Kickstarter Lesson #199: How Can Backers Effectively Coach Creators?

15 September 2016 | 22 Comments

A few days ago I received an e-mail from a reader who had a really great question, something I haven’t discussed on the blog. He mentions a project that’s rooting for and wants to back, but as an experienced backer, he sees a number of red flags on the campaign. Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail, which I’m using with the reader’s permission:

Having seen (repeatedly) Kickstarters fail miserably due to creator’s underestimating the difficulty of bringing products to fruition, I’m worried. I really want this to work, but…It’s almost coming across as vaporware, and I don’t want myself, or other backers to watch this go down in flames.

How should I (as a superbacker, or even a regular backer) bring up concerns like this to a creator? Should I put something in the comments, use Kickstarter’s messaging functions, email the creators, or if I’m really concerned, should I report the project to Kickstarter?

I’ll say first that if you think a project creator is intentionally misleading backers or that it’s a scam, definitely report it to Kickstarter so they can investigate. For the purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about instances where you think a project simply has room to improve.

I’m going to take a meta-approach in attempting to answer this question: How can backers effectively coach creators?

  1. Think about your intent. This is something to consider whenever you’re giving unsolicited advice. Why do you want to do it? Let’s face it–giving advice feels good. It makes us feel smart, powerful. Are you trying to raise yourself up or put someone else down? If so, I wouldn’t recommend continuing to step 2. However, if you genuinely care about the project and want it to succeed, please carry on.
  2. Become a backer. Crowdfunders get a lot of comment and messages while the campaign is live. From my experience, unsolicited advice carries a lot more weight if the person is invested in the project. I know just as well as they do that they can cancel at any time. That part doesn’t matter. What matters is that they made the effort to become a backer before offering constructive criticism.
  3. Be public. Private advice is fine, but public advice has the advantage of becoming a collaboration, which is the whole point of crowdfunding.
  4. Start with the positive. Tell the creator why you’re passionate about their project, even if it’s just 1-2 sentences. I know, this might seem like you’re babying the creator, but really the key here is that your advice doesn’t matter if the creator doesn’t hear it. Starting any message of unsolicited advice with something positive will significantly increase your chances of the creator taking the constructive criticism to heart. Don’t go in with guns blazing, basically.
  5. State it as an opinion. Okay, now it’s time to share your opinion with the creator. I think the most effective way to not come across as a know-it-all (which might put the creator on the defensive) is to frame the advice as an opinion rather than a hard, undeniable fact.
  6. Back it up with evidence. This is where you have to be really careful. Evidence does NOT mean that you link to another project and say, “X project did it this way, so you should too!” Rather, it’s just an example–an example, not proof–from another project, some data, or an article written by someone who studies crowdfunding.
  7. Be succinct. Keep it short. If you have multiple threads of advice to start, don’t post them all at once–spread them out over several days.
  8. Open the conversation. You’re posting this advice in public, so end it by opening a dialogue with other backers and the creator. This shows that you’re looking out for the greater good, not just your own personal desires.

Here’s an example. I’ll act as if I’m a backer of my own project for the sake of this example:


Let’s contrast that with a different approach:


Obviously that’s an over-the-top, extreme example for the point of comparison. Though I’ve certainly received messages to that effect! I’m human, and it’s really hard to listen to someone when their approach is so aggressive.

I should also note here that I’ve heard of many backers citing my blog in the comments of other campaigns. On one hand, that’s great–I write this blog to help my fellow creators, so I’m glad when people share it. On the other, almost everything on this blog is subjective. It’s my opinion. So please don’t present a Kickstarter Lesson as the only way to run a campaign. It’s just one of many ways.

If you’re a creator who has been coached by backers, what would you add to this list? Also, what topic that I haven’t already covered would you like to see as the big 200th Kickstarter Lesson?

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22 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #199: How Can Backers Effectively Coach Creators?

  1. Hi Jamey, on a (loosely) related topic: a situation arose where a first-time creator seemed to have the makings of a really promising game, but failed to understand a) how to run a KS campaign well and b) made some ethically problematic decisions, to the point where they lost credibility with backers completely and the campaign flamed out altogether.

