How I raised $64,515 on Kickstarter, failed, and plan on doing it all over again soon.

Final Numbers:

Total Backers: 809

Total Pledged: $64,515

Average pledge per backer: $79

Highest pledge: $2,500

Dollars pledged from Kickstarter website (search, discover): $4,957

Total backers and the amount pledged referred from Twitter: 238 backers who contributed $11,112

Total amount pledged referred from Facebook: $17,541

I’ve never been one to say “things happen for a reason” because I don’t believe they do. People only say that when bad things happen. It’s never said about something positive. So, the Kickstarter didn’t work out, none of which had anything to do with pre-determination or fate or whatever. I’ll go into a very long post below. Seriously, it’s definitely a TLDR (Too long Didn’t read) type of post.

This post and the preceding 39 blog entries were meant as a useful guide to future Kickstarter creators. While I may have been too honest at some points which turned some people off as to my negativity early on when things weren’t looking good, it was meant to be an honest assessment of the highs and lows that come with running a Kickstarter. Those who have done it know how hard it is. There are days when absolutely nothing you do works, and there are days, like our final day where we raised over $28,000, where everything just magically comes together.

So with that, here are some thoughts.

I spent 5-8 hours every single day of the 40 day campaign either working on the campaign or thinking about what could work. I spent almost five months prepping. We shot the first thing in February and we launched July 16th. I tried about 10 different video pitches before settling on the current one. I rewrote the copy on the page about ten times.

It didn’t work.

It happens.

A lot of Kickstarters fail. Granted, not many that reach 65% funding fail, but it happens. Actually I’d be curious to see where we rank in that regard.

Why didn’t it work? Below I explain why some of my assumptions were dead wrong, why other assumptions were surprisingly wrong and why the kindness of complete strangers made the whole thing worthwhile anyway.

Monetary Cost

Here is a breakdown of the monetary cost associated with running this campaign. Since I was asking for so much money it’s somewhat important to make it look like you have a clue. While my video is mainly “guy talking to a webcam” there are storyboards, there is part of an animatic trailer and there is actual footage we shot. So here’s a breakdown of what I spent out of pocket:

  • $200 cinematographer to shoot our opening scene. I know it doesn’t look like much but we were at that bar about five hours and we cut about 80% of what we did shoot just to speed it up.
  • $450 actors including voice over talent, almost all of which was not used. Actually the only voice over work we used was Christina Rose’s “I knew you’d always be there for me” which you can hear in our pitch video.
  • $400 trailer animatic which was never used. Parts of it are seen in the pitch video including the city and the guy on the train. Initially budgeted at $1500, we settled on $400 when it became clear the studio wasn’t up to the task and they apparently had worked over 100 hours.
  • $500 Publicist and Press Release.
  • $1100 Facebook ads. This included very early ads getting our Like count up to 1100 by launch. It also included “promoting” Facebook posts. Not many people realize that even though I had 1100 likes, only about 200 people ever see my posts. So you can promote it to 1000 or so for $15.00. Also, during the final week I spent close to $100 per day on ads. It didn’t help much at all. Hey GM, I hear you!
  • $1300 Forming a C-Corp to accept the funds from Kickstarter as a business to give myself more time to spend the money and to limit my personal liability in case a backer felt the need to sue. Also, I would need to form a production company anyway at some point to shoo the film.

$3950 and that doesn’t include labor. Spending 5-8 hours a day would total 200-320 hours. That’s a lot of full work weeks and given my billing rate, well it’s a lot. It could’ve been more expensive. If the animation studio had done a good job on the animatic, and if we had spent more on the actual pitch videos production value, but $4000 is still a chunk of change.

Speaking of labor, if the campaign succeeded Lucas McNelly would have received 13% of whatever we raised. $13,000 if we hit our goal even. He unfortunately gets $0 and he busted his ass. I’m wondering if this will change his evaluation of campaigns he offers to help going forward. I think if you asked him Thursday August 23rd he’d say one thing, and asking him now he might change his mind. That final push I think changed a lot of minds. Also Lucas had one big assumption that turned out to be fatally wrong as well. More on that later.

