How to Have a Successful Kickstarter Project and Not Lose Your House

20 June 2013 | 20 Comments

Glory to RomeLately it seems like everyone and their mother are sharing an article on Quartz called “This Man Lost His House Because His Kickstarter Was Too Successful.” I’m a little worried that people–including the author of that article–are missing the point about this “cautionary tale,” so I’d like to address a few things here.

The gist of the story is that Ed Carter, the creator of the “Glory to Rome” Kickstarter project, ran a successful campaign in which he raised $73,102 from 1,612 backers. One of the marquee aspects of the campaign was that he offered a copy of the game for pickup at any game store worldwide for $35 (or add $5 to have it sent directly to you).

A number of things proceeded to go wrong, including (these are quotes from the article):

  1. “Soon after he made the link, his Chinese-speaking head of operations quit over disagreements about free shipping and his relationship with a Chinese girl fell apart, leaving him with nobody who could speak Chinese.”
  2. “It hadn’t occurred to Carter to add “no step” to the shipping documentation, which would have told handlers not to put anything heavy on top of the fragile game boxes. Stacking one pallet on top of another crushed them.”
  3. “Sending 100 games to Australia meant fat expenses but not enough to benefit from economies of scale.”

All of this resulted in Carter choosing to stop making payments on a house he owned in Boston (he lives in Amsterdam).

Look, I have nothing against Carter. But I do have a problem with project creators who don’t do their research, because it’s not just them who suffer–it’s hundreds, if not thousands, of backers. Not doing your research and making excuses is extremely disrespectful of the backers who trust you with their money.

All three of those points illustrated above indicate not just a lack of research, but also a sense of victimization, as if those things were somehow out of Carter’s control. Take the first one–the author of the article writes, “leaving him with nobody who could speak Chinese.” Wait a minute. I’m pretty sure there are about a billion people who speak Chinese. Are you really using that as an excuse? Really?

I have more understanding of the second issue–that’s the type of thing you might have to learn the hard way. But the last one…the last one is inexcusable. It literally takes 2 minutes to use an online shipping calculator to figure out that shipping to Australia is really expensive. From anywhere in the world. Economies of scale work on the manufacturing level, but not with shipping.

I doubt that any project creator has run a flawless campaign from start to finish, from launch to delivery. We make mistakes, and weird things happen that we don’t expect. But please, fellow project creators, don’t play the victim. It is not becoming of you. When you’re presented with a challenge, find a solution (even if it means tapping into personal assets–couldn’t Carter have sold his house instead of stopping making payments on it?), and keep your backers informed every step of the way.

Some key takeaways:

  1. Do your research so you know that there are people who speak Chinese other than your head of operations and your girlfriend.
  2. Do your research so you know how to properly pack your product. If you can, find a company to pack it for you, because packing 1,000 games can take a really long time.
  3. Do your research so you know how much it costs to ship your product anywhere and everywhere in the world, then price it accordingly.
  4. Do your research so you know how to create and deliver your product if your project is more successful than you anticipated. (This is just general knowledge. The article’s title seems to indicate that Carter’s misfortune was caused by his success, based on the rest of the article’s content, he would have run into all of those issues even if he barely reached his funding goal.)
  5. Try not to quit or lose your day job. You might need your salary to deliver on your Kickstarter promises.
  6. Be a resourceful, honest project creator when things go wrong, not a victim. Sometimes this might mean making personal sacrifices like eating ramen for a month or selling your house. Don’t make backers feel guilty for that. They did their part by pledging to your project. Now do your part and deliver on  your promises, no matter what it takes.

Don’t let Carter’s story scare you away from trying a Kickstarter. Let it inspire you to be a better creator.

Leave a Comment

20 Comments on “How to Have a Successful Kickstarter Project and Not Lose Your House

  1. As much as I normally hate to resurrect a necrothread, I have to get this off my chest. I’ve been playing GTR for just about a year now. I did a review on BGG and in the comments, I let it slip that I believed Ed Carter to be responsible in large part for the game’s ultimate failure.

    I was accused of libel. Libel! For basically saying the same things you said here (although perhaps a little less artfully). SMDH…

  2. Gets me how so many of the new campaigns are using this story as a reason to not give value to their products currently. And so many early backers are telling campaigns not too offer too good of stretch goals now cause they don’t want to see them loose money and not deliver product cause of it. As you mentioned, its about research and planning ahead of time to determine costs and what you can deliver. Running a project is not an easy thing to do if you don’t do your due diligences.
    I feel kickstarter isn’t a retail store, and that goals aren’t to make money, but to fund as much content (expansions, component quality ect..) to have a product at end for retail sale. Seems that a lot of campaigns lately are shifting to use it as a money making tool, instead of a crowd funding tool, and feel if that trend continues, Kickstarter will suffer in long run for it.

  3. Years ago I read an interview with a Russian general (I can’t find it online, sorry). In that interview, the Russian was asked “What’s the hardest part of fighting Americans?” The Russian responded “Well, we know their plans better than they do.” The interviewer was a bit stunned and took it, I think, as the Russian was being arrogant and condescending. I disagree –

    The point I think the Russian was making was that a plan is only as good as the first minute it is in action. In warfare, things change before they start. As a former soldier, I’ve seen it first hand. As former Military Intel, I’ve made them change before they happen. Sometimes, innumerable variables come into play that evidence contingencies are as important as improvisation. LIkewise, I believe it was Rommel who remarked that fighting Americans in Africa was harder than fighting the British because the British were indoctrinated to tank warfare, thus less likely to adapt to a changing environment, but Americans weren’t; education is superior than re-education.

