Kickstarter Lesson #71: People Are More Compelling Than Numbers

27 November 2013 | 4 Comments

Last week I had the pleasure of serving as a judge on a panel of entrepreneurs at my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. We were judging something called IdeaBounce where current university students get 2 minutes each to pitch an idea or concept they’re developing to the crowd. They all get advice from the judges, and the 5 best pitches get $100 and a private lunch with the judges.

(Sidenote: Giving a pitch in 2 minutes is really hard! But it’s the right length of time. Keep that in mind when you script your Kickstarter video.)

Two of the pitches that won stand out in my memory because of their contrasting techniques. For the first, the presenting student began the pitch with an anecdote about a bowel-related incident he had during a recent marathon run. For the second, the presenting students focused on a compelling statistic regarding the storage life of vaccines in remote locations.

Both were compelling pitches, and as I said, both won. But I realized while listening to the second pitch that it could have been twice as compelling if they would have started with an anecdote instead of the statistic. Talk about the mothers in Kenya who walk 5-10 hours to the nearest vaccination outpost only to learn that the medicine went bad due to the heat. Focus on the people affected by the problem before mentioning the numbers.

This technique is something that charity fundraisers do really well. We can learn from them for Kickstarter campaigns. For example, look at the founder of charity: water, Scott Harrison. There’s a great article here about how he compels people to give. This is the key takeaway:

“[Harrison] doesn’t say, ‘We need to raise $100,000 for this campaign.’ Instead, he explains how a small amount will make a huge, specific change in a few people’s lives.”

This is an excellent frame of reference for Kickstarter creators. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, whether they’re our own project or the projects we’re jealous of. This affects Kickstarter creators in two ways:


How many of you have watched a super successful Kickstarter project and thought, “Wow, I need to think of something for Kickstarter so I can make a lot of money?”

I would highly suggest that you don’t think about Kickstarter that way. Not only will you probably burn out after you realize how much work it is, but potential backers will sense your true motivation.

The next time you think about the money, switch out that thought with a mental image of the person you want to impact with your project. I think about people sitting around the table with friends and family playing our games. I picture them laughing and scheming, calculating and plotting, using tangible pieces to build something that never existed and then tear it down to start anew. I visualize people making memories through games.

I’m generally not an advocate of visualization techniques like this, but I think it’s hugely invaluable to creators to focus on the people, not the money. The focus on people will guide every decision you make for your product and your campaign, and backers will respond much better to it than to you saying (directly or indirectly), “Give me more money!”

Every Dollar Matters

Let’s look at that quote again: “he explains how a small amount will make a huge, specific change in a few people’s lives.”

This philosophy factors into how you structure your Kickstarter campaign. I have three Kickstarter Lessons that directly relate to this concept:

Final Thoughts

About a month after I shipped Viticulture to the world, I got a message from a backer in the Netherlands. He was a bulk backer, so he received 6 full copies of Viticulture for about $30 each, a price point that led to no profit for Stonemaier Games due to all the custom components we crammed into the box (something I wouldn’t recommend to other project creators–don’t have reward levels with no breathing room!).

The backer told me that he had lost his job the day he received the shipment of Viticulture, and he was suddenly faced with the prospect of paying the bills for his family without an income.

So he put 5 of his copies of Viticulture on eBay. Thanks to the secondary market for the full game at that time, he was able to cover his monthly rent, utilities, and food based on the profits from the sales of those 5 games alone.

He wrote to me to thank me for that unintended utility, but also to offer his help. He had read that shipping replacement parts to Europe was expensive, and he volunteered to use his final copy of Viticulture for that purpose.

Of course I said no, but I was really touched by the gesture. I didn’t know when I made Viticulture that it would impact someone in that way, but I’m so glad it did. It was a great reminder to me that these Kickstarter campaigns are about the people who make them happen. That’s what I want to focus on when planning and running my next campaign, not the stats.

Whether our games or another company’s games hit the table this Thanksgiving, I hope you share some memorable moments of joy with the people you love. Thanks for reading this blog, and to many of you, thank you for supporting Stonemaier Games.

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4 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #71: People Are More Compelling Than Numbers

  1. It is always heartwarming and inspirational to hear stories like this; in school I was taught to always take a human-centered approach but living proof is that much more impactful. Thank you for sharing, Jamey – I am optimistic that as long as my team and I remind ourselves of this lesson we will do well in the future, whatever future that may be!

    Forgive me if this is too personal but has there been a case in your life where you have been on the other side, helped by someone who may not have realized it?

    1. Ben: Thanks for your comment! I agree that a human-centric approach not only feels good, but can also be a powerful too.

      That’s a great question. Have I ever been helped by someone who didn’t realize how much they were helping me? I’ve certainly been helped TONS of times by so many people, but I think they were almost always aware of it. Actually, no, I can think of a few instances where I reached out to someone years after the fact to thank them for something they didn’t realize would have such a big impact on me, and it was enough for me to want to reach out to them in appreciation.

      The one that came to mind first happened when I was 11 years old at summer camp. I was social but shy, and I remember a camp counselor (unfortunately I can’t remember her name now) who went out of her way to make me feel welcome and special. It made a huge difference to me, and even now, 24 years later, I’m touched by the gesture. I wrote her a note when I was in college to let her know how much it meant to me.

  2. Beautiful story about Viticulture :), I have loved how the game helped that person.
    I am agree with you, a kickstarter project will be better if we develop the game thinking in the people, focus on the way that can be more entertaining, funny and interesting. A Kickstarter creator should think about an exciting game concept, a great artistic design and an attractive mechanic which objective is make people have a good time, which is great.

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