It’s April 10, 2012 and a new smart watch company launches its first Kickstarter campaign. 30 days later and they’ve beat all the crowdfunding records — raising $10,266,845.
Three years later, they launch again and raise $20,338,986.
Man, this Kickstarter thing is easy!
A year later, they launch another product and raise $12,779,843.
This is like free money!
Three months later, the company shuts down.
The company in this story is Pebble. A company that not only shattered crowdfunding records, but also brought innovative products into the world. But even with all the “success” of crowdfunding, they weren’t able to keep their company afloat.
The simple answer — crowdfunding ain’t easy.
There is an incredible amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to launch a success brand on Indiegogo or Kickstarter. Product development, digital marketing, logistics, manufacturing, and customer support… just to name a few. Plus, the crowdfunding campaign is just a small part of the much bigger challenge of growing a successful company. Pebble is just one of many examples of this.
Since LaunchBoom began in 2015, I’ve seen firsthand the breadth of challenges when launching a crowdfunding campaign. But even with all my experience, new challenges pop up all the time that I didn’t see coming.
I reached out to our clients and experienced crowdfunding creators and asked them to express their biggest challenges with crowdfunding that they didn’t see coming. In this article, I share their comments, pull out the main challenge, and provide more commentary to help you overcome that challenge.
What To Know Before You Start
Before we get into the different stages of the crowdfunding launch, let’s look at the challenges of crowdfunding as a whole.
CHALLENGE: The bar is much higher now to launch a successful campaign
I think the thing that always surprises me is how much there is to do. That is, if you do it right, you have to do PR, advertising, create the campaign, outreach before the campaign, outreach during the campaign, cross promotions, respond to comments, and be working with manufacturing and distribution all throughout the campaign. So with no longer a one-man show. And the bar is much higher now. It used to be that you could throw together a video over the weekend in your bathroom, but the larger campaigns are all professionally produced. That’s the bar now.
Kickstarter and Indiegogo are past the “hype” stage. It takes a lot more for a potential customer to back a project which means a lot more work has to be put into a campaign for it to be extremely successful. Raising over $100K puts you in the top 1.3% of all crowdfunding campaigns. And to do that, you have to invest considerable time and money into your crowdfunding campaign.
CHALLENGE: It takes up a lot of time
There are a lot of difficult parts of running a crowdfunding campaign, but overall the most difficult part is having enough time to do it all — staying on top of ads, backer communication through emails, messages, updates, comments, updating graphics, setting up cross promotions and newsletter features, SEO, etc — all while finishing up your product design, setting up your supply chain, production and shipping plan. There just isn’t enough time in the day. Even if you have a team helping you out, as a founder, you can’t afford not to be closely involved in all of this. And of top of it all, add in the stress of the high-highs and low-lows inherent to crowdfunding and startups. It’s a great experience, a lot of fun, and can be a great launch platform for your product, but it sure can wear you out.
Many campaigns are run by teams of 1–5 people. With so many moving parts to the campaign, it can seem like there isn’t enough time in the day. That’s where working with experts like LaunchBoom can free up a lot of your time to work on other important parts of the campaign.
Let’s now take a look at the biggest challenges when setting up your campaign to launch on Indiegogo or Kickstarter.
CHALLENGE: It’s difficult not knowing whether or not your campaign will be successful
In many respects, the hardest part was waiting to see whether or not the campaign would be a success. That’s because what I was really waiting for was the determination of whether or not the past 2 years of my life had been a complete waste of time. Of course, even if I had failed, I knew I had gained an incredible amount of experience, knowledge, friendships and connections that would have been immensely valuable in the future. But, I just wasn’t sure that I would have the energy to do it all over again. I’m very grateful to have found LaunchBoom, and all of the other amazing resources that helped iHarvest™ become a success along the way.
Dave’s fear is one of the most common. It’s the reason why we have the mantra at LaunchBoom to “fail fast, fail cheap”. Instead of having clients make a huge investment of time and money into their product launch without knowing it will be successful, we drastically reduce risk by testing the product in the market during pre-launch. We did this with iHarvest in our TestBoom program and were able to identify the best product positioning long before we launched. This eased Dave’s fears of whether or not the product would be successful on crowdfunding.
CHALLENGE: Building a pre-launch email list to hit your goal extremely quickly
The thought of “if I build it, they will come” can lead to heartbreak and confusion as a creator. With the great modern connectivity to ALL, it is quite hard to make it through the noise and connect with people, let alone connect with the people who are your intended customers/backers. People are busy, and while you are deeeeep in the weeds and bringing to life your dream idea or business, one must remain a realist that few others will understand all you’ve put into and are putting into your campaign. Therefore, you need to take in this advice from other creators and be vigilant about sharing the idea with friends, family, customers and networks to be sure they know what you’re doing and exactly how they can help.
While many think “I’ll get the campaign launched and then reach out to the people in my corner”, know that you’ll have far less time and bandwidth to make this happen once you’re live. The goal is to inform those most likely to support you beforehand and do your best to guide them through how they can support you.
If you’re a solo-creator, or small team of creators, and depending on your aspirations & goals for your crowdfunding campaign, this is THE area to get help, advice or partners to ensure that this isn’t missed. Enter the badass crew at LaunchBoom — they kept us on track and ensured we didn’t miss the boat here.
