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10 things I learned from launching two successful campaigns on Kickstarter
I ran two Kickstarter campaigns, one in 2017 reaching 99.500 EUR for three products and one reaching 40.000 EUR for one product in 2020. As people continue to reach out and ask for advice I decided to put my learnings into this short text. So here are my ten learnings:
1.You are capable of more than you think
If you decide to turn your idea into a Kickstarter campaign you will quickly realize that you are capable of much more than just designing the product. You will find that a clear vision or purpose (in my case it was simply “I want to make this vanished brand available to people again.”) will allow you to go further than you ever dreamed of. You will quickly learn new skills. In my case, it was product design, financial management, performance marketing, and PR. And it will go easier to jump right in because you are driven. That said, also make sure to build the right team around you. Kickstarting is a team effort.
2. It is harder than you think
There is this saying “Do what you are passionate about.” but I feel this to be a bit misleading. Before you embark on your journey, ask yourself “Am I prepared to truly suffer for this?”. Because you will. Customers will insult you, suppliers will try to rip you off, Facebook support will make you wonder if your life has turned into a novel by Kafka, things will get delayed and money will be needed in the weirdest moments. If you are then in the game just to “become rich quick” or “fake it til you make it” the whole experience will be no fun for you and you will not reach your goals. If you go on YouTube or listen to people at a conference, it always sounds so easy to establish a business. It is not. Not in the beginning.
3. Your friends will not be your backers
So you have 2500 friends on Facebook and 4000 Followers that love your private profile. Good for you, you seem to be a popular person. But stay away from any calculations like “I need 250 orders to fund this project, that's 10% of my friends, no problem.” Sorry to break the news but your friends will not back your project. During the first Kamarg campaign, 2% of my friends eventually bought a backpack and only one person went out to promote it among their friends (thank you again, Astrid). For your campaign to succeed you need to build a community of fans that are interested in your product, not in you as a person.
4. Build a community first, then launch the product towards it
I often get the question “When should I launch the campaign?”. The answer is easy, you should look into launching your campaign when you have 2-3 times the amount of backers needed to be funded. Either on a mailing list or as an audience on social media. You build this community of backers by having them sign up for a newsletter on a landing page or your website. Newsletter subscribers are best because you can reach them best with hype and launch emails. For the first Kamarg Kickstarter, we collected 2800 subscribers that were interested in the backpack before we launched our campaign which resulted in 995 orders.
5. Stay away from Google. And know that Facebook and Instagram have become less efficient
For our 2017 and 2020 Kickstarter campaigns, we spent a total of 7 EUR on Google Advertising. The available ad forms on Google are simply not that suitable for short-lived launch campaigns (except maybe if you sell a software product that could be shown in in-app advertising) so stay away from it. The Facebook/Meta ecosystem offers far better results in my humble opinion but please be aware that ROI has been declining on both Facebook and Instagram in recent years. So do not look at campaigns from 2016 or 2017 because they were simply better targeted (maybe as they were pre-Cambridge Analytica) and more efficient due to a smaller amount of advertisers.
6. Have your credit card limit extended and keep your links free of tracking things
The first two days of a Kickstarter campaign are the most important ones. Every minute counts as a strong performance can fire the algorithms of the site and help you reach your goal fast. For this reason, make sure that you have your credit card limit extended with your bank before you start spending larger amounts on digital advertising and avoid any third-party tracking software like PixelMe that may create link bounces for people seeing your ads. We lost 70% of our traffic on the launch day for the Kamarg 59 campaign because the person responsible for the ads installed a third-party tracking pixel via PixelMe that broke the link to the Kickstarter page. Until I found out, we had spent 80% of our launch budget and were delayed by weeks to reach our funded status. It turned a campaign with strong potential into one with average results.
7. Have a great launch day offer
To avoid hanging in that limbo of “Will we be funded soon?” make sure to reach your funding goal fast i.e. in the first two days after launch. It makes life so much simpler if you know that your campaign investments will be covered by first orders. To achieve a funded status quickly, offer a launch day special where you offer your product at a deeper discount, but only for one day, and then make sure all your newsletters and digital advertising communication make the time pressure clear to anybody.
8. Use Backerkit if you have a larger amount of backers
I have no affiliation with the service but I recommend using a order management service like Backerkit to handle the logistics of fulfillment, especially if you have a larger amount of backers. Usually, there is a time between successful funding and fulfillment and people’s life simply change, one moves to a new address or changes her/his name. It may cost you a bit but will save you a lot of time later in the process
9. Clarify local VAT laws with an expert before launching
Probably the most important advice. Make sure you triple-check the VAT requirements of the country from where you ship the products. Ask two accountants as your accountant maybe no know the latest rulings. For our first Kickstarter campaign in 2017, we had our company in Sweden but fulfilled the orders in Germany and Austria which caused us to pay VAT twice, wait 18 months to get our money back from tax authorities. We also had to first cancel than re-issue 1245 invoices. It took me months and nearly killed Kamarg in terms of cash flow. Do not make the same mistake we did.
