10 Kickstarter Lessons for Which I Changed My Mind

30 October 2017

Over the last 5 years, I’ve written and published around 500 articles on this blog, including 235 “Kickstarter Lessons.” Today I decided to go back through those lessons to see what I’ve changed my mind about.

The subtle lesson for me in doing this is reminding myself that it’s okay to change my mind without sacrificing my principles. If I’m not truly open to changing my mind, it means that I’m also probably not listening to people who have different opinions, which severely limits my potential for growth and improvement. I don’t want that.

I think part of the challenge with changing your mind is that sometimes you’re shamed for it. Look how the news portrays politicians who change the mind–they’re flip-floppers. I’ve had plenty of people say things like, “I’m surprised/disappointed you ever thought that was a good idea.” Why would you shame someone for learning from experience instead of celebrating their evolution?

Just to be clear, the statements in bold below are my original opinions, not my current stance.

  1. Every project should have a $1 reward level (KS Lesson #113). While I still like the intent of the $1 reward level–and I enjoy creating $1 reward levels–Kickstarter has somewhat made them obsolete by adding an option at the top of all reward levels that says “Make a pledge without a reward.”
  2. Paid custom art is a good idea (KS Lesson #87). Including custom art in your game or product can be a fun idea–after all, many artists use models for their work. The problem is that when you have someone pay for custom art, you are beholden to them, and that can be a huge hassle. I go into this in detail in this post, but in short, I think a small amount of custom art provided for free to your top volunteers is a good idea, but not for backers to buy.
  3. Early birds and exclusives are integral to a campaign’s success (KS Lessons #62 and #60). Believe it or not, I once thought early bird rewards and exclusives were a good thing! As you probably know from reading my blog over the last few years (particularly this post), I’ve changed my mind on these subjects.
  4. Time of year doesn’t matter (KS Lesson #9). I originally said that time of year doesn’t matter, but I now think that the holiday shopping season isn’t a great time to launch a project because people are focused on instant results (i.e., gifts they can give right away). Also, the Coolest cooler illustrated that if your product is primarily used or themed for a certain time of year, it’s best to run the project at that time.
  5. Your first choice of artists and graphic designers should be your friends (KS Lesson #3). When I’m looking for an artist, I’m looking for the best fit for the project. This is mostly about quality and style of art, though communication, reliability, and price can also be factors. Friendship, however, is not a factor at all.
  6. Don’t start your work day by checking your e-mail (KS Lesson #221). This is the most recent post I’ve changed my mind about. The idea was that the way you start your day can have a big impact on your happiness and productivity. I think that core idea is true. But for me, I’ve found that it makes me feel productive and happy if I clear out most of my inbox first thing in the morning, and I feel like I can best serve the people who reach out to me if I do that.
  7. If your project hasn’t reached 33% of its funding goal by Day 14, you’re better off canceling it (KS Lesson #49). I’m really hesitant to recommend to anyone that they “should” cancel their project–that’s a very personal choice. However, I think Kickstarter has evolved to the point that if you haven’t reached 100% funding within 1 week, there’s a high probability that core aspects of your campaign need to change before it can be successful.
  8. There is no magic bullet for Kickstarter success (KS Lesson #110). As it turns out, there is! One of the founders of perhaps the most successful Kickstarter-driven company, CMON, revealed a while ago that finding a true tastemaker to share your project can make a monumental difference.
  9. It’s important to explain why you need the funds (KS Lesson #13). It’s possible there are a small number of backers who care about and are swayed by a creator detailing why they need the funds, but I bet it’s a fraction of a minority. Kickstarter is about so much more than just funding, both in terms of its benefits and what backers care about. So while I don’t think it’ll hurt a project for a creator to explain why they need the funds, I also don’t think it helps.
  10. It’s best to put up a pay gate for the print-and-play files (KS Lesson #10). If there’s content that backers can use to make an informed decision, I’d much rather provide that information for them on the project page, not require them to pledge first to get it.

One that didn’t quite make the list was stretch goals. My opinions have changed so much about stretch goals and I’ve seen so much innovation in that category that I don’t know what’s best or if there is a “best” approach. I think I may have been one of the first creators to use some non-funding stretch goals way back on the original Viticulture campaign (things like Facebook likes or number of backers). I stopped doing that after a while, but I still think it’s neat to see when projects like Badlands have a few of them.

