What I learned running a successful Kickstarter

Table of Contents

Overview

I designed and made some EDC Keychain Tweezers. I was pretty happy with them, and I sold quite a few to some of my Instagram followers @split141. After the sales from Instagram dried up, I was looking at other avenues to generate sales. I was in a unique situation. As someone who was designing, manufacturing, and fulfilling the product, I had a lot of control over how I wanted to handle getting the tweezers into more hands.

As someone new to running Kickstarters, my first successful one was not without its pitfalls. In this article I’ll talk about some of the key things I learned from running a Kickstarter for ‘Titanium EDC Mini Tweezers’.

Why did I Kickstart my product?

So why would you Kickstart a product instead of marketing and selling through regular sales channels? Typically people will Kickstart a product or service to acquire funding so they can bring the product to market. Seeing as my product already existed and didn’t need any startup capital, my specific reasoning for Kickstarting the tweezers was exposure.

I had a problem. I had a good product, but with such little exposure to the general buying population, they were proving hard to make any real money on. Exposure is the only way to sell products. At least in the tweezers case. The tweezers are a good product. I might be little biased, but I believe they do exactly what the are marketed to do, look good, and are not expensive (This statement I have found is little subjective). If no one knows the product exists no one is going to buy them, plain and simple.

Kickstarter is an amazing way to gain exposure, followers, email lists, and loyal customers for really not much. Kickstarter’s fees were extremely reasonable at 5% from the entire funded amount, and the amount of work I had to do to setup the campaign took one solid day. I didn’t hire anyone to work on any of it, so you can do this on the cheap. I just tossed up what I was selling and what I was trying to get for them. Though you should have more a of solid plan then I did.

Running the Kickstarter

I actually didn’t think the tweezers were going to get funded. So I went with an extremely conservative funding goal of $1500 in 45 days. If I did it again I would of stuck under 30 days.

The campaign ended up getting funded in less then 2 days, which came as sort of a shock to me. By the end of the 45 days the campaign had raised a little over $19,000! I personally have never seen that amount of cash come out of something that I made, so you could say I was pretty excited. I was mostly excited because the funding had proven that this was a viable product. Smart people do market research and see if something is viable. Not me. I do all the hard work up front, and face disappointment on the back end. Since this ended up being funded, I was quite pleased.

Running the actual campaign it self was pretty easy. I would post on Instagram about it daily, which acted as a funnel and helped the campaign grow. I was very surprised at how much of the funding came out of Kickstarters search function itself. In fact, my social media work accounted for less then half of all the backers. Keep in mind, I don’t have a huge following on Instagram. Under 1,500 followers as of this writing. It was likely around 1,100 follows at the start of the Kickstarter.

The Lessons I Learned

5. Packaging

Packaging is not something that is forgotten about, but it is almost never prioritized. My plan was to use front ear fold boxes, and then use a cardboard insert that would of held the tweezers and their cap in place in the center of the box. With the sticker and keyring going under the insert. I never got to the inserts because of 3rd party lead times and cost. The lead times from every custom packaging place I talked to was 3 weeks, which actually was enough time, but I didn’t know that at the time. Almost everyone had a min order quantity of 500, which I also wasn’t going to go for. Again, this was actually not enough but I didn’t know that.

I ended up wrapping the rewards in expanded recycle paper, and placing them inside the front ear fold boxes on top of shredded paper. Which in reality, worked just well enough. I’m still not happy with how the packaging is, but its Eco friendly and I don’t have to pass any costs of to the consumer.

Lesson learned: Figure out your packaging before you have to fill rewards. Get your packaging ready to go a month before you have to ship rewards.

4. Timelines

Be realistic about timelines. I thought I would be done by September 31st, and I was not done till Nov 1st. A day late vs the max set deadline of Oct 31st. Take your worst case scenario deadline, then add 30 days. Backers on Kickstarter are accustomed to waiting months for their rewards. I don’t mean abuse trust, but backers understand it takes a long time to go from nothing to Kickstarter finished. I had a lot of unforeseen things happen. Mostly with equipment breaking.

Lesson learned: Always add extra time to your campaign deadline.

3. Product Flow

This point is a little unique to my situation. Seeing as I was the person making while also filling orders I needed to come up with a realistic way to produce 480+ tweezers within 3 months. That alone would of been fine on its own, but the majority of the rewards had customized options.

