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How to Really Get Funded on Kickstarter


Within fourteen hours of posting his project on Kickstarter, a site that uses crowsdsourcing to fund creative projects, Andrew Plotkin had raised the $8,000 he needed for his idea. By the time credit cards had been charged and the money delivered a month later, those funds had risen past $30,000. Considering that his idea was give up his day job and dedicate his life to writing interactive fiction — the kind of text adventures that used to be played on mainframes — Plotkin’s achievement was all the more remarkable. So what does his success tell us about ideas that win funding on Kickstarter and delight investors in general?

Writing on CNNMoney.com, Plotkin himself puts his persuasive powers down to a number of factors. A great video, he says, is essential, but there are certainly better videos available for viewing on Kickstarter, and his own clip — mostly a talking head — lacked the smooth professionalism of his own products.

Describing what the money will be used for, delivering an experience, not a list of features, should encourage the money to roll in too, Plotkin argues. But both his video and his pitch bullet-point all sorts of benefits, including adding Javascript and CSS to an open-source interactive fiction game engine, that look a lot like features created with cash.

Creating a demo is also essential for game funding, he recommends, something he only realized at the last minute despite the use of demos in the game industry for years. And while other successful Kickstarter pitches show the products they want to create in their videos, few allow potential donors to play with them first.

I’ve Created Stuff Before…

While all of those factors might have contributed to the success of Plotkin’s use of Kickstarter then, what really made a difference appears to be a combination of two elements that turn up again and again on successful Kickstarter ventures.

The first is background. Answering the question “How did I do it, really?” Plotkin writes:

“First, spend 15 years working hard on projects with no reward but community goodwill.”

Fifteen years might represent a lot of spadework to pick up $30,000 but the background is important as a promise of the quality of future products. Schuyler Towne, who aimed for $6,000 of pledges and picked up a remarkable $87,407 to create a set of lock picks, describes himself as “a competitive lockpicker” who has been featured on All Things Considered, in the Boston Globe and on the History Channel. His video repeatedly showed him opening a padlock even as he continued talking to the camera, proving that he had the skills and the tools that he could deliver to backers.

Kickstarter then isn’t actually giving a kick start to people who haven’t done anything. It’s delivering an extra push to people who already have a list of achievements to their name and who need a little help to move ahead.

In the world of publishing, another area in which Kickstarter operates, this is platform. Just as the publishing industry is more likely to support an author who brings an audience created through years of professional speaking, so Kickstarter works best when the project owner is already known in their field. Andrew Plotkin’s promise to put more work into his open-source game engine was a pitch aimed directly at people in his niche, not potential customers who thought the idea sounded interesting. And as he put his pitch together, Plotkin also worked his contacts, ensuring that backers were ready with their wallets open as soon as he launched.

The rewards are vital too. Kickstarter is not a crowdsourced investment scheme so much as a sandbox in which creatives can test their concepts in a real marketplace before investing their own money. Backers don’t receive a share of the income, have no say in the production of the product and no claims on the product when it’s done. Instead, they get to choose a “reward” that corresponds to the level of their donation. For Andrew Plotkin’s project a $3 pledge landed a copy of Hadean Lands¸ the game he plans to create, for iPhone — a reward worth $5. Ten dollars added a collectable postcard with a quick reference on the back. Twenty-five dollars delivered an exclusive CD version of the game (inscribed with runes), while additional amounts added other goodies up to what Plotkin called “the traditional Kickstarter ‘I’ll fly out to visit your and bake you cookies!’ offer” for pledges of $1,000 or more. He sold both of those offers available.

Kickstarter as Pre-Order Store

Of the ten different rewards available, it was the $25 rune-inscribed CD that won the most buyers, with 358 backers contributing the cash compared to 119 people who were prepared to pre-order the iPhone game at a discount.

Perhaps the best example of the way in which products alone (combined with a good idea) can power a Kickstarter pitch though is Scott Wilson’s attempt to raise $15,000 to enable his design studio to create watch straps for the iPod Nano. With nine days still to go, he had already raised an incredible $630,789. Most backers were effectively pre-ordering the LunaTik conversion kit for $50, winning themselves a $20 discount. Unlike other sellers, Wilson wasn’t offering to fly out and bake cookies.

That emphasis on rewards makes Kickstarter very different from traditional fundraising. Unlike investment plans the risks are minimal. As long as the creative gets the money, the backer should get the reward he or she has bought. While there’s always the chance that the creative will take the cash and head for Cancun (or just fail in the production process), their background and enthusiasm help to give backers an idea of the risk involved. Try to hit up a venture capitalist or an angel, and you’ll need to do more than promise to create one copy of the product for everyone watching the presentation.

But the principles are the same. You still need to show that you can create what you promise to build. You still need to have a market ready to buy and contacts who can help to deliver the cash. And you still need to have a good idea. Venture capitalists will assess whether that idea is good enough; Kickstarter backers will tell you whether customers are actually willing to buy it. For both approaches, it’s a tougher test than trying to leave a locked room at the start of a text adventure.





16 Comments

  1. Tim Says:

    You shared some great information in your article. Hopefully some of these ideas can help me out. I just posted my project to Kickstarter if you are interested in checking it out.

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/416977318/spelling-kart-an-educational-game

  2. Lizza Says:

    Alex, thank you so much for writing a honed in article and providing real world examples. I too have just launched my kickstarter campaign for a comedic webseries I'm doing based on real-life events. It's called The PigPen and you can check it out here: http://kck.st/fTPb1j

    Funny enough, we incorporated some of the tips you mentioned based on what would motivate us to give to a campaign: we did part of our video in character to give viewers an idea of who are characters are AND we made it a point to really put a lot of thought into creating fun rewards for our backers.

