Even though it seems like yesterday, it’s almost been a year since we had a champagne brunch to celebrate raising a little over $19,000 on Kickstarter.
I remember being completely blown away by how much money was about to enter our business account, but realized how much it really costs to start up your own business the second we put in our first order for PEAR Cards, the flagship product of our company, PEAR.
If we could have done it all over again, I’d hope to raise three times that, but at the same time, we hit our goal - and that’s what matters.
I wanted to write a little bit about my experience raising money on Kickstarter, what we did right, what we did wrong, and some tips I have for others looking to get started...
So, you have an idea for an invention or product and you want to bring it to life, but, you’re broke?
Maybe you also don’t come from money, or know anyone that’s going to hand you $100,000 just because they like you and think the idea has potential.
So what do you do now?
The Power of Crowdfunding
That’s when crowdfunding came into my life & changed the game for my business.
I had heard of Kickstarter many years ago - like most people - due to viral campaigns that got a ton of publicity, but even more recently, I had actually seen them being produced by fellow students, due to studying Film & Media Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. Kids grabbing camera gear, getting shots, and sitting in front of a green screen to do some silly add in’s and voice overs was quite regular during my time there.
It quickly gained my attention, because it was a creative way to share your project with others, get them excited, and most importantly, get the funding you need to complete the damn thing.
Fast forward 5 years and I’d be doing the same thing for my passion project, but it wasn’t a film - it was a set of positive oriented conversation cards.
So, why did we go with this option of funding? (besides the being broke & not having millionaire, venture capitalist friends or family)
Easy answer… Kickstarter would validate my idea for a product.
Kickstarter projects are going to VALIDATE not only your product, but your brand, your messaging, your marketing - etc.
If the product is amazing, people are going to see it and love it, therefore they will back it and share it - even if the rest is a bit messy. If the brand or messaging or marketing are done well enough, it’ll sell itself even if the product is mediocre (I’m looking at you Grey Goose & Patron.)
Our Kickstarter Experience
We are going to make this one personal, because it’s the only way I know how to tell the Kickstarter experience, so let's start from there.
My friend Nathan & I had an idea to create a set of cards that could be used as a tool / game in order to create positive conversations & get people to open up - you can find it here (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pearcards/pear-cardstm) - shameless plug of Kickstarter Link.
We decided to get the funding through Kickstarter, because, as I mentioned above, I wanted to see if this was something that really was as amazing as we’d believed instead of something built up by those around us, who were amazing support throughout the entire project and even to this day.
I also knew that this would be our largest marketing or advertising to date (and even still to this day.) It wasn’t until quite recently, almost a year after the Kickstarter campaign, that our website - www.pearcards.com now populates above our Kickstarter campaign site when you google the words "PEAR Cards".
The power of having something on a website like Kickstarter, is all the eyeballs that will see it - all the walks of life that are now seeing your product or idea who never knew it existed seconds before they scrolled through the popular tab. Hell, even our google analytics look like a massive earthquake hit during our first few days of the Kickstarter launch compared to the everyday views on our site.
So you have to look at this campaign as not only a way to attract customers or funding, but actually as the largest marketing ad / event you will do for quite some time.
I looked into a good amount of successful Kickstarters to try and see, in my opinion, what they did right, in order to emulate their campaign a bit. Just as everything in this world though, you can only do so much research/looking around - a lot of it is about going out there and getting the thing done.
But some things are clear and need to be known, so I’ll save you from doing the research yourself. First, make your rewards crystal clear. The more confusing you make it for people to back your product, the less money / backers you’re going to get. Not everyone coming to back you is going to be a kid your age, who’s been on Kickstarter a million times. Some of them will be family, elderly family, and even people who are scared to put their credit card online. So make sure it’s clear on how to back, and what exactly they are getting for backing.
