Kickstarter Lesson #57: It’s Not Kickstarter’s Job to Give You Backers

18 September 2013 | 8 Comments

There’s something I need to write about that I’ve never discussed in the other 56 Kickstarter Lessons: My first Kickstarter project.

Nope, it wasn’t Viticulture. That’s the one I think about as my first Kickstarter, but in truth I ran more than a year before Viticulture launched.

You see, back in 2010 I co-founded an indie publishing company here in St. Louis. Not a board game publishing company–a book publishing company called Blank Slate Press.

From very early on in the inception process of that company, I was an advocate of using Kickstarter. At first I wasn’t sure what we’d raise funds for, but eventually we figured out something.

I won’t talk too much about the actual project here–if you want to take a look, here’s the project page. I did almost nothing right, and it all stemmed from a very misguided understanding of how Kickstarter worked: I thought the key to Kickstarter success was to get Kickstarter to notice your project, promote it as a “featured” project, and send lots of traffic your way.

I was convinced this was the key to a successful Kickstarter project. Absolutely convinced. And I could not have been more wrong. Kickstarter is just a platform for you to build something successful or unsuccessful. It’s not Kickstarter’s job to give you backers.

When you’re preparing your video, project page, and reward levels, the goal should not be to get Kickstarter’s attention. That was my mistake with Blank Slate Press. I had followed a project called The Cosmonaut that used a pay-what-you-want model, and I thought if I did something just as innovative, Kickstarter would feature my project.

The details aren’t important, but basically I offered one reward: digital copies of both books Blank Slate Press had at the time. However, I offered that same reward at 5 different price tiers, each one with a diminishing expectation for the person to share the books on social media. So, if you wanted to spend $2 you were expected to share the books all over the place; if you paid the full $10 price, you didn’t have to do anything extra.

It was an interesting experiment, but the project barely funded despite a very low funding goal. In fact, it was the result of a very generous 11th-hour backer that we funded, plain and simple.

Despite making that mistake with the Blank Slate Press project, honestly, I didn’t even learn from it when I created the Viticulture video. The video was filmed in a whimsical way in the hopes that Kickstarter would feature it. It was not at all an effective video (you can read about the key ingredients for a good project video here).

It took me two projects to learn this lesson, so I’ll repeat it here: It’s not Kickstarter’s job to give you backers. Don’t expect Kickstarter to do your work for you. There are no shortcuts. Every aspect of your project should be created with the intent of attracting and engaging backers and giving them something awesome for a fair price–your project should be backer focused, not Kickstarter employee focused. Your target audience is not the people who decide which projects to feature on Kickstarter’s home page.

I should end this lesson with a disclaimer: Kickstarter did, in fact, feature both Viticulture and Euphoria. Both resulted in a huge jump in backers and funding. In fact, the Viticulture feature took the project over the original funding goal (Euphoria was featured on the second or third day of the project when it was already 300% funded). So, sure, it can be great if your project gets featured. But it should be the last thing on your mind when planning a project–it’s merely a nice bonus if you do everything else right.

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8 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #57: It’s Not Kickstarter’s Job to Give You Backers

  1. The founder or Y-combinator (The most successful and sought after acceleration program for startups in Silicone Valley) once said:
    “If you want a good marketing strategy – make a great product”

    Unfortunately that is only half true. Nowadays you can’t sell even a great product without marketing it. People are just too overwhelmed with ads and promotions to notice you.
    You can’t just put a good product out there and expect it to sell. You need to bring it to people’s attention.
    It’s not Kickstarter, or any other platform, backer or partner’s job to bring you backers. It’s your job. And as such you should look at Kickstarter as a platform, nothing more. You’ll have exactly the number of backers you bring, and everything Kickstarter gives you in addition – is a bonus!

  2. Who is your target… marketing 101… yet we all sometimes get distracted by wanting the one that would benefit us most and end up empty handed, reminds me of the movie, A beautiful mind, All the guys going for the blonde yet most ending up empty handed. Not realizing they had much better control of their destiny with the other (more numerous) gals in the room. Backers are the numerous, and Kickstarter Features are the Blonde. :) Great Article,

  3. Thanks for the interesting post. I think it is clear to most that getting featured on Kickstarter does help improve backer numbers and gives projects a huge boost. No, it is not Kickstarter’s job to give you backers however when a website hosts your project and takes a percentage of the money you earn, I would think that they would try to be a bit more helpful in featuring as many projects as possible. I know it is impossible to feature all but still… even a clearer understanding of how Kickstarter projects get funded would be helpful to those creating campaigns.

    This is what we’re working on at my company. We haven’t had any help from Kickstarter… hoping that they’ll take interest though not counting on it.

    1. JB–Thanks for your comment. Can you elaborate on this: “a clearer understanding of how Kickstarter projects get funded would be helpful to those creating campaigns.”

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