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Why early feedback is so valuable, and not just the money…

How we used Kickstarter to fund our educational project, and the surprising things it bought us aside from money.

Why early feedback is so valuable, and not just the money…

I want to share my experience of running a successful crowd-funding campaign while it’s fresh in my mind. In early July a developer friend and I decided to create a Udemy course to teach people to create games using Unity 3D. I’ve done a couple of Udemy courses before, but I just dived in without asking people what they want first.

So, we chose Kickstarter without much consideration of other options, and “just did it”. We were nervous that it would flop, but figured we had little to lose. Looking back on that moment, I’m so glad we pushed through the resistance and just published it warts-and-all.

We had an initial goal of £3,500. That was enough for us to live while we developed the course, and we hoped we might get some useful feedback along the way. Now sitting on over £25,000 of pledges with a few days to go it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind. And as for feedback, that part has been AMAZING.

We’ve had over 300 comments on our campaign, and this has given us amazing insight into what we should build, before we even start. Perhaps even more revealing is how people have jumped at new content and support related reward levels as we have added them. When people “vote with their wallets” it turns from hypothetical into real market research.

It’s not all been plain sailing, and if you decide to kickstart your next project, I have a few lessons I would like to share…

Keep your lower pledge levels scalable

We made the mistake of putting a £30 level that doesn’t scale well because you can only get 10 people at a time on a Google Hangout. That means that levels above must be restricted, as all higher backers get everything below too. This has restricted our ability to release the highly sought-after reward levels that include more support.

Continuously do you own promotion

If you want Kickstarter’s algorithms to “notice” you, I think you need to do a fair amount of your own promotion, at least in the early days. If you look at the split below, you’ll notice we’ve driven a lot of the conversions from Facebook and other direct sources. This has really helped keep us in the spotlight.

pie chart showing that 41% of funding came from outside Kickstarter

Respond to your backers quickly

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been thanked for getting back to people quickly. There are at least 4 streams to keep on top of: Social media, Kickstarter comments, individual update comments, and messages. Make sure you check them all several times a day.

There’s an amazing culture around crowd-funding

Like an angel at my side, I’ve been receiving messages from one of our backers – Paul. He’s run his own successful Kickstarter in the past, and has been giving incredibly timely, helpful and specific advice all the way along. Despite feeling that we want to “do things our way”, we’ve embraced these ideas. As you will see from the next point, we’re glad we did…

Your easiest boost comes from within

After a depressing quiet weekend towards the end of the campaign, we decided to add a new reward tier at £25, and ask the £15 backers to upgrade… showing them exactly how with a simple Snagit screenshot. The result was amazing, we immediately had our best day ever on the 4th August, and the 5th was even bigger. See this screenshot from the fantastically useful Kicktraq site…

traffic spike caused by internal pledges, from

Consider Trello or similar to manage everything

We’re using the joy-to-use kanban system, Trello, to manage pretty much everything. One great use we have found is to help backers vote on which demo games they want to see in the course. You can see the public board here. Having 100s of votes before we even start production is just amazing.

I once heard this from an inspiring Texan businessman – Keith Cunningham:  Business is simply FOWTOW > GGI > GITT. What the heck? My thoughts exactly! The expansion is deceptively simple…

  1. Find Out What They Want  <= “Research”
  2. Go Get It <= “Production”
  3. Give It To Them <= ”Delivery”

… it’s amazing how many people miss the first step. In my new role as an angel investor here in Cambridge I’m constantly encouraging people to test their assumptions by trying to get Grip ASAP. I define Grip, the first stage in starting your business, as…

You know you have grip when people consistently part with their Time, Information or Money in response to your offer.

In fact, I’m so sure that grip is the right place to start I advocate trying to get it even before you’re clear on what your idea actually is! I know this may sound crazy, but you can’t steer a car until you have traction and I believe it’s the same for an idea.

