Ask me anything: My first successful Kickstarter campaign
www.riut.co.uk The point of Kickstarter is that one person with a good idea, some preparation and the energy to stick with it can raise funds to realise their idea with the help of the crowd alone. I did it and I'm happy to tell you more about anything that isn't isn't mentioned below.
I'm Sarah, a Kickstarter project creator. On 26 November 2014 my idea - the revolutionary RiutBag - was fully funded by over 1000 backers. I hit my funding target (29,700GBP) in one week and was eventually 217% funded in 30 days. Here's my project: http://kck.st/1tvaf06
A masters student in business and entrepreneurship got in touch to ask me what I did to help these 1091 backers lift the RiutBag off my sketch book pages and into reality. I'm always thrilled to answer such questions. They help me realise more about what I'm doing and are hopefully a good source for you too.
1. How many people were directly involved in your team?
One. Just me.
2. Did you include external help for your Kickstarter campaign like paid Kickstarter consultants?
No! That's the beauty of Kickstarter. You can just be one individual with an idea. You don't need anyone else to consult you. It's super simple: put your idea online, make it easy for people to understand it, respond and update on major milestones. Keep your backers happy and be honest!
3. What do you think are the ingredients to achieving success in a Kickstarter campaign?
1) Know your product. Think about the bigger meaning behind your product. I wasn't just making a rucksack with a zip in a different place; I created the "Revolutionary RiutBag" for safe and calm city travel. I created videos and shareable picture content within a bigger story asking backers to take part in a global revolution in user thinking.
2) Energetic, positive and non-defensive communication with your backers. Thank everyone for even looking at your page! There are millions of things they could be doing other than looking at your project. The fact that they've taken the time to watch your video, take a closer look and get in touch or even back is a huge thing. Whether they have odd questions, negative feedback or give off bad vibes, still be grateful for their time. If it's not right for them, let them know but do so gracefully. Everyone will appreciate it.
4. Were the guidelines on Kickstarter’s website or some other sources useful to you for preparing your campaign?
I studied law in my past life. That means, I read the rules. By reading everything that Kickstarter made available, I knew as much as I could and there were no surprises. I would do everything Kickstarter suggests - they benefit from successful Kickstarter campaigns too - and then add your own stuff on top.
Kickstarter suggests looking at other successful campaigns. Whilst a lot didn't really inspire me, one did. Funnily, it was a campaign for a butter knife. I backed them, saw how they structured their Kickstarter campaign, loved the way they communicated and knew how good it felt backing them. I emulated that and any other useful information I found.
Unintuitive learning point: whenever I found that the advice I was reading or listening to made me defensive and react negatively, it was mostly because it was an important piece of advice I'd ignored until that point. The advice I hated most at first, when I revisited it and took a stance on that point, turned out to be hugely important to the project.
5. Why did you use Kickstarter?
I got the idea from my little sister! She used it to fund her pop up art gallery in Brighton, UK. I hadn't fully understood how Kickstarter worked until I backed her project and saw it succeed.
When I thought about my starting idea, the RiutBag, I could have written a business plan and gone to the bank, been in thousands of pounds of debt and had to impose the RiutBag on customers. But that didn't seem the right way to go. Given that my company is called Riut - which stands for Revolution in user thinking - I thought, I'm going to let real rucksack users decide whether this is an idea worth pursuing. I'd seen it work and it really fit with my company ethos to use Kickstarter.
6. What was the main goal of your Kickstarter campaign? Were there any other things you learnt along the way?
I used this Kickstarter campaign for many things. First, I wanted to know whether I was mad. Have I left my job to create a product that no one wants, or is this really something that appeals to people? You can fool yourself so easily, it was finally time to find out what those outside my family and friends thought.
Had I gone for the bank loan option, on the day I received the loan I would have been in 29,700GBP worth of debt with no customers. A pretty miserable start to any business! This way, if successful, I would not only have the money to do it, I'd have a crowd of customers who care more about the RiutBag and my efforts than they otherwise might had they just bought the RiutBag in a department store or on Amazon. They'd be there from the start. That means a lot to them and me.
