The Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Other Kickstarter Projects in 2014

22 December 2014 | 13 Comments

Last year I reflected on the Kickstarter projects I had backed and studied in 2013 to compile a list of the top 10 things I learned from other projects.

I continue to learn so much from my fellow creators–in fact, a few months ago I started a monthly series to future a few projects that were doing unique things that inspired or intrigued me.

This is likely my last blog post of 2014, so I wanted to look back today to examine the top 10 lessons I learned from other projects this year.

Please keep in mind that the 2013 list contains the biggest lessons for any year since it was the only list of its kind I had written up until that point–the list below is much more specific.

10. Momentum Is King (Lanterns): There are lots of projects I could have used as an example of this. The key, as I’ve learned from watching other projects this year, is that a project that doesn’t start strong out of the gate–even if it looks awesome and has a lot of good things about it–is in trouble. It reinforces the idea that building up a crowd of excited people before launching on Kickstarter is so important. A project with a strong trajectory gives each potential backer the impression that it’s worth their attention and maybe their pledge.

9. Reviewers Can Make or Break a Project (Forge War, Funemployed): On the day that Isaac Childress launched his first Kickstarter project Forge War, a reviewer who goes by Rahdo (Richard Ham) released a video review proclaiming the game to be “easily the best game of the year.” As a direct result, Isaac raised nearly $40k in just 2 days. Similarly, a recent project called Funemployed got a huge boost when review site Shut Up & Sit Down wrote about it (they had previously reviewed the first edition). Third-party reviewers really matter. If they have a big platform, that’s awesome, but even reviewers with smaller audiences can have a big impact on your project. Make a great product, produce a nice prototype, and send it to some influential reviewers with plenty of time before your project.

8. My Way Is Not the Only Way (Zombicide 3): When I offer advice on this blog, my intent is to make Kickstarter a better place for creators (to increase their chances of success) and for backers (to offer them a number of well-informed projects from creators who read this blog). However, I see successful projects all the time that have very different philosophies than what I recommend here. I think the key for any creator is to read all sorts of advice and research all different kinds of projects, big and small, and figure out what’s right for you and your backers.

7. Packaging Matters (Good Cop Bad Cop): As Brian Henk demonstrated with his pocket-size Kickstarter game, a product that small may not stand out on the shelf when it reaches retailers. Perception is everything when people (whether they’re shopping at a store or browsing Kickstarter), so make sure you design the packaging in a way that compels people to pick up the product.

6. Uniqueness Matters More Than Ever Before (Allegiance: A Realm Divided): Kickstarter is big. Really big. At any time, there are at least 100 other projects in your niche category. So now, more than ever,it’s really important to clearly convey what makes your project unique. There should be a great hook early on the project page, and you should have a section devoted to explaining the unique features. A big part of this means that you need to really know your category–you shouldn’t say that you make the only cat-shaped donuts if there are other places that already offer cat-shaped donuts. You’ll just look silly if you do that.

5. If at First You Fail, Try Again…but Don’t Assume All Previous Backers Will Return (Stones of Fate): Jeff Cornelius revealed this very important lesson during an interview with me earlier this year. Midway through the project, only 38% of backers from the original campaign returned for the reboot. 38% is actually quite good, and it should still be an encouraging number to creators looking to relaunch, but it’s a good reminder that you should temper your expectations for a relaunch. Jeff went on to contact previous backers to talk about what he had improved, and he saw an increase in backers after that.

4. New Creators Are in a Very Different Position Than Repeat Creators: This isn’t related to any specific project; it’s more of a general observation about first-time creators. It’s tough, isn’t it? The first time isn’t easy–not only are you learning on the fly, but you’re working hard for every backer (even if you built up hype before the launch). I just wanted to let you know that I feel for you, and I’m going to try better to make sure my blog is as useful for you in 2015 as it is for repeat creators.

3. Under Promise and Over Deliver on the Delivery Date (Lift Off!): When Eduardo Baraf was planning his project, I recommended that he revise his estimated delivery date from June 2015 to March 2015 (it was a July project). I thought that backers would perceive a year as “we’re never getting this game.” Well, I think I was wrong. I think that most backers consider a year to be just fine. Over a year, not so much, but a year is okay. Ed wisely pointed out to me that if he had kept his delivery date at June 2015, he could have delivered early, which would have been received really well among his backers. It’s definitely better to delivery earlier than the estimated delivery date than after that date.

2. Time of Year Matters for Some Projects (The Coolest): This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the most successful Kickstarter project in 2014 (and ever), The Coolest. The Coolest is largely a seasonal product–the idea of keeping drinks cold is most on our minds in the summer. It originally launched in the winter with the idea that it would be delivered by the summer, but the project failed to fund. People didn’t care about keeping things cold in the December frost. However, when Ryan launched in the summer, the product took off. Not only did it address an immediate need on people’s minds, but it also was perfect fodder for the press–media outlets look for topical stories. The season doesn’t matter for all projects, but consider what’s best for yours.

