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What Works on Kickstarter

With several projects now topping a million dollars in pledges, Kickstarter strategies are becoming clearer.

Between the evening of February 8, 2012 and the evening of February 9, 2012 Kickstarter had the craziest 24 hours it had seen in its three-year history. On Wednesday, at 6.54 pm, Elevation Dock, a concept for an iPhone stand from design and manufacturing firm ElevationLab, passed TikTok to become the largest project in Kickstarter history by winning $942,579 in pledges. The company had asked for $75,000. At around 2 pm the following day, it became the first million dollar Kickstarter project. It would go on to make $1,464,706. Four hours later, game maker Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure became the second Kickstarter project to pass a million dollars — reaching the milestone less than a day after launching. It went on to earn $3,336,371.

Those are huge successes for two very different projects, and they’re not alone. The open-source funding service has provided the means for projects as varied as comic books and gardening gear to find the money they need to go into production. So what does it take to turn a concept not just into a success on Kickstarter, but into a blockbuster that gives you all you dreamed of and more? What lessons can we learn from the some of the site’s biggest success stories?

Below we look at three Kickstarter projects that earned giant sums of money, explain what they were, why they worked  — and how you can copy their success.

The Order of the Stick Reprint Drive

What is it?

The Order of the Stick is a comedy/fantasy Web comic published by Rich Burlew. The comic has been online since 2003, and story prequels became available in print form in 2005. By 2010, however, those books were out of print. The aim of the Kickstarter project was to raise funds for a second print run.

Target Amount

$57,500 (reached within 48 hours)

Amount Raised

$1,254,120 from 14,952 backers.

Main Reason for Success


The comic has been online for nearly a decade, has a catalog of 800 strips and a large community of fans familiar with the work. Kickstarter gave Burlew a way for his audience to pay him for a product he was confident they wanted; he didn’t need to build a market for a product no one had heard of.

Reach is an element in many (although not all) of Kickstarter’s most successful projects, including the Double Fine Adventure and former Dresden Doll (and Mrs Neil Gaiman) Amanda Palmer’s new album.

How to Build Reach for Your Kickstarter Project

Use free samples to prepare your market.

In an interview with Kickstarter’s blog, Rich Burlew explains in simple terms how to build an audience for a creative work.

Let them read it (or watch it) for free. Because unless you have the marketing department of a large corporation behind you, you’re not likely to get enough people to take a chance on your unknown property, even through Kickstarter. On the other hand, if you give it away first, people will form their opinion of you and your work before you ask them for money. And readers are a lot more likely to spend money on things they know they like than things they hope they will like.

Before you launch your Kickstarter project, build a website that contains plenty of free samples. Use the reaction to those samples to build interest and hone the product (early Order of the Stick strips are heavy on RPG geekery and light on artwork.)

Reach takes time to build so you’ll have to plan ahead. But a product takes time, too, so as you’re creating your main product, give away samples. You’ll then be able to launch to a prepared market after eight to twelve months.


What is it?

Windowfarms are hanging pots that allow apartment owners to create edible gardens using window light and a home’s climate control.

Target Amount


Amount Raised

$257,307 from 1,577 backers.

Main Reason for Success


While Rich Burlew had built a market for his specific product, Britta Riley, the artist and technology designer behind Windowfarms, was able to tap into a worldwide community of 22,000 windowfarmers that was already experimenting with the concept. Windowfarms itself started in 2009 as an open source community art project.

How to use a Community to Support Your Kickstarter Project

Join the community early and play an active role.

The difference between reach and community is that reach focuses on a single product; a community is part of a movement that might buy related products but which has momentum and ideas of its own.

Before creating the product, join the community and play an active role in its issues. Create forums and open blogs where other community members can post information and manage discussions (such as this one on Windowfarms’ own site.) As you near launch show off your prototypes to gain feedback and display what you’re offering. When you launch, use the community to spread the word. From a community of 22,000, Windowfarms was able to convert about one in fourteen.

Elevation Dock

What is it?

Elevation Dock is an aluminum dock for iPhones that work with cases and which remain on the table when the user picks up the device.

Target Amount

$75,000 (reached in eight hours and fourteen minutes.)

Amount Raised

$1,464,706 from 12,521 backers.

Main Reason for Success

Smart rewards and a good product.

An early thumbs up from John Gruber of Daring Fireball helped to get Elevation Dock rolling. Its rapid growth — $25,000 in the first two hours — attracted media attention that kept the momentum. But a big part of the success for this item, one of a large number of Apple-related products on Kickstarter, was its smart rewards. While other firms go overboard, offering personal meetings and customized designs, Elevation Dock kept things simple. It had a good product that had caught the attention of some important outlets and it allowed people to buy it.

How to Create Smart Rewards to Support Your Kickstarter Project

Keep the rewards simple, and include reseller options.

The bulk of Elevation Dock’s pledges came for different versions of the product. A creative product, such as a show or an album, might require and have the space for personal touches but a physical product should be good enough to stand on its own merits.

Create three different versions of the product with three different price points. Those three products will make for three different pledge options. Add reseller rewards that allow some buyers to purchase in bulk and sell in stores or online. About $155,000 of Elevation Dock’s pledges came from merchants hoping to be the first to stock the product.


Each of these products had a single outstanding sales point that increased their chances of success. Combine them all by making great offers of a great product to a prepared fan base, and you might just be onto a blockbuster too.

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