A good friend asked me for some notes and advice about my crowdfunding experience. This is what I sent.
Crowdfunding changed my life. Really. Almost three years ago, in August of 2012, I launched (what I thought would be) a small Kickstarter campaign. I wanted to do something pretty straightforward and simple. Design and build a robot that could climb a string. Seems easy enough, right? I had an established community that was interested in what I wanted to do, and by just a little promotion, we got our fans to support our idea.
And then everything got a whole lot bigger, very very quickly. Instead of the $8000 that we asked for, three weeks later we had $110,000! Sounds great, right? But that’s where the problems actually started:
1) Poor prior planning – I was the only person (initially) running the campaign. That was madness. Too much to do, and not enough time to do it in. Responding to media requests, follow-up on comments, posting updates, and keeping current with social media added up to an amazing amount of work. Don’t do this by yourself. Also, there are elements that you can prepare for before you launch: pre-write certain updates, and email messages, use templates, and streamline your communications.
2) Inaccurate budgeting – Budget everything. After all is said and done, I am probably somewhere north of $30,000 in the hole from this experience. Budget meticulously. Know what your main idea will cost, know what any and ALL stretch goals will cost, and know what each and every reward will cost to produce, package and ship. Don’t guess and have a friend double check your math.
3) Deaths, cancer and amputation can wreck your best plans – I’m not going to bemoan things that happened in my life. But sometimes people die. Sometimes two people die. Sometimes other people get cancer and have their leg amputated. This real-life stuff interferes with whatever your best plans are. And when it does, it’s on you to figure a way around these obstacles and still fulfill the social contract you made with your community.
4) Lousy ongoing communications – You can get every single aspect of your campaign right; but if you screw this up, your project will be a failure. What do I mean by this? The act of a successful crowdfunding effort means that you have galvanized a community to make something happen. Your backers want – and deserve – your attention. Attention comes in many forms: Social media, blogs, website, pictures, video… If you don’t communicate with the community you established, then you’ve wasted the most valuable resource that crowdfunding conveys. Long after the money is gone, and the project completed/failed, you still have the crowd of backers. Don’t mess this up.
5) The robot didn’t work – If your campaign is about building a robot, then build the damn robot. If it’s about going to Africa and helping with clean water, then go to Africa. If it’s about designing a space poster/paper or a Lego exposition, then by god you’d better do what you said you would do. If the robot doesn’t work, at first, then you need to have the perseverance and commitment to figuring out how to make it work. There’s no middle ground. As Yoda says – “There is no try.” A project only ends once the creator has:
a. competed the task, or
Am I bitter? Upset? Angry? God no! I'm so very very grateful. These backers allowed me to pursue my dreams – and re-engage with a project that I thought was lost. However, there are consequences, and there is a downside to all the hype around crowdfunding. So this post serves as a cautionary tale. If you’re going to run a campaign – good luck!
I know that some of you think I’ve given up, or quit. I haven’t. Over the next 30 days, I’ll post an update every day. Yup, every day. Why? Because I work this on this project every single day…
Take care, mjl