For this special episode of Art of the Kickstart, we spoke with Julio Terra, Director of Technology and Design at Kickstarter. Check it out to hear from him about how you can make sure your Kickstarter campaign is a success!
- What types of products raise the most money on Kickstarter
- What million-dollar Kickstarter campaigns do right
- Why Kickstarter funding is all-or-nothing
- What to consider when setting a Kickstarter funding goal
- What creators should do if they can’t complete a fully-funded Kickstarter project
- What information to include on a Kickstarter page
- How to make a better Kickstarter video
- What types of photography and visual assets creators need for a successful Kickstarter campaign
Connect with Kickstarter
- @Kickstarter on Twitter
- Kickstarter on Facebook
- @Kickstarter on Instagram
- Kickstarter on Tumblr
- Kickstarter on Pinterest
- Kickstarter on YouTube
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Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, President of Enventys Partners, the top full-service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding. Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit and The Gadget Flow. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations, and helping you print and ship faster. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now, let’s get on with the show.
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today’s a special edition of our podcast because we have the Director of Design and Technology from Kickstarter, Julio Terra, joining us on the podcast. Julio, thank you so much for being a guest on the podcast today.
It’s my pleasure to be here, Roy. Thanks for the invitation.
Oh, it’s always gonna be extended to you guys. So, what I would love to know for our audience is straight from your mouth, give our audience a brief description of Kickstarter and what it’s all about.
Great. Well, Kickstarter is a platform to help bring creative projects to life. We talk about this in a broad sense because we embrace everything, of course, from startups who are bringing to life technology products, design products, all the way to writers who are bringing to life a new book, or a filmmaker that wants to make a new documentary, a game designer. All of the things that these different types of products have in common is that they are creative projects. It’s somebody bringing something new to life to share with the world.
The other thing that’s really important to us is we are focused on providing a platform where people can run campaigns where the incentive for a backer to support a creator is because they want that thing that that creator is making to come to life. We’re trying to build a platform here, or we’ve built a platform here, where it’s not … We don’t want people to be backing products because of a charitable desire, or because they’re hoping to profit from what’s being created. We really wanted the primary motivation that backers would pledge money to projects is because they want that thing to come to life. Those two things really keep us focused in terms of the desire to support people bringing things to life and the desire to create a platform where people are supporting other people because they just want to help that project come to life, that being the main motivation for that bringing together of those two groups of people.
So you’ve been at Kickstarter for almost four years now. What types of products, typically, raise the most money on Kickstarter? Are there certain categories that people usually focus in on, on raising significance amounts of six and seven figure capital raises?
Absolutely. I mean, the categories where we see that is, you know, design and tech are, of course, two of the biggest categories where we see a lot of blockbuster campaigns. Beyond that, you also have games, which is the other category where we really see huge blockbusters. We’ve, of course, had blockbusters beyond that. We’ve had blockbusters in film, you know, publishing, but design, tech, and games are the ones where we see the most. I mean, I know in design and tech, specifically, just in those categories, there’s been close to 140 million plus campaigns. I think the exact count is 138 right now, at least as of a week or two ago.
I know we’re always having million dollar campaigns, so that might already be up to 138 or 139. If you consider, also, some design and tech projects, ’cause we sometimes have somebody making, for example, a food, like a sous-vide , they might put it in food. If you count all of those design and tech products beyond the design and tech categories, I think we’re close to 150, 145-150 million plus campaigns in these categories. The games category, I don’t know the exact number. I would suspect it’s somewhere around, somewhere between 60 to 80. Then you have a handful of other million dollar products from other categories.
So in keeping on the million dollar campaign storyline, what are some of the top, let’s say, three things that you’ve seen all of these campaigns do well, whether that be part of the pre-campaign work that they do, or once their campaign is active?
Absolutely. I think pre-campaign work is the ultimate, I think, requirement. Of course, you have some campaigns that are just lucky and go viral, but those are few and far between. It’s definitely not a strategy that you can use if you’re aspiring to enter that level of success, or to achieve that level of success. Pre-campaign preparation is really, really crucial. But breaking that down a little bit, because of course, there’s a lot of things that go into pre-campaign preparation. One of the things that we see is really important is, of course, dialing in your narrative and really creating a compelling project page where you bring to life whatever it is that you’re creating in a really clear and compelling way.
