Publicity vs. Secrecy and the “No Surprises” Kickstarter

It seems natural for creatives to be secretive about their projects prior to the launch of their Kickstarter campaigns. Two major reasons for this appear to be: 1) They believe their project is really neat and don’t want to spoil the surprise. 2) Some creators are afraid their idea will be stolen. However, I don’t think either of these are good reasons for being too secretive about your project for the following reasons:

  1. Fewer people are looking at your material than you think (and therefore would probably like). So, there are still plenty of people who will come to your Kickstarter page and see your project for the first time. There is more value in talking to people about what you are doing and building a relationship with them than in trying to generate the enthusiasm through a sudden shock when the project is revealed. Most Kickstarter creators find this out when they finally open the Kickstarter page and want people to back the project. Almost all of them wish they had done more to publicize the project before the campaign went live.
  2. The number of people who want to steal your idea is small. The vast majority of people you tell about your project will not be interested in taking it because people want to develop their own ideas. I talk with other creators all the time. I have never had any interest in taking someone’s idea and trying to beat them to market. That is not because people have never shared great ideas with me. They have. It is just that, like most people, I have my own ideas that I want to develop. I don’t want to try to do theirs. I bet you are in a similar situation. If you are reading this blog then you have ideas you want to develop. How likely is it that you would drop everything you are working on and steal one of your fellow creative’s ideas? I’ll bet not very likely.
  3. The number of people who can rip off your idea is small. Even if someone really wants to steal your idea, we know that developing a product, marketing it, manufacturing it, selling it, and fulfilling orders is a major operation. The vast majority of people do not have that kind of capability. And, even if they do, they are constrained by time. By the time you are ready to start talking about your project and drawing attention to it, it is unlikely that someone can steal your idea and execute it faster than you can and in a way that takes all your customers.

So, when you consider all of the above, the number of people out there who both want to steal your idea and can steal your idea is small. While I can’t say that it is impossible, or that there are no downsides to sharing information about your project, I believe that an honest risk/reward analysis between being more or less open will come out on the side of being more open.

There are at least two caveats to the above. First, I recognize that what I am saying may not be true at all scales. Multi-million dollar companies may have the resources to execute faster than you can if they wanted your idea (assuming it fits within their production schedule). Second, if you are working on a project that has mass appeal and is very easy to execute, but you are counting on being the first person to bring the idea to market, you may want to keep the project under wraps until it is complete and you are ready to start marketing. But, at the scales most Kickstarter creators are working on, I don’t think it is a major issue. I’m sure there are people who have had their idea stolen, but you should not be in such fear of that that you do not share your project with the people who you want to be interested in your project and involved in your community. And then, even if your ideas is stolen, you will have another one. I promise.

Given this, I have become more and more interested in what I call the “no surprises” Kickstarter model. By this, I mean that if someone has been following the project from the beginning, there should be nothing on the Kickstarter page that surprises that person. They will have seen it all. The only thing left for the person to do is back the campaign. In my case, by the time the Kickstarter page goes live, all the videos have been released on YouTube, including the main Kickstarter promo video. If it is a game, then the rules and a complete print-and-play have been made publicly available. Some creators are even publicly sharing their Kickstarter page preview link.

The people who are following project should have long ago determined whether or not they will back your project. Using a “no surprises” Kickstarter model, your most loyal fans might not be surprised in a good way on the day of the Kickstarter launch, but it also keeps them from being surprised in a bad way and deciding not to back the campaign after all. The “no surprises” model also helps a creator run the campaign because it means there are other people who are very familiar with the project. The creator cannot be everywhere at all times, and so having other people who know the project and can answer questions is extremely helpful.

For all of these reasons, I tend to error on the side of being more public with my campaigns and projects, but am I wrong? Have there been Kickstarter campaigns in which their key to success rested in secrecy?

Know people who would be interested? Please share. 🙂
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