With millions of dollars pledged to all kinds of projects every week, it’s no wonder that Kickstarter has become one of the most popular funding sources for getting a new product off the ground. The process is simple: Start a project, spread the word, then — if your idea is a good one — watch the pledges roll in.
If you’re a budding entrepreneur with a great idea for a Mac or iOS accessory, or even an app or game, then Kickstarter could be the fastest and most effective route to success. Not only is it a great source of funding, but it also helps you establish just how popular your product will be.
Here at Cult of Mac we’ve stumbled across a handful of really outstanding devices that wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for Kickstarter. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. While creating your project may be pretty straightforward, ensuring it succeeds is hard work.
To help you out, we’ve spoken to a couple of companies who recently used Kickstarter to launch their latest products, and they’ve given us some feedback and a few tips on how to ensure your Kickstarter project is a success.
Michael Rondinelli is the Chief Technology Officer at EyeSee360, the company behind the GoPano micro — a hugely successful iPhone accessory that allows you to shoot 360° panoramic video, which raised $170,000 on Kickstarter, exceeding its goal by more than 8 times. He outlines some of the step you should be taking before you register your project on Kickstarter.
Protecting Your Product
One of those steps is ensuring your property is secure. “If you’re making a new technology product it is likely that you’ve invented something unique,” Rondinelli said. “It’s important for you to file for patent protection on these inventions well before you launch a project.”
If you decide to skip this step, Rondinelli notes that once your project is live, it is considered “public disclosure,” and in most countries this eliminates your opportunity to file for a patent later.
“Even if you are unconcerned about preventing others from copying your work, you should still file to have a defensive position in case someone makes a claim against you later.”
Produce a Prototype
Rondinelli also recommends that you have your product design finished and tested before you attempt to fund it. “Make working prototypes that are fully functional, and as close to the final product as you can manage,” Rondinelli said.
Not only does this ensure that the product you could be selling actually works, but it also demonstrates that to potential funders and encourages them to make a pledge.
Shoot a Video
Once you have that prototype, you can use it in your promotional video, which Rondinelli believes is very important. “This is the key to getting your project off the ground. You want to make a video that is personable and engaging, and shows off your product clearly and succinctly. Make it visual, show your product being used in a natural setting to help people see how they’d use it in their lifestyle.”
It’s also important to write an interesting and comprehensive description of your product for your project page. “The video draws in your audience,” Rondinelli said, “but the more clearly you can answer questions in the text, the more likely viewers will convert into backers.”
Another thing that’s sure to attract backers is rewards. Kickstarter allows you to offer a number of rewards that you can be based on how much each backer pledges. Rondinelli suggests some of the things you may want to offer.
“Needless to say the product you’re building should be offered as reward. Discounts off your expected retail price are a great incentive for people to support your project now instead of after your product launch, but don’t cut too deep. You need to cover your production costs, which may be higher than you planned.”
Finally, Rondinelli recommends that you make “friends in high places.” “When you have your prototype ready and your video produced, make contact with individuals that can help you promote your project. You can entice them by showing off your video, or by lending a prototype. Technology bloggers are always a great start, so much the better if they have many Twitter followers. It’s best to make contact with a person directly rather than a company. Even a single tweet from a popular tech personality can launch your project like a rocket.”
David Artuso is the product developer/marketer for cellpig, the company behind the cellhelmet — the world’s first iPhone 4 and 4S case that comes with accidental damage coverage, which was fully funded on Kickstarter in just under 8 days, with 31 still to go. He concurs that having great contacts is the best way to get your project noticed.
Artuso says that social networks and news outlets can boost interest in your product immensely. “News sources are your best friend in this game. By getting news outlets to write stories and push your idea, you are getting coverage over a wider range of people. Online blogs are great in addition to local news sources.”
“Connection with individuals through platforms like Twitter and Facebook will provide great opportunities to gain support through your friends and family. Plus you can find new individuals that have similar interests to your project.”
“People want to hear what you are doing and these are great ways of accomplishing that,” Artuso concludes. He notes, however, that you should be careful not to spam potential backers with constant retweets and reposts. Not only will this frustrate your followers and discourage them from backing it, but it’s also “frowned upon” by Kickstarter.
Communicate With Potential Backers
With your project listed on Kickstarter and your contacts spreading the news, it’s important to answer any questions you receive about your project and reply to any interest. “When your project is running on Kickstarter you will be ask a lot of questions and getting back to them shows that you care,” Artuso said. “No matter what the question is, they took the time to write it, so you need to respond in the a tentative and polite manner no matter what.”
Rondinelli also acknowledges this, and recommends that at least one person on your team makes this their day job. “If you attract attention the way you really want, you or someone on your team may spend most of their time simply responding to inquiries on the project,” he said. “It’s best to expect this going in, so you don’t find yourself short-handed when trying to finish building your product.”
Send Thank You Messages, Updates & Get Your Backers Involved
And your commitment to public relations shouldn’t disappear once you’re secured their backing. “When a person backs your product you should send them a thank you as soon as you can,” Artuso said. “The sooner you create some interpersonal connection with your backer, the more likely are to give positive feedback to their friends and family to support your project.”
It’s also important to send them updates on your project, according to Artuso, who said you should “think of these people as your shareholders; they want a constant update on how their money is going to be invested and when they can receive their dividends (their reward). The more contact you have the more people will want to see you succeed and stand behind you.”
“Their money is on the line,” Rondinelli said. “They want to see that it’s being put to good use. There are lots of production details that may seem mundane, but many people are interested to learn about what it takes to make a product and are eager to hear about it. Posing pictures and videos of the production process also makes people really feel part of the team.”
If you really want to get your backers involved, Rondinelli suggests that you could even involve them in future decisions and use them to your advantage. “Ask them questions,” he said. “It’s not always possible to alter your designs at this late stage in the game, but to the extent possible you will endear yourself to your future customers if you let them in on some decisions. What colors do they like? What do you think of our packaging? How would you plan to use the product? You have a captive audience of fans, use them to your advantage.”
Keep Raising Cash!
If you’ve done everything correctly and people like your product, the pledges should now be flooding in. But Artuso states that it’s important not to stop if your project secures its funding early.
“When you finally get 100% funded on Kickstarter, don’t stop!” he said. “This is your opportunity to raise as much capital as possible so that you can reinvest that money back into the company. By doing this you can spend on other expenses that might help your idea flourish. You only get one shot at this project so give it everything you’ve got for the full amount of time.”
Some of that additional funding may be needed for shipping, Rondinelli warns: “The shipping costs for the GoPano micro worked out to more than 20% of our total fundraising, and that was after copious research and negotiation with shipping companies. Consider using a shipping service instead, as you can spend weeks of time and thousands of dollars doing it yourself.”
Plan Your Release Date
Another thing to bear in mind now that you have your funding and your product is in production is its release date. “Christmas comes in September for retailers,” Rondinelli concluded. “If you plan to sell your product on store shelves, you’ll want to have your product shipping by then if you want to be part of the biggest shopping season of the year. This can make a staggering difference in sales, so don’t underestimate the impact of missing that date.”
Both the GoPano micro and the cellhelmet have been hugely successful products, and Kickstarter has been a big reason for that success. Not only did it provide both products with the funding they needed to enter production, but it also provided them with a lot of attention and PR, and secured customers for both companies long before their products had even gone on sale. Isn’t that every company’s dream?