I recently finished my fifth successful Kickstarter campaign so I thought it might be a good idea to share some of the things I've learned along the way. If you've ever thought of using the platform -- especially for smallish projects like mine (around $5,000) -- here are seven tips for you:
1. Embrace the all-or-nothing philosophy
The way Kickstarter works is that you create a page describing an idea (usually a product that you want to make) and then you also set a goal for how much it would cost you to turn that idea into a reality. People are then given the opportunity to pledge their support for your project over a specified amount of time (usually around 30 days) without actually getting charged any money. If enough people pledge so that the goal is reached by the end of the specified time, everyone gets charged, you get the money, and then you are responsible for creating your product and sending it to those who pledged for it. If the goal is not reached, no one gets charged and therefore nothing is lost. This is different from other fundraising sites where you get to keep whatever amount is raised. Although you might be tempted to think that the keep-what-you-raise method is better, the Kickstarter model is actually best for everyone involved. It helps creators avoid getting in over their head and making a commitment that they cannot keep. So embrace the model and be ready to work hard to reach your goal.
2. Set your goal very carefully
The worst thing you can do is set your goal too high. Don't ask for any more money than is actually needed in order to get the job done. If you luck out and end up earning more than your goal, that's great (because you do get to keep everything you earn above your goal) but don't pin your hopes on earning that extra amount.
On the other hand, don't set your goal too low either. You don't want to be put in a position where the project is deemed successful but you don't actually end up with enough funds for follow-through. Make sure you budget for everything, including shipping and Kickstarter's fees (about 8%).
A project can usually be successful at various levels. With that in mind, set your goal based on the lowest possible level of success. So, let's say that for $4000 you can make 250 gadgets, for $1000 you can make 50, but for $500 you can't make any. Then set your goal for $1000. That way, you'll be guaranteed to make some gadgets no matter what. If you end up raising $4000, even better, but it's not actually necessary.
The reason this is important is because of Kickstarter's ranking algorithm. You want your project to rank as high as possible in its category/subcategory (which you should also select carefully) so that more people see it. Generally, a project at $900 of a $1000 goal will rank higher than one at $900 of a $4000 goal. Remember, you'll not only be reaching out to your existing contacts but you'll also be introducing yourself to a large community of people who like to back small projects. But they'll only back your project if they see it (for my projects, about 1/3 of the funding usually comes from Kickstarter users and about 2/3 from my own contacts).
3. Give as much detail as you can
The second worst mistake you can make (the first being to set an outrageously high goal) is to list a project that is extremely vague or confusing. When you're describing your project to people, you need to convince them of two things: (1) that you're realistic when it comes to what you hope to achieve and (2) that you know what you're doing. So the more details you can give, the better.
Some creators claim that making a video is a must but so far, I've had two successful campaigns without videos. My feeling is that a poorly made video is worse than no video at all and that good photos of the product can often be enough. That being said, having a video will likely increase your chances of being selected as one of Kickstarter's "Projects we Love", so by all means, if you're able to make a good video, do it!
4. Have a wide range of reward levels
At the bare minimum, you need 3 reward levels. You need a small one ($1 - $5), a main one, and a "luxury" one. The main one will basically be one copy of the product you are making. But it's important to have a smaller level reward too (for reasons I will describe under the next point). This could be something like a postcard, bookmark, or sticker -- it should be cheap and easy to mail and related to whatever the main reward is.
But it's also important to have some sort of extra special reward level for those who want to pledge more than the main amount. This could be a better version of the main product or the main product plus something special that you'll add only for those who pledge at the higher level. You can even set a limit on how many of these "luxury" rewards will be given out so that that reward level becomes even more exclusive. But don't go overboard. As mentioned earlier, be realistic. Nothing screams desperate and silly like a $15,000 reward level in which you promise to fly out and give the backer a hug.
5. Prepare for an awesome Day 1
Earlier I talked about Kickstarter's algorithm and the importance of ranking well so that your project will be seen. Well, one of the best ways to ensure a good ranking is to have an awesome Day 1. What I've found is that the total number of backers you get is often more important than the actual dollar amount you raise. In other words, getting 10 people to back you at $1 will actually rank you higher than getting 1 person to back you at $20. This is where you can get your friends to help. Tell them about your campaign before you launch and have them ready and waiting to support you on Day 1. Explain to them that even small pledges help a great deal (and, as mentioned above, have a cool reward available for just a few bucks).
You can also offer an early bird reward. This is basically your main reward at a slightly lower price and with a limited number available. This will help you get some initial pledges so that your project will start climbing in the rankings.
6. Ignore the spam
As soon as you launch, your message box will be flooded with offers from third parties to help you promote your project (for a price). These are almost always a waste of time and money, especially for small projects. The only exception to this is when another small creator writes you directly and suggests some sort of cross-promotion. I usually consider these, especially if the individual writes a personal message and the two projects are similar in size.
7. Develop a long-term relationship with your backers
Don't see your Kickstarter project as a one-shot thing. Even if you fail the first time, you haven't failed completely. You likely have at least made some useful contacts and there's nothing preventing you from correcting a few mistakes and trying again. And if you are successful, then congratulations! Not only are you able to bring to life your idea, you also now have a group of individuals who like what you do and will probably be interested in future projects as well. Update those people about once a week during the campaign and then occasionally after that. Think long-term, slow growth, not get-rich-quick!
Anyhow, I hope these tips have been helpful. As someone who runs a small poster company, Kickstarter has been great for me because it allows me to raise the funds to do a large print-run and then use the extra stock for future sales.
UPDATE: October 26, 2017:
I recently finished a sixth successful campaign and thought I'd add two more tips. Both are related to the fact that Kickstarter is a community and being a active part of that community is the best way to succeed.
8. Back other projects
It is extremely helpful to see what it's like on the other side of things. In fact, I highly recommend backing one or two projects before you launch your own. Not only does it look good, it will help you better understand the process.
9. Chat with other Creators
Do a search for live projects that are related to yours and are of a similar size (but ideally are located in a different category). Support those projects, even if it's just $1, and reach out to the creator to see if they are interested in cross promoting. If they are an experienced creator, ask them for advice.