Guest Post: The Top 6 Things You Really Need to Know

29 July 2014 | 25 Comments

Update: I’m going to have limited access to the internet from July 31-August 18, so there will likely be no new blog entries during that time. If you’re going to Gen Con, feel free to stop by demo room 137 (across from the exhibition hall) to chat with me (Jamey) about games and Kickstarter. In the meantime, if you’re looking for new content, I recently restructured this blog to make it friendlier for creators, so feel free to poke around starting here and here.

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I belong to two Kickstarter-related groups on Facebook, both of which I would highly recommend to any creator (this one) and tabletop game creators (this one). It’s a great place to give feedback on other projects, honing your eye as a creator and expanding goodwill, as well as getting feedback on your project previews (don’t wait until your project is live to ask for feedback).

A while ago, I started noticing one person giving a tremendous amount of feedback in these groups. It became evident over time that this person was offering this feedback because he genuinely wanted to help creators–he wasn’t subtly nudging them towards a project of his own or anything like that. His name is Timothy “Francisco” Cassavetes.

People like that stand out to me–I appreciate that generosity of time and spirit. Plus, by offering feedback on so many projects, Timothy has amassed a level of understanding of Kickstarter projects that few people do. I don’t always agree with his advice, but I respect his perspective.

Thus I invited Timothy to share some of that knowledge here is a “best of” format. After offering his advice to hundreds of projects, what type of advice had he given time and time again? What do the majority of creators not seem to understand? We’ll find out below. Thanks Timothy!

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Are you cut out to be an astronaut?

Almost 60%+ of all new projects fail by Kickstarter’s own internal estimates, and the odds are pretty good; you’re going to be one of those casualties.

As a Kickstarter creator, we’re all dreamers. We’re always reaching for the stars, we all have our reasons for doing so, be it fame, fortune, or simply the desire to create.

We all have people we look up to, people we aspire to emulate, and people whose advice we take to heart. I myself at 37 continue to take advice on Crowdfunding, tuning my car, writing, cooking a nice filet mignon doused in a shiraz based vinaigrette… just about everything.

The three people I look to for answers when it comes to Kickstarter projects and crowdfunding in general are James Mathe, Richard Bliss and Jamey Stegmaier (and my friends in the “Kickstarter Best Practices and Lessons Learned” Facebook community—Bernhard, Andrew and Damien—who are also awesome, diehard Kickstarter creators). These guys have all collectively amassed over a million dollars in their crowd-funded projects. When they talk, I tend to listen, and I often suggest that others who are thinking of running a project do the same.

“Quicker, easier, more seductive” is how Yoda describes the dark side of the force. For me, that line is a  visceral simile and powerful indictment of what I find in most new project creators; it’s that drive to “go go go” without really understanding that running a Kickstarter is a massive undertaking.

You have to realize that running a Kickstarter project is like taking on a second full time job. If you half-ass it, it’ll show; don’t be that girl or that guy.  It isn’t over ‘til it’s over, and it isn’t over once you hit the GO button, nor is it when the project ends and you’ve funded.

So here are some things you need to know on how to getting it right that I’ve learned from my both own experiences and the project creators I trust.

The Top 6 Things I Feel You Need to Know:

I think everyone should think long and hard about these, before they ever hit the submit button to get their project approved, never mind before you think about launching it.

#1: Devour All the Knowledge of All the Things

James Mathe, Richard Bliss and Jamey Stegmaier all have blogs (you’re here obviously so you’re already on the right path), and both Richard and Jamey do podcasts. If you spend solid and dedicated time reading every post, listening to every podcast, there is almost no project you that you can’t turn into a reality. Once you’ve absorbed the insights they share, you’ll have learned about 75% of everything you need to know. I’m always saying this because it’s the single best piece of advice that I give to most people, if not everyone.

Armed with their experiences and those of the project creators they interview, you should have no problem clearing any hurdles in your way. The remaining 25% of what you need is cold hard work on your part. Only by running a project can you really learn these lessons. You can find the links to Richard Bliss and James Mathe below, if you’re reading this, then half the battle is already won.

www.jamesmathe.com/category/kickstarter/

www.richardabliss.com/funding-dream-kickstarter-podcast/

#2: How and When to Launch All the Things

I constantly urge to anyone who’ll listen to stay away from July, August, and December because they’re the blood bath months. Unless, that is, you already have a built in audience, because they tend to have the lowest turnout of backers. You’ll see more failed projects in those months than in any other times of the year.

As a general rule, you want to start and end a project between Tuesday and Thursday, and stay away from holidays and weekends as much as possible. Statistically, the best time to start is 8am Pacific, The best to end is to set the clock to 11:59pm on the last day of the project, maximizing the time you have.

