What do you do when your project is WAY more popular than expected?
Obviously this is a GREAT problem to have. But if you were expecting 1,000 backers and wind up with 100,000, it's still really tricky! Has anyone here dealt with seeing more demand than they were prepared for? How did you manage it, and keep the project moving according to plan?
For further reading, we collected some more answers to this question in a blog post here.
I was expecting a couple hundred backers, but got vaulted to 3,400 backers very quickly. "Would be nice to get $5,000" turned into $105,000 over a couple weeks. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fringefocus/the-acme-corporation In fact, the majority of my backers were in the final week of my project. On top of that, my project ended on December 24th, with only one week left in the year.
That means I needed an accountant, really fast. What started as a personal project became a thing that pushed me several income tax brackets higher, with only one week to get the numbers straight (to avoid paying self employment tax on 100 grand of unexpected income). Here are some important notes regarding the actual money:
1. Hire a professional accountant (or accountant + bookkeeper), and explain to them the mountain of cash that is approaching your account.
2. If you didn't already set yourself up as a business, do so immediately (ideally before your project even closes). An accountant can usually help you choose between an LLC, or S-Corp. I prefer an S-Corp (more paperwork, but no self employment tax!). Your mileage may vary by state.
3. Make sure you have a business checking account (easy to set up anywhere) completely separate from your personal accounts. This is not only easier to manage mentally, it will help immensely if the IRS ever comes knocking for an audit. Keep your business finances separate from your own, and save yourself a headache 5 years from now.
4. Catalog every expense, to insane detail. Every piece of tape, every sheet of paper, postage, materials, staff costs, etc. You're basically gonna pay tax on profit, but not on expenses. And no matter how large your pile-of-cash is, the majority will be expenses for rewards. Make sure you're profitable by envisioning worst-case-scenario prices for materials, postage, delays etc. (although this is obviously a step you should have tackled before even starting a project.)
5. If your item is still available, make sure you notify your backers / future customers / new people that missed the Kickstarter where you work can be bought. I developed https://fringefocus.com into an easy-to-browse art store to capture those post-kickstarter customers (as well as new people).
That's the immediate stuff, and is boring. Here's the fun stuff that happens when you get a much larger community than anticipated.
1. Your backers are now your fans, your testing grounds, your audience for future projects. Instead of working in a mysterious vacuum, you have hundreds / thousands of people excited to see your new work! More than all the project revenue, the #1 resource I gained from Kickstarter is the 3,400 cool people willing to check out, share, and enjoy my future work. My Fringe Focus Newsletter http://fringefocus.us5.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=31d2b1187f4779a02d1a464eb&id=1cf81bdf22 is more popular than any social network, advertising, etc. combined. And it's been steadily growing long after the Kickstarter project ended 2 years ago. Super fun.
2. A bigger project means buying materials in bulk. That expensive paper that isn't affordable when buy 100, is super cheap when you buy 4,000. Same for shipping materials, storage, etc. Volume discounts and economies of scale are hugely beneficial, so seek out any volume discounts you can from your suppliers, partners, etc.
3. INVEST IN YOUR BUSINESS. You had a project explode, don't let that be your one success. Whatever equipment you've been dying to acquire. Whatever location you want to move into, whatever resources were not possible prior to project, now are. Don't spend a single cent of project money on anything wasteful (okay, maybe a little). Use your savings on resources that will allow you to continue your creativity. My ACME Poster project allowed me to pay for my first entire year of rent on a new workshop. I bought a bunch of woodworking tools, poster storage, even a laser cutter that I now use to produce fun wood projects in my store: https://fringefocus.com/store/housewares/
4. Respect. Whether you feel you have earned it or not, a hugely successful projects screams to the world "Hey, I am capable of kind of cool things that people generally kinda like." or even "This person is good at some stuff!". This means you can reach out the media, new bloggers, potential employers (if that's your thing) with some recognition that you can tackle tough problems / big projects. A lot of the attention I get on current projects probably stems from people knowing I successfully completed a big project on a public stage (Kickstarter). You aren't a stranger anymore. :)
5. Straight up happiness. People would email me from all over the world just saying how psyched they were by my project, or how much they loved my work. It was (and continues to be) unreal. That kind of positive feedback makes all this hard work worth it, and makes every day a little more fun (knowing a large number of people are happy with what you've made). It's just fun.
