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The Long Overdue Kickstarter Post, Part Two

[Part One]

Now that I’ve given a brief overview of the state of Kickstarter and what does and doesn’t belong (with the caveat that I am “just zis guy, you know?” and not some sort of business guru), let’s get down to the specifics of our campaign: what we did right and what we did wrong.

What we did right

We built an audience first

Amanda Palmer, who ran a very successful Kickstarter last year for her new album, said it perfectlyyou can’t crowdfund without a crowd. I mentioned this in the first installment, but it bears repeating: Kickstarter isn’t a magical money printing machine. It is not step two of the Underpants Gnomes’ plan: “1. Collect Underpants; 2. Kickstarter; 3. Profit.”

Oddly enough, this was the exact text of the first draft of our business plan.

Oddly enough, this was the exact text of the first draft of our business plan.

We had over 1,000 Facebook fans when we launched our campaign. That’s a remarkable feat in itself, since I should reiterate we were not producing any beer yet, but we had a fan base who would support us. We had been on the front page of the Buffalo News. Our project was mentioned in Buffalo Rising. I’m not just pointing out how awesome we were: I’m saying without that kind of exposure our project likely wouldn’t have succeeded.

Don’t place too much emphasis on your Facebook base, either. It takes less than five seconds to click “like”: it’s significantly harder to get those people to pony up some cash. Facebook was our biggest referrer (in that people pledged after clicking a link on Facebook), with 23fnord.04%/$4,037.32 of our total coming from it, but that still left over 75% of our goal.

It’s also important to recognize the importance of friends and family: four of the seven backers who gave $500 or more were related to us.

We had cool rewards

There’s a weird balance to be struck with Kickstarter rewards. On the one hand, you’re supposed to be supporting an idea, or helping fund the production of a product, so in a PBSesque (PBeSque?) fashion you should expect to pay more for goods than you would in a store. On the flip side, if a project’s rewards are “$10 you get a thank you, $25 a sticker, $50 a sticker and a bottle opener” and that’s it, well, you’re going to fail. Flat out.

Speaking from the position of someone who has spent too much money on Kickstarter: I’ll support a project if I like their idea, but getting something nice in return also helps. I think our project had a good mix of physical and “experience” rewards and allowed us to make a profit while also not price gouging. (although, see below: our rewards weren’t without fault)

We set a reasonable goal

Sadly, this is probably not going to be you.

Sadly, this is probably not going to be you.

I discussed this in part one as well, but it’s probably the most important part of your project: at least for a brewery, you won’t get much more than you ask for, so ask for what you actually need and don’t try to lowball it. Fate Core can get over 14,000% of their goal: a brewery can’t. (and, on the same note as Amanda Palmer, when asked how to run as successful a Kickstarter as his, Evil Hat’s Fred Hicks said something along the lines of “Spend 10 years building a dedicated fan base.”)

We asked for $15,000 and got $17,516. That’s not a huge margin.

What we should have done better

When you assume it makes an ass out of u and me

I took the “Kickstarter fatigue” idea from part one to heart when planning our project: I assumed that the vast majority of backers would be local, because we were a local project. Our existence has no real benefit to people living in California.

I was mostly right, but there are (or were) still some people who think that helping a brewery get started is cool. Additionally, our aforementioned friends and family live all over the country, in Canada, and in two notable exceptions in the United Kingdom.

When all was said and done, 70 of our 223 backers (nearly 1/3) lived outside of Western New York.It took me multiple nights of staying at the brewery until midnight or later to get everything all packed up, and I filled my Yaris up with boxes three times on my way to the post office.

For the 2/3 of backers who were local, I had a great idea: open the brewery to them, have them come see the place and sign the piece of chalkboard we’re going to hang up by the customer service area (Which, uh, we’re still going to do. Promise.), and, oh yeah, not make us ship those packages.

It was a wonderful idea. It worked! …for the most part. I think assuming 1/3 of people didn’t take us up on our offer is a significant lowball. Hindsight tells me that this isn’t unreasonable: people are busy, and asking people who live in East Amherst or Lockport to take a trip to the west side on a Saturday is not going to have a 100% success rate. Rudy and I spent most of a Saturday in a van driving around Western New York delivering the rewards that hadn’t been picked up.

Factor in the cost of shipping

Shipping glassware is not exactly cheap. I’m not at all bemoaning that people gave us money! Not at all. And yet, because of my lack of foresight, 1/3 of our backers needed me to pack and ship their rewards. This was a significant time investment I hadn’t considered, but it also put a sizable dent in our profits at the lower reward levels.

Our $25 level was designed to make roughly $20 of profit after the cost of materials and the Kickstarter/Amazon fees. We reused boxes and packing materials as much as we could (most people at the $25 level received their goods in one of the boxes the glasses arrived in), but if shipping to the west coast cost $8 then our profit dropped from $20 to $12.

I’m not sure what the solution to this could have been. Kickstarter requires you to include shipping to the US in the reward prices (shipping is always “free”), so we either needed to eat the cost of the 1/3 non-WNY backers or raise the prices for everyone.

In the end, I suppose we shouldn’t have done anything differently. The only real mistake was not preparing for the time required to pack and ship the rewards. Leading us to the final lesson…

Always Be Closing (on the next part of the process)

Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here – close!

The rest of these have more been along the lines of “things I wish I knew going in.” This one… this one is on me. I screwed up, and I’m sorry.

"The $75 level? A set of steak knives."

“The $75 level? A set of steak knives.”

There are a number of things in a Kickstarter project that require a previous step be finished before you can start: you can’t order your rewards, for instance, until you know how many of what you need. The way to handle this is to have all your ducks in a row on step A so that you can start working on step B as soon as possible. I did not do this.

As soon as we reached our goal I should have started work on getting the design we used on the glasses and t shirt finalized. Once the final numbers were in and we ordered the rewards, when everything at one level was ready they should have been shipped out, rather than waiting for all rewards.

Most egregiously, even when we had all the rewards I didn’t ship them out in a timely fashion. The local people who didn’t pick up their stuff at the brewery had to wait far too long for us to drop it off. If you’d like to do a similar “come down and get your stuff” party (which I do think was a good idea), have two weeks worth of hours and then send the nonresponders their stuff.

In the end

I think our Kickstarter was a success. I may have ended this post on a down note, but I’ve felt bad about some of the ways it all went down and so some public atonement will do me good.

Will Community Beer Works run another one? Almost certainly not. Will I keep supporting them personally? Absolutely. I think I even found another project to back while finding links for this post.

Go and do likewise, gents.

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