9 Lessons Learned from Failed Kickstarters

Not every Kickstarter or crowdfunding project is going to be successful. Of course, you want any campaign to be a success — otherwise you wouldn’t bother to go to all the work. But to improve your chances of success, you need to look at failed Kickstarters and understand what really went wrong. Otherwise, you run the risk of repeating their mistakes.

A Lack of Professionalism

The standards for Kickstarter projects have been set by some extremely polished projects. Considering the number of experienced filmmakers using the platform these days, the videos used promote particularly successful projects alone are expected to be polished. Any logos, mockups or other images you share with potential backers need to look like somebody spent some time on them, just as any text must be well edited.

You don’t necessarily need to hire creative professionals to put together your campaign: it doesn’t need to have the production quality of a Super Bowl ad. But it does need to be clear that you invested time to get it right. No project that looks slapped together has a chance of getting fully funded. If you don’t know how to edit together a good video or do any of the other necessary steps for running your campaign, spend some serious time learning how to do the work before you launch your campaign.

Asking for Too Much

There have been numerous Kickstarter campaigns, as well as projects on other sites, that have raked in seven figures worth of funding. When we hear numbers like that, it’s very tempting to try to bring in more money for our projects. We start thinking about how to make the coolest possible version of our project — about what we could do with a million dollars. But asking for a huge amount of money, especially if you don’t have an established track record, can backfire. People don’t want to back even the coolest of projects if it seems like there is no way in the world that the project will ever get funded. There have been projects that, after asking for an incredible amount of money, have ended their fundraising period with absolutely no backers. No one wants to be in that position.

It’s best to stick to asking for the bare minimum you need to complete the project, send out incentives, and cover Kickstarter’s fees. Once you’ve met your base goal, you can always add stretch goals and further incentives.

Asking for Too Little

On occasion, you’ll see Kickstarter projects unfunded when the creator was asking for less than $500. It’s a particularly depressing situation, which usually comes about because the project just isn’t big enough to be interesting. Maybe it’s a run of t-shirts or some other small effort. Maybe it’s a digital-only project. But it’s worth asking for a little more money to make sure that you’re doing the project right, rather than kludging together something in order to keep the price tag low.

So add a little more into your budget: spring for a professional graphic designer for your t-shirts or plan some physical items for your digital-only project. It may mean more work for you, but it will also allow you to create a better overall project.

A Feeling of Vaporware

The term ‘vaporware’ comes from the computer software industry: it refers to new software that is announced, usually with great fanfare, but never actually makes it into production. Interested buyers may pre-order such products and find themselves still waiting for the actual item a decade later, such as the case with Duke Nukem Forever, a video game announced in 1997 and actually released in 2011. While Kickstarter projects haven’t faced such extreme circumstances so far, many projects have struggled to send out incentives in a timely fashion. For certain online pundits, predicting which projects have no hope of working on the budget or timeframe they’re proposing has become a new way to provide commentary on crowdfunding (see Felix Salmon’s critique of Lifx).

Not only do you have to sure that you’re launching a project that isn’t running the risk of offering only vaporware, but you also have to ensure that your project looks stable and healthy. If potential backers even get a hint that you’re not going to be able to pull off what you’re offering, they aren’t going to back your project. It’s worth noting that the more established you are with your audience — the stronger your platform — the more trustworthy they will consider you.

Unwanted Incentives

Crowdfunding has effectively become a way to sell pre-orders for particular items. You may see what amounts to an offer of thanks as a minimal level of incentive on most projects, but it’s incredibly rare that enough backers choose that level to make up a significant amount of the funding of a given project. There will usually be a few backers who aren’t entirely focused on actually getting something as a result of backing a project, particularly if you’re building something that has a major cool factor.

You have to offer something that backers will actually want, and be willing to pay for. That holds true across every level of incentive you’re considering offering. That means testing what you’re offering among people who would be likely supporters of your project — and who are neither your mother nor your best friend. You need honest feedback about whether other people will want what you’re offering, or whether you need to take things to a whole new level. Run of the mill swag, like what you might find at a conference, isn’t going to cut it.

No Friends, Family or Platform

As a crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter requires you to have a crowd of people you can ask for money. Not everyone is comfortable asking everyone they have a connection to for money, but that’s what’s required for most people to be able to raise enough funds to meet their goal. When a project goes entirely unfunded, it seems like the creator couldn’t have possibly sent out the message. For most of us, there are always a few friends or relatives who are willing to back a project just to make us feel better.

But unless you promote your campaign to everyone you can possibly reach, you aren’t doing enough. It’s not something that you can build and wait for people to find, in part because you have only a limited window in which to win over backers. You’re also competing for attention with every other on-going campaign on Kickstarter (or any other platform you choose to use).

Too Local

Offering up purely local incentives isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it does make it a lot harder to generate interest in your project in an online setting. If your full pool of potential backers doesn’t see anything that they can benefit from in the incentives you’re offering, it’s a problem. Tickets to a local show, a chance to dine in a local restaurant — they’re all well and good if they’re relevant to the project you’re raising funds for. But consider what options you have to bring in additional backers. If there’s any opportunity for a non-location based incentive, take it!

If you do have to go entirely local, you’ll need a very different promotion strategy than most crowdfunding campaigns. You’ll need to make sure that people in your area know what’s going on, which can be harder to scale.

Timing

Exactly when you launch your project can have an impact on how well you do, as well as how you market it. The holiday season is coming up, for instance, so offering something that would make a good gift — provided that you can guarantee that you’ll ship by Christmas — can offer you an advantage. But the holidays can impact campaigns in other ways. A lot of people will be on the road at various times between now and after New Year’s Day, and they won’t be spending nearly as much time looking at cool Kickstarters and deciding whether to fund them as they might during slower parts of the year.

You have to know who your audience is and when they’ll be spending a lot of time at their computers. Otherwise your timing may be a little off. Most Kickstarters have fairly lengthy timeframes for funding, which can smooth out problems. But pay careful attention to your timing just the same.

It’s All About You

You’re the one putting all the hard work into this campaign — it’s yours. But when you get other people involved, even just on the funding end of things, they want to understand that their contributions are going to matter. They’re funding your work, at least in part, because they want to feel like they’re helping. That means that you need to make sure that your project makes it clear how they’re included. Offering to send them a picture of yourself as an incentive, for instance, isn’t going to help — unless there is a very good reason why and it’s a truly great photo.

Make sure that you’re focusing on the project and the backers, over yourself for the copy you’ve written to promote the campaign, the marketing you do and everywhere else. You can include a little about yourself (you have to make it clear that you’ll be able to complete your project), but it shouldn’t be an overarching theme.

Have you ever run a Kickstarter campaign? Tell us about it in the comments!

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