Our Experience with Kickstarter
We recently had a Kickstarter campaign successfully funded for a 2–4 player tabletop game where players compete to summon a demon. It was our first experience with Kickstarter, and while we were able to fund our project — we learned a lot about ourselves, and the platform.
Setting up your campaign
When you first sign up with Kickstarter and set up your campaign, you need to first have the page approved which can take up to 3 days. Luckily we had planned on preparing our campaign weeks in advance, but if you plan on launching on a specific date, you should be aware of this potential delay.
The campaign setup is relatively simple and is somewhat guided, however some parts of your campaign aren’t immediately evident. For example the FAQ section is not a required area and unless you know where to look, you may miss it. We originally included all of our FAQs in our story but after launching noticed the empty section all grouped under it’s own tab.
While at face value, the on-boarding for your campaign’s setup seems relatively intuitive — any time that there is mention of ways to “enhance” your campaign, you are directed to a library of posts that can be found on the Kickstarter blog. Unfortunately these posts can be quite vague and not very helpful.
The infamous “Projects We Love”
One of the most sought after recognition for a campaign is to be featured as a “Project we Love”. Unfortunately this isn’t as easy as it should be. There are a ton of nuances associated with this, and there is no shortage of companies who will reach out to you promising that they can make this happen for your project.
The feeling of being ripped off by used car salesmen is one that we got used to as we would receive two to three emails a day with promises of grandeur. One of the problems with what is required to be featured is that it seemed like the majority of requirements had nothing to do with the project itself — but rather revolved around what would be “on brand” for Kickstarter.
Take for example that your project’s featured image should not be of the product logo, but rather a clear product shot on a simple background. From a UX perspective, perhaps this information should be mentioned when uploading your hero image. Instead, this small (but apparently important) detail is buried in the Kickstarter blog.
We were also reminded a number of times that Kickstarter receives thousands of submissions a day, so it would be impossible for them to help you get your project featured. While this is true, since there is a 3 day approval process for your campaign, it would be interesting to know what it is exactly that they are reviewing, and may be beneficial for both Kickstarter and those who use it to have clearer guidelines on publishing a project.
Beware of third party scammers
When our campaign was officially live, it seemed like our contact was sent out to a calling list of Kickstarter ad agencies (charlatans) ready to take our money. They would often talk about their reach but I had a hard time understanding how they could have projected “conversions”.
With that being said, after doing some research we found that there were a few ad agencies that specialized in Kickstarter campaigns. Some of these had been involved with some of the biggest funded campaigns (like Exploding Kittens). It felt like they knew all of the in’s and out’s of Kickstarter (must have gone through all of the Kickstarter blog posts with a fine tooth comb). The problem is that they come with a hefty price tag, and unless you are confident enough in your project that you can recoup the cost with sales, it can be incredibly intimidating to hand over that much dough.
Promoting your campaign on social media
In the end we paid to have our post featured on a Instagram influencer page. We were also contacted by someone who had noticed our ad being promoted, and had paid to promote their ad as well through the same influencer. They were concerned that the page was a scam because the majority of people liking the post looked suspicious. Unfortunately I believe that we both fell victim to having our campaign shared with a bunch of bots.
However, there is some good out there. We were contacted by a company who said they would share our campaign with 100 “super backers” interested in our campaign’s category. The cost was small, but they went above and beyond with their promise. While we had to rewrite most of the content they were sending, and make our own graphics, I truly believe that we had a few conversions from what they had sent out.
The new “Notify me” feature
Before we launched our campaign we would take a look at a number of other projects. There was one in particular that kept popping up in our social feeds for a board game. When I clicked the ad, I noticed that the project hadn’t launched yet, but had a button on their landing page labelled “Notify me on launch”. Below the button read the number of people following the project which was well over 1000. When this project finally launched, it was funded in less than 24 hours.
We wanted to utilize this function as well. The problem was that the only information available to the user about the project prior to launching was simply the banner, the title and short description. There was no way of showing the full story. So, unless you are providing a full breakdown of the project outside of Kickstarter, it would be difficult to convince users to click that button. Furthermore, in order to be notified, they need to sign up on Kickstarter. While this would be required to pledge, at this stage we felt that a simple email input field would have been more effective.
