After the Kickstarter ended, we discussed as a team how the campaign went. This article is a synthesis of this and other conversations and observations, with the intent of learning what we can improve for any future crowdfunding campaigns we run.
First, I'll say that we put a lot of work in up front to prime our network for our Kickstarter launch. This paid off: we raised $6000 in the first 24 hours, or 20% of our goal. But over the next 39 days, we only made $7,235 more, or $13,235 total.
In the spirit of being answer first: Our project was very early stage compared to most Kickstarter projects, at least in the hardware category, and ours was a product for a small percentage of the population. This meant that users outside of our personal networks were unlikely to contribute.
Were we to repeat the campaign, we'd do a smaller goal (perhaps $15,000) for less time. We would have used smarter outreach, getting introductions to second degree connections at media sources and potential sponsoring organizations. We also would have done this earlier than we did (particularly in the case of the sponsor outreach, which we started in full force somewhere about halfway through our campaign).
Our Kickstarter video was viewed over 2,000 times, so plenty of people saw it. However, we only had 67 contributors. That's a conversion rate of 3%. I'm not sure what a typical conversion rate is for a successful Kickstarter project. We could have gotten more contributors at the same conversion rate, or we could have done a better job at convincing those who did visit the page to contribute.
Of the 67 contributers we did have, here's where they came from:
In a famous article on Hacking Kickstarter, the author wrote that for them, twitter and facebook were the biggest sources of contributors. Interestingly enough, that was not the case for us. As you can see, Twitter doesn't even figure on the list, and Facebook was only responsible for 11% of our total contributions. Instead, half of our contributors and 66% of the total amount came from our website. That meant that it came from our direct outreach via email, Facebook messages, and the like. We know this because we typically sent our direct contacts to a landing page on levatelift.com, that then had a link to the Kickstarter.
On the other hand, our viral-factor was very low- no referrals from Twitter, and few from Facebook. We tried various strategies to try and jump start a viral loop on social media, to little effect. This included getting posts and tweets from influencers and media sources. For a while, Andrew Stewart got a series of high profile celebrities with millions of followers to retweet our campaign. Curiously, this led to no contributions.
This reinforces a general conclusion we drew over the course of the campaign: Few strangers contributed; nearly all of the contributions (especially in the larger sums) came from personal friends, family and connections. Just by doing a quick count of the contributors, I can say that at least 45, or 67% of our contributors, already had an existing relationship with the team before the Kickstarter. I think this is due to the particulars of our campaign: it was a socially focused project for a very specific subset of the general population, instead of a consumer project. It was also very early stage, and expensive for a typical Kickstarter project. This will probably influence our strategy if we do another crowdfunding campaign: We may need to do smaller campaigns focused on rallying as many of our personal connections as possible, and not count on lots of contributions outside of that, at least until we have a finished product. I'll talk more about that later.
A lot of what came from Facebook may have been from a series of ads that we ran over the course of the campaign. It's unfortunately difficult to say how many contributions ultimately came from these ads, but we know the following:
We spent $363 on Facebook ads, and the ads were seen by 32,000 people. Of those 32,000 people, 850 clicked through.
11 people contributed a total of $1495 through Facebook, but let's assume that one of those was a single big donation given by someone we knew who used a link we posted on Facebook to navigate to the Kickstarter page. Unfortunately the Kickstarter metrics don't tell you how each individual contributer was referred to the site, so this is a best guess on our part- what we do know is that all of the big contributers ($500+) were personal connections and friends.
That leaves 10 contributors with an average contribution of $50. 8 of the 10 contributors needed to have come from the Facebook ads for them to have paid for themselves.
So with 8 contributors from the Facebook ads, we would have made about $40 after subtracting the $363 investment. If we assume all 10 contributors for a total of about $500 came from the ads, that means we made about $140 on the ads. Better than nothing! For future Kickstarters, we may want to monitor their performance more closely at the beginning and make an earlier decision about their efficacy.
We were disappointed that we failed to get more media coverage than we did, especially from local media. James Simpson of Goldfire Studios was kind enough to give us a lot of great pointers and feedback on how to plan our campaign, and he mentioned that something like 50% of the contributors to their Kickstarter campaign came from Oklahomans who picked up on the story via local news sources.
We would have thought that OU, OKC, and Norman media sources would have loved our story. We made sure to reach out directly to the relevant editors instead of the general inquiry email. We sent several follow-up emails. In the end only the Norman Transcript got back to us, and that was very late in the campaign.
The biggest thing we could have done to improve our chances, I think, would have been to do some digging on Linkedin a few weeks before the campaign to find a 2nd degree connection to someone at the news source, then asked to be introduced.
Late in the campaign, as we brainstormed new strategies, we decided to reach out to other wheelchair related projects on Kickstarter and offer to cross promote.
