21 min read
More than 3.31 billion dollars.
That’s how much funding has been successfully raised for over 145,000 creative projects on the Kickstarter platform since the company’s founding less than a decade ago.
In 2019 and beyond, Kickstarter will continue to be the #1 platform in the world for independent creators looking to fund and launch creative projects. Therefore, mastery of the Kickstarter platform is a critical skill for 21st century creators.
This article shares the best lessons I’ve learned from:
This article will be especially valuable to you if…
The key things you’ll take away from this article include:
Oh, by the way, I’m Tyler James! I’m a writer, artist, award-winning game designer, publisher, and educator.
I’m co-founder of the internationally distributed comic book, graphic novel, and children’s book imprint ComixTribe.
I help writers, artists, comic creators, and publishers successful launch their dream projects.
Six years ago, I had never launched a Kickstarter project.
I had never printed more than 100 copies of a book at time.
My books weren’t in stores and I wasn’t selling much of anything online.
One successful Kickstarter Campaign was a catalyst that instantly leveled things up for ComixTribe.
In the years since that first launch, not only have we raised hundreds of thousands of more dollars on Kickstarter, but also managed to secure worldwide distribution for our comics and graphic novels, signed multiple foreign licensing deals to get some of our books into other languages, and attracted the attention of large media companies interested in adapting our properties to film and television.
Kickstarter was a game changer for me, and can be for you, but first you need to make sure you have the right mindset going into a launch and don’t succumb to a few persistent, deadly Kickstarter myths.
Have you ever thought:
I should hold off on launching until I have something really worth Kickstarting, because I don’t want to use up the good will of my small fan base on the wrong project.
That was precisely what held me back so long from pulling the trigger on my first launch. I figured I’d only get to have one crack at Kickstarter, so I better make it count.
Implicit in this statement is the myth that Kickstarter is a finite resource.
However, the data says Kickstarter is a renewable resource for many creators, meaning that creators who have successfully launched on Kickstarter are even more likely to succeed with their next launch.
And while it is true, that some high profile Kickstarter project creators who fail to deliver their rewards to backers may have trouble ever getting funding again, most creators find that if they fulfill their promises to backers, they’ll be even more excited the next time launch.
A zero sum game or situation is defined as one in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other.
I still see far too many creators operating from a scarcity mindset, worried that a big name creator launching at the same time as they are launching will suck up all the funding on the platform.
But that’s not the case. Another creators’ success has no negative impact on you, but COULD have a positive impact.
In fact, cross promotion between Kickstarter creators serving similar audiences is one of the most effective ways to keep new funding coming in throughout your campaign.
“Kickstarter does not allow projects to fundraise for charity.”
That’s plainly written in Kickstarter’s rules, and yet many creators still operate their campaigns as if they’re holding out a tin cup for loose change.
You and your creative project are not a charity. (And if you don't believe me, ask the IRS.)
Furthermore, there was a crowdfunding study that showed using “the language of charity” actually hurts your crowdfunding efforts.
One of the creators I coached said he was afraid of launching because he didn’t “want to feel like a hobo holding out a tin cup panhandling for spare change…”
The key to that is understanding that you’re not asking for charity at all, but rather an exchange of value for value.
And of course, to not use the language of a beggar when promoting your campaign.
With those three mindset myths now out of the way, we can jump into some Kickstarter tips for what it actually takes to have a successful launch.
Launch expert Jeff Walker often says that when you “turn your marketing into an event, and you will transform your results.”
The most successful Kickstarter campaigns feel like an event.
After one of my first campaigns, I received a message from a backer thanking me for the campaign and saying they were looking forward to the next one.
When you treat your Kickstarter campaign like an event instead of just putting a product up for sale you will transform your results.
One of the things that still shocks me every time I do a workshop on Kickstarter is how many people interested in launching their own campaign have never actually backed a Kickstarter campaign themselves.
What an incredibly missed opportunity!
Backing (and studying) projects by successful Kickstarter creators in the category and genre that you would like to launch in is one of the easiest ways to prep for your campaign.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with your campaign when you can study the high performers and model your campaigns after theirs. Some things to pay attention to are:
Kickstarter’s own research shows that successful Kickstarter creators have backed about four times as many projects than unsuccessful creators, and that there is a strong correlation with success rate and number of Kickstarter projects backed.
Furthermore, many creators who launch campaigns without having backed any previous campaigns may find they get some criticism for that, as they’re perceived as taking from the platform without giving back to it.
But be careful not to assume what another creator does will work for you or is a good idea for you, your project, or audience.
What you can SEE publicly during the campaign is just the tip of the iceberg of the work the creator has actually put into the launch.