It may be scary asking people to back something as nebulous as an idea, but it taps into positive feedback. Either people aren’t interested and you “fail” fast, and move on to the next evolution of the idea… OR they love it and help you shape the very idea, giving you the money to actually make it happen as they go. If you can handle failure, it’s a win:win. I like to remember FAIL = From Adversity I Learn… more psychobabble I picked-up somewhere!

A note on tracking

One thing we have found hard with Kickstarter, is tracking. If you take a look at the dashboard stats below, you’ll notice a huge % of the pledges are lumped into “Direct traffic”, which doesn’t really help us work out where they came from.

Some projects, like the exciting looking Jibo family robot, use an intermediate page to talk about the project before linking off to the crowd-funding site. This gives you more ability to track visitors, at the cost of making people have to jump through another hoop… a gamble we weren’t willing to take.

Keep it real

Why is tracking that important anyway? It kind of isn’t unless you’re doing paid advertising. We started to think about reinvesting some of the pledges into paid advertising to create a typical virtuous loop. However, we keep remind ourselves the whole point of this…

To get enough money to live while we build the thing, and to get great feedback.

Paid advertising goes against that grain in some ways. The whole idea is to get money in, not spend it out before we even receive it. We have decided not to pursue this route, instead asking backers to share the project and even telling them exactly how to do so by supplying sample tweets etc.

It’s really exciting

In all my years of business, little has come close to the sheer excitement and positive culture of running this Kickstarter campaign. People both on and off Kickstarter have been welcoming and supportive. All the feedback has been helpful and actionable, and we will have money in the bank so that we can afford to create an amazing product.

Try and avoid the temptation to “brood”; ignore it when the odd person cancels, or downgrades their pledge, and focus on what’s good. Stay grateful for what’s coming in, and remember you’re not entitled to anything… meaning that you’ll get what you deserve. Don’t get numb to the pledges, yes the first few are exciting, but they last few are just as important.

The gap between expectation and reality

Tony Robbins has said that you’re only unhappy when your life conditions don’t equal your blueprint. In the context of a live crowd-funding campaign…

Life Conditions = Recent Pledge Rate

Blueprint =  Your Funding Goal(s)

When we passed £3,500 we were delighted. We then set our first stretch goal, and felt like failures because we weren’t there yet. Then we got there, felt like heroes, set higher goals, then repeated. This emotional rollercoaster can be helpful if you just continue to move forward in the highs and lows.

Is crowd-funding right for you?

With the experience I’ve just had I’m finding it hard to see the down-sides. As long as you’re confident you can deliver what you promise, and you set a target that works what have you got to loose? Either it will fail to meet it’s target, and you have more information than you started with, or it will succeed and you have more information and more money.

Of course the real question may be “what if it fails?” That depends, the campaign failing doesn’t mean your final product will, but it may indicate you need to package it differently once released. If have you the sort of idea you think people won’t want until they see it in context, go ahead and release it!

People don’t know what they want till they see it in context?


graphic of a half full iPhone batter with broken glass around it

Imagine it’s the year 1997 when phones’ batteries lasted ages, and all had some sort of keyboard. You announce…

“Here’s a phone that lasts less than a day, breaks when dropped, and has no keyboard - do you want it?”.

… people simply wouldn’t be able to imagine what they are getting.  So, with little obvious external “testing” of the market Apple confidently built it and got it out to the world. Of course Steve Jobs practiced the pitch 1000s of times internally before the launch keynote, but you get the idea. Sometimes you’ve just got to build it first.

Perhaps what you learn from crowd-funding tells you more about how to package your product than what to build, you have to make this judgment for yourself. I’m a firm believer that all information is useful, if you’re prepared for any result and able to make rational choices from it.

So for your next game, why not consider crowd-funding? It’s not going to change the fact you’ll need to spend long months doing hard but rewarding work, but at least you’ll have more information about what people will buy into.

You can see our campaign here…

You can now buy the course at a Gamasutra discount here...

Happy coding!

Ben Tristem

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