5 Critical Steps to Getting Your Creative Project Funded on Kickstarter

Written by Brian Kwong

Note from Caleb: A trend we’ve been seeing lately is how bloggers have been using Kickstarter to fund major projects.

A couple months back we featured the story of how Kristin and Shannon used their blog to reach more than triple their fundraising goal on Kickstarter. Also, our good friend Adam Baker from Man vs. Debt is launching his own Kickstarter campaign soon for a documentary called ‘I’m Fine, Thanks’.

To go along with this rising trend we have a special post today for you from Brian Kwong. He is going to lay out some of the findings from research he has been doing for his very own project for helping other people successfully fund their Kickstarter campaigns.

Take it away Brian! 

It has been a heck of a year for Kickstarter in 2011, a crowd-funding platform based in the US, where creative projects are launched and funded by everyday folks like you and me.

Since the birth of Kickstarter in April 2009, they had reached 10,000 successfully funded projects in July 2011, helped projects raise more than $100 million dollars and had their one millionth backer in October 2011.

One Million Backers » The Kickstarter Blog — Kickstarter-2

These are some mind-blowing numbers in just two and half years, especially in a weak US economy.

So I thought, Kickstarter could be a real opportunity for me to raise funds and start a creative project that I am passionate about, no matter if it’s a non-fiction book or any other awesome project that I could dream up.

How Kickstarter Works

Kickstarter uses an “All or Nothing” model, meaning if you don’t get enough pledges by the time the deadline is reached for your project, the deal is void and no money changes hands.

This creates a bond between the project creator and backers because everybody wins if the project gets funded.

If the project is funded, Kickstarter gets 5%, Amazon (as the escrow service who hold the money until the project is complete) gets 3-5%, the project creator gets the rest of the funding for a project he/she loves and the backers get awesome rewards that they chose.

This creates an opportunity to build a thriving community by allowing the backers to be a part of something while reaching for the same goal with the project creator.

This all sounds gravy but this is when reality sinks in.

The success rate on Kickstarter has consistently hovered between 40-45%, which means out of every 100 project being launched, 55-60 of them will fail.

This led me to the creation of Kickstarter Rockstar and the goal is to find out…

What does it really take to be successful on Kickstarter?

I went out there and conducted interviews with some of the most successful Kickstarter project owners and asked them exactly how they did it, from start to finish.

So far, 6 interviews are completed. 3 out of the 6 projects are in the Top 20 Most Funded projects in their category, the All-Stars of Kickstarter:

  • The Versalette, by {r}evolution apparel, Kristin and Shannon, #1 most funded project in the Fashion Category, raised $64,246 (Note from Caleb: See our interview with Kristin and Shannon here.)
  • Becoming Visible, by Josh Lehrer, #3 most funded project in the Photography Category, raised $35,348
  • Home Bar Basics, by Dave Stolte, #13 most funded project in the Publishing, Non-Fiction Category, raised $16,934
  • Hello, Skater Girl, by Julian Bleecker, Photography, raised $13,923
  • The EscapeCapsule, by Josh and June, Design, Product Design, raised $54,943
  • 1000 Pugs, by Amanda, Photography, raised $14,701 as the writing of this post

Below are the five critical things that I found successful projects on Kickstarter have in common.

1.  An EPIC Project Idea

Epic doesn’t mean way over the top, although there are successful funded projects like setting a giant guitar on fire or turning a skate ramp into an instrument and so forth.

On Kickstarter, the sky is the limit.

But if you are interested in a project that has the potential to build a profitable and thriving audience like I do, here are some things that I found in common with successful projects.

  • Creative in their own way
  • May have never been done before
  • No satisfactory solution in the market, you are offering something that is unique and from a different value adding angle.

It all comes back to: What is your unique selling proposition?

If you haven’t read The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Unique Selling Proposition by Corbett Barr, it is a must read. Especially the section titled “How to Find Your Unique Selling Proposition”.

Clear and Narrow Target Audience and Topic

All of the successful project owners I interviewed have a very clear target audience with a narrow topic.

  • The Versalette’s” target audience is females who like fashion and are highly conscious about sustainability.
  • The EscapeCapsule”, a waterproof iPhone 4 case, has a target of iPhone users who are into an adventurous lifestyle, especially outdoor activities like going to the beach.
  • 1000 Pugs” are die-hard pug dog lovers.

For your project to be funded, your target audience has to get behind the project, strike a chord with them and provide value for them.

Remember this is not a charity, backers are pledging and backing a project in exchange for something in value.

If you are offering a product or anything for sale, backers are essentially putting their trust in you and are pre-ordering your product before you put it together.

So an EPIC project idea that offers value to a particular group of audience, in a particular topic is the #1 critical thing successful projects have in common.

Without this, nothing else matters.  Period.

2.  A Story and a Message Bigger Than You

Once you got the project idea down, your story and message has to be bigger than you.

For example, “Becoming Visible” is about giving the fastest growing population of homeless transgender teens a voice in New York.

“The Versalette’s” story and message is about transforming and revolutionizing the fashion industry by creating a sustainable fashion line for women.

Hello, Skater Girl’s” message is about documenting women in a sport that is often overlooked but still carries the rebelliousness in a skater’s DNA.

The common thread in these examples is, they all have a story and message that their target audience view as something worth fighting for.

The project creator is also important. The story usually includes a short mention of how the project creator came up with the project idea and they act as a messenger who fulfills the message of the project in the world.

The more a project speaks to the audience, the more willing backers will participate and spread the word.

3.  Personal and Engaging Video

A video is a must on Kickstarter.