This is especially true with product pricing, audience building, marketing, and fulfillment.
There are horror stories of Kickstarter creators who set their product or shipping prices based on what others were charging, rather than actually researching what the true costs were, and found themselves on the hook for major expenses.
Use other campaigns for inspiration, but definitely do your own homework!
Kickstarter works best for creators who have a clearly defined project and have already taken steps to realize the vision for that project.
If you comb through the graveyard of failed Kickstarter projects, you’ll see that many of them weren’t projects at all but rather ideas looking for funding.
In the world of comics, you would never get very far cold pitching an idea to a publisher.
Instead, editors expect a formal pitch package, usually a creative team already assembled some finished pages, character designs, and usually a cover or two.
I encourage my students to treat your Kickstarter backers no different than you would a publisher, and understand that the more you can show, the more people will trust you can deliver on your end product.
This also goes for designing an attractive Kickstarter page. Many creators with failed campaigns have pages that looked like they were dashed together in an hour, with little thought or effort.
How you run your Kickstarter, from page design to your video, to your communication with backers and the big picture to the little details, all send a message to your backers about what they can expect from your products.
What message do you want your Kickstarter page to send?
One of the biggest mistakes creators make is thinking Kickstarter is the audience for their project. That’s wrong.
Kickstarter will provide the venue for your launch, but YOU are in charge of the guest list.
There is a reason the word “crowd” comes before the word “funding” in crowdfunding–because that’s how it actually works. The hard truth of crowdfunding, is that it’s not terribly effective when every face in the crowd is a stranger.
People tend to want to support projects from creators they know, like, and trust. So, that’s your main job in the lead up to launch. If you build a relationship with a large enough audience and get them excited about your Kickstarter before you launch, you will fund every time.
The #1 reason Kickstarters fail to fund is that the creators behind them haven’t built and properly readied an audience before they launch.
The bad news is that you need to build an audience before launching your Kickstarter campaign.
The good news is that the audience doesn’t have to be that big in order for you to have success on Kickstarter.
Now, what’s special about Kickstarter is that if you do get the party started over there and send backers and funding Kickstarters way, it’s algorithm will see that your project is a winner and you’ll start coming ranking higher on their platform.
With over a million backer credit cards on file, there are lots of people who will discover you on Kickstarter, but only if you bring an audience to get the ball rolling.
Need help building your audience before a launch? I have a free on-demand training that can help.
We’ve all heard the advice to think big and to reach for the moon because even if you don’t hit it, you’ll still end up among the stars.
That might be good career advice, but it’s also AWFUL Kickstarter advice.
And that’s because Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform. If you don’t hit your goal, you don’t get any of your funding.
For that reason, your project goal must be grounded in reality. If this is your first launch, I’d encourage you to set a goal that is realistic for you, based on the size of your audience and your past track record of being able to deliver on projects like this.
Far too often, I see creators fail in the comics category on Kickstarter because they’re trying to use the platform to skip over logical milestones. They ask for tens of thousands of dollars to fund their idea for a multi-volume graphic novel series, when they’ve actually never produced a single comic page before.
Your next Kickstarter project should be something that will take you to the logical next rung up the ladder of your career, but not all the way from the basement to the top floor.
So, start with a small project with a reasonable goal, and earn the right to go after larger goals with future launches.
As artist Jeff McComsey told me on my podcast after having run several wildly successful campaigns,
You need to plan your Kickstarter campaign like a bank robbery.
Success on Kickstarter isn't something that just happens– it's something that is meticulously planned.
Successful creators plan for each of the following phases:
Covering an entire Kickstarter launch is beyond the scope of this article. Heck, I’ve done more than 150 episodes of the ComixLaunch podcast and I’m still coming up with new topics related to running effective campaigns to talk about.
Instead, I want to present you with a few of my favorite 80/20 campaign tips.
Projects with a Kickstarter video are at least three times more likely to fund than projects without a video, and yet, every day, creators are launching projects without bothering to include a video.
Now, I get it. Many of us don’t have video skills, funds to pay a videographer, or have hang-ups about being on camera.
The good news, is that unless you’re in a category where a great video is essential (video, tech, video games, etc.) your video doesn’t have to be anything spectacular to be effective.
“Updates” are how you tell the story of your campaign and the Kickstarter update is the single most powerful communications tool you'll use during (and after) your Kickstarter campaign to communicate with backers.
Updates are messages that you’ll post to your Kickstarter pages after the campaign has launched, and those messages will get emailed directly to all backers.