So while it didn’t succeed this time, I did end up with about 400 more twitter followers. Actually I ended up with 300% more backers than I had twitter followers at the beginning of this campaign. That’s something you can build off of. Seth Godin who launched a Kickstarter and raised 100% of his funding goal in about four hours has said that you can’t build your tribe through Kickstarter. I gotta disagree with him a little bit.

What’s next?

I have no idea.

A few days ago I told the Film Courage guys that there was no way I’d run another Kickstarter or Indie Go Go. That final push to $65,000 completely changed my mind though. While all 809 backers might not come back, I now have a bigger following, and a base of supporters I can immediately reach out to upon launch. That’s a much better place to be in than when I initially launched.

To everyone who helped and especially those who backed the project I want to thank you again. Every single e-mail alert about a new backer just warmed my heart. Waking up every morning and checking my e-mail for any new backers was really exciting for the past 39 days. I’m going to miss it.

I wanted to again thank Lucas McNelly for his tireless efforts and apologize to him for lowering his batting average. Jeanne who suffered a terrible loss during this campaign yet still provided her help. Lynette Carrington who probably charged me 1/3 of the amount she was actually working. The Film Courage crew, David and Karen who dropped everything the last week including working on their own campaign to promote this project. Seriously how amazing is that? Sean Hacket who ended up in twitter jail on the final night, all my friends, co-workers, family that helped too, it was pretty awesome to see.

POST MORTEM

So what worked?

1. Have a story to tell.

I was completely hesitant about ever mentioning my eye condition prior to launch. I had a small blurb about it at the bottom of the Kickstarter page only because I figured charities for the blind would link to the page and if they didn’t see me mention it in the video they might get confused. I wanted the project, the film, the screenplay and my vision for the film to be all that matters. Well I work in advertising and some smart people told me that was stupid.

You need to tell a story. You need an angle. As my former JNCO wearing communcations director Katrina wrote in an e-mail “no one gives a shit about a guy making a movie in Chicago, Jack”. She’s right. They don’t. They care about you and WHY you’re making the movie.

So making the “blindness” aspect a central theme of the overall narrative worked. It got me a lot of press including articles in the Chicago Reader, The Huffington Post, and Agency Spy. You can see all the press we got in the press section.

So my advice to any future Kickstarter creators if you’re seeking a significant amount of money is to craft a story, a narrative and make that a part of the process. You might turn some people off, but you’ll get much more support.

2. Ask for help.

This is true for just about anything in the world. Want a raise at work? Ask. Want that cute girl to go to lunch with you? Ask her. Seriously. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no?.

Asking your backers to tweet or post to their facebook page or even in the waking hours to increase their pledge should be part of your strategy. If you ask them to tweet or post to Facebook, possibly giving them something to write might be helpful. A retweet is kinda meaningless to their followers. If you ask them to tweet with a call to action, that will have much more significance.

In the final hours of the campaign as we went viral and were getting new backers by the minute, I asked my backers to increase their pledge. Not everyone did, and not everyone increased it by a lot but they increased their pledge. These are people who already gave you money. They support you. Asking them for more might seem like a dick move, but in the waking hours of my campaign where I was basically sending out an update to everyone every few minutes begging them to give $50 more, only ONE person canceled their pledge. Just ONE. And hundreds increased their pledges. Again, these people support you and want you to succeed. Don’t take advantage of them, but don’t be afraid to engage them.

3. Lucas McNelly

This is a touchy subject to some people, the whole “Kickstarter consultant” thing, but I knew I needed help. I had ZERO audience. Seriously I had like 300 twitter followers and probably 50 of them were porn/spam bots.

Lucas not only helped me with my pitch video, and reward selection, going over the margins etc.. but he lined up a ton of support for me early on. He had the idea of doing “pimp of the day” where each day someone with a following on Twitter would champion the campaign and tweet about it, or make a video like Marty Lang did. Our twitter strategy didn’t really work too well early on but the final push really worked so it’s a matter of degrees at this point.

Lucas helped in other areas as well. I’m very hesitant to do anything on video and he pushed me to do more of that. I didn’t do anywhere near what he wanted me to do, but it was good having someone kick your ass from time to time to go the extra mile.

The only problem that may arise from having someone run the campaign with you is that it might confuse some people as to who the campaign is actually for or who is running it. I had a few people ask me what his role was or if he was part of the actual film process. This could’ve been addressed but I don’t think it had anything to do with us not reaching $100,000

So what didn’t work?