Two unexpected learning outcomes were these:
1) Backers asked me questions about the RiutBag to which I didn't know the answer every day. I was forced to get to know the RiutBag from my customer's perspective, learn what other people wanted to know about it and learn how to communicate this well. What weight is it? Is the base scratch proof? What are the measurements of the bottle holders, can it fit an A4 folder? Do the zip pulls have holes which can be padlocked shut? Don't just huff and puff when you don't know the answer. Get weighing! Measuring! Try stuff out! Video and photograph it for your backers; they will appreciate every bit of effort.
2) It was the best 30 day intensive startup obstacle course out there. Specific to your product; your communication, response and customer service tested 24 hours a day for 30 days. Can you have the energy to thank, be interested in and answer honestly every backer question and query? Can you do it every day and every night for 30 days? If you can't do it for 30 days, how will you be able to do this in the future? It's not easy. I had no idea what hard work it would be. But it trained me to answer public and private questions with clarity, honesty and style: videos, blogs, photos and explanation. Respond, be grateful for all feedback and consider everyone's view point.
7. Did you come across negative comments that hindered you in building up trust with backers?
Negative feedback is a reality and as important and positive feedback. Here's how I dealt with it: I did it by not being defensive, being honest and answering negative comments as well as positive. This shows people that you are serious and trustworthy. It's like anything: if someone doesn't like what you've made, it's probably not a product they should be buying! I don't see a problem with that now. But it took me a little while to learn that on the campaign!
8. Did you get any practical use from the backers feedback?
Absolutely. There's no greater source of information than from the people who are buying your product. I understood that there is demand for products beyond the RiutBag I put on Kickstarter. I had to balance the many suggestions from people with my goals for the product and problems I was trying to solve.
If I'd taken on every suggestion I'd have ended up with a jumbled up product for everyone and, therefore, no one: mountain climbers, cyclists, new parents, people who need light bags, heavy bags, colourful and black bags. Whilst that might sound great to start, the point of this RiutBag is to solve problems of urban travel. I would have confused the urban user and not kept my promise to them.
So I only took three suggestions on board: 1) Increasing the size of the bottle holder to fit 750ml bottles and small umbrellas, 2) making sure the zip pulls have holes so that padlocks can close them, 3) increasing size of the inner pockets to hold plenty of computer and laptop cables.
9. Apart from the Kickstarter website what else did you do to create awareness of your project?
I used Linkedin and Facebook to prepare those close to me for what was to come. I asked people to back me only if they want a RiutBag! But for everyone else, I asked them to share my content if they didn't want to support financially. That helped me to get an important good lift off right at the beginning of the campaign. The Riut Facebook page let me gather fans without annoying my friends too much with RiutBag related updates.
You can't "use" newspapers to get promoted. They have to want to write about you. I used a PR freelancer to help me reach the press. But that didn't really do much. It was all about the social media on this campaign: Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and Facebook. And the comments page on the Kickstarter campaign itself was really important. I had a look of good feedback from backers about my open communication style and willingness to respond to comments.
It was difficult to draw myself away from the internet. But I also felt it was hugely important to be out on the road stopping people, talking to them and showing anyone I could the RiutBag in reality. So I spoke at TEDx event in Brighton, at University of Manchester, on the BBC Radio and to any passerby who would listen on the streets!
10. Would you use Kickstarter again in the future and if yes, what would you do differently when promoting your project?
I'd definitely use Kickstarter again. However, I think Kickstarter should be used by individuals who don't have the funds to make their idea a reality. Now that my idea is funded, I want to use my business model to become a profitable and sustainable company. Therefore, I should have the profits to fund new products myself. Unless I use Kickstarter to launch my RiutBag for real, I shouldn't be returning! But if I have a new idea that needs funding, I'll certainly use Kickstarter.
What would I do differently? Firstly, practically, I'd prepare for the reality of the 30 day campaign. As one person, I would make sure my kitchen is stocked, tidy my flat and give all my friends a massive hug before it starts. My living standards really dropped during the campaign because I had no idea how all encompassing it would be.
On the Kickstarter side, I'd create a lot more video content. I'd also ask people who don't know about my product to watch the Kickstarter video itself. It was way too long and didn't have enough details about the inside of the bag, for instance. I'd also start my company Facebook page much sooner to have a larger captive audience in advance.