It's also a tool that is often overlooked and underutilized by unsuccessful creators. Many are afraid of being perceived of as “a spammer” and turning off backers by “bothering” them during their campaign.
The answer to that is simply not to bother them, but to use your updates to share awesome developments, behind the scenes info, and connect with and have fun with the people who are supporting you.
Sending updates keeps backers engaged throughout the campaign, and when they’re engaged, they’re more likely to keep sharing your Kickstarter and upgrade their own pledges to higher, premium tier levels.
A common practice for Kickstarter creators who hit their funding goal before the campaign ends is to add stretch goals to their campaign.
Stretch goals are essentially new promises to your backers of ways you’ll improve or add to the product or campaign should you reach new funding heights.
For example, during my first graphic novel Kickstarter campaign, we had a funding goal of $8,500, which we hit at about a third of the way into the campaign. To keep backers energized until the end, we always had a “Stretch” goal we were shooting for. Free bookmarks at $10K. Upgrade the book to oversized at $15K. Add more pages at $19K.
It’s a strategy that worked like a charm for us and we ended up raising over 300% of our goal.
However one of my biggest Kickstarter pet peeves is when creators present and start talking about Kickstarter Stretch Goals to backers well before they hit your funding goal. To me, that’s presumptuous, especially if you are still a long way from hitting your goal.
Instead, I encourage creators to employ a milestone bonus strategy instead.
Milestone bonuses are surprise extras you unlock for your backers above and beyond what you've already promised them for their pledges at key milestones on the way to your funding goal.
For example, one of my students, Andrew Pawley, gave away a free paper toy download of a cool monster to all backers at 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% funded during his recent Cthulhu Kids Kickstarter campaign.
These milestones don’t have to be anything big (digital goodies, bonus videos, or unlocking new reward tiers all work fine.)
The key is that you’re breaking up the road to funded with cool little things you can celebrate with your backers. Then, once you hit your goal, feel free to roll out those stretch goals all you like!
After your Kickstarter campaign ends, popping a celebratory bottle and throwing high-fives to the team is well warranted.
But remember, funded does not a successful Kickstarter campaign make.
Kickstarter’s own research shows that about 11% of successfully funded projects fail to deliver rewards to their backers and about 35% of project creators deliver their rewards significantly late.
Furthermore, many creators find themselves overwhelmed, exhausted, and physically and emotionally drained after fulfillment.
This all means that getting funded on Kickstarter should not be your goal. The ComixLaunch definition of a successful Kickstarter campaign is one that:
A key to thriving during fulfillment is post-campaign communication with your backers. Through it either your backers will become frustrated with you or you’ll tighten your bond with them and set yourself up for continuing success on and beyond Kickstarter. This post-campaign communication means:
And when it comes to all that packing and shipping of rewards, remember, you don’t get any extra points for doing it all yourself.
Smaller project creators often recruit friends and family for Kickstarter packing parties to help them ship, while bigger projects are smart to employ professional fulfillment companies who are experts at logistics, and will deliver rewards faster and often cheaper than you could do it yourself.
Kickstarter Myth #1: Kickstarter is a finite resource.
Reality: Whether Kickstarter is a Renewable Resource or a Finite one is entirely up to YOU.
Kickstarter Myth #2: Kickstarter is a zero sum game.
Reality: Other Kickstarter creators are not you competition, but they can be your biggest advocates and supporters.
Kickstarter Myth #3: Kickstarter is charity.
Reality: Successful Kickstarter creators offer a fair exchange of value.
Key #1: Cultivate a launch mindset
Key #2: Join the Kickstarter community
Key #3: Put enough skin in the game
Key #4: Energize an audience before you launch
Key #5: Set an attainable goal
Key #6: Have a plan, then execute
Key #7: Fulfill like a boss
This article has provided a framework for success on the #1 crowdfunding platform for creators. I hope you take action on these tips and strategies and that they help you with a successful launch.
I want to leave you with two final piece of advice…
I’ve run 14 Kickstarter campaigns over the past six years and none of them have been perfect.
I’ve made mistakes during every launch and more importantly I’ve learned something new every time.
And you will, too but only if you let good enough be good enough and actually push that green Kickstarter launch button.
One of the most surprising things you may find about running a Kickstarter campaign is how lonely it can feel.
While I’ve tried to address the strategies and tactics for succeeding on Kickstarter on my podcast and in my courses as best as possible, the mental game is key to surviving the emotional roller coaster of running a campaign.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend for support during your launch or to join a community of fellow crowdfunders for mutual support and encouragement before during and after your launch.
I wish you the best of luck with your projects and future successful Kickstarter campaigns.
And I can’t wait to see what you launch next!