Kickstarter Success? Fall In Love With Your Idea!
COW Library : Crowdfunding : Jeff Chow : Kickstarter Success? Fall In Love With Your Idea!
You may already know the highly regarded CTRL+Console app that enables your iPad to work as a control surface for Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro 7 and X, and others. It offers a jog shuttle wheel and a number of specific buttons, shortcuts, and options that you'd expect to see on a hardware control surface. Because it's an iPad app that interfaces with your computer wirelessly, it works equally well for controlling Macs and PCs.
What sets it apart, though, is a mode that allows multi-finger gestures -- for example, jogging and shuttling with swipes that move across the entire iPad, rather than being constrained to the visual representation of the wheel. More than just control, though, it enables a wide range of other editing features that will enable many creators to do much of their work without taking their eyes off their monitors.
Developer Jeff Chow isn't a software guy, but a creative professional who found he could build a gestural interface more quickly than he could internalize 20 page of keyboard shortcuts. That's the story of many folks in Creative COW in general: there are problems that have existed for a very long time, and to solve them requires unexpected shifts in thinking.
As Jeff puts it, "Keyboards were invented for typing, not video editing." An obvious enough observation, but quite rarely stated, and with few palatable, or actually useful, solutions available. The source of this one is an artist who found it easier to figure out coding than figuring out an NLE, and coming up with something that works really, really well.
CTRL+Console: creativity unleashed LIVE ON KICKSTARTER
That's a pretty cool story on its own, and people have been praising CTRL+Console since it arrived in 2013. But this story isn't about that.
We crossed paths with the folks at CTRL+Console again recently, and were reminded that before the app was released, it was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign. As the first wave of crowdfunding successes has passed, though, one thing that's becoming increasingly clear is that crowdfunding campaigns are a lot of work. Maybe even more work than traditional fundraising, certainly on the set-up side.
The upside is that the potential audience for crowdfunding backers is worldwide, but your story has to be in much better shape. Your rich uncle might take your word for it that you can do this thing, whatever it is, based on what he's learned about you from your entire life. But for strangers? It's all about your ability to suck them in with your vision. The basis for their financial investment is their personal investment in your success. They're going to need persuading to care, or they're not going to open their virtual wallets...
Jeff's story provides that crucial perspective, with one more insight to add. The first customer for your pitch is YOU. If you're willing to walk away from the project and do something else with your time if funding doesn't pan out, you're probably on the wrong track already. Fall in love with your idea first. Then do the hard work to give other people a reason to fall in love with it too.
Unlike me just talking about it, Jeff has actually done it. We think you'll enjoy his story, and hope it will help you on your own campaigns.
Tim Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
The finished product. Click for larger.
Let me start by saying that crowdfunding is hard work and anyone who says it isn't probably hasn't done a campaign. Sites like Kickstarter aren't mystical lands full of people lining up to throw money at you. If anything, they're a crazy rollercoaster you have to push uphill at random intervals to get to the prize at the end. The magic in crowdfunding happens when you motivate a community and THEY help you push. Get that to happen and it's possible to run a campaign that raises over $41,000 – from bed, with a small network, on your own, with minimal funds. I know, because that's what I did.
After my campaign launched, I got pretty sick and spent the better part of a month laid up in bed. That meant I had to be very strategic about my time and energy. I want to share what I learned on my my Kickstarter for CTRL+Console because lately I've seen a lot of campaigns, especially in film, that I'd call "zombies" – online and live for the world to see, but dead in their tracks. I'm hoping some of what I learned will help others get the traction they need. Whether it's a film project, new hardware, or a frying pan with a sword hilt (it really does exist), here's twelve tips to improve your odds of a runaway campaign.
BEFORE YOU LAUNCH: FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR IDEA
All good things start with an idea. My path to crowdfunding started with a dream job for General Mills. The problem? I was a photographer by trade and only had 3 weeks to shoot, edit and deliver a series of videos. The kicker was the fact that I'd never shot a professional video, let alone used editing software.
