Kickstarter Lesson #156: 3 Tenets of Crowdfunding Leadership

13 July 2015 | 9 Comments

I’m a big fan of author and speaker Simon Sinek. In his two books and TED talks, Sinek talks about leadership in a way that applies directly to the crowdfunding philosophies I believe in, most of which are centered in trust.

Sinek recently posted a 15-minute talk about leadership. I would highly recommend checking it out, as he tells some great, memorable stories to accompany his main points.

Three of the points he mention apply directly to us crowdfunders, so I wanted to share them with you here. The first two are about earning your backer’s trust, and the third is about the relationship that forms when you trust your backers. The text in italics is a direct quote from the talk.

Take responsibility for your actions at the time you perform your actions, not at the time you get caught. Tell the truth, good or bad.

I got an e-mail yesterday (July 12) from one of the fulfillment companies I use. I had sent them a few orders to fulfill back on July 4. The e-mail was the first communication I heard from them about the orders, and in it they informed me that their warehouse had a busy week and they wouldn’t be shipping the orders until this week.

I immediately went into damage-control mode. I contacted the customers to inform them of the delay, and I offered each of them a $10 discount from their next purchase on our website.

I wish the fulfillment company had done what I recommend to all project creators: When you anticipate a delay, inform your backers/customers before the delay happens, not after you’re already in the middle of it.

Ask for and accept help. The biggest mistake people make is thinking they have to know all the answers. When you admit you don’t know things, people will help.

We see the words “I don’t know” as a weakness. But what if we saw that phrase instead as an opportunity?

  • When a backer asks you how much it would cost to add a new component to your product, instead of making up an answer or dismissing, say, “I don’t know” and check with your manufacturer.
  • When a playtester asks you if you’ve tested X idea, say, “I don’t know” and encourage them to try it.
  • When you think your project page is 100% complete, admit to yourself that you don’t know everything and send it out to bunch of people to get their thoughts. You’ll realize quite quickly how little you know–and that’s okay, because now you do.

Take the risk to trust people. When we trust people, they rise to the occasion.

I believe in letting people try out our products for free. For tabletop gamers, this means that they can print and play any of our games during the Kickstarter campaign. Every bit of evidence I’ve seen shows that doing this converts more potential backers into backers and makes the game better through their feedback.

For us and more and more Kickstarter creators, this also means that they offer a money-back guarantee within the first month of receiving one of our rewards. We even pay for return shipping. Sure, it’s a risk. I’m trusting people to give our products a chance, and any of those people could return their rewards for any reason.

Out of 21,000 pledges fulfilled, we’ve had 7 backers request refunds. I’ve never gotten the sense that someone has tried to “game” the system. I trust backers to do the right thing.


There are lots of different ways to be a good leader on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding websites. I’m still learning how to be a better leader myself. What do you think of Sinek’s perspective on leadership and how it applies to crowdfunding?

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9 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #156: 3 Tenets of Crowdfunding Leadership

  1. A couple of thoughts come to mind particularly on the concept of “I don’t know”. I think that the reason it is largely viewed as a negative in today’s society is because of the method in which it is most often used, apathy. Often time when it is used it is in an non-caring/non-enthusiastic/non-engaging manner. As you point out, “I don’t know” cannot exist on its own and be an effective and engaging answer to peoples questions. My two favorite ways to approach “I don’t know” boils down to a question and a statement the first of which Ginobrancazio pointed out earlier.

    “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” – I’ll often use this when someone is asking a question that has a definite or fairly solid answer or one that cannot be changed/influenced by me.

    “I don’t know, what do you think?” – Adding this simple question shows that you’re willing to take input and engages the person your talking to provide their own opinion on the matter. You do have to be careful not to ask for these opinions if you do not genuinely want them. Which goes back to the point that people will see right through your lies.

    Thanks for the article and video.


  2. “I don’t know” Is such a powerful thing to say. It’s show a vulnerability which displays you trust the person you’re saying to. I used to teach science (11-18 year olds) and if they asked me something I didn’t know I’d tell them “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”. A lot of my students told me that other teachers would never admit to not knowing something but it made them happy to hear it.
    The people you’re working with are not idiots (many of them are in fact smarter than us) so don’t insult them by lying to them, they’ll know! And then you’ll have lost their trust.

  3. Great speech, thanks for sharing Jamey.

    I really liked the part that says about trusting. And the way you use it with the refunds.

    I think I will try this idea in the next project.

    By the way, I loved the review they did to Euphoria on watch it played. The mechanics are awesome, really inspiring.
    Definitely, this is going to be my next game to learn more about game mechanics.

    Have a great day!

  4. I agree, “I don’t know [yet]” ought to be a more widely-accepted answer (especially when you make an effort to figure the answer out). Personally, this post was a good reminder that I don’t know everything.

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