Kickstarter Lesson #56: How to Effectively Research Other Kickstarter Projects

16 September 2013 | 17 Comments

I’ve followed Kickstarter since the site launched in 2009. There’s something about the look and feel of the platform that immediately appealed to me, and I loved the idea of connecting with strangers around the world to fund a product that I couldn’t otherwise afford to create.

From then on, I visited Kickstarter almost every day. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was researching Kickstarter, dredging it for knowledge that I would someday apply to my own projects.

This is incredibly important.

You need to extensively research other Kickstarter projects before launching your own. Potentially for months or years. This isn’t something you throw together the last weekend like a college paper.

Like with any project in school or life, there’s an ineffective way to research Kickstarter and an effective way. Here’s a step-by-step guide for the effective way (if you want to know the ineffective way, do the opposite of what I suggest here. Let me know how that turns out for you):

  1. Create a running list of ideas. I suggest free web app called Trello for this purpose so you can access your notes anywhere and anytime. Trello is really easy to use and share with collaborators (or keep private).
  2. Pledge to other projects. I talk about this in detail here. It’s a non-negotiable. Seriously, if you haven’t backed any other projects, go spend $1 on 10 projects right now. Take notes on which project updates engage you and which ones make you want to unsubscribe.
  3. Study projects outside of your project’s category. The project that originally brought me to Kickstarter in August ’09 was called Robin Writes a Book. Even looking back now, it was a brilliant campaign, and I learned so much from it. While the most important projects for you to research are those in your project’s category, but stepping outside of those batteries to learn from different types of creative people can be hugely beneficial for you as a project creator.
  4. Make a spreadsheet charting similarities and differences between successful projects in your project’s category. All the notes and accumulated knowledge are helpful, but it’s really tough to notice patterns if the data isn’t side by side. I created an extensive running spreadsheet before I launched Viticulture that helped me determine all of the reward levels and stretch goals. Here’s the Google Spreadsheet I created for the Kickstarter Lesson on rebooting a project if you’d like to use that as a template (please copy and paste it to your own Google Drive for your personal use).
  5. However, don’t assume that what other projects did is right for your project (or even possible). On almost every project preview page I look at for other people, I notice a few elements that are inconspicuously out of place. A way-too-high funding goal, way overpriced rewards, or a number of small rewards before getting to the actual product, those types of things. Things that you can figure out from reading a few Kickstarter advice blogs. Inevitably when I recommend to the project creator that he/she change those elements to something more conducive for Kickstarter success, they say, “Well, this project had them,” and then they point to a super-successful project run by James Franco and Stan Lee that has tons of amazing miniatures and a pedigree of backers from previous projects run by the same people and official endorsement from Apple and Stefan Feld. And the new project creator will say, “Well, James Franco had $35 t-shirts, so we’re doing the same thing.” And I will shake my head and wish them good luck, because if you don’t already know that you are facing very different challenges than James Franco, there’s nothing I can do to help you.
  6. Participate on Kickstarter. Consuming all this information about Kickstarter is one thing, but actually participating and learning to interact with backers is quite another. You don’t have to start a project to do this. Pick a project that you feel particularly passionate about, back it, and then be really active on the boards. Be the guy who answers questions when the project creator is sleeping. Learn to not get defensive when someone says that you’re not as cool as James Franco. These skills will pay off when it’s time for you to launch.

What am I missing? What are some of the ways that you’ve research Kickstarter?

17 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #56: How to Effectively Research Other Kickstarter Projects

  1. Excellent post Jamey! “Research, research, research” is the one piece of advice I give to anyone who asks me about how to get started on Kickstarter! Something that I found invaluable while researching Kickstarter projects was to actually reach out and talk to other project creators. I think you only get a snapshot of the process as an observer (or even as a backer), so I found it was really helpful to find people who had launched projects and pick their brains about the “why’s” behind what they did, what they would do differently next time, and any other tidbits of wisdom I could extract :) This has the added benefit of sometimes forming relationships with people who you can turn to during you own campaign for advice. One particularly great resource for me was the “Funding the Dream” podcast by Richard Bliss. Richard asks a lot of the questions I didn’t even know that I had, and listening to each episode was like a crash course on a specific segment of Kickstarter.

