Introduction: How to Get Started on Kickstarter

About: I like to make things for the internets. I also sell a pretty cool calendar at You'll like it.

If you're looking to use crowdfunding for a project, you're probably thinking of Kickstarter as a way to get that done. There are other great options, but Kickstarter does have a lot going for it with a big audience and a well-known platform.

I recently started up a Kickstarter project for my continuous calendar design. While I'm still in the process of it all and am not yet at my goal, I wanted to document what I've gone through to even get here. Should I succeed I'll do a follow-up as well. Because sharing is caring, right?

This Instructable is a rough guide covering the basic elements about creating a project and fine-tuning it for Kickstarter. It is by no means comprehensive, but Kickstarter does have lots of excellent resources as well at their Kickstarter School.

UPDATE: Goal has been reached! Still a few days left, though.

Step 1: Find a Project You Really Want to Do

Note: If you already having a burning need to do a project you can skip this step, but it's still worth a quick look.

This first part is very important. The project you want to do should be something that you really want to do. Maybe you even feel like you need to do it. You are going to be spending a lot of time talking about, discussing, analyzing, and promoting this project. To keep doing all that and still be excited about it is key so make sure this fire is burning within you.

For me, this happened with the calendar. I printed up a test b&w version at full size at a local mom & pop printer for $5 (keywords: engineering print). It was awesome and I started filling it up with events and plans, but it was clearly something only a parent could love. The design needs color to work right. The only problem was that adding color costs at least $40. That was the mom & pop printer price ($90 at FedEx Office!), but that is on glossy and it needs to be matte or uncoated.

It was frustrating me so much that printing something like this would be so out of reach. But that's just the way it is for digital prints. At best I could've done a lower quality version for $30 each, but it wasn't what I wanted and it's hard to convince others to opt in even at that price.

So I was in a very frustrating spot of wanting to share my design with others and being completely unable to do so. It sucked. I wanted the idea out of my head and into others' homes. I very much needed to get it out there and be complete so I can move on to other projects.

Maybe that's just me. I obsess about something until it's done, it's out there. I need it to be finished because along the way other ideas are bubbling up that I want to try as well. Do you want to hear about a welding project to make people look like they're floating? How about the suspended hollow whale that is lit inside by RGB LEDs and responds colorfully to tweets? Or even a few dozen more ideas for a clock? I would like to, but first there's this business about a calendar I need to get out of the way.

So if you have an idea that for you is burning a hole in your brain I'd say you're good to go.

Step 2: Talk It Out With Others - Demand

When I made the calendar I really enjoyed it, but I didn't know if anyone else would geek out on it as well. So I asked them. I showed it to lots of friends. I pestered them over email and Facebook and twitter. The feedback was very positive so I moved forward with it.

A key thing about getting feedback: people do not want to hurt your feelings. It's nice and humane, but also really annoying for these purposes. If people are excited about it, they'll say so. For the entire other range of reactions from mildly interested to disgust, the most common reaction is either  something like "yeah, it's cool" or no response at all. The problem is that those are the exact people you want to hear more from.

So I often preface my request for feedback with something like this:

"Hey, I'd really appreciate it if you'd take a couple minutes to look over my idea for a project. I just want some quick feedback to see if it's working or not. I'd love to hear what you have to say, whether it's good or bad. Don't worry about hurting my feelings, I'm open to whatever it is you have to say. I know it's a work in progress and any feedback will help me make it even better. Thank you!"

This helps your chances of getting good feedback a little bit. Most people will still not respond, but that's OK, people are busy. But when you do get the friends or acquaintances who provide you with some killer insight that blows your mind to shrapnel, CHERISH THEM. That person is showing you a lot of respect and is being generous with her time. Be grateful. Say thank you. Remember the birthday and send a message. 

So if you are getting good feedback and have iterated it to the best you feel it can be, you're ready to move on.

Step 3: Do Your Research on Production

It's fine to make one item, but it can be very different to make several of them at once, even for a small run. So take some time to find out what goes into this. Here are some key things to look into:

Minimum number - How many do you need to make for the economics of it to make sense? For example, if you want to print up t-shirts they often start to get much cheaper when you're silkscreening at least 144 at a time. For my own project this means at least 250 posters.

