9 October 2014 | 56 Comments
On Tuesday I recorded an episode of Funding the Dream on Kickstarter with Richard Bliss about giving tough-love feedback. I kind of stumbled through some of my thoughts on the podcast, so I thought I’d try to write them out here.
Thanks to the myriad of forums, Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook groups (here for games and here for general), it’s really easy to get feedback on Kickstarter projects. As someone who both gives and receives advice on a frequent basis, I’ve seen a broad range of positive and negative situations arise from the feedback process. So I thought I’d write out some guidelines to keep in mind for that process.
Also, just to be clear, I am not available for consultation on your Kickstarter project. However, if you have a question, just ask it in the comments of the corresponding Kickstarter Lesson–I try to help out there.
How to Ask for Advice About Your Project
- If you ask for feedback, be open to receiving feedback. Countless times I’ve seen people ask for feedback on Facebook because they either (a) want publicity or (b) want affirmation. Then they get defensive when that’s not what they receive. Don’t be one of those people. Carefully consider if you’re actually ready to receive feedback; if not, just don’t ask! There are much better ways to publicize your project or get affirmation.
- If you ask for feedback, be open to acting on the feedback. It’s one thing to receive feedback well; it’s another to have the courage to incorporate some of it into your project. Time and money are typically the two constraints here, both of which are solvable. You may have had it in your head for months that you need to launch today, but guess what? You don’t need to launch today. And yes, money is a legitimate constraint, but if numerous people have told you to pay for better art, it’s worth the money to get a few beautiful, compelling pieces of art before you launch.
- Ask for feedback after you’ve executed the idea but before the project launches. Ideas are hypothetical–there’s no space for feedback when you just have an idea. You need to have actually made something before you can get feedback on it. But don’t wait too long. If you’re having heart surgery, do you want the doctor to study your MRI for the first time before the surgery or after he’s cut open your chest? Kickstarter is your heart–do it justice by asking for advice before you launch. Preferably at least a month before launch, but after you’ve finished the first draft of the project page (it’s tough for people to look at a work in progress for the purposes of offering advice).
- Ask very specific questions. It’s fine to ask for general advice about your project page, but a much better way to get your foot in the door is to ask 1-3 very specific questions. If you do, you’ll likely get some great ancillary advice as well.
- If you ask for feedback during a project, ask for people to tell you the top 3 reasons why your project is failing and brace for impact. That’s the right question to ask. The wrong question at that point–but the one most people ask–is, “How do I get backers?”
- Seek feedback from more than one person. Originally I wrote this point as “not all advice is created equal.” But I decided to rephrase it, because it’s just as helpful for you to get feedback from a creator whose project barely funded at $5,000 as it is to get feedback from a creator who wildly overfunded at $200,000. Both have different stories to tell and lessons to learn, and the truth is that you don’t know if you’ll end up with the $5,000 project or the $200,000 project. So the key here is to get advice from a variety of creators.
- Respect the time of the people from whom you seek feedback. This ties into all of the above points, but it extends beyond them to the dichotomy of helping one person versus helping many. The key is that if you can ask for advice in a public forum instead of a private e-mail, do it. By doing so, you’re giving the person or people the chance to respond publicly, which could potentially help other creators too and even create a dialogue with different opinions. There are exceptions to it, and I’m particularly sensitive to it because I get asked for advice privately a lot when I’d greatly prefer for people to ask questions in the comments of these posts to show a sense of generosity of information to other creators. It might be daunting to post publicly, but the people in those Facebook groups genuinely want to help, and it’s much better that they catch your mistakes early than thousands of people roll their eyes at those errors when your project goes live.
- Be wary of any advice giver who uses outlier, mega-projects as supporting evidence. Look at outlier projects like you’d look at a Komodo dragon: Respectfully, but from a distance. Otherwise leave them alone and look for more down-to-earth projects that apply to you (and listen to people who use those types of non-outlier projects as examples).
How to Give Advice on Someone Else’s Project
- Ask yourself, “Did this person request feedback?” A trap that I often fall into is offering feedback even though the person hasn’t asked for feedback (my ex-girlfriends can attest to this). If you do this, be acutely aware of whether or not the creator has asked for your input on their project. They might not be ready for feedback, and that’s okay.
- Start by identifying at least 2 things they’re doing right. This isn’t about softening the blow of blunt feedback; rather, it’s about reinforcing the things they’re doing right. If a person is about to get a wave of feedback, they need to anchor themselves on something they’re already doing right or their feedback capacity will flood.
- If the project is live, give advice about things they have the power to change. Man, I struggle with this. Usually when I look at a failing project, I see a dozen things they should have done or fixed 3 months ago, and it’s too late now. But it doesn’t help for me to identify those aspects of the project–not yet (that’s for if/when the project fails). Now is the time to offer feedback on things they have the power to change, like the text on the project page, their participation in the comments, or reward levels that don’t have any backers (they can and should be removed).
- If the project is on a failing trajectory, tell the person. Send the creator a link to their Kicktraq page and point out the ugly truth: They’re not going to successfully fund. They have the right to know, and it will shift their frame of reference in a way that will benefit them in the long run. It’s still up to them if they want to cancel or finish the campaign.
- Understand that offering advice does not behold the recipient to taking the advice. It’s tough when someone doesn’t heed your advice or incorporate any of the changes you suggested. Sometimes this is a case of someone violating the first rule of asking for advice, but it’s not up to you to decide that. You simply have to come to terms with the fact that your advice merely presents an opportunity for the person to improve their project, and in the end they need to decide what’s best for them.
- If someone asks you, “How do I get backers?” in the middle of a project, here’s your answer: Stop thinking about backers and start thinking about your next backer. Identify him or her from people you already know, and send him or her a personal e-mail to connect them with your project in a way that creates opportunity for them, not obligation or imposition. Then open a fresh e-mail and do the same for your next backer. Then again. They can also read this for more ways to address the mid-project slump, but I’d start with the above advice.
- End with a note of encouragement. This method of “sandwiching” blunt feedback with something positive at the beginning and the end of your feedback note was mentioned in the comments by Gamer Dave and tlehmann. This isn’t a place for false hope; rather, it’s a way to give the person a little jolt of enthusiasm so they actually act on the ideas you’ve discussed instead of slumping back in their chair in despair. You can even use this as one final way to slip in some feedback. For example, if the person hasn’t been engaging in the comments at all, you can end with, “One of the reasons I love Kickstarter is the sense of community that creators can build through the comments sections–I look forward to seeing your great sense of humor there!”
Now it’s my turn to ask for feedback: Do you agree with the above suggestions? What am I missing?
Also watch: So You Want to Do a Kickstarter (Eduardo Baraf) and read How to Ask for Advice Over E-mail (to which I would only add, “If the target of your advice has a public forum, ask there instead.”)