Kickstarter Lesson #262: How Much Is Your Time Worth?

21 January 2019 | 12 Comments

A few weeks ago, someone on Instagram took offense to a passage from my crowdfunding book:

Your livelihood should not depend on a single crowdfunding campaign. You’re raising money to create something, not to fund your personal expenses. Most people will have tough financial times at some point in their lives. Those times suck, but they’re neither the time nor the reason to launch a Kickstarter project. Figure out your personal finances and keep them separate from your project when it’s ready to launch on its own merit.

The person took the paragraph out of context (I was explaining some bad motivations for launching a project–basically, personal desperation doesn’t typically translate to good results for backers and creators on Kickstarter). However, context aside, I agree with him/her and disagree with Past Jamey. Specifically, I no longer agree with this sentence: “You’re raising money to create something, not to fund your personal expenses.”

You’ll see this sentiment if you go back and read some of my earliest Kickstarter Lessons. At the time, I believed that pledge prices should be calculated based on covering manufacturing costs, shipping, sunk costs, and a small buffer. Not once in my “funding goal” lesson do I mention one of the most important and invaluable assets: YOUR TIME.

Your time is valuable, and you deserve to be compensated for your time. How you spend that money is up to you, whether it’s personal necessities, cat toys, or board games.

I once thought this conflicted with a backer-first mentality, but I now understand that if a creator is going to best serve their backers, fair compensation for their time (built into the reward costs) is part of the equation. I think you can respect both backers/customers with great value and yourself with some form of financial compensation.

How you determine that calculation is up to you. For me, my full-time job is running Stonemaier Games, so I earn a salary. I don’t earn royalties from any of my games as a designer, but that option might be more appealing to you.

One important caveat to mention is that any budgeting you planned for a Kickstarter campaign is hypothetical until you actually pay the bills. The product might cost more to print or ship than you thought, and you’ll almost certainly run into an unforeseen cost at some point. That’s what a healthy buffer is for.

But the biggest difference between my previous philosophy and now is that I would recommend that you include some form of financial compensation for yourself in the budget that you use to calculate your funding goal and reward prices.

Does this change in philosophy resonate with you as a creator? If you’re a backer, how do you feel about part of your funding going to the creator as compensation for their time?

Also read: 10 Kickstarter Lessons for Which I Changed My Mind and Kickstarter Lesson #218: Do You Choose Profit?

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12 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #262: How Much Is Your Time Worth?

  1. Hi Jamey,

    First, thanks for this great article. :-) I’ve been reading your blog for a while and I really like it. Currently we are preparing our board game for a KS project and it inspires me and gives me new ideas.

    To this article, I thing what you mentioned here is somehow connected to a term “opportunity costs” = what would I earn if I haven’t been investing my time in this activity? (sorry if the tenses are nOK :-D) Anyway, for example, if instead of designing a board game I would go out and do some jogging, my earnings would be 0$…this means with a KS project I can earn some money and with jogging not. It is productive, creative and self-developing and above all this I think the creator should be evaluated.

    Thanks again and have a nice day.

    Tomas (Sam)

  2. Jamey,

    My initial thought, which is shared by many designers is that you have to earn something through your efforts, or you simply cannot continue to turn out games with any frequency. However, Zack’s comment gave me pause and made me think about it from a completely different perspective. He mentioned that your time IS your capital when starting out…in essence, you sweat equity in the very thing you’re building. Now, clearly you can’t do it with every project, but as time goes on, and you release more and more titles, the amount you “earn” should increase to a point where you’re garnering a reasonable (this is open to debate) salary.


  3. For me, this is strictly a case by case issue. If your like me during my past campaigns, your an upstart who’s not necessarily trying to run a business or maybe your trying to lay the foundations for a business, I believe that you shouldn’t pay yourself.

    This is more a business belief than a moral one. If your NOT trying to start a business from scratch and your doing it for fun, then it’s simply not about the money. If you ARE trying to start a new business from roughly $0 with no inventory, then I believe every dollar should go to growing the business until it’s profitable enough that you can quit or pull back on your job to focus on the business.