#3: When to Update All the Things

The most important thing a many creators miss (and many don’t), is the importance of updates. You want to talk about project, where it’s going, what your plans are for when it’s done.

This can really be hit or miss for a lot of creators, you don’t want to saturate your backers inbox’s with constant updates every time you hit a percentage point. You want strategic, well placed, well written updates.

For any project, I think if you divide your project length by 3.5 and add 4, you’ll have a pretty solid amount of updates. You want to post one up after the first 24 hours, you want to post one up with you hit 50%, one at 100% and once the project has ended. For every stretch goal you announce you want to make an update.

#4: Grow your Social Media Audience Before You Launch

That’s it. That’s the biggest thing you need to do. You can do everything right: best video, best rewards, best art, best whatever. But if no one shows up to the party, you’re going to languish in that limbo called “unfunded.”

You need to spend money to make money, and that means making prototypes, getting your product into as many hands as you possibly can that you think will help you, and ask for help from people who’ve been there. Seriously, ask people who’ve run projects (and do talk to project creators as long as you’re not bugging them), but also understand that there’s a difference between good advice and an opinion.

#5: Your Estimated Delivery Date Is Wrong. Trust me. Under Promise, Over Deliver

80%+ of projects fail to deliver in the estimated month on the project page. Yours will likely fall into that category too. Set a delivery date 3 to 4 months longer than when you think you can have it delivered by. Oh, and never promise to have it delivered for December, as it will just lead to tears and woe.

If you think it’ll be April, set it July and if you manage to get everything delivered to EVERYONE by April, you look like a hero. Be a Hero.

#6: It’s Not About the Money; It’s About THE MONEY

Kickstarter isn’t about making a profit. It takes money to make money, and I can’t stress this enough: You’re playing with other people’s money, so don’t screw around with it.

Kickstarter is a risk. It’s not a charity, it’s not a donation site, and it’s not a pre-order or retail store where backers buy a product off the shelf. It’s about getting your project made. Failure is an option. Refunds and money-back guarantees aren’t.

Don’t talk about the money. Not in your pitch video, not on the pitch page, not in the comments or in the updates. It’s Kickstarter. Your backers aren’t stupid, nor are they naïve. They know. Honest. True fact. Stop beating the horse, its dead already. They know you need the MONEY. Don’t talk about it, unless backers ask you direct questions about where it’s all going to, and even then, don’t be cagey, be honest, but if at all possible just don’t talk about THE MONEY.

 I’ll leave you with this, a caveat to live by…

“As a project creator you are the captain of your own destiny, sometimes betting your livelihood, your reputation, and your backer’s hard earned cash that your math is right, that you’ve done your due diligence, and that you’ve come up with the best project you can.

Running a Kickstarter project is a moon mission sometimes, and some people just aren’t cut out to be astronauts.” 

– a friend and fellow project creator

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Thanks so much, Timothy, for taking the time to write this. What do you all think about Timothy’s advice?

25 Comments on “Guest Post: The Top 6 Things You Really Need to Know

  1. Wow my two universes have collided. Individually, both Timothy and Jamey have given me a lot of invaluable advice but now I see a merged post of the two? It’s like going to a fusion restaurant, taking a bite of some unpronounceable dish and having all sorts of funky party happening in your mouth—and it’s awesome.

      1. Much advice was given, but the best ones were:

        (a) design better pledge tiers
        (b) no early bird!
        (c) put a face in of the Kickstarter video

        For (a), I think it’s natural for campaign creators to think in the perspective of the funding goal rather than what actually makes sense to backers. For example, we tried to design 6 different tiers that ranged from $5 to $250 to cover the different “price ranges” and offered value incentives (the more you buy the better the discount, kind of thing).

        The lessoned learned is that reward tiers that are designed solely on value proposition is terrible. The first problem is you’re thinking of your backers as faceless customers. Kickstarter is unique in that there’s a strong sense of community around campaigns. Backers not only want the reward but are also in it to support the project. While offering cost savings is not a bad thing, it can also exposes how much the creator is in touch with the community.

        It’s better to first focus on the core offering–what is the key thing that the backers want and make it clear to backers. This reward is the reason your campaign exists. And only then, offer alternative reward options around that key tier.

        For (b), there’s no need to elaborate on this further, Jamey has more than covered this in extensive detail in both written and spoken form.

        For (c), we tried to produce a professional video “showreel” to introduce the game along with some voiceover. However, Timothy suggested (in his usual brutally honest way) to also show our faces; and he was right. As a backer myself, I engage with the campaign a lot more when I can see the people behind the project. This helps me feel like I’m interacting with real people.