    Assuming that at the core of this disaster, there is still a decent (and very creative) game with several years hard work having gone into it, what kind of advice can one offer in this situation? The chances of a successful KS relaunch are very low, without a level of mea culpa and improvement that seems unlikely. Should they try to approach established publishers? Travel to gaming conventions and try to promote it or make contact with developers there? (Doubt they have the funds to finance the travel.) Are there other avenues to resurrect such a project? Have PMed you the details of this particular situation, but the question should have broader applicability.

    1. Ahmad: Thanks for sharing this here. I think I’m aware of the project you’re talking about, though I can also answer in general. As for the game itself, I think it may have lost its chance to succeed given the circumstances. However, if they invested a lot in the art (particularly 3D models), I think they could still find a use for them. Hopefully they can take what they learned from the experience and apply it to future games published by others, as I think it’s quite hard to regain lost trust.

      1. Dear Jamey, really appreciate the response. I (along with some friends) met up with one of the creators, and I think our discussions more or less came to similar conclusions. I do hope he is able to learn from the experience and use it to develop as a person and a creator, because he does seem to have a lot of potential. I posted my write-up of the experience on the KS comments page for the project, and have PMed it to you as a thank you (just in case you were interested in learning the details – if not, please ignore.)

  2. My project back in the good ol’ days succeed because it attracted some board gamers who backed me and quickly joined the virtual team by giving me advice, campaign avatars and word of mouth. This might be a good reason to do a 45-day campaign for 1st timers. An extra 15 days for well-wishers and coaches to find you and kick you in the seat of the pants (but that’s speculation). The amazing thing about Kickstarter is the backers. I can’t imagine IndieGoGo’s structure facilitates that. I’m itching to do another Kickstarter, but the post-Kickstarter process was so painful I’m still hesitant.

    1. I completely agree that first-time campaigns benefit from being a little longer than normal to give the creators time to learn as they fund. I typically recommend 35 days at most, but I can see the benefits of 45 days as well.

  3. As for the 200th Thread, how about “how to be humble after being successful”. I mean I can’t think of anyone else who could do that .

    Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So it makes me wonder, if I had 50000 followers and 2000 positive support posts, would I still consider that when making my next project or just say “oh well, they’ll take whatever I feed them anyway now”… ?

    It is a tough decision to make, Kickstarter and generally the whole crowdfunding idea is to realize a dream, not getting rich. Like in the music industry (personal opinion here) .

    I think you keep the golden ratio intact.

  4. For #4, I’d also seriously consider ending with something positive as well – The good old ‘criticism sandwich’; Even just adding ‘really appreciate how active you’ve been in the comments section’ to the end of your worked example would probably work.

  5. I’m just one guy, but my thoughts for #200 are: We’ve learned so much about you, so many of us feel like you are a friend even if there’s a technical “not really” going on. Frankly, since there’s no way for YOU to know more about US by you posting an update, I’d like to go a little futher with “get to know Jamey”. I’d love to hear more about your family, your relationships, how Alan’s doing, how’s mom, etc. Heck, you can even give us more about your cats if you want. – I vote #200 is “About Jamey Stegmaier”. – You’re probably not the type to take me up on this suggestion, ; ), and that’s ok too. : )

    Speaking a little greek here, I philios you, buddy. I wish you the best in all your endeavors and relationships, and I’m excited to see what all #200-299 bring.

  6. Hi Jamey! A week and a half into the campaign and “just” 34 % funded.
    This post certainly serves me very well!
    We have an award winning educational family math game with more than 20 outstanding reviews coming from the most prominent Homeschoolers in the US.
    But it doesn’t seem to pick up and I’m starting to get worried.
    Bottom line…
    I would love to be coached by backers or non backers and get this must-have-tool for ANY family that have kids ages 7 + with or without difficulties to learn or have a better approach towards Math and/or times tables.
    Anyone wanna help?
    Check the project out and feel free to comment, criticize or hopefully back-and-talk!

