Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Kicking Ass & Taking Donations: 9 Tips on Funding Your Kickstarter Project

Kickstarter is getting pretty hard to ignore. In 2011 alone, creatives used the crowdfunding platform to raise nearly $100 million for projects that ranged from feature-length films and industrial design products to print magazines and pop-up restaurants. Over 11,000 projects successfully met their funding goals. So how can you use Kickstarter to get your creative endeavor off the ground?To create a simple reference guide, we rounded up lessons learned from some of our favorite Kickstarter projects — Scott Wilson’s TikTok+LunaTik watches, Dan Provost and Tom Gerhardt’s Glif iPhone stand, Edward Boatman’s Noun Project, and more.

1. Tell your story (from the heart).

“Story is everything. Let me back up. Your story is everything. People aren’t so much getting behind the idea as they are getting behind your passion to produce it… It HAS to have heart,”says Nathaniel Hansen, an indie filmmaker who has raised over $350,000 on Kickstarter to date. People aren’t going to give you money because you think it would be cool to get paid to make a movie or design a magazine. You need to convince people with a purpose, a larger vision, or — at the very least — a lot of passion. Explain why the world needs your project now.

2. Decide on a number.

Ryan Koo of NoFilmSchool.com ran one of the highest grossing film campaigns in Kickstarter’s history at $125,000. He decided to set a big goal to make himself rise to the challenge, but he also made sure it was viable by calculating the number of people he had to reach at a 1% contribution rate for an average of $50. Don’t be afraid to dream big, but back it up with some math.

Story is everything. Let me back up. Your story is everything.

3. Shoot a stunning video.

If you look at the videos that do well on Kickstarter, almost all are professional, or near-professional, quality. This is no time to give a speech to your webcam. The founders of The Noun Project brought on a friend in the film industry to help them shoot their video. Designer Frank Chimero, meanwhile, stresses the importance creating a “stand-alone” video, that’s fun to watch outside of its connection to the project. Whatever your approach, don’t overlook the importance of showing yourself as someone others can relate to and support.

4. Design a simple, well-thought-out rewards system.

Kickstarter has you give out rewards to backers at different levels of funding (i.e. $5, $25, $50). Many projects make the mistake of having too many rewards or too complicated of a structure. “However simple you think your pricing tiers are, make them even simpler,” say Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost, creators of the Glif iPhone stand. Craig Mod has also done some great quantitative research on the most lucrative fundraising levels ($50 is the sweet spot.)

Many projects make the mistake of having too many rewards or too complicated of a structure.

5. Anticipate how you will carry out manufacturing and fulfillment.

Execution really is always the hard part, isn’t it? Isn’t not surprising then that manufacturing and fulfillment are frequently the biggest challenges for Kickstarter projects that get funded. Will you use a Chinese factory for mass production like Scott Wilson did to produce TikTok+LunaTik? Or would you want to use ShipWire like the Glif guys did? Make sure you budget for shipping costs, and that often means being ready to ship internationally for your supporters overseas.

6. Find blogs that will help you spread the word.

“If you are looking to promote your project, it mostly likely falls into a niche category that is covered by an influential blogger. Seek them out,”says Dan Provost of Glif. Taking a similar approach, The Noun Project created a spreadsheet of contact info for people at 40 design blogs so that they would be easy to contact upon launch. Do your homework on who you should be reaching out to, and it will likely pay off in funding.

If you are looking to promote your project, it mostly likely falls into a niche category that is covered by an influential blogger.

7. Craft a bulletproof email pitch.

Evan Luzi of the filmmaking blog The Black and Blue has never run a Kickstarter campaign. He has, however, received numerous emails from filmmakers asking to have a project featured on his blog. In this detailed report, he explains how to write a great email pitch that will get  your project featured. Here’s his guide to the perfect pitch:

  • Introduce the project and briefly describe why you’re writing
  • Add a link early on
  • Further describe why you’re writing
  • Explain how you want the blogger to help
  • Provide a little bit more info on the project
  • End strong with a final link and generous thanks

8. Fundraise like it’s a full time job.

Ryan Koo tracked the hours he spent working on his $125,000 Kickstarter campaign. Over 6 weeks, they added up to 345 hours, which averages out to 8 hours a day. That may not be necessary for a less ambitious project, but devoting time to working on your campaign each day will make it that much more likely to succeed. Spend some time designing a polished newsletter with some exciting plugs for your project and updates on the campaign. Write guest posts and offer to do interviews for blogs. Keep your campaign from hitting a slump by adding an exciting new reward part-way through.

9. Involve your backers.

In describing his relationship to the backers of his book The Shape of Design, Frank Chimero says, “When a backer gets this book in the mail, I don’t want them to come to it fresh. I want them to have a backlog of thoughts, memories, and emotions attached to it. I want there to be a personal story behind it before the spine gets cracked.”

People support projects on Kickstarter because they want to be a part of making an idea happen. In many ways, regular updates and thank yous are just as valuable as tangible rewards. Send personal emails. Create a backers-only page with special outtakes, photos, and updates just for them. Show them you care, and the goodwill will go far.

More insights on: Money, Self-Marketing

Todd Anderson

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Todd Anderson is an editorial assistant for 99U. He is also an NYC-based performance poet and the producer of the Poetry Observed video series.
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