I didn't have time to learn in the traditional way. So, I built an interface that turned my iPad into an easier & faster way for me to edit. That prototype allowed me to deliver on time and it wasn't long before I realized other editors and creatives could use it, too. The idea of blending tech and art into a company that helped people sounded like a slice of heaven.
Yup. I fell hard for the product and its potential (read: obsessed). Whatever your idea is, don't even think of crowdfunding unless you are truly passionate about it because you will need to give a lot of time, love, and resources to make it grow.
TIP: If you can walk away from an idea, you should. Wait for an idea you can't leave behind.
A gut feeling is important but your gut can be wrong. Start vetting an idea/product early. Feedback can help identify consumer needs, fresh perspectives, and show if you're on the right path. I started small by sharing the prototype (read: baby) with friends and associates. Then shopped it around to strangers at film fests.
When hunting feedback it's key to talk to people in your target audience that you DON'T know and tell them to be brutallyhonestwith you. If your idea/product is getting lots of love – Awesome! Keep going. If not, seriously consider rebooting it.
TIP: Ask questions you're afraid of the answers to. Hunt the truth at all costs.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
60% of Kickstarters fail, but that also means nearly half of projects will hit their goal (blind informed optimism is good!). If you want to win, it's time to do some research. I spent a month prepping and still I wish I'd done more.
Check out any similar projects. Watch as many videos as you can stand (winners and losers). See what soared and what tanked. Read as much as you can on tips and tricks for making a killer project. Find people who've done it before, either one on on or via crowdfunding support groups. And, make sure you spend time researching best practices for rewards...like the fact that $20-30 rewards are typically the most popular and campaigns with them are WAY more likely to hit their goal. (Our $35 reward hooked 514 of our 888 backers.).
It'll be complete information overload, but all of this data gathering will help.
TIP: It's best to launch on a Monday or Tuesday morning. (Wish I'd known that. I launched on a Thursday night.)
Do your homework and crunch some numbers
CRUNCH SOME NUMBERS
Price things out and get a baseline budget. Set your goal to the minimum you think you can actually deliver and then consider adding to that amount because there WILL be unexpected costs. Also, you may have expenses before you have funds. If so, are you ready for those? Ideally, you'll find partners who'll work with you or risk partial-payment if your project doesn't fund.
TIP: Consider adding a 10-20% buffer to your budget for unexpected costs because, let's be totally honest, there will be some.
AUTOMATE & ACCELERATE
I HATE doing redundant tasks. They're a waste of precious time. Do yourself a favor and automate as much of the process as possible (for email, social media, t-shirt printing, distribution, tracking orders, maybe even get a U.S. based "virtual assistant" with Zirtual). I hardwired some solutions of my own, but these days there are great tools you can use right out of the box.
TIP: Here are a few (of many) blogs that include resources that can help.
18 Kickstarter Tips You Won't Find Anywhere Else
Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days
13 DIY Crowdfunding Tools For a Successful Campaign (Please ignore #4 - iMovie)
Art of the Kickstart Podcast
TURN ON THAT KICKSTARTER
Now it's time to dive head first into your very own campaign. Whether you have a hugely successful campaign or are fighting to cross the finish line, things are going to get crazy for about 30 days. So buckle your seatbelt and enjoy the ride.
SHARE. SHARE. SHARE.
Tell as many people as you can about your project. Everyone you talk to is an opportunity to expand your network, but get smart about your outreach: identify influencers, create groups for specific messaging (friends, influencers, acquaintances, media).
Forget about protecting your idea. No matter how good you think it is, it's highly unlikely that someone will steal it. Plus, keeping quiet is the surest way to kill your Kickstarter.
Once you're live, every backers is a chance to vastly expand your network and reach. Midway through the raise ask current backers if they want the project to succeed (they do) and if they do (yes again), to share it with their network and their favorite media. I also recommend creating mini-goals that are easier to attain on a weekly basis to keep momentum up.
