Lessons from a Floundering Kickstarter Project

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Earlier today I got an email from a man named David Lang linking to a blog post he had written called Lessons From a Floundering Kickstarter Project. In it, David discusses his project The Great Mate Journey, which has raised $240 in its first 30 days, 10% of its total. He’s disappointed in its performance thus far, and his post offers an extremely frank assessment of why he thinks that’s true. It’s a must-read for everyone.

The post is striking because of its honesty — it takes courage to be open about potential failure. And despite his pessimism, David’s project can still make it — it would not surprise me in the least. His project just needs to catch a spark, and there’s no telling how or when that could happen.

Regardless of how it turns out, his advice could not be better for people starting their projects. We asked David if we could share the post here, and he graciously agreed. Here is David’s post, in full:

As I write this, my Kickstarter project is half way through the funding period. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near half way to my funding goal, in fact I haven’t even raised 10 percent of my goal. I’ve basically given up hope that I will be able to reach my stated goal, which is fine. I’m still going ahead with my idea but now I need to figure out another way to fund it. I’ll raid my 401k if need be, this damn thing is going to happen! At this point, I figure the best thing I can do is share some lessons from a failing project so future Kickstarters can avoid making the same mistakes. Kind of like donating my body to science.

1) Have a Good Idea. This seems like a no brainer, but it’s worth noting anyway. My project, the “Great Maté Journey” seemed like a great idea to me: I could give some meaning and purpose to my travels to South America, I could learn a ton about my favorite drink, I could share my journey with other maté drinkers who were thinking about making a similar trip, I could educate people about the health benefits of maté and maté drinking, etc. I thought I had it figured out. I actually ran the idea by a few friends and they told me it was a cool idea. There’s only one thing I forgot to take into account: NOBODY CARES. Well, that’s not completely true, my parents kind of care. But for the most part, nobody gives a crap what you want to do. Most people will only take interest in things that will help them, or help them help others. It’s not about me (or you), it’s about helping people. I have every intention of using my trip for the greater good, but I didn’t do a great job of conveying that message. Successful projects make other peoples lives better, they give their contributors a warm and fuzzy feeling. Crappy projects don’t.

2) Be Honest. It’s so easy to spot something unauthentic. Everybody knows when you’re not telling the truth (or even the whole truth). Every human being, whether they know it or not, has a built-in bullshit detector and nobody is going to contribute to something that isn’t from the heart. A reader will always forgive a storyteller that over-exaggerates a story, it makes it more interesting. However, it’s impossible to keep a reader enthralled when you hold back any of the truth. With my project, I definitely want to learn everything I can about maté, but I also want to ride horses with the Gauchos in Patagonia, see Iguazu Falls, practice my Spanish, learn the tango, and fall in love with a beautiful Argentinian woman. That’s the whole story.  I guarantee it will make for a better story, and I probably should have just explained it that way from the beginning. The maté is important, but it needs to be a part of a bigger story.

3) Set a Realistic Goal. “Oh cool, here’s a way to raise money for my big idea! Now if everyone I know just donates $5 then I can raise {Insert overly ambitious goal here}” I think this was what I was thinking when I started my project. I bet this is what all the other failed project were thinking, too. It’s natural to want to throw the total project cost as your goal, but it might not be the best strategy. Crowd-funding is really cool, but it’s really new. You can’t expect it to fund the whole project (it might, but don’t count on it.) I think a better mentality for my project was to use Kickstarter as a small victory. Something that showed I could get a moderate level of interest in my project. I should have set the bar lower and then easily reached my goal. After receiving the Kickstarter support, I could have gone for sponsorship from a maté company, or pitched the story to a magazine or newspaper. There are a ton of ways to get more funding, don’t expect crowd-funding to do it all. Instead, think of Kickstarter as a springboard of support for bigger things.

4) Don’t Count on Your Friends. I mean, of course count on your friends, just not to support your Kickstarter project. I showed a friend of mine the project in person on his computer while I was working on it, in order to get his opinion.

“Very cool, I’ll probably donate at the $50 level.”

“Nice!” I thought. Turns out that was the worst thing he could have said. Not only did he never donate, but he totally over-inflated my expectations about what I could raise. And what am I going to say, it’s hard to bug people for money that they said they would donate. It puts a weird tension on the friendship. It took me three weeks of bothering my brother to get him to finally donate. As a general rule, take everyone you think would definitely contribute and multiply that by 5%. The real gains are made by getting people you don’t know to contribute, which brings me to the next lesson…

5) Have a Marketing Plan. What separates your project from the rest of the pack at Kickstarter? How are people going to find your project? I put a lot of time into my video and write up for my project. I’ve spent a lot of time writing blog posts (including this!) and talking to people about the project. I didn’t spend nearly enough time on a marketing plan. I’ve only recently started using Twitter Search to find people who are interested in maté, I think that’s a start. I think successful projects do this well. In order to get your project to the finish line, expect to spend more time on marketing than you do on content. Don’t skimp on content, but expect to spend a lot more time on marketing.

I really hope this message is helpful for someone and that no one else makes the same humiliating mistakes as I have. I wish I would’ve read it before I started my project. If you want to see what remains of a failing Kickstarter project, check out www.greatmatejourney.com (Pity donations are gratefully accepted.)

Good luck on your project!

    1. Daniel McGuire on

      Thanks for the honesty.

    2. Missing avatar

      Randy Knuth on

      Thanks for pointing out where the land mines are!

    3. Erick Good on

      Mate is stupid. But you seem smart.

    4. Lydia Diaz on

      Thank you for writing and sharing this blog! Definitely reenergized me to market more!

    5. Carl Davis on

      Thanks for the insight! Best of luck on your next project!

    6. Lori Watts on

      Sorta wish I had read this before I launched...but then I might never have launched at all.

    7. Missing avatar

      deleted on

      This user's account has been deleted.

    8. art swenson on

      MARKETing.... where, who ,how, and when ? Here? "President Aaron Burr steals the election of 1800" an Alternative Historical drama(and a running story of romance,political and emotional) to be a eBook on Amazon's kindle......http://exoterrenegardens.webs.com

    9. Morris DuBose III on

      This is an amazingly frank piece. Thank you for the value added

    10. Missing avatar

      Kollin Donovan on

      I was also inspired by this one. I face some marketing issues while working for http://assignmentjedii.co.uk/dissertation-help/ but this really makes a difference for me.

    11. Missing avatar

      jaaduu on

      play cool math games on http://coolmath-mathgames.com
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      and finally cool math games run 3 http://coolmathgames-run.com

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