I could write a lot more, so ask away! I should add that hiring help (ideally in-house with you) for fulfillment is a very good move. As is researching the hell out of postage, postage weights, and best practices. Please feel free to reach out to me at https://fringefocus.com or on Twitter http://twitter.com/fringefocus anytime if you have specific questions about what to do.
Thanks! - Rob Loukotka | Fringe Focus Inc. | Chicago
We had a plan. A good plan. We were going to get off-the-shelf parts and hire students to create a weekend assembly line to produce our final pieces. We also had a plan for promoting our campaign with get-out-the-word videos, assuming we would go down to the wire to meet our goal. We wanted $15,000 to make 500 NeoLucidas. In 18 hours we reached our goal. In 48 hours we maxed out our plan. We couldn't feasibly make more than 2500 units with student labor. We went into "oh f*ck mode." We were also getting 100 messages per hour asking to please make more available. I would like to say we engineered a good campaign and had a contingency plan to grow. We didn't.
A flurry of phone calls and emails ensued. We knew we would have to step up to a more serious production model, namely building our units in China, instead of just using parts acquired from China. We had NO experience in that, and had no idea how to do it. But instead of waiting and researching it, we said "we will figure it out." and created new rewards and made more available. Within a few days, we were at over 11,000 backers and when the time ran out, we had nearly $425,000.
In that time, we got a lot of offers to help make our product. Many of these were manufacturers in India and China; some were "professional fulfillment helpers" who would take our project in their hands and give us a royalty. By dumb luck, one solicitation seemed about right. Big Idea Design reached out and offered to help. They were veterans of a dozen Kickstarter campaigns, making mostly titanium pens. They were successful in creating campaigns and understood the Kickstarter community. More importantly, they made things in China all the time. Over a few intense days, we discussed what we could do, and in a leap of faith, we had manufacturing partners.
With their help, we went from a home-brew model of making a few cobbled units to designing packaging, accessories, and shipping workflow in China. It was a crash course in global manufacturing. We went from the end of the campaign to manufacturing and delivery of 15,000 units to 67 countries in around 5 months.
I wouldn't recommend this panic to anyone. It was, as many people say, both thrilling and terrifying. But keep your wits about you and remember that you aren't the first to go through this overwhelming challenge. There are others who know more than you, and your hardest job is finding those people who can show you what to do. Lean heavily on the expertise of others. It may cost money to do so, but that's the one problem you DON'T have; you just won at Kickstarter campaigning! Leverage the funds you raised to find experts to help you. And don't assume that you have to relinquish control. You can pay to get a consultant, or an advisor. You can find experts to partner with you and become a team member. It's up to you how to structure your workflow. But with everything on the line, get help.
1) Making sure Customer Service is prepared
Familiarize your Customer Experience team with the Kickstarter environment and make sure they feel empowered to respond in real time on the message boards. Their responses will be under a microscope so make sure the info they have is up to date and accurate.
2) Making sure the rest of the organization is prepared
Higher-than-expected order counts have an impact on manufacturing, operations, sales, and marketing (not to mention the customer service team, noted above). When you start to see your goals being materially higher than expected, call a meeting with the arms of the organization and ensure that everyone is equipped to meet this new demand; and importantly, if they are not, to manage the expectations of your backers ASAP. This was a big learning moment for our team as we realized, well after our campaign, that our volumes were going to conflict with inventory that we had allocated towards another partner who wanted to support bringing us to market post-Kickstarter.
3) Clear and consistent communication
When we hit a stumbling block on our delivery timelines after our initial goal backer-level was fulfilled, backers got angry. Not necessarily because we were late, but because we were out of communication. Kickstarter is a place built on trust and believing in your projects and when a project disappears from the group conversation, that can make some supporters feel not so great. On our end, we were anything but sitting still: we were working around the clock to try and get updated, correct information from our manufacturing and operations side, but even being quiet for a few days led to frustrated messages. If you need to take some time to collect your thoughts and organize your team, chiming in with something like "we're reading everything and we're working on it - stay tuned!" is a helpful way to show your backers that you are still checking in regularly and hearing their questions and concerns.