    Thanks Jamey for great timing and the opportunity.

    Matt Roman
    HoliPlay Games

  7. While our campaign was live a more experienced member of the Kickstarter community (who happens to be overseas!) offered us some awesome advice in a private message regarding friendly Print-and-Play formats after we sent him a thank you for backing. We’ve been talking back and forth ever since we had to cancel the project but I think it’s a prime example of how backer-creator coaching can be done right; we never felt he was chiding us for not knowing best practices (he recognized we were new players) but instead was extending a friendly hand, and from it has grown a more personal relationship we would not have had otherwise.

    Reading your blog for the past year now, your human/emotion-centric approach to interaction has really shaped how I communicate with others, Jamey; thank you for being a guiding force for my professionalism in that way.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Ben! I really like this: “we never felt he was chiding us for not knowing best practices.” I think that’s key. It reminds me a bit of when Morten originally reached out to me during my Viticulture campaign. He was a stranger who offered to help playtest the game, and 3 years later, we hired him!

      Thanks for your kind words as well–that means a lot to me.

  8. Wow, Jamey… This is a GREAT topic to explore. Its really touchy and SO easy to make a mistake. In this article I agree with many points and then I have some ideas that might be interesting to explore (see what I did there ;)

    2. Become a backer- I love this one. I have a saying on my teams: “The person up the ladder gets to make the decisions”. The basic idea is that if you have skin in the game, then you can help make the tough choices.

    In this case, becoming a backer is part of owning the project and buying in… literally.

    I would suggest that its possible to take this further. I am much more receptive to advice when the advisor is part of the solution. In the case of backers… this could take many forms… such as helping to rewrite awkward verbiage on the kickstarter page, or offer concrete resources for shipping expenses the creator may have overlooked. This takes more investment on the backers part, but can go a long way in creating a successful project.

    Your mileage may vary.

    4. Start with the positive- I can agree more- this is a tried and true thing…Its the Feedback Sandwich- Positive comment, constructive feedback, positive comment.

    The thing that I’d like to explore a little further is making the feedback in public. This idea gives me pause a bit. I have long stood by the rule of “Praise in public, Coach in private”. In my experience (<– opinion ;) its a lot easier to establish a dialogue that builds a relationship in private- The public forum can get swept away and end up difficult to control or stay focused on constructive improvement.

    With the backers question "Should I put something in the comments, use Kickstarter’s messaging functions, email the creators, or if I’m really concerned, should I report the project to Kickstarter?" My advice might go something like this:

    " If its a project you are passionate about, I would reach out to the creator directly first. The point is to establish a relationship where you let the creator know you support them and want to be part of the solution if possible. This is a great way to determine the feelings and competency of the creator.

    If the creator is open to receiving your help and support, that goes a long way in helping you decide if this is a solid venture worth your time. If they are unresponsive or resistant to your support and concerns you can decide if you need to escalate that to KS or talk about it publicly in the comments."

    Ive been in customer support for years and have found this to be a strong option when facing concerns like this. I must point out, however, that I have nowhere near the level of experience Jamey as with handling KS specifically. I defer to his judgement in this case.

    I'd be interested in what everyone here thinks about the different options (<– following Jamey's advice from above :)

    Teaching "soft" skills like this around running a project can really take a one shot experience and turn it into a thriving business.

    Thanks Jamey- Keep up the great work!

    1. Stephen: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Private vs. public is something I really debated for this post. In fact, the first draft of the post recommended exactly what you said, as I believe in that same philosophy.

      But then I thought about my experiences receiving feedback in private during campaigns, and for most of it–especially when the backer is offering a new idea or a way to improve/change the campaign or product–I always want them to say it in the comments instead of via message. I do this because (a) I want to see if it’s just that one person or if others agree and (b) in some cases where I sense it really is just one person, I want THEM to see that their opinion/demand is not shared by others.

      That said, a hybrid solution to piggyback off what you said might be for a backer to contact the creator first to initiate that relationship, as you said, and after they’ve made contact, they can present the idea in public.

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