Announcing Fees

In Kickstarter’s first four months, more than 100 projects have been successfully funded and more than $500,000 has been pledged. Through our creators’ hard work and the incredible generosity of their backers, adventures have been booked, art has been created, and records have been pressed. It’s been a great start, and we want to continue growing Kickstarter: adding new features, increasing our server capacity, and generally making things awesomer. Our goal is to build a sustainable business that will support creators for a very long time.

Since launch, Kickstarter has been completely free. Now that we’ve hammered out our early kinks, we’re getting ready to charge for our service. Here’s how it will work:

Projects that launch on or after September 15th will be charged 5% of their funding total if — and only if — they are successfully funded. Projects that don’t reach their funding goal will have no fees, and launching projects and backing projects will still be free. Tying our fee to a project’s success aligns our interests with those of project creators: if your project succeeds, then so do we.

To clarify: This fee only applies to projects launched on or after September 15th (after midnight EST b/w September 14th and 15th). All currently active projects, regardless of end date, will be unaffected. This means that any project launched in the next two weeks will also be exempt; take advantage of the grace period while you can. If you launch a project on September 14th that ends in December, it will still be free.

The "Awesomeness" of Not Making It

Yesterday, a writer named E. Christopher Clark tweeted the above. His project was Help Me Finish My Second Book and Share It With the World, which came up short of its $1,600 goal. Christopher worked hard on his project, it just didn’t catch that spark.

But Christopher’s story doesn’t end there. His original project was looking for funds to purchase a computer and microphone, and as Christopher details in the first couple minutes of this video posted on his site, some incredible supporters donated what he needed when the project didn’t reach its goal.

Christopher’s project is a reminder of something we don’t talk about enough: just because a project’s funding failed doesn’t make the endeavor unsuccessful. Launching a project builds community — it’s an excuse to spread the word and rally people around a cause — and brings valuable feedback whether your project is successful or not. Plus, you have those backers to call on in the future.

Congrats to Christopher, and we tip our caps to your especially generous supporters.

Project Dashboard

We recently updated the project dashboard to enable a bird’s-eye view for project creators on all of the activity surrounding their project. It’s a real-time stream of comments, pledges, queries, and other action specific to each project. Here’s a screenshot:

The new dashboard gives project creators even greater control, and enables them to monitor their progress very easily. They can post project updates, they can contact their backers, and they can collect their backers’ information all from this one hub.

The project dashboard is viewable only to each project’s creator, but its effect should be felt by backers, too — it’s easier than ever for creators to respond to questions and comments, and to keep everyone in the loop.

Creator's Guide to Video

Yesterday a new project by Robin Sloan called Robin writes a book went live, and something about his project jumped out at us immediately: Robin’s video was really, really good. It’s crisp, it’s well edited, and the structure is very strong.

Robin’s bio mentioned that he’s worked with Current, so on a lark I sent him an email asking if he would be willing to pen a little video guide for the community touching on what kind of camera to use, how to edit, how to best capture sound, etc. Robin readily agreed, and his excellent recommendations are below. We thank him for his generous advice, and encourage everyone to check out his project.

Here’s Robin:

I’m no video expert, but — good news! — you don’t have to be a video expert to make a good video for your Kickstarter project. And besides, a lot of the advice you’ll find for general-purpose video production doesn’t apply to this kind of video. So here are some of my Kickstarter-specific tips.

SUPER OCCULT VIDEO CHECKLIST

LIGHT. Your most crucial task is to get lots of light for your camera to work with. This doesn’t mean the picture is going to be brighter; it means it’s going to be sharper. So don’t record your video at night, even indoors. And know that you’re going to have to move lights around; this might make you feel dorky and presumptuous, but that’s how you’ll know you’re doing it right. Get some light coming in from the front of you and some from the side. Any light source works: lamps, windows, even mirrors.

LIGHT, PART 2. This is gonna seem like a silly detail, but try to get a dot of light reflected in your eyes. It makes you look more alive. Seriously! Lights on the other side of the room can supply this. So can a desk lamp, if you cover it with a piece of paper and then punch a small hole through the paper.

SOUND. This is actually even more important than the image. If you have a microphone you can plug into your computer, use it. Otherwise, just make sure you’re in a room that’s quiet and echo-free. Listen for the low, rumbly noisemakers we tend to tune out — refrigerators, air-conditioning units, etc. — and either get some distance or turn them off while you’re recording.

COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. Don’t use music, images, video, or other content that you don’t have the rights to. Using copyrighted material is almost always against the law and can lead to expensive lawsuits down the road. The easiest way to avoid copyright troubles? Either create all the content yourself or use content that is free for public use. For example, you may be able to use some Creative Commons-licensed music — per the terms of their licenses — that's available on Soundcloud.

GEAR. If you’ve got a Mac laptop, the built-in camera works fine. Otherwise, consider using a digital still camera in video mode. They’re a cinch to handle, and it’s easy to get the video onto your computer when you’re finished.