One of the biggest mistakes creators make is approaching their campaign with the “build it and they will come” mentality. Instead, successful campaigns need to invest time and money into building a pre-launch email list of people who want to buy the product when you launch. Better yet, I recommend using our Reservation Funnel to build an email list that is 30x more likely to buy.
CHALLENGE: You can’t use the Facebook Pixel to track advertising on Kickstarter (on Indiegogo there is no issue)
Currently Facebook drives more revenue from ads for our Kickstarter campaigns than any other platform by a long shot, however, I’m forced to take part in estimates and best guesses. When you are trying to run a multi-hundred thousand dollar campaign or even a $10,000 campaign for that matter, guessing is no way to go about it! It puts everyone at a disadvantage and most people running campaigns on Kickstarter aren’t doing it because they have money to waste. We drive revenue for Kickstarter and they don’t do us the courtesy of seeing if we are making or losing money.
Because of this delay in reporting and estimates I was unable to advertise more, faster, causing me to lose out on additional sales and Kickstarter to lose out on new platform users that I’m paying for.
Facebook Advertising is one of the largest sources of traffic for highly successful Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns. But for campaigns launched on Kickstarter, you cannot add a Facebook Pixel to your campaign. This means that you cannot track how effective your advertising efforts are from within Facebook’s platform — putting you at a major disadvantage as a creator. There are work arounds to track your advertising by using a combination of Facebook and Google Analytics or Kickstarter’s dashboard, but it’s clunky and not as effective as using the Facebook Pixel.
This is one of the major areas where Indiegogo shines as a platform. You can add the Facebook Pixel to your campaign which gives you more control and less need for 3rd party advertisers to help you.
CHALLENGE: Communicating quickly and transparently
The platform enables a one to many thread of communication from the campaign page to backers. This works very well assuming that your communications are clear, consistent and thought out. When a ball is dropped or something goes off track, the Many -> One questions, concerns, replies, messages, comments etc. can become overwhelming very quickly, especially with a large quantity of backers. We’ve learned a ton and gotten advice from many creators in this realm, and the synthesis is as follows:
1) Communicate with clarity, sincerity and honesty. Balance your communication frequency to ensure the information is available to backers but be aware of over-updating.
2) Take the time to write, edit, tweak and review your updates, messages and replies. Develop a system and process for you to review, test and double-check your communications as your backers deserve clear, correct and concise communications which will reduce potential for confusion or skepticism.
3) Share the good, the bad and the ugly. If the wheels fall off, take a breath, calm down and be timely with sharing the realities with your backers. They are Backers after all, and are supporting your campaign because they want to be a part of the ride, support what you’re trying to create and know that there is a wide range of outcomes possible when they pledge to support you. Be honest, balance optimism and realism, and don’t make promises you can’t keep.
4) Know that in certain cases backers may be upset/offended/angry for any number of reasons. Do what you can to hear them, listen and respond with what you are able to do to resolve any issues. Know that in some cases the negativity/anger may be emanating from a place far removed from your campaign, and that you may not be able to do anything to change their sentiment. Such is life, and in those cases, be honest, direct and grateful for their support, but not afraid to relieve them of their commitment of support you and your campaign. Be appreciative, honest and don’t take these cases too personally as they can get chip away at your Crowdfunding spirit and gusto.
Bubba is back with another knowledge bomb. Trust is a major factor in crowdfunding and effective communication is one of the best ways to build and maintain that trust. Be ready to communicate with people through all channels:
- Indiegogo/Kickstarter comments & messages
- Indiegogo/Kickstarter campaign updates
- Your support email
- Social media comments/messages
If something goes wrong, don’t be afraid to share the challenge with the crowdfunding backers. Crowdfunding is about bringing new ideas to life and with anything new there will always be challenges. Crowdfunding backers understand this but you must keep the communication channel open.
CHALLENGE: Dealing with the delays and complexities of manufacturing and logistics
Coming up with a timeline to deliver the product is incredibly difficult. You want to be optimistic but there are always delays and it’s almost impossible to know what will come up until it does. We fly out to China to make sure the manufacturing process is going smoothly and up to our quality standards.
The logistics of shipping can also be a real nightmare. Kickstarter doesn’t collect all the information we need by default like which color they want for their sunglasses or their shipping addresses. This is where BackerKit has come to the rescue for us. They’ve made it 10x easier to manage this process.
With the campaign over and the money in your bank account, it’s time for the real work to begin. Ensuring that your backers not only get what they ordered but on time takes some hard work.
When it comes to manufacturing, I suggest having a partner lined up before you even crowdfund. You’ll want to ensure that they will be able to produce the product you have so you don’t run into any delays. Here are some manufacturing partners I’d recommend:
For getting backer information, I agree with Matt and would recommend BackerKit.
For shipping and fulfillment, it’s best to use 3PL providers. Some of our favorites are
These insights are just a glimpse into the challenges that can come up for your crowdfunding campaign. I can guarantee that you will face many more that will surprise you. But with that said, being aware of the challenges shared by these creators and knowing how to deal with them will help you immensely.
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