Kickstarter Lesson #101: Momentum Breeds Success

10 June 2014 | 20 Comments

Something happened at a wedding reception this past weekend that I haven’t stopped thinking about.

After the last of the “spotlight” dances (bride and groom, bride and father of the bride, groom and mother of the groom), the DJ announced a mandate to the room of 300 or so attendees.

“I need everyone in the room to get on the dance floor right now. Everyone is going  to dance to this song, even if this is the only song you dance to tonight.”

The peer pressure was overwhelming, so nearly everyone–from those who really wanted to dance but didn’t want to be the first ones on the dance floor to those who really didn’t want to dance–shuffled to the front and danced for a few minutes to “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas.

When the song was over, a few people left the dance floor, but the vast majority stayed.

What does this have to do with Kickstarter? Whether you’re a DJ at a wedding full of strangers or a new Kickstarter creator, your biggest challenge is getting people to show up at the beginning. The DJ solved that problem using peer pressure, and then he made sure people had a good time afterwards. You can solve that problem by building a fanbase and creating relationships with the media well before your project launches–there are a dozen or so Kickstarter Lessons about that here, and John Coveyou talked about a unique method he used here.

But up until this point, I haven’t talked about the impact of momentum on a project–the why behind your motives for getting people to show up on launch day. Perhaps the anecdotal evidence from the wedding will suffice for some, but I love data, and I finally have some data to support this claim.

A recent study published by behavioral psychologist Dr. Arnout van de Rijt (shared with me by alert reader R.B.) showed that early support of a project translates into more funding from other sources than projects without early support. Here’s the basis for the study:

Dr van de Rijt picked 200 new and unfunded projects and gave half of them, chosen at random, either 1% or 10% of their stated target.

Only 39% of projects in the control group (ie, those that did not benefit from Dr van de Rijt’s largesse) got even a single donation from another source during the trial period of 24 days when the team was monitoring things. By contrast, 70% of those to which he had given seed money received at least one other donation.

That’s a significant difference. Basically, van de Rijt shows that people are more likely to join in if they’re not the first ones on the dance floor.

Interestingly, the study goes on to show this:

When he and his team then looked to see whether the effect was related to the size of the initial leg-up, they found it was not. It made no difference whether their Kickstarter donation was 1% or 10% of the target sum. Nor, as a subsequent experiment showed, did having four apparently separate donors each give 1%.

It’s not a matter of quantity–it’s the fact that your project has some level of support, period. That’s not really what I expected, at least not the last point. It seems like having more backers–even at the $1 level–would instill confidence in other potential backers (like seeing a long line at a restaurant–it must be good!) It does reinforce the evidence that having a $1 level is really important.

The nice thing about this is that your job just got a lot easier. All you have to do is get one backer, and your chances of getting subsequent backers jumps from 39% to 70%. I would extrapolate upon that and take a lesson from Funding the Dream’s Richard Bliss–every time you’re struggling to figure out what to do next on your campaign, just try to get one more backer. Just one. You can do that!

One related question posed to me recently by creator Yama Ploskonka is: Couldn’t creators game the system? Given the importance of momentum, couldn’t they appeal to a few friends to pledge $100 or so each and then later retract their pledges?

First, let’s address the obvious: Real pledges are always better than fake pledges. So sure, while a creator could possibly get some friends to sign up for big pledges on day one that they’ll cancel a few weeks later, it’s way better if you get that money instead from people who are actually excited about the project and aren’t going to cancel.

It’s for that reason that most people (to my knowledge) don’t do what you’re describing here. You’ve probably experienced this as a project creator–you’re putting something out there to the world that’s very important to you, and you want the world to accept it. You want the world to WANT it. Having backers sign up to support you–particularly complete strangers–feels really good. I think the vast majority of creators don’t want to game the system because they’re hoping people will love their project for what it is.

Second, could you game the system? Sure. And it might just work–the data I mentioned today shows that it would make a difference. But I predict that gaming the system would actually lead to something else, something I’ve seen quite often on projects that offer early-bird rewards: They fund rather quickly, and then…hardly anything happens for the next 30 days. Momentum helps, but if you don’t have a cool, compelling project with attractive, inclusive price points, early momentum isn’t going to translate to a consistent flow of backers to help you fund and overfund.

What do you think?

To delve deeper into this topic, check out this episode of Funding the Dream on Kickstarter and this follow-up episode.

20 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #101: Momentum Breeds Success

  1. I’d point to Michael Coe of Gamelyn Games as an exemplar here. He has an outstanding social media presence that allows him to build that backer excitement and momentum prior to day one, often with complete and total strangers, not just the friends and family that you expect on that first launch day.

    I haven’t studied very many completely failed campaigns- those with absolutely no backers- but I can definitely agree that your first backer improves your chance of success- with an addendum that your first backer who is a complete stranger is the actual catalyst to the double or triple chances.

  2. I agree with you Jamey. This is one of the ideas I have in my mind for the relaunch of our project. Usually every time we have a backer, another one joins the project.

