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Seven Fundamentals for a Killer Kickstarter Campaign

I recently introduced you to the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever, Pebble Watch, and its creator +Eric Migicovsky. In this blog Eric and I lay out his seven "must-do" steps for success in crowd funding.

As I interviewed Eric Migicovsky from the stage at +Singularity University I found myself asking a fundamental question: Was Eric's success in raising $10 million on Kickstarter from 68,929 people in 37 days luck, skill or hard work? So I asked Eric to flesh out exactly what he did and why. Ultimately, he broke down his efforts into seven specific key "must-do" areas. While some of these may seem obvious, as I reflected on them, they really are quite critical. Here they are:

(1) Make something people really want. This seems obvious, but testing the market and understanding what people really desire is essential. "Prior to launching +Pebble on Kickstarter, we had sold about $200,000 worth of the predecessor watch called InPulse. We talked to these customers, got their detailed feedback, learned what was missing, what features they wish they had," said Eric. "Before we ever launched on Kickstarter, we had feedback from 1,500 real customers. So when we designed the Pebble Watch we made exactly what the public wanted."

(2) Pick three simple "use cases" for your product and communicate those in a simple and understandable fashion. "Communication is hard to do when you're talking about a really new product," Eric said. "No one wakes up and says they want to buy a smart watch. We had to figure out a simple way to convey on our Kickstarter Page and video why should you, your mom, aunt, sister -- anyone -- would want to purchase a Pebble Watch. We boiled it down to three fundamental things, 'use cases' that anyone could understand: First, using it for running and cycling; second, using Pebble around the house for music and email; and third, using it as a platform for developers to write their own apps for Pebble Watch. Pebble can clearly do much more, but we kept it simple so it was easy to understand." 

(3) Pre-test your Kickstarter materials with friends and family. "We pre-tested our video, we made a demo page, we wrote a survey with multiple-choice questions and sent it to everyone in our families, all of our friends, we got their feedback before we launched on Kickstarter. More than 100 people had seen the page and given us their feedback. We tweaked the video and the page based on this feedback," continued Eric. "And when we went out to them again, for the first time, practically every single person said, 'This is cool. I want to buy it.' That doesn't happen often. It was a good feeling." 

(4) Wag the long tail -- get your story out to as many sites as possible. Since Kickstarter allows you to see the number of people driven to your page, and where they came from, Eric offered up some insight about how his 68,929 customers heard about his campaign. "We found out that 25 percent of our backers actually came from the Kickstarter homepage webpage itself," Eric said. "Kickstarter is almost becoming a bit of a project shopping mall: People are spending time on Kickstarter figuring out where they want to spend their money. That said, we also found out that the remaining 75 percent of people came from a very long-tail of referring websites. After the Kickstarter homepage, the next top referrer, outside of search engines, was Facebook, which referred 3 percent of all our backers. You can imagine that there was a very very long tail of other social media sites, blogs, media sites referring our customers to us. It's also worth noting that while 50 percent of our supporters came from North America, the other 50 percent came from all around the world, including China and Russia.

(5) Set your total Pledge Goal carefully, and time your campaign wisely. "Figure out how much your project will cost to design, build and deliver and set your goal there. We set our funding goal for Pebble at $100,000. Perhaps if we had set it at $1 million we might not have had the success we saw. People like to back a winner. I think it's better to be conservative rather than over-optimistic."

In addition, the length of your campaign is important. The maximum length for a Kickstarter campaign is 60 days, but "the closer to 30 days is best," Eric said. "You get a lot of media when the campaign launches and then then a lot as you reach the end. Keep it short, keep it fresh and dynamic. For us we set it at 37 days."

(6) Widen the funnel of backers through media. Even before Pebble Watch began its campaign on Kickstarter, it worked with the site Engadget to promote the product on the day of its Kickstarter launch. But Eric didn't stop there. As soon as the campaign launched, "We started immediately getting hits. But I made a point of doing media for two weeks after we started. There's a large return on investment of spending time on media. We hired a PR firm and all they did was schedule interviews. For six hours a day I just sat on the phone doing interviews. We tried to get the news out as much as possible. The more people who heard about Pebble Watch the more backed us. We focused on widening that funnel." 

(7) Offer interesting rewards. "We looked at what other people offered. While a lot of campaigns offer T-shirts or stickers to people who contribute," Eric said, "we wanted to make sure people could understand how much the product would cost right away. So the first tier was actually $99. That was early-bird price for getting one of the watches. We were selling a product; we were making a physical device." The highest Pledge level was $10,000 for distributors to pre-buy 100 Pebble Watches at a time. In the end, they limited the amount of watches: "When we got to 75,000 units sold, we decided that it would be in the best interest for our Kickstarter package to cut it off. We knew we had a lot of work to do." Eventually, Eric and his colleagues added another reward tier, where people could vote on an additional color (it's available in black, white and red at the moment). So far, 18,000 people have voted on what they think the fourth color should be. 

