are different from project to project, but may give you an idea as how to present your project in such a way that it’ll garner more attention.)
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Generally, Kickstarter doesn’t have a built-in audience. Which is to say, if you hit the launch button on your project (in which you attempt to make toy unicorn versions of all the American presidents) it is unlikely that with no further work you’ll get a ton of backers. It’s POSSIBLE (I mean, toy unicorns! of presidents!) but chances are slim.
The way to look at it is this: Kickstarter operates off of your existing friend, family, and fan-base. Once you launch your project, your job is to tell everyone you know. It’s those existing connections you lean on, as well as their belief in your project to share your work via word-of-mouth with their own friends.
Kickstarter is still a new platform, and people are coming with new and interesting ways of using it all the time. Take risks, both in how you present the project and what you use it for. A few random things I’ve found helpful: it helps to aim lower than what’s needed for your funding goal. You’ll be more likely to get the money that is donated since it’s all-or-nothing funding, and people will be more excited for you for making funding so quickly, leading them to support you even more. Also? Try to start with no more than 5 or 6 backer tiers– the more tiers you have the more potential you have to overwhelm and confuse people.
DON’T GET DEJECTED
Kickstarter isn’t a guarantee; it’s a rallying point. It is for better or worse, a testing ground for ideas. Which means some things catch people’s attention and some things don’t, and since it’s all-or-nothing funding it’s possible you won’t hit your goal. That’s okay. This is a way for you to flesh out your ideas and a way to determine interest. If the first try doesn’t work, like they say, try, try again.