If you want to be successful in crowdfunding, you’re going to need to put in the work before, during, and after the campaign. This post contains knowledge I learned firsthand from running my own campaigns, contributing to the successful campaigns of others, and information I’ve learned from my entrepreneurship classes on crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding not only gives you the opportunity to market a product, but it gives you an opportunity to create “fans” that may support your future work as well. Smaller, more artistic ideas, are great for crowdfunding platforms because it gives them access to funds that may be out of reach in other, traditional financing venues. Launching a successful crowdfunding campaign provides social proof and feedback that your idea has the potential for longevity. Remember, (for the most part) crowdsourcing success happens by small margins and failure by large margins.
It was just over a year ago that we launched the Dinner’s Ready! crowdsourcing campaign on Kickstarter. Our dream was to creative a fun, competitive card game that promoted healthy eating by encouraging players to draw healthy recipes and collected the necessary ingredients to make them. We set our goal of $4,000 and set the clock at 23 days, ending at the midnight before my 30th birthday. Ultimately, we raised $4,699, or 116% of our initial goal. This wasn’t an Exploding Kittens experience, but it was incredibly eye opening to the trials and tribulations of crowdfunding in the 21st century.
To let the cat out of the bag a little bit, Mystery Tin Games is in the development stages of more card games to be launched early next year on Kickstarter, so we’re going to use the example of a “card game” throughout this discussion, but these techniques can be applied to any crowdfunding campaign.
Crowdfunding has given creators the opportunity to create anything they can imagine and see if people are interested in it. If you want to make a card game, you need to identify early on if there’s a certain subsection of people that would want to play it. With Dinner’s Ready!, a healthy eating card game, which we ultimately narrowed down to “millennial table-top game players that are also parents of kids ages 6-10.” Maybe you’re making a card game that would appeal to LARPers. Maybe you’re making a card game for pregnant mothers. Locate the crowd your solution benefits and go after them.
What problem is your product solving? Who is the “crowd” you’re really trying to win over? What is the best method of reaching them? What other games or product does this group support? Why?
Once you’ve got your idea and the target crowd in mind, it’s time to get down to development. Kickstarter allows people to launch a campaign for a product that hasn’t come to life yet, or serve as the marketplace for a product that is almost finished. Depending on the idea you’re attempting to bring to life, it is important to consider the initial expenses required for development.
In creating a card game, for example, there are a number of development expenses. If you’re a graphic artist, the opportunity cost of your time is something to keep in mind. If you’re not a graphic artist, you’ll need to figure out who to hire and how much to pay them. (My recommendation is to operate on a set price for the art design based on achieving 100% of crowdfunding goal. If it’s a blowout hit, you can always renegotiate later.) And after the card game has been designed, test decks need to be printed and shipped from the manufacturers.
What other costs does your project involve? Is there anyway to minimize (or table) those costs before starting the campaign?
I hope you’re ready to do the work. Studies have shown the most successful crowdsourcing campaigns required (on average) 30 hours per week for the 4-6 weeks prior to the campaign, 30 hours a week during the campaign, and 30 hours a week through fulfillment. If that seems like a lot of time, it is, but it’ll make all the difference in the world.
Pay attention. Make sure you double- and triple-check everything on your campaign page. Research shows that a single spelling error on your campaign page can result in 13% less funding.
Timeframe. The length of your campaign is important. Research shows that donations are the highest during the first week and the last week. If your campaign is too short, people are going to miss out on the opportunity and it may hurt your chances of reaching your goal. If it’s too long, people will delay in backing you, which could result in people “forgetting” to back your project. I’ve had campaigns as short as 21 days and as long as 40 days.
How long should your campaign be? Are there any specific benefits to running a longer campaign? A shorter one?
The Goal. Don’t be greedy. Since Kickstarter is an “all-or-nothing” platform, you don’t want to exaggerate the cost of your project. In fact, you should work through the bare minimum costs associated with your project far in advance and set the lowest number as your goal. Take advantage of bulk-manufacturing and crunch the numbers.
What is the bare minimum cost you’ll need to produce your product? Don’t forget to include shipping costs!
The Video. While there’s no denying the correlation between beautifully shot, high-definition videos and successful campaigns, you don’t need to have a professionally filmed video. Of course it helps, but the overarching reason for the video is for backers to get to know the people behind the campaign. Before backers are going to give you their money, they want to know you’re a “real person” and they want to see your emotion and commitment to the project. If you’re not pumped up, why should they be?
What kind of video is right for your campaign? Do you need to be in it or can you get the message across in a different, fun way?
Overview. Give your backers an overview of what they’re getting. If you’re selling a card game, you want to share the general gameplay (even if you haven’t completely fleshed it out yet). Mixing the written word with infographics is a visually compelling way of pulling potential backers in and send them reading to the bottom!
“Who We Are” Section. 2/3 of successful crowdsourcing campaigns are done with teams. It’s important to include a section about the team behind the campaign, again, to build credibility among the potential backers. This gives proper recognition to the people that contributed, but also gives the team ample reason to share the campaign with their own networks. “Check out this game I worked on!” A short paragraph and a picture of each team member goes a long way.
