How to Win at Kickstarter

“You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat” - Jaws

“You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Network” — Jaws’ Executive Coach

This is the second part (go and read the first part. It’s good) of a multiple part series on how we “won” at Kickstarter.

Really Quick Synopsis: I’m the founder of a social enterprise named digitalundivided (DID). We’ve been around since 2012 and help amazing tech companies that just happen to be founded by Black and Latino Women. The tech game is super hard, but WTF hard for people like us (black women).

I wrote about my experiences here. It caused a bit of a commotion.

In June, digitalundivided created a Kickstarter campaign to do a doc exploring why it was damn hard for a sista in tech. We raised our goal of $25,000 in less than 40 hours and in the end raised more than twice our goal ($53,000) from 616 backer.

We were overwhelmed by the support (this was me on the last day of our campaign) and want to give back to the overall community so that others can raise successful Kickstarter campaigns.

And yes, we’re still raising $$$ via Indiegogo.

The Single Most Important Thing You Need to Do BEFORE Your Campaign

The single best piece of advice I can offer about running a successful Kickstarter campaign is build a strong network prior to launching the campaign, especially for campaigns in which there isn’t a tangible project like a cool programmable bracelet or an Isiah Whitlock bobblehead doll. People are investing/donating/pledging because they believe in your idea and, in most, cases, because they believe in you. The people who believe in you are the people who actually know you.

The strength of your personal network is the single most important factor to a non-widget based Kickstarter campaign.

More than 32% of #ReWriteTheCode backers came from the personal networks of DID staff. 28% of the people who pledged (172 backers) came from either my private facebook friend group (70 backers out of 72 Friends ) or a curated Friends of Kathryn (FOKers, for short) list of 135 people. The FOKers list are people I had a direct, personal connection with, meaning people I consider “friends” in the “pre-2004-Myspace-Facebook” sense of the word. We segmented those folks out, and I sent emails directly to them from my personal email account using the mail merge tool Yet Another Mail Merge. As a result, over 79% of my personal network pledged to the campaign.

Time to Call Your College Roommate

In order for your campaign to be successful, you will need to access EVERY network you’ve ever been part of: your weekend basketball league, your college alumni association, your mom’s church usher board and your ultimate Frisbee team. Everyone.

However, your networks shouldn’t all receive the same message or even the same message via the same platform. Segmenting your contacts is VITAL to a successful Kickstarter campaign because it helps you tailor your message to different groups based on your relationship. Your college roommate shouldn’t receive the same email as the people who subscribe to your newsletter list.

For example, a number of my friends are allergic to email. I could send them an invite to Brad and Angie’s French crib for Christmas with a White Elephant gift exchange led by Oprah and they wouldn’t open the invite because it was sent via email. So for those people, I literally texted the request via my mobile phone with a direct link to our campaign page. 100% of those 12 people pledged.

You’re Going to Need Some Time

It takes a solid two months, at bare minimum, to prepare for a successful Kickstarter campaign. I know that two months is like 2 years in “online world time”, but you really need that time to prep your network for the big campaign . If you don’t have an existing network (and why not?), then you’ll need at least six months to build a network for a successful campaign.

In Part 1, I talked about the concept of ROG, “Return on Generosity”, which simply means investing in people/things/projects in which your initial generosity is then shared, “returned”, to others in some way.

Notice I said “others” — not necessary returned to “you”. It’s the same principle as karma — increasing the level of good in the world because of the good you put out into it.

If you don’t have a network, then you probably have a super low ROG. If you have a super low ROG, then what is the return for someone investing in your project? If I’m not getting a mini android PC, then why would I want to just give my money to you?

In order to win at Kickstarter, you must give potential backers solid reasons why they should help you — actually list them out — and remind them of the “return” they will get from investing in your campaign. Why is this story important? What’s the impact of your nonprofit on the community it serves? Tell me how I’m going to be entertained or enlightened or made smarter?

The most frequently reason we heard from our backers as to “why” they gave to #ReWriteTheCode, is that we made them feel good about giving and that we framed the project as something bigger than themselves.

People want to believe in the power of community, they want to believe in you. Make them believe.