Well, a lot of things.

I had assumptions going into this. Three big assumptions:

  1. We would be featured on IndieWire as a Project of the Day
  2. Kickstarter would feature us or we’d be a Staff Pick
  3. Charities for the blind would help out. Not monetarily, but with some press or news stories or hell even a Facebook mention.

None of that happened .

Kickstarter didn’t offer any help. We weren’t a staff pick. We weren’t part of their “projects in the news” and we weren’t featured on the home page. I actually sent them links to our write-ups in the Huffington Post and Chicago Reader. But alas, nothing. When I first submitted my project for their review they asked that I take out the mention of blindness as Kickstarter isn’t meant for “cause funding”. I wrote back and showed them several campaigns; one about a blind and deaf pianist releasing an album and a link to Best Friends Forever by Brea Grant which one could argue championed the cause of female film makers. I asked if those two projects were allowed, why not mine? They quickly approved me. I don’t know if I perhaps rubbed them the wrong way or if they just didn’t like my project which is entirely possible.

IndieWire never got back to me after submitting the project. Nothing against them, I just thought we had a cool project.

Charities for the blind weren’t just not interested they almost seemed annoyed. I suppose shifting eyes away from their own fund raising to someone else’s might be the reason but they’re raising money to help people like me. I’m going blind. The charity exists for people like myself and they wanted nothing to do with it.

Being a staff pick on Kickstarter is kind of a big deal. For projects seeking $10,000 or less, if you’re a Kickstarter staff pick? 89% succeed. I don’t know the numbers for projects looking for $100,000 but a Staff Pick or featured project has got to help.

Lucas had one major assumption that completely didn’t come through.

Local media

While we were in the Chicago Reader and the Chicago Tribune is currently doing a story on me, local news/tv/radio wanted no part in it. My assumption is that they do not like the fund raising aspect of it. I think if we succeeded they would’ve been very interested in writing a story about a kid going blind who raised money to shoot a movie in Chicago. But there was no way they were going to promote it and help me get money. Perhaps if I wasn’t using my eye condition as part of the narrative they might’ve been more inclined as well. But live and learn right?

Another major miscalculation was that strangers will actually give you $5000 to $10,000.

They didn’t. While at the very end we did attract several $1000+ and one $2500 pledge, we never attracted any $5k-$10k backers.

That was definitely one miscalculation on my part. I saw projects like “The Sisterhood of Night” which had a two $10,000 backers and five $5,000 backers and thought we could attract that.

So from seven people they attracted $45,000. 

They also had six backers at the $2,500 level.

So from thirteen people they attracted $60,000.

Do not expect that.

Our campaign attracted 300 more backers than they did and raised $70,000 less. I’m assuming those thirteen people which accounted for 65% of their funding goal were in the bank prior to launch. (I might be completely wrong about this, and if I am even better but I doubt I am)

Perhaps the reward we had at $10,000 or $5,000 wasn’t good enough but we didn’t attract big timers like that.

VIDEO

I’m not a fan of being on video. Every video update or what not was just really uncomfortable to do. Granted it got easier over time, but I know Lucas was hounding me for weeks to do more video updates. I don’t think more video updates early on would’ve moved the needle one way or the other but that was definitely one of Lucas’ biggest problems with me.

The Film Courage guys even brought it up during their video chat with me. They sensed my hesitation with doing one. It’s just not something I’m cool with.

LENGTH OF TIME

We went with 39 days because 30 seemed too short. In retrospect I think 39 is too long. 30 is more than enough. Either you get the momentum, buzz and urgency or you don’t. We got buzz but we didn’t get the momentum and urgency until the final few hours.  I can only think what would’ve happened if I set the final deadline at say midnight pacific as opposed to 11:30 PM central. Woulda given us about 2.5 more hours and at that point things would’ve gotten REALLY interesting.  If I do this again, I will definitely set the closing time as midnight pacific for sure.

It’s about you, not the movie

I think part of what happened was the campaign became so much about “guy going blind” and not enough about “guy going blind trying to make a fucking kick ass movie”. I’ll be the first to admit that my video isn’t remarkable by any means. There’s nothing really in there that says “dude can do some cool shit”. The scene with the guy in the bathroom isn’t even the real opening of the movie. The opening is four guys playing poker for nine pages and there was no way I was going to shoot that without professional actors, so we settled on the guy in the bathroom. I still like it but others felt it was amateur hour.