GEAR, PART 2. If you have a friend with one of the newest Nikon or Canon digital SLRs, ask them for help. These cameras can shoot HD video through fancy SLR lenses, and it looks beautiful — better than anything you can get with even a high-end video camera. (I used a Nikon D90 for my video.)

PLANNING. This is just my personal theory, and others might disagree: I think the purpose of a Kickstarter video is to show your face and bring some emotion to the page. Period. So don’t worry about recapitulating all the details. Instead, tell us who you are, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how you feel about the whole thing.

RECORDING. Here’s what you do: Write a quick outline with three or four bullet points, max. Start recording. Give your spiel. As soon as you’re done, decide what you liked about what you just said. Then, do it again immediately. Repeat this process five times. You’ll notice yourself getting more comfortable and conversational in front of the camera with every take. (Prediction: the best bits will come from your first take and your last.)

RECORDING, PART 2. If you get tongue-tied or flub a line, don’t give up on the take. Just take a breath, look at the camera, and start from where you messed up. You can edit it together later.

EDITING. Focus on isolating the good parts: the really crisp, clear lines, as well as the fun moments where we see something happening on your face — a slow smile, an arched eyebrow, a pregnant pause as you’re searching for the right words. Edit those together in big chunks. Windows Movie Maker and iMovie both work fine for this. Don’t overdo it. You want to showcase the good stuff you recorded, not obscure it with fancy editing.

EDITING, PART 2. Be ruthless. When you think you’re done, take a break, then come back and cut out 25% of the video. YOU MUST. People are going to visit your Kickstarter page, press “play” on your video, and… then what? This is the crucial moment. Put yourself in the seat of a potential backer and make sure your video, especially the first 20 seconds, is pure punch. (Fact: My first cut was 2X as long as the one I ended up using, and began with a wonky exposition on the economies of scale of book publishing. Zzzzz.)

ENCODING. On Windows, use WMV format. On Mac, use H.264. In both cases, the key variable is the “bit rate,” so look for that box. If it’s measured in kilobits per second (kbps), try 1500 to start. If it’s measured in megabits per second (Mbps), try 1.5. If the file is too big: Make that number smaller. If the quality seems bad: Make it bigger.

If anyone has any other tips to add to this discussion, please leave them in the comments.

Where Invites Come From

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to start a project on Kickstarter, and I wanted to clear things up.

When we opened the doors to Kickstarter four months ago, we launched with a simple invite system: our earliest users and project creators got a handful of invites to spread to other people as they like. Nothing revolutionary, but it worked: lots of new projects have been getting added everyday since. People find invites on Twitter (over 1000 existing users have invites to pass out) or through friends (or friends of friends), and others contact us via the site.

There are many points of entry to start a project, and we are always looking for ways to make sure more invites get into the wild while not overwhelming our team of five — of which I’m the sole customer service rep. Yesterday alone I went through several hundred emails from people looking to start projects. All of them will get a response (some may need to be a bit patient), and hopefully many of these projects will soon be live and — knock on wood — getting funded.

When I correspond with potential project creators, I’m not nearly as interested in the aesthetics of their project as I am how it fits into the Kickstarter ecosystem, and how well they understand how Kickstarter works.

Here are the things we encourage potential project creators to consider:

  1. How will you tell people about your project? The key to a successful project is asking your networks, audience, friends and family for help. Kickstarter is a tool that can turn your networks into your patrons; it is not a source of funding on its own.
  2. Rewards are very important. Offer something of real value for a fair price. And more experiential rewards, things that loop backers into the story, are incredibly powerful. Most of the successful projects include them — take a look around the site and you’ll see some great examples. PS: Three or four reasonably priced rewards seems to work quite well (think of it as S, M, L, XL).
  3. Include a video. It’s more personal.
  4. Be clear and specific about your project’s goal.
  5. And finally, when it comes to your funding goal, raise as little as you’ll need to move forward. Projects can raise more, but never less.

Emily Richmond's Solo Circumnavigation

From the moment we first laid eyes on it, Emily Richmond’s Let’s Sail Around the World has captured our imagination. It’s pure adventure, it’s whimsical, and it has a fairy tale quality to it, too. Here is Emily, this 24-year-old girl from LA, planning a two-year solo voyage around the world that will take her to six continents and three oceans. As Emily points out below, “more people have, in fact, been into space than have sailed around the world alone.” Incredible.

Emily needs help to make her trip. She has six days to raise about $5,000 — a tight squeeze. We asked Emily to tell us more about her and her project, and she responded with a delightful series of ancedotes that includes just randomly chilling with the King and Queen of Spain on one of her previous journeys. When Emily sets out to do something, she comes back with a story to tell.

