At ten o’clock in the morning on April 2nd, 2014, StandDesk launched on Kickstarter. I sat at my computer screen, channeling my inner Looney Toon’s character with eyes wide and jaw on the floor, as the number of backers instantly began to rise.
Ferocious texts flew back and forth between myself and StandDesk Founder and CEO, Steven Yu, much in the vein of “omg omg omg,” “holy crap can you believe this?!,” AKLFKGENLKDJsg AHHH,” and “This. Is. Awesome.”Thirty-eight minutes later, we hit our goal of $50,000. By the end of our first day, we were more than 300% funded. Our total run yielded over $649,000 from close to 1,700 backers, solidifying the support we needed to get our first round of manufacturing up and running.
Incredible, right? Incredible, but not easy.
While the launch of our company was an amazing, grassroots effort, and one that I will forever remember with pride, it’s also not to be taken for granted. The fact is, launching a successful crowdfunding campaign is hard work. I mean really hard work. There are a number of things you need to consider and prepare for well ahead of your launch date, so we’ve put together this how-to guide to highlight the most important aspects of your campaign that are sometimes overlooked.
Your Idea Isn’t Enough
A common thing we see from those launching campaigns is the misconception that their product, design, or idea will speak for itself. There are thousands of crowdfunding campaigns going on at any given moment, on an ever-growing number of platforms. You can’t have the attitude that because your product or idea is great, you can just slap together a campaign, throw it up there, and people will magically cut through all the noise, find it, and donate.
As serial crowdfunder and entrepreneur Jeff Hays explained in an article on Forbes, “People will be compelled by what the project will do for them, not what it will accomplish for you. To act, they need to have a clear “why.” Make sure you have a compelling story behind your idea, one that will resonate with your target demographic, and that you communicate this in your campaign through your video, text, photos, designs, or any other medium you have access to.
Also, your page has to look good. The presentation of your campaign is a reflection on the quality of your product or idea in the minds of those backing you. Remember: you’ve got to be prepared to put all of your time and energy behind the campaign, be prepared to face criticism, and ultimately, be prepared to fulfill on the promises you’re making.
Timing Is Everything
- Leonardo Da Vinci is known for creating numerous inventions far ahead of their time, such as parachutes and helicopters.
Before you launch any campaign (or company for that matter), you should be asking yourself: is the world ready? There are countless stories of innovative products that were conceptualized, created, and failed years before they began to thrive in the marketplace. You may have a the greatest idea the world has ever seen, but if society isn’t ready for it, it won’t do well. Assess the current societal climate as it pertains to your idea, and do your homework to find out what similar products or projects already exist and how well they have been received. Survey your personal networks, get to know your target demographic, and make sure there’s a market for your idea.
In a similar vein, you need to be well-versed on your competition, and have a firm argument for what sets you apart. At the time when StandDesk launched on Kickstarter, there really weren’t any other electric height adjustable desks on the market at an affordable price. Today, competition lurks around every corner. If we launched the same exact campaign today, it wouldn’t have the same innovative, first-of-its-kind appeal that it did back then, and therefore wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it was.
Shout It From The Rafters!Photo by Adriel Ifland 2007/Flickr
I don’t need to tell you that the internet is swimming with content, albeit much of it bad. But in the world of the cloud, phenomenal content and poor content are on the same playing field, until you do something to push your idea to the surface. In the StandDesk case, we were organically voted up to #1 on Hacker News just thirty-three minutes into the campaign, largely because we had personal networks, press, and influencers armed and ready to help promote us the moment we hit “go live.” Throughout our campaign, we were featured in Mashable, Business Insider, Geek.com, and various other blogs. Steven even demoed the desk on Fox News.
Well before your campaign launches, research press outlets and influencers that feature similar products or ideas and pitch them on yours. A pro tip? Do much of the work for them by giving them a clear angle that goes beyond what your project is and why it matters, but also what makes it interesting and sets it apart from the rest. Send them photos, mockups, or even beta versions (depending on what kind of project you’re launching). Once you’ve gotten people to commit to talking about your campaign, see if they’ll confirm a date for releasing an article featuring you. While it’s great to get a lot of coverage right at the start, campaign funding generally tends to peak at first and then decreases and plateaus for the rest of the time you’re live. By getting people to talk about you throughout campaign, you’ll increase exposure and help combat the natural downspike that occurs in throughout the middle of your run.
Know Your Platform
Photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid
You wouldn’t choose to attend a college or university without visiting it, or at least doing some thorough research, would you?
There are lots of crowdfunding platforms out there; don’t slack on determining which one is the best fit for your project. Two of the most notable platforms, Kickstarter and Indiegogo, work on a rewards-based system, where donors pledge based on prize tiers. (Not all of the rewards have to be tangible, mind you - a personalized thank you is a perfectly acceptable starting point). But there are also many niche crowdfunding sites, which though smaller, may offer a greater chance of being funded because you’re getting in front of a very specific audience. Charles Luzar curated a nicely-packaged list of niche platforms here.
Regardless of which platform you decide on, make sure you familiarize yourself with their format, terms and conditions, and be sure to do the necessary pre-campaign prep. The details can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to skim through them, but trust me - you want to know these like the back of your hand.
While working on a (non-StandDesk) Kickstarter campaign a few years back, we almost got burned by not being prepared. A day before we launched, we thought we were totally ready to go. We had all of the creative assets polished and in place on the campaign page and most importantly, press outlets with write-ups ready to go live as soon as we did the following morning. Less than 12 hours before our scheduled launch, we realized we hadn’t linked our bank account to Kickstarter, nor had we submitted it to Kickstarter for approval (a process that generally takes a couple of days). Had we not been able to get some very helpful individual at Kickstarter on the phone to help expedite the process, we would have had to delay the launch and likely would have lost the planned press.
“Donations” Really Aren’t FreePhoto by JJ/Flickr
I mean this in two ways. First, it takes a lot of effort to create a solid campaign. You should always have a video (not a necessity, but campaigns with video’s are much more likely to be funded; Kickstarter notates funding at 50% vs 30% for campaigns with and without videos, respectively), as well as clear, concise, inspiring copy, lots of images, clever rewards, and more.
If you’re running a campaign as an individual, it’s going to take up a ton of your time if you want it to be successful. Know your strengths and focus on those, then enlist the help of others to deal with the rest. While friends might be able to help out in exchange for a case of beer, you should also consider hiring photographers, videographers, copywriters, those fluent in PR, etc. If your campaign succeeds, it will be well worth the investment. Students looking to work on projects to build their resume are also a great option.
The second thing to consider is the cost of your rewards. While not all campaigns offer tangible products as rewards, they’re great incentives. If you’re campaigning to build a product, it makes for a great reward at the right level, but be sure to calculate your production costs accurately. If you’re funding a movie, a DVD of the film is a good reward, but don’t forget about the shipping costs (and really today, a downloadable version is usually more convenient for both you and your backer).
Whatever you’re making, calculate all costs accurately, and make sure that you have the manufacturing power (when applicable) to service all of the demand your campaign might generate. Take Pebble, for example, a company with an innovate watch that got so many backers, they couldn’t meet the demand.
In the age of globalization, crowdfunding has become a revolutionary way to connect creators with individuals who want to support them from all over the world. Aside from direct funding, it’s a powerful way to increase exposure of your ideas and products. Regardless of your project, ensure you spend ample time planning, and be prepared to work hard - it’ll be well worth your effort if you succeed, and is a phenomenal learning experience regardless of the outcome.