A Quick Note You Can Skip (But Maybe You Don’t Want To)
If you like this post you should thank …
David Malnar from Slovenia, Filip Matic, Steve from Hong Kong, Lyubomir Yanchev from Austria, April from China, James McGeedy, Tom Bujok, Jacco Handgraaf, Patriko from Poland, Thomas from France, Fabio Rossi from Italy, Dominik from Germany, Stanley from East Europe, Chris from Barcelona, Nhan Nguyen from Finland
… and everyone else who didn’t leave his name, but who politely, yet repeatedly, asked for a new post about Kickstarter. I even got messages via Facebook, which I hardly ever use! To all the above, I am sending this message:
Ladies and gentlemen, if you are ever in London, please drop me a line. I owe you a drink and a warm thank you in person! You’ve inspired me.
Let me know if I have forgotten anyone, and I’ll add your name to the list. Cheers!
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Kickstarter and crowdfunding. So many questions so little answers
My previous post Kickstarter for Non-UK Companies has been the most popular of the month. I’ve received many questions by email, in the comments, and even on Facebook, although I don’t use the latest very much. It’s inspiring and flattering at the same time, and I feel challenged to reply to every question. Well, challenge accepted!
What are the most important things to know in order to succeed on Kickstarter?
That’s probably the most common question I receive. There are many possible answers, but I like to start from the basics:
target + bloggers
Remember these two words, because they are going to be the pillars of your success, not to mention your obsession in the months to come.
Finding the right ‘target’ (i.e. customer) is important for every business, but due to the short life span of a Kickstarter campaign, you don’t have the luxury to keep trying and failing until you get it right.
‘Bloggers’ are probably the most important channel to advertise your campaign. In this post I’m going to focus on a specific interaction: working with bloggers to find your target/customer. I’ll write more about dealing with bloggers in the next posts.
When I use the word ‘blogger’ I mean both people writing in their own name, and journalists writing for leading online magazines. In the current market they are often the same. Professional journalists are becoming a rare breed, while most writers publish on multiple platforms.
On targets: If everyone loves your product something is wrong
I can’t stress this enough. If everyone loves your project something is wrong and you should seriously think about making some changes. It sounds counterintuitive, but I’ve never seen a business succeeding without a niche customer in mind – at least not a company born in the last 10 years.
Seth Godin describes the need of a niche in his uber famous book the ‘Purple Cow’. I bet you own this already but if not, stop reading this post and go and download the Purple Cow, then come back. Seth’s book is not just good for business, it’s fun too – you’ll love it.
If you think that ‘finding a niche’ sounds a bit academic, I agree and I am going to provide a few practical tips.
Find a customer (just one)
There is a common joke among investors. When we listen to pitches, there is always one or more startups whose typical customers are ‘men and women aged 0 to 99’. They don’t use these exact words, but that’s the hidden truth. In practical terms, they can’t explain their niche target. Guess how many times I’ve seen these startups find investors? You probably already know the answer: zero!
In business a wrong target is better than no target. With a wrong target, you can develop a tailored offer very fast, test it, learn from the feedback and – if it doesn’t work – move on to another target. On the contrary, if ‘everybody’ is your target, you’ll get stuck in product development forever. I know, I made this mistake at the beginning of my career, and – shame on me – a few more times after. Lesson learned!
The issue with Kickstarter is that you don’t have enough time to change target in the middle of a 30 day campaign. There are two main ways to fix this issue, one is traditional and one is bloggers.
How to find the right customer
A traditional but very effective way to find your best target/customers on Kickstarter, is to use – and sometimes abuse – your friends and families months before you start your crowdfunding campaign. Build a model or a mock-up and offer it to friends and family for feedback.
If your product solves an issue for a specific market (eg. restaurants), don’t limit yourself to your friends and family, but go out and talk to local restaurants as well.
Kickstarter is seen as the first step towards developing a product, but that’s wrong. Crowdfunding often works better as the last step of a process. You define your product first, then you use Kickstarter as a great sales channel.
How to test your product the right way
Now go back and read the first paragraph again. I didn’t suggest ‘showing’ your product to friends and family and potential customers. I said ‘offer’ the product. What’s the difference? Let’s ask Tom Cruise in his role as Jerry Maguire for the answer:
Show me the money
Let’s be honest. You show your idea to your friends and your cousins. If the idea sucks, do you think they are going to tell you? If they love the idea, be bold and ask them for money. Even $5 is often enough. Call your offer ‘Early Bird Pricing’ or ‘exclusive pre-order’ or just admit you need the money to achieve your dream. Whichever works best.
Offer them a voucher four times the value they have paid, such as a $20 discount to be used when the product is on the market.
- If they really love the product, they’ll pay.
- If they love the product but don’t need it, they can re-sell the $20 for $15 to another customer (remember to mention this opportunity).
- Or maybe they lied and they think that your product sucks. But at this point they feel obliged to explain why. That’s worth more than the $5 alone.
Win-win-win. Ask for real money and you win every time.
Asking for money from beta testers is more common than you think
There is an interesting course on the internet to help you develop and sell an app – The Foundation. Personally I haven’t taken the course, but I found the idea behind it fascinating. If you develop your app before you get a real paying customer, you are kicked off the course.
