Kickstarter Lesson #86: Preventing a Dud

11 March 2014 | 36 Comments

h1Mny0jYesterday, Richard Bliss of the Funding the Dream Podcast shared a podcast that he and I recorded as co-hosts about a month ago. I thought I would share some tidbits of information from that podcast here in text form. If you’d like to listen to the full 20-minute episode, you can find it online here.

Richard and I were talking about some common misconceptions that Kickstarter creators have, particularly first-time creators. We wanted to illuminate a few key points that every creator should know before they launch their campaign to prevent their project from being a dead-on-arrival dud.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • The crowd has to come before the funding. Richard uses a great analogy that compares crowdfunding to crowdsurfing. If you take the leap and there’s no crowd ready for you, you’re in for a painful landing. Make sure you spend some time every day engaging people online and in person in a way that is beneficial to them.
  • Make sure you enjoy running a business before you create a Kickstarter project. In the past I’ve talked about how much time and energy it takes to run a Kickstarter campaign and the resulting business, but I think the key question is, “Are you having fun?” Is working through the logistics and details and customer service and spreadsheets and freelancers fun for you? Because if it isn’t, it’s going to get old really fast.
  • Don’t count the money until you’ve delivered every copy of your product. No matter how well you budget, things will cost more than you planned. You’re going to have a lot of money in your bank account for many months, but that isn’t real money until you’ve actually delivered all products to backers. Then you can look at your bank account balance (or lack thereof) and know the true cost of your project.
  • Don’t rely on Kickstarter to promote your project. Hundreds of projects launch on Kickstarter every day. Kickstarter highlights a few of them. Don’t assume that backers are going to find you just because you’re on Kickstarter, or that Kickstarter will make sure that backers discover your project. That’s your job, not Kickstarter’s.
  • Don’t ask people to promote your project. Richard gets tons of e-mails from complete strangers that say, “Hey Richard, can you share my project with all your followers?” That, my friends, is not the correct approach. Instead of looking for quick and easy ways for people to support you, spend your time looking for ways that you can add value to other people. Teach people. Make people laugh. Make people imagine. Promote other people and projects. It’s too much to write here–just go read this.
  • Art is king. This is a recurring topic on this blog. I think the tough part about art is that it’s really, really hard to be unbiased about your own project’s art. Perhaps impossible. So please listen to what backers say about your art and design, and even what they don’t say–if they’re not raving about your art, that means something. Also, try this: Every month, put a reminder on your calendar to spend 30 minutes looking at art DeviantArt, ConceptArt, Pinterest, and BGG. Each time, pick your 3 favorite artists from your browsing session and reach out to them to say that you appreciate their work. That’s it. Just a quick note. Every time you do this, you’ll become more and more aware of how great art can be and how accessible most artists are.

Running a successful Kickstarter requires a lot of various elements to come together, but I think if you’re aware of those key points, you’ll increase your chances of funding and delivering on your promises.

Which of these resonates the most with you? Click here to listen to the full podcast. We also delve into the topic in a different way on this podcast.

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36 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #86: Preventing a Dud

  1. Wonderful post!

    The only thing I would ad here is about art:
    Art is possible the most subjective thing out there. You won’t find a single piece of art that everybody agrees on.

    Also, I am of the opinion that art is a decoration for your game, it might help sell a game but it is never a deal breaker (at least not for me). As far as I’m concerned, the art should fit the theme and tone of the game and help enhance it’s flavors. Make sure your art works for the game, but don’t wait until you find art that is uncontested.

  2. Frank: Thanks for your question. I think you found a great entry that starts to answer it. I think it’s hard to talk to people about a campaign if privacy is an issue, though–Kickstarter is a very public operation. I would suggest looking on my list of Kickstarter Lessons for lessons about reaching out to bloggers and podcasters, particularly those who talk about autism. Content creators are always looking for interesting content to discuss, so that’s the value you could offer them (you’re NOT reaching out to them to ask them to promote you). Good luck!

  3. Hey Jamey – First sorry about the type on your name (Jamey not Jesse!) And second, just saw your article on 10 things to do each day to build a crowd – another winner – Thanks again!!

  4. Thanks Jesse for everything you share!! Your posts are VERY helpful! We are just starting out our campaign and it’s a bit intimidating. The focus of our campaign revolves around Autism, and as such, privacy has always been an issue. In fact, both of us working on the campaign have specifically stayed off Facebook, Instagram, etc. In light of our lack of an existing social media presence, any tips, or posts you might suggest. And again, THANKS!