    I also think that if your project reach the goal early, you would get much more backers than a project that takes long to reach it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Greetings from Spain.

    PS: We have a little surprise for you and allan in our project :)

    1. Carlos: I’m curious about the surprise! And I completely agree about your statement that quick-to-fund projects are more likely to maintain that momentum than slow-to-fund projects (except for projects that fund because of early birds).

  3. I think $1 levels on kickstarter are awesome, so I’m glad to see another reason why they are important. That first one dollar pledge could be enough to start the funding snowball!

    And while I don’t anticipate personally running a kickstarter campaign, I do hope to get married one day. I’m totally putting that DJ’s technique in my mental index of wedding ideas!

  4. Hmmmm, this is a good start but I would be interested in seeing how this data looks with the exclusion of unfunded projects that were not new. I would never pledge money to an unfunded campaign. How can you trust someone who hasn’t been able to convince anyone he already knows to pledge a single dollar? I can’t. So any show of trust probably impacted those campaigns more than any other, and so I would be interested in taking a closer look even if only to be proven wrong.

    I guess it’s research time for me!

  5. Thank you for continuing the excellent community buildning work even though your in your hundereds. Another phenomena that Ive seen is being really glued to the keyboard on launchday and creating a momentum in the comments. Showing that you really know your project and being responsive to early adopters is for me a big GO sign. A recent example is Isaacs Forgewar i think.

    1. Markus: Absolutely, I think that’s really important on launch day. I always recommend that people take the day off from work and focus solely on Kickstarter on launch day. Isaac has done a great job–he’ll join me on the blog next week for an interview. :)

  6. Wow, I get mentioned by The Master and it takes me a week to notice. Jamie, thanks for following up. You putting a link in your article to the STEMginery campaign is living the real Community mindset that you talk about.
    I am glad to report that I am past 300%, with 16 hours to go.

    Yesterday I did a presentation in our local Techshop regarding how to succeed at your first Kickstarter. One of my main points is precisely the $1 thing. It sort of worked for me that I insisted to all my friends, family, acquittance that I *expected* each one to put one dollar. I even did a blog post on that.
    I do send a personal message to every single backer. For the one dollar ones I mention that my personal gratitude for their participation is maybe in some ways even greater, as quite obviously they came in to show support, friendliness, beyond what too often is almost a mere commercial exchange.

    I do make a point to drop $1 on every educational construction project I come across. I do it that way because I am on a shoestring, nice to know that it has a wider impact!

    As to tricks, sorry to here put on my grey hat on, Kickstarter is *not* a level playing field, it is non-obvious, and as a prime example of post-post-modern capitalism, it displays the very best and the very worst of capitalism. If you are strong, healthy and determinate, your chances are better. I just found out a couple days ago that my first patent (still pending) got published. When you are into patents, it becomes, alas, almost your primary nature to be very, very sensitive to any twist or trick that will give you an edge, or at circumstances that could get somebody to go through your own stuff.

    Oh yes, do take off the day of launch, and better if you can two or three. Do your homework!

    Etc. We’ll keep in touch. BTW, I’m still waiting for your dollar. Really. You want in because you want the updates as the project goes beyond closing date. Though now that I think of it, you don’t need to, since, following your advice, all my updates are public. but it would be nice…

    my blog post on $1 participants
    http://blog.atxinventor.com/2014/05/what-your-dollar-is-for/

    and of course, link to the STEMginery Kickstarter, almost done,
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/yamaplos/stemginery-3d-build-learn-play-make-game-free2copy

  7. Jamey, still here… :-)

    Turns out Kickstarter has rules against what some of what I was concerned someone could do to “game” the system
    I quote:
    A review of the project uncovered evidence of one or more violations of Kickstarter’s rules, which include:

    A related party posing as an independent, supportive party in project comments or elsewhere
    Misrepresenting support by pledging to your own project
    Misrepresenting or failing to disclose relevant facts about the project or its creator
    Providing inaccurate or incomplete user information to Kickstarter or one of our partners

    http://hackaday.com/2014/06/26/the-ifind-kickstarter-campaign-was-just-suspended/

    Now, I’ve never seen such rules… I think they are quite reasonable, but it doesn’t seem things are simple.

    Oh and BTW, I didn’t know that Amazon actually intends to sit on my money 15 days. They say “it might take 15 days”, but I honestly thought it had to do with some pledges that took longer, that the main body would be available. Well, 97% of my people have paid so far, been charged successfully, but according to Amazon, so far I owe them money.

  8. Hey, thanks for your follow up! I’m glad Kickstarter tries to prevent people from gaming the system.

    I’ve never seen Amazon take that long with my Kickstarter funds. I’m usually able to withdraw them after a few days.

  9. Thanks for all these posts Jamey, they are very helpful. I’ve looked through almost all your posts and haven’t seen anything about giveaways. In order to gain momentum for a Kickstarter, can you have a giveaway posted on the main Kickstarter page? For example, broadcasting that out of anybody who shares the page on Twitter or Facebook, 10 will be randomly chosen to receive the product for free. Does Kickstarter allow this? Do you think it’s a good idea?

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