At Moment we are big believers in the hardware movement. It is a movement that is being facilitated by a convergence of recent platforms (social media, crowd funding, smart phones, etc) and a willingness from consumers to support brands they have never heard of. Startups can now move from an idea to a shippable product in a matter of months. Hardware, once reserved for entrepreneurs that could raise significant capital, is now becoming accessible to everyone.
In support of this amazing movement, we want to share key lessons we’ve learned along the way in building Moment. We can’t guarantee these steps will be successful in future campaigns, but hopefully they can provide some inspiration as you work on a campaign of your own.
Crowdfunding has become a key step in building a hardware product. Not only does it force you to validate early demand, but it is the standard by which everyone will measure you. Suppliers want proof in the demand before they build your product. Investors want market traction. Influencers want to support something that matters. Even key talent wants to work on something successful. Good or bad, crowdfunding has become necessary.
The scariest aspect in building a new product is that you have zero understanding of demand, until people give you money for the product. Asking a customer if they will buy an imaginary product never works. So we decided to crowdfund Moment because we wanted to validate customer interest in the project. Either we would have the support to move forward or realize that we spent five months on a problem that no one really cares about.
When to Crowdfund
We recommend waiting to crowdfund until after you have a solid prototype and a clear understanding of how to produce the product. Ideally you have a supplier selected, you understand the upfront production costs, and you have confidence in your schedule.
Getting to this point isn’t free. Generally your out of pocket costs will be building prototypes, paying engineering/design salaries, and traveling to visit potential suppliers.
We spent about $50K of our own money to get to Kickstarter. Losing $50K is a lot cheaper than producing thousands of units that customers don’t want.
Why We Chose Kickstarter
We spent a lot of time in deciding what platform to use. Thankfully there are a variety of options now available.
- Kickstarter and Indiegogo: crowdfunding rich communities with turn key platforms.
- Dragon Innovation: combining a platform with manufacturing support.
- Selfstarter: an open source solution to crowdfunding from your own website
In making our decision we spoke with several previous campaign owners across all of the platforms. Out of everyone we spoke with, Dan Shapiro at Robot Turtles had the clearest perspective. “If you plan to make this product regardless of the results of your campaign then just run pre-orders on your own website and use the time as a way to build initial customer demand. The positive is you can focus all of your efforts to driving your own website traffic, while using advertising to optimize the funnel.”
Coin and Tile are recent examples. These teams put a tremendous amount of effort behind their campaigns in PR, marketing, and advertising. “If you are looking to create a movement, then use a crowdfunding platform. The community support will be tremendous and it will help you gauge the real interest behind the orders.”
Deciding we would use a crowdfunding platform, we ultimately chose Kickstarter because they have a track record of successfully funding photography projects. We believed that Moment would resonate with the Kickstarter community.
In creating your campaign there are key decisions you are going to make. Here is how we decided ours…
1. Length Of Time
This was a relatively easy decision. We wanted to create urgency from our backers while giving us enough time to really gauge the demand. Using Kicktraq to research the funding graph of previous campaigns we realized that the first week and the last week drive most of the results. Therefore we felt that 30 days was the right balance. Anything longer and it would delay us from focusing on supplying the product.
2. Amount To Raise
This number isn’t obvious. We researched previous photography campaigns, studied our production costs, and interviewed friends to gauge their gut instinct on a variety of numbers.
To make this even trickier we learned that momentum was a key aspect to succeeding on Kickstarter. Momentum creates more momentum so having a number you beat with force was better than having a number you barely reached.
Ultimately we decided that the most important factor was picking a number, that if we passed, would give us confidence to move forward with the project. $50K ended up being the number that covered our up front production costs, felt right when we compared it to previous campaigns, and resonated with people we talked to.
From a creator’s perspective, every new level significantly complicates your ability to deliver. Creating swag sucks especially if you aren’t in the clothing business. Lots of custom colors are never appreciated with new supplier relationships. And having to create accessories to differentiate your levels, is a nightmare.
