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Lessons from my Successful Kickstarter Project
Almost half a year ago, I ran a Kickstarter that failed. At that time, I posted some lesson learned about running a Kickstarter. I’m happy to report that my recent Kickstarter is almost over and has been a big success! How did this one succeed?
First, here's some data about my current Kickstarter (as of March 16):
- Pledged via Kickstarter1 $6,093
- Pledged via external referrers $2,355
Average pledge amount $34.62
Project Video Plays 6,244
38.42% of plays completed
Here's a table of all the sources that brought in more than $40, in order of amount pledged:
|# of Pledges
|Direct traffic (no referrer information)
|Staff Picks (Discover)
|Kickstarter user profiles
|A project’s backer confirmation page
Here's some daily data from Kicktraq:
While my previous Kickstarter barely managed to raise any money at all on Kickstarter itself, this time it raised over $6,000! What went right?
How it Succeeded
The number one reason for this project's success was that Kickstarter chose it for a staff pick right when it launched. (Thanks Kickstarter!) This caused the project to show up prominently on the site early on, which sent a large number of backers in the first few days of the project. This helped the project to continue to show up (though not as high) later on, and encouraged people to back the project.
While you can't know exactly why Kickstarter staff pick a project, they probably are looking for the same things as potential backers. Here are a couple factors that I think influenced both kickstarter staff and project backers:
- Video - The video was watched over 6000 times and completed almost 40% of the time, which seems like a good percentage. People I spoke to appreciated the animation of Ruby on Rails as a machine. I drew the initial sketches and then hired someone inexpensively on Elance to create that animation, which was money well spent!
- Message - I think the overall message of this Kickstarter was clearer this time. It was focused on web development with Ruby on Rails, instead of assorted ways to create websites.
It may have also helped that I had contacted Kickstarter about my project before launching it. They had given the following feedback on an early draft of my project:
- Show previous courses that you've created so that your backers will have confidence that your courses are worth the investment.
I added an "About" section and teamed up with senior developers to be advisors for this project. Daniel Kehoe was especially helpful and offered his ebook to backers of my project.
I also followed their other two suggestions:
- Find ways to bring to life the course and content. Show some example content, or challenges that will be featured.
- Talk about what participants will be able to do once they've taken the course. Make it feel actionable.
Ruby on Rails has an active community, which I was able to reach out to. I think it helped to get the word out to Rails developers, even though I was primarily targeting people interested in becoming Rails developers.
I emailed a number of relevant meetup groups. Many of the meetup email lists are controlled by a moderator who don't approve general messages, but the meetup emails that went through reached many people who liked the project.
BackerClub.co contacted me recently and offered to email my project to their group of "super-backers" for $149. At first I was hesitant to shell out that amount for something that may not work, but I contacted a number of people who had used them and most of them reported positive results. I signed up with them and it brought a nice boost to my project.
Blog Posts & Reddit
I created a large number of posts about the Kickstarter, who it was for, how to create websites, what programming languages to learn, and more. Most of these posts didn't help bring much traffic to the site. The main exception was Real Web Development for Entrepreneurs which was appreciated by the sub-reddit on startups.
While an initial post on Reddit before I launched the Kickstarter got many upvotes, it was hard to repeat that success. Overall however, many people from the sub-reddits for Ruby on Rails saw my project, which sent some backers to my project.
I also wanted to get a big tech blog to mention this Kickstarter, but was unsuccessful. I wrote some very targeted emails to bloggers who I thought would be interested, but no one replied. I even went to a couple events where bloggers were, but that didn't help. I subscribed to HARO, a mailing list where journalists and bloggers ask questions, and people familiar with the topic can reply. I wrote a few detailed answers to HARO questions, but most people just ignored them. I think it's not worth pursuing news coverage unless you have a real connection with a journalist or are creating something extremely newsworthy. A course with a new twist doesn't a news item make. It's better to spread the word on sites like Reddit, where you have a chance of being voted very high, and can at least get some traffic even with just a few votes.
I also advertised on Reddit and Facebook. On Reddit I targeted the technology sub-reddits and managed to get some decent click-through rates with my simple ads. However, these ads don't appear to have sent many backers. On Facebook, I used adEspresso.com for the simple purpose of targeting people who were interested in both Kickstarter AND in web development or the like. (Facebook's own ad interface only lets you target people interested in an area OR another area, which doesn't let you narrow in.) The ads that showed the Kickstarter picture (with some text removed) and video did well and had a good click-through and like rate. However, it's unclear how many actual backers resulted from the ads. (The one backer from "attachment.fbsbx.com" seems to have been from an ad, but that wasn't enough for the campaign to break even.)
Kickstarter shows the source of backers, but a large number of backers have "no referrer information". Visits from https websites (such as Gmail, Facebook and Twitter) don't pass on referrer information, which makes it hard to know what is succeeding and what isn't. While the Kickstarter project was under way, I realized I could add "ref=sitename.com" to my links so I would know where backers came from. For example, to track people who came from Learneroo, I would use the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/arikrak/ruby-on-rails-tutorial?ref=learneroo.com. This way, Kickstarter was able to show referrals from emails to meetup groups and other sources. I shortened the various links with bit.ly, which also provides stats on the number of clicks.
Last time, I mentioned how it was hard for people to find my project among all the huge Technology projects, and how Kickstarter makes it hard to find the sub-categories like (Technology->Web). A few months ago, Kickstarter changed the interface to make the sub-categories more prominent, but then they back-pedaled and made sub-categories even harder to find.
As a staff pick, my project initially showed up high on Technology itself, so it was able to reach the initial funding goal in less than a week! However, it quickly fell down the results, so I decided I would try moving i to a smaller less-competitive category. I first tried out Publishing, where it did OK, but not better than Technology. I then tried out Cartoons, but it did terribly there. People browsing Cartoon Kickstarters are not looking for programming courses. So I moved it back to Technology where it remained, and continued to get a regular trickle of support through Kickstarter. Some people must know how to click on the Web sub-category, since my project was too far down on the Technology results for people to find it that way.
There's still a day left to my Kickstarter, so please check it out and consider supporting it! If I can somehow reach $10,000, I will help kids learn web development for free!
1. It's possible Kickstarter may report a slightly higher number as pledged via Kickstarter.
2. Kickstarter refers to any referral from the category page as "Web (Discover)".