Friday, July 8, 2011

My First Kickstarter Campaign: The Numbers

I'm fascinated with Kickstarter.

The idea is that ordinary webizens stumble across your idea, be it a book or movie or better mousetrap, then pledge you money if they like it. It's micro-venture-capital for creative projects. In theory, it might grow into a large enough market that creative types (writers, moviemakers, artists) could scratch a living purely from crowd-sourced funding. Super cool potential.

The amount of money folks donate can be big or small, and as the project author you get to set a variety of award levels. Small donors ($1) might get a mention in your blog. Big donors ($1000) might get you to fly to their house in a helicopter and drop rose petals on you. Medium donors ($25) are the most common, and they typically are buying some version of the "product" you're offering.

Since people are voting with their pennies, it's a more interesting market research tool than a broad survey of your Facebook friends or showing your idea to a handful of folks. There's no filter in Kickstarter. Pledgers are stating clearly "If you produce this thing the way you've described it, I will pay you for it. Period." That's powerful. If you have an idea that you'd like to test before you spend a lot of time and money on it, then why not ask the world what they think of it first?

So that's what I've been doing.

"Only One Way To Find Out..."

As I right this I'm a few days into my second Kickstarter campaign (Children of Fire). My first campaign (Rhythmspanker!) wrapped up a few weeks ago and now I'm going to share the numbers.

First of all, the Rhythmspanker campaign failed. That's not terribly surprising to me as I was trying to raise $10,000 for a pretty wacko art project. Ten grand is a boatload of cash for most Kickstarter campaigns, and given that I didn't do much to advertise it outside of the site, it would have been miraculous for me to get funded. Still, I learned a lot, and that was my goal. =)

Now, (as of today) doesn't give you much in the way of analytics. They basically tell you how many pledges you have and how much was pledged. No traffic tracking on the site. No referral lists to tell you where traffic is coming from. BUT, they do allow you to embed images in the project description, and since I hosted my images on my own server, I can get some basic visitation totals from those logs.

    Total pledged over 30 days: $402
    Average pledge: $44
    Largest pledge: $250
    Smallest pledge: $1
    Total supporters: 9
    Total "friends and family" supporters: 6
    Random stranger supporters: 3
    Total visits to the page: ~125
    Conversion rate: ~7% of visitors pledged.

The things that I did to promote it were basically to post once on my Facebook account (~210 friends at the time), make a Buzz post at work (~50 followers, I'd guess), Twitter it once or twice (a whole 14 followers) and then convince a well-followed Twitter friend of mine (~77,000 followers) to mention it for me. It was reposted on Facebook by a handful of friends in my social network.

All in all, none of these paths were obviously valuable. The support that I got was mostly from folks who I spent time personally selling to or a couple of folks who just stumbled upon it, presumably from the project lists.

Takeaways So Far

  • Do a project with as small of a target amount as possible.
    If you don't reach your goal, you get squat. People can always pledge more than your goal.
  • Have a low dollar amount award level that gives them something awesome.
    People won't support you (much) out of the goodness of their heart. Give them something they'd buy anyway if they could. In some cases, you might want to set a low reward that's essentially a wash for you. No, you're not making any $$$ doing that, but you're getting pledges, and that drives you into the Kickstarter "popular projects" leaderboards, which drives more organic discovery.
  • For any given category, there's not much competition.
    The projects that you see under the "more popular projects" links appear to be everything that's active at the moment. So you're fighting for eyeballs with a few dozen projects, not hundreds. That's encouraging.
  • Once you've done a campaign, you're in.
    Your first campaign has to be "approved" by the Kickstarter staff. In my case that was easy. It only took about a day for them to give me a login. Since then I've done two campaigns that didn't require approval. So if you try and fail, you can try again. :)
  • Consider using a "traffic counter" image.
    There are assorted free traffic counter images available online. These are just images that are traffic tickers. I'm hosting my own for my 2nd campaign... it's just another image in your description (you can see it at the bottom of the page.) At least it makes it easier to watch how many people are coming along, which can give you a bit of insight into how your marketing efforts are working.

Once my 2nd campaign wraps up, which is looking like it will be successful this time, I'll post more. Stay tuned!


  1. Nice article Scott, I'd never really thought of Kickstarter as a market research tool before so that's definitely something to think about.

    Sadly Kickstarter is still only available to US citizens so us europeans are a bit out of luck with this. I found which allows non US people to set up projects but I'm not sure about the decision to allow partially funded campaigns. Like Kickstarter says "If you need $5,000, it's tough having $2,000 and a bunch of people expecting you to complete a $5,000 project."

    Thought about using google analytics on the kickstarter page or can you only insert images?

  2. There doesn't appear to be any way to insert a javascript snippet, so regular Google Analytics is out (which is too bad... that's what I want.) There are hacks out there which reverse engineer the 1x1 pixel that Analytics apparently uses for tracking, but I haven't tried that yet, and I'd be worried about it breaking the TOS or just, you know, breaking.

    I've been toying with building an open source project to add tracking to Kickstarter, but I'd need to talk to them first. Don't want to step on their toes... and really they should just be providing this themselves!

  3. Quick update on the analytics question... I emailed Kickstarter and they got back to me right away. (Nice folks!) They don't have a problem with users putting counter images and the like in their descriptions. They did warn me that they might change their image hosting scheme in the future to disallow images on other domains, so it might not work forever, but for now we're good.