TIP: Know who the major online influencers are in your network by using sites like Klout.
STORY IS KING...AND QUEEN
Fortunately, if you're in filmmaking, you understand the power of story. That will help a lot. A good video is one of your greatest assets. Tell a story where emotion and connection are balanced with product and purpose. It may be hard to step in front of the camera, but remember that YOU are as much a part of the story as the product.
Keep it simple. Get to the bare bones of your messaging. For CTRL+Console I ended up shooting two Kickstarter videos. The first, my "big" idea, never made it out of post. I regrouped and shot a second video that was just me and CTRL+Console in my basement. It focused on 4 things: My founder story, the problem, the product, and vision. It's simplicity was a HUGE part of our success.
TIP: Be real. Be you. Authenticity is crazy important. They'll love you and your project more for it.
A closer look at CTRL+Console's gestural interface: Edit video on your iPad with Gesture control! An awesomely fast way to edit.
You're building a shared identity. You + Project + Backers = Awesome. People want to be PART of something bigger, so give them that chance. Do you know what makes your ideal audience tick? Why do they want your film/music/gizmo? What do you stand for? Once you know the answers to those questions, you'll be in a position to inspire and mobilize.
Photo of shirts
Carry that identity knowledge through everything: messaging, rewards, updates, social media and keep enchanting your community! I gave a lot of thought on to how I could connected the dots between CTRL+Console's ethos and my ideal backers. "We" is one of my favorite words and I invited people into our vision: We unleash creativity; We empower creatives; We value art, design, and wild ideas: We are storytellers.
I AM A STORYTELLER wallpaper
*TIP: I definitely recommend Guy Kawasaki's book Creating Enchantment. Read it. Twice.
MARKETING THE DREAM
Today Kickstarter may have passed the billion dollar mark in pledges but most campaigns have to fight to cross the finish line. The good news: 30% of our backers came from the Kickstarter community (and that's average) but that still leaves 60-70% of backer capture up to you!
Come ready to do battle: Prep your network, build your lists (friends, family, associates, media, trendsetters, etc), have press releases ready, set up your social media before you launch. Then: Push. Push. Go. Go. Mobilize.
You're building a community...now be sure you empower them to help the cause. I didn't have the bandwidth to do all my own marketing, and a lot of our momentum came from my backers. With their help, CTRL+Console was featured on Mashable. That one article was HUGE for us.
TIP: Get help. If I could do it again, I'd budget funds (and savvy friends) to help with PR.
Get help getting your information out there.
Getting funded is where the real fun begins! This is where the rubber hits the road. I have a few tips to help you stay on track and in the in good graces of your hungry-for-product backers.
MAKE THINGS HAPPEN
After you take a brief rest to recover from the chaos of crowdfunding, it's time to dig in. The name of the game is "execute." Don't delay! If you haven't already made a Roadmap that outlines how you will deliver your product, get to it pronto!
Start building ASAP because things always take longer than you think. Break your project down into small pieces and set goals every single week. Those smaller chunks are easier to face and will get you closer to the finish line. Also, get feedback along the way. Keep asking questions and validating your assumptions!
Have confidence in your success!
TIP: Build a Roadmap for how you will deliver. Have actionable goals and actual deadlines. Modify as necessary and refer to it often. The Roadmap is your friend.
LINES OF COMMUNICATION
It's easy to lose track of things when you're in "go mode" but don't forget about who got you this far. Keep your backers in the loop. They know you pretty well now (they're practically family), so keep it real. Share the ups and downs. Show clips, photos, bug reports, even your haikou of the day. Just stay in touch.
If things aren't going well, share that too. Honestly, these awesome people are rooting for you. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was apologize for the fact that our Lightroom interfaces are on a serious delay. I was terrified of letting them down, but my backers were overwhelmingly supportive.
Along with a great love for nature (he hiked all 2,169 miles of the Appalachian Trail for Backpacker), Jeff has spent his adult life marrying a love of tech to his love of art.