    1. Angie–This is a great point, and I think the way you said it is perfect: Ask project creators WHY they made certain choices. I think that’s much more effective and engaging than messaging a project creator with general questions like, “Can you give me any Kickstarter advice?” Instead, be specific regarding things that are interesting to you, like about specific reward levels or design choices. Also, even before you contact a project creator, really look over the project page. It’s kind of a turnoff for me when I get an advice-related question that is already mentioned on the project page (I think the most common one is, “I’m looking for reviewers. Who reviewed your game?” The answer is right there at the top of the page! :)

  2. Another great and useful blog post.

    Proper planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance. (British military adage)

    I need to work on being more noticeably vocal on some KS projects. I find the KS comment pages so daunting and difficult to work with. The conversations are often too disjointed and disorganized for my mindset. Thus, I’m more likely to make comments on updates (if using KS), directly to the creator, or on other websites (such as BGG).

    I’ll also say that I’ve learned from helping some creators with their KS pages during the preview stage and I’ve also found that talking to creators about projects that have failed (and trying to figure out where things went wrong and how to improve it for the second run) has been very eye-opening too. Finally, I think the context of a project is also extremely important. Looking at projects side by side may give you some understanding, but looking at them beyond KS is even more enlightening. Finding out who is talking about them and where. What are people saying about the project outside of the project’s page. Many people will nitpick a project far more directly and clearly outside the project page than in it.

    I often have this internal struggle between wanting to genuinely help people in a meaningful way and simply being vocal and supportive in order to be noticed. The former always seems to win out over the latter, even though the latter would probably be better for me. I often support people in ways that are far more beneficial to them than to me and I’m sure I’ve wasted a lot of time doing so. I’m still working on my sense of balance.

    1. Val–Thanks for your insights. That’s a great point about looking at projects beyond the Kickstarter environment. It’s those external environments that will have the biggest impact on the campaign’s success.

      As for this: “I often have this internal struggle between wanting to genuinely help people in a meaningful way and simply being vocal and supportive in order to be noticed.”, I think the former is always better as long as people know how they could potentially help you in the future.

      1. Thanks for the quick response, Jamey. It’s usually a case of having a limited amount of time to help a bunch of people, and then choosing to help the people that have less exposure (and a greater need) over those who have greater exposure.

        Interacting with people that have greater exposure is better for me, but I end up helping and interacting with people who leave a smaller footprint, which is not a very efficient use of my time – especially when some of them simply give up after all the work I’ve put in to helping them (and after they realize they’re chasing a pipe dream).

        But, occasionally, you get a few gems that really make the effort feel worthwhile. Plus who knows who will be helpful in the end. Your words are certainly true in that. But, I don’t want to side-track your awesome post too much. ;)

  3. When looking at other similar projects, I’d say that you should also keep the old mantra “what the market can bear” in mind, for a few reasons. One, if you have a lot of direct competition, you need to find a way to stand out. Two, there might be a sort of subculture or inertia built up around a particular niche, and it can show up in what sort of rewards are offered, pricing, shipping costs, that sort of thing. You can certainly compete a bit on price a little bit (though the KS granularity of dollar amounts being traditional does hamstring this effort at lower pledge amounts), but at the same time, if you’re jumping into an established niche, potential customers will often know about what to expect from prices, and if you go too high *or* too low, it will raise warning flags.