        When creating a project you oftentimes forget to think from the perspective of a backer. It’s quite easy to lose touch, even if you’ve backed a lot of projects before.

        For reference, this was the original post to the Facebook group that Timothy curates: https://www.facebook.com/groups/KickstarterBestPractices/permalink/395210233953903/

        I also shared our experience and the key lessons learned after the campaign was funded here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/KickstarterBestPractices/permalink/411020385706221/

        1. Allen: Thanks so much for sharing this. Timothy did you well! I really liked the way you put it: “The first problem is you’re thinking of your backers as faceless customers…It’s better to first focus on the core offering–what is the key thing that the backers want and make it clear to backers.”

          I have said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. But I’ll never get tired of other project creators saying that, both to spread the word about that key message and for me to have that reminder as well, especially with both of my first two KS Experiments focusing on pricing tiers.

        2. Excellent advice Allen about thinking more in terms of what the backers are “buying” versus what you’re “selling”. I’m happy to hear that my thinking is correct in keeping the backers’ perspective in my mind while planning my first campaign.

          1. I often need gentle or not-so reminders that the way *I* view the world very seldom fits how other people do. Thus, advice as above, quite valuable, and while anecdotal and YMMV, surely fits quite a few supporters, maybe a majority? [stats needed]
            thusly :-) there’s other kinds. I, for one, seldom ever watch the video – I’m not a podcast consumer either. Etc. I am aware that for people living the Social Media age, I must adapt to *their* modes-
            Bottom line: while retaining unity and best practices and so on, like, it probably would not have hurt to have a cameo in my video, but in term of my video way better would have been to let a pro edit it – no excuse since I have a friend who offered to do it for free. Quality has many faces!

  2. Oh Timothy – I DO get your advice about summer, though I’m not ready to put this off yet again! My product preview link is – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/864044349/1834333702?token=34bac495 and THIS IS MY SEASON. This is when you are trying to get the kids back to school and figure out how to make lunches. When you are on the boat and your cooler runneth over with floating containers, and you are out camping with a mess of gear. I feel like there are those on long car rides that are scrolling their phone and will see this and the light bulb will go off.

    Am I crazy? I guess we will find out. Putting this off another month means another month on the back end – when I really really wanted this to ship by January and that will likely not happen, but housewares show is in March and I need product for that. This is a sustainable start up business, so Kickstarter is just the beginning… I’m an astronaut, or if I miss my “a” game, an astronut.

    One tip for others – I contacted Kickstarter 3 weeks ago about my new campaign, I am already linked to Amazon payments and good to go (have money still in there from a short campaign) and yet just found out yesterday that it may take up to a week to launch! Did not understand they still need to ok before you can launch and design projects can take a week. Thought that went out the window once I saw all these ill thought out copycat potato salad campaigns!

    Thank you Jamey yet again for the best blog out there about kickstarter!

    1. Marj: Thanks for your comment. I think you’re right–this is your season (there are exceptions to every rule, including the seasonal one).

      Ah yes, you still need approval from Kickstarter in some form to launch. Sometimes it’s a computer algorithm approving the project for “launch now” status; sometimes it’s a human. So yeah, you should always submit the project for approval as early as possible to get that out of the way (KS Lesson #1). :)

    2. Also, Marj, just a quick bit of feedback: Kickstarter will make you remove your rebate levels. They don’t allow rewards containing rebates, coupons, future discounts, etc. But that’s a good thing for you, because it’s much better for you to get right to the core product as early as possible on the reward sidebar.

  3. Thanks for the concise advice, Mr. Hemingway, and thank you Mr. Stegmaier for inviting him along. I love how you’ve been offering a lot of alternate voices and perspectives lately :-)

    1. Derik: Thanks! I like to share various perspectives. I may talk on here like an authority, but there is rarely a “correct” opinion, so I’m glad to give a voice to those other points of view. :)

  4. Great advice. As an aspiring game designer with two designs i could see actually becoming a game someday, i love this blog. Honestly what it has shown me more than anything is that I’m not ready for the work that a KS campaign would be, even if my game design was amazing (which im not saying). I guess i just want to thank you for the reality. Maybe another time, i can be an astronaut.

  5. You can always rely on Timothy to give a thoughtful, blunt, and amazingly accurate assessment of a tabletop campaign. I’ve come to rely on his advice quite a bit as well. Thanks for giving him the space for a full article.

  6. Thanks for this read.
    I only wonder about the last point. Does it also involves not mentioning how the costs are distributed, until someone asks?
    I am kind of mixed about it.
    On one side it is nice to put it all up front, I think it shows you were thinking about it & did some maths.
    Though on the other do you really care, as a backer, how much money goes for shipping, art, etc, or how much profit, if any, the author makes. Don’t you just care about the final product?
    Well thinking about it I probably never actually looked at the cost distribution of a project which I backed.