And it’s the story of this project that’s hooked us. I was Emily’s very first backer ($15 for a Polaroid taken at some point during the trip; I cannot wait to open the creased, world-traveled envelope!), and I’ve been following along through projects updates and her website ever since. If her project is successful, I can’t imagine what the next two years of her tale will have in store. Something amazing, to be sure.

To support Emily’s project, visit it here.

Tell us about you and your project.

Well, simply, I’m trying to sail a little boat all the way around the planet. LA to LA, via 6 continents and 3 oceans. Me - I’m just trying to live a life a little less ordinary. I really like meeting people, discovering new places, and having my insides good and stirred up. Sailing Around The World is all of that.

When did you first decide you wanted to sail around the world?

I’ve been harboring the ambition for just over 4 years now - long before I really knew much about sailing at all. I had just moved aboard my first houseboat and a neighbor/friend of mine made the mistake of giving me Tania Aebi’s book Maiden Voyage, an account of her circumnavigation aboard a 26 ft boat in the ’80s. When Tania embarked on her voyage she was just an 18-year-old street punk who worked as a bicycle messenger. She hadn’t spent a lifetime preparing for the journey and even admitted she didn’t really know how to sail before she left. That said, the fact that she accomplished something so phenomenal (more people have, in fact, been into space than have sailed around the world alone) is a huge testament to how far a dream can take you. I guess, the spirit and iconography of that book have never really left me.

What’s the longest you’ve sailed before?

The longest distance I’ve sailed was a trip I did a couple years ago from Los Angeles down to southern Costa Rica. I spent about 9 months in and out of the Pacific ports of Central America. The longest consecutive amount of time I’ve ever spent - as in one leg - was 8 days. It was one of the hardest passages I’ve ever done and I did that one alone. I had to cross through the Gulf of Tehuantepec (famous for it’s brutality) in a boat really much too small and light for the sort of seas and winds experienced. I was doing that trip with no real electronic aids (save for a small handheld GPS) so I really never slept more than a handful of minutes at a time. It really felt like I had reached some new level of exhaustion I didn’t even know existed.

But somehow the universe always seems to pay you back; the next port was one of the most interesting experiences of the trip: my and another sailor/friend’s arrival serendipitously coincided with a visit by some foreign dignitaries who were keen on our wacky adventures aboard our boats. We were personally invited by the ex-President of El Salvador to join him and his guests, the King and Queen of Spain (!!), for a private concert by a 16 piece mariachi band he had flown in especially for the evening. It was surreal to say the least — me, a friend, and a few world political figures all gathered together at river’s edge in a tucked away corner of the planet, chatting about how great it is to take the unbeaten path.

What are you most excited about?

WHAT AM I NOT EXCITED ABOUT!?! I want to paint my face and do tribal dances, I wanna roam forests and learn about natural healing. I wanna snap photos and swim with fish. I want to learn and give, grow wiser and kinder.

How will you be keeping backers updated?

I’ll be blogging, podcasting, and shooting video updates. I have a site up now at www.bobbieroundstheworld.com where you can begin following the trip even in the prep stages. Once at sea, I’ll have email connections via SSB radio and will be sending in my blog updates while underway. At each port stopover I’ll be doing the larger, more multi-media updating. Everything you could want to know will be online!

What’s been your most popular reward so far?

The most popular so far has definitely been the $15 dollar level — get a polaroid picture from the trip. It makes sense, it’s relatively affordable but gives you a real sense of connectedness to the trip. Because they’re going to be one-of-a-kind, it’s a way to essentially sponsor a specific time and place… it’s like you get to say, “What was happening when this photo was taken is mine, I made this happen.”

Anything else you’d like to share?

Oh, just how in love with Kickstarter I am… I really can’t say enough good things about it! To me it’s like a little dream machine, a platform for you to express your ideas and see them nourished by peers. It’s an example of all that’s right and good about technology. It’s a place where you can cast your vote with usable dollars, stand in solidarity with creatives and innovators and say, “I think what you’re doing is good.” And to me that’s just really cool.

Kickstarter in the New York Times

Kickstarter is featured in today’s New York Times in an article written by Jenna Wortham. The article gives Kickstarter a nice overview, and focuses on a few specific projects, including Earl Scioneaux’s Electronola and Emily Grander’s 365 Postcards, and Emily Richmond’s solo circumnavigation, Sarah Sharp’s 50 States, and Grand Opening’s Wedding Chapel, where the photos were taken, are also mentioned. All are incredible projects deserving of the spotlight (so many projects are).

Obviously this is a huge honor, and we’re thrilled to be covered. We do have one correction: the article states that Kickstarter pledges are not tax deductible. Some pledges are tax deductible: if the project creator is a 501c3 that is registered as such with Amazon Payments, pledges would be deductible. It’s up to each eligible project to handle.

But anyway: thanks to all the backers and creators for participating in the piece, and thanks for everyone’s support.

EDITED TO ADD: The Times just added a second Kickstarter piece, this one on their Bits blog that talks about Polyvinyl’s Kickstarter success. Awesome!