• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Launching a Kickstarter Campaign? Read This First

Photo credit: Milla Teittinen, www.polkadotcookie.com

How can you get the most out of a Kickstarter campaign? And when it’s over, what next? Take it from a founder who’s been there.

By Lorraine Sanders (Contributing writer, Women 2.0) 
Photo by Milla Teittinen via Polka Dot Cookie.

There’s obvious allure to raising your fledgling startup’s first funds via Kickstarter.

“It’s a really nice way to get the cash up front to actually go and start making product,” says Julia Kastner, founder of Boston-based denim brand Eva & Paul.

Kastner’s successful Kickstarter campaign raised over $22,000 earlier this year and was, in large part, responsible for pushing the organic line from concept to production.

“I’ve taken a big chunk of that to buy not just the denim to cover the Kickstarter itself, but also the first few months of production,” she says.

The campaign also helped in a number of less tangible ways, from opening up doors with investors and potential new hires to honing the brand’s message and generating lots of valuable consumer feedback from online and offline interactions.

Before launching a campaign on Kickstarter or a similar platform, arm yourself with advice based on Kastner’s experiences. Read on for first-timer tips and what to expect after a campaign ends and the real work begins.

Set a Realistic Goal

“Whatever you think your goal is, divide it by half and then divide it by half again. The reason for that is that you need your goal to sound impressive, but really anything over $5,000 sounds impressive, and the goal is to meet your goal,” she says. But be careful not to go too low. After all, there’s little point in spending the time on a Kickstarter campaign that ultimately won’t be able to fund the project you have in mind. Says Kastner, “If you set your goal at a $1,000 because you’re trying to be conservative, is that $1,000 going to get you where you need to be?”

Work Your Personal Network

Let what you know about your personal network guide you. “Kickstarter is really about your own personal network, and a huge portion of them fail, so think about who’s going to be putting in money, and are the people in your network enough to get you to your goal?” Kastner asks. In many cases, campaigns are funded primarily by a founder’s friends, family and acquaintances. If your network is small or cash-strapped, use that as a guide to help better predict how much you can realistically expect to accrue during your campaign and plan accordingly.

Plan for Last-Minute Lenders

Appoximately $2,000 of Kaster’s funding came in after she hit 90% of goal, thanks to browsers looking at Kickstarter’s about to expire, recently funded and women’s apparel categories. Says Kastner, “If people think they’re absolutely going to get their thing, there’s a group of people who are really likely to commit.”

Promote Online and off

While Kastner tapped her social networks to build buzz around her campaign, in-person events – trunk shows, in her case – were her most effective marketing tool. At first, trunk shows may seem like an odd choice for a founder who wasn’t necessarily ready to market a product. But selling wasn’t the aim. “The goal is to have things for your friends to talk about,” she says. That meant tapping style-conscious friends to serve as brand representatives who, in turn, invited their friends to Kastern’s events and garnered social media attention for the fledgling company by posting photographs of themselves in Eva & Paul jeans across their networks. In-person events also proved to be an invaluable source of market research: “I got a sense for the kinds of questions about the fit and the enormous degree of skepticism people had about whether the jeans would fit them without trying them on,” she reports.

Frontload That Video

“Only about 50% of the people who came to our page and watched the video watched it all the way through,” Kastner reveals. Because of that, frontload your Kickstarter video with the most important information offered up to viewers within the first 10 to 30 seconds. Otherwise, your message stands to get buried and missed by large numbers of potential customers and fans.

Sure, create a great Kickstarter page. Just don’t assume anyone’s actually reading it. During her campaign, Kastner says she received numerous questions on topics that were clearly covered on her Kickstarter page. Still, a clear, comprehensive description of her project and goals was an important resource for press and media taking a closer look at the brand.

Budget Enough Time

Budget enough time to create and launch your campaign. While many first-timers are careful to carve out extra time to run and promote a Kickstarter campaign once it begins, Kastner warns, “It’s important to give yourself a significant amount of time to work on the Kickstarter before you launch.” Major time sucks include producing a good-quality video and doing the legwork and research needed to compile a realistic plan for how you’ll allocate funds and move ahead with production if you meet your goals.

Search out a Safety Net

Look for a safety net of extra capital. Even when you think you’ve planned out every possible detail and budgeted perfectly before the start of your campaign, it’s helpful to prepare for unexpected expenses. “So you might need a tiny but of capital in case you’re wrong,” Kastner says.

So Your Kickstarter Campaign Worked. Now What?

“A big part of what happens after Kickstarter is you do a lot of soul searching,” says Kastner, who took a few days off to recharge before jumping back into her business with full force. As she moved forward and assessed everything learned over the course of her whirlwind campaign and trunk show tour, she realized there were new challenges ahead:

  • Getting product made. One of the first things Kastner did after Kickstarter was finally take a moment to celebrate her birthday and hang out with friends she hadn’t seen since the campaign began. The she got to work ordering the supplies she’d need to produce her line.
  • Fundraising, for real. “One of the next things I did was that I came back to my community in Boston and I started some of the conversations around fundraising,” she says. Raising money on Kickstarter is one thing, but talking to seasoned investors is an entirely different endeavor. The good news? Kastner reports that success on Kickstarter helped open doors that, pre-campaign, hadn’t budged.
  • Expect delays. When it comes to the actual manufacturing of your product after your campaign has ended, it’s common for things to take longer than you planned. Build extra time into your expected shipping dates at the outset and be prepared to adjust your timelines on the fly. “No matter how good your plans are, it’s hard to get really clear details on how long things are going to take,” Kastner says.
  • Embrace change. Kastner set out to build her brand using an ecommerce-only, direct-to-consumer model. Post-Kickstarter, she revised her approach to include wholesale sales. “The whole point of doing a test is that you have the data from the test, and what I decided was that the feedback for the jeans was extraordinary, but the process of selling through trunk shows and online was not,” she says. “It was a go-to-market strategy pivot for us, definitely.”
  • Say goodbye to going it alone. Handling product production, fundraising, marketing, branding, press outreach and day-to-day operations is more than any one person can handle. It’s no surprise, then, that Kastner has spent some of her post-campaign energy on new hires, including a seasoned fashion sales rep. “As a real company, as opposed to a Kickstarter, it’s not a static process. You need a significantly bigger team to make it happen,” she says.

What did you learn from your own Kickstarter campaign?

lorraine headshotAbout the blogger: Lorraine Sanders is a journalist, blogger and media consultant. She is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle Style Bytes column and writes regularly for FastCompany.com and others. She is founder of the blog Digital Style Digest and an inhabitant of the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Connect with her on Twitter @digitalstyledig or @lorrainesanders.