    All the Best to all the aforementioned names :)

    1. Konrad: That’s a good question. In general I don’t think a cost breakdown can hurt a project. I see what Timothy is saying, but for new project creators, it can be reassuring for some backers to see that they’ve put time and effort into properly budgeting for the product. To me it’s more about gaining that trust. But there are many other ways to gain that trust through the way you present the project and your interactions with backers.

      1. Originally, I completely agreed with the article. Now that you mention it, though, I think I have to side with you on this cost breakdown. There are a few projects I’ve been to where there isn’t much of a break off of retail pricing, shipping is high, and pricing in general seems high. I look at it and think they aren’t efficiently using their funds or they are just trying to make fat money bags. Either way it turns me off. This attitude could be corrected by presenting a cost breakdown.
        Good point, sir.

        1. I don’t have any evidence to back this up but for me, I actually prefer not to see a cost breakdown on the campaign page. When I’m backing campaigns, the ones that grab me are ones that are good at capturing my imagination. Cost breakdowns take me out of it and grounds it in a reality that makes me think about my own personal spending on Kickstarter campaigns.

          I think it’s possible for a campaign creator to communicate how they’re using the project budget responsibly without going too “inside baseball”. Alternatively, put the budget breakdown on an update and link to it.

          Lastly, there are inherent issues with cost breakdowns and how people who are not in the industry perceive them. There was a fairly high profile video game campaign a while back for a project called Skullgirls that ran into this issue. Here’s an article about it: https://www.joystiq.com/2013/02/25/skullgirls-character-crowdfunding-breakdown-what-that-150k-is/. The article is only a quick summary but if you follow the links in the story, you’ll get the full picture. So translating this to the board games industry, one of the biggest cost factor is shipping/fulfilment, which is easily more than the cost of manufacturing several times over. Further, there’s a huge variability in the cost for art, ranging anywhere between $15/hr to $100/hr and how that might impact your game. The dangerous thing with cost breakdowns is that unless it is accompanied by supporting material and cost justifications, it’s easy to misconstrue it as improper allocation of funds and poor budgeting.

  7. Some great advice. But I’ve heard over and over that people really want to see where the money is going. What percentage is going to artwork, what percentage goes to this or that etc. Do you think that’s good advice? I’m about to launch (tiny.cc/ageofgrit) and I have a break down of my expected budget for the project. Should I remove this? What do people think?

    1. iqSoup: I’m away from my computer, but I think I have a comment above about how showing that data might be a good idea for a first-time creator to show that they’ve done their research and due diligence.

    2. Hmm, the way you have it there is like your contribution has no $$$ value. IMHO and following Jamey’s advice, it is said that people also want to see that YOU have skin in the game.
      Also, $12 K looks a bit weak for a game that complex, maybe the low goal (which is /not/ a bad idea – that’s how I got my 300% success :-) ) will make people think that it’s not enough and that you are not serious enough?

      Let’s say you indicate that you expect the game production to cost $24,000 but that you will be contributing $12,000 of it yourself? (which is actually too little if as it seems you expect to be working on it 12 months?) That you are basically looking for a “matching pledge” to your own effort?

      Now, don’t pay attention just to me, i’m just a noob with a mere $2 K make through KS, hopefully more experienced people can either validate or refute what I said.

      One more thing, and this one really my own opinion, your page looks a bit too long. Mine was about something like that in some draft, but then I decided to transfer the details to my blog, and just leave links in the main page. Thus, people who wanted to read long long could have their heart’s desire in my blog, yay, and the rest would be spared that joy. I have been noted I am too wordy too often. Yes, people want to know, yet people also don’t want to put too much effort on things? As someone said in the beginnings of e.commerce, don’t put hurdles on the way to the cash register. But then KS supporters are not simple customers? oh well.

  8. Excellent guest post solid advice in a nice package. And the Yoda quote(and followup advice about second job moon mission etc) was really good advice.

  9. Regarding starting/finishing Tue-Thu, the advice that I followed My First Time was to end on Sunday evening, the idea being that the party of people refreshing every 3 minutes was something not possible during the work days. Reasoning was sound, my campaign did 300%, yet the scheduled party did not happen, Sunday was sort of blah for mine. OTOH some good friends just finished theirs yesterday Thursday evening, 500%, a real exciting, intense last day, not quite 20% of their total but almost was the last day! (that 20% of their total is pretty much equivalent to 100% of their original goal!). Personally during the last hour I ended upping my Pledge triple what my good brain had intended originally, in part because I *wanted* the next big number to show up!
    Next time :-) I will follow Timothy’s advice.

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