The 95% Rule for Kickstarter Creators

One of my most important rules for running a Kickstarter is that the project must be 95% complete before the Kickstarter page even goes live. If you are only willing to undertake a project if you can raise a certain amount of money for it, it is not a good idea for a Kickstarter project. You need to be sufficiently committed to the project to get it very nearly completed on your own before you ask anyone for their support. Kickstarter is not “I will do x if I can raise the money”. Instead, it is “I have done x and now need money for final implementation.”

For better or worse, Kickstarter backers are expecting more and more from project creators. Gone are the days where you could have a neat idea vaguely sketched out and find support for the project – if such days existed at all. An important part of your job as a creator is to convince potential backers that the project is practical and can be produced. The more clearly you can show that your project is ready for implementation, the better. Some people think this goes against the idea of crowdfunding and turns Kickstarter into just a pre-order system with some special bells and whistles, but the practical reality remains: there are a lot of projects on Kickstarter and the dollars to back them are scarce. If a potential backer who can only back one thing sees two projects he or she is equally interested in, but one of them is ready for production and the other is in a more nebulous state of development, chances are that backer will go with the most developed project.

This is one of the reasons I always embed videos in our Kickstarter pages where I show off an advanced prototype of the game or accessory. While the main Kickstarter video will feature the advanced prototype, showing all the details makes the video too long. Therefore, I create a separate video (either a “How to Play” if it is a game, or an “Unboxing” video if it is an accessory) that focuses on the prototype for those who are looking for more information. I like to keep this video under two minutes, though some of the earlier ones were around three minutes. It shows potential backers that we have something solid, physical and real that can be in the hands of the manufacturer in short order. It is not just a vague idea we are still figuring out. It also lets potential backers specifically see the physical product they will receive.

These videos are among my most watched. You can watch the evolution of these videos by checking out: the TerraTiles: Coasts and Rivers prototype preview, the TerraTiles: Tundras and Wastelands prototype preview, the TerraTiles: Battle Pack prototype unboxing, and the Incantris how to play video. If you like, you can compare the content of these videos to the content of the official Kickstarter videos for those projects to see how they differ. They are also available on YouTube.

I think creators should narrowly conceptualize Kickstarter as the place where funds are raised for a project. That might sound obvious. Kickstarter is, after all, a crowdfunding platform. Nevertheless, people try to do lots of things on Kickstarter that it is not well-suited for. These include trying to validate whether or not a project is a good idea, developing a project, and starting to build a community. All of that needs to take place before the Kickstarter page ever goes live. When the Kickstarter page opens, it is time to find out that one last, but very crucial, bit of information: do the people you have connected with like your idea well enough to pledge money?

It can take a lot of time and money to develop a project from concept to a 95% finished advanced prototype that is good enough to bring to a crowdfunding campaign. If the project does not fund, and it cannot be salvaged for relaunch, then you may indeed lose the time and money that has gone into its development. However, even in that case, losing that time and money is much better than having taken a traditional funding route, perhaps even taking out a large loan to get the product manufactured, and then finding out the project isn’t viable or isn’t something people really want. In that case, you are looking at disaster.

You also learn a lot about the project’s viability and the problems you are going to have while taking the project to 95% completion. It is much better to sort through these issues before the campaign, rather than after when you are accountable to your backers for delays and problems. Of course, it is not realistic to expect there to be no complications once the Kickstarter campaign concludes, but already having your project 95% completed before the Kickstarter begins means you have cleared a lot of hurdles before you are responsible to other people.

What do you think? Have you had success on Kickstarter with projects that were in a much earlier phase of development? How likely are you to back projects that are not almost fully developed?

Know people who would be interested? Please share. 🙂
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