I ended up producing tweezers on the mill, producing tweezer caps on the lathe, de-burring them, and then storing them in their “de-burred” state. When I needed to fill rewards, I would check the reward, grab a tweezer/cap, customize it, build the packaging, print the label, and then mark the order as complete. This works fantastic for keeping inventory costs low, but unfortunately sucks for speed. Even just the walking between stations probably took me multiple hours over the course of 3 months. A better way to handle it would of been to batch orders, and have all the boxes already created and ready to fill. I did accomplish some of that, but with the way I was tracking orders it became an absolute mess trying to track batches. I ended up going back and forth between two processes and suffered in time because of it.

Lesson learned: Figure out a process flow and stick to it. Optimizing it as you go, instead of switching or all out abandoning it.

2. Keep it Simple

Limit choices and make sure your rewards are set in stone when you start. When you are figuring out your campaign, try to cook up a solid middle of the road reward that an average backer would enjoy. The issue I ran into was 2 fold. Someone would ask for an option that wasn’t listed. I would go “Oh sure I can do that”. Well that meant I then had to then support that option, and track it. Which proved to be the real reason the Kickstarter did not go as smoothly as I would of liked.

Another KISS principle I blew out of the water was changing the design of the tweezers half way through the Kickstarter. When I am unhappy with something, I usually throw it out and start again. The tweezers were good at the start of the Kickstarter, but in my head they were still not perfect (nothing ever gets there FYI). So I ended up redesigning both the fixture, and the design of the tweezers themselves. The new tweezers were a huge improvement over the old. The issue was I had all this “old” inventory of tweezers that I was no longer happy with. So I had to remake the entire stock of tweezers, which added to time, cost, and mental fatigue.

Lessons learned: KISS. Start with a product you’re happy with and see it to the end. For rewards, keep them simple. Don’t go chasing around the few backers who want green, or pink as a primary color.  Finally, I wouldn’t recommend over 5 reward options.

1. Data is Everything

Turns out that being able to track rewards is kind of important. When I started the Kickstarter I started with 4 rewards. That spilled into 18 reward options. When you finally reach the end of the campaign, you get the ability to send all your backers a backer survey. The backer survey is your one opportunity to get data from backers in mass. It’s not exactly a flexible thing. If your backer needs to change his/her address because its been 2 months since you locked their ability to, then they need to message you directly. Guess what happens then? You have to track everything single individual request. Well how are you tracking these things? When 60 people message you with all different requests how do you keep track of that? Well it’s very difficult, as I found out.

When you’re ready to fulfill orders, Kickstarter packages all the data into a nice CSV file(something you would use Microsoft Excel to open). There’s only one issue with this. Data in a CSV has to match other data, otherwise it is placed into another row or column. Well when I created all those extra rewards, some of the names didn’t match. When I finally opened the CSV I was greeted by 480 backers worth of data, spread across hundreds of rows and columns. It took me a full 20 hours to recreate the data into something I could actually read and track. I should of paid someone on Upwork to handle the data, but maybe next time.

You should be prepared and figure out what method your going to use to track backer data and related data. There are many 3rd party options that I have heard about that are better at tracking a large amount of reward options. Kickstarter’s system works fine for campaigns under 5 reward options.

I spent a tremendous amount of time combing through messages, backer surveys, and Shipstation trying to get rewards correct. I completely messed up a good portion (Likely around 10%) of rewards because the data was incorrect. If you mess something up, you have to go back and spend time fixing it. Then you need to pay for shipping again. Shipping some of these tweezers overseas costs over $20, so you can see how messing the data up can become costly.

Lessons learned: Either pay someone to handle the campaign data, or be prepared to spend a lot of your own time making sure everything is correct. Screwing up the campaign data is the quickest way to destroy margins on any rewards.

Final Thoughts

What an awesome learning experience this whole thing has been. While I came really close to break even on the whole campaign, I learned a tremendous about manufacturing, packaging, managing data, managing customers, and shipping rewards.

The overall experience was well worth the learning curve. I am glad that the Kickstarter didn’t end up bigger then it was. It was stressful enough at the size that it was. I am likely to do more Kickstarters in the future. The 5% fund fee is not expensive for what you are gaining.

I had a very positive experience as far as far as dealing with backers went. Everyone was actually very positive and very supportive. I made sure to make regular updates, and respond to messages in a timely manner. I actually expected a lot worse, and was pleasantly surprised by how friendly everyone was. Even if I really messed things up a couple times for multiple people. I tried to make sure everyone was pleased at the end of the day.