Time needed for production - How long will it take to make all of the items you want to make? The more parts involved, the more complicated this will be. This is one reason why I'm making a poster. It's a one-step process of submitting an order to a printer and getting it made. Even so, it's good to add another week or two to your estimate. Things happen.

What's the cost? - How much will it cost to get everything to your house or office? So include shipping and taxes. Also research how much it will cost to ship each item out to people in the U.S. and internationally.

Assembly and handling - How long does it take to assemble each item, pack it up, and label it for shipment? Fulfillment can be a major headache and it's best to know what you're getting yourself into.

Can you cover costs? - It takes weeks to get the money from a successful Kickstarter campaign. This is time that you may be spinning your wheels and providing a frustrating updates to funders about how things haven't started yet. If your goal is relatively modest the ability to cover the costs and get started immediately after it closes is a plus. Whether this means dipping into your savings, asking friends for a temporary loan, or anything else, this will help make the experience faster and more satisfiyng for funders.

OK, this is a bit simplistic, but it's enough to start with. On to kickstarter!

Step 4: Start on Kickstarter

So you haven't started a project on Kickstarter before? Then now's the time to do it. Oh your video isn't ready and you don't have any product shots and you need the planets to align? It doesn't matter, shut up, go to the site now.

There are a lot of things to take care of on the Kickstarter site and the sooner you're familiar with them and the constraints the less time you'll waste later on. Nobody knows what you're doing. You're the ghost in the machine right now, enjoy the anonymity. 

Here's an incomplete checklist for you:
  • Title
  • Video
  • Short blurb (keep it punchy)
  • Funding durations (30 days or less is best)
  • Funding goal - whatcha need?
  • Rewards for funders
  • Story - what is it and why are you doing it?
  • Short bio
  • Amazon Payments registration - very important
The last item here, Amazon Payments registration, is the process of setting yourself up to receive payments from Amazon should you succeed. This requires a little bit of tax info and ID info so they know it's you. Why I'm mentioning this here is because this process can take up to a week. But you don't need to get everything else done before this. You can skip right to it and get it done. Then you don't stall out by putting this off and missing Christmas.

Step 5: Title and Blurb

Less is more here. Get in and get out and make sure they know what you're talking about. Show the text to some word nerds and see if they have anything to say about it.

My original title was simply "continuous calendar poster." I knew it sucked, but I couldn't think of anything else and, well, that's what it was, damn it. 

So I showed it to a friend and he said it was a "bigger picture than other calendars." Boom. The Big Picture. How perfectly ironic I couldn't think of that for myself.

As for the blurb, the one sentence description, be as clear and concise as you can. And then take a couple more words out. You didn't need them.

Step 6: Video

If you're going to do this, a video is ridiculously highly recommended. People like video and the video is where you can make an emotional connection. 

The video range from something super straightforward of you just talking to the camera or something that's edited together nicely with cool music and lots of shots with shallow depth of field. Mmm... bokeh.

My own video is mostly a straightforward piece of myself talking and some graphics thrown in. My reason for that was that I didn't have a lot of time to shoot a video and I didn't want to worry about getting everything in one take. So I set up my camera and talked to it for a while while my family was out. If I messed up some part or wanted to do it again I'd just do it over and not stop the recording.

When this was all done I imported it and edited the footage down in iMovie. This meant that the footage had lots of visible cuts in it. That style can work, but it wasn't what I was going for so when there were cuts I'd make sure to put an image on top. This had the double bonus of including visuals of what I was talking about and keeping the edits hidden.

The final editing was done in Motion. Which I recommend you don't do, but I already had it on my computer so there you go.

Step 7: Goal

The goal amount should be something that will be enough for this thing to happen as well as be something that you can live with. With your research into the minimum run size and shipping costs you should have some basic formula like this:

(Minimum run size) * (unit cost + shipping cost) = Goal

This is the very bare minimum you need for things to happen. This of course also gives you zero money for all your work. Since you want to be able to pay yourself for the work, it'll change to this:

(Minimum run size) * (unit cost + shipping cost + profit) = Goal

The profit is what you want it to be. Then again, that assumes that you sell precisely the minimum # to make it happen. But what happens if you sell one more? Depending on what you're making you might be bumping into a whole new tier. My minimum run is 250, but after that it's 500. There is no 251 option. Also, there's the likelihood that some of the items will get messed up along the way either on your end or during shipment. So you want some room for error there as well, maybe 10% or so.

