Kickstarter: Funding As Failure
I’ve been noticing a trend on Kickstarter recently that I consider extremely worrying, and that’s the perception of backing as failure. It has arisen in two major forms, the “early under” and the “funded and cancelled”. I really want to say a little about these two forms, and then advise new creators to ignore and avoid them.
The early under comes from some fairly significant sources. No less an authority than Jamey Stegmaier on his blog advises campaigns to cancel if they are not fully backed within a week of launch and many projects cancel because they have either not backed on day one or not reached over 50% on day one. These ideas have nothing to do with backing, they have to do with overbacking. In order to back solidly you need around 30% on day one and you can have a good strong campaign that backs in day 20. You can back with an opening day of 15-20%, although you’ll need to keep the pressure on and don’t expect to back before the last 72 hours.
The funded and cancelled is a phenomenon that I for one find to be a serious problem; this is the process whereby a project sets a goal, reaches that goal, and then cancels the project. There are few legitimate excuses for doing this, the one most often given is that a creator has suddenly realised that they can or should add in a significant level of content missing from the original project. While it is possible that a project creator might realise that they could offer their backers a greater range of options or elements for their product, there is very little that a well thought through campaign cannot incorporate. More to the point, the few things that could not be incorporated or added on to a well designed campaign are probably bad ideas. In truth many of these campaigns offered too low a goal in the hopes of funding early and overfunding, and are forced to cancel when they realise this is not going to be the case.
I just want to take a moment here to state that correlation is not causation and that early funding correlating with high funding does not mean that it is a cause of it. Well put together campaigns fund early, well put together campaigns fund highly, therefore campaigns that fund early tend to fund highly. However, it does not follow that a badly put together campaign that funds early because it has an unrealistically low funding goal or artificially inserted funds will fund to a high level, the two are not directly linked. There is a story about a group of mathematicians who concluded that the best way to sell people ice cream was to stand them on something soft because ice creams sales are usually at their highest when road surfaces are at their softest, the two correlate, but they do not cause.
Now, it’s true that projects get a bump when they fund, but there is no way of telling if that bump even comes if you fund on day one or two. The first two days of a project are the best, because you’re high on Kickstarter search engines, a strongly performing project will also be on "Most Popular" lists. Funding when you are on neither of these lists will give a bump, but there is very little way of telling if funding when you are on either or both of them has much result, if any. So please, don’t set a goal in order to fund early and then overfund, set a goal because that’s how much money you need. Incidentally, failing to fund a project with a real goal that was exactly what you needed can be depressing, but if you only miss out by a few percent it can provide real hope for the re-launch. Failing to fund your fake goal, or cancelling at 90% of your fake goal, is frankly crushing and not just a little humiliating.
The central point of this blog is this:
Funding is not failure.
If you put up a campaign where getting exactly 100% funding would be a problem or lead you to perceive the campaign as a failure you have either made a major error in budgeting or are doing something that you should seriously re-consider. Around half of all Kickstarter projects fail, on an average month that’s 200-300 projects, just backing is a huge achievement and launching a project that intends to be in the much smaller window of significant overfunding is an act of near insane hubris.
Look at it this way, the idea of a Kickstarter campaign is to name a goal that a creator needs, and name a period of time that they will need to raise that money. What that means is that projects that overfund have calculated those factors incorrectly. Incorrectly in a manner that is often beneficial, but not always, and incorrectly all the same. Projects that significantly overfund will need equally significant increases in logistics, potentially raising costs and lowering the chances of successful fulfillment. Significant overfunding is a sign not of professionalism for a Kickstarter, but rather a lack of it.
Without wanting to get overly serious, a Kickstarter is a covenant between creator and backers. The creator makes a promise to provide something in return for something else, if the backer fulfills their part of the promise and the creator breaks their part of it there is no reason for backers to ever trust that creator again. People might return for the re-launch, but they have no reason to trust that the re-launch won’t be cancelled also when it funds, other than that the creator double extra promises. Cancelling a successfully funded Kickstarter, or one on 80-90% with a week or more remaining should be done in only the most extreme of circumstances, it is a betrayal of backer’s trust in you, and should not even be contemplated for tweaks, or a more aggressive social media campaign, or just because you think you can get more with a re-launch.
In conclusion, as a creator stop planning for a first day funding and shooting for at least 200%, plan to fund in the last week and at around 100%. Have a plan for overfunding, but it should be a contingency plan to deal with unexpected extra work, not the base level for your campaign.