You have a standout idea for a new product but need to raise money for it. So, you wonder whether you should consider a campaign on the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter. After all, Kickstarter's results have been impressive. Since it was launched in 2009, about four million people have pledged nearly $600 million to help fund more than 40,000 projects.
But how do you create a compelling campaign that could reel in enough seed money to get your idea off the ground? While there's no surefire formula, you can take steps to increase the likelihood that your project will get funded. Start by asking these 10 essential questions:
1. How should I explain my idea on my Kickstarter project page?
Clearly defining the scope and purpose of your project is the first step, says Aimee Cebulski, author of Kickstarter for Dummies (Wiley, 2013). Explain exactly what you need the money for, how it will be used and why. "Being vague about the specifics of your project -- everything from what inspired you to create it to what the finished product will be -- is a huge mistake," Cebulski says.
2. How should I determine my funding goal?
Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform. If you fall even a dollar short of your total funding goal at the deadline, you won't collect any money, and none of your backers will be charged. If your project earns full funding before the deadline, it continues to accept donations up to the deadline.
So, don't set too a high goal, but seek a realistic amount that takes into account how much it will cost to manufacture, package and ship your final product, as well as the cost of the various rewards you offer your backers, Cebulski says. Also, budget for the 5 percent fee that Kickstarter collects if your project is funded. Amazon also charges additional Kickstarter payment processing fees of up to 3 to 5 percent, so be sure to account for those, too.
3. What kinds of rewards should I offer backers?
Rewards are often what motivate people to back your project, so you'll want to make them as creative and personalized as possible, says Cesar Kuriyama, a visual effects artist and TED speaker whose Kickstarter project, an iOS app called 1 Second Everyday, raised nearly $37,000 more than its $20,000 funding goal last year.
Kickstarter rewards can be valued between $1 and $10,000 and must be products and experiences, not cash. Kuriyama offered several tiers of rewards. The backers who pledged $1 received the 1 Second Everyday app. Those who pledged $150 or more received the various rewards that were given to lower-level supporters -- such as their names in the app credits and exclusive access to a private Facebook group -- plus a private invitation to an open bar "thank you party" at Kuriyama's home. His biggest backer received all available rewards and a promise from Kuriyama that he would fly anywhere in the U.S. so they could meet in person.
"I was careful to choose rewards that had a personal touch and created more value for my backers and not more work for me," Kuriyama says. If you can't afford to offer one-of-a-kind personal experiences, you might simply offer rewards produced by the project itself, such as DVD copies of a film or T-shirts.
4. How can I increase the likelihood that Kickstarter will accept my project?
Kickstarter's official guidelines suggest that you demonstrate the status of your project with technical drawings, CAD designs, photos, videos and sketches, "along with a prototype demonstrating the product's current functionality."
Read the guidelines carefully, and then read them again, Kuriyama says. "And revisit them often because they evolve and change every so often."
5. Should I create a video for my Kickstarter campaign?
Videos aren't required, but Cebulski, Kuriyama and Kickstarter itself recommend using them. Projects that include a video are 50 percent more successful than those that don't, according to Kickstarter.
The best videos are short, personal and passionate, whether they're professionally produced or shot on a smartphone. Tell the human side of the story behind your project in the first 20 seconds of your video, which generally shouldn't last more than two minutes, Kuriyama says. Briefly discuss what inspired you to create the project, why it should be funded and what stage it's currently at.
6. How should I publicize my Kickstarter campaign?
Once you're ready to launch your project, it's time to spread the word in your personal, and professional networks, both online and off.
Kuriyama says he avoided mass emails and opted instead to write dozens of personalized emails to friends, family, colleagues and tech industry influencers, introducing his Kickstarter project while also inquiring about his recipients' lives and careers. "The key is to be warm and personal, like you're talking to them in real life," he says.
You can also consider drafting a press release about your campaign to send to local print, TV and radio media, as well as online media and bloggers who write about products like yours.
7. Can I choose how long my Kickstarter project will last?
Kickstarter campaigns last between one and 60 days. How long yours runs is up to you and you set your own start and end dates. Kickstarter recommends running your project for 30 days or fewer because month-long campaigns have the highest success rates.
8. Which project category should I enter?
Your project must fit into one of the 13 main categories: art, comics, dance, design, fashion, film, food, games, music, photography, publishing, technology or theater. There are now also 36 subcategories. For example, if you're trying to crowdfund a smartphone stand, your project would probably fit into the design category and the product design subcategory and would show up on both pages.
9. How often should I update my backers?
You can update backers as often as you like on the latest project-related events and milestones. Some project creators update backers once a day, while others do so once a week. You can choose whether updates can be viewed publicly on your Kickstarter project page -- or only by backers.
10. How do I build and submit my Kickstarter project?
Go to Kickstarter's Start page and select "Start Your Project." This is where you will build and tweak your project before launching it.
First, choose an interesting title that's simple and easy to remember. Next, upload an image that best represents your project and provide a specific project description. Finally, enter a brief bio of yourself with links to your Twitter feed and website.
It typically takes only a few days for Kickstarter to review your project and decide whether to accept it. If it gets declined, Kickstarter will sometimes explain why. If your Kickstarter project is rejected, you can appeal the decision or revise your project and resubmit it.