Our Kickstarter Experience
We are now roughly three months past the point when we sent our last Kickstarter-backed kits out for delivery, which makes it almost a year since we started to seriously consider whether Kickstarter was a viable way to accomplish this project. The infusion kit plan started as a casual idea brought up over dinner: would it be possible to turn our enjoyable hobby of infusing spirits into a workable kit, and what's more, would anyone even want to buy it? We settled on Kickstarter for our fundraising platform, since it seemed to be the most respected organisation for crowdfunding and we liked the all-or-nothing funds model (it's much easier to plan your finances if you have a set goal in mind; more on this below).
I think the most important thing to keep in mind when launching a crowdfunding campaign is that this is not a money-making system. Do not go into this process thinking you'll make a hefty profit or that it's a get-rich-quick scheme. Consider your Kickstarter campaign as publicity for your project, the first (valuable!) step needed in launching a product or starting a business. Just googling for information on Kickstarter will lead to numerous articles on hugely successful campaigns - ones that make millions of dollars or blow past their goals in record time. Ignore these if you value your sanity. Consider their existence for their success, however it was earned, but do not hold them up as a yardstick to measure your own success. Focus on your own project and how you can reach your audience in the best way (identifying what the "best way" is will take far longer than you anticipate, so spend time evaluating exactly what your project involves).
I. The Initial Planning Stage
Read absolutely everything you can regarding Kickstarter projects. Keep a dedicated notebook and regularly write down as much as possible, even if you don't think it would be useful (Anne cleared space on her work table for a wire-bound unlined notebook and it was beyond helpful for remembering who was contacted when about what on countless occasions). The more knowledge you have and the more prepared you are, the better you can tailor your own project to an organised plan. However, do so with a keen eye and consider 1) what is the author's agenda in writing this article? and 2) how does this information help ME specifically? Gary Sarli's 15 Steps for a Successful Kickstarter Project was incredibly helpful to us (sadly, the website appears to have expired - we copied all the steps down into the notebook for easy quick reference, so we are sharing them at the end of this article). Nathaniel Hansen's Ultimate Crowdfunding article was also useful; we combined his tips with Sarli's for our plan.
We found that the most important things in the planning stage were
1) establishing exactly what we wanted (goal amount, dates, kit model),
2) setting up a plan tailored directly to achieving this complete goal, and
3) staying organised while keeping calm.
Going from the idea of "this would be cool/fun/rewarding!" to "here is my plan of action" was stressful at times since every day brought a new, often unexpected situation that often required immediate attention. We had never done anything like this before! We didn't have any big funders lined up and waiting to contribute! We are people who do not typically fly by the seats of our pants; this was by far the most adventurous undertaking any of us had done.
II. Kickstarter basics
Much of this can be found on the Kickstarter site, but it's mostly spread out in various places and repeated in parts, so that by the end of an afternoon of research you have 50 different tabs open and a notebook full of scribbles and arrows and percentage signs. Here are the basics of how Kickstarter operates and what is important to know as a project creator.
1. The Rules
a. Projects must create something to share with others.
b. Projects must be honest and clearly presented (you must show a prototype at least).
c. No fundraising, financial incentives, or prohibited items allowed.
So basically just make sure you are using the system to honestly create a real project that can be shared and don't try to game the system. No problem.
2. The Fees
a. 5% of your final amount raised will be collected by Kickstarter if you are successful. If your project is not successful, then Kickstarter collects no fees from you.
b. A further 3-5% of your final amount will be collected for payment processing fees if you are successful.
c. If you do not reach the goal you set for yourself, then no backers will be charged and no money changes hands. You will have the option to relaunch your project.
So let's say your goal is $10,000 and you raise exactly that - then Kickstarter will collect $500 in its own fees, leaving you with $9,500. From that $9,500, expect another $300-500 to be collected in payment processing, which leaves you with anywhere between $9,000 and $9,200 in final funds. Keep this in mind when establishing what your goal amount will be and tack on the extra 10% for peace of mind.
3. The Project Page
a. choose a captivating image
b. introduce yourself
c. tell your story, share your progress and research
d. establish a timeline for completion and expected reward delivery; be open and honest
e. include your budget, even if it's rough. this shows proof of planning.
Step 4 in Sarli's 15 Steps plan involves writing a detailed description of yourself and your project (see below). Pick and choose elements from the detailed description you wrote earlier to make it easier to fill out your project page. Transparency is the best plan of action here; don't worry if you are in the earliest stages of accomplishment with your project. People appreciate knowing how you stand and what your plans are in creating the project. Consider your project page from a backer's point of view: would you contribute money to this project? What information is missing that otherwise would make you feel confident in supporting the project? Plain speech and a firm plan for the future are much better than flowery writing and vague ideas.
UNDERPROMISE and OVERDELIVER. It sounds so basic but is helpful to keep in mind for reining in lofty descriptions and keeping your project on track.
III . Running the Kickstarter
Running a Kickstarter project is hard work. There isn't a more direct way to put it. We were lucky in that Anne works as a freelance beverage consultant and could fit the work in around her schedule; Brent and Harry work full-time jobs, so their work was put in during evenings and weekends.