    I have quickly learned that you need a dedicated team that will get out there and promote your campaign while it's active on a DAILY BASIS. It isn't just about throwing your campaign up and hoping people will find it on their own. You have to put some "work" into it, but if it's about doing what you love...than it really isn't work right?

    I would love to connect online: Twitter: @xoxolizza

    P.S. Best of luck Tim, I will definitely check your project out. :)

  3. Dav Says:

    It's a difficult task to get the projects funded... But I'm really hoping my independent film hits it's mark.... We've been doing reshoots everything is going great...!! http://kck.st/hYuRry we hope to have our film finished nxt month!!... Thx for the advise...!!

  4. Kenai Epps Says:

    This is my first attempt at Kickstarter and I didn't think it would be a walk in the park. I knew it would take more than posting it on the site and hoping that some person magically funds it all. Luckilly we have a good marketing team and since this is our first day, we hope that we can continue to push and drive until our goal is met.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mcvbp/mc-girls-present-the-artist-diaries?ref=live

  5. Nik Says:

    This is a great article. Thank you., I'd appreciate some feedback on my rough draft kicksarter video. any comments / critiques would be great: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI9Cu7RSBaI

    Thanks

  6. Cody Says:

    Very good read, I too have a project I am building up with a well known acquaintance of mine (Rodney Aquino). This is our first kickstarter and hopefully we can reach our goal with continues marketing and word of mouth, I think we really have a interesting project with some very good value and talent.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rodneylaquino/against-the-wall?ref=live

  7. malek Says:

    Some of your guys projects are really interesting and the videos are well done. I wish I didnt have to cut like 10 minutes out of my video on there. Stupid 200mb cap. But if you read the treatment you can see the film is gonna be amazing.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1614102132/writers-block-the-feature-film?ref=users

  8. Sean Matthew Whiteford Says:

    I'm hoping my original musical can reach its goal! Please check it out and share!

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thecastawayplayers/girlfriend-from-hell-the-musical

  9. Timothy S. Klugh Says:

    Well, I don't know about the strong and established reputation part because I'm still pretty much unknown. I have years of experience in composing music and doing stage work for theatres, but I never considered that I should mention it in my Kickstarter project, even if it was all just volunteer work. But when I look back on it, those years of volunteer work has made me confident enough to pursue my own vision, so I guess it is worth mentioning. Thank you for this article. You've given some great pointers and I have already modified my Kickstarter campaign to better match your suggestions. Kickstarter is an awesome web tool, and I am very grateful that I ran across it.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/timothysklugh/magick-and-poison?ref=live

  10. Cathy Beasley Says:

    Thank you so much for the great article!! I have just started my own project on kickstarter and I hope to make a go of it :). If you have a moment, please feel free to check it out! Thank you!!

    http://kck.st/w4cvBg

  11. Bonnie Lee Says:

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/903878626/the-down-under-salad-bowl

    Children’s Author Bonnie Lee

    Originally from New York City, Bonnie Lee moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1988. Having had the blessing to immerse in both metropolitan cities’ cultures, she embodies the finest of both east and west coast sensibilities.

    Bonnie is a savvy world traveler who has lived in numerous international hotspots including Japan, where she served as an ESL (English as a Second Language) Specialist for three years. Israel, France and Costa Rica were also all home to Bonnie for several months each.

    With a profound sense of joie de vivre, Bonnie has pursued different passions throughout life, one of which led her to the exciting and unusual profession of a flying trapeze artist for the ever popular Cirque du Soleil group.

    Bonnie currently resides in the Bay Area, focusing on both her profession as a paralegal of patents and intellectual property as well as continuing to author children’s books.

  12. Aubrey Lewis Says:

    Great advice! Our client, Pop/Dance artist CARMINE DAVIS is using Kickstarter for his new music video/ mini-film "Controversy"! It will be a suspenseful, mind-bending thriller similar to Michael Jackson' "Thriller" and Lady Gaga's "Marry The Night"!

    We're giving away free music and even a chance to meet and party with him in NYC -- AND get the chance to get advaced tickets to his summer promotional tour in The US!

    Take a look at it and let us know what you think! - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/silverbulletmgmt/controversy-music-video-short-film?ref=email

    Also, if you guys with successful projects have any sound advice for us please contact us via the email on the project page!

  13. matthew Says:

    Fantastic advice! I've recently launched my first Kickstarter for a book that I need help offsetting publishing costs with. My response has been great thus far, and I am cautiously optimistic that my campaign will reach its funding goal! I'm using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIN, as well as sending widgets via email with tailored messages individually. Currently, I am at 14% goal reached on day 3.

    Take a look and see what you think! I'd be most grateful for any feedback (good or bad) you might have for me.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1966745470/love-and-compassion-along-the-camino-de-santiago

  14. oliver Says:

    Check out my kickstarter project about my new comic book! Go to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/640520835/planet-melecto-the-beginning Thank You!

  15. Darcy Says:

    I hereby solemny pledge to avoid funding any kickstarter project that spams blog comments with begging for people to fund them, while providing no value to people just wanting to read the comments.

    Looks like the people above have given me a good list to begin with...

  16. Jordan Thomson Says:

    Kickstarter is great, but I wish they deleted all the stupid projects you have to sift through to find the good ones. Hopefully something like http://www.kickstopper.blogspot.com gets bigger and better so that people begin to start putting time into their pitches

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