Prepping Your Friends

In order to really win at crowdfunding, you MUST prep your network at least ONE MONTH prior to the campaign’s actual launch date. DID informed our networks, both personal and general, on April 30th that we were launching a campaign on June 1st. We then sent one email per week leading up to the campaign with a daily email starting three days prior to its launch. This gave our backers a chance to prepare to donate, and some indicated that we received higher pledges because they were able to put the donation into that month’s budget.

On a personal note, I have a set budget each month to donate to crowdfunding campaigns. Friends that let me know in advance get a significantly higher pledge amount that those who spring it on me at the last minute.

Those early messages are super important because you need your network to be ready to donate AT THE LAUNCH of the campaign. According to Kickstarter, the most successful campaigns raise at least 50% of their goals in the first 48 hours. It’s much easier to raise that initial amount from those who know you and your work than from complete strangers. We also learned that asking for a specific amount is especially effective, as most people are super busy. We asked our friends to pledge $500, and 18 of the 132 FOKers pledged at least $500, and several pledged more.

Again, and I know I’m repeating myself, when composing your initial messages, it’s important that you stress the ROG of your project and frame exactly how your project is going to make their lives better or the world a better place. Step outside of yourself and think about the pledger. You’re writing this for your personal networks, so make it personal.

Here’s a draft of the first email we sent out to the FOKers list. Feel free to use this as a template for your own emails. (seriously… go ahead and use it).

Hey <insert name>,
Today, we’re launching our Kickstarter campaign to <insert name of campaign> !
We’re raising <insert $$$> to <insert why you’re raising money>. Click here to join (insert hyperlink).
Three Super Awesome Reasons You Should Support Our Kickstarter Project:
Reason 1
Reason 2
Reason 3
Need more reasons? Read this awesome <insert blog post, article, etc. about your idea or product>.
How You Can Help Right Now:
1. Donate TODAYWhile ALL gifts are appreciated (seriously, we appreciate all amounts), we’re asking for a gift of <insert amount> from all our friends.
2. Spread the Word. Let your friends know about the upcoming campaign.
3. Please tweet away. Here’s a tweet that you can use:
(this needs to be NO LONGER THAN 140 characters) <short opening><insert what you’re doing>. Support the <hashtag> Kickstarter campaign TODAY. More here: <insert shortened link>
We’re so very excited about the campaign and look forward to having your support as we GO BIG to solve this problem.
Feel free to shoot me any questions directly at <insert your email>.
<Insert Awesome Closing>,
<Your Wonderful Name>

Thank You For Being a Friend

Your network isn’t just for pledges, but also for advice. We were lucky that we had friends who had just completed a super successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $150,000 for a 50-state tour promoting LGBTQ rights.

Of the many excellent pieces of advice Taryn and Peter of the Get Outgave us, the one that stood out was that you should wait at least 24 hours before contacting your general mailing list.

Why? No one wants to be the first backer of a project. You want your general list to see that you already have support and momentum, and if they don’t donate, they will miss out on a good thing. (Speaking of which, thanks Peter and Taryn for being our first backers!)

For outreach to our general database, we used Mailchimp, which allowed us to segment and create new lists based on response rates. Mailchimp is also a great stand-in customer relationship management system (CRM) as we frankly we had zero interest in learning how to use a CRM.

We further segmented our general list based on how we met the subscriber — was it from one of our START programs? Did they attend FOCUS100 in 2013? In total, we had over 12 lists — some with 1000s of contacts and some with only 10. This allowed us to not only see the open rate by point of contact, but also which group had more of an affinity to our messaging. We sent out the first email (to 12 lists) on the morning of June 2nd. Then, we created two lists — those who opened the email and those who didn’t. We wrote targeted messages to those who opened the email (obviously they were interested) and focused on getting those who did not open, to open the email.

The pledge rate for our newsletter list was about 9%, which seems to be a pretty standard conversion rate, although it’s hard to tell because there’s not much information to compare it to.

Choosing the Right Platform

The platform you use can make or break your project. Choosing the correct platform really is based on the goals for your project. I would strongly suggest checking out this excellent infographic on that really breaks down all the different crowdfunding options. There’s A LOT.

We decided to select from the three most popular- Indiegogo, GoFUNDme, and Kickstarter. I would strongly suggest choosing from one of the three below because you need to spend your time selling your idea to your network, NOT educating them on how to use a new platform.

