Since I see a few of these cautionary tales every now and again, I figured I might as well talk about my own experience with Kickstarter. I’ll break it down into what I did, and what I should have done. Hopefully this will help some of you out there avoid some of the pitfalls 🙂 Also, I should say I think Kickstarter is a life changing service, and it is launching all kinds of great stuff all the time. If you have something you are trying to get off the ground, it’s definitely something I would look into.
I’d been a graphic designer for a few years, putting in time on a couple of web comics and working for t-shirt shops and the like. In my younger years, I did a lot of table top role playing, still do by the way, and had fun hacking apart systems into home brews (this is designing new rules for games, just in case you didn’t know). I had amassed a lot of notes along the way, with essentially having a book written, minus formatting and layout. So in 2013, in between jobs and having eyeballed Kickstarter for a while, I decided to take the plunge.
Step 1 – The Product.
What I should have done: As the writer, artist, layout designer, and every other guy in the process, I should have had every single part of it done before launch. I had the ability to, minus editing. Before going to the world with it, it should have been as perfect as I thought it could be.
What I did: Most of it. I needed to finish the art, and this was a big step. So when the project hit its goal, I pretty much did nothing for that month but draw. While I’m happy the book is published, I can see some of the sacrifices I made for lack of time. So the moral: Have your shit in order before you start.
Step 2 – The Kickstarter Page.
What I should have done: Gotten all the project info in concise order, with a short but catchy video that would act as a call to action for the Kickstarter.
What I did: I’m actually pretty happy with my Kickstarter page, being what it was. My next one will be different, you definitely learn as you go. My video on the other hand was a complete train wreck. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking there. Don’t do that.
Step 3 – The Pledge Levels & Goal.
What I should have done: Priced according to the rough market standard for the pledge levels, giving backers a nice discount, and set a goal that would cover all expenses.
What I did: Not a single one of those things. I still can’t believe how well I screwed myself here. Now the goal set aside, my biggest mistake was the pledge levels. I pretty much priced everything at cost, leaving no room to pay myself at the end of it. By the time I was done shipping, I had come out of pocket almost what the project made. All of this because I had assumed me being unknown meant my product had less value. This thought process ultimately killed the entire project, which I will get into later.
Step 4 – Spreading The Word.
What I should have done: Have a social presence well before hand, with preview material out and people already aware of what I was doing. Then, follow up with meaningful updates to help spread the word naturally, hopefully getting people excited and spreading the word themselves.
What I did: Learned the dark arts necessary to transmogrify my mouth into an asshole and spew shit in every direction possible. This isn’t to say I had a toxic attitude, or was being mean. I was posting about this thing damn near every day. People were bitching at me, un-circling and un-friending me almost as constantly as I was adding people. I did this completely backwards and made an ass out of myself. It’s easy to get lost in your own excitement sometimes.
Step 5 – The Follow Through.
What I should have done: Had everything set up through a printer, and then move product to a distribution company for fulfillment. Essentially sign the check and push the button.
What I did: ha ha HA HA! I bought a fucking printer and book binder! Now in my defense, I had never been on the physical production side of publishing. I’ll wait for you to stop laughing… okay. I actually printed and bound about a third of the books before turning it over to Drive Thru RPG. It was definitely a learning process.
Now I’ll touch on the pledge levels. MAKE SURE YOU PRICE IT RIGHT. You will hear a lot of warnings out there about shipping costs killing projects. I’m the proof. The reason I bring this up is because I worked hard to get the last few out, some of which were late. This didn’t need to happen, and it’s only MY fault. In this case I added freebies to the project as a way to ease backers minds. Make sure you follow through for them, and communicate what is going on to them. These are all people invested in your dream!
You should take one thing away from all of this: My success is proof you can do this. I’m proud as hell of the product I put out, but I truly think I managed to fail towards success on Kickstarter, if that makes any sense. There are some great people on there who want you to succeed, 170 of them found me.
Since then I’ve stepped away from that specific project. Undervaluing myself was something that carried over to Drive Thru RPG, which is what ultimately killed the whole thing. I opened on that site for $1.00, which is completely stupid for a new product around 120 pages. Pricing even roughly what other similar products were at would’ve meant thousands of dollars difference in sales, which in turn could have enabled me to continue working on it. I even got a review saying they almost didn’t look at it at all because of the price.
This ultimately meant I had no time or money for any of the additional Division setting source books, because I had to return to work so I could ensure everything was delivered. By the time it was all said and done, the whole thing left me so mentally, emotionally, and financially drained that I had a hard time returning to it. This became me taking an overly long break from the business I just got into.
There is plenty of good that came out of it though. I met a ton of great people through the process, and found a lot of places on the net to talk about my hobby. It’s staggering how much I learned, and that carried over to the new stuff I’m currently work on. It was a memorable moment in my life, one I don’t regret for a second. Hope this helps you out there, keep making stuff:)