That sounds easy, but that is really difficult. We see many creators struggle with that. If you’re not able to have a really clear and compelling project page, it doesn’t matter how many people you’re able to get to your project page. They’re just not gonna convert. So, in order to be able to do that, that includes everything from creating that narrative, understanding what that narrative is, creating really high-quality image assets, video assets to brings to life what it is you’re making. And so, that, in and of itself, takes many months to put together, usually.
The other part of preparation that’s really important is building a community before you come to Kickstarter. Kickstarter does have a really amazing community of backers, and of people who are early adopters and who love to be on the cusp of what’s new. But, the fact is, as much as … I can be very confident in saying that Kickstarter is the platform where you’ll get the most contribution from our existing community. We still see that most projects make most of their money, over 50%, from their own efforts. And so, Kickstarter is a great place to take your community to the next level and to engage your community in getting the word out about what you’re doing in an actionable way where people can come and support what you’re doing by pledging money to your vision, but it’s not a great place for you to build a community from scratch.
And so, building a community is not something that is easy and is not something that can be done in a really short amount of time. And so, one of the things that we often tell creators is as you’re preparing months and months in advance about your narrative, you should also be, at that point, building a community. That involves doing that through being out in the world sharing your product and your prototypes in advance, building community in social networks, also possibly using even digital marketing to build community and test your messaging that can help across both of those different areas.
I think, again, that before you launch, those two things, building community and really distilling your core product message and narrative, and bringing that to life in a really compelling way are two really, really important, crucial things that you need to do.
The other thing that we see that campaigns that tend to hit that level of success do really well is also when the campaign is live, is really doing an amazing job at pulling it all, all of these different levers that they have. When your campaign is live, there’s a bunch of different levers that you have. I mean, there is the community engagement lever, which is all the more powerful if you’ve done that pre-work of building some community before you got to Kickstarter. There’s this lever of media and press. Then there is this lever, also, of digital advertising.
Creators at that raise a million dollars campaign tend to be creators that are pulling at all of these levers in really effective ways. From a building community perspective, they’re doing a great job of getting the word out there about what they’re doing to their community. They’re doing, often, really good updates to their Kickstarter backers to keep them excited about their project and keep them sharing about their project. From a media perspective, they’re continuously reaching out to press, pitching press, and doing all they can to get coverage because coverage can come at various different points in your campaign, and you never know what coverage can actually be meaningful.
We see, sometimes, a creator getting covered by TechCrunch and having very little traction. Then they get covered by a small niche photo blog. Because it’s a project focused around a tool for photographers, and then that has a huge impact on their project. Doing that press outreach on an ongoing sense, and doing it really smartly and in a way that’s respectful of media can be really impactful. Then, the last thing is using digital ads in a way that’s smart. This is something we’ve seen, especially over the last three years. It’s become a much more powerful and important tool for creators with that level of ambition.
Absolutely, solid advice right there. So, you and I have both backed hundreds, if not thousands, of projects over the last five, six years, who knows how long. What do you look for, specifically, when you back a project on Kickstarter?
Yeah. I mean, I think one of the issues of working at Kickstarter is being too aware of amazing projects that are going live. And so, it’s definitely a good problem to have. I mean, it’s interesting. I like … There’s a wide different types of products that I … I backed about 17, almost close to 1,800 projects now. I back projects for very different reasons. There are projects that I back … In the design and tech community, the projects that I back, to get the product, itself. I love things that are beautifully designed. Beautifully designed, or I’ll say that things that are very well and thoughtfully designed. One aspect of that is aesthetically, things that are beautiful, whether it’s a connected device or a bowl, those are things that I really, really appreciate. But, on a thoughtful design, as well, you have things that are just designed in a very conscious way where the creator has given a lot of thought to the environmental impact of the production, and even the disposal of that product. That’s something that I find really compelling, as well.
And then, I also like projects where I feel like, especially in the connected device area, where there’s been a really strong amount of thought and consideration given to the full user experience of that product. From product world, those are some of the things that I really like. I also love projects that are pushing boundaries. We have a lot of projects on Kickstarter. Even right now, we have a project for, I think it’s called Mission Control, which is to bring back to life this actual [inaudible 00:12:35] ambition control in Texas. These projects that celebrate the pushing of boundaries, exploration, and these projects open our view, which is this underwater drone project, which is all about providing maker scientists with tools to explore new things. That’s kind of another area of projects that I tend to back a lot.
Then the final one that I really love is this broad area of tools for creativity because everything from 3D printers, to music instruments, to physical computing, physical computing platforms or chips sets, or shields, that’s another area that I like. I think those are … And funnily enough, these are three areas that our team, here at Kickstarter, focuses on, but those are three areas where on a personal level, I think me and my team all have a lot of passion for.
