Lessons from a successful Kickstarter campaign

Written by Dan Wiseman, with contributions from Joe Mills and Tristan Rogers of The Detective Society.

In case you haven’t seen my posts on social media lately, I’ve been involved in a new business that was successfully funded on Kickstarter. Along with two friends, Tristan Rogers and Joe Mills, we have designed a new immersive series of puzzle games. The games are perfect for fans of escape rooms and detective stories.

We were very happy to raise over 700% of our funding goal during our 45 day campaign, totalling £73,581!

Since the fundraising finished, we’ve been approached by many other entrepreneurs interested in running their own Kickstarter campaigns. So we’ve put together our top tips…

Why are you raising funds?

The first question we asked was “why do we want to do a Kickstarter”. For me personally, I see it as “just another place to sell a product”. The difference being of course, that you are selling the product before you have made it.

Furthermore, unlike selling through your own website, Kickstarter has a huge built-in audience and ready-made trust when it comes to taking payments, which a new business won’t have with their own website.

I asked the question: “If the Kickstarter fails, will we still make the game?”. For us, the answer was a resounding “yes” albeit with many simplifications of the product, reduced scope and a longer timeline.
By understanding that we were going to make the games no matter what, it meant we really focused the Kickstarter as a place to “sell”. We weren’t asking for goodwill or giving out vague promises; we were SELLING our games.

It’s a much more attractive proposition.

Become a Kickstarter expert

Once you know why you are trying to raise funds, you need to learn everything you can about the platform.

Maybe you’ve created projects before on Kickstarter, maybe you haven’t. For us, it was a platform that we’d all used to buy games, but none of us had used it to sell. It has some very intricate qwerks.

It’s important to get a really good idea of how successful Kickstarter campaigns work. Look at recent success stories, in similar categories to your product and with similar funding targets to see how they’ve achieved what they have.

Also look at failed projects that are similar to your product and learn from their mistakes.

Don’t be greedy

Remember, if you don’t reach your target on Kickstarter you receive nothing, and all your hard work will be have gone to waste.

Set your target at the lowest figure that you can, and still be able to produce your product. Originally, our target was £20,000 but we realised it’d be possible to reduce it to £10,000 and still make functional versions of the games.

By doing this, we reached our goal much faster. The “percentage funded” figure on our Kickstarter page was higher and this was likely to be a credibility indicator to other customers – making them more likely to back.

We also thought about the length of our campaign. Thirty days is the most common period but we decided to go for forty-five. We estimate that by extending the length of our campaign by 50%, we raised an additional 20% in funds, compared to what we’d have received had it been 30 days long.

Get your budget right

In the two months leading up to the launch of our project, we modified our prices repeatedly, as we got new quotes and estimations about how much components and shipping would cost. Setting the price of our game was the single hardest thing we had to do.

You need to ensure it’s high enough to be able to pay for producing and delivering your product to your backers, but low enough so backers view it as good value, otherwise they won’t part with their hard earned cash.

The only way to do this is with, you’ve guessed it, even more research.

Be transparent

Regular Kickstarter backers are very aware of campaigns in the past that haven’t delivered on their promises, therefore it’s up to you to show that you 100% will deliver on yours. These seasoned backers know how Kickstarter works intimately, so being vague about things won’t wash with them.

Be clear. For example, how will you deal with things like import taxes and customs fees? Backers need to have confidence in you, if they’re going to put their faith in you and your product.

Nice graphics

As a result of the lack of certainty backers have regarding whether or not they will get what they are paying for, it’s important to look professional. Therefore it is essential that your project includes well designed graphics.

Talk about yourselves 

Another way to increase backer confidence in you, is to make it personal. We included a little bit about each of us on the team, showing that we had the experience to deliver and also providing some accountability.

It always feels more likely that you’ll be scammed by a faceless corporation than a group of real individuals.

It also engenders goodwill when people see that you are working on this project because you love the subject, and its not just a money-making scheme.

Do you need to build anticipation in advance?

Of course, it is good to build anticipation in advance of launching your campaign. You can do this by posting on social media, for example, and many startups will use paid ads too. We didn’t bother with paid ads but we did try to post on socials early.

A lot of blogs talk about how essential it is to have a big mailing list before you launch. In reality, our mailing list only contained 40 people on launch day, and we passed our £10,000 target in 8 hours, so this might not be as essential as many people say.

It’s worth bearing in mind that roughly 70% of backers will find your project via Kickstarter itself (in our case it was 71%).

So it will really depend upon your specific target demographic – how hard they are to reach and if you have an existing audience.

Ask your friends to back early

There are a lot of blogs which talk about the importance of getting early backers, so we won’t go into it too much. However, it goes without saying, that if someone looks at a project and sees that it’s been live for a day and only 6 people have backed, it won’t look very popular, and therefore people will be deterred from backing – ‘if other people don’t think it’s worth backing, then maybe it isn’t’.

With that in mind, ask your friends to back as soon as the project goes live. If you have friends that can’t afford to buy your product then ask them to donate a small amount for no reward – this still sees your backer count go up.

The more backers you have, the higher up Kickstarter’s popularity list you will be, leading to more people on Kickstarter viewing your product. This is very powerful because, as we know, most backers come via Kickstarter itself.

