Running a successful crowdfunding campaign feels a bit like winning the lottery. The results are all over the board: instant successes, slow and steady fundraisers, unfunded flops, and underdogs that rise to the challenge just in the knick of time. But all of these campaigns have one thing in common: Success or failure, they were learning experiences.
Here, five experienced crowdfunders share what they learned from running both successful and unsuccessful campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
1. GET THE WORD OUT BEFORE THE CAMPAIGN LAUNCHES
Entrepreneurs should share a product idea soon after inspiration strikes, according to Janielle Denier, COO and head of strategy at Rain Factory. She’s helped Indiegogo campaigns like Jibo raise more than $2 million.
“When you have the idea and you start building the prototype put up the Facebook page and a website with a lead form and start generating buzz,” said Denier.
With this strategy, entrepreneurs can start gaining a couple hundred social media followers or email list subscribers organically a year in advance of a campaign launch. If you don’t get the word out pre-launch, the slack will have to be picked up quickly during the campaign — and that’s an expensive proposition.
“You have to have one of these three things: PR or an email list or advertising plans,” Denier said. But even campaigns that don’t have a huge email list pre-launch can find success by reaching out to as many as 500 personal and professional contacts before the campaign goes live.
“It’s a numbers game,” she said. “If you have enough people on your email list when you launch, there’s a good chunk of those people who are actually waiting and they will buy it — assuming you have the right price.”
2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE, AND GO WHERE THEY ARE
Those who don’t gather an audience ahead of time and prescribe to the “if you build it they will come” theory are often left disappointed. Garrett Wilson, CEO and inventor of Catzenpup, did not get a lot of traction when he launched his Kickstarter campaign for an automatic wet food feeder for pets.
His campaign ultimately failed, reaching just over $11K of its $50K goal, but Wilson thinks it may be that pet lovers are not necessarily crowdfunding enthusiasts. He’s looking forward to attending a pet expo where he knows he’ll get his product in front of his target audience, which was never guaranteed with Kickstarter.
Here’s something else to consider: According to Fundable, 24-to-35 year olds are more likely to participate in crowdfunding campaigns; men are more likely to back a campaign than women; and those earning more than $100K per year are more likely to invest in startups. If that’s not your target audience, crowdfunding might not be for you.
“If you don’t bring your own audience, you’re not going to get anywhere,” said Wilson. “It usually starts with bringing your own network first and then starting to get them to push it and amplify it to their networks and continue to amplify it that way.”
Once he started asking friends and family for help, things improved. Wilson believes securing money from friends and family in advance of the campaign or within the first 48 hours can help a campaign gain momentum.
3. CRAFT A STORY
Screenwriter John August’s Writer Emergency Pack found success on Kickstarter and was the most-backed playing card project until Exploding Kittens. But for August, the campaign centered around more than just the product.
“More than anything else, Kickstarter is a story,”
“More than anything else, Kickstarter is a story,” August said. “If we just launched something through a website or stuck it on Amazon, it’s not going to have that same point of focus and there’s not that story to tell.”
He recommends looking at a campaign page from a backer’s perspective, and not brushing over the “risks and challenges” section, which he calls the most important part of a campaign. In that section, it’s easy to learn whether the creators are setting realistic goals and expectations and if they’ll be able to fulfill all of their promises. “Kickstarter is built on trust and that trust comes from what you’re saying about yourself and what you’re saying about the project,” said August.
Backer updates are another way to continue the story throughout the campaign and address any concerns. “We were a project that was very sincere and open and transparent from the start so as things came up along the way, I wanted to make sure we were talking about what that was like,” he added.
4. KNOW YOUR BRAND
Entrepreneurs have control of their products but don’t always have control of how people will perceive it — especially potential backers or the media.
“The biggest surprise came before our campaign when a semi-similar campaign launched a month before we launched and had success,” said Jesse Potash, co-founder of Trunkster, a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $1 million.
Although the media portrayed the two luggage companies as being similar — they both had a location-tracking feature — Potash knew Trunkster was different. Trunkster has a zipperless entry, and it’s the first time luggage has been majorly redesigned since the 1970s. That feature was what made Trunkster unique, not the location tracking.
“It’s useful to really know the brand you want to portray if you do get picked up by press,” Potash said. “For us, we had that really clear in our mind.”
5. A FAILED CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN DOES NOT MEAN A FAILED PRODUCT
The Coolest Cooler launched on Kickstarter in December of 2013 and it failed to reach its $125K goal. But when Ryan Grepper, chief creative officer at Coolest, re-launched in August 2014, the campaign ended with $13.3 million and the title of most-funded Kickstarter project of all time.
“Just because the campaign didn’t hit its goal, there was a tremendous amount of value that came from it,” Grepper said. “The failed first campaign helped us leverage the second campaign.”
After some research, they came to their conclusion: “Our timing was off,” Grepper said. Grepper reached out to the original backers and “super fans” before the second campaign to encourage excitement before the summer launch. Drumming up buzz pre-launch was something they didn’t do prior to the first campaign. But now they had learned their lesson.
“We dropped all the energy into day one and tried to make a big splash,” Grepper said. “Persistence is key in getting your dreams out there. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”