How to Juggernaut Your Kickstarter Project and What You Are In For

June 06, 2012

So you want your kickstarter project to be huge. Everybodys doin it... Here is my best shot at explaining the road you have ahead of you and my experience with Coffee Joulies. Most of these points ONLY apply to projects in the 'design' categroy that are similar to mine, because thats all I know. Yeah, these hacks could help you game the system, but hey you asked for it. 

-Know What You Are Getting Yourself Into: Kickstarter changed, made, upended my life. I had a 9 to 5, it wasn't bad. Now I own and run my company with the other Dave and we do Coffee Joulies all day every day. We love it. Make sure you love making widgets too, because you WILL make them, you WILL deliver them, and you WILL stress over it. You will also learn more than any other opportunity that could ever be given to you. Most of all, make sure you know what you are doing. You're shooting for a big project here, do you know how to deliver thousands of products to customers all over the world? Do you know how long it takes to deliver what you're selling? You probably have no idea how long its going to take to deliver what you are selling. You don't know a lot of things. You're going to have to figure them out on the fly. Get comfortable with that feeling, it's your new job description. One thing you have to have a handle on is your ability to turn your prototype into a manufacturable product. If you've never done that to a product before, seek help first. Don't rely on a budgetary quote from a contract manufacturer, or even worse, your own back of the envelope calculation. Everyone is guessing here, so do what you need to do to take a well educated guess and then build in a very healthy margin for error. If you don't consider yourself an expert on the subject already, seek help first.

-Get Smart: Do your homework. Kickstarter is the most data-rich marketplace ever. Carefully examine a bunch of projects that are in your category. Ones that were successful and awesome, ones that were successful but failed, and ones that looked promising but never made it to their goal. Pay attention to the tone/style of their video, their goals, their tiers and the look and feel of their pages. Pull all the data off of the projects and put it in a spreadsheet. Keep doing this until it's plain to you why any project you look at was successful or unsuccessful. You don't speak kickstarter yet, but you've just got to study it for a while and it will start to come more naturally. Don't just pay attention to the money raising portion of the projects either. Read about their experiences with completing their project by reading all of their past updates. What common pitfalls did they encounter? What was the response of their backers as the delivery date got pushed back month after month?

-Getting Your Idea Across: Kickstarter usually isn't just about selling stuff, but apparently it is for you, so – present your idea quickly, clearly and simply. You've got only a few moments to grab the attention of somebody looking at your project. They should see/understand the product immediately. This might sounds stupid, but chances are you understand your project too well to get it across in a simple way that makes sense to someone who has never seen it before. When you make you video, pretend its for your grandma, then make it shorter, then make it simpler, then make it shorter and simpler again, and again. Test it out on strangers before you launch. If they have confused looks on their faces, it's still too complicated.

-Setting Your Goal: Make it as small as you possibly can. Best case scenario is that your project blows up and make tons of money fame/fortune etc (yeah right lol). You are clearly willing to let this project take change your life, good, you read the above and you still want to do it. Now, let's get real about setting project goals. Myth 1: Big goal encourages big funding amount. Reality: you're just trying to sell a product here. Yes people want to support you, but your goal is NOT to squeeze lots money out of your friends and strangers that want to see you meet an arbitrary goal just because they like you. You are going to be in for a long and stressful ride if thats why your project meets an ambitiously high goal. Your backers should be pumped about buying your product and using it, that's all. In reality, a stranger is more likely to jump on the bandwagon of a wildly successful project than one that hasn't yet met its goal yet for a number of reasons. Them's the facts. Myth 2: “But my goal isn't arbitrary, I need that money to buy tooling/patents/lawyers/employees.” Re-think this, chances are that everything you 'estimated' is wrong anyway. If your project is that complex and you need all that money, you should develop it more before coming to kickstarter. More importantly, if you're dedicated to this project you can figure out a way to make 1 or 10 or 50 or 5000 of them if that's what you put your mind to. The value to you of your project succeeding is infinite. When your project funds, it turns from something you do in your basement in your free time into a living breathing product that other people use, love, hate, whatever. It progresses. And that's all that matters. If you raise $5000 of a $10000 goal, think to yourself how much you would have liked to have that $5000. If you raise $9000 of a $5000 goal and decide later that you really need $20000 to make it happen, cancel your own project before the date it funds (spoiler alert, you won't do it.) Does this seem like a potentially embarrassing strategy? Oh, did I mention you are going to need to have a pretty thick skin?