From a backer’s perspective they want the product and they want it for the same price as everyone else. Seeing early bird prices just tells the backer that your product should be cheaper.
We went with four levels.
– Buy one lens: $50
– Buy two lenses: $100
– Buy two lenses with an exclusive KS color: $199
– Buy two lenses with an exclusive KS color plus be a part of our developer program: $299
Levels three and four are definitely adding more work than we first anticipated. The jury is still out whether these additional levels will be worth the effort.
CREATING THE CAMPAIGN
Scripting Your Story
Long before you get into the logistics of your crowdfunding campaign it’s super important to create the narrative. This is not something to leave until the end, but to start at the beginning of your project. It takes time to really craft the message, words, and imagery that will captivate potential backers.
Studying other narratives we broke the Moment story into five key parts.
Showing is always more powerful than telling. Rather than jumping straight into the product details we wanted to first inspire people through beautiful imagery. Using video and pictures we created a series of scenes that showed the diversity of people and the unlimited ways they could use our product.
Don’t underestimate the power of demonstration or the time it takes to make these shots great. There is a lot of upfront work that goes into coordinating people, locations, and scene details. You may even shoot scenes that you never end up using as it’s easier to edit out than to add content you don’t have. Even if you have a crappy prototype, make this feel as real as possible.
Campaign videos that inspired us:
- Capture Camera Clip v2
- Pixelstick: Light painting evolved
- Canary: The first smart home security device for everyone
2. Who + Why
Creating a new product is an incredibly personal experience. The story behind who you are as a creator and why you started this mission is what enables people to fall in love with your story.
We wanted to introduce ourselves right up front, enabling the audience to get to know us as people, picture takers, and product creators. We tried to make the voice conversational, while using images that represented our personal passions for taking pictures.
As Simon Sinek so famously said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Being succinct is really hard. It took dozens of re-writes to summarize Moment into a single title and a short paragraph. Even within the video our initial script was way to long as we got caught in the weeds describing the features. After several iterations we were finally able to reduce this down to a few seconds of time.
The best test is to show your parents. If they understand what you do and how it works, then you are good to go.
Provide people with an inside look into the journey you followed to arrive at your crowdfunding campaign. The depth of this section can vary depending on your product, but with Moment we wanted to show the detail that went into designing our lenses. Both from an engineering and design perspective we wanted people to have confidence in answering the question: Why should I back Moment?
5. The Ask
At the end provide people with a clear and simple ask. We prefer asking for one thing: back the project.
Creating The Video
Everyone says that crowdfunding is about the video. We don’t know how true this is, but we did get over 110,000 video plays, which resulted in 4,700 backers.
Creating a compelling video is the most expensive and time consuming aspect of your campaign. Looking back, this process really takes about 6-8 weeks to do it right. The only reason we got our video done in 4 weeks is because one of our team members set everything else aside and spent an entire week editing! Not leaving ourselves enough time, we were forced to do a lot of scrambling on last minute changes.
Some things to think about…
- Write your script before you shoot anything. You can write and re-write this at no cost, as you brainstorm shots that would coincide with the script. Initially our script was over 4 minute long and it wasn’t until we started editing, that we were able to cut this down to two minutes.
- Be clear about the shots you want to capture. It may take stepping out of the office to get the creative juices flowing, but spend time really thinking about who is in the scene and where it takes place. Thankfully we had lots of friends who were nice enough to be in the video, but even with friends it took take several days to get everyone organized and available.
- The camera operators don’t also have to be the editor. You can hire people to shoot the content you need, which will cost you about $500-1K per day, and someone else to edit the video. To ensure consistency it does help to have the same camera operators and camera equipment. If your filmers and editors are different, make sure they’re talking so they can understand each other’s intentions.
- Music is critical for setting the mood and something you should select before you start editing. We used Marmoset to find a $500 song we really liked. Be sure you have a license to use this song on all of your content or you run the risk of getting into a legal battle.