This system, like every other system, has its exceptions to the rule. For instance, I don’t think it’s always the best solution for a SaaS startup, but it has its merit. Startup is sales before programming. Think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. They didn’t succeed because of their programming skills. Steve Jobs was not even a programmer.
Find your best customer through bloggers (and a tip develop your own Kickstarter platform)
There is another way of finding your best customer/target on Kickstarter, and it’s contacting bloggers. They are often contacted after the start of a crowdfunding campaign, and that’s a big mistake. When you launch your project, you have just 30 days to succeed. This is not enough time to truly get buddy with someone. Moreover the blogger may be annoyed by the insinuation that you are contacting him just because you need his help.
So you should make a list and start making contacts in advance, in order to promote your product later. And since you are making this list in advance, why don’t you use a blogger to test your idea too?
Tile pre-sold $2.6 million of a product that didn’t exist. They didn’t use Kickstarter but Selfstarter an open source crowdfunding platform. With Selfstarter you can develop your own mini-Kickstarter platform inhouse. In fact these principles are valid for every campaign. Tile was incubated in Tandem Capital, a mobile accelerator in Silicon Valley, and you probably won’t be. But I assure you that they didn’t get such great press solely through the connections of their accelerator. They developed their list months before the launch.
It’s not easy to convince bloggers to help you before you have a product. But if you follow their blog and interact with them, you stand a far better chance. Send them a mockup or a beta, and perhaps promise them an exclusive when the time comes. This won’t work with top journalists, but you don’t need them to start with.
Ryan Holiday, master manipulator (his words not mine) and overseer of American Apparel’s web communication, explains this strategy better than everyone else in Trust me, I’m Lying, another must read for anyone involved with a crowdfunding campaign.
3 Tools to find the right blogger for your product
It’s easy to find a blogger, in fact the problem is that there are too many. So who should you contact first? Personally I use two systems, plus some help from ‘another country’.
Google Blogs Search
The first system is Google Blogs Search (http://www.google.com/blogsearch), one of Google’s least known sub-searches. Put the keywords of your product/market/idea in the search engine, and you’ll get a great list of blogs. The best results are those labeled ‘blog homepage for [keyword]’.
#UPDATE – The portal “Blog Search” above was discontinued in May 2014. However the blog search engine still works. You can access the engine by typing the application for the Blog Search into your browser’s address bar manually:
There is no guarantee that Google will not discontinue this service in the future. If so, I’ll disagree but respect their decision. In the meantime, happy hunting!
Google Images Search
The second system is through Google Images Search (http://www.google.com/imghp), with a little help from Kickstarter itself. As you probably know, when you click the image of the camera in Google Images Search, you can upload a photo from your computer and find any page on the internet showing the same photo.
The trick is simple. Go to Kickstarter and find between 5 and 10 campaigns similar to yours. Download their photos and conduct a search on Google Images. You’ll find every web page on the internet showing the same photos – and generally that means a full list of articles written by bloggers and journalists about them. I’ve never seen a post about a campaign on Kickstarter without one or more photos of the product taken from the project’s Kickstarter page.
Once you have the names of these bloggers it will be easier to engage with them. Firstly because they’ve shown interest in a similar product in the past, there is a good chance that they will be interested in yours.
Secondly, if you’ve read their post about this similar product, you have a great opening line when you contact them. “Hey Joe, I read and enjoyed your post about [old project on Kickstarter] on your blog”. I tend to be honest and don’t flatter the blogger as it will sound unnatural in later conversations. I was born in the Italian mountains and I’ve never lost my grandmother’s straightforward way of talking, but you can use any approach you like. Just be natural.
Search by interests not just by products
Searching for similar projects on Kickstarter doesn’t mean searching only for similar products. It also means similar interests. For instance if you are planning on launching a fantasy game app, you should search for projects with similar products – other gaming apps – as well as for related areas such as fantasy comics, or a fantasy-based card game. Personally as an avid reader of fantasy books and comics, and player of fantasy games such as Warlords Classic or Battle for Wesnoth, I could be a potential backer of either one of them.
But don’t do the research yourself
That’s advice that you have probably read many times already. It’s good advice too. Starting a crowdfunding campaign without a virtual assistant is suicidal. Even if you have time to do everything you need by yourself (and you don’t), there are always extra activities that are useful even if not mandatory. Do you have an extra hour a day? Go on Facebook and chat with your friends about your project. Go to a meet-up on augmented reality if you are launching an app for Google Glass. Time is never enough.
Kickstarter can be very tricky. Even if you do everything you need to, you can still fail. Personally I have used freelancer website oDesk for years, and I never regret the few dollars per hour spent there. But you can use any website you like, including Elance (now merging with oDesk), Freelancer, or, if you are in the US, a website specializing in US assistance such as Zirtual. I’m especially fond of Zirtual because it’s a startup accelerated by the Founder Institute, where I mentor from time to time. Having said that living in Europe means I don’t use it that much.
Update: Templates and tools for Kickstarter
If you are into templates like me, you can find them in the Kickstarter UK Handbook, together with 30+ case studies. Originally we wrote this manual for our own startups, but it’s an Amazon Bestseller. You can download the ebook here »
In the meantime, feel free to ask any question in the comments or–even better–add your experiences and your suggestions. I would love to hear from you.