While our campaign ran, we found that our subscribers (through the notify me button) had climbed by 200%. We were also informed that of these subscribers we had a 20% conversion rate. This meant that we had the potential to capture an additional 80% of users however we had no way of reaching out to them directly.
As far as we understand it, these users will receive project updates (that you can send out to backers, or everyone), but there is no direct way of contacting them. We were also under the impression that they would receive notifications about when the project would be ending. This is not the case. From a UX perspective, there should be some kind of automation on Kickstarter’s end sending out emails for things like “The campaign is ending soon”. Instead, all we had was a number of subscribers and no way to target them directly.
The problem with pledge tiers
Pledge tiers are very unique when comparing them to any other e-commerce platform. For starters, they don’t work like a shopping cart (like most web platforms). Instead, they are more like “Buy Now” buttons where an assumption is made that the user only wants to purchase a single tier. There is however an option to add “additional support” which was a work around that we were able to utilize for users who wanted to purchase a combination of tiers.
It wasn’t until after the campaign had completed that we were advised to use the “Add-on” feature to repeat pledge tiers so that they could be combined. For example, we had a “double pack” of our board game. If a user wanted to get three copies of the game, but wanted to take advantage of the discounted cost for 2 — we could have created an add-on game that could be added to the pledge.
The problem with this is that these add-ons wouldn’t deduct from tier inventory — so if we identified 60 products as “early bird pricing” and added an add-on product at the same cost, then user’s could purchase one early bird and an infinite amount of add-on games for the same price, and the inventory would just drop to 59.
Add-ons are not tiers
While the name “Add-on” implies that it can’t be bought on it’s own, it should be clearer that this be used to work as a quantity field for products. For example if I have a tier for a board game, an add-on could be an additional board game. Instead, it should just be for bonus items (or all tiers should be automatically available as add-ons with their own inventories).
We used add-ons differently. We offered a custom limited pin that could be added on to any pledge. However, by only including it as an add-on it could not be purchased on it’s own.
Shipping — The biggest issue with Kickstarter
Shipping was our biggest enemy. We had read articles from different people who had completed Kickstarter campaigns and the consensus was that the easiest way to handle shipping is to charge post-campaign.
This however would require you to invoice users outside of Kickstarter via PayPal, or some other third party tool. We imagined that this would be a bad experience for the user who made a pledge blindly accepting that they needed to fork over an undisclosed amount of money through a different platform. While we included notes that shipping would be charged at the end of the campaign, when setting up the campaign, we were prompted to add a shipping amount. We did so, not realizing that if a region is added it becomes a mandatory field for the user. This means that by default the user needs to select a tier, then add on the cost of a fixed amount of shipping to their total.
We discovered this right at launch (because there is no “sandbox” environment to test the user flow before launching). We quickly attempted to decrease the amounts for shipping to $0 (to charge post-campaign).
In the FAQ from Kickstarter about pricing, it states that you can change the cost / details about a tier or shipping as long as no one has purchased it yet. This is true, however it breaks the entire platform. We switched the shipping to $0 and suddenly received messages from users saying that they were getting errors when trying to pledge. We contacted support immediately. At the same time, we switched the prices back to what we had originally set and voila! the error was removed, but the user’s were stuck with the fixed shipping cost.
We finally received an email back from Kickstarter support almost a week later, and they were unaware of the issue and suggested that it was a “browser issue”… it was not.
Shipping cost by country, not by region.
We were planning on offering free local delivery (for anyone living in our city or surrounding cities) however we were limited to setting the shipping based on the country. For those who don’t know, Canada is a very big country, so to only have one cost for the 9.985 million square kilometres didn’t seem very realistic.
In addition, there were no options to provide different shipping types, ie. Standard shipping vs. Express. We aren’t sure what the best compromise is here. If you charge shipping at the end, it can look sketchy to request money via PayPal. Alternatively you could lose potential backers if your estimated shipping cost is too high, since the cost to ship a product within your own city would be significantly cheaper then sending a package across the Country.