    Both points are aptly made in context to the situation this gentleman found himself, and to any project. Aside from logistics as a cornerstone to any successful program, understanding that while you may be unable to control aspects of your “force” or an “opposing force” (read: overseas contacts, girlfriend, distributor, etc.) there’s always a possibility to at least manipulate the environment, even if it means simply adapting to the requirements of a hypothetical contingency and maintaining your own environment – an ecosystem, if you will.

  4. As someone considering running a campaign in the future, I truly appreciate this article because of how it makes a counterpoint otherwise lost in the sea of like-mindedness toward victimization of the campaign creator. Both the main linked article and yours make points I hadn’t considered – fortunately it is one research entry that I didn’t have to go far to find and prompts a longer list of things to research before moving forward beyond the idea. I’m not sure how many people progress their KS programs, but in my life I’ve found the most success with evaluating logistics of a plan prior to any other aspect; if I can’t move the tangible portion of the idea then the idea is just an idea and not much of a product (in my opinion). Right now, I feel that if I can determine a way to get the product to where i may need to go, then I can move forward with getting it manufactured and return to greater focus on building prototypes to have manufactured. I guess it sounds a little backward, but isn’t that the best way to navigate amaze when you have the ability to pick your own starting point?

    Thanks for writing this.

    1. I think it’s very prudent to work through the logistics first, as you say here. Logistics shouldn’t be an afterthought like it appears they were with the guy in this article.

  5. Thanks for writing this article, Jamey. I saw the articles going around and had much the same reaction you did, and it bothered me that people were trying to spin it so that the creator was the victim here. But you’ve articulated it better than I could.

    1. Thanks! I’m surprised my blog entry is the first counter-point to the article…if you spot any others, let me know!

  6. Thank you for blogging about this story, Jamey. I had seen it earlier in the week and I was hoping you might address it. While the article serves a purpose as a cautionary tale for future project managers, it did appear that the issues could have been mitigated by additional preparation. Your insightful Kickstarter Lessons series is a great place to start for those aspiring to follow in your footsteps.

    1. Hey Alex, thanks for your comment. I was debating whether or not to say anything, because I don’t like to speak poorly of another project creator, but the original article was just too misleading. I felt it needed clarification so people wouldn’t take the wrong message from it.

  7. Very interesting article, Jamey! I’ve grown quite tired of folks boasting that they are going to “revolutionize” the way that Kickstarter currently works with the boardgaming industry, but without even making a claim in that direction, I think you are well on your way.

    1. Dustin–Thanks! I certainly don’t want to make that claim! :) I (like many creators) just try to do what’s best for my backers and follow through on my promises.

  8. GtR was the first project I backed on Kickstarter, and it almost turned me off to the whole enterprise.

    These articles that talk about Ed’s victimization at the hands of circumstances and, by association, entitled backers miss the point. Most of us weren’t upset that things went wrong (that happens). What we were upset about was that 1) he didn’t communicate with us, making us think we were getting things on schedule; 2) when he did communicate, it was misleading or untrue (I don’t think this was malicious); 3) when he did communicate, his explanations were often passive-aggressive, trying to elicit sympathy from people who had paid in advance and might never receive their product. Furthermore, he deputized several people to answer communications for him, and none of them seemed to know, at any given moment, what was going on, and their damage control on BGG and Kickstarter often did more harm than good.

    I received my black box and love it (it’s one of my top five games, despite some of the production issues). And I’m very sorry Ed lost his house. But the campaign itself was a debacle, and articles like this don’t really get at why it was such a failure.

    1. Jonathan–Thanks for your comment. I think this part in particular bugs me about Carter: “when he did communicate, his explanations were often passive-aggressive, trying to elicit sympathy from people who had paid in advance and might never receive their product.” I just don’t get the whole “sob story” element, especially when he’s talking to people who have given him a ton of money. It’s okay to be human on Kickstarter–in fact, I think it’s good to be human, to have a personality and vulnerability–but your backers aren’t there to be your therapist, nor are they giving to a charity. It’s a business transaction.

      Carter mentions at the end of the article that he would consider doing a Kickstarter again. I wonder if any of his original backers would return for Round 2 with him.

      1. As much as I love the product I eventually received, I wouldn’t. Which is a shame. His company makes decent games, and I know that cash flow is a boon to smaller companies. But I won’t pay him in advance again.

  9. My biggest complaint comes from the store’s perspective. I got ten calls from the company producing GTR regarding people being able to pick up their copies of glory to rome at my store. this wasn’t product i could sell, i would act as storage, far after the campaign, and without the permission of the company. This seems ludicrous.

    1. Wow, I didn’t even think of that part of it. That is terribly presumptuous of a creator. Though I shouldn’t expect more forethought from someone without the ability to google “translator services”.

  10. Great points. Integrity is paramount in any business transaction. Goof ups happen, but no matter how bad you messed up you do everything you can to make it right with the customer, even if that means inconvenience or loss for you. Treat people right by fixing your mistakes and they will come back to do business with you again and again. Thanks for sharing!

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