Five lessons I Learned from a Successful Kickstarter

Brett Uren,who launched and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for his project Torsobear: Yarns from Toyburg, has kindly agreed to share his top five lessons that anyone looking to follow in his footsteps should heed.

‘Funding success is the mid-point in a process’

Let it be said right now that Kickstarter is an amazing tool that is already creating a new paradigm for budding entrepreneurs and creative thinkers across the world. Anyone who has had even a sniff near the internet in the last couple of years will have gotten a sense of it and the pros/cons of crowdfunding in general. Late or non delivery on those games projects is well documented, Double Fine being the exception.

But, that’s probably not why you’re reading this, right? Chances are you’re a budding creator, soon-to-be project runner or curious comics fan trying to get a sense of what makes a successful campaign just so? There are a million articles out there on how to create the perfect Kickstarter, on the possible pitfalls, and you should read them. I highly recommend the indie publisher Comixtribe’s excellent blog piece on Joe Mulvery’s ‘Scam’ Hardcover trade paperback, it got me through a couple of spots where the ideas dried up.

This article is not about some ideal situation you hope to find yourself in or pitfall avoidance, but rather on how funding success is the mid-point in a process. This is marriage  counselling to the birds and bees you’ll have been given so far.

Here Beginneth the Lessons

1) Do the math, do it again and plan ’til you can’t plan no more.

Most boring one out the way first. You can get your printing, merch and other costs worked out ahead of time, but if you like me decide that extra incentives, like sketches or posters, are needed for the mid-campaign lull, then you likely haven’t factored any extra costs for those… let alone the postage.

My suggestion is, even before you conceive of setting up a rough Kickstarter page, go back and do some role-playing on how well the campaign goes. Get some friends and/or your crowdfunding team to go over it with you step-by-step and see what extras you can think of to tempt the undecided, being careful to not make your early adopters wish they’d held off or that you’re devaluing the rewards they already picked. Or advertising, such as banner ads, check with other campaigns and companies as to their effectiveness, how and when. Even an old school leaflet drop at a con or locally can help with less cost, but more effort and time.

The bottom line is, anything you didn’t factor into your original budget or leave some extra slush money for is going to bite you. Heck it, as things go on you may lose a supplier or have to change printers, and also have to cover the extras. Keep re-evaluating your costs and find ways to trim them if you can. And keep a record of absolutely everything. Because if there’s a couple of things that will utterly wreck even successful Kickstarters, it’s…


2) Fee, ops, post

I’ve spoken to a few fellow creators who’ve run campaigns and ended up owing by the end. How could these successfully funded people end up in the red?

Firstly, it’s Kickstarters’ fee, which can be a little bit of an unknown quantity until the campaign is done, as you don’t know what your final total will be. But try to leave yourself an 8% amount over what your target actually is. For UK guys, add another 1% onto that for VAT on the fees. Basically, adding in 10% over what you need will stop from having your total eaten into.

Exchange rate fluctuations on your foreign backers final pledge amounts can make for an added surprise if you’re not prepared. If most of your backers come from your country of origin, then fine. Otherwise, best keep an eye loosely on the business bit of the news, which I never really did before and I’m sure most of you didn’t either.

Postage. Good Gordon Freeman this is the worst. The guys I mentioned before who got caught by this, got caught for a fair reason.

This is by far the biggest unknown quantity in your campaign. You can work out the postage costs for your average pledge pack, basic reward items and overseas (read: double or more to your own country) post, but you’ll have next to no clue how much to put aside precisely and accurately budget, as you won’t know exactly where your backers will come from until the final hour is done.

If it’s weighted more in your home turf, you know pretty much that maybe a couple of hundred for a hundred books or so could be about right, with some extra for overseas. But if, for example, all of my backers came from the US, then it would be essentially doubling the book’s costs to me.

The unfortunate flipside to this is that there is good evidence that pricey postage will deter potential backers, whereas putting ‘FREE shipping’ on your page actually entices them.

The best you can do is try to build in your flat home turf shipping rate into your reward structure, and ask for the balance as a shipping add on. Be mindful not to go Amazon on people with excessive charges, it will put people off.


3) No Crowdfunder is an island

On my latest project I got to work with a stunning amount of talented people. The final product is testament to that, there is simply no way I could have produced work of such high professional quality, in barely a couple of months (once you count up the man-hours) with such relative ease (I’ve heard of fellow writers having way more bother with just one artist and colourist team, let alone ten). I would never chose to crowdfund alone again.

What your team also are is your greatest advantage when it comes to getting the message out there and getting noticed. Between contributors providing press contacts and ins with blogs, lists of retailers and Yotube channels to contact, the reach your campaign gets will improve immeasurably the more involved they are.

Avoiding the nullifying effect that becoming spammy with your shares/updates/posts can have is a fine balance, it helps if there is something a little unique that you can all update on a daily basis. Our daily sketch draw is only one such option.

To achieve this, it is well worth coming up with a planned schedule for press contact/releases and social updates. I was lucky enough to have two team members who actually work in marketing and gave extensively of their own expertise.

For the rest of you, it may be another case of meticulous planning and research for you or another team member.


4) Get interactive

This seems like a no-brainer to call out directly, but people are far more engaged with advertising and products that they have a direct stake or involvement in. Interacting with your backers, getting them to do so in return and rewarding them specifically for being involved will only improve the likelihood of a positive outcome.

We set up a referrer program, where backers recommended our campaign to their friends, who if then backed us as well could message me with their referrers name for a unique reward. We even got non-backers involved in similar way, earning themselves a spot on our thank you page for referring someone who then backed us.

Another way to go can be adding new reward levels in the last couple of weeks, as quite a few campaigns do, but doing so in accordance with backers behaviour.

The best example of this was our plush toy reward as part of a larger bundle. Some backers wanted the toy, or a tshirt, but told us they couldn’t necessarily afford the full package they were connected with, so later in the campaign we added t-shirt and plush toy only reward tiers, then getting their backing by listening to what they wanted.


5) Keep on truckin’

It’s a full time job in itself, running a Kickstarter.  But really you have to be a rolling stone,  constantly attending to some part of it, from before to after when the fulfillment portion of your campaign kicks in. Give yourself a realistic time frame to complete not only the work, but administrative and logistical processes. Getting other team members who are willing to help involved is ideal.

Ultimately, if you’ve had one successful Kickstarter, you’ll want to do another at some point. Making your backers wait and/or doing a shoddy job of getting them their rewards and keeping them updated will reflect on how likely they are to return to your new campaign and tell their friends.


Here endeth the Lessons

Many successful comic campaigners have built an audience over a series of funding drives, bringing them to the point of making a living doing such. You may not reach this lofty goal, but doing your best to approach it in this way can only help you, your product and your team’s reputations and some measure of professional standing.

It is hard going, but if you’re using Kickstarter it’s likely for a passion project, and passion is the best motivator, marketing asset and attraction to you that exists.

Above all things, be passionate.


You can find out more about Brett and Torso bear over at their website.

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