R.C.’s Note: Whew!! It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve written a post here! I’ve been going through some pretty big and exciting changes with my businesses that have just been killing my time these last couple of weeks! I’ll share those with you soon. Thanks as always for being a reader. -RC
You already know that one of my projects is FusionCase, an iPhone case that will go on Kickstarter.
As you’ve probably noticed by now, I haven’t talked about FusionCase in a while.You may be wondering “we haven’t heard RC talk about his Kickstarter project for a while. What happened? Did it fizzle out? Is he just a jerk and doesn’t want us to know what he’s up to?”
Oh, the headaches that come along the way…
The truth is, designing, pitching and selling a manufactured product takes about 10 times more work than you would think, especially for this business-school boy here.
I don’t mean that in a way that I would never do it again…actually, it’s a crapload of fun, and I’m finally learning about the design process behind building physical creative products worked(Lord knows I had no exposure to that earlier in life…I had like 3 Legos and 1 Tinker Toy pole to my name as a kid, and I seriously almost failed kindergarten art class).
Naturally, my work has bee more on the business side of things. I spent an ungodly amount of time researching Kickstarter: how it worked; the “tried and true” methods for promoting a product and getting people interested; and most importantly, the things that many people screw up that sinks their ship.
Before I tell you what I found out, reflect on the following statement:
“Dude, Kickstarter’s like this great way to, like, launch a product and, like, go viral and get lots of people to invest in you, man.”
OK, maybe not everyone out there sounds like a village idiot when they talk, but admit it: Kickstarter does seem like an easy way to raise money and get recognition for yourself online.
The truth will set you free (and maybe make you cry).
And the more I learned about Kickstarter, the more I noticed the sheer number of misconceptions surrounding launching a obtaining success on the platform.
The truth about Kickstarter can be summed up in 1 sentence: Kickstarter is a gritty, sticky and gruff platform that teeters you and your product on the edge of abysmal, public failure at every second that your project is up.
Kickstarter is a kingmaker, but possesses power so strong that it can completely fuck your reputation, your finances, and your life (and it has done so for quite a few ill-fated folks who jumped into KS without knowing what they are doing).
Here’s the myths, and the truths:
Myth #1: Anyone with an idea can launch on Kickstarter.
Truth: “Ideas” can’t be funded on Kickstarter; you have to already have the product you are trying to sell (this applies only towards product-based Kickstarters, videos and games, for example, are different).
See, there was a problem:
A lot of doofus-type people were trying to push through these cool-looking products that didn’t even technically exist. They used 3D modeling to show what the product “would” look like, without ever having actually made the product itself. (get an example).
Now imagine what happens if you do that, go to the manufacturer, and they say “well, we can’t make that” or “that’s going to cost you $20,000 more than you thought it would”.
You’re screwed, that’s what.
And since it kept happening, again and again, Kickstarter implemented rules that required you to have a prototype for what you were making. (“Kickstarter Isn’t a Store“).
“Okay so we’ll just got 3D-print a prototype and we’re ready for launch!”
Sorry. It turns out, ideas that look stupid and unfinished (even if they do technically have a prototype) usually don’t fare well either…for example, the Buckley.
I think a fair standard for your Kickstarter prototype is “production-quality”. That’s not to say things can’t or won’t change; but it’s more than just a model or a quick 3D print.
And even if you could launch “just an idea” on Kickstarter, it would be a terrible idea anyway (fast forward to Myth #3…).
Myth #2: By putting something on Kickstarter, I have a great chance of someone finding my project and having it go viral.
Truth: Due to the way the Kickstarter platform displays projects, there’s almost nothing egalitarian about Kickstarter. Kickstarter is only a platform; figuring out how to get the attention on your project is up to you.
What do I mean “due to the way the Kickstarter platform displayed projects”?
Go to the Kickstarter website right now, and go to the “Discover Projects” section. Notice anything missing?
Notice that there’s no way whatsoever to just look at a list of projects?
Sure, you can look at “staff picks”….you can look at “most popular” or “ending soon”…Go ahead and click on one of the categories.
Notice how the only thing that pops up is “staff picks” and “most popular?”
So it turns out: there’s absoultely no way for anybody to luck out and find your project.
That’s just not the way that Kickstarter works.
Because it’s your job to promote your project, not theirs. One of the most important things you can realize about Kickstarter early on is this:
Your network is the most important element of Kickstarter success. Period.
For example, a cofounder of Soma Water wrote a massive article for Tim Ferriss about how he mobilized his network and got media attention before his launch (notice how much effort he put into this, and how basically his entire article is about mobilizing one’s network).
Notice they didn’t say “well, we knew our product was awesome, so we just put it on Kickstarter and hoped people would find it.”
Even consider the legendary Pebble Watch, which raised $10 million. They had already spent years developing their network and expertise (and raising money!) while they built their first smartphone watch for Blackberry a few years prior to the Pebble.
I’ve searched high and low, and I’ve not seen a single example of a Kickstarter project that “just took off” and “went viral”.
The promotion’s up to you, not Kickstarter. Neglecting this step will render your efforts a failure, even if your product was good enough to actually get people to invest had they known about it.
Myth #3: Kickstarter isn’t taken as seriously as a real business; so if I mess up, I don’t have much to worry about.
Go tell that to the guy who had to declare bankruptcy because he couldn’t deliver on his project.
Ok, so enter Doofus A, who comes up Hanfree, an iPad stand. Now, the product itself looks pretty cool and rather useful…
So unsurprisingly, when he put is on Kickstarter, he kills it by raising $35,000…more than 2x his goal!
And shortly after, everything started going to shit.
Get this: the guy who made Hanfree had never manufactured a product before. Not only that, he didn’t have a finished, working prototype (what’s shown in the video is just a dummy).
So when they went to manufacture the product, they started to figure out that there were design constraints that would drive the product’s manufacturing costs through the roof (for example, a certain type of ball joint that would have to be especially manufactured for the Hanfree, as opposed to just using a standardized one).
Unfortunately for these guys, one of their backers was a lawyer who had an ax to grind.
I won’t give away the rest of the story, but take a look at this account to see the 2 years of back-and-forth between pissed-off backers and Hanfree before the Hanfree founder finally declared bankruptcy.
“Kickstarter! What is it good for?…”
Kickstarter is still a great, recognized, standardized platform for launching a product. It has a vibrant community that understands and enjoys investing on it. But it’s important to recognize Kickstarter for what it is in its entirety, and not assume it’s some easy way to get a few bucks on the side, or to “test the waters”.
People that win on Kickstarter do so because they are professionals, and play the game with respect and with full understanding of what it actually takes to be successful on Kickstarter…they’re not “testing the waters” or wasting anyone’s time.
So should I use Kickstarter?
Absolutely. Kickstarter is still an excellent way to organize and promote your efforts…the standardized platform makes it easy to distribute your idea to others, and easy for others to understand exactly what they are getting when they contribute money to your cause. My favorite story as-of-recent is the story of a guy who worked with Chinese manufacturers to produce a wooden watch to put on Kickstarter (they raised a ton of money, and did so at record speeds).
But again, these guys knew what they were doing. The team was a combination of designers and a guy who lived in Hong Kong and was intimately familiar with the Chinese manufacturers in the area.