There are a million and one ways to communicate a story through videos and they don’t have to perfect, funny, or exciting. It just has to be “you”.

It could be you simply speaking in the camera, it could be voice over or it could be just moving text so your audiences’ voice acts as the narrator of the video.

Length of the Video

Out of the 6 interviews, the lengths of the videos were between 2 minutes and 8 seconds (The Versalette) to 5 minutes 46 seconds (Home Bar Basic).

Successful projects’ videos length on Kickstarter is about 2 minutes.  And people are most likely to bail after the first 20-30 seconds, so make sure you say what your project is and why someone should back your project within that time frame.

Personally after I click the play button, the first thing I do is to check how long the video is and the longer the video is, the less likely I will finish watching the video.

With all that said, “Home Bar Basic’s” video is 5 minutes and 45 seconds long and it is still in the Top 20 Most Funded projects in the publishing, non-fiction category.  So, there is always an exception.

Creating Your Video

The objective of the video is to clearly communicate your story, your message and what you are trying to accomplish with the project in an engaging and personal way in 2 – 4 minutes.

If that sounds like a tall order, just watch as many successful Kickstarter projects as you can, it happens all the time.  Remember to write down what you like about the videos and bookmark it.

When I asked Josh and June from the EscapeCapsule “What is it that you want to communicate through your video?”  They said one word, “FUN”.  You can see Fun completely shines through in their video.

Most videos have the following components (Not limited to and not necessary in this order):

  • Introduction
  • Problem
  • Vision of the project
  • Solution + Feature and Benefits
  • What you need the money for
  • Ask for support + Rewards

You don’t have to include everything above or in that order.  This can serve as just a basic guideline when you are creating your own video.

One thing I heard repeatedly from these successful project owners is, “The video took longer than we thought to make.”  “I thought we could get it down in a week but it took 3 months.”

So make sure you start creating your video as soon as you can.

Lastly, there is no such thing as a “right” way to create a perfect video.

Just share your story, message, and your project proudly and you will do fine.

4.  Sizable network

Kickstarter is a crowd funding platform.  Your project is funded by your family, friends, colleagues, and customers so the strength of your network plays a big part in any project.

If you have a decent network in terms of quantity and you have a great relationship with your network then it may be enough to carry you through to your funding goal.

If you are starting from scratch and can only start with friends and family, your success will most likely determine by how often you reach out to your target audience to share about your project once you finished telling all your friends.

The best way to demonstrate this is through some graphs and statistics.

In the lower right corner of every Kickstarter project video, you will see a shortened link.

Once you copy and paste that link in your browser, add a “+” at the end and hit enter.

The link will turn into a bit.ly link and you can see all the statistics of the project, including the total amount of clicks (Traffic), the traffic source of the clicks, what countries they came from and how many social media conversations were generated.

Let’s compare the statistics of two projects, “1000 pugs” and “Hello, Skater Girl”, as they raised a similar amount of funds and they are in the same category of photography.

Kickstarter Project – “1000 pugs”

As of the writing of this post, “1000 pugs” still has 14 days to go, Amanda’s funding goal was $9,636, but she had raised $14,701.

How many days and how many clicks did it take?

It took Amanda 36 hours and 370 clicks to reach her funding goal of $9,636.

And a total of 12 days and 595 clicks to reach $14,701.

As you can see, Amanda stopped actively promoting her project once she reached her funding goal.

This result is created by a combination of a narrow niche of pug lovers who are strongly and emotionally attached to her project of shooting 1000 pugs in one year and the power of her network she built through being a professional pet photographer over the years.

Kickstarter Project – “Hello Skater Girl”

Julian’s photography book project raised $13,923.

How many days and how many clicks did it take?

Julian’s project was launched on Nov 2nd, 2011 and his project ended on Jan 1st, 2012.

That is a total of 58 days and it took less than 1500 clicks (This number includes the clicks after the funding period ended) to reach his funding goal.

Once Julian finished telling everybody in his network, he had to reach out to more people in order for him to meet his goal.

Let’s compare the statistics:

1000 pugs raised $14,701 in 12 days with 595 clicks.  Hello Skater Girl raised $13,923 in 58 days with less than 1500 clicks.

The truth is neither of the project owners knew what’s going to happen until they took action and launched their project. 

It is still possible to reach your funding goal without a big network like Julian, but a good sized audience and great quality of relationship with your network plays an important part of the success of your project.

5. Willingness to Put In the Work

“Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do” – Unknown

As most “over-night” success stories there is usually a side of the story that is untold.

Every successful project owner that I spoke with busted their chops, no matter if they started building their network years ago before their project launched like Amanda from “1000 Pugs” or they worked furiously to get the word out after the project went live.

Dave from the “Home Bar Basic” failed to meet his goal the first time he launched his project.  He then took the lessons he learned and busted his butt the second time around and made it to the Top 20 most funded projects in his category.

Josh and June “Worked in shifts and didn’t really sleep for 30 days” when their project The EscapeCapsule was live because they were emailing and messaging every technology blog they could find.

Why are they so motivated?

I asked Josh and June how does it feel to be able to fund your project and have the opportunity to create something that you love and do it for a living?

Josh said “Although there is a ton of work, a steep learning curve but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else in the world right now, no matter what happens to our company.”

Not everyone can say that about what they do for a living.

Each and every project has a unique inspirational story and they are willing to do whatever it takes to transform their idea into a reality.

Do you have a project idea that has been in the back burner for years and are you ready to do what it takes to turn your dream project into reality? Kickstarter might be the best place for you to turn.


What has your experience with Kickstarter been like? Let us know in the comments below if you have funded a project or launched one yourself.

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