Then really, just going beyond that, the other area that I really love is food. I’m just really big into cooking and I just love food projects, whether they’re a restaurant or they are a new device. I mean, I have several Kickstarter funded kitchen gadgets at home. I have the Nomiku. I have the Tovala oven. My wife has even made me promise not to get any more big kitchen items from Kickstarter because we have no more space in our kitchen.
No, fair enough. I know you’re waiting on one of our polygons, as well.
So, add that to the kitchen gadgets, but it’ll take up the least amount of room in your kitchen, so I know your wife won’t get too upset about that. Let’s talk about campaigns now. Kickstarter is unique because it’s a funding all or nothing platform. Can you talk a bit about that, and why the platform holds steady on that?
Yeah, absolutely. For us, we feel that funding all or nothing is really important for two reasons. On one side, we feel that it does eliminate some risk, in that a backer knows that the money that they pledge to a project will only change hands if the creator is able to meet the funding goal that they set. The funding goal is set because a creator is saying, “This is how much money I need in order to bring this thing to life.” So, the backer can have the confidence that that money won’t change hands unless that occurs.
From the creator standpoint, if a creator needs $50,000 to do a small run of their Arduino Shield, they know that they’re not gonna be on the hook for delivering an Arduino Shield unless they’re able to raise that amount of money. For us, this limiting of risk in this way is really important. It just also creates a very clear set of expectations since this is the same for all projects on our platform. The other side, though, as well, is that we find that this is a model that also creates more incentives for backers to be really engaged in that process of getting the word out about a project because they know if a project hasn’t raised enough money to reach its funding goal, the backers understand that they have to help the creators get there. If the backer is really excited about that project, they have an incentive to really support that creator in getting the word out.
Again, of course, I don’t have data for other platforms, but everything that I’ve read from third party sources is that success rate for campaigns that are all or nothing funding are much higher than for campaigns that have more of a flexible kind of approach. And so for us, that’s, like, the risk and the motivation are two things that are really important. I think those are two reasons why we have no plans or vision, any plan in the future to stop keeping our focus on all or nothing.
So on the risk side, what would you say is kind of the best strategy behind setting a public facing funding goal? And what should a creator consider when setting that funding goal?
Well, I think a creator should consider what is the minimum of amount of money that I need while I can still be confident that I can deliver this product, that I can deliver, even more broadly, that I can deliver on my vision. This is really important because I think one of the things that I think some creators don’t realize is that it’s best to set a realistic goal and to fill in funding than it is to set a low goal and succeed funding, and then not be able to deliver your product. We’ve seen startups be able to not reach their funding goal on Kickstarter, and they still are able to identify a few hundred people that were interested in what they’re doing, and then they can use that to either launch again on Kickstarter, or to launch their product [inaudible 00:17:43].
If a product raises money, but puts themselves in a situation where they don’t have enough money to bring that product to life, they’re setting themselves up in a really difficult situation. So, even, we see creators who set themselves up in that situation and are still able to persevere, and that’s great. But, you are, essentially, putting yourself at great risk. That’s why, for that side, we feel it’s really important for you to make sure that you are setting your goals with a high level of confidence that if you raise that money, you can deliver the product.
And, again, and also, just aside from just the, of course, the fact that your word, when you’re doing a Kickstarter campaign, transparency and trust is such at the core of it. And so, you need to make sure that you’re communicating to your backers honestly about what you set your goal to do.
On the flip side, in terms of the reason why we, of course, always say that you want to set it as low as possible while meeting that threshold is because we do have, as we were talking about earlier, it’s an all or nothing funding platform. And so, there’s the funding floor, but there’s no funding ceiling because sometimes creators are like, oh, should I just set it higher because I think it will allow me to keep people motivated to get to that higher level? Our advice there is always no because you can find different ways to keep people motivated, to keep funding your product after you’ve reached that goal, but you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you actually raise enough money, but you didn’t meet your goal because you had set an extra ambitious goal to try to …
What we usually talk about with creators, you should have your base goal, which is how much money you need to bring it to life and the minimum amount of fund that you need. You should set, also, your aspirational goal. And so, the marketing you do, the outreach you do, all of that is, of course, looking at your aspirational goal ’cause that’s your ultimately where you want to get to. But your base goal is where, at that point, you can at least push forward, and have the money to start production and what not. Those are kind of the advice we usually give to creators on [inaudible 00:20:00].