So if I had to do it over again I would’ve:

  • Kept the narrative of blind film maker for sure.
  • Spent more of the pitch video showcasing the film through actual professional shot visuals and not just animatics or story boards
  • I would’ve redone the scene of the guy in the bathroom. It was my first attempt at doing anything and while no offense to my DP, he shot it and I couldn’t really see what he was shooting. I think the blocking is perfect, just the actual performance and possible shot selection needed work. Nothing against the actor, it was my fault.
  • Done a Director’s sizzle reel. Not sure I can do this on my own as my video editing skills aren’t great, but when done well they’re pretty cool.

TWITTER

Early on I worried that our “twitter” strategy wasn’t going to work. And in all honesty it didn’t work until the final day, and then it worked in a major fucking way. I mean WE WERE TRENDING ON TWITTER!

We got people like Neil Gaiman and Matthew Lillard to retweet, and Matthew Lillard actually backed the project. But sending tweets to celebs hoping they’ll retweet you and that’ll have a major impact – it kinda doesn’t. A retweet doesn’t help much. A tweet with a direct call to action will definitely help.

Also you’re not allowed to send unsolicited tweets to people about your campaign anymore. I’ve heard from several Kickstarter project creators who have been warned by Kickstarter about spam.

So don’t do it. It doesn’t work anyway.

FACEBOOK ADS and LIKES

Are pretty much useless. I launched with 1100 likes. About 111 are people I personally know. So 900 strangers basically. It didn’t provide much of any help. The best approach is still to grow your content organically. People that come across your page because of a clever post or picture or video and like it, will engage more with your content than if they clicked “like” in an advertisement.

Facebook is not useless, don’t misread here.  The actual Ads and Like count are somewhat useless. We raised $17,000 from people who clicked on links from Facebook. The Kickstarter dashboard doesn’t allow me to tag links so I have no idea if they came from friends or possibly the ads I’m railing against. But my educated guess is that they did not come from ads at all.

CHARITIES FOR THE BLIND

This one really surprised me. Getting them involved was going to be my entire strategy early on. A story about someone going blind who is trying to overcome that obstacle and live out a dream. I figured they would eat that shit up. I thought we packaged the story well and when we reached out to them.

Crickets.

Not only crickets but some were downright rude. Some seemed annoyed at us even bringing the campaign to their attention. I totally get not wanting to put eyes on someone elses fundraising efforts, but how about a little solidarity? How about a Facebook post? A tweet? Maybe a story? Nothing.

Still surprised at that.

WHAT’S NEXT

Formulating the plan. There’s 809 of you out there that believed in me enough to take out your credit card and pledge $1 or even $2,500. I’ll definitely be back in some way.

I’m thinking another campaign with a goal of $100,001? Maybe.

Very early on I said I wasn’t sure what I was more afraid of:

  • Not raising the money and looking like a failure
  • Raising the money and actually having to produce this screenplay

I know the answer now.

9 responses to “How I raised $64,515 on Kickstarter, failed, and plan on doing it all over again soon.

  1. Great postmortem. I plan on doing my own, much more modest Kickstarter next month, and though I have been largely researching and blogging about successes and things that I feel make a project successful. The projects the failed to fund hold lessons that are every bit as important.

    Consider this graph: http://gigaom.com/2012/06/28/analyzing-kickstarter-what-succeeds-by-how-much-and-how-often/unsuc-distrib-3/

    I am going to be discussing this among some other data points on the weekend, but it is interesting to note that projects that fund at the 65% level are in the extreme minority. Projects that get over 30% funding have more than a 3/4 chance of success.

  2. Pingback: Failure: A Crucible « Caffeineforge

  3. “I mean WE WERE TRENDING ON TWITTER!”

    And you didn’t even have to get involved in a political scandal or marry a Kardashian to do it. That’s huge! :D

    So, when do you think you’ll let everyone know what your next steps (if any) are?

  4. I’m extremely impressed with your writing abilities as neatly
    as with the format for your blog. Is this a paid theme or
    did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality
    writing, it’s rare to peer a great blog like this one these days..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s