  5. I’d hardly consider myself a good judge of art, but I’m about to embark on a project and I’m absolutely thrilled with the artist we’ve chosen. The game designer had a theme in mind, and while playing the game, I asked about a slight twist on his theme, and proposed the artist I had in mind. He said, “If she’s the artist, I’m in!” It was a very exciting moment, and hopefully one that will be repeated. One of those things where you just know it’s right by everyone’s visceral response. (I know I’m being vague about my artist. I will unleash my secret soon. And hopefully everyone will be as blown away as my designer and I am.)

  6. Hi Jamey and happy Monday to you!

    Hi, I’ve been reading loads of your KS lessons and listening to the Richard Bliss’ Funding the Dream podcasts with you as co-host [yes, including the very one discussed here] and I wanted to say thanks for all the excellent and upfront points. You are very generous with information that is extremely helpful for newbies like me.

    I also have a question. I am trying to get into the more ‘correct’ mindset for KS, and by that I mean one that brings value – other than just my game itself – to the community. At one point you mentioned ‘adding value’ to someone else [via KS], but, being very new, having very few ‘followers’, what value can I add other than the game?

    At this early stage [a few months before the KS campaign, but well into play testing, weeks or days away from hiring out the artwork] what can I offer?

    Even though the game is getting much better than expected scores on play test reviews [10s out of 10 for ‘Overall fun’, ‘Would you play it again’, ‘Would you recommend it to a friend’, and ‘Would you buy it’] I still feel an awful lot like an ‘outsider’ trying to break in – and steal someone else’s candy.

    Thanks again Jamey, I look forward to your insight when you get a chance. Right now it’s time to delve into more of your lessons!

    Michael Barclay
    Bear Games – Play is good for you!
    ALIEN CRASH SITE – hopefully the #1 Family Coop game of 2016

    1. Michael: Thanks for these questions! I appreciate you posting them here. In a subtle way, you just answered your own question–you posted a great comment on a game-related blog, something that other commenters can read and derive value from. :)

      As for adding value to the community, I think this blog entry answers it in one way:

      That’s about a spirit of generosity. But you can also add value through content you create as well. Check out my entry about starting a blog, podcast, or video channel. Creating great content that complements your game is another way of adding value to the community.

      I hope that provides a starting point for you! I talk about this a lot in my book too.

  7. Thank you for the wealth of information. I love reading your posts and the clarity you’ve given me in reorganizing how I think about project management.

  8. Hello again, Jamey, thank you for your reply!

    I just listened to Ep 233 of Funding the Dream that you co-hosted with Richard Bliss and appreciated it immensely. I do not have a Twitter account to hashtag either of you but hearing you speak your thoughts and the genuine heart behind them has – to me – even more of an impact than reading your words, which I already enjoy.

    How do you keep finding content to write about? I counted around 180 lessons to date in the full list and as far as I can tell you’re barely breaking a sweat!

    Thank you and have a nice weekend!

    1. Thanks Ben! I really enjoyed those chats with Richard–hopefully he’ll return to podcasting someday. :)

      I’ve been of the mindset for a few years now with this blog that when I learn something or see another creator doing something awesome, I’m inspired to write about it. Apparently there’s a lot of stuff that fits into those two categories!

  9. Hello, Jamey

    Like all the others before me, thank you for providing your insights and experiences as a resource. With some friends, I am hoping to run a campaign in quarter one of next year and your posts have been such a help in preparing for it.

    I post my question as a reply here because it sort of a foil to Tom’s. We currently have a Facebook page for the game but not yet one for the company; do you feel it would be better to make a separate page for it when we are ready or to transition the current game page into it?

    My concern with the latter option is that some of the game supporters may be turned off when the idea of the page changes but I feel it is the better option because it prevents the hassle of everyone who is interested in us overall from having to click another button.

    Thank you for your time and looking forward to your thoughts!

    1. Thanks Ben! I’m glad the blog has been helpful. That’s a great question. My answer is: It depends.

      If you’re only going to design and publish one game, then you only need a Facebook page for that one game. However, I suspect that’s not the case with most publishers.

      So yes, if you plan on eventually having more than one game, I think it’s best to centralize your followers under one Facebook page.

  10. Jamey,

    Thank you for all the information posted on your site, it is such a valuable resource. I am just starting to plan my first Kickstarter campaign and had a question about Facebook and the campaign. I currently have a business page that I will more than likely be publishing the product under if it is a success but right now it has less than 100 followers. In your opinion would it be more beneficial to start a new Facebook page associated with the game or publish the information under the current company name that I will most likely be launching the product under? Thanks again for all your time and information.