Yeah, and that’s a great segment. We always want to know what happens when a creator is unable to potentially complete their project or bring it to market, and the campaign is potentially already funded, or the campaign is completed. What happens there?
Well, our terms of service provide a pretty clear guidance to creators and the expectations that they need to meet if they are unable to deliver on their promises. That includes open and clear communications. Creators are obligated to provide an open and clear, not just update about what happened, but a clear accounting of how the money was spent in their journey that ended up not meeting its intended goal. That is really crucial. Beyond that, that’s why when a creator has been doing updates throughout that whole process, this final step becomes much easier and painless in many ways because their backers have been along for the ride and know what was happening, but this is what a creator must do in order to close a project if it does end up that they can’t fulfill it. It’s this accounting to their backers of what happened, how the money was spent, and if there’s any money left over, they need to begin the process of refunding that money proportionally to their backers.
Yeah, fair enough. Let’s talk about campaigns now. What, typically, just the rundown in terms of what information a new entrepreneur, or someone looking to launch a campaign, needs to include on their project page, what’s some of the key information they should include?
First off, the most important thing is, of course, a really strong visualization of what makes the project or product awesome. So, that’s, I think, this is, like, at the top of your page, this is your hook. This is something that you’re headlining. Your [inaudible 00:22:04] you and at the very top of your page, your intro section, that’s where you need to capture the essence of what you’re making, and what differentiates it and makes it special. This is something, this is probably the hardest part of your project page to create, the hardest copy to write, the hardest video to make because it does require a lot of work, a lot of understanding of who your core audience is, and a lot of understanding what’s the best way to communicate that core value proposition to your core audience.
I call those the hook. It’s really important because if you don’t get this right, chances are, people are not gonna read anything else on your page. So, this is something that is really crucial and it needs to be really dialed in. Beyond that, we always think of a project page as this part, which is the intro and the essence of the core differentiator of a product. Then the other part of the project page, which is where you kind of dive deep into … Probably, the first thing you want to dive deep into is if it’s a connected device, the user experience. If it’s a beautifully designed object, a beautifully designed vase, then you want to kind of do the kind of closeups and kind of highlight the details of the design.
This is like you start with a high level hook, and then this is where you kind of get to that person who is interested and really kind of get us super excited about the details. This is where you’re telling them a little bit more about the product. You’re not, at that point, getting into specs yet. You’re still trying to, you know, thinking about the benefit level of your product. Then, those are kind of, I think, that’s kind of the essence of the product.
Then, what we really like to see, because one of the things that’s, I think, very important for Kickstarter is we see ourselves as a platform where things get made, get created. And so, being willing to share part of that creative process is really crucial. How do you do that? There’s a few different things that you can do. First off, find ways to share the process, itself. Find ways to share how things were made, the prototypes that they created, some of the thinking that went into the making of it.
Next, finally, is to share about the inspiration of the project. Usually, we don’t … There’s, of course, exceptions. Usually, we don’t recommend that creators start with inspiration. We recommend that they add inspiration a little bit later on, but sharing that inspiration is really important. Talk about the … Along the inspiration, you can talk about the passion that you, or your team, have about that product. Share about the team behind that product. The team can be a really important way for you to build credibility about your team’s ability to deliver on the promises that you’re making.
You also want to set people’s expectations around the timeline. What are those core milestones that you’re going to need to go through as you go from the Kickstarter project to delivering the product, itself? The timeline is really important because it helps you set people’s expectations so that if down the road, there are delays, you can point back to the timeline and be like, “Remember how I said design from manufacturing was gonna take a month and a half. Well, that actually took two months and a half, so we’re a month behind schedule.” It gives you something to always communicate back to and something that, like, a benchmark that you can use to communicate with your audience.
So, the only last thing that I’ll say, that was about the journey. And then of course, for certain products, depending on the complexity of your rewards structure, you might have a section where you talk about the rewards a little bit deeper than what you can in the little reward modules on the side of the page. You could also, if it’s a product where the specs really do matter, where there’s all these chip specs and where you want to provide the exact sizing of your device, that’s something that you can also put towards the bottom of your page where you just kind of dive into that spec level of information.
Absolutely. No, solid advice there. How important do you guys feel that the campaign video is? And potentially, any tips that you would give to the audience to make better crowdfunding videos?