    When I say put everything back into the business I mean EVERYTHING. You don’t have capital, your time is your capital. Paying yourself back for money spent on building the campaign such as graphics and ads, is perfectly reasonable. But eating into your beginning profits, when you don’t HAVE to, is eating into the quality and speed of your next project.

    Everyone’s situation and opinion is different. Again, I’m not touching on the morality of it. I’m talking about setting your business up for sustainable success. Paying yourself too much is one of the many reasons about half of startups don’t last 5 years.

    You can call it strict or harsh, but I call it “careful” and “strategic”. Which in the end is what I’m really getting at, strategy. I won’t say paying yourself before you business is profitable enough for you to go full time is wrong. But I will say that if your goal is for it to be your full time job, its the smarter strategy.

  4. Time is your only Finite resource. So if you are going to give up time with your family to design, create & repeat, it has to be worth something.

  5. Absolutely agree that time is part of the CoG. The manufacturer is charging you not only for the physical product, but the time spent making the product that is paid to their workers. The shipping not only includes paying for the physical transport, but also the time paid to the drivers and staff.

    If you’re not including your time in part of your costs, then you’re basically valuing yourself at $0, and that’s not emotionally healthy, nor is it likely to make a creator feel like an actual creator, but rather a slave.

  6. I fully agree that you should consider how you can make your efforts economically worthwhile when designing and publishing games. You’re starting a business. In order to be successful you need it to be economically sustainable.
    Kickstarting a game is a critical initial phase in a business or product launch. It’s however just a phase. I really don’t believe that the KS project should be considered more than just part of the lifecycle of a game/publishing business.
    That also means that the KS shouldn’t be financing all the time spent on doing the KS. A product launch is intensive and demanding. That’s why a KS is hard. Later on it will take up less effort (but still some effort). That’s when it’s time to ensure to get the economic surplus.
    So my advice would be to ensure that the KS project works well as a product launch and use the full lifecycle of the game to ensure compensation for your time. The KS is ideally just a small part of this.

    (This is of course idealised. Most games will never be economically viable if you consider the time spent. Like all expression driven industries, broad games are made because they are fun and interesting and not just because the creators can earn a living. This also applies to authors, musicians, poets, artists, home decorators, etc.
    But if you want to go beyond being a hobbyist, then it’s relevant).

  7. I think you should also consider whether or not you can make money on the product down the line and calculate the funding goal to meet the needs of production, adding the value of your time at a discount if you will continue sales after Kickstarter. If your product can’t or you can’t afford to include the cost of your time while keeping the funding goal/prices low enough then you should reconsider the project.

  8. I agree that time is worth something and creators should be compensated for their time. However, I am not sure that creator’s should include that monetary mark in their FUNDING GOAL. In my opinion the funding goal should be what it costs to make the game (and fulfill the game) plus the buffer you mention in your book. Anything raised above that should absolutely factor in a paycheck to the creator. Stretch goals are important to consider as well – but once you have successfully funded then start having some of that be payment for your hard work in creating something awesome. However, remember that “leaders eat last” – so don’t take that paycheck until after you’ve paid all your bills! :)

    In my opinion, including some of that desired compensation in the funding goal might be a little risky as that then increases your funding goal when you could’ve created the project at a lesser amount. What if you decide that your time in designing the project was worth $3,000 – so you increase your funding goal by $3,000? What happens if you then fall $200 short? You wouldn’t be able to create your passion project because you fell short and didn’t receive any of the funds. But wouldn’t it still have been worth it for $2,800? Isn’t $2,800 better than the -$0- you received?

    Perhaps the joy of creating something, fulfilling those orders and just breaking even isn’t for everyone – but if I could break-even with a campaign (with a buffer built in) then that is where I would set my funding goal.

    So, in summary – I’m not disagreeing with you that creators should get paid. But I don’t know that they should necessarily include that desired paycheck in their FUNDING GOAL.

  9. As an employee of Kickstarter, I 100% think that KS should be there to help provide compensation for creatives. As much as backers love to get cool swag, I don’t do my work so that people can buy more things, I do my work so that creators can find a path to monetization while practicing the craft that they have spent so many years refining. It’s why we exist, imo.

  10. I think that creator’s should be compensated for their work and their time.

    I guess that has always been my assumption. Of course it leads to a different question for KS, what if it is a reprint of already created game?

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