I recently ran a successful crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter. I've compiled a list of 10 key lessons I learned from the process, hopefully you will find them useful if you are about to embark on a similar journey. While I've focussed on the Kickstarter platform, most of the below points are equally applicable to other reward-based crowd-funding platforms (Pozible, Indiegogo, etc) - and they are generally relevant to product launches.
1) Start building a crowd today
Start building your crowd early - in particular if you are a new start-up with no existing customer base or supporters. If you decide to rely on social media in doing this (which most probably you will have to), don't just focus on one platform. Just because you may use Facebook rather than Twitter or Instagram, this doesn't mean that your target market does as well. So unless there is an obvious connection between your product and a particular social media platform, start building a presence across a number of different platforms to ensure you are reaching as broad a market as possible (you may want to research typical demographics associated with different platforms, and how these may relate to your market).
Start early, as you want to start engaging with supporters and prospective customers several months ahead of your launch date. This may mean investing a little money in Facebook advertising (using the magic of its targeting tools...), or identifying existing Facebook groups that are likely to be interested in what you are doing. On Twitter, start researching which hashtags most resonate with your target audience. Consider a 'social media calendar' of up-coming events which you can latch on to in your PR activity. Use followerwonk.com to identify journalists, editors or bloggers on Twitter, and try to build a rapport through Twitter (consider the ratio of emails to direct tweets they probably receive...). If you are fortunate enough to have a product which can be used to create beautiful images, or can think of creative ways to generate appealing media out of your product, get active on Instagram and Pinterest. Pinterest is better suited to driving traffic to your website and ultimately sales, whereas Instagram is perhaps more of a brand building tool - though if used judiciously can create a lot of leads as well.
One strategy I used to good effect was to post different designs of our product on our Facebook page, and prompt our followers to 'vote' on their favourite design by liking it - and also committing to making whichever design ended up with the most likes. This drives engagement and involves people in your 'maker' journey, and they will be more likely to support you when your campaign goes live. What's more, when your campaign is up and running you can drive Kickstarters to your Facebook page by posting a link to your 'voting' post on your campaign page.
2) Do your research
Read crowd-funding forums, do lots of online research and speak to others who have been through the process of running a campaign. If you don't know anyone and can't get introduced, try searching for groups and forums and you should be able to track down people willing to share their experience. You'll naturally be drawn to others who have completed successful campaigns, but I'd suggest it's just as important to pick the brains of those who have failed, you'll often get more valuable insights from them, and chances are they will be less busy and more available! In fact, the problem with very successful campaigns is that they get so many pledges, it becomes quite hard to identify which particular strategies worked well and which didn't (even with the use of clever tracking technology like bit.ly links). On the other hand, a struggling campaign will get fewer pledges, and therefore have better visibility on which activities had an impact and which didn't. With our campaign for instance, we had one period of about five days with practically no pledges. The silver lining was that this enabled us to understand that the PR and marketing activities we had on the go at that point in time were not working.
3) Invest $30 and ask other campaigns for tips
Identify other live campaigns (preferably with something in common with yours, like same city or same product category), make a $1 pledge to each, and then ask the creators of each to share a tip or an insight they wish they'd known before they launched, in exchange of your support. Your $1 bid is retractable, so if you don't get a response you can always reverse it if you're worried about that... Do this thirty times, it will cost you $30 and less than half a day's work, but will provide you with a lot of invaluable insights. What's more, if you message them again later, after you've launched your campaign, most will probably pledge you $1 back anyway!
4) Know the rules
Read the Kickstarter rules and FAQs in detail. Don't get taken by surprise by something after you've launched. For instance, we didn't fully appreciate that photorealistic renders were not allowed to be used on Kickstarter (they are however permitted on other platforms). The reason for this presumably is to prevent campaigns from misleading unsuspecting backers that a computer-designed mock-up of a product is the actual finished product. As we only found this out at the last minute, it had quite a big impact on how we were planning to present our product and what media we could use on our Kickstarter page. If we'd made ourselves aware of this rule earlier, we probably would have put together a better campaign page.
5) Launch early, don't postpone
Notwithstanding the other tips here about getting things done before you launch - launch earlier rather than later! Don't wait until everything is perfect with the product or technology and its presentation, until you have all the features in place, sometimes you just need to move quickly and get feedback and validation from your target market through the campaign.
6) You're fund-raising... but everybody wants your money
Be prepared for all the service providers to come out of the woodwork once you've launched. This happened from day one with us, and averaged at least one a day, and increased once we started getting press coverage. Services range from PR to tax to social media to logistics to manufacturing to 3D design - and more. Some of these could be really useful to your campaign, others not - and some are just trying to take advantage of you... A certain amount of common sense and due diligence is required, and again, speak to others who've been through the process and read crowd-funding forums.