We will touch on the survey later, but if you think that you can request shipping regions via a questionnaire that would be targeted to a specific country you would be wrong. This is because the surveys can only be specific to purchased Tiers. See more below.
Our solution was to find the average cost of shipping (from coast to coast) and charge slightly less. If we hand delivered the product we offered refunds via PayPal, email money transfer or cash. The downside to this is that Kickstarter takes their cut from the total income brought in from the campaign.
Lastly, when considering including shipping costs through Kickstarter, it should be noted that the cost of shipping is included in your overall goal. This means that if your goal is reached, a large portion of it will be allocated to actual shipping costs.
Be reasonable with your goal
We went back and forth on what would dictate a reasonable goal. We read an article on the infamous Kickstarter blog that provided a basic formula for setting your goal. They state that you should look at the amount of money required to create and sell your product. Then add on an amount that you would be comfortable paying yourself if you need to pledge at the last minute to reach your goal. Since Kickstarter is “all or nothing”, it is better to have a funded campaign, then an “almost” funded campaign.
If I were to rewrite their recommendation, I would say to look at how much you need to create and sell your product, then subtract the amount you can contribute yourself. Why give the platform a bigger commission when you could put the whole amount directly to creating your product?
Don’t be a hero, but still make it worth it.
Some people announce “funded in 24 hours” when their goal is $100… well obviously! We think that there needs to be a balance when it comes to setting a reasonable goal. It seems as though the core ideology behind Kickstarter has fallen to the wayside. Your campaign should be about raising capital for something that you believe in — because you can’t get funding anywhere else. There is no reason to set an astronomical goal, when all you need is $1000. At the same time, don’t set a goal for $50 to announce to the world how quickly you’ve been funded... it just looks bad.
The broken survey
Kickstarter puts a big emphasis on their survey. The survey is something that you send out to backers when a campaign has been completed. It is used to capture information about your backers for shipping, and special instructions.
One of the survey’s major downfalls is the limitation of customization. If you set a tier to only be available for a single country, the address field (which is the only default field) is restricted to that one specific country (pre-populating the provinces / states etc). From one perspective this makes sense, but in the real world variables can change. What if you extended a tier’s availability to other parts of the world? While this might not be a scenario for all, by simply allowing the campaign owner to create a survey with any fields (and remove defaults) it would reduce the chances of any hiccups to occur.
Building your survey
The survey builder provides a preview on the side of the screen which doesn’t help much — you can see the fields (some of which are broken) but can’t send out a test email. Keep in mind that you only get one-shot to get things right since they only allow for surveys to be sent out once (for god knows what reason).
When sending out the survey, you don’t have the option to group users by custom variables. During our campaign there were a few individuals who sent us direct messages with their concerns around the cost of shipping (since they were located near us). We told them that we would refund the shipping post campaign. We had planned on including a question in the survey on how they would like to receive their refund. The problem is that we could not group supporters by custom variables. Surveys can only be grouped by tier (for example all “early bird” pledges). So if we send out a survey with the question “How would you like your shipping refunded?”, it wouldn’t apply to 99% of our supporters.
Instead, luckily there is the ability to send private messages to backers, which is what we ended up doing. Not a perfect solution, but a solution none the less.
The final 24 hours
Leading up to the final 24 hours can keep you sitting on the edge of your seat. This is because supporters can pull their pledge up until 24 hours of your campaign ending. We found that a number of supporters did this which at times felt suspect. Maybe some of the supporters were hoping you would support their project, or maybe they just got cold feet — whatever the case, it can be incredibly nerve wracking.
We were fortunate enough to reach our goal with a few days remaining, but were hesitant to make an official update until the last 24 hours. We would advise doing the same to help reduce the chance of pulled pledges. Because of this, we feel like Kickstarter should re-consider this policy and instead set a time frame from “date of pledge” instead.
We were glad that we took the leap and ran a Kickstarter campaign. It is definitely a useful tool for individuals in need of sourcing funds for their product. It is just unfortunate that there are so many issues with the platform that could easily be addressed with user feedback.
Hopefully this article will help shine light on some of the issues with running a Kickstarter campaign, and provide ways to avoid them. The biggest take away (if any) is you can never be over-prepared when running a campaign.