Is there an opinion I’ve expressed on my blog that you disagree with? Or if you’re a repeat creator, is there something you once believed that you’ve since changed your mind about?

18 Comments on “10 Kickstarter Lessons for Which I Changed My Mind

  1. Well done for being brave. What worked 2 years ago might not work today. This is the business world we live in.

    P.S. Possible typo in #1 “While I still like the intent of the $1 reward level–and I enjoy create $1 reward levels–Kickstarter has somewhat…” Should it be “creating $1…”? If you change it you can also remove this paragraph if you want.

  2. Thanks for being humble in your writing first and foremost. I am still planning to utilize a $1 and up level – as even though they have added the give without a reward option it doesn’t really have a call to action. Shouldn’t we seem in on all levels?

    My idea was to make a ‘perler’ that said “I love my backers” or something… so that I could wear it in public at shows I go to. My game revolves around music festivals, so I figured that i could tie it in. Or would you recommend that it be more of a part of the campaign page and not an official tier?

    1. foolishpanda: I like it! I continue to like unique, thematic $1 reward levels like that. I’d recommend that you make sure it doesn’t take up much space in the reward sidebar, though–maybe 2 lines at most.

  3. Thanks for sharing this! I like how you update previous posts when things change slightly so they are more of a living resource than being written in stone. Not only has the Kickstarter community changed over the time you’ve been writing this blog, but so has your company and your experience. What might have been “right” for you when working on your first or second campaign may be “wrong” for you if you were to launch a campaign today.

  4. From 10-31-17 CNBC interview of Venture Capitalist Guy Kawasaki, who worked closely with Steve Jobs at Apple during its early days:
    “One of the most important lessons that I learned from Steve Jobs is that changing your mind, changing what you’re doing, reversing yourself at an extreme,” Guy Kawasaki “is a sign of intelligence.”
    “It’s a sign of competence,” he adds.
    Kawasaki says this mindset — being able to admit a mistake and change — can help you get ahead in your career. It shows bravery and a commitment to success, he says.
    “When you figure out you’re doing something wrong, don’t try to bluff your way, don’t try to perpetuate a mistake,”

  5. Thanks for this article Jamey. Was having trouble deciding which of your advice from 2015 is still relevant today and this really helped. We are in day 14 of our campaign – its going well for our first. But I am continually amazed by so many adamant ‘you must do this in KS to succeed’ opinions. Some have been helpful, but we have not seen any one thing that is a silver bullet or poison. This blog seems to agree with that. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Jeff! I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the information I put out there is still relevant today. :) I agree that there’s no silver bullet, though I can think of a few things that are almost always Kickstarter poison (unless you have a massive audience of adoring fans). Good luck on the rest of your campaign!

  6. […] Kickstarter Thoughts Jamey Stegmaier is known for his frequent blog posts, especially his “Kickstarter Lessons.” He recently looked back at a few that he’s changed his mind about. “The subtle lesson for me in doing this is reminding myself that it’s okay to change my mind without sacrificing my principles. If I’m not truly open to changing my mind, it means that I’m also probably not listening to people who have different opinions, which severely limits my potential for growth and improvement.” Source: https://stonemaiergames.com/10-kickstarter-lessons-for-which-i-changed-my-mind/ […]

  7. I like “small amount of custom art provided for free to your top volunteers is a good idea”. If/when I do a kickstarter I think I will do this. When you did custom art did you have to get them to sign an image rights document?

  8. To me, point 7 is so sad. If you’re 100% funded, that should be seen as a success! If someone feels like being 100% funded is a failure, that just goes to show the ridiculous state we have reached where everyone is chasing higher numbers and eternally seeking greater and greater profits, with the ‘goal’ just being a case of false advertising.

    Of course, I’m aware that by being ‘extra funded’ you get shifted higher and you get some inertia. But it all just seems very dishonest to me if you’re not happy to meet a ‘goal’.

    1. Bez: That’s an interesting perspective. I don’t think #7 is saying that 100% funded is a failure; rather, it’s saying that if you haven’t successfully funded within about a week, there’s a huge probability that there are core elements of your project that will prevent it from funding at all. So it’s a signal, not a judgment, and creators can use that signal to cancel and evaluate rather than hang onto false hope on a sinking ship (a ship that they didn’t properly build in the first place).

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