- Editing will be the most expensive phase. Thankfully one of our team members could handle this, otherwise this can run you $2-4K for a fully edited piece.
- Get feedback! It’s critical to get feedback along the way because by this point you are way too close to the project. Don’t wait until the video is done or your re-editing costs will be super expensive.
Don’t Forget About Photos
While capturing video don’t forget to snap some equally great photos. You will need images to tell your story with the press, on your campaign page, and on your website. You want a mix of product only shots (i.e. beauty shots on white backgrounds), the product within the context of its environment, and people using your product.
Campaign Page Structure
We spent a lot of time arranging and re-arranging the contents of the Kickstarter page.
At first we outlined the page to match the video order, but after sending the page to friends we realized that the order was backwards. You only have a few seconds to grab people’s attention so we decided to move from the video, to inspiring photos, to what makes us unique (engineering/design).
Our page was organized into the following sections:
- Introduction: What we do, who we are, and why we created Moment.
- Validation: Logos and quotes of what people are saying about us
- Inspire: show the outcome of what our product can create
- What Makes Us Unique: the story behind the engineering and design that go into our project
- Features: the key benefits consumers get with our product
- Details: the specs and nitty gritty details that support the features
- Team: listing everyone involved in the project
- Timeline: a simple schedule
- Backer levels
The first 48 hours of your campaign will determine success or failure, which means in order to maximize your opportunity you want a running start.
Almost every industry has influencers that matter. Mobile photography is easier because Instagram has already created a massive community filled with our exact customer, but if your product category doesn’t include a connected community you need to find opinions that backers will respect.
The importance of these influencers isn’t to help you reach more backers. Really, their impact is to help you make a better product, which is why you want to reach these opinion leaders very early in the development process. Even when you are on a piece of paper or with 3D printed prototypes you want to start building these relationships.
With Moment we feel incredibly lucky to have such an amazing community of picture takers right in our back yard. The likes of (Stephen Jones, Bradley Castaneda, Brittany Wright, Corey Staudacher, Cole Rise, Chad Copeland, Chuck Lang, Sam Elkins, Dan Cole, John Keatley, Michael Giroux, Daniel Volland, Jeremy Veach, Will Foster, Cubby Graham, etc.) were nice enough to have coffee with us, test our prototypes, and provide valuable feedback. Our campaign never would have succeeded without their help and we can’t say thank you enough.
Friends + Family
A few months before you hit Kickstarter begin an email list that includes your friends and family. Send an update every two weeks about the status of your project so they can follow your progress as they will be your first backers when the project launches. At Moment our list was about 100 people. We found Kickmailer to be a fantastic tool as it helped us manage our contact list and send text based emails that look as if you sent them personally. It’s much more authentic than a photo filled Mailchimp email.
In the meantime you will want to build a second list of contacts you can email the day of launch. To build this list we exported our LinkedIn profiles, email contacts, and phone contacts. It took about a day to organize this list in excel and upload it to Kickmailer.
PR coverage is the most important driver of early traffic to your campaign. You can see how our data changed from the first $100K to reaching $300K to reaching $450K. Press got our momentum started, which enabled us to become even more popular within Kickstarter.
When thinking about press it’s important to understand that editors are incredibly busy people. They receive hundreds of emails on a weekly basis so to stand out you have to very thoughtful about how you approach them and what story you pitch.
Here are some tips about how to get the right press coverage…
- Create a master list of all the online publications you think your backers read. Organize this list into Tier A (top 10-15 publications), B (second group of 15-20) and C (the rest). You are looking for sites that have large followings and write quality content. An additional way to build this list is to research who covered previous products in your category.
- Research these publications to find the right editors. This process can take days to figure out but you are looking for the right editor and their contact information (i.e. their twitter handle or email address). Make sure they have covered Kickstarter projects in the past.
- Find introductions. Cold emails to editors never work so find a way to get introduced. The guys behind Soma wrote a great post about how they found connections to their editors.