  11. Just stumbled upon to this blog and so glad I did! The info so far has been great and I am looking forward to reading it all the way through and applying it to my future project. Thanks for all the content!

  12. Like many, I’m a co-owner of a fledgling independent game company, and though it’s still very early stages for us (we don’t intend to Kickstart for several more months), the info here is staggering. So glad you’ve taken so much time to put this all together, Jamey. Thanks so much.

  13. Jamey,
    Thank you so much for these posts. They have been invaluable for someone that is just starting out and trying to learn more about the business of Kickstarter. I cannot thank you enough.

  14. Jamey, thank you for all of the work you put into us KS noobies. I am in the process of preparing in 2-3 weeks to release my photography book project. I am in Sintra, Portugal, and I am planning on using a crowdfunding system here as 95% 0f my followers are Portuguese. The system is a lot smaller …but I am asking for a smallish amount of funding…
    I am going out to the media with a video and some good PR. Hopefully it gets traction. Thanks again for your help. To see part of my pitch video minus my talking head…please go to

    Much respect.

  15. Thanks for the tip about the artists. For some reason finding artists has always been a big hold-up for me, yet, when I think back to any of the times I’ve reached out to artists, they have always responded. Good reminder that these people are, for the most part, approachable.

  16. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Jamey! You’ve given me a lot of food for thought.

  17. I have a large Facebook friend list and I’ve been sending personal emails to friends and fans and asking them to share with their networks with they have been doing pretty consistently. I’ve been subscribing to blogs in my niche and reaching out to them. Next week one film site is doing a Q&A with me. Twitter is pretty much at zero because I can’t seem to make friends with it. I was also depending on the creative team of the project to do their own outreach as well. Are you saying that the goal amount scares people off from backing at all? Do you think I should consider hiring one of those companies that market to previous backers to try and save myself?

    1. The general rule of thumb is that a maximum of 10% of friends and family will back your first project, and that’s if you’re personal with your approach with them–if you send out mass e-mails, it won’t have the same impact. Also, do you think there’s anything in this blog post that maybe you could do better or in a different way?

      I think the funding amount could scare off people, yes. For a big campaign like this, sometimes it’s better to run a much smaller campaign first to get people in the door, and then launch a bigger campaign soon after.

      I don’t think you should hire a company to market for you, nor do I think you should market. I think you should find ways to help other people and add value to other people, and they will begin to gravitate to you.

  18. Laura: That’s a good question. I agree that your reward levels are fair–I don’t think that’s the issue. A $120,000 funding goal is pretty intimidating, I must admit. What kind of an audience did you build up prior to launching the Kickstarter?

  19. Hi Jamey! Laura here – long time (five months :) follower…I’ve read your blog from cover to cover and implemented as much as I could. I launched my campaign on Monday:

    And while my Kickstarter page has like 350 shares, I only have 40 backers! I know the rewards are good and reasonably priced. People seem excited by the project… how can I give a little nudge to people to back NOW and not later? Thank you!

  20. I hear about you because I’m friends with Jon Shafer (I was actually a guest on his podcast in an early episode – talking about my game Ploy) and I really enjoyed your appearance on TGDR several weeks back. I really appreciate the way you talk about kickstarter as totally worthwhile and doable, but not some magic bullet. My feeling from you is that it is a business, in need of careful planning, deliberate tending, and a spirit of responsible fun. And Tuscany has illustrated your point!

    1. Jesse: Awesome! I’m sorry to see that Jon is leaving TGDR, but it makes sense that he needs to focus on At the Gates. I think that’s well said that there isn’t a “magic bullet”. :)

  21. Great info here. I’m a part-time indie game designer in western mass and as I begin the lead-up to a kickstarter, I have gotten so much out of your blog posts, podcast appearances, etc. I am so happy to see that Tuscany has done so well on day one, it is well deserved. My kickstarter will be more successful because of the time you’ve spent documenting your experiences.

    1. Art is king – It still amazes me how important art is. Growing up I often heard the term ‘starving artists’ and sentiments like – “Don’t go for an art major if you like money.” In the end, I’m learning that art and design are gold. They can really sell a product. I do wonder where the starving artist stereotype comes from; perhaps artists are not paid their value.

      1. I think that is it, and more artists than there are people willing to pay for new art.

        You can be an amazing artist, but if you don’t get paid that won’t help.

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