So add at least another 25% on to your goal or increase the cost for the reward to give you some more breathing room. Also, you need to pay for your time spent on the project. Don't be a starving artist.

I know this is all hazy, but that's the way it is. You will eventually be drawing a line in the sand and sticking with it. This determines your goal and your funding price. Most importantly, the goal should be something you can live with should it happen. 

Step 8: Submit It

So you have your masterpiece done and ready to go? Cool, go ahead and submit it. What you are now doing is submitting the project to Kickstarter for being accepted as being good to go. This does NOT mean your project will start when it's done. This is very important.

This process can take a few days. Mine was very quick, but I've heard of it taking longer. That's probably because my project is very straightforward. Poster technology is pretty thoroughly established by now.

Step 9: Share Your Preview Link

Been accepted? That's awesome! Don't hit that launch button yet, though. You have had your nose so close to all the details that you can't see the forest any more. It's time to take a breath, think of those awesome people who have given you good feedback and reach out to them again.

Share that preview link with all of them. Share it with more people. Be kind and ask for feedback again.Try and get feedback from people who don't even know you very well. Ask them what impression they get.

Step 10: Clean It Up, Walk Away, and Clean It Again

Take the feedback into account. Or as much as you want to, it's still your project and your vision. Use it to clean up the page. Then walk away.

Literally. Go for a walk, a nice long one. Think about what you want to put out into the world. Think about how people might see it for themselves. Think about how crazy photosynthesis is and how weeds are so damn good at it. Let it all marinate and when you get back sketch down some notes for any further changes you want to make.

Step 11: Take a Deep Breath, Hit Launch

So you're good to go. You're ready to push your vision out there. You want the world to know about it. Whatever happens will happen and you're cool with that. Well, you want it to be an amazing success of course, but even if it doesn't work you'll have learned a lot for the next time.

So do it, hit the launch button. Then do whatever power move you like to do. The one you do when nobody knows you're watching. Dance around a little. Let it flow through you.

Then sit back down and stare at the huge numbers showing "$0.00 pledged of your goal."

Don't panic.

Step 12: Shout It From the Rooftops

You thought you were done? You built it and they'll come? You're cute.

Sure, there will be people who will find your project in the recent feed on Kickstarter. Some of these glorious people will be so amazingly kind so as to fund you, someone they don't know at all, with some of their hard-earned money. A few projects just explode this way, but not all. Not by a long shot.

Sorry, buddy, you're in marketing now. Maybe you thought ahead and already started, but now you're definitely in it. Obscurity now is death so let people know what you're doing. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever other network you have a presence in. Also be sure to send out email to friends and family.

Be excited about it, but also be nice and respectful of others. There's a fine line between love and hate as well as friendly promotion and spamming. Ask people to check it out and share it if they think it's cool. 

Ready to do more? Then find a list of niche blogs and send them emails talking about your project and why you think they'd like it. 

Step 13: Appreciate Your Funders, They're Good People

I'll never forget how amazing it was to see people who I haven't seen in one or even two decades signing up to fund my project. Even if it fails, even if it all vanishes into the massive history of the internet, that was overwhelming. It was the closest thing I could get to a virtual hug and I loved it.

Of coure there are also other people who you don't know. Those people kick ass as well. So even more than the money that is moving the project towards the goal, it's the funder count that gets me the most. Dozens of people are rooting for me and that is freakin' lovely.

So remember that when you provide updates. Because you're going to be providing updates. These people feel like they know you a little and want to hear from you. So be a good person and say "hi."

Step 14: What's Next?

I'm still in the middle of my project. I'm still working towards my own goal. It's a process that I've been enjoying a lot. If things go well, I'll provide a follow-up.

Want to help make sure that happens? Then (shameless plug) check out my project page here. I'd be happy to send you a poster. It's gonna be great. I hope.

The Big Picture: a continuous wall calendar for 2013

Anything else that you want to know about? Let me know in the comments.

More info:
It Will Be Exhilarating
An Introduction to the Crowdfunding Revolution
Kicking Ass & Taking Donations: 9 Tips on Funding Your Kickstarter Project