We wrangled all our friends with availability into helping; our photographer and videographer Marvin did us a massive favour with his great work pro bono. We initially considered asking a local bar if we could pay to use their space for a photo set, but lucked out in being able to use a room at Brent's office on a weekend afternoon for free. Consider your needs in these areas as they can cost hugely if you need to factor in studio time and editing requirements. Brent did all the design work and handled the packaging needs as well, since he works in graphic design; the costs for these needs alone would have been far more than we could have afforded if we'd needed to hire someone.
We decided to set our goal amount for €6,000, after deliberating between different amounts ranging from €5,000-€15,000. We chose €6,000 because it represented a balance between the amount of kits we could personally assemble in a short period of time and the amount of space we had to store supplies and finished kits. We also banked on keeping the goal low in order to have a better chance at success; since Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, if we didn't make the goal, we wouldn't get ANY money for the project. Happily, we were successful and raised €6,753 (112% of our goal!).
We chose to launch the Kickstarter project on 17 September 2015, with an end date of 17 October 2015. These dates were picked with the previously-written advice in mind regarding funding: end your project in the middle of a month, on a weekend, so that people have had the time to think about contributing and have a bit of spare cash on hand to back you. Kickstarter projects that run for 30 days and under have the highest success rates, plus we decided to operate under the quarterly plan outlined by Sarli to track the project (i.e. 4 weeks). Additionally, it takes roughly 2 weeks for all payments to be processed by Kickstarter, so we didn't anticipate receiving any money until the beginning of November. We wanted to have the kits available for holiday deliveries (we figured that coordinating the project with the holidays would entice more backers), which gave us a window of a month and a half to order all supplies, collect information from backers, assemble the kits, and deliver them. This ended up being an INCREDIBLY tight turnaround that we didn't fully anticipate, which led to the earliest recipients getting their kits on Christmas Eve, and the latest in January. (Thankfully everyone was incredibly kind and understanding about the delays.) An extra month of time between the receipt of funds and our personal deadline would have ensured 100% success on that front; as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
We decided to limit our project to backers in the EU, UK, USA, and Canada due to the kits containing dried herbs and their general association with alcohol; every country has different restrictions on what they allow past their borders and we simply didn't have the time or resources to be absolutely certain that a backer's package wouldn't be denied at customs in some countries. It would have been great to have worldwide availability but it just wasn't possible at the time (we are working on that for our next step!).
Absolutely download the Kickstarter app to track your progress; their resources for creators are fantastic both during and after the project's run.
We were lucky enough to be listed as a "Project We Love" by Kickstarter, which gave us extra exposure on the site. We also were listed at #1 in the Food and Germany sections for a good amount of time, and featured in the top search results regularly for Berlin. We don't have much advice on what led to these results other than hard work at promoting on social media and careful editing to present the best possible project page.
It shouldn't have been surprising in this day and age, but as soon as the project went live we were emailed/tweeted/instagrammed by a bunch of bots and opportunistic organisations eager to share our project/"help" us out (for a fee, naturally). A few offers seemed legitimate but the amount of groups out there looking to profit off of tiny start-ups is pretty gross. Needless to say, anything that started with "Dear Berlin" (as opposed to any of our actual names) was instantly deleted. The volume of these emails has gone down since the project ended, but it's still surprising how almost 6 months after funding we still get contacted by these predatory groups.
IV. After the Project Was Funded
Coordinating the supplies was a much more massive undertaking than we expected. In our planning stage, we had figured in extra time, plus advance research and communication with our suppliers about what we would need. Despite this, pretty much every element of our supply system needed re-working while the project was underway, which culminated in anxiety at email notifications: what's gone wrong this time? Having a plan with direct goals and flexible back-up plans was essential.
We would like to take this moment to tell you all our feelings about funnels, which surprisingly became the bane of our existence in 2015 and it would be impossible to write this article without expounding upon them. As it turns out, there are three main options for ordering metal funnels in the modern age. 1: order a small amount of them for very high prices (more than €20 per funnel). 2: order a large amount of them from very low prices (think about 10,000 funnels at pennies per funnel, from suspicious websites based abroad). 3: be a member of a German pharmacist's union, the previously-unknown-to-us secret funnel hook-up with discounts on quality funnels (prices range from €10-15 per funnel, but you have to be a member of the organisation). Since none of these three options really suited our needs (1: we are not made of money; 2: didn't have a warehouse to store an order of a million funnels; 3: didn't have foresight to become pharmacists and join their club), we had to go with super fun option 4: just Google a lot and hope for the best. We initially found a pretty decent funnel supplier (ok price, still more than the rest of our supply costs per kit combined, but German-based, able to ship quickly, and the size on the website indicated they would fit our boxes), however the funnels we received absolutely did not fit despite all efforts and re-measuring and checking the site and supplier. At the last minute, we found a deal which saved us. It wasn't a company that we'd set out to use, but they had what we needed in the size we needed and in the end were cheaper than the failed option previously due to the size of our order. All's well that ends well, but who would have thought that something as seemingly innocuous as FUNNELS would have had us in pieces.
