How to Keep Your Kickstarter Backers Happy

Starting a project on Kickstarter sounds like easy money to entrepreneurs and inventors hoping to get their product to market without having a debt looming overhead from banks and/or investors. Kickstarter backers are essentially investing in your project for one of two reasons. Either they genuinely want to see your project come to light, or they want whatever it is you’re offering as a reward for funding. In either case, it’s just as important to keep these backers happy as any investor.

Take the case of the Cam Crate, a brilliant idea for DSLR photographers. This case was presented as a life proof solution to rough, wet terrain and the various bumps and bruises being on the road can offer. Matthew Geyster, the creator of Cam Crate, has had successful Kickstarter projects in the past and was hoping to get the funding he needed to bring this product to market.

Unfortunately, when he took steps to improve on the design, the result was a delay of shipping that resulted in missing his estimated delivery date for Kickstarter rewards. The comments page filled with complaints and even threats of legal action. One backer even went so far as to offer Geyster’s home address and phone number to anyone wishing to initiate a lawsuit through their state attorney.

Matthew Geyster responded, “Firstly, this project is not fraud. It has only been fully funded since February and I’ve had delays in design and prototyping. This is not out of the norm for a project of this size. I have made many other products that use the same manufacturing techniques and I promise you Cam Crate will be delivered.” He continued, “Cam Crate is a project I’ve been working on now for close to a year and to pull fraud on Kickstarter and ruin my reputation is not something I am doing. I would be shooting myself in the foot.”

This is just one case where an honest attempt to improve on a design before going to production can incense backers. In many ways, Kickstarter backers are not seasoned investors. They’re regular folks hoping to get in on the ground floor of something they believe could be quite interesting. This just happens to be one example of a Kickstarter project going wrong because of delays which are extremely common in the manufacturing world.

Below are a few tips to help you avoid these types of issues with your own project.

Be Transparent

Transparency is key when it comes to Kickstarter. Your backers aren’t investors. To the majority of them, they’re simply pre-ordering a product and expecting delivery by the date given on the site. Being transparent about the project progress and any thoughts of redesign is important. These backers are funding your idea, and that means they have a vested interest in seeing it through, for better or worse.

Changes happen, and there are great ways to go about explaining this change to your backers. Record a YouTube video and embed it in a backer update breaking down your reasons for the change and how it will benefit the backers. If delays are unavoidable, bring this news to backers quickly and honestly. Introduce them to other members of the team that are working on making the project a success.

The more someone knows about your project and your process, the less likely they are to get upset about a delay or change in the design.

Give Distant Deliverable Estimates

Don’t set your estimated delivery date based on your current expectations. If you believe it will take you 90 days to have a product shipped out, estimate the delivery date at 190 days. Your backers will be thrilled that something came early if everything falls into place, but you will rarely come to market with something on the date you expect to during fundraising.

Delivery dates are a selling point, and yes you may lose a few backers by setting it out a bit more than expected. Frankly, that’s part of how business works, but your reputation for delivering on your promises will be much safer by being conservative. When it comes to Kickstarter, your reputation is everything.

Do More Planning Before Launching the Project

Going to Kickstarter too early can be a terrible decision. Ultimately, Kickstarter should be one of the absolute final step in your journey before pulling the trigger on fabrication. Yes, this means having to fund yourself through the vast majority of research and development, but that’s how business works. Kickstarter should never be a first step. It should be one of the last ones.

For example, I’m working with a team to develop a project idea that will probably not see the light of day on Kickstarter for another 3-6 months. The project itself is very straightforward, but until we cover bases such as licensing fees, pre-approvals, and confirming delivery estimates for the final product, Kickstarter isn’t going to be part of the process. Another project I’m working on is 9-12 months away. To an eager entrepreneur this can seem like an eternity, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Unexpected costs and delays can result in a failure to deliver to backers, and that is never a good thing.

Plan for Reward Costs

Delivering rewards takes first-time Kickstarter users by surprise. You can set limits on various funding levels for more difficult rewards, but in the end you will never know how many t-shirts, buttons, DVDs, posters, or gadgets you’re going to be responsible for mailing out until the project has ended.

As with anything, there is a price for success. The folks at Stoic were surprised at just how many people signed up for The Banner Saga project, a video game about vikings created in a cartoonish animation style. Instead of raising the $100,000 Stoic had hoped to in order to wrap up development of the series, it earned over 700 thousand dollars during the project’s duration.

That meant having to facilitate the shipping of thousands of t-shirts, buttons, and posters. Every reward (and the shipping thereof) costs money, and this money takes out of your bottom line. In addition, Kickstarter (and Amazon) take a cut of your raised funds as well. That means having to work the costs of rewards into your project goals.

Under Promise and Over Deliver

Perhaps the most important key to keeping your backers happy can be found in almost all of the points laid out in this article. You want to deliver more than you promise to backers. That may mean sending rewards out ahead of schedule when possible (provided you left space in that schedule for delays), throwing in bonus rewards if the funds present themselves, or simply being more transparent than your backers might expect.

If you leave your backers satisfied with the project you’ve created, you also open the door for future project success as some of them will back you whether the product is of particular interest to them or not. Remember, not everyone is on Kickstarter purely for the rewards. There are some folks that back projects just for the sake of helping a particular project come to life.

Photo Source: Kickstarter

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