Back in May I put together the HitFilm for Mac Kickstarter campaign for FXhome. We were asking for £25,000 and ended up with £58,126. Which was nice.
I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how we approached the campaign. Hopefully this post will be useful to any of you looking to run your own Kickstarter.
We only ever considered using Kickstarter.com. Why?
- It’s the biggest, highest profile crowdfunding site. That means more people will pass through it, which means more potential backers.
- It’s a classy, creativity-focused website. Its branding meshes nicely with FXhome’s.
- Its project admin tools are pretty damn good, though still lacking a little in the post-campaign phase (at least from a business perspective).
Here’s my main tip: do not use a flexible funding model. Of course, this isn’t even an option on Kickstarter, but don’t be tempted away to the likes of IndieGoGo.
In case you’re not familiar with the term, here’s how it works:
- Fixed funding is traditional crowdfunding. You set a goal and a time period. If you hit or surpass the goal, you get the pledged money (minus some Kickstarter/credit card admin fees). If you don’t hit the goal, you don’t get any money. Until the time is up, no money exchanges hands at all.
- Flexible funding has a twist. You set a goal and a time period. If you hit or surpass the goal, you get the pledged money (minus some IndieGoGo/credit card admin fees), just like with fixed funding. If you don’t hit the goal, you get whatever money you have raised by the end of the funding period (and IndieGoGo takes a bigger percentage fee).
So on the surface, flexible funding sounds super awesome, right?
WRONG. This wrong:
Look, it sucks if you don’t make your Kickstarter goal. But that’s the point. You’ve carefully budgeted your project, and you’re asking people – members of the public – to fund that specific project. If you don’t get all of that money, by definition you cannot afford to make the project. You know the score, your backers know the score. If the product costs X and you only get X-Y, then you don’t do it. No money exchanges hands. You don’t owe anybody anything. You get a bit sad, then go back to the drawing board and do something else which is more awesome.
The alternative is that you don’t make your goal but you still get some funds. Maybe a third of what you asked for, maybe a half. And then all those backers still expect you to make the product. If your carefully budgeted product was going to cost £25,000 to make and you only raised £5000, what do you do? You have those people’s money, they expect action. But it’s financially impossible for you to do the thing. In other words, you’re utterly screwed.
Fixed funding is ethical, encourages responsibility and is clearer. It’s better for you, it’s better for your backers, it’s better for crowdfunding as a concept.
If you want to use IndieGoGo or some other random site that’s fine and up to you, but I encourage you to not use flexible funding.
Personally, no matter how cool I think a project is, if it’s using a flexible funding model I will not back it, ever.
Every campaign is wildly different, of course. But there are a few key things to bear in mind:
- Your product may seem obvious to you but don’t assume everybody else will immediately ‘get’ it. Many Kickstarters fail because they don’t explain themselves properly.
- Is your product something that backers can receive (eg “a watch”), or is it something more abstract or localised that only a few people will be able to experience (eg “a theatre play”)? This will drastically affect your campaign pitch.
- Have you accounted correctly? Do the numbers add up? If people quiz you on why you’re asking for X amount, will you have the answers?
- Don’t forget to include the cost of fulfillment in the goal (manufacture of t-shirts etc). You don’t want to lose a third of your project funding to making random tat for backers.
With HitFilm for Mac we had a few interesting aspects:
- HitFilm was first released on Windows PC in 2011.
- It was already on version 2 for Windows PC, but still no Mac version.
- FXhome is a company that’s been around for over 10 years.
- HitFilm 2 costs $399 when bought normally.
It was evident that the HitFilm software itself had to be the key reward for backers. We were a product-based campaign, and that product is why people would support it. But a $399 Kickstarter tier pledge is a big ask, when $25 is the most common pledge amount.
The solution we found was to offer the software as a pledge tier at a massive discount, on the condition that serials would only be sent out in November when the Mac version was ready. This was to keep things fair for non-Kickstarter purchasers who were going through our website and had no interest in the Mac version. In other words, a big discount in exchange for a bit of a wait – given that most backers would be Mac exclusive users, we figured that wait wouldn’t be a conceptual problem.
There is still some suspicion of companies that use crowdfunding. It’s even harder for celebrities, as seen with the Zach Braff movie campaign where there was a daft controversy over why people should give money to a super rich movie star (the answer? Because they want to). It was important to explain why we were using Kickstarter, rather than just funding the Mac version ourselves, to avoid any misconceptions or bad feeling. After all, we have successful products already on the market. We have lovely city centre offices.
As is usually the case, the truth was the simplest explanation. We specifically acknowledged that FXhome could fund the entire project (and, in fact, was still funding the majority) but that this would be a slow process. Tight budgets would have meant a trickle development over an extended period of time. The Kickstarter was about getting extra resources to accelerate production.
At that point the pitch shifted conceptually. It went from “fund the HitFilm for Mac product” to “make the HitFilm for Mac product happen this year“. This was a vital messaging aspect which helped people understand where we were coming from.
