Kickstarter Lesson #139: Mitigating Kickstarter’s Frailty

25 February 2015

Something interesting happened this morning.

I launched our Between Two Cities Kickstarter campaign without a hitch at 9:30 am. We got a nice onrush of previous and new Stonemaier backers, and the project reached its $20,000 funding goal in 38 minutes. The next 42 minutes went well too, with the funding level eclipsing $30,000.

Then Kickstarter crashed.

I swear it wasn’t us. Stonemaier has a very supportive audience, but it’s quite small compared to The Oatmeal’s audience, and it held up just fine last month when their Exploding Kittens project went live. Though it is a little odd, because this same thing happened when I launched our Treasure Chest campaign last June.

I’m writing this post after Kickstarter has been down for 75 minutes (and counting). I have to say, it hasn’t been easy. Momentum is everything on crowdfunding. In the last 75 minutes, I’m sure that plenty of people have clicked on links to Between Two Cities from my e-newsletter alert, social media, and various blogs, and they’re all getting an error message. That may be the one and only time they click that link. That sucks.

I’ve been trying to find a positive spin on this–surely there must be something constructive we can take away from Kickstarter’s frailty, right? So I turned to Twitter, and two key ideas came up (thanks to Michael Coe for encouraging me to make lemonade out of these lemons):

Don’t Rely Solely on Kickstarter to Keep Your Business Afloat (or Any One Website or Revenue Stream)

This is a great point from Scott King. It’s something I’ve also heard from our friends at Greater Than Games: If your business hinges on a single website or revenue stream, you’re in trouble.

Fortunately we don’t rely solely on Kickstarter. We accept pledges and pre-orders through Shoplocket as well, and all of our products are in distribution (or will be).

But Kickstarter does have a major impact on the success of Stonemaier Games. I need a platform with 100% uptime. Perhaps there is no such thing.

Stagger Social Media Announcements

The other point was from Tony at Board Game Quest. He mentioned that a key takeaway for creators is to stagger social media announcements just in case something like this happens.

That’s a good idea even if Kickstarter doesn’t crash. I send out an e-newsletter the minute I launch a Kickstarter, but I try to wait until the next day to post anything to Facebook, and I spread out announcements to previous project backers as well.

That initial rush is important, but it’s just as important to keep momentum moving along by reaching people in different ways. You avoid coming across as spammy if you spread out your announcements.

***

What do you think? Do you have a positive or constructive spin on Kickstarter’s website being down?

And now, with Kickstarter still down, I will go eat lunch.

[Update post-lunch: Kickstarter is mostly working now, albeit a little slow. Perhaps the solution from now on is to go eat lunch when Kickstarter is down.]

23 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #139: Mitigating Kickstarter’s Frailty

  1. Very good points. We launched yesterday and Kickstarter was having some issues then and we made good progress but today is definitely hurting. Luckily, I was just about to post some big come check us out at various places but Kickstarter stalled before I had the chance.

    I’m not sure there are really any good options to mitigate situations like this. I mean when you went up on KS you could also run your own funding on your own site or maybe duel run on another crowdfunding site, but that has the very really risk of splitting your backers and making neither funding campaign succeed.

    I would have to say though, projects like yours that reach their goal that quickly likely aren’t going to see as much of an issue with downtimes like this. I think it does have a significant impact on the smaller Kickstarter campaigns though for sure.

    1. Shawn: Thanks for letting me know about this–I didn’t realize Kickstarter was down yesterday too. I’m sorry to hear about the impact it had on your campaign, and I hope you can regain the momentum.

  2. Hi Jamie,

    I wanted to mention something else that I found really interesting about this Kickstarter. And I want to emphasize that I intend this comment respectfully and as a personal opinion rather than in any aggressive way.

    If this product had come from anyone else I would never have backed on day 1 (I love your company and have a “shut up and take my money” approach to your projects.) because of the way you have arranged the stretch goals.

    By withholding the stretch goals, as a consumer, I feel like the value that you set them at will be dependent on how successful the initial launch is. So, if I want as many stretch goals as possible, I am encouraged to withhold my commitment until you have concluded that the project needs help. Then, you will use the minimum amount of $$ necessary to hit your profit targets.

    If I back initially, I feel like I am allowing you to set the stretch goals higher and possibly not achieve them.