4) Evaluating the geographies of your backers and making sure you have the logistics to support it
Shipping to 10 international backers is one thing; shipping to 1000 is quite another. When we started to see our international representation grow, we did an analysis of the best way to get our units out to our backers with as few surprises as possible to either side. We ended up developing warehouse access in Europe so that our backers could avoid hefty duties and taxes. It resulted in a delay to the delivery timeline, but we communicated this clearly to our backers who appreciated that we were taking the time to come up with a solution that would avoid surprise costs.
5) Making sure (if you have one) your stretch goal is achievable and ultimately beneficial to your backers.
When we were nearing the $750k mark, we realized that this overfunding could give us the capital to invest in an additional product development project: an accessory for the BaseCamp Stove. So, we stated that if we hit our stretch goal of $750k, we'd greenlight that project and give backers a chance to vote on the accessory we move forward with designing and manufacturing.
In order to do so, we had to ensure that our product development team had the bandwidth to take this on: a new product doesn't just materialize out of thin air. It takes time to research, sketch, design, and source. Furthermore, we initially wanted to send the accessory survey out right after the campaign ended but we realized that for Backers to really have a valuable vote, it made sense to allow a few months for users to actually take the BaseCamp out for a test drive and see what their experience was like - that way they could vote for an accessory that was rooted in reality and based on their most frequent use cases with the BaseCamp. We are happy to report that a survey is going out shortly with 4 accessory concepts and the winning design will be announced mid-May 2015, right at the 1 year anniversary of the Kickstarter Launch. Once that announcement is made, we will follow up with a project timeline and when backers can expect to see this new product available for purchase.
6) Prepare for advice seekers -- and copycats.
Your success will be inspiring to many. Some may reach out for guidance on how to replicate that for their project -- help where you can, admit where you can't. Taking a 15 minute phone call is good karma for the Kickstarter community. Others may just knock you off totally by copying your layout, your wording, even your illustrations - we had that happen to us which was a very frustrating experience, but ultimately realized it wasn't worth the time and money to file any sort of injunction or legal proceeding. For projects where copywritten material is a key element, protect yourself and familiarize yourself with the steps you may need to take if you see a copycat out there that could be damaging your hard work.
Also -- monitor other crowdfunding platforms for "ghost projects" -- ie Cut and Paste versions of YOUR project that people are hoping to trick people into supporting. We had that happen and got it taken down within 24 hours.
7) Remember that a LOT of people are out there to support you - and hold onto that!
Our campaign ended with over 3500+ backers which was an incredible experience. In our humbling moments, a handful of frustrated backers were in touch pretty regularly, which can be a challenge to the morale of teammates who have to field these comments and questions every day. It's important to remember that the vast majority of your backers are there to see you succeed - for every 1 angry comment, we received 15 happy messages from BaseCamp backers excited to get their unit and support BioLite's broader mission to bring energy access to communities living in Energy Poverty. If you hit a snag, your backers will still be there to watch you learn from it and improve, so long as you keep up your end of the bargain by being in touch and working hard to meet your goals. For the folks that are upset, it's important to hear them out: you can learn a lot by listening to what they have to say. However, it's also important to remember that you know yourself and your organization better than anyone else: that you are working as hard as you can to do good and exciting things and that you've got a lot of people rooting for you. And when you get those positive messages, celebrate them! And thank your supporters for seeing you through this unexpected boon and for giving you a reason to roll up your sleeves and dive in to this new challenge.
BioLite is looking forward to sharing our 1 Year Update on 5/14 that will include stories from BaseCamp users as well as an announcement on our Stretch Goal Winning Accessory -- it's been a wild ride, thanks Kickstarter!
Be honest with your backers, it's happened to me 8 times!
Grow a community with your backers, let them vote and make decisions. Sometimes skimping somewhere to put more effort else where is better. Packaging is a big example, and many creators like packaging, but that takes more time - if you let your backers vote, they WILL vote no packaging. Your backers are everything, keep them in the loop.
...then COMMUNICATE immediately that there will be delays beyond the goal delivery date, because the increased XYZ will result in longer production and lead times.
Accountants and decent knowledge of tax code should already be in place before you plan the low-budget version.
What do you do when your project is WAY more popular than expected?
28 followers | 8 answers