-Making Your Tiers: Put yourself squarely in the shoes of a stranger visiting your page. You've managed to grab their attention with your video, they like your product, they reach for their credit card(!!!), and then they find 17 tiers and can't decide which one to get. Then they get a phone call/their dog barfs on the sofa/a shiny object twinkles in their peripheral vision and.. they're gone. Your first reward should be your 'flagship' reward, it's the reward that everyone wants, it's the reward that is going to contribute most to your final amount. Don't do the every-dollar-counts/postcard/tee-shirt pledge. A couple people are already going to back you for any amount they want, including $1 without you having to clutter up your project by making a tier for it. Those tiers are great for lots of other types of kickstarter projects, just not yours. Putting that reward there just clutters your page and encourages backers who otherwise may have given you $20-$70 dollars to give you $1-$5. Give a couple rewards for people who really get behind the idea, and give them something nice to show for it. Think NPR-pledge-drive type rewards, or even better, a entry and high end version of your product. You may even make more on the high end version than the entry version. Make sure you are giving yourself a big margin of error on the costs associated with manufacturing your product. Give your backers a discount on what you guess the retail price might be, but make sure you're not going to lose money at the same time. Remember that you might be making 100 of these, or you might be making 40,000 like we had to.

-Bring Your Own Buzz: DON'T expend all this effort and then show up to kickstarter without any idea if anyone likes your project. You've got prototypes right? Go out and try to sell them. Take them to a fair. Enter them in a contest. Give them to a blogger. Give them to a hobo and videotape their response. No matter what you do, you have to learn something and succeed somewhere. Proving to yourself that you like your own idea doesn't count. No matter how good of a job you do creating your project, you will do even better if you show up to kickstarter saying “I have come all this way and garnered all this positive feed back from all these different places, and now I want to offer it to you, all I need is your support!” If you take it out in the world first and hear crickets, then you learn, change, improve, and pivot your idea until you've got something hot on your hands, you'll be able to tell when this happens. Collect lots of email addresses/facebooks (in a polite/non in a spammy way) while you do this. When you launch on kickstarter remind everyone who has seen your project before that you are putting it all out there and you need their help to spread the word. You'll likely crush your small goal in no time.

-Customers: Prepare yourself for what it's like to deal with your backers as customers. Everything today is very instant gratification, and you have chosen to sell something before you have it in stock. It might not be ready to ship for a month, or a year, or more. You will get some backers who wander in off the internet and don't necessarily know how kickstarter works. They are going to get 'internet mad' at you for not shipping when your project finishes and their card is charged. Like I said, you're going to have to have a thick skin here. You're going to spend tons of time answering their questions and solving their problems. Value highly the time that you spend interacting with your backers both before and after they get their rewards. After all they are giving you the one think you want more than anything – feedback.

-Keep it Lean: Chances are you'll find a way to spend most of what you raise on kickstarter no matter what. Having a large lump sum of money right when you start a project, however, can make spending too much (wasting money) on any one thing really easy to do. Remember that you have a ton of products to deliver. Your job of spending money in order to solve all of the problems that crop up isn't over until all the products ship. Never, ever, try to save money by ordering a big batch of something. Even though it might seem like you are getting 'economies of scale' that term doesn't really apply to you until you have a stable and predictable manufacturing process that you are scaling up. When you are just starting out, concentrate on making 1 and then 2 and then 5 and then 10 at a time. (we did this until we were making 7000 per week, 70 at a time) You are going to be amazed at how difficult this is. Each time you make a few more, your going to change things about the process, how it works, tooling, parts, and the consumables used. Remember, NO BATCHES. Long lead times on anything also suck. Think about it. Your job is to wrangle this massively complicated task, and your only weapon is your interative process of problem solving. The difference between a 2 day lead time and a 2 week lead time isn't 12 days.. it's 12 days times the number of times you're going to get it wrong. Plus if make the batch smaller and do it 5 times in a row, you're going to be 5 times smarter 10 days from now. Who do you want to be 12 days from now, you, or 5 times smarter you? Duh.

Thanks for reading my blog post. I'm teaching a class in Brooklyn about Kickstarter, which you can find here:

If you want to email me about it, please contact me via Coffee Joulies email or facebook.

Good Luck!

Dave Petrillo

Coffee Joulies was on Shark Tank?!

We'll send you a secret link to watch our episode!!