What information can you provide that will instill the backers with confidence in your team?
Why Pledge? Section. Getting in at the bottom floor is one obvious benefit to backing your project, but that shouldn’t be everything. Tell your backers why backing this project right now is the first stepping stone to a much larger plan. “This is something new to be a part of” isn’t as good as, “This will be the first game in a family of card games, and we won’t be manufacturing this game with the same packaging and box design in the future. Back us today because this is it!”
What are the real benefits to contributing to your campaign early? Can you provide any intangible or “one-of-a-kind” benefits to your backers? Be creative!
Stretch Goals. Stretch goals are a great tool to incentivize backers. If you’re going to include “stretch goals,” I suggest you have both financial stretch goals (i.e. “If we reach $10,000, we’ll release a stretch expansion pack”) and crowd stretch goals (i.e. “If we reach 1,000 donors, we’ll release a stretch expansion pack”). Depending on your campaign goal, an overly successful campaign should result in “unlocking” at least one of these stretch goals.
What kind of stretch goals do we want to accomplish? Donors? Financial? Social media following? What kind of behaviors can you influence by utilizing stretch goals?
Risks and Challenges Section. Be honest and open about the process. Crowdsourcing gives backers the opportunity to contribute to something at the very beginning. Being honest and open about the risks and challenges your project faces not only opens up communication with your crowd but it also presents an opportunity for the crowd to contribute. If you foresee yourself encountering some issues along the way, publicize them, because one of your backers may be able to help!
What are the real risks and challenges you face? What is the worst case scenario? What happens if you are insanely successful, what possibly problems could you face then? What happens if you fail to reach your minimum goal? Is it the end of the road?
Crowdfunding is about including the crowd in the process. Accordingly, you need to be updating your crowd almost constantly throughout the course of the campaign. This means utilizing social media (you should have a Facebook Page, Facebook Group, and Twitter #hashtag for the campaign), as well as leveraging the built in updates to the campaign platform. The easiest way to do this is by reaching out to your crowd when you reach major milestones:
- First 24 hours.
- First Week.
- Half Way Done.
- One Week Left.
- 48 Hours Left.
- 24 Hours Left.
- 1 Hour Left
- Quarter of the Way!
- Halfway there!
- 10% left!
- Fully funded!
- Stretch goal achieved!
- Shipped out!
What information do my backers want to know throughout the campaign? What information is important to get across to potential backers? How many updates are too many updates?
Content. Leveraging these updates is the best way to get input from your community. Throughout the campaign you should be sharing the evolution of the artwork, seek input from your community, and inspire them to seek out and share your campaign with their own communities. The more you give to your community, the more they’ll give you back. It’s also worth mentioning that these updates can automatically post to Facebook and Twitter, and “boosting” these posts is an easy way to generate interest.
People also love sharing the rewards of their crowdfunding participation! Encourage your backers to share their rewards with their social networks then share, retweet, and repost!
How can I maximize my crowd through updates? What content can we share to incite more enthusiasm for the project?
You can offer as many reward tiers as you want, but I’ve found that simpler is better. If you’re offering a card game, you don’t need to have t-shirts and apparel as donor levels. By keeping the donor levels simple, you won’t get bogged down in the fulfillment logistics after the campaign.
Calculate the Shipping! With Dinner’s Ready!, we wanted people to purchase more than one deck, so we offered to calculate the shipping costs later and bill each backer separately for their shipping. When we invoiced out the shipping, we only got 1/10 of our backers to reimburse us for the shipping (we event spent $27 shipping a game to the UK, which was more than they gave to the campaign in the first place!). Not surprisingly, this significantly ate into our margins. Calculate the shipping and make that in addition to the cost of the game.
How much is it going to cost us to get the product shipped from the manufacturer? How much is going to cost to send each product to the backers? What happens if packages are returned?
Low Goal (No Game). <$10 If you’re launching a project in this day and age, you should have a stand alone website for the product outside of the crowdfunding platform. Utilizing this webpage gives you the opportunity to reward your lowest tier of backers. A small donation deserves recognition, and having a “thank you” page on your website is a great opportunity to collect the low-hanging fruit.
How can I make a small donation a worthwhile investment? How can I inspire a small donor to give more money?
Core Product (Basic Game). ~$15-$25 Your core product can be priced at anything you want, assuming you’ve calculated your minimum per unit cost and you’ve set the price accordingly. Something important to remember is that crowdsourcing backers expect they will be paying slightly more than consumers will in the future, because they were contributing to not just the game but the entire lifespan of the game moving forward.
At what price does my product feel like a steal? At what price does my product feel like a rip off?
Upgrade (Expansion Pack). ~$35 (including Basic Game) If you’re going to do an expansion pack, offer a backer-tier that includes the basic game. Chances are you’re going to manufacture the expansion set separately, which will allow you to have additional expansion sets available for purchase after the campaign for those that didn’t order it during the initial campaign.