Absolutely. I mean, the video is really, really important. People, especially for a serious creator who is trying to raise a serious amount of money, it becomes even more important. But, we’ve actually … When I first started at Kickstarter, we had data about how, as a product, how to video. It was 30 or 40% more likely to succeed. I don’t think we’re even pulling that data anymore because it’s almost, I think, in a good sense, it’s become almost just a known fact that you need a video if you’re doing a Kickstarter campaign, which for us, is great because we truly believe that. We truly believe that that’s really important.
The tips that I have for people who are thinking about their video is, again, your video is a hook. Your main project video shouldn’t be a five-six minute long video that talks about every single aspect of your project. It’s not like you’re taking everything on your project page and putting it into a video, which we sometimes see creators do. Your main project video should distill, again, bring to life that core value composition, the core things that make your product awesome. It should bring those to life in a really compelling way. If it’s a product that has a user experience associated to it, it’s not just a design object. It’s actually a connected device or any kind of device that has electronics and that is interactive, you really need to bring that user experience to life in your video in a way that’s compelling.
But beyond showing your product in the user experience, you do want to, ideally, show a little bit about the team or the passion behind the project. I do say the team or the passion. I know some creators don’t like to get on camera and don’t want to do the talking head thing, which it can be really effective, but it, for some creators, it is not the right approach. But if you’re not gonna do that, then the flip side of what you can do is actually share a bit about the process. Share [inaudible 00:28:52] your team working, of the sketches.
Show people the human side of this journey because that is really important. I mean, the fact is, you’re not selling a product on Amazon. You are raising money to finish bringing this project to life, and you’re still going through this journey. Having people know that you’re going through the journey and having people be part of that and bring some of that into your video, we find it’s really compelling. It’s also something that our curation team does like, videos that have that aspect. If you want to have a chance of getting staff picked or getting featured, making sure that you’re bringing some of that in can be really helpful.
Absolutely. Continuing on the path of narrative, what types of photography do you see that creators should have for a good Kickstarter project? How do those visual assets usually affect contributions or the overall success of a campaign?
On the first part of that question, we really recommend for creators to show pictures of their product out in the world. I mean, it’s fine if a creator wants to show their device on a white background. I think most people get inspired by the kind of things that they see in the Apple store nowadays, then going online to the Apple website, or other similar websites where they have these products floating on white backgrounds. We recommend against that. If you want to use an image like that somewhere on your project page, that’s fine. But by and large, show things out in the world. If you’re making a smartwatch, show it on people’s wrists. Show it on people on their wrists at home, out in the world. If you’re making a hub, like a connected hub for your home, show how that hub would look on somebody’s bookshelf or on somebody’s living room.
Actually help people see these things in their lives. When you’re thinking about the way these things get shown in the Apple store and on different websites, those are mostly products that are already out in the world. People can go to stores, and actually see those products and touch them. They’ve seen those products and touched them out in the world, in their friends’ houses. And so, they get all that context from living with those objects and those products.
Products that are on Kickstarter are not out in the world yet. And so, we find that that’s just something that’s much more compelling and makes the product also feel more real. I wish we had data to say that this was something that had a clear measurable impact, or a clear [inaudible 00:31:37] impact with increasing funding, but we don’t. What we do have data, what we do know is that having high-quality assets does make a difference. Having photos and videos that are well shot is important. I do want to though, the only [inaudible 00:31:59] I want to say there, that doesn’t mean that things need to be super over-produced. That just means we’ve seen videos that are really nice, but they are shot by the creator on a small budget. But, those are videos that are only shot in one location. They’re shot in a single day. They don’t have a lot of actors and things of that nature. On the photography front in a similar way, we’ve seen that where it’s really nice photography, but that hasn’t been necessarily taken by expensive professional photographers, but just has been really thoughtfully done.
But, so, the quality of your assets is really, really important. When you’re asking somebody to pledge money to your campaign, if you’re trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, you want to seem like you’re a credible company or organization that wants raising that amount of money. And so if all of your photos and videos look pretty shotty, that doesn’t inspire confidence.
No, absolutely. Yeah, you want to make sure that your asset quality matches the production value of the product that you’re gonna be putting out there at the end of the day ’cause obviously, it’s certainly difficult to convert these folks once you get them to the page for something that they’re not able to touch, feel, have an experience with.
All right, that’s all we have for now, but make sure to tune in next week for part two of this episode and hear the rest of my interview with Julio Terra from Kickstarter. Thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for all of the show notes, full transcript, links to everything we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow and BackerKit.
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business, world, and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There, you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it, and of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on EnventysPartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in, and we’ll see you again next week.