Our Kickstarter Experience: A Retrospective on 30 Days of Stress

We've had quite a few people ask us about crowd-funding with Kickstarter, so I thought I'd share a bit about our experience...the ups, and the downs, and some tips if you're considering crowd-funding.

Last summer, Kickstarter took over our lives.

After Sydney convinced us to start Poketti, I looked into options on getting it done. I learned early on that "plush" is no longer made in America, at least at larger volumes, and it's one of those industries that isn't coming back. Our small family project quickly turned into something much, much bigger. So, like many young startups, we turned to Kickstarter to raise money to manufacture Poketti Plushies with a Pocket. 

Background: Kickstarter is a crowd-funding site you can use to raise money for a project or business. You set the amount of money you want to raise (your goal) and the length of your campaign. You offer "rewards" to "backers" of your project — the more money they pledge, the bigger the reward. If you meet your goal, you get the money (minus about 9% for Kickstarter and 4% for Amazon payment processing) and your backers get their rewards. If you don't reach your goal, the pledges are not processed and you get nothing.

We set our goal at $20,000, a reasonable amount, considering how cute our Poketti prototypes were. Surely the Kickstarter community, weary of tech gadgets and comic book concepts, would rally around us. Who wouldn't love a plush animal pillow with a pocket, designed by a 14-year old girl? We'd make Kickstarter history!

We set off with vigor. The most successful Kickstarter projects include a video, where you introduce yourself, your idea, and your "process" (in the most un-boring way possible). The goal is to capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of your potential backers. Sydney and Toni made a ridiculously cute stop-motion animation video using our prototypes. Our products also served as our rewards, so we would essentially be pre-selling our inventory.

Our campaign lasted 30-days, and while just a month, it felt like an eternal, agonizing purgatory with a screen refresh every fifteen minutes. My emotions vacillated between hopeful and hopeless by the hour. Sydney, thankfully, never wavered. She knew Poketti would be a success, and her enthusiasm (and coffee) is what kept me going.

On the first two days, we saw a quick little bump from super awesome friends and a few Kickstarter enthusiasts. By day four, we were flat lining. Where were the masses of people? Surely Kickstarter would do something? It's in their interest for projects to succeed, right? Well, short of the few hours our project appeared on the default "recently launched" section, Kickstarter did nothing for us. Sure, the community they have built brought some wonderful people to our project, but as a marketing machine, they did not "love" us, promote us, mention us, post about us, nothing. 

It became abundantly clear that the success of our Kickstarter campaign was up to us. So, what did we do?

1. We asked everyone to back our project. We sent emails to friends, family, school communities, alumni organizations, current work associates, past work associates, people we haven't talked to in years, everyone. We brought it up in conversations, with strangers and acquaintances. neighboring tables at restaurants, at checkout counters, waiting in line at the bank. I tried to be positive, brief and not annoying. I also tried hard not to take it personally when people did not respond or back our project, although I do have a list and they will no longer receive Christmas cards. For 30 long, excruciating days, we did whatever we had to, including spending four hours (no lie) on the phone with my elderly in-laws walking them through how to make a pledge. Click by agonizing click.

2. We hired a P.R. service to pop our story out to the press, which resulted in exactly one article in Meridian Magazine. My own work contacting local papers paid off in an article in the Palo Alto Weekly about using Kickstarter to fund dream projects. We got new backers from each of these articles, so press was a good, good thing.

3. We shamelessly posted photos and reminders to Social Media. Every day. The posts got increasingly creative, as desperation set in. Sydney and Toni were masters at this.

4. We ran through the finish line at full speed. We had to.

If you can resist watching your project on Kicktraq, you are stronger willed than I. Their metric predicts how close you will come to your goal, based on how much money you have raised so far and how many days left in your campaign. We were tracking towards 80% of our goal. Yikes. 

I've been told things "pick up" towards the end, and they did. No matter, I stressed for thirty days solid. We reached our goal but it came within minutes of the deadline. And our goal was somewhat jeopardized by something evil lurking: we had early backers (people we didn't know) cancel their pledge right before the deadline. I suspect people jump onto new campaigns to be a part of the action, but don't have any intention of actually handing over any cash. This can be devastating if you're "just over" your goal amount as we were, so set your "real" goal a bit higher than the Kickstarter goal to create a cushion.

We worked hard to bring Poketti Plushies with a Pocket to life. All four of us. It's an incredible feeling to reach a hard-earned goal — a true testament to the struggles and rewards of starting a business — and our awesome backers continue to be some of our best customers. It was certainly worth the effort, but my takeaway is that you really can't count on "Kickstarter" for anything, except being a great vehicle to host your campaign, and taking 9% of your earnings. That, they did for us.

Next up: a little holiday-sales re-cap.

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