- Send them a pitch. Editors aren’t going to call you or reply to vague emails about what you are working on. They want to know upfront what it is and why you think it’s interesting for their readers. Be succinct in explaining your product and provide a few bullet points about why you think they should cover it. Be direct without being wordy or pushy.
- For the editors that are interested in hearing more, plan on visiting them. A trip to San Francisco and New York are worth the time, especially if you can meet with editors face to face. Editors aren’t going to blow your story so don’t be afraid to show them your latest prototype and talk to them about the project.
- Build a press page and email it to them at least 48 hours in advance of your campaign. Make sure your page has photos, quotes, copy, and links. We prefer providing them context to wasting time on a cheesy press release. Here is the press page we built for Moment – Press
More importantly, here is a short list of what not to do.
- Don’t ever ask an editor to sign an NDA or an embargo. They won’t do it and they won’t cover you if you ask. This shows you have no idea what you are doing.
- Don’t reach out right before your campaign or after it has already started. Editors are super busy and they want to know in advance what stories they will be covering. Understand that you are the lowest item on their priority list, assuming you even make it on the list.
- Don’t send them press materials until you have a launch date. A fast way to piss off an editor is to give them a go live date and then change it.
- No spamming. Editors will either reply or they will ignore you. You can try a few times to reach them, but if they don’t answer then find another path or another editor.
- Don’t be a jerk if they say no. If you are successful you will be working with these same editors for years to come so just because they say no, doesn’t mean they won’t cover you in the future.
RUNNING THE CAMPAIGN
By the time your campaign starts you are probably already exhausted. There is a ton of work to do, most of which you didn’t start early enough, all while you second guess the potential success of your campaign. The week leading up to our campaign launch we pulled two all nighters just to get everything done in time.
We tried to create as much momentum as possible in the first few hours of the campaign. First we emailed our friends and family list asking them to back the project ASAP. Next we hit our social networks, asking our own followers to help us spread the word. Finally we emailed our secondary list of contacts letting them know about Moment. In total we were able to reach about 1K people through our own contacts.
Interacting With Backers
There are multiple ways you can interact with your backers.
- Comments: they’re great but don’t receive any notifications so you have to keep refreshing the page to respond to them. Instead of responding to each comment we would wait for a handful and answer them all at once.
- Messages: you will get an incredible amount of messages through Kickstarter, all of which you have to reply to one at a time. Some of these messages are from backers and others are from potential backers who have not yet made up their minds. One of our team members spent their entire days responding to comments because our goal was to be very responsive.
- Email: before our campaign we implemented Desk to manage our inbound emails. It’s super easy to use and enables multiple team members to respond to customers from the same email address.
We modeled most of our updates after Dan at Robot Turtles. We were inspired by his positive, timely updates that were full of interesting information. We created an update every day for the first 5 days and then slowly began to space them out over the campaign. We wanted to make sure that with each update we provided a mixture of news, project updates, inspiring content, and other projects we liked.
When asking backers to help us spread the word, the most valuable tool was Href Share. It’s a tool that enables you to pre-load a Facebook or Twitter share so in your updates you can give backers a single button to click to share something interesting about the project. This was way more effective than just asking people to share.
Continue Creating Content
There is a ton of interesting content you can create during your campaign. Moment lenses is a bit easier because by using the product with Instagrammers we were able to create compelling content. But if your product doesn’t generate content, then come up with photos, video, and text that adds depth to your story. You can use this content in your updates and through social channels.
Types of content you can create…
- Creation Story: share photos, drawings, and insights into how you created the product. The more honest you make this, including what you struggled with, the more interesting the content will be.
- Product Updates: any news during the campaign is worth sharing, especially as you make progress on the creation of the product.
- Videos: short videos demonstrating the product or showing prototype improvements are interesting.
- Kickstarter data: we shared the raw data about our Kickstarter project when we passed $100K and $300K.
