22 May 2014 | 17 Comments
When you become a Kickstarter project creator, a few things happen that you may not realize you’re signing up for. The first is that you now run a company, even if it’s a company that makes exactly one thing. The second is that you are now pregnant with your product idea–you’ve conceived it, and now you’re trying to give birth to it.
The third is that you are now a leader.
You are now a leader in a way that you’ve never experienced before. You may have been a leader in an organization or a team or a group of friends, but this is a new type of leadership. Not only is this your dream you’re sharing with the world, but on Kickstarter, you’re actually building something with a vast array of people who you will never meet but whose lives you have the chance to touch.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books on leadership (feel free to recommend your favorite in the comments). Today I want to focus on one leadership specialist named Simon Sinek and how his tenets of leadership apply to you as a Kickstarter creator. I would highly recommend that you listen to his TED talks here and here.
Start with Why
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” –Simon Sinek
Every great leader must have a clear vision of why they do what they do. You want to be a Kickstarter creator. Why? Are you doing it for the money? For recognition? For power? For popularity? As this blog entry from Lagniappe Games discusses, those motivations won’t attract people, nor will you be able to sustain all of the responsibilities that come with being a Kickstarter creator if those are your reasons for creating a project.
A more seemingly appealing motivation might be because you’re trying to make your dream a reality. That’s great–I love to see people make their dreams come true on Kickstarter. But that motivation is all about you. If that’s the main reason you’re on Kickstarter, you’re not going to succeed. The only people who really care about your dreams are your friends and family, who will contribute about 10% of your funding at most.
So really, why are you here? Why are you on Kickstarter? Why are you trying to bring your idea to reality? What is it about your idea and the way you want to create it that brought you to Kickstarter? Your reasons might be very specific to your project, but in some way they should be tied to engaging people, forging relationships, and building a community on Kickstarter.
I’m not saying this because I think you should adopt my personal philosophy. I’m saying this because you will significantly increase your chances of success on Kickstarter if your clear vision about why you’re there is directly related to your backers. Not the money, not you, but the backers themselves.
One other quick comparison before moving on: The concept of “why” is directly connected to social media. I see a lot of project creators repeatedly ask backers to Like their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter, perhaps for a giveaway. In fact, this is why I really don’t like Rafflecopter. If you get someone to Like your Facebook page purely because they want to win something from you, that Like is worth nothing. That person isn’t going to pay attention to your Facebook posts, which is the whole point of having fans on Facebook. The number means nothing if people aren’t personally compelled to Like your page.
Compare and contrast:
- You should Like my Facebook page to win a free copy of my game!
- You should Like my Facebook page if you’ve enjoy the interactions we’ve had on Kickstarter and want to continue to chat with us about other games we love.
Ask yourself “why” for everything you do, and people who believe the same thing you do will be drawn to you as a leader.
Make Your Backers Feel Safe
“When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice the tangible result so the people feel safe and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen.” –Simon Sinek
Great project creators–great leaders–make their backers feel safe. They consistently show their backers that they’re in good hands by putting the needs of the backers before their own, before the bottom line. And in return, as Sinek says, remarkable things happen.
Sinek uses the example of officers in the US Marines in this talk. The Marine custom is that officers eat last, which sometimes means that there’s no food left for them. In the particular story Sinek shared, this happened, but then individuals started bringing the officer portions of their food to share. They sacrificed for him because they knew that he would sacrifice for them.
The same thing can happen on Kickstarter if you, the project creator, put the needs of the backers before your own. For example, it is highly likely that something you budgeted for will cost more than you anticipated. You will have a choice: Remove or diminish the item in question, ask backers for more money, or dig into your own pockets to make the thing as awesome as you first envisioned–or, even better, make it more awesome.
If you do this, backers will see the type of leader you are, and they will follow you.
It’s more than about the money. It’s about the time you spend on a project to at least try to deliver it on time. It’s how you communicate with complete honesty and transparency with backers. When backers see that you’re willing to share good news and bad news, they’ll know that you’re not hiding anything from them, and they will trust you.
You can’t tell people “Trust me” and expect them to trust you. You have to demonstrate it time and time again through your actions.
When people trust you to share their ideas and creativity with you during and after a Kickstarter campaign, remarkable things can happen. If you foster a community-driven environment where you listen to people and respect their ideas–an environment where people feel SAFE to give their opinions–you will see your project blossom into something far beyond your wildest dreams.
Make backers feel safe through sacrifice and respect, and they will be drawn to you as a leader.
Communicate Clear Expectations
“It’s not fair for me to expect you to know what I need you to do if I don’t say it.” –Jamey Stegmaier
The last tenet I want to discuss isn’t from Sinek and it isn’t about working with backers–rather, it’s about being a leader within the company you form by launching a Kickstarter campaign.
Chances are, you are not alone in your campaign. Whether your partners are co-owners or freelancers, you will work with other people, and you will need to lead them if that’s your role in the company.
So this item is more of a cautionary tale about how you lead those people–I speak from personal experience, because this is an area in which I still have a long way to go.
If you have expectations for people, a great leader clearly communicates those expectations up front. If that leader forgets to convey those expectations or doesn’t realize what those expectations should have been until it’s too late, the leader should not blame their partner(s) for not reading their mind.
This sounds so obvious, but it’s a trap I’ve seen so many leaders fall into. I’m acutely aware of it, yet I continue to do it with some of the people I work with. I can’t expect people to read my mind. Something that seems super obvious to me may be completely off someone else’s radar. It’s my responsibility as a leader to let them know what to do and why it’s important.
In some ways, this comes back to making people feel safe. Have you ever worked for someone who didn’t give you clear expectations and then got mad at you for not doing what they assumed you’d do? You end up working in constant fear, and you’re motivated by not messing up instead of by doing awesome things for your clients. You can’t do amazing things if your leaders don’t make you feel safe.
Communicate your expectations clearly to your partners, and they will be drawn to you as a leader.
I’d love to hear your stories about Kickstarter projects you’ve been a part of where you were drawn to the creator’s vision, you felt like you were in good hands, and you were communicated to in a clear and transparent manner.