Chapter 2 excerpt: The Crowd Is the New Gatekeeper
You don’t sleep much the night before you click the Launch button for your career.
That was the situation I found myself in on the night of March 11, 2014. I had quit my day job 3 months before that to focus on my fledgling board game company, Stonemaier Games. I had run three successful Kickstarter campaigns at that point and was selling my games to distributors and retailers, but the longevity of my full-time career as a board game publisher was largely dependent upon the success of the Kickstarter campaign I was set to launch on March 12, 2014 for a game called Tuscany.
At 5:30 that morning I woke up with a start, absolutely convinced that it was 8:30 and I had missed my alarm. Eventually I coaxed myself back to sleep, woke up as scheduled, and sent out a notification e-mail to my e-newsletter subscribers to inform them that Tuscany would be live on Kickstarter in a few minutes. If I raised $20,000 over the next 28 days, I would be able to make Tuscany a reality.
Then I clicked the Launch button and held my breath.
For a moment, nothing happened. I didn’t have time to watch individual pledges come in because I needed to update the Kickstarter widgets and links on my company website, and I filled in the FAQ on the Kickstarter project page (you can’t do that before you launch). After a few minutes, I checked the funding level.
In 16 minutes, Tuscany reached the funding goal of $20,000.
20 minutes later, the funding total doubled, then tripled another 20 minutes later. The comments section and Facebook page were abuzz with people talking about how quickly the project funded. At the 24-hour mark, Tuscany had raised over $158,000 from 1,622 backers, a number that exceeded even my best projections.
I’d like to share with you how I did it. Here’s a hint: It’s not about the money.
When I was growing up in Virginia the ‘80s and ‘90s, I had two creative passions: writing and designing board games. My first book, written when I was 5, was a full-color, limited edition, custom-bound hardback about a rocketship taking off and flying into outer space. A few years later I designed my first board game, a Camelot-inspired ripoff of Monopoly called Medieval Quest.
I had a skewed perception of what it meant to be a professional writer or game designer. My understanding was that I just needed to create one big hit, and then I’d be set for life.
You know as well as I do that my assumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. Even the most popular authors continue to write not just because of the money but because they love to write. And there are very few board game designers who are able to sustain their families from game royalty income alone. Writers, designers, and anyone in a creative profession have to work really, really hard to make a consistent living from their art.
That’s where Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms have started to reshape the ways creative people can make their passion projects come to life. Anyone can start a Kickstarter project as long as you intend to make some sort of product as a result of the funding. You set a funding goal and a timeframe, create a project page, and list a few rewards that backers receive in return for their support. It’s not a charity, and it’s not equity investing—it’s a platform for funding your dream.
However, dreams aren’t free. They take a lot of hard work. This is important to remember when you look at mega-successful Kickstarter campaigns. You might look at the Pebble Kickstarter campaign (over $10 million raised from 68,929 backers) and think: If I slap something together on Kickstarter, I can be a millionaire!
I want to debunk that assumption right off the bat with these unalienable truths about Kickstarter:
- Community building is more important than cash. If your focus is on the people you want to reach through Kickstarter instead of the money you want to raise, you will be significantly more successful. The “crowd” precedes the “funding” in crowdfunding.
- It’s not easy money. For a successful Kickstarter campaign—much less a mega successful one—you will work harder than you’ve ever worked.
- You need a polished, tested concept—not just an idea. It’s great that you have a cool idea, and Kickstarter is the perfect place to gauge demand for a new innovation. But you need to actually design, develop, and prove that you have something worth people’s hard-earned funds. If you just have an idea for a product and want others to do the work for you, check out Quirky.com.
- Making something awesome is expensive. If you create something awesome enough and priced fairly to compel thousands of people to pledge to receive it, the vast majority of the revenue will go towards actually making that awesome thing, not into your pocket.
- Kickstarter is just the beginning. True success on Kickstarter means funding something people continue to want even after the Kickstarter campaign ends. Do you want to make one product or launch an entire business?
I’ve intentionally placed that list within the first few pages of this book because this is the moment when you need to decide if crowdsourcing your dream project is worth the long hours, the limited short-term profits, the creation of a lasting business, and the endless engagement with hundreds or thousands of strangers.
If that’s the value you place on your dream project, keep reading. If not, that’s okay too—the world needs passionate consumers as much as it needs creators. There are other books out there that you can read instead. I recommend Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
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