1. Backing Other Projects Significantly Increases Your Chances of Success as a Creator (John Coveyou): This is more of a lesson learned from a fellow creator than a specific project. John Coveyou does statistical analyses on Kickstarter projects, and one of the most profound revelations he discovered was that creators who backed many projects before launching have a significantly greater chance of successfully funding their projects than those who don’t. There are two big jumps: Between those who back 1 project (16.9% success rate) and 2-5 projects (35.2%), and then between those who back 2-5 projects (35.2%) and 25-50 projects (66%). Backing other projects lets you learn so much about other projects, and now there’s data to prove that idea.

***

I just want to give a shout out to all of my fellow creators from 2014. You inspire me and teach me new things every day, and I’m extremely grateful for all the hard work you put into your projects. Let’s keep finding new ways to make crowdfunding exciting and engaging for our backers.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned from someone else’s Kickstarter campaign in 2014? Which of the above lessons resonates the most with you?

13 Comments on “The Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Other Kickstarter Projects in 2014

  1. Thanks for sharing these reflections and insights. Even those of us who are not running Kickstarter Projects but support those that do can learn from these points. As a Kickstarter backer, many of the items you stated influence decisions I make. Reviewers do have influence on my decisions and I admit that Momentum in a project encourages me to take a second look at projects I was unsure of. As a freelancer, I am here to help a game publisher with his projects so it is helpful for me to acknowledge your points and support the projects I am working on.

    The biggest lesson I learned regarding Kickstarter campaigns in 2014 relates to delivery dates. Your third point (Under Promise and Over Deliver on the Delivery Date) is so true when it comes to building community so that the next project garners repeat interest. As a freelance editor and proofreader, I was brought into a funded Kickstarter project fully aware that I was additional staff to help them accelerate their release schedule. Projects within the Kickstarter were higher priority than other projects from the same publisher. The positive feedback received by the publisher from backers and fans was wonderful as we brought some lagging items back on schedule and accelerated the release of other items. Definitely keep in mind those Promised Delivery Dates and plan accordingly the necessary production schedule and staffing (in house and freelance).

    1. TR: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I do want to make a careful note about the language we use (creators and backers) in regards to delivery dates. They’re “estimated delivery dates,” not “promised delivery dates”–they’re a creator’s best estimate as to when the rewards will be delivered. Otherwise I completely agree with what you’re saying–it’s much better to deliver earlier than those estimated dates than later.

  2. There’s a lot to reflect upon in this article and it’s all fantastic. It’s great to see a trend in good projects getting funded by people who study KS. This blog is invaluable and is more than likely a big reason for so many successes!

  3. The interpretation of delivery dates is interesting and challenging. I agree and accept them as “estimated delivery dates”, but one of the largest complaints you here about Kickstarter, especially from first time users, is when a project misses the delivery date. Many people do see them as “promised delivery dates” and do not understand, or accept, the potential delays to a project. I, personally, understand the various things that can cause a project delivery delay and appreciate when a Kickstarter creator is transparent about delays and their causes. Not everyone does so creators need to make great efforts to “Under Promise and Over Deliver” as you stated. Then there is not that confusion by backers when a project is late on “estimated delivery.”

    1. Right, I absolutely agree that it’s a common backer perception that those dates are promised and set in stone. I think it’s up to us to change that language and use it early and often so backers understand that the dates are our best estimates, not promises.

  4. another thing I’ve seen this year is that communication is key, and in many cases can trump the managing of shipping expectations. I backed Fallen – which is more than a year late but they have managed to keep pretty much all the backers on their side by being really disciplined on their weekly updates and keeping us all very much in the loop and engaged in ‘our’ project.

  5. posted too soon – also wanted to congratulate you on the quality, regularity and empathy in your communications on your kickstarters – you’ve managed to pretty much hit your delivery dates – but for those who don’t communication becomes even more important.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Barry (and for your kind words, particularly your use of the word “empathy”). That’s awesome that Fallen has kept you all engaged while working through the product creation process.

  6. Jamey, I experienced EVERY ONE of the items on your list over our three Kickstarter Projects and each one proved an absolutely exciting endeavor. While success is certainly something we all hope to accomplish, we do, as they say, learn so much more from failure. I’m excited by your book, as both a Creator, several times over, but as a critical Backer for so many projects. Thanks for all of your insights.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  7. Jamey,

    I’m blessed to have a great artist to render the pieces, and I was clever enough to not get in the way of the artistic process. However, I learned a significant amount about shipping that I never knew before, especially international-related charges. Definitely do your homework if you don’t have standard-sized items, such as books or board games.

    Cheers,
    Joe

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