Second, successful Kickstarter campaigns interact and engage with their backers. Make sure to do updates on both social media and the kickstarter page. Videos always do the best (something I wish we would have done more of), but at the least, make sure to constantly be updating people, especially if you’re raising a ton. It’s detrimental to continue adding new & fun goals and tiers to reach for if you’ve already blown past your original goal - this keeps everyone excited and involved in continuing to pay attention to your campaign.
Third, absolutely crush the video. Whether it’s a serious piece of equipment to research cancer and needs to be 100% professional, or it’s a hilarious video about a card game with exploding cats just make sure it’s well made and executed properly.
Lastly, you’re not going to get even a dollar if you don’t hit your goal - so make sure it’s attainable. I would have loved to raise 1 million dollars for PEAR Cards, completely funding the first few years of the company, while being able to send free sets of PEAR Cards to every school & mental health related company or profession around the world, but, we never would have hit that goal (we hope to one day be able to accomplish this.) So make sure your funding goal is realistic and achievable.
So after researching enough, we knew what we wanted it to look like - clean and simple. This also had a lot to do with our amazing graphic designer, who has been with once since inception - doing everything from logo design, card design, and our entire Kickstarter campaign graphics. Shout out to Kevin at Nilo Design Co!
We knew the video wouldn’t be a hilarious one like you see all the time, because we wanted people to take our company/product seriously. We want to help in the Mental Health field specifically, and it’s hard to eliminate stigmas if your product comes off as a joke.
Here’s what our Kickstarter page looked like:
The rest of the brainstorming was set up to what our tiers would be, and what we needed to raise.
This was something that would come to be very difficult. We had been working with an amazing company, Ad Magic (of the Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens fame) and knew pricing for our product.
We needed to make enough to cover that initial manufacturing order, and hopefully cover the debt we had already been in through prototypes, lawyer fees, etc. When we looked into this, we realized our goal was outrageously high.
I don’t even want to share the number, because when you look at cards or card games on Kickstarter, we would have been the highest goal on there - by far.
So, we decided to crank it down a lot, we figured $19,000 would be a realistic goal. This wouldn’t take us out of debt at all, but it was a good start, and we’d have extras that we could sell right away. I even had a good friend who’s an amazing accountant crunch some numbers with an excel spreadsheet in order to see what we needed to raise with multiple outcomes, and that helped a lot (thanks Zac).
So once we had that settled, we decided to go into tiers. The way this works is also always a crap shoot.
Sometimes there are a few real tiers of the product & the rest is filled with funny and goofy options. We wanted to be somewhere in between, so we threw in some dinners, coasters, business sets, etc. But the majority was PEAR Card sets, straight up.
Obviously there was an early bird special, a limited edition that came with our first set of PEAR Cards with a thank you note written on it, and then just bulk orders.
Other than that, we didn’t want to do anything wild - but that’s not to say it can’t work. It really just matters on what your product is, and how you want it and you to be perceived.
The biggest take away of this is once you launch you will have a million companies reaching out to you about doing marketing for your campaign. They’ll charge either a percent of backer money that they bring in, a flat fee, or a combination of the two. DO NOT DO THIS.
Unless it’s one of the BIG name ones (google it, there is about 5-8) most of these will be scams. We had never ran a paid ad or done any paid marketing - we only use social media and word of mouth - it was half a decision (also validating) and half reality - two broke kids who’d just come back from traveling europe and hadn’t worked in almost an entire year. But, these marketing schemes won’t help you enough, unless they are a large one and your product/goal is in the hundreds of thousands.
Video & Messaging
As far as messaging & the video, I think we could have made it a billion times better, but luckily, we were still successful and reached our goal. Although we were on a shoestring budget, I still think paying for a professional camera crew would have been completely worth it. Making sure everything looks amazing, sounds crisp and is edited properly - can sometimes be all the difference in being successful and failing to reach your goal by any amount.
We gave ourselves 1 month to get everything ready, from sending information to Kevin (the stud graphic designer), to having our stud website guy Mark (also badass) work on the site and getting it to route everyone to the Kickstarter - to even writing/filming/editing the video and copy on the page.