Early Bird Prices

Early bird pricing can be contentious. We did it and only had a handful of negative comments about it.

The simple reason to do it is to offer people a lower price in order to see the number of backers increase at the start of the campaign and bringing in the benefits mentioned above. Furthermore, early backers are taking a bigger risk – and so we felt they should be rewarded with a bigger discount.

There are two ways you can implement Early Bird prices – either by quantity or by time. We chose to do via quantity as it gave us more control over exactly how many or our product we sold and at what price. 

We had two different early bird levels, in addition to the standard Kickstarter price, which was, in itself, a discount on the RRP:

Early Bird 1 (21% off RRP)
Early Bird 2 (14% off RRP)
Standard Price (7% off RRP)

(Approximate values)

We made these early bird levels available for both variants of our product. We made 50 available for Early Bird 1 for each product, and 100 available for Early Bird 2 for each product.

All Early Bird 1’s sold out on the first day.

Find interested communities

Discover if certain niches would be particularly interested in your product. In our case, we targeted escape room fans.

Joe, in particular, had a background already within that circle in the UK, so when he posted on various Facebook forums about it, his words had more weight.

We even had an admin of one very niche Facebook group reach out to us, to see if we wanted to engage with their members, which we duly did.

Video content is essential

The first thing people see when they land on your Kickstarter page is your video, if you have one – and it’s essential that you do. Projects with videos have a much higher success rate (50%, compared to just 30% for those without them).

Your video is the place to grab your potential backers’ attention. It’s also a chance for the creators to talk on camera about what the product is, which is much more appealing to some backers, compared to reading thousands of words of text. Seeing the creators on camera also helps increase the backer confidence we mentioned earlier.

We also worked with two YouTubers from the board games community. They made a video of themselves playing our demo game.

Even without a huge audience, it’s amazing what having a real person playing your game can do for the campaign. A must-have!

Stretch goals

The Kickstarter community love stretch goals! Use them.

An added bonus is that, as you enter the quieter middle section of your campaign, passing stretch goals gives you a good reason to post updates and keep the news coming.

The logic behind stretch goals, for us at least, was that the larger the number of products we sold, the lower the price of manufacturing each individual package. Therefore, we were able to improve the quality of the overall product.

To begin with we had three stretch goals, when we surpassed the third one, we added a fourth, and when we surpassed that we added a fifth. This worked well for us.

Engage with your community

People will ask you questions throughout your campaign. Engage with them in a transparent fashion – don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer if they’re asking you a very specific question about fulfilment. Sometimes your comments will encourage backers to upgrade their pledges, other times they’ll pull your pledges in response to what you’ve said (even if you’ve given them the answer they wanted).

Beware though, that if someone does pull their pledge, their comment will disappear leaving it looking like you’ve replied to nothing, so always reference what they’re asking in your replies.

No money is taken until the campaign ends, so backers know they have power over you, as they could pull their pledge at any moment. Don’t let this fear lead you to make promises you can’t keep, you’ll only damage you reputation in the long run. And never compromise or pander: do what you think is best for the quality of your product, what is fair and what will ensure the long-term stability of your business.

Remember, there are lots of reasons someone can pull their pledge. For reference, roughly 10% of our backers cancelled their pledges during our 45 days campaign.

Prepare for the end

48 hours before your project ends, Kickstarter send a reminder to everyone that is following your project but has not pledged. You want to ensure that your page is looking its best, to give you the best chance of converting these followers into backers.

We decided to move our stretch goals higher up our page, along with videos that had been made of our demo.

We ensured that the second our Kickstarter finished we were able to launch our online store and continue selling pre-orders for our game.

Should you use a pledge manager?

A “pledge manager” is a tool used to handle the specifics of fullfilling the promises of your campaign. Backers can engage with these tools, to buy add-ons or customise their purchase. The “pledge manager” charges a fee for this service, around 10%.

We decided that we wouldn’t use a pledge manager and therefore took shipping fees at the time of purchase on Kickstarter.

Pledge managers are great if you want to sell add-ons after your campaign, and they can help you to be organised, but the fees can be extensive.

Plan what happens next

You don’t want to be caught out when the Kickstarter finishes. You should view your campaign as the beginning, not the end. The point of Kickstarter is to give your product a shot in the arm at the beginning of its life, to literally kickstart your brand. But a kickstart is meaningless if you have nowhere to go. We ensured that the second our Kickstarter finished we were able to launch our online store and continue selling pre-orders for our game.. 

Also, be warned, when your campaign ends you will not be able to make any further changes to your “story” on the Kickstarter page, so make sure you have it set up as a perfect place to point customers towards whatever way you will be selling your product for the rest of time

Conclusion

I hope that was useful! Kickstarter marketing is an interesting niche and something new to Web Wise. It’s been a great learning experience.

Very special thanks to Tristan who helped write most of these points above. If you want to check out our games and to become a member of The Detective Society, please visit us here: https://thedetectivesociety.com/

And for any of my Web Wise customers who might be interested in our games as team building for your company, get in touch for a special deal.

Visit “The Detective Society” Online Store

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About the author

Dan Wiseman

Founder & director of Web Wise. He writes about web design, marketing, entrepreneurship, investing and games. Dan regularly speaks on these subjects and is available for coaching and consultancy.


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