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The Myth of Funding Early

Just to get the obvious bits out of the way first, I’m not saying that funding early is impossible or that it’s a bad thing when it happens. However, I have a real problem with the idea that funding early is any kind of a necessity, something to be aimed for or something to cancel over if it doesn’t happen, all of which are ideas that I hear with depressing regularity and are by degrees untrue, unhelpful, non-sensical or downright pernicious. I’ve mentioned this in bits and pieces of previous blogs, but is something that I’ve seen so often and is so damaging that I thought I should write a whole specific blog about it. So here it is.

Oxymoronic Tautology

It seems a pretty safe position to take, that funding in the first 48 hours is a good thing, and obviously it is, no-one is denying that. If it occurs based upon a good campaign taking off well then that’s a fantastic thing. But it doesn’t have some sort of magical quality beneficial beyond its inherent usefulness. Let me put it another way, the point that is often made is that every project that ever funded big also funded fast, and that’s true, that’s pretty much a tautology. But it doesn’t follow that every project that ever funded fast funded big, because if that were true it would follow that every project with a small goal went on to make big money, and while that’s not exactly an oxymoron, its certainly not true. Setting a $1 goal, or dumping $10k of your own money into a campaign two hours after launch won’t magically make it fund bigger than would have done otherwise. If anything, quite the opposite, traditional successful campaigns see 40-50% in the first 48hrs, 20-30% in the following 25 days and 20-30% in the final 72 hours, many front-loaded campaigns are seeing more and more instances of well over 100% on day one and significant losses from day four or five onwards. Do everything that you can and should do to make your campaign fund. Those things should mean that it funds fast, strongly and well, they should not put a special emphasis on the first 48 hours.

Under goals and self-funding

There are pretty-much four things that creators can do to chase the magical 48-hour funding bubble, front loading advertising, early bird offers, setting an under goal or self-funding. The first two are questionable, the second two are outright problematic:

· Front loaded advertising, which is to say, dumping ad buys at the start of the campaign, is not an inherently good idea. Firstly, because for one thing, the reason that campaigns have massive bumps at the start of the campaign is because that’s when they’re at the top of the Kickstarter search pages and short of a very few large creators nothing most creators can do will compare to the thousands and thousands of people that means your campaign is being see by. Essentially it means you’re putting your whole ad buy into a bucket and chucking it into the ocean to see if it raises the water level. Secondly, some campaigns go belly up and no level of advertising will change that, its good to know if your campaign is one of those before you chuck your savings account at it.

· Early bird offers are more and more a bad idea. Aside from the idea that they create winners and losers within backers, they lead to massive early bumps because backers will grab them just to have them and then huge dips as those backers come back and cancel when they think about the campaign. Multiple big money campaigns have seen days with thousands lost due to early bird cancellations. Anything that causes a backer to make a pledge that they plan to come back and probably cancel is going to create momentum on the day that you have momentum anyway, but then put the campaign into reverse at the point where its already stalled. Increasingly, the cost is not worth the reward.

· Setting an under-goal is one of the quickest ways that campaigns can get into trouble. There are campaigns that will need a certain amount and set a goal far below that so that they can fund fast, then the magical 48-hour funding fairy will boost their funds to far over their true secret goal so that they make more money than if they’d just set their honest goal that they weren’t going to reach in the first two days. Which is a problem since the 48-hour funding fairy doesn’t, in the strictly conventional sense, exist. The result is one of a range of problems including campaigns that cancel when almost or even fully funded or worse those that don’t and complete funded campaigns without the sufficient funds to fulfil them.

· Self-funding is outright against Kickstarter rules, for good and obvious reasons. If a campaign needs a certain amount of funds to safely fulfil and a creator puts those funds in with the intention that they will somehow gain the same amount again then the campaign will simply not have the funds necessary to fulfil. There is the possible alternative of setting a goal significantly higher than the necessary goal to give the chance to bump the total and still get the necessary funds, but that’s so bizarre as to be best passed over.

Judging demand and stimulating demand

There is an important question as to what the purpose of a Kickstarter is to a Creator. Theoretically for many large companies the purpose of a Kickstarter is to judge demand for a game, which makes the policy of stimulating demand in the first 48 hours rather an odd one. Rather, the main reason for paying to stimulate demand at Kickstarter is to create a FOMO frenzy and the sort of numbers that can be used in later advertising interviews and grab attention when quoted in reviews. That is simply not the purpose of Kickstarter for small creators, and competing with such activity makes as much sense as competing with someone in the Olympic ice-skating finals when you just want some ice for your drink, it’s the same basic resource but you each have very different needs from it.

If the purpose of a campaign is to raise its goal within its time limit then its purpose is not to raise its goal within the first 48 hours of its time limit (unless the limit is 48 hours, in which case, fair enough). Putting excess effort into achieving something that you’re not there to achieve is not the typical definition of insanity, but its close enough for jazz.

This leads me to the title of this blog, the myth of funding early. Now, some campaigns do fund early, they catch something in the zeitgeist and explode beyond their intentions. Sometimes this can be a serious problem, its not unknown for campaigns launched in order to test the waters and make a few quiet low risk mistakes to end up going big and making a few loud high-risk mistakes because of it, but that’s another issue for another blog. The point is, that if a campaign aims to fund in the first 48 hours, pays for advertising and recognition to make sure they fund in the first 48 hours and relies on funding in the first 48 hours to create enough recognition and noise to make the whole thing worth doing and they fund in the first 48 hours, well they didn’t fund early did they? They funded exactly when they intended to and they’re now going to spend the next, whatever, 20 days, going after a new and probably harder to achieve and more important goal. Most campaigns are much like wizards in that they are neither late nor early, they arrive pretty much exactly when they intended to. The badge of funding early is just that, a badge, and its meaning has been largely bought by advertisers for their own purposes. When it happens organically it’s still an amazing and significant thing, but that is rarer and rarer. More and more, funding early is little more than a myth, chasing it because there are those who create it with regularity is the chasing of a willow the wisp for the small and independent Kickstarter creator. Cancelling because it doesn’t happen is about the worst advice I can imagine giving.

Ultimately it comes down to this, there is really not much, if anything, that a responsible creator can do to ensure they fund in the first 48 hours that isn’t what they should be doing to ensure that they fund at all. It isn’t happening meaningfully anything like as regularly as some creators and advertisers would like you to believe. Set an honest total, get there at your own pace, leave the banners to politicians.


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