    For example, I’m running a campaign now for playing cards, and there’s a lot of inertia built up in that niche at the moment. I had initially decided to go with a Chinese printer and get great prices but slightly unknown quality, but it seems that route just doesn’t see a lot of success because the Kickstarter market has been built around Bicycle cards. I think it’s actually unfortunately constraining, but people expect to pay (sometimes much) higher prices for a known entity, rather than go out on a limb for a bargain. This runs directly contrary to my own consumer behavior, so my initial thoughts on how to approach the project had to be altered to fit the market. Each market will have its own quirky price sensitivity, and if you’re not sensitive to that, it could mean trouble. That doesn’t mean you must follow the herd, it’s just that if you’re flying into the face of the established norm, you’ll need to be aware of it and address it carefully and clearly.

    So yes, more research, I’m just noting that not only do you need to know your supply-side numbers, Kickstarter procedural quirks and have a solid product/service, but you also need to know customer psychology and even get a bead on the Kickstarter culture. It’s not a dry marketplace like Amazon, a specialized luxury market like Etsy, or a madhouse like eBay. There are elements of each, perhaps, but Kickstarter is its own thing, and people have been around enough in some places to have certain expectations that we should be aware of as creators.

    1. Tesh–That’s a great point about knowing how existing Kickstarter purveyors think and act. I feel like there’s this list of unwritten rules on Kickstarter that you only figure out after you’ve backed a number of projects and been engaged there for a while.

  4. Seems to be something big missing here, Jamey. In a way piggy-backing off of Angela’s note about “why” – creators should investigate the “whos” behind the projects. And I say this is a big one because you can plug this great blog and well as yourself and Alan!

    Now when I say the “whos” I also mean the people who make those projects happen as well as the people who created the project. The nuance? The people who “make [them] happen” are the logistics groups, fulfillment companies, and manufacturers as much as they are the creators. Check out their Twitter pages, FB profiles, whether they blog, and how they conduct themselves in and out of the KS ecosystem.

    Personally, I’ve had great interactions with project creators, but also manufacturers and even apparel makers. KS projects are so organic and with so many moving parts and dedicated people (PLENTY of these publishing houses and logistics organizations are startups themselves). Understanding these people as people have helped me to understand how to make the leap from civilian to confident Kickstarter…er.

    1. Adam–That’s a great point, and I’m glad you mentioned it. Digging deeper into the people behind projects can be very insightful.

  5. While this is all great advice and I plan to follow most of it… every time you say I needed to be doing something for months or years ahead of time it always makes me feel terrible and unprepared!

    1. Sorry Aaron, I don’t mean to make you feel bad! I think when I say something like that, it means that a creator might want to hold off on launching their project for a while until they’ve at least done it (in this case, research) for several months.

      1. I really wish Kickstarter had a rule that you can’t launch a project as a project creator until you’ve been a member of the site for six months and you’ve backed five projects yourself. It would cut SO MUCH of the stupid crap! Sorry to sound impatient with the n00bs, but last night I crawled the Discover recently-launched projects page for fun and there were so many ridiculous mistakes on flaming display that it was actually kind of depressing. I’m not saying you need to be a pro or that you have to have two years’ experience to get an entry-level job, but at least know what’s going on here before you step into it… doing it wrong can cost thousands of dollars, reduce your credibility to zero, and damages the Kickstarter plaform overall.

        1. This is what I’m talking about, right here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1125757884/pocket-bra-cups
          Maybe? it’s a good idea… but $135,000 for a project developed by someone who has backed one project (funding unsuccessful)? The project home page text is incomprehensible in spots, and some of the photos are just… odd. The reward levels are idiotic and the swag she’s creating will be an expensive PITA to ship… who wants a ceramic mug with a weird logo to be shipped COD?
          Sadly, she has no idea how well her project could do on Kickstarter (my guess is that with a lot of publicity legwork and streamlined rewards, she would fund at $10,000).

  6. Hi Jamey, these are indeed very good tips. Now I make it a habit to visit KS everyday and try to comment to other backers whenever possible, though I myself have not yet launched any projects yet.

    1. Michael: That spreadsheet is just an example of how to compile data about other campaigns. That specific spreadsheet was originally used to compare failed campaigns and their successful reboots (see the bottom half of the spreadsheet for the successful half).

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