Lessons from my Unsuccessful Kickstarter Project

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A year ago, I ran a modest but successful Kickstarter to teach Java programming online. Recently, I decided I would run another more ambitious Kickstarter to teach people how to create websites. The funding period is almost over and the project is far from its goal. What went wrong?

Previous Kickstarter

In my first Kickstarter, the project got some starting support from family and friends, but then began showing up on Kickstarter to people exploring projects. 58% of the project was funded by people browsing or searching Kickstarter, here's the overall breakdown:

Referrer Type # of Pledges % of Pledged Pledged
Software (Discover) Kickstarter 38 35.42% $458
Direct traffic (no referrer information) External 19 32.71% $423
Search Kickstarter 5 11.91% $154
Small Projects (Discover) Kickstarter 6 6.65% $86
Facebook External 3 3.40% $44
learneroo.com External 2 3.25% $42
Ending Soon (Discover) Kickstarter 2 2.01% $26
kicktraq.com External 2 1.70% $22
Recently Launched (Discover) Kickstarter 3 1.24% $16
Kickstarter user profiles Kickstarter 1 0.85% $11
getprismatic.com External 1 0.85% $11

Current Kickstarter

Here's some sample content from my current Web for All Kickstarter:

For this Kickstarter, I decided to aim for $4000 (instead of $1000) so I could afford to develop the tutorials, run the site and hire reviewers. I hoped my experience with one successful Kickstarter would help me raise more money this time. I also thought running an established site with thousands of users would help kick-start the Kickstarter. My plan was to promote it through different channels which I hoped would get it to show up to more Kickstarter users who would continue backing it. I thought focusing on something as general as creating websites would appeal to a larger population on Kickstarter than something as specific as programming in Java.

I launched the Kickstarter on Monday July 14. Here are some steps I took to let people know about it:

  • Notified a few friends and family
  • Emailed Learneroo's users
  • Blogged about it on Quora and Learneroo
  • Emailed some meetup groups I'm part of.
  • Posted sample content to Reddit and Hacker News
  • Contacted some relevant tech blogs

The emails to user on Learneroo resulted in almost no backers. The posts on Reddit drove a few visits, but nothing really managed to take off. Overall, the Kickstarter managed to get off to a similar start as the previous one, but it failed to show up high on Kickstarter itself.

Here's the stats from the Kickstarter project as of today:

Referrer Type # of Pledges % of Pledged Pledged
Direct traffic (no referrer information) External 12 59.67% $319
Search Kickstarter 2 16.07% $90
Web (Discover) Kickstarter 2 14.29% $80
Advanced Discovery Kickstarter 2 2.86% $16
Embedded widget External 1 2.68% $15
Friend backing email Kickstarter 1 4.46% $25
quora.com External 1 2.68% $15

The previous Kickstarter raised $751 from Kickstarter-driven visits, but this one only raised $211. A few days after it launched, the project fell off the results page on Kickstarter, so I stopped promoting it further.

Why didn't it succeed?


This was the basic idea behind my KIckstarter:

People are interested in creating websites for various purposes, but don't know where to begin. My tutorials will show them how to create sites without any programming at all, and then how to use a little code to get more control, without becoming a full programmer.

I thought this message would appeal to people, but I think the Kickstarter page did not sell it well enough. The various features I planned to offer, such as interactive graphics, may have just been a distraction. People are aware of free resources to learn how to create websites and I may not have been convinced that my guide would really help them. For example, I could have emphasized how people could save hundreds of dollars by following my recommended resources to creating websites.

Website Users

The current Learneroo users are mostly interested in learning Java, not how to create websites. A large percentage of users never spend any money on things like these, so there was no reason to expect significant number of users to back my Kickstarter project.


According to my studies, about 10% of people in the USA are interested in creating websites, but the hard part is reaching them. You can't rely on getting a post to the front page of Hacker News or Reddit since that's such an unlikely event. It would have been great to email a list of 10,000 people who were interested in creating websites right when I launched, but it's hard to get such a list without spending a lot on advertising. However, it may not be worthwhile to launch a Kickstarter without having a real base to rely on to boost it.

How Kickstarter Works and How to Show Up On It


Kickstarter's categories are biased towards arts projects, which makes it harder for technology projects to succeed. Kickstarter has only one top-level category for all of technology including both Hardware and Software, but it has different categories for all of the following:

  • Art
  • Comics
  • Crafts
  • Dance
  • Film & Video
  • Journalism
  • Music
  • Photography
  • Publishing
  • Theater

This makes it easier for Kickstarter users to find and back projects in the Arts categories. This helps those projects succeed, especially in categories that have less projects to compete with. The category with the least projects, Dance, has a 70% success rate, compared with a general success rate of only 42%. (See Kickstarter stats.)

Kickstarter has sub-categories too, but those are not displayed prominently on the site. I made the mistake of putting my project in the Software category initially, which was both less accurate and a more competitive area than the Web category.

Kickstarter also has random rotating tags that are separate from the categories such Zombies and Cthulhu. I contacted Kickstarter and they said they tag projects automatically based on their names and summaries. It may have made sense to try to get one of the tags, such as "Open-Source", to help the project get a small boost.


Since most projects depend on regular Kickstarter backers, it's crucial to show up high on Kickstarter's pages. Kickstarter creators may need to think about Kickstarter's ranking algorithm just like website creators think about Google's search algorithm. According to the Prefundia Blog, Kickstarter ranks the popularity of projects according to the following 3 factors (in order of importance):

  1. Backers per day
  2. Percent funded
  3. Total raised

While the rankings may be a little more complicated now, it seems these are still pretty crucial factors. This means a Kickstarter project should place a huge emphasis on boosting these numbers, especially #1. Its critical to get a very large number of backers in the first 2 days of a Kickstarter, or the project will be too low for people to see. You should convince people in your network to back your project even for just a dollar. It may also be worthwhile to offer a great low-priced reward to early backers to boost the initial numbers.

To boost the percent funded, it makes sense to set a smaller funding goal. My first project was set to $1000, which also let it show up in the "small projects" category, where it picked up 6 backers. I could have aimed for $1000 for a smaller version of this project, and set stretch goals to create the full planned tutorials. A small number of backers may be less likely to give to a project that already reached it goals, but overall it would have boosted the project.


The Web for All Kickstarter still has 3 days left. Its only at 14% of funding but back it today and it may succeed! Especially consider the following reward categories:

  • $275 - Learneroo Web Bootcamp + 4 Skype sessions with mentors + more!
  • $500 - Choose your own topic for a Learneroo tutorial. Topic should be within the scope of Learneroo, e.g. how to use your web app.
  • $1000 - Get your own custom version of Learneroo.

Either way, let me know if you're interested in using the Learneroo application for any purpose or collaborating in another manner.

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