We decided to use DHL as our delivery service, since they are the largest package service in Germany and have a variety of options and price points. We figured that using just one service for deliveries would streamline the process. Establishing the shipping prices was necessary to do before launching the project and was much more time-consuming than anticipated. We set up a business account with DHL due to the volume of packages we anticipated delivering, which took much longer to create than we thought it would. However, once we had the online portal, it was a relatively easy way to create shipping labels and track parcels (although not entirely foolproof, resulting in tracking emails being sent at delayed times, some in German and some in English regardless of the package destination. We are still unsure exactly why this happened). Factoring in a bit more time to master the DHL system would have been beneficial and lessened some of the stress we felt while putting together deliveries during the holiday season.
We tried not to underestimate the reward fulfilment stage of the process, but still felt overwhelmed working on weekends and late into the night in the weeks leading up to deliveries going out. If we were to repeat the project, we would take so much more time in establishing how long everything would take and how much space we would need to not only assemble kits, but also store them (For future reference: flat-packed cardboard boxes take up a ton of room! Boxes of glass bottles are obviously, stupidly HEAVY!).
V. In Conclusion
Overall, we accomplished a lot in the space of one year; a full project realised successfully. In January 2016, we created an Etsy shop as the new home for our kits since Etsy has a good user base and support system here in Germany. Currently, the Alpha, Noble, and Voyager kits are available there, with further kits in development! We are also working on the next stage of our growth, which is to develop relationships with boutique and shop owners here in Berlin to sell the kits in brick-and-mortar stores in the city.
Kickstarter was the best option for us overall; it ticked all the boxes for what we needed in a crowdfunding platform and gave us the exposure we hoped for. We hope that this article can help give advice to those who want to know more about setting up and running a Kickstarter as well as some clarity on the process as we experienced it.
Our project link is HERE if you'd like to check it out.
We would like to take the opportunity to thank every one of our 92 backers once again for their support; we are honoured and grateful to our friends, family, and new Boozehounds for their encouragement and enthusiasm for the infusion kits. We hope you're enjoying your kits and looking forward to trying some new ones!
Cheers! The Boozehound Team
Gary Sarli's 15 Steps for a Successful Kickstarter Project
(taken from our notebook; parts may be paraphrased/tailored for use in planning our Kickstarter)
Phase I: Preparation
1. Create a detailed outline for your final product (insider access and input are the most important things to backers)
2. Figure out a reasonable production schedule
3. Calculate a comprehensive budget
- include fair labor payment, printing and shipping costs, website overhead
4. Figure out a marketing campaign to sell your idea
- 500-1000 word detailed description
- website with detailed information, FAQ, and messaging
- be able to engage with backers from the beginning
Phase II: Determine Project Details
5. Decide on your start & end dates
- end the project in the second half of the month, preferably on a Friday or Saturday night
- this is because people get paid usually on the 1st and 15th of each month (*other notes of ours showed that people usually reserve their 1st of month paychecks for essentials (bills, rent, grocery budgeting, etc) and 15th of month paychecks for leisure (i.e. this is when people are more likely to have some extra cash to contribute to your Kickstarter!))
6. Decide on the reward levels for your backers
- make your lowest level no more than $10
- create perks for early backers (basic insider info, updates, sneak peeks, early delivery, etc)
- mid-level backers can get more exclusives (voting on design, etc.)
- high-level backers should get limited special exclusives. these levels exist to provide contrast to show the good bargain of the lower tiers
- ultra-level backers should be super limited and the ultimate rewards
- give the low level backers the option of pledging above the minimum to buy extra copies of the final product (buy multiple copies with a small discount)
Phase III: Soft Launch
7. Soft launch your project on your website and social media at least 30 days before the actual launch on Kickstarter
- have all information you've prepared so far listed (rewards, dates)
- put together a press release for blogs/advertisers
8. Do frequent Google searches and set up alerts
- always post a reply
- be kind, courteous, and understanding
- bookmark EVERYTHING
9. Don't be spammy on social media
- say something new each time
- can post more frequently at the beginning and end of the Kickstarter
10. Tweak sales pitch based on feedback from soft launch
Phase IV: Kickstarter Launch
11. Stay engaged
- direct people directly to the Kickstarter page with every post
- go back to every bookmarked page and post
12. USE THE KICKSTARTER APP
13. Post frequent updates on Kickstarter, following the same social media rules (1-2 times per week)
- Keep a close watch on comments and questions
14. Don't panic! There are 4 phases of fundraising:
a. Initial burst of activity
- show all the gratitude
- ideal number is to reach 30% in this time (according to D. Solis : 90% of projects that reach 30% in the first week will be successful; the opening weekend is your pace-setter)
b. Second and third quarters = slowdown
- keep people excited and engaged with social media & updates
c. Final quarter, another burst
d. Goal threshold, another burst
15. Deadline passed
- info requests to Kickstarter
- thank EVERYONE profusely, remember to be humble, gracious, and thankful
- keep updating the Kickstarter and website as you assemble rewards for backers