While the only ongoing campaigns were doing much worse than ours (think 4 or 5 backers), we went ahead and reached out to previously successful projects and asked them to promote our project amongst their connections and previous backers. Of the 6 or 7 past projects we reached out to, only 1 responded. I think he may have tweeted about our campaign, but he only responded to our first email. So this turned out not to be an effective strategy for us. We couldn't even play the numbers game and reach out to a ton of projects, as there just aren't that many wheelchair related projects on Kickstarter.
About a third of the way through the campaign, we used a service called Backershub. As the name suggests, they manage a community of thousands of repeat backers of Kickstarter projects. The idea is pretty simple, project creators pay to have their project promoted to this community through email newsletters and Facebook posts. We went for the $297 option, which includes a mention in an email newsletter among 5 or so other projects and two unique Facebook posts to the private group. The service came recommended to us by an acquaintance, and the online reviews seemed to be generally positive.
Unfortunately, I don't think our use of the service resulted in any significant amount of contributions. After our first post on their Facebook group, I realized that all the other projects being promoted were products intended for the general consumer, and were basically already developed and just needing funding to begin production. In other words, as I mentioned above, our project simply wasn't going to be interesting to their community of backers. In hindsight, I could have done this research beforehand, drawn the same conclusion, and saved us $297.
We had a launch party the week we rolled out our Kickstarter. The format was pretty simple: we invited all our friends to a local coffee shop, Second Wind, on OU's Campus Corner on a Friday night. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple people here. Jeff Rothman, Second Wind's director, deserves a huge shout-out as he let us use the space for the night to support our cause. Michael Petri also got the OU Redliners, an a capella group, to sing a small set to kick off the night. We showed our Kickstarter video, talked for about 10 minutes about what our project was and what we were trying to accomplish, and explained how everyone could get involved. Afterwards, we mingled so that we could chat one on one with curious attendees.
We had about 20 friends and family show up, of about 40 that RSVP'd. We got about $60 in direct contributions from the event, and I know one of the attendees there I spoke with for a good while that night later made a $500 contribution. Rounding up, our launch party probably netted us about $600. Not a bad return considering that we didn't have to spend anything to put on the event.
As our Kickstarter started winding down, and we weren't seeing a high volume of contributions, we decided to try focusing on securing sponsorships from businesses and high net worth individuals. We figured that getting 10 $1000 or $2000 sponsorships was an achievable goal, especially as we had $5,000 from 3 sponsors in our first day alone.
Generally I'd say the same trend we saw on the whole held true for sponsorships: personal and professional connections were often very willing to contribute, but we had very little luck with a cold-outreach strategy. Of the five $1k+ contributors, 2 were family members, 2 were good family friends, and 1 was a business connection we'd met with 1 previous to the Kickstarter.
Some other business owners seemed interested in sponsoring, but as the Kickstarter was winding down it became less likely that they would contribute in time. I think focusing on sponsorships would have been more successful before the Kickstarter started, to give our acquaintances and professional connections more time to make the decision and work through their organization's bureaucracy.
One strategy that may have led to more success had we tried it earlier was to ask for an introduction to a second degree connection at businesses that were socially or philanthropically involved in the Oklahoma City area.
Wheelchair User Outreach
Outside of our personal networks, it's hard to know how many of our contributors were wheelchair users themselves. We did receive excellent feedback from several wheelchair users who contributed, including an editor at Disability Today in the UK.
We hoped for at least 1 preorder for the lift, which we did not get. It would have been excellent validation of the product idea. That said, we're not surprised we didn't get a preorder: $1,000 is a lot to pay for a product that you won't see for a year. I know I'm starting to sound like a songbird singing the same tune over and over again, but the early stage of the product once again limited the potential of our Kickstarter campaign outside of our friends and family.
Running our Kickstarter campaign was a massive amount of work. We're open to the idea of doing another crowdfunding campaign in the future, once we have the finished product ready and we're looking to scale up for manufacturing. It may be on Kickstarter, or we may look for a platform that's better suited to our unique project.
Were we to repeat our project, I think we would have done a smaller amount because of the early stage the product is at.. Discussing it with the team, we couldn't decide if we would have done a longer or shorter campaign. I would have done a shorter campaign, as nearly half of all our contributions came in the first 24 hours anyway.
I think we also would have front-loaded our sponsor search, and spent more of our time reconnecting with more of our personal network instead of trying to spur contributions through social media and strangers. I think we could have easily have hit a lower target just through our friends, family, and professional network.
We're unsure how the time of the year affected how many people were able to contribute. We thought that less people probably contributed due to the usual holiday spending, but another team member pointed out that some may have been more charitable and giving during the holidays.
If we do another crowdfunding campaign, we will put these lessons into practice with the recognition that having a finished product will also change the equation significantly.
Hopefully you can learn something about your own crowdfunding campaign through our lessons. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments on our experience!
Dillon and the Levaté Team
December 19th, 2014