Unsuccessful Kickstarter – Lessons Learned

My newest venture: Musketeers.me recently tried to fund some new project ideas that we had, via Kickstarter: http://kck.st/QjQZho

As you can see, we weren’t successful.  In fact, we fell extremely short of our goal.  It wasn’t a failure however, because we really learned a lot about our products and made some great contacts and the beginning of a community for them.  We still plan on making these two products.  Just now they will have to be built in spare hours/cycles, instead of us dropping all consulting work and focusing on them fulltime.

But that’s not why I’m really writing this blog post, for things that we’ve learned about our products will come out in time as we do, eventually, release them.  In even better forms than we’d originally conceived.

No, I’m writing to share lessons learned about Kickstarter itself.   Now, all of us at Musketeers.me were familiar with Kickstarter.  We’d watched it, we thought we understood it.  Heck, we even googled for every possible “How to make a successful Kickstarter” article we could find and read them.   And we thought we knew what to expect.  Boy were we wrong.  So I wanted to share some of my own personal findings (some of which are directly about Kickstarter, some are more tangential)

  1. Amount of funds
    Obviously in the end, we were asking for far more money than we were able to raise.   The interesting thing is that we had already dropped our asking amount significantly.  We originally calculated that we’d really want to have $200k in order to really have the four of us really focus on making these products up to the point of being fully featured websites that could live a life of their own.   We did quickly realize as we did the math, that asking for $200k was just going to be far too much.   So we backed it down to $50k, which was the minimum we could afford to make that will let us focus 100% on these for a little while.  But, for a ‘non-physical-product’, where people were essentially prebuying a service that they couldn’t even see.  It was just too much.  Unfortunately I’m not sure if there’s anything different we could have done there.  Versus having a completely different kind of product.
  2. % of followers
    So part of the calculations that lead us to come up with our number of $50k, was based upon the size of our networks.  Between the lot of us, the Musketeers have around 5000 followers on twitter (and that’s not counting some of our extensive networks on Facebook, Google+, etc).   We erroneously made an assumption that:  “Hey, if even only 50% of our followers would chip in $20, we’ll make it!”  And we were expecting at that point for it to go viral!  (Think Big!).   However;  the reality was that we had 1% of our networks who backed us.   There’s actually a number of reasons for that, but it meant we had started from a very wrong mindset.
  3. Noisy Networks
    Everyone talks about how noisy social networking has gotten lately.  But this experience really drove it home to us.  Weeks after we had started the Kickstarter, and all four of us had been pimping it on all of our social networks.  We still constantly run into people in our network who hadn’t heard of it.  Talking to them personally, or emailing them directly, would be greeted with great applause and an instant high backing amount.   But no amount of social network traffic matched that.  (Heck, if you want to see even the worst case of that.  We still to this day run into people who think we are actively working on mojoLive, versus all the posts to the contrary about Musketeers.me)
  4. Slow contacts
    Another interesting effect of the noisy network, was how long it would take some acquantances to respond to emails, Facebook Messages, or Twitter DMs.  People that we directly reached out to in the 1st week of the campaign, were suddenly coming out of the woodwork in the last week.  Responding to us saying they thought it was a great idea, and backing us.   With us all being addicts to our social networks anyway, where any direct contact suddenly makes our phones start screaming at us for attention.  This idea was alien to us.
  5. Proper network
    We were halfway through the campaign, before we realized this one problem.  Pointed out to us by a good friend.  Simply put, the products that we are wanting to create – are not products that our own networks are the target audience for.  While some ‘tech geeks’ would be interested in these tools.  They really are marketed, if at any specific audience, at more of the self-improvement, “getting things done”, or project management networks.  We started reaching out to these once we realized that.  But since those aren’t part of our core network to begin with, it just wasn’t successful, even after days spent blind emailing prominant bloggers & contacts in that sphere.   The moral of the story here, is that since successful Kickstarter campaigns, start from tapping your own network first.  It needs to be a product that your own network is going to go bonkers over.
  6. Higher pledges
    This is a positive thing we learned which we just hadn’t expected (nor really planned for).   We assumed that noone would be interested in backing our project, if they weren’t getting a ‘good deal’ out of it.  So we value priced the primary level at $20 (for a $40 value), hoping to pull people in.   But then something happened.  People started compaining that we didn’t have higher levels.  $100, $200, $300, or higher.  Even if what was being given out was more esoteric (fun?) concepts, versus physical goods.   In the end, we found that the majority of the funding we did have pledged, came from smaller numbers of people, but at MUCH higher pledge levels than our original $20.  Had we planned for this effect appropriately, we would have started off with higher levels, and not ‘value priced’ things so much.
  7. It’s all about the video
    Finally now that we are all Kickstarter addicts … we’ve really realized the value of the video.  We spent a day putting ours together.  We shot it on high quality equipment, took a little time planning out what each person would say, spent some effort editing it together, etc.   And it was in the style of a number of Kickstarters that (previously) we’d seen be successful.   But; honestly, it was boring.  And you would see that in the statistics, where only 25% of people who started the video, watched it to completion.   During our campaign, we saw numerous campaigns kick off, who when you think about them have rather abstract concepts behind them, or are charging (in our opinions) way too much for their product.  Yet that get amazingly great, amazingly quick traction.   When you look at the one common trait of all of those campaigns?  Funny, inventive, entertaining videos.   Now thinking about it in retrospect, we are laughing our asses off at some video ideas we would have had that could have gotten the idea of the campaign across, and entertained during the process.   They would have given an emotional response to the campaign, instead of just a basic (if extremely informative) video