Another example – a friend of mine recently ran a Kickstarter to raise funds for an Edinburgh Fringe show. All well and good, but it had the conceptual problem of most of its backers not being able to get to the Fringe. Therefore they added a behind-the-scenes video diary/documentary as part of the pitch, ensuring that everybody would get something, even if it wasn’t the show itself.
The currency thing
There’s a ton of anecdotal evidence from failed UK Kickstarter campaigns complaining that being forced to use British currency is what led to their downfall. Reasons range from Americans being scared of the outside world to US banks not allowing payment to go through, to general confusion.
Our own experience is, of course, similarly anecdotal. It’s clear, though, that currency was not a big issue. The vast majority of our users and customers are based in the US and only a handful had payment problems. In the end, out of 466 backers, only 9 didn’t go through with their pledges.
While we did go to some lengths to explain the currency thing in reward tiers and the pitch video, I can’t help but think that the currency ‘issue’ is being used as a bit of an excuse in some (not all) cases.
Our pitch video wasn’t anything super-fancy but a huge amount of thought and effort went into its structure and execution.
It was a complicated video, requiring just the right balance of product explanation (for those new to the product) without becoming an advert/promo (for those already familiar), an introduction to the company and explanations of why we were using Kickstarter, and some enticing info about the reward tiers.
We went through all kinds of styles and iterations, some with a lot more overt humour, others with much more product infodump. One version has us carting the sofa around Norwich to each of the exterior locations, using it as an on-running gag. It probably would have been quite amusing but we realised it was entirely irrelevant to the pitch and campaign.
There were some key elements to hit, which apply to pretty much any pitch video:
- How do you want to present your team? Super slick and professional, indie and innovative, tiny and cute? Don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not.
- Don’t be afraid to be honest. It’s OK to be a small team, or to have small budgets. That’s why you’re on Kickstarter. Crowdfunders engage with honesty. Similarly, if you’re a big company, don’t pretend to be a small indie crew. FXhome falls somewhere in the middle, so we went for a professional-but-intimate tone.
- Talking of honesty, if there’s one way to gain people’s trust it’s to put your name and face front and centre. Hence myself and FXhome owner Joshua Davies both appear prominently in the video. That’s us saying “here we are, we’re responsible for this thing, this is what we’re like, it’s up to you whether you trust us or not.” Don’t hide away.
- Be concise. Our video is still a bit on the long side but it’s cut down massively from the original version. Get the essential info out but don’t linger, as people get very bored very quickly on the internet, particularly when it comes to video.
- Local flavour is good. That we’re a Norwich, UK based company isn’t hugely relevant to the product or campaign but it adds to the sense of trustworthiness. We’re showing people our home and inviting people into it. It gives potential backers some context about who, where and how.
The main page
The main Kickstarter page has to work in tandem with your pitch video. The copy and any additional videos or images are there to add weight to your video but they also have to work separately, for people who don’t have time/can’t/won’t watch the video.
This means that it has to have the same information but presented in a different way. Don’t just repeat your exact video script. The page is where you go into more detail – it’s quite opposite to the usual advice on product webpages, in fact. Kickstarter backers LOVE detail, so this is where to put it. We used it as an opportunity to go into more depth about the product’s capabilities and the company’s general ethos.
The pledge tiers
Pledge tiers are your secret weapon. They can also turn against you. Get your tiers wrong and even an awesome project can fail.
Think very carefully about how your spread your rewards tiers. You don’t want to have any enormous jumps, especially at the lower end. This was a particular challenge for us, given that our main tier started quite high. In the end we used the lower tiers as a logical way for people who already owned the HitFilm product to still show their support – which is an important point: don’t overlook any particular demographic. You don’t want a situation in which somebody wants to support your project but can’t find a reward tier that makes sense for them.
Be really careful about reward tier copy. You’re extremely limited in terms of formatting, so things can rapidly get messy and difficult to read. Structure the copy so that it’s easy for a potential backer to scan down the list and pick the tier they want.
Try to avoid contradictory tiers which force them to work out the best value: what you want is for a backer to skim down the list until they get to the maximum amount they’re happy to pledge, and for that reward tier to feel right.
Check star alignment
OK, not really. But you do want to keep an ear to the ground. Are there any events coming up which would help your campaign? If you’re running a campaign for a fantasy web series, how about you launch the Kickstarter at a major fantasy convention?
In our case, we had an entirely coincidental boost thanks to a rival company. Adobe (of Photoshop, Premiere and After Effects fame) decided to switch their creative products to a subscription-only payment model right at the point we launched our Kickstarter. As such, we saw a huge amount of chatter from disgruntled Adobe customers who were looking for legitimate alternatives to AE.
We tend to make a point of not directly comparing ourselves to competitor products unless asked, so it was interesting to see the conversation naturally be influenced by the activities of a rival company. We definitely saw a boost to pledges from people who simply wanted to encourage video software competition on the Mac. People wanted alternative options and we came along at just the right time.
