From November 2 to December 14, 2011, we had a Kickstarter campaign. We raised $17,516 from it. I promised to write a post about what we learned from the project once it was over. I suppose technically that does mean I have until I die to write it, but even so it’s about a year late at this point. So, uh, ahem. Let’s get down to work.
I have to start with the caveat that Kickstarter has grown, a lot, in the past year. Their 2012 year in review has some interesting information and projects, but suffice to say I’m willing to bet that you’ve all heard of Kickstarter before (if you haven’t here’s their FAQ). When we ran our project this wasn’t the case, which was both good and bad. There have been changes both to its users and the structure of the site since our project.
Many people have Kickstarter fatigue now. If you want to fund a brewery (or any other project), you aren’t going to get backers for the novelty factor. The first brewery funded on Kickstarter got backers from all over the country because they were the first brewery funded on Kickstarter. Even by the time we got to the scene a lot of the magic was gone. I’m pretty sure nobody backed us who didn’t live in Buffalo or know us personally. On top of fatigue, chances are that anyone who’s backed a decent number of projects has been disappointed by the results at least once, so you’re going to have to do a lot more work to justify why you deserve someone’s Kickstarter budget.
On the flip side, Kickstarter has gone mainstream now, so you will hopefully not have to spend half your promotion time explaining what the website is, that no, they aren’t “investing” in you and that just because you aren’t going to banks doesn’t mean you’re looking for handouts without being a real business. Buffalo Rising articles about Buffalo Kickstarters exemplified the internet’s mantra of “don’t read the comments.”
Kickstarter itself has changed a lot in the past year. We came in just as they started to implement the “estimated delivery” section of rewards, and they have since added more. Projects now have to explain their potential hurdles (albeit not with any real oversight, as most of the ones I’ve seen boil down to “maybe we won’t get the money and that would be sad”), are prohibited from selling of multiples of items and are otherwise tried to dissuade projects from being seen as a storefront.
As an aside, I think that Kickstarter has utterly failed to prevent projects from being storefronts: the board game section in particular is, by and large, a fancy preorder system. Established publishers are raking in money hand over fist when — and I’m about to sound like a BRO commenter, I know — they should by now have established cash flows to replace this sort of thing. People have asked me if we would do another Kickstarter, and even if it had been the easiest thing in the world to do my answer would still be no, because that is not what Kickstarter is for. Kickstarter is not your internet money machine. It is for helping small projects and businesses get started. To kickstart them, if you will. We have been kickstarted. We are going.
Of course, I’m not the ultimate arbiter of what Kickstarter is. Someone commented on BRO’s Lloyd article that Kickstarter should only be used for nonprofits, and that’s obviously wrong, so take my word as nothing more than a guy who spends more money than he should on the site.
What you need to know going in
Kickstarter is not your ATM. You can make money — quite a lot of money depending on what your product is — but you have to work for it.
There are two types of Kickstarter projects: ones that have a local appeal — us, Lloyd’s, the WNY Book Arts Center — and ones that offer a cool product that people want, like the Pebble watch or Bones miniatures. Know your audience, because it will determine how you should focus your campaign and funding goal accordingly. If you’re a farming cooperative people are going to help you because they want to help your cause, and maybe get something cool in return. If you’re selling a wheelbarrow full of minis for a hundred bucks then there is pretty much no limit to how many people will be interested or where they come from.
As I said, our project was comprised of two overlapping groups: people who lived in Buffalo and people we knew. I wasn’t expecting to raise a million dollars from our campaign, which is good because we wouldn’t have. Make your goal attainable, because if you get $50,000 but asked for $55,000 then you get nothing. You lose. Good day, sir. As an example, see Rogness Brewing, who didn’t even raise $9,500 of their $60,000 goal and then tried again and got slightly more than the $12,000 they asked for.
“Slightly over” is very, very important. When breweries get funded, it’s not by much more than they asked for. This is because backers want the project to succeed, and when it has they dust off their hands and consider it a job well done. When the Reaper Bones got funded they’d toss in a few halflings, which made the package more appealing, bringing in more backers and more money, leading to more halflings. It created its own perpetual motion (and money) machine.
Breweries are not miniatures or watches: ask for what you think you can get, and not much more.
Two points about that statement:
- Yes, I said “what you can get” and not “what you need.” That’s not cynicism: breweries are made of shiny metal objects that have to keep large quantities of liquids at very specific temperatures and pressures. It cost much more than $17,516 (minus Kickstarter and Amazon Payment fees) to start our brewery. Hell, due to an unforeseen complication our entire project essentially paid for a water pipe.
- I’m not making fun of miniatures, the people who buy them, or halflings. I know so much about the Bones project because I backed it (once they had added enough halflings). I play a halfling rogue in a play-by-forum Pathfinder game. Some of my best friends are halflings. Nobody’s talking smack about halflings.
Other things we learned the hard way: you can’t give away beer as a reward. That’s why there were no “growler and a free fill” rewards. Similarly, you can’t give away discounts: we thought $2 off a growler once a month for a year would have been cool. Even better, one reward was initially structured as giving you a free keg every time the Sabres win the Stanley Cup. We were really sad about cutting that one.
Call me Peter Jackson, because this post is long enough it needs to be split in two. More next week or the week after, depending on any potential breaking news.