My first Kickstarter closed unfunded on Wednesday. This is not a pity party and I don't think you want to read the narrative of such a thing anyway.
There is a tangible thing that is amazing about actually pulling the trigger on a Kickstarter and trying to bring it across the line. There are ups and downs, none more extreme than at the end. This screed is my braindump about what might have been done differently to change the outcome.
What did I kickstart? The production of a home brewed beer--"small batch craft brewing". The goal was to fund a special beer for a small local gaming convention here in Richmond, VA. It was modestly targeted at $400.00 to "cover ingredients, ancillary expendables, rewards, and a small remittance to the artists that create the label art."
There are a few reasons it failed. From novice mistakes in Kickstarter to larger problems with "market appeal."
My first problem was in the wide net cast to fund the larger boutique effort of the husband-wife home brewing collaborative of Thirsty Stone Brewing through some ambitious stretch goals. To be frank, I brought "my whole self" to the Kickstarter and looped a number of personal friends into the launch that might have not really appreciated the "local gaming con" angle or my hobby of table top role playing games (RPGs). This probably had a passive impact to most, but I did get the "What am I looking at?" from interested friends.
This scope problem influenced the structure of the rewards and by extension how I tried to appeal to a very broad audience. I was greatly influenced by those anecdotal conversations I held with friends about expanding my "backyard brewing capability." This diluted the Kickstarter focus. No single reward embodies this than the Collaborator set at $300.00. From the Kickstarter:
This is a unique reward level for lovers of craft brewing. At this level you are invited to collaborate with Thirsty Stone Brewing, Shannon and myself, on a unique style all your own. You will learn about small batch brewing, the risks, the challenges, as well as what goes into great brewing at the craft scale. RVA Collaborators will work with us throughout the brewing process, sampling each stage along the way through bottling or kegging.
This reward has varied delivery dates determined by backer and brewing availability. Collaborations should commit to before 12/31/2017.
* While not explicitly limited to RVA (Richmond, VA), RVA Collaborators should not be so far away as to limit participation in craft brewing. Thirsty Stone Brewing will work with RVA Collaborators on schedules. Most craft brewing will initiate on weekends and have weekend checkpoints. You will get to decide whether your collaboration is kegged or bottled. Please note the challenges of this project apply: NO lagers.
Barrels are not included at this level, so oak or bourbon barrel aging is an add-on and may be limited or restricted by external sourcing.
As an RVA Collaborator you will of course receive all the above rewards and access to all backer updates and the community, but you are also able to directly participate beyond WayneCon.
There are, in hindsight, a couple of problems with the Collaborator Reward.
First, one Collaborator could nearly fund the Kickstarter; two would cover it. The reward description originated in personal conversations. There may be no stronger opiate than hearing from friends: "that shit sounds awesome, you're beer is great, please make me a custom beer, I'll pay you for it." WayneCon would have benefited, but the buy-in at that level became, if you did the math, "what's in it for me?"
That question also, at least in part, is a fault of Kickstarter. A Collaborator of course would get a custom beer brewed at that reward level, but I could not say that! Alcohol is a verboten reward. The creative wording of "You get beer!" is very hard to craft without crossing a line that would get you policed by Kickstarter.
Shipping and Promises
Then there is the first time Kickstarter mistake I made with shipping for rewards. It made the reward levels targeted at the "local gaming con" community "pinch," just a little. One planned reward was tulip beer glasses for drinking stouts and weizenbocks. These can be had pretty cheap and printed with custom art for pennies more. Calculating shipping was pretty easy, but rounded up a little to cover Kickstarter's cut of each transaction.
My reading of the documentation suggested adding shipping would be optional, but count toward the goal. What they didn't say was it would be added to the pledge automatically. Since the glasses were targeted at the con goers, shipping was really optional: con goers could take delivery at the con. Now, I was making promises of reimbursement. There is something hollow about promises on Kickstarter, no matter the fact that I would be held accountable in a community I was very active in. I learned too late that Kickstarter supports shipping in the pledge survey. That could make the reward more palatable and allow for accurate shipping without a one-size fits all calculation.
Take a look at the Kickstarter. Your comments are welcome, if constructive.
I learned a lot about Kickstarter by doing and failing. I'll definitely return to the platform. Maybe I'll reboot the effort. There's still time to brew a Weizenbock.