In my next blog I'm going to revisit machine-learning data-competition platform Kaggle, and how you can use it to solve your challenges. 

NOTE: As always, I would love your help in co-creating BOLD, and will happily acknowledge you as a "contributing author" for your input. Please share with me (and the community) in the comments below what you specifically found most interesting, what you disagree with and any similar stories or examples that reinforce this blog that I might use as examples in writing BOLD. Thank you!
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Valuable recipe! Trying to take it in, but today, I cannot help but focus on the fact, that it only works for people that dare already. I think an introductory chapter on how your bold people got started. How did they become entrepreneurs in the first place? Anyone taking the leap with a large family and a big household economy, or did they all start out earlier in life? If the book could help readers of all ages to know how (or when) to start being an entrepreneur, pehaps giving recipes for that as well, I think it will become an even more valueable book.
This is why I think +Planetary Resources should also have a Kickstarter. As YOU said in your youtube video, Mr. Peter Diamandis, we would REALLY love to back you!
we would like to see that same:  "your bold people got started. How did they become entrepreneurs in the first place?"  the first step is always the hardest did they do it
+Antonio Stark  great statement, I second that thinking. Let the crowd get in on the new wave of natural resource extraction.
Looking at your 5th "must-do area", and reflecting from it back to things people have told me for years now, I have no choice but to conclude that ideas are worthless without the detailed technical knowledge of how to implement them.  What do your entrepreneurs have to share with us about how to find those people who have the technical know-how to implement your idea, without loosing control of it, or having it outright stolen from you?

On another issue, the elevator pitch.  What if you have an idea that is so far to left field, so intricate, that you can't possibly do it justice in 5 minutes?  I have read entire books that are dedicated to introducing concepts of sufficient complexity that the entire book was required for the reader to really understand the message that was being transmitted, if they even understood then.  And please don't tell me I just have to try harder to simplify the concept.. some new ideas are beautiful because of their intricacy.

Finally, a lot of material has come out lately dealing with how many successful people fail repeatedly before they succeed.  Failing on your own is one thing, you can recognize how and why you failed (hopefully), and ideally have the resources to continue failing until you succeed.  But how do you find yourself a team of people willing to go through those series of failures with you, forging ahead even if all of you know that it could and likely will be years before you know enough to make your idea work, even if it is clear to everybody that your idea will work eventually, and that it's worth putting the effort into developing?  I suppose this is just a way of re-phrasing the question of the first paragraph.

Another question is, how to advocate for the development of a new technology or way of doing things that by nature of it's existence is critical of the way others do the same thing?  For example, if your product provides a service that is also provided by the government but provides it in a completely different way, and therefore potentially threatens the jobs and/or reputations of many people?

Asking these questions because of the comment of N. Berntsen above.  It seems like this watch is a relatively minor evolution of technology, as opposed to a significantly challenging or socially disruptive technology, all respect (considerable, I'm sure) to the people developing it.
great insights, many of these are valuable tips for any startup company
Back to "the first step is always the hardest".... it's kinda the easiest because it won't let you sleep until you find your way on it.  It's like wanting a pinapple sandwich with bacon... your fridge is find the pinapple at a fruit store, the bacon at the butcher, the bread at the baker and at each stop you tell them about this amazing sandwhich you can't stop thinking about...... then it becomes a new craze and all those people who supported you in your beginning will fight for you for your best end result.  Don't be afraid of your sandwich - just start your quest.  - Vivian George writer of songs and designer/owner of Toast Skirts.
getting the video and materials tested to the point where friends and family say "I want one" is simple, but so important. Success is like watching a swan swim.  All relaxed and in control on the surface, little feet kicking like crazy just under the water ;-)
all great for a presentation when it comes to Canada....
                                                            W U NDAY is coming.....
Narrative structure is the friend of brevity. If you can tell a short story of how your project changes the fundamental direction and flow of things (the new way things will work) people can recognize how the change happens. (Like Conor Neill's swan.)
Hi Dave..   I've been told that as well.  I've actually begun considering chatting with the english department, seeing whether they might help me with it.  I've also started brainstorming what the heart and soul of the story would be.  Brainstorming is the wrong word, more like realizing what it has to be.  I have hundreds of pages of material to fill the story in with, if and when I figure out what that spark will be that will touch people where it counts.

and incidentally, I recognize the irony of asking how to challenge the status quo when it might embarras people with influence, in the discussion initiated by the guy who created the ansari x-prize..
I think Eric did two right things, the first was an excellent product (something everyone want), and the second was the way he communicated the product. Great idea and great strategy!
Hi Henri!!!. What do you think is the biggest challenge in the Mars-Mission that you are thinking?
Hi, Fernando! I think the biggest challenge is to get the funding for the mission. Without money nothing will be done. I don't believe governments will ever fund manned missions to Mars. That's why I'm suggesting a crowdfunding approach (the transnational lottery).

