The crowdfunding site Kickstarter, best known as a place for talented, underfunded people to generate money to achieve their dreams, is having a bit of a “moment.”
You know that “moment” I’m talking about. It’s the moment your grandma sets up her Facebook profile. It’s every single person on the train having white earbuds snaking out of their pockets. It’s Instagram changing in the blink of an eye: from a forum for interesting photography, to your friends’ babies and puppies through a toaster filter.
Kickstarter has been around for a few years now, but a slew of high-profile (and big money) projects have recently helped push it into the public consciousness. Flint and Tinder. Gustin. Oculus. Form Labs. And of course, the big one: The Veronica Mars Movie Project.
So what does this “mainstreaming” of such an innovative, powerful tool mean for someone like me (or you)?
To give you a little background, my name is Jim Snediker, and I’m the co-founder and CEO of Stock Manufacturing Company. Stock is a clothing design and manufacturing company that makes premium menswear in our Chicago factory, utilizes crowdsourcing to let our customers influence our product offering, and sells directly to our customers without traditional retail markups.
As someone running a totally bootstrapped clothing company, it’s important to be as smart with our resources as possible, reach as many customers as efficiently as I can, and make the right product choices. Basically, I want a low customer acquisition cost, and little to no excess inventory at the end of the season.
There is no better place to do this right now than Kickstarter–if you are able to execute properly. Earlier this month, we wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign and we raised $24,652—or about 118% of our goal.
Our campaign, by any measure, was a huge success for us. However, I know we still left a good amount of sales on the table, especially compared to the numbers some other projects are pulling in. While we are certainly thrilled with meeting our goal and getting our products out to a huge new audience, there are some things I could have done better. I’ll walk through some of the things I did right, and a few of the things I’ll improve upon for next time.
Have enticing rewards
I cannot stress this enough: Kickstarter is not a charity! People are not going to donate to your campaign because you are “really passionate about ladybug conservation in the Appalachian region, and every dollar helps.” They’re going to donate because they are getting something they want in return.
For our campaign, we created a killer line of products, and offered them at a price point exclusive to Kickstarter. We also bundled products, and rewarded early adopters with a fantastic “Early Bird Special” deal.
So sure, we got support from family and friends that probably would have supported us even if we were selling glow in the dark underwear, but that would have accounted for a few thousand dollars at most. The point is this: when you’re trying to build a business, you should use Kickstarter as a way to test and sell your product—not as a place for friends and family to donate some spare change to you.
Tell your story
Outside of having great rewards, telling your story is the most important aspect of a successful Kickstarter campaign.
We had great products, sure, but there are a lot of great products on Kickstarter. We differentiated ourselves by letting everyone know what sets our clothing apart from other clothing.
We spent a tremendous amount of time distilling down our message, and finding out what was most appealing about what we are doing. We stressed the “Made in Chicago” aspect, as well as explained how we sell directly, skipping traditional retail markups. That helps validate spending $85 on a shirt for the customer–because they understand that it should be costing them $175.
Finally, we made sure to tie in the fact that a portion of the money raised would go back into our factory, helping us in our quest to create jobs in Chicago. So, in the course of a few paragraphs, we appealed to customers who are interested in stylish clothing, want “Made in USA” products, are willing to spend a great deal on a quality product, and are passionate about revitalizing domestic manufacturing.
Oh, and invest some cash into your video. Ours was viewed over 4,000 times, and I can’t even tell you how many people reached out to tell us how much they loved it.
Pitch, Pitch, Pitch
Hey, your idea is really cool, you’ve got some great rewards lined up, and you hired a firm to produce you a killer video that really gets your story across–congratulations!
You can have the most incredible project the world has ever seen, but if you don’t market it well, then you are totally screwed. You’ll probably attract some attention within the Kickstarter community, but that’s not enough to scale. If you want to really blow it out, you need people talking about you outside of the Kickstarter ecosystem.
First things first: Email, tweet, facebook, call, write–reach out to everyone you know and clearly explain what you are doing, how they can help, and what they get for their money. Let them know that if they can’t help financially, they can still share it with their networks.
Be careful though; don’t spam people. Posting to Facebook every couple days is fine, but you should really only email once, maybe twice. You don’t want to annoy anyone, and you don’t want to come off desperate. Again, people are inherently selfish, and they want to buy things they WANT. You are much more likely to get a donation if they are under the impression this is something really cool they can be a part of, rather than something that is bound to fail, unless they part with a little bit of their hard-earned cash.
On top of leveraging your personal network, make sure you are pitching to relevant media outlets. The success of Kickstarter projects is directly related to the amount of mainstream press coverage they receive. Remember, the more eyeballs the better.
Hey Jim, if you’re so smart, why did you only raise $25,000?
Hey, listen, we were almost at 120% of our goal—we did a good job! But honestly, we could have done much better. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tiny bit disappointed that we didn’t raise $300,000 like Sword & Plough, or $1,000,000 like Flint and Tinder.
The good news is, I have a pretty good idea why we didn’t hit a critical mass like some other similar companies have, and I’m happy to share what I think were the two biggest mistakes we made:
Have a simple product with a clear message
We had a great lineup of a dozen products, and a cool story behind them, but it’s often easier for a customer to get the gist in a quick soundbite. Examples: Flint and Tinder: Highest quality hoodie on the market, guaranteed for 10 years. Gustin: $200 jeans for $81. Pants By Bluffworks: Nice pants that you can wear for weeks without washing or ironing.
Having that kind of easy message around one or two products is easier for blogs and press to pick up on, and more readily digestible for customers. I think because of the sheer number of products we were offering, we may have come off as just another clothing brand to the average media person, as opposed to being one game-changing product that their readers HAD to know about.
Give yourself time to pitch
We were working on a super tight time frame, and thus didn’t even start sending our project over to press until the evening before we launched. That was a huge mistake. Get your project finished 3 weeks before it launches, and send the preview link, along with a quick description, to all relevant media members. Give them time to absorb the project, ask questions, give feedback, etc.
If the day you launch you have a bunch of good coverage, and all your friends and family are buying and sharing, too, then you build that critical mass quickly.The Kickstarter algorithm picks you up and moves you into “popular,” and then the Kickstarter staff members are more likely to notice and make you a “staff pick.”
Starting out strong is also huge because people have a very “me too” mentality. Most people are not early adopters; they like to see validation first. If you jump out to $30,000 in your first two days, that helps validate and further build momentum.