Another fortuitous bit of timing came with a review of the PC version of HitFilm from the web filmmaking show Film Riot. It was a positive review followed up by a couple of tutorial-based episodes and massively assisted the campaign. The show also got right behind the Mac campaign, the host Ryan Connolly even showing up in our pitch video. Press coverage like that is priceless, it really is. Seek it out.
Make it a big damn launch.
Have everything lined up:
- Who you’re going to contact on Twitter (celebrities, influencers etc).
- Do you have a mailing list of established customers/followers/etc?
- Make sure you’ve built up a following on relevant channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, Soundcloud – whichever makes sense for you. Post to ALL OF THEM.
- Identify blogs and online magazines that might be interested. Don’t bother with print media, they’re too slow to react to this kind of thing (with the possible exception of local press).
- Identify relevant hashtags on Twitter. We frequently use #indiefilm, #filmmaking, #vfx, #mac etc.
- Tell all your friends and family. Don’t feel ashamed to ask for pledges if it’s a personal project (obviously the FXhome campaign was slightly different in that regard).
Do an initial burst to all the above and then stagger updates to follow. You’ll often have to be persistent with people before they pay attention.
- Double-check exactly when your campaign will END. This is actually more important than when it starts. You don’t want the final 12 hours of your campaign to be when you’re out of town, or in the middle of the night when everybody is asleep, etc etc. A third of your funding total can come in the last 48 hours, so plan ahead carefully.
Keeping it up
You want to do everything you can to maintain momentum throughout the campaign. Keep telling everybody about it.
We spent at least a couple of 8 hour days solely tweeting at key influencers. It was tedious work but it paid off – a conversation began fairly rapidly about the campaign and filmmaking software on the Mac in general. The conversation spread between people who had never previously shown much interest in our products, which was very gratifying.
Kickstarter updates are crucial. Don’t leave your backers wondering what’s going on. Similarly, you want potential backers to see an active Kickstarter page with an engaged team. We released 18 updates over the 30 days, the first hitting 2 days after launch.
We mixed backer-only updates with public updates. This helps backers to feel special (and they are special – everything rides on them) and is an opportunity to give them ‘backstage’ access. It’s a sneak behind the curtain at what’s going on. When non-backers see ‘backer only’ updates it intrigues them and helps to nudge them towards pledging.
A week in we released a new video in Q&A form. For this we tweaked the tone a little, adding more humour and making it a bit more conversational. By this point we wanted people to feel like we “were all in it together”. And trust me, when you’re in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign that’s exactly how it feels.
Again, the key thing about this video is that we’re being truthful and honest. There’s no room for corporate bullshit in a Kickstarter campaign. And, of course, it’s me being straight-to-camera.
The next few updates added some new tiers. This is a good way to keep the ball rolling and it’s actually a good idea to keep a couple of jazzy tiers back at the start so you can reveal them down the line – though don’t harm your initial line-up in order to do this.
Towards the end we released a backer-only exclusive video tutorial, which again helps backers to feel like they’ve made the right decision.
We were lucky enough to hit our goal ahead of time. But regardless of when you pass your goal, don’t stop there. Keep going as if your life depends on it as you might be able to push that goal way higher – we ended up more than doubling the goal, which amazed us all.
Here’s what our funding pattern looked like:
It’s actually quite unusual, in that we were trending above our goal all the way through. Usually even a successful Kickstarter will have a more noticeable dip in the middle.
What’s most important to note are the sudden peaks at regular intervals. These were due directly to us sending newsletters to our customer base and Film Riot releasing review/tutorial episodes. It’s a direct correlation and goes to show how the right coverage can make all the difference.
The last 48 hours for us went crazy, which seems to be quite common on Kickstarter. While we were absolutely putting in a ton of effort still getting the word out through social media channels, by this point the campaign also had a self-sustaining element courtesy of all the backers.
Once you get over 300 backers you suddenly find that you have a built-in core of loyal, engaged and passionate people. As you close in on the finishing line, make sure you harness those people. If half of your 300 backers post on Facebook or Twitter and 10 of their friends see it, that’s 1500 new potential backers. Only a small number of those people need to actually pledge to give you a huge boost.
Don’t let those last few hours dwindle away, even if all looks lost. If you’re within a third of your target and have several hundred backers, there’s still all to play for. Same applies if you’ve comfortably passed your target – keep pushing and you can double your target.
We also subtly shifted our messaging once we passed our goal. It went from “make HitFilm for Mac happen this year” to “HitFilm for Mac is happening, get yourself a great deal”. Do be open to changing your message as the campaign progresses; though make sure you don’t do anything contradictory or confusing.
All Kickstarters are, of course, massively different. So take the above advice with a pinch of salt: it works for us, it might not work for you.
My main tip? Don’t rush to launch your Kickstarter. Take your time. Get your pitch absolutely perfect. Make the best video possible. Write the best copy you’ve ever written for the main page. Sense-check everything a million times. Run your reward tiers through logic tests. Identify a good launch time, and then go all-out.
Crowdfunding is incredible and is changing things. Give it a go.