10. Ask successful Kickstarter creators for advice
The majority of Kickstarter creators will help you with your first campaign. Just reach out and ask. Maybe not if you want to use their audience for a referral campaign (we always decline these requests). But for advice and bouncing off ideas. We have succeeded but we want others to fulfill their dream, too
As the saying goes “All advice is personal advice” so feel free to take it or leave it. Hope this was helpful. Sorry for leaving out things important with the video. That should be a separate post. Good luck with your campaign.
On what brands are (and are not).
A funny thing about brands is that nobody has ever seen one. It's not like that you can put something on a table and say “Look, this is the Google brand”. You may put the colorful Google logo on the table and people would say “I know this brand, it's Google.” Here is where the first big misunderstanding in branding lies. When people talk about brands, they often talk about the identifiers of the brand. The logos, the color palettes, and the signature sounds. When you look at the websites of 90% of all branding agencies you realize that the majority focuses on the visible parts of a brand, offering to create beautiful designs and color palettes (with gradients because they look great on OLED screens).
So what is a brand then? Some say it is attributes like trust or luxury that people attribute to them. “If people trust this company, it is a brand.” you then hear. I think people in this case people mix up effect and cause. The presence of trust is the result of brand building, it can however not describe why people have developed trust towards a product or company.
Others see describe brands as persons. This is understandable because branding originated from the marking of livestock and the introduction of coats of arms and war paint to facilitate combat. It started out with people and animals. The “brand personality” camp will ask you questions like “If you meet Absolut at a party, what would it wear, what would it say, what car would it drive?”. This approach is also driven by our desire to make things visible. You can say in a meeting “We need to take better care of the brand.” and people probably feel a bit of empathy. It just feels more approachable. You can then also attribute human elements like health to it and call research on attributes and values assigned by consumers “brand health”.
But for me, this is still a quick fix. Let's dig further. If brands are not their logos and also not concepts like trust, if they are not persons, what are they?
For me, brands are invisible because they are a relationship between a consumer and a product, service, or company. Like all relationships, they are formed by shared values, repeated positive emotions, and last but not least a predictability in the behavior of the brand. Just think about why you hang out with your best friend. Because you like his or her worldview, the way she/he makes you feel, and most importantly, you can rely on his or her behavior because they always act the same way (which can be a good or bad thing). These three things create a clear image in your head of that friend. It is the same with brands.
So the next time you sit in a meeting and your agency/your CEO/your boss/the pope starts to use approximations like brand personality or say “it's the things consumers attribute to products” as I heard today as a definition in a meeting, you smile, wait until they are finished and then politely explain that brands are not logos or people, they are actually relationships between people and products that is fostered by a clear definition of values one can identify with, the ability to repeatedly create positive feelings and constant repetition creating predictable outcomes. You may use visual aids.
(Foto von Erik Mclean von Pexels)
The benefits of a weekly date with strategy.
When people think of strategy, they usually think of something (a) that takes a long time, is (b) very expensive, and (c) decided by top management. Something created on at an off-site that emerged from scribbles on post-its. Something with that “vision” and “mission” word. I sometimes wish strategy would have a better reputation. Because for me it’s more a way of working rather than a project to be completed once you start in a new role. Some years ago, I have started to put aside 45min a week, usually on Friday afternoon when the work week starts losing its place to ask myself questions not related to my OKRs, to-do list, and inbox. I usually dedicate one Friday session to one of four perspectives.
(1) Consumers: what can we do to further improve customer experience,
(2) Team: how can improve collaboration and assure everybody in the team to be seen,
(3) Initiatives: are we still focused on projects with high impact and low effort? Are our capacities still sufficient and
(4) Outside World: what signals can I see in first-hand data sources that we should discuss or add on. I usually start these sessions analog with a notebook and a pencil.
I just start sketching, writing, or drawing, sometimes using my laptop to look up emails and information. Some weeks nothing pops up, some weeks things emerge that I want to discuss with my peers or team, some sessions result in immediate action. What I like about it is that apart from visible results, it gives me a sense of overview of my work and a feeling of control before I head off for the weekend. To protect it from conflicting meetings, I have it pre-booked in my outlook calendar. Try it out for yourself this week. You will find that training your strategic muscle is actually fun when done on a regular basis. It also makes it easier to jump into strategizing mode when meetings or workshops demand it.