The following is a basic breakdown of how to choose between the top three platforms:

a. Indiegogo. You need ALL the money for your project, but it will happen whether or not you receive the full amount.

b. GoFUNDMe. You’re raising funds for a personal project, like sending your kid to camp, a wedding, or to pay for medical expenses.

c. Kickstarter. You need the money to do the project, and you need to know there’s a market for the product or service. Only choose Kickstarter if you’re POSITIVE that you can raise your goal as it is all or nothing.

We chose Kickstarter to run the initial campaign because we knew that it was a platform that a majority of our network had at least heard of, and we wanted to know if there was a market for #ReWriteTheCode (of course, now we know that answer is a resounding yes). The thought process was simple: why would we do a documentary if no one wanted to see it? Kickstarter also offered a great back end that really let us see where our pledges were coming from (over 29% from Twitter) and what the average dollar amount was.

Setting Your Campaign Goal

If there’s one major mistake we made at digitalundivided, it’s that we underestimated the amazingness of our network. We really needed $100,000 to do the documentary, yet we asked for much less ($25,000) (I wrote in Part 1 about the psychology around the language of the “ask” for black women. Read it. It’s fun.)

The importance of setting the correct goal can’t be underestimated. Set too low, and you won’t be able to complete the project; set it too high, and for a platform like Kickstarter, you won’t be able to raise enough.

Set your goal for the base amount you need to do your project plus an additional 20% for other costs and fees. So, if you need $10,000 to do a project, your goal should be $12,000. If you need $20,000, your goal should be $24,000.

How to figure out your campaign goal:

  1. Start with Your Base Goal: This is super important because you need to ask for what you really need, but you also don’t want to overshoot your goal. For a non-celebrity linked service type project, it’s best to err on the side of caution and ask for the lowest amount you actually need. Be realistic and practical. If it involves traveling, do you really need to stay in a Hilton or would a Red Roof Inn work?

2. Then Add Fees (15%-20% of Your Base Amount). Kickstarter is a business. An amazing business (no, really, they’re very good), but a business nonetheless. As a result they charge a number of fees. Add an additional 15%-20% to your campaign goal to cover them. Here’s a short list of the Kickstarter fees:

Kickstarter = 5%
This is the fee Kickstarter charges you for managing your campaign on their platform. You only get charged if your campaign is successful.

Credit Card Processing = 3–5%
This is charged to process credit card card orders, which pretty much includes all orders except for those processed via PayPal.

Bad Pledges = 2–5%
Ok, this isn’t really a fee, but it does impact the amount of $$$ you receive. When people pledge on Kickstarter, their cards are not actually charged until the campaign is successful, which is 30 days later. A lot can happen in 30 days. Our bad pledge rate was actually pretty low — 1%. In a subsequent essay, I will talk about how we managed to keep it so low.

3. Then Add on the Cost of Staff (8% of Base Amount). You’re going to need help. We raised our entire goal in the first 40 hours of the campaign, because we had a team of FOUR people working pretty much around the clock for the first 48 hours of the campaign.

It’s very, very hard to run a successful crowdfunding campaign without help from a team. You will need to follow up on emails, send direct tweets, and do other important outreach, which is impossible for one person to do alone. If you don’t have a team or staff, then look at services like Upwork and Fiverr to hire temporary support staff.

The Video (You Really Have to Do This)

According to Kickstarter, projects with videos get funded more often (50%) than projects without (30%). So, having a video is important. It’s not life or death necessarily, but it can be an important tool in telling the story. Before firing up the old camcorder, read this and this.

On a basic level, your crowdfunding video should cover the following:

● Tell viewers who you are.
● Tell viewers the story behind your project.
● Explain the project and, if possible, show an example of the project.
● Make a direct request for support and explain why they should support the campaign.
● Hype up your rewards.
● Thank them.

DO NOT spend money on a professional video. In fact, you can and should do it yourself. I actually put together the #ReWriteTheCode video using video clips from iStockphoto, music from Vimeo, and iMovie. I’m sure to a trained editor it looks like the video was edited by a six-year-old, but to the general public, it looks like it was edited by Michael Kahn.

Now Go Build Your Network

It is my hope is that series inspires you to start your own campaign. Let’s start a Return on Giving revolution!

Up Next on the How to Win at Kickstarter Series: You Need Money … Not Tweets