Some will offer to send out a press release on your behalf to thousands of journalists for a fee, others will offer to share your campaign with 10,000 Facebook followers. In my opinion these types of promotional services won't work: in all cases, you need to work out the value you get from additional exposure if it's just being done repeatedly alongside other campaigns, day in day out.
7) Use backer communities
Crowd-funding communities like backerclub.co and backershub.com can work well. They tend to work by building a community of crowd-funding enthusiasts (typically people who've backed a large number of projects), and then charging a project to get 'promoted' within their group. It may sound dubious, but the ones I worked with seemed to be legit (insofar as their membership genuinely appeared to be high volume backers and Kickstarter enthusiasts). Obviously if your product is a dud and you're not attracting any backers, paying for additional promotion isn't going to fix your problem. However if you have a project already attracting some decent interest but need a boost to get closer to your target, this can be a good way of reaching those additional backers.
For what it's worth, I found Backer Club to be quite professional, and they offer a money-back guarantee, whereas BackersHub came across as somewhat poorly managed and very bad with communication - but ultimately both paid for themselves in terms of the additional backers they introduced to our campaign. Bear in mind though that the logic of 'payback' on your marketing spend can lead you down a slippery financial slope, because paying $200 to achieve an additional $250 worth of pledges sounds like a win, but if you keep making these types of call you risk successfully hitting your funding target but falling way short of the cash you originally needed once all the bills are settled!
8) Have a strategy
Try to think strategically about what you are trying to achieve through your campaign - as this will vary for different campaigns, and is not necessarily only about raising cash. Are you trying to maximise pre-sales of your product? Are you trying to validate the market for your product? Are you trying to better identify the market for your product? Are you trying to build brand awareness? Are you trying to target early-adopters? This process is important, and will help define your marketing and PR strategies. For instance, if you are trying to validate a market or better identify it, a strategy in which you mainly target friends and family in order to get you over the line isn't properly aligned with your objective.
9) A video paints a thousand pictures
A general rule when trying to engage with your supporters or customers, and in particular through social media, is multimedia content is better than text. So whether you're posting an update on the Kickstarter page, or posting a Facebook or Twitter update, always try to use an image or video where possible. For this reason, plan ahead and try to build a library of media in advance. Some things you might consider preparing ahead of your campaign would be, for example, photos of you holding up a sign saying 'thank you kickstarters, X% funded' with different funding levels, edits / teasers from your main Kickstarter video, interviews with customers, founders or staff, etc. The point is, you can start thinking and planning these components of your comms ahead of time, and thereby remove some of the pressure on your time from when your campaign is live. And remember, one piece of content can (and should) be recycled through multiple platforms (Kickstarter, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, etc).
A point to bear in mind with Facebook though is when posting an update with a link to your Kickstarter page, Facebook will assume you are linking to the campaign video and so users will be directed to watching your video as a piece of content, rather than redirected to your Kickstarter page. This can be problematic, as you want to make people click through to the page and make a pledge, rather than just watch a video. For that reason it makes a lot of sense to be explicit about your call-to-action in your post, and direct people to click through on the hyperlink in your text and not just hit play on the embedded video! If you're considering using Facebook advertising, there are similar challenges with using their 'Call to action' functionality when linking to a Kickstarter page.
The first is written by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, and so unsurprisingly focuses on efficient ways to run a campaign and applying the 80/20 principle to the effort you put in to it. It's well worth a read.
The second piece is a well researched and written case study of the ZPM Espresso campaign. It sounds almost unbelievable that two guys starting out with a project to deliver a coffee machine by raising $20,000, ultimately go on to raise over $1 million, yet still run out of money and are unable to deliver anything. But the article examines to what extent the creators are to blame (through their own naivety and poor execution) and to what extent others are (by exploiting the creators). It highlights a lot of the challenges in delivering a crowd-funded product, and is a sobering read for anyone planning to launch a campaign and manufacture a product.
Bonus tip: if you download the Kickstarter app, be sure to adjust the notification settings on your phone so that it's not lighting up every time you receive a pledge or comment. Otherwise you'll find yourself checking the home screen every few hours when you're lying in bed... It's too tempting to do, and either will result in insomnia either because you're stressed you're not getting enough pledges, or because you're too excited by how many pledges you're getting!
What next? I'm always happy to assist with other people's crowd-funding campaigns, so please contact me if you have any questions about the process and I'll try to answer them as best I can!
If you require someone to help run your campaign for you, I occasionally do this, typically in exchange for a success fee (a small share of the amount raised if successful).