- New Milestones: it’s okay to humbly brag about new milestones you reach. This is interesting and gives your backers another reason to be proud of you.
Sharing Other Projects
The Kickstarter community is really incredible. It includes millions of people who are passionate about discovering and backing new projects, which means you should find other projects you think your backers would appreciate. You can include these projects in your updates and if you are lucky other projects will do the same for you. We found giving without asking was better than reaching out to projects and asking for them to promote you.
We had zero ability to influence our popularity within Kickstarter. From what we understand popularity is based on the amount of traffic you drive to your own Kickstarter page. The more popular your project is outside of Kickstarter, the more popular it becomes within Kickstarter. We feel incredibly lucky to have been featured by Kickstarter and selected by its staff. If you look at our final data you can see that Kickstarter drove 43% of our final number. That is an incredible result.
WHAT WE DIDN’T DO
There are a few things we consciously decided not to worry about during the campaign.
Consider us unsophisticated but we didn’t worry about creating multiple landing pages, alternative emails, or tracking our social efforts with a URL shortener. There is probably some value to this, but we decided to focus all of our time on responding quickly to backers and continuing to tell our story. Creating new content during the campaign took effort and although we couldn’t measure its direct impact on the campaign we did take the positive comments that backers appreciated the effort.
We will be writing a complete post about why we DIDN’T create stretch goals, but the gist of the matter is that stretch goals don’t incentivize you to make the product better. Project creators have already spent months trying to make the product as amazing as possible so creating artificial stretch goals only complicates their ability to deliver. Producing a product on time and with amazing quality is really hard so gaming people with random stretch goals is a waste of time. We believe that if you make a great product and tell a rich story, people will proudly back the project.
We think it’s wrong to ask someone for their help only to turn around and spend their money on advertising. If you want to run a pre-order campaign on your own website feel free to pull out every stop. But with Kickstarter you are asking a community to help you turn your project into a reality. Backers finding your kickstarter project advertised on Facebook would be a horrible experience.
At the end of the day, crowdfunding is all about the backers. They are the backbone of this movement and the reason you can turn a dream into a reality. Interacting with them on a minute by minute base is an exhilarating experience that you may never experience again as a company.
We can’t say thank you enough to the +4,700 Moment backers who are supporting us on our journey.
Here is a list of all the resources we used that are listed through out the blog post.
These projects inspired us when creating Moment.
- Capture Camera Clip v2
- Neat Ice Kit
- Lumu – bringing Light Meter to the 21st Century
- Pixelstick – Light painting evolved
- Robot Turtles: The Board Game for Little Programmers
- Canary: The first smart home security device for everyone
Must Read Articles
We found these articles to be rich with important information.
- Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days
- It Will Be Exhilarating – Crowdfunding: by Studio Neat
- Think Before You Stretch
- Kickstarter School
We used the following tools to help us prepare for our campaign.
- Marmoset – we found a great song for $500 that we can use with Kickstarter and the rest of our marketing efforts. Their discovery tools are great and they are focused on songs to enhance storytelling.
- Kickmailer – started by the founders of Poppy they created this amazing app to manage their own campaign. It’s way better than Mailchimp and allows you to organize lists of people and email them text emails that look like they were sent personally. It’s simple and effective.
- KickTraq – a tool to track your own project and research previous ones. It provides a graph so you can see the progress of money raised.
- Hrefshare – make single click to share links for your backers. You can make a different experience for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. We found this to be highly effective when asking backers to share content on your behalf.
- Bitly – a URL shortener that makes it easy to track the links you send people. You can add a “+” to the end of any link to keep track of where you placed which links.
- Desk – An awesome support tool that we use for anyone that emails us. It makes it easy to track cases, pass them to the right team member, and keep track of what customer are asking for. It’s much better than managing your customer requests through gmail or some crappy email web client.
WordPress, Salient, and Woocommerce – Our website is powered by WordPress, our theme was created by Salient, and now Woocommerce is running our e-commerce store. All of this was easy to setup without writing a line of code.