Does my campaign facilitate an “expansion” of some kind? What kind of expansion would be best for my campaign? Should I get the input of my crowd to determine what the expansion is? How many people will buy the expansion versus the original?
Bundle (Pair of Games). ~$45. Don’t underestimate the power of “giving.” As much as people like getting in on the ground floor of a cool project, they love sharing their cool projects with other people. Bundles give the opportunity for backers to get one for them, and one for someone else.
Is this the kind of campaign where bulk buying is likely? Is there a need to create a larger bundle than 2?
According to research, the number one and two reasons why crowdsourcing campaigns fail is that (1) the target audience was not well understand, and (2) the marketing efforts were not adequate. The intention of the marketing is different for each stage of the project, and in order to have a truly successful campaign, you’ll need to capitalize on each stage individually.
Pre-campaign. The sole focus of your pre-campaign marketing efforts should be to get people “lined up” to buy your product at the moment you press the “Launch” button. This means you need to do press releases, reach out to public entities and accounts, all with the intention of getting that first burst of attention at the launch.
Have I made myself a member of this community already? How can I draw attention to my game without appearing to be a spammer? Is there a better way to reach this particular community?
Campaign. Your marketing during the campaign needs to be heavily weighted toward the beginning and the end of the campaign. If you get fully funded within 24 hours, Kickstarter will feature you and give you an extra marketing bump by featuring it on their website. Getting the Kickstarter “seal of approval” is an instant game changer when it comes to any campaign on their platform. If you get it, you’re almost guaranteed to succeed.
In the event you are not fully funded early on, your marketing should be focused on getting in front of your target audience, friends, and family. Finding where your “crowd” hangs out, what blogs they read, what other projects they’ve backed, etc., is the best to way to draw in more eyes to your project.
If it’s going to be a fist fight to the end of the campaign, the last of your campaign efforts needs to be focused on the last 72 hours of the campaign. You need to reinvigorate all those backers who said they’d be back, and really capitalize on the FOMO on your project. Looping back to the all the marketing venues you utilized along the way is a great way to get those last ditch efforts to convert in those final harrowing hours.
Was my messaging clear? How many people actually saw our advertisement? What was the CPC? Where were the marketing efforts least successful? Was it worth the investment and time?
Post-campaign. Congratulations! Your campaign was fully funded, but that’s just the beginning of your journey. Now that you’ve got the money you were looking for, you need to start setting the stage for the next steps, which is continuing to stoke the public’s appetite for the game and letting them know where they can get it next. If you have a website, or an e-commerce site, for the game, this is where you’ll want to send the traffic next.
Dinner’s Ready! is available from the Mystery Tin Games web store!
Have I laid proper groundwork to convert the “interested” parties into customers?
Abraham Lincoln said, “If you give me four hours to cut down a cherry tree, I’ll spend the first three hours sharpening my axe.” Whether you’ve got 50 orders or 5000 orders, having systems in place is essential.
Reports. Kickstarter does a great job of helping you collect information from your backers, including their mailing addresses. Make sure you have all the survey questions figured out ahead of time, as they only let you message everybody once.
Do I have all the information I need to deliver? Have I clarified any questions with my backers?
Organization. Export the information into an excel sheet based on the donor levels, and work through each level preparing for fulfillment. We recommend starting with the highest donor levels and working your way toward the bottom.
Where will I be staging the inventory? Who will be responsible for organizing, packing, and labeling the orders? What steps am I taking to be ensure fulfillment is done efficiently?
Shipping. Depending on the number of backers you need to fulfill, you’re going to have quite a shipping operation on your hands. I would recommend picking up a scale and weighing out each variation or SKU you’re sending out. By having these numbers in advance, you won’t have to weigh each box individually, just change the destination and print the labels.
Stamps.com has an introductory offer where they’ll send you a digital scale and allow you to print your own shipping labels at home. If you’re in this thousands of backers, you can import the excel sheet containing all the addresses and print them all off. You’re also able to schedule a “package pick up” so you won’t have to haul hundreds of packages to the post office.
Who will be responsible for the boxing and shipping? How long will it take to ship everything out? Who should be the first to receive their packages? Is there an easier way to ship out the rewards?
Other Random Crowdfunding Tips
Here’s a few more tips for you to consider when running a crowdsourcing campaign,
- Check out other successful Kickstarter campaigns in your same field. As a card game developer, I spent a considerable amount of time looking at other Kickstarter card games. I was particularly inspired by John August’s One Hit Kill campaign.
- Educate yourself on crowdfunding as much as you can. Check out these books:
- Watch the “Capital C” documentary on Netflix or Amazon.
- Check out these other blog posts I’ve written about crowdsourcing: Crowdsourcing: Popularity Contest or Fist Fight?, Dinner’s Ready! is now available on Kickstarter!, and Some Dinner’s Ready! Updates.
- If you’d like some consulting on your crowdsourcing campaign, you can e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Good luck out there!