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Kickstarter Failures Get Second Chance

Kickstarter has an impressive success rate of just under 44 percent. Or to put in another way, your Kickstarter project has a 56 percent chance of failure despite the hours you’ll have put into preparing the pitch video, choosing the rewards and marketing the page. But just because your project failed to reach its funding target — and therefore failed to give you any cash at all — doesn’t mean you’ve reached the end of the road.

Back in 2010, for example, Dave Chenell and Eric Cleckner, two Syracuse University students, launched a Kickstarter campaign for their graFighters project. The pair were looking for $20,000 to create an online fighting game in which players could upload their doodles and battle them against each other in PvP combat. They raised a touch over $3,000.

The reasons for their failure, they say, were varied. The rewards weren’t particularly rewarding (it took $300 to net a backer a t-shirt); there was no marketing to support the campaign; and $20,000 was a big target (the average successful project generates $5,487.) But the pair were lucky. After the campaign had failed, they received an email from a fund manager at X.Million Venture Capital. He had seen their campaign, watched their videos… and agreed to give them $200,000 to turn their basic idea into a fully-fledged game.

That success was the result of a combination of a good idea and dumb luck. Other failed Kickstarter projects though offer more helpful lessons.

Scale Your Project to the Pledges

When Eliza Dawson tried to raise $30,000 for a Kickstarter project that would create a series of short films to encourage creativity in families, she made two mistakes: she promised to make the results of the project available for free — which left backers with little motivation to pay; and, like the creators of graFighters, she set a target that was unrealistically high. The project raised just over $4,700.

That was disappointing. Dawson and her family had pushed hard to bring in backers and spread the word. But they knew that the project had managed to raise nearly $5,000. They gave their plan a second look, scaled it back and launched a second Kickstarter project with a shorter duration (to increase urgency) and a target of just $3,000. This time they raised $5,058. Although that’s much less than the amount they had originally targeted, it did allow them to get the project off the ground.

One lesson to be learned from Dawson’s story is not to give up. But a better lesson might be to think hard about the amount of money you really need to get your project started. A failed Kickstarter project might not have given you any money, but it will have told you how much money people are willing to give you to create it. Think about what you could do with that money, repost a scaled-back version of the project and try to persuade backers to pledge again.

Build on a Different Platform

Eliza Dawson relaunched her Kickstarter project on Kickstarter itself. It worked, but she did have other options. Game designer Chris Crawford has just seen his attempt to raise $150,000 to create an environmental simulation game called Balance of the Planet fall far short of its target. A day before the campaign was due to end, he had raised just $13,488.

In an interview with games site Gamasutra, Crawford put the failure down to his decision to use Kickstarter.

“Kickstarter used to be a semi-charitable operation in which people could assist worthy creative projects that might not make it commercially, but still ought to be done. But in the area of games and comics, this is no longer the case.

“What’s going on now, which I did not comprehend at the time, is that Kickstarter is a marketing channel [for games], so instead of buying a game after it’s made, people just pay for a game before it’s made. It works in that context, but I had entirely the wrong context in mind, so Balance of the Planet’s Kickstarter became a dismal failure.” 

That sounds like an attempt to shift the blame but it is true that pre-orders disguised as rewards have turned Kickstarter into a place to raise funds for marketable products rather than good causes. Other sites can do issues better, though. It’s possible that had Crawford placed his project on IndieGogo, which has a section dedicated to environmental causes, he would have pulled in more money.

If your project fails to gain traction on Kickstarter, then you can think about relaunching it on the same site with a goal in line with the pledges you’ve received. But you can also think about trying one of Kickstarter’s niched alternatives.

Create Your Own Kickstarter

Digitulus’s Skyjacker came close enough to its goal to consider a second shot. The games company managed to raise an impressive $128,238 to complete its space combat game. But it was aiming for $200,000 so it got nothing.

That all or nothing approach is one of Kickstarter’s most important principles. Creators, the site believes, shouldn’t have to try to complete a project with an incomplete budget. But that’s not an approach that suits everyone. Digitulus’s response was to move its rewards to its online store where customers can pay up to $10,000 for an “I’m a Legend” bundle. The firm may not make the full $200,000 and without a time limit or a sense that the project will be canceled if it’s not supported, backers may simply choose to wait until the game comes out then buy a copy.

But if the money is a bonus that enables you to enhance a project rather than complete it, then shifting the rewards from Kickstarter to your own site will allow you to continue to raise cash as you work towards the release.

Being one of the small majority of Kickstarters that fails to get funded might be disappointing but it doesn’t have to mean the end of your dream. There’s no limit to the number of times you can put the same project on Kickstarter; there are plenty of alternatives to Kickstarter; and you don’t have to use Kickstarter to sell your rewards and take the cash.

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