    I don’t know if this is actually what you are doing, but if it were any other company I would not have pledged on day one, in fact I would have explicitly waited for the last day to encourage as many stretch goals as I could get.

    Just my thoughts, and my sympathies for the problem this morning.

    1. Andrew: Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the stretch goals. Hopefully there are more reasons beyond stretch goals that you’d back a project, though–I try to create an ongoing experience on Kickstarter to engage backers throughout the campaign.

    2. This is an attitude that I find disheartening in the Kickstarter culture. Stretch goals are no longer “Hey, we made way more than we expected, so here’s a bonus for our loyal backers.” Instead, people expect (or even demand) extravagant upgrades before they consider backing. If I’m not willing to put my dollars down with zero stretch goals achieved, then I probably don’t really want the product anyway.

      Plus, it can lead to hold-outs waiting to see if the product will hit just one more stretch goal before backing, leaving the burden on other people to actually reach it. I’m seeing this very clearly in the Trickerion campaign which just hit its final stated goal and saw a massive ($10k+) influx in just a few hours when pledges had slowed to $3-4/day.

      1. Nathan: Yep, that’s a big part of the reason why we just wanted to focus on the core product on day one. We didn’t withhold anything from the core product, and we think it’s worth of people’s support even without extra stuff added on. The stretch goals are more to keep that excitement alive and encourage people to share the project after day one.

        1. I came back here because I was subscribed to the comments, but your reply made me want to compare something. I’m backing two projects right now, Two Cities and CoolMini’s Blood Rage.

          I got the e-mail and went to Two Cities page during the first day. There I found a product that was complete and appropriately priced for what was in the box – Not the best deal I’d ever be able to get online but significantly discounted from MSRP and delivered to my door first. Totally worth it right then if you were interested in the game.

          I backed Blood Rage because I love the designer and the theme, but the price was clearly based on stretch goals that had not only not been achieved but not even announced. I feel like it insults the readers’ intelligence a bit, to say “this is the product and here are a ton of extras” when the reality is clearly “Here’s a bare bones product at a high price, and then some stuff to flesh it out and elevate it to a good deal for the price.”

          1. Adam: That’s an interesting contrast between the two projects. What’s particularly interesting to me is that both projects appeal to you (you backed both). So perhaps there isn’t just one correct model for this. Personally, I would be hesitant to launch a campaign with a price on day one that didn’t match the day one components, but that’s just my style.

      2. It’s definitely a fine line between saying too much, and not saying enough. The problem I see is that if a Kickstarter campaign releases a long and detailed stretch goal list is that you may have backers who pull out at the last minute because some far off stretch goal that isn’t going to happen is the one they were counting on.

        I have seen some where they will show the stretch goal amounts, but won’t announce what each one is until it’s the next one up. This is a good mid ground option because it doesn’t let people get excited about too many things that may or may not happen. But it also lets people see that things are planned, and what it will take to get there. Plus it makes it easier for a successful campaign to throw in the last stretch goal, even if it didn’t get funded (especially if they planned for this).

        But considering how good the Conan board game did, only announcing new stretch goals as the previous one was reached, a good project doesn’t need to tempt people with extras to get them to commit. A good initial project stands on it’s own.

        1. You describe the double-edge sword of stretch goals really well here, and I really like the line, “A good initial project stands on its own.” I want to present a product on Day One that’s really exciting to people on its own, and then after that day we can showcase the stretch goals. I think that’s what we’ll do in the future–pretty much exactly what we did on Between Two Cities.

  3. I would say staggered is best. People are not online every second of the day, nor are people able to go on to KS and check a project out at the moment they see it. Staggering it serves as a reminder for people and has a better chance of reaching people at the right time when they’re able to check a project out and back it.

  4. Rumor and wild speculation time! Scuttlebutt says that this is related to the wild success of the Pebble campaign (now at $9 million in one day!). Kickstarter added capacity yesterday, perhaps in anticipation of the Pebble launch. I wonder if a misconfiguration (combined with some hardware or load balancer issue) brought everything down.

    Shoplocket is a great suggestion. I’ll check it out!