The second biggest challenge is to put humans safely on the surface of Mars and back to Earth. Landing many metric tons of mass is very difficult...

We recently (October 2012) used kickstarter to fund a documentary on Equine Therapy.  We failed.  And Thanks to reading this our next campaign will be improved.  Live with Intention,
Very interesting indeed! The recommendations could work for anything - it is smart not to try to cover all the features of the product or service, which would end up confusing people and turning them away!
I think the product is very good and they did a good marketing.  I think that best they did is to test the market and to identify the need for their product. I think that marketing research has contributed massively to Pebble Watch‘s success. But I think also that the timing to the market was the right one. Eric and his team are the early introducers of such a watch. What I would like to know is if they did a social media campaign (facebook or other) related to the product itself and to its financing.
 I would love to see an X-Prize campaign on a crowd funding website such as Rockethub or Kickstarter. The enthusiasm and positivity generated by the crowd is overwhelming, and the more people that see the X-Prize campaign, the more people will donate. Coupled with the funding coming from X-Prize's current donors, crowd funding could provide funding for some amazing accomplishments.
From the advice running a successful Kickstarter campaign, I wonder if a project that was conceived to be successful on Kickstarter would have better success than a project that was well delivered.  I can think of about ten different campaigns that could convert pledges into a product "people really want," but the product/campaign would really have to be sexy to attract media attention.

BTW, I was struck that Pebble Watch worked with the site Engadget to promote the product on the day of its Kickstarter launch and made a point of doing media for two weeks after start (they hired a PR firm and scheduled interviews- for six hours a day on the phone doing interviews).  Wow, now that is buzz!  Sounds like there were significant up front costs to that campaign.
Great tips!  Also, you could Google related keywords to your project and hit up the highly ranked websites (for those keywords) and see if you can work out a way for the site owner to promote your product / idea / kickstarter campaign.   As always, thanks for the awesome biz-wisdom!!
Arguably the most important key for potential entrepreneurs is the first. There's an enormous difference between CREATING a need/desire and FINDING one. If you're sensitive to needs or desires that already exist, then success in fulfilling those needs or desires and marketing the result is already half-way accomplished. 
Many would-be entrepreneurs put the cart before the horse and try to dream up some idea that will make them lots of money. They fail to realize that they limit themselves to their own frame of reference: what would please them—rather benefiting from insight into what will please others.
The difference between persuading others to like what you like, versus letting the world know that you have something they already want or need is huge! And the marketing challenges presented by the former are formidable.
Of course, this boils down to the basic issue between success and failure in such endeavors. Since money, itself, is merely a token given or received in return for making or doing something of value for others, it stands to reason that the foundation for success is focusing on the needs and desires of others to begin with.
thank you Peter for most valuable information. I am an inventor and I really see a way into the future of my eco inventions coming out with things like kick starter and other crown funding sites. Thank you for the value you provide in our community
I have a friend who is deeply involved in what will and should be a major, global concern—SLR (Sea Level Rise). Today, because few are yet affected by it in real time, there are too few who care about it; yet this will have a creeping (fortunately linear) impact on many coastal regions and, because of the tendency for population to aggregate where the coast is closest to sea level, with shallow rise away, an inordinate portion of the population will be impacted.

To find a means of mitigating the problem, physically, is patently daunting, as it parallels and is as tough a sell as the need to reverse the global warming trend. That's not to say it's impossible; but it would/will require technology and a public will that hasn't yet surfaced.

However, the alternative to a physical fix is a plan for public action to "go with the flow" and provide for the population to recede and relocate ahead of the coastline. In the interim, there are countless financial ramifications that need to be managed: flood insurance, liability issues for lenders and property sellers, provisions for property abandonment, etc.. These issues need to be dealt with as early as possible because the failure to do so will increase the urgency and diminish the effectiveness of those solutions as the time over which those financial consequences can be amortized.

I can't help but believe that the solution to this problem lies in the "crowd" phenomenon. There must be a group out there that would be both engaged and influential in raising the general public's awareness and concern. Does anyone in this group have a suggestion? While it's not an immediate thing, it will ultimately have global impact. Now's not too soon to get ahead of it.  
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