In the end, as I said, we’ve learned a great deal during this experience.  You certainly haven’t seen the last of Musketeers.me, and our products which we will continue to work forward on.  You also haven’t probably heard the last of us running a Kickstarter campaign.   But when we do it in the future, we will find a way to do it at a much lower price point, for something our own networks will love, with higher pledge points, and an amazingly awesome video.

6 thoughts on “Unsuccessful Kickstarter – Lessons Learned

  1. Holly Larsen Smith

    I found out about the Kickstarter after it’d been going on for a little while. I’m not even sure when it started or when it ended. I wanted to contribute but “other things” kept coming up. I think I only saw one Twitter update about it, at the very beginning, and I’m married to the brother of one of the participants. I don’t have any constructive advice or criticism to give you but I’m glad to know there will be another chance in the future to back your Kickstarter. Hopefully next time I’ll hear more about it from relatives or on Twitter or Facebook (or, like you mentioned above, through email.)

  2. Ivo Jansch

    Isn’t it a bit short sighted to include only ‘the way we used kickstarter’ in the lessons learned. One of the reasons that I didn’t back the project after you asked me to look at it was simply that I didn’t think it was a great idea. What you described sounded like a useful but simple tool with a limited applicability in daily situations, making it hard to monetize as it’s not the type of tool people pay money for. That made the whole idea not viable to me, so I didn’t feel like backing it. This didn’t have anything to do with any of the lessons learned you mention.

    Most failed ks projects that publish lessons learned blame anything but the pitch itself, where in reality 80% of the ideas on kickstarter just aren’t the great ideas their inventors think they are.

    1. Eli

      No, this is a very valid point Ivo, and you aren’t the first person to point it out to me today!

      However, there’s a “lesson learned” that I didn’t include in this writeup, because it wasn’t a “lesson learned about Kickstarter”, but lessons learned, during the kickstarter, about these two products.

      First of all, we found, in general, when out talking to people at events, and contacting people directly. That the majority of people were extremely interested in the idea. In fact, I had something like a 90% success rate when contacting people directly, to get funding from them. We actually got a LOT of great great feedback about these products, some specific features suggestions, some monetization concepts, and some negative feedback that we can incorporate as well. All to allow us to make something cool. I could write up an entire other blog post about “Great directions and ideas we got about the *sorter products”

      Even as a good point, were the people like yourself. In your own words above, it was a “useful tool” but “hard to monetize”. That itself is a very good piece of information that we have taken away. It still means that building the tool is a useful thing, even for those people like yourself who we won’t be able to monetize off of. But that just means we need to change the direction we go. Building much more features into a free product, perhaps using advertising, perhaps still having pro accounts (as many people were very excited about them), but just pushing a little more functionality at the free accounts so that they are still very useful.

      It’s all great information and we have folders full of it stored aside to keep referring back to.

    2. Eli

      Oh, and I just want to add: You are correct, this means that this isn’t a “massively popular tool that is going to go viral and get millions of users”. But we never expected it to be. We just want it to be a tool that is useful to enough to make it worthwhile 🙂 And we’ve gotten some great feedback and direction on that.

  3. Short List (@ShortListApp)

    I’m sorry to hear Eli. I still looking forward to when you guys are able to take up this idea and run with it.

    To be fair, this kind of tool can be hard to pitch. Its value is difficult to appreciate until you experience first-hand what it’s like to get a daunting list sorted for you.

  4. alexfeldman526497932

    Did KickStarter give you emails of the people who pledged to you so that you can contact them even if your campaign was unsuccessful?

    Your experience will be helpful to others who are crowdfunding, writing a review on http://crowdsunite.com can help others.

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