  5. I was sad that Kickstarter was down this morning. The very first moment I could get KS to work, I backed, but in the 800-somethings, that’s a MUCH higher backer number than I want as a Stonemaier Ambassador and Between Two Cities playtester. Ooops. (I was hoping one of my numbered games would be 0423, my lucky number, and planned on asking for it even if that was HIGHER than the number I would have been assigned. LOL)

    I would actually have been glad for a SECOND email from you saying, Kickstarter has been having a lot of trouble this morning, if you can’t get through, please try again this afternoon. It would not have been spam, in my eyes. You know, a sense of humor about it… “we crashed Kickstarter..” but maybe it was Pebble, or Amazon/Azure/Google/whoever cloudhosts Kickstarter.

    As for splitting the project across multiple funding platforms, I say NO. That dilutes momentum, it ends the community-building, and it makes it hard to see the success. Kickstarter’s not perfect, but it’s quite good, and the glitches are not that common and are never that long either. In forty months on KS, I’ve seen it down half a dozen or fewer times that I can remember, which seems fine, except when it happens when I want to do something NOW.

    Anyway, Between Two Cities is going gangbusters and I feel sure that people will be really happy with the game. Don’t let the glitches spoil the fun… kinda like a rain shower when you go camping… eat lunch, play a game, and it will be sunny again soon enough!

    1. Julia: Thanks for your input (and for your support). I definitely would have considered sending out another e-mail if I wasn’t planning to mention the project in our March 1 e-newsletter, which is only a few days away.

      Also, as for the numbered games, it’s completely random. :) Our fulfillment centers identify games by SKUs and bar codes, not the numbering. But maybe you’ll get lucky!

  6. Regarding the stretch goals issue, I’m working on a new project and what I’m leaning towards doing is having two categories of stretch goals:

    Social Goals that reward people getting involved in getting the word out. These currently take the form of collector’s postcards, with extra postcards being awarded if the project funds quickly, if we get certain numbers of FB likes or twitter followers, etc.

    Campaign Goals that are based on the number of backers, not on dollar amounts. These are bigger upgrades.

    I’m not sure witholding all the stretch goals on day 1 is a good idea for all projects; On my first project, we didn’t have real stretch goals, instead I just said “We’ll use 50% of what we get as the production budget and you will get to vote on how it is used”, and gave some examples. While this worked out in the long run and the final set contents were better than what I would have come up with on my own (the voting and how it broke down was fascinating), some people didn’t like that ambiguity.

    I think the goal in designing stretch goals is that there should always be something — even if it is as small as an extra postcard — that is almost within grasp. Postcards are $0.03 each in qty 5000, delivered — I just wish I could get them delivered collated!

    Regarding splitting over multiple sites, I am wondering if a good hybrid strategy would be to start with one site and then open a second campaign on another site after the campaign goal has been reached. This would be similar to opening up for direct paypal orders after the goal is reached, which worked well for me. Thoughts?

  7. I don’t think the 90 minutes down really made a difference. Looks like you blew past the goals already. As for stretch goals/Add on. I think stretch goals should be treated as wish list type of thing. Like hey we got the base game. But if we had enough funding we can do great things like… As for Add-On I prefer to see things like discount on games or things that don’t work well in the budget for the game as designed. I back you so good luck as you go!

  8. Unfortunately with uptime for every ‘9’ you want after the 99 point whatever percent uptime you are aiming for you end up paying an order of magnitude more.

    I just read some reviews and am about to head to Kickstarter to back it. I wanted to say as a backer I prefer stretch goals like yours, it makes me feel like you are taking some of the efficiency of volume as more copies get sold and investing it back into making the box better.

    Also I’m excited enough by the idea (love having simultaneous turns for a big group) that you’d certainly suck me in for more if an expansion appeared as an add-on later.

  9. I could see two possible positives to kickstarter being down, though, one of them I’m not sure about.

    1.) Times like this give you space, it’s a silver lining you have to train yourself to see. In this example your first couple days should be hectic, but you’ve been given an opportunity to breath, use this time to analyze what Google Analytics you’ve recovered already, perhaps you have enough data to plan something, or maybe before it went down you had a few questions come up, prepare to amend the FAQ so you can add them immediately when it comes back up. anything that saves you time later.

    2.) Gives you an excuse to “re-announce” your launch, creating a second opportunity to hit people at their prime time of contact, creating two launch time announcements essentially. “Kickstarter back up! thank god!” or “we’re back up folks!”

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