When I go back and look at the video now, I cringe. I shot it on my camera, did the editing myself and used MacGyvered equipment to make things work (like using microphones dangling in the sky to pick up better audio.)
The copy was a little righteous and a bit hard to understand, as well as not exactly straight forward - I mean, there's a billion other things I would change. This is a problem we are still dealing with today, as it’s difficult to explain your product to the everyday person when it’s something you’re talking/thinking about all day, everyday. Being able to explain it in its most basic, simplistic terms are crucial in a Kickstarter, where you have people from all over with zero previous information on what you’re trying to create/do. Luckily, we didn’t have to do it a second time - but still to this day, we are constantly trying to make this as clear as possible.
Kickstarter Awards & Press
We wanted and planned for a "Kickstarter We Love" or “Project Of The Month” or any of the high accolades people seem to get when launching a cool Kickstarter project. We got nothing.
We didn’t get picked up by a magazine or blogs either, and at first we were a little bitter. Regardless, I think going in with that mindset still had us create (at the time) the best campaign we could possible come up with at the time. With all of that said, we knew that the beginning and the end of the campaign are by far the most important in every way possible.
There is a massive lull that hits after the first few days of the campaign, and it stays there until the final few days. You need to be on top of it and staying in people’s minds and continue to push.
Here’s a look at what our trajectory looked like over the course of the fundraiser:
We wanted to hit 40% of our goal on the first day, we heard and read about specific Kickstarter algorithms that meant this would keep your page on the top and give you a better chance at being something they select as a campaign to follow. Whether this is true or not, who knows - but you should strive for blowing it out of the water regardless.
I think we got to 35% on the first day, and although we were stoked, it still felt like a bit of a failure in a way. What’s more crazy is that the final 40% was raised within the final two days. This isn’t uncommon, but it is a little more uncomfortable than you would like - I’d hope.
The last few days were definitely hectic. We sent out multiple emails, social media posts, told people in person, etc. which really sucks after you’re asking the same people who’ve already done so much to help - for more help. "I know you backed us/shared the kickstarter/told your friends about us, but is there anyone else you can tell?!" was all too common near the end, and all we can do is say thank you to so many who helped out.
The list of "thank you’s" is so unbelievably long, it’s amazing and brings a giant smile to my face. So if you stay on top of it, you really want to try and keep it as consistent with backers as possible, and make it look like a stock market chart. Up and to the right - all the way through. Rather than massive spikes, flat spots and more spikes. But although it wasn’t pretty, it got the job done - and that’s what’s most important here.
It was exhausting at times, and I definitely felt annoyed constantly throwing it around to keep it relevant, but you have to do it in order to hit your goal - so it’s all worth it.
My Advice For Others
I wish we would have done more research on international shipping, although it was too late and luckily we didn’t have a ton of orders, I probably would have kept it US only. Shipping is crazy expensive.
Don’t forget, the people aren’t always just supporting the project - they are also supporting and believing in YOU - the creator. This is important for remembering how you want everything to be conveyed, when it comes to your video and your copy on the campaign.
Be genuine, speak from the heart, be yourself, have fun - and the backers will come in. Nothing is more exciting than seeing people support your project, product and dream that are complete strangers. Random names, locations, etc. It’s an amazing feeling.
Also, for the marketing/analytics make sure to link your google analytics to the Kickstarter page, that way you can see traffic, and where you need to push harder, or what social media channels are hitting better than others.
But after all is said, like I said before, it comes to a time where you just have to go and do it. Make a goal, make a video, write up some stuff, and just be yourself. Get it done, send it out, and make it an event. Build momentum, some people spoke of creating email lists of over 10,000 before starting your campaign. I’m not saying anything that extreme, I think we had a whopping 50 when we launched the Kickstarter, but we had been telling people on our social media pages of the date for over a month.
Other than that, the rest you will learn along the way. If you’re making a Kickstarter anyways, you’ve already done so many other amazing things along the way on your project or company, so it’s easy. You got this, good luck!
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Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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- Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story