The struggle. The sacrifice. It has all paid off. Today is the day that your Kickstarter project has been fully funded, and you are flying high. Whether you have raised $5,000, $50,000, or blasted your way into the upper stratospheres of crowdfunding, it is a good time to relax, and breathe in this rarified air. Go ahead and take in the view—you are a buoyant hero of the collaborative economy!
Except that you’re not. Well, not yet. Raising money is only the beginning of your journey.
Not to burst your balloon; it’s just that, after a year of working with over a hundred and fifty successfully funded projects, we have to tell it like it is. Be wary of crowdfunding advice that says otherwise; most likely it is from someone who has never actually run a campaign. The truth is that crowdfunding isn’t all sunshine and rainbow parades.
We’ve seen it time and time again: even the most prepared project creators encounter turbulence in the transition from fundraising to actually delivering. Strange new forces will threaten to send you and your project crashing back down to earth. They’re known as Logistics. Or Customer Service. Or Fulfillment. We call them everything that threatens to take your time away from creating what you love.
In the scramble to get funding, project creators turn bold: they put all their social capital on the line, recruiting friends, family, and strangers alike. They publicly declare that they have a worthy idea, and the confidence to move it forward. That’s fantastic. It’s no secret that trust is one mighty pillar of the collaborative economy.
But did you know that honoring this trust will involve diving headlong into all the nitty-gritty details of operations? International shipping, anyone? Address changes? Handling refunds? These aren’t sexy topics. And yet project creators—even those running small projects—have to eat their share of dogfood. After all, you can’t fake your way to delivery; you just have to do whatever it takes. When it comes to proving yourself and your ideas, there is no try.
That’s why we’d like to turn down the hype, crack open the hood of the crowdfunding bandwagon, and look closely at the machinery that every project needs to run smoothly.
As we build out tools to fit the needs of our customers, we are constantly learning from their challenges. So, for the sake of overheated project creators everywhere, let’s take the time to call out the tough realities they are facing…
Crowdfunding is hard. Once you are funded, you have three full-time jobs to perform:
I. Communities are not easy to manage.
Well before your project is fully funded, you will become the de facto leader of a burgeoning new community. Hundreds or even thousands of people will rally behind your idea. The trick is to avoid being the Pied Piper that leads all your enthusiastic backers across a bridge to nowhere.
Each backer assumes that he has a personal relationship with a project creator, but eventually, all these individual conversations can actually harm the health of your entire project ecosystem, as they eat into your time and take your focus away from creating—it can be death by a thousand cuts.
Even seasoned, successful project creators, like Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions, warn of the dangers of burning out. As he puts it, “there’s no sure rift-maker like success, and few pressure cookers like a Kickstarter campaign; add to that the obligation to and expectations of your backers after you’ve funded and you’ll find yourself at a high-stress breaking point…”
II. Customer service can be a minefield.
Project creators need thick skin, a warm smile, and a healthy state of mind to survive a project and keep their backers happy. Coordinating with backers to take care of missing payments, give out refunds, fix wrong addresses, and work out other issues can be a challenge.
You may very well even experience delays in delivering your project (as about 75% of tech projects do). Not to worry. Kickstarter says that “creators who are transparent about issues and delays usually find their backers to be understanding.”
In our experience, this is largely true. Backers tend to be a considerate bunch, who largely self-police and earnestly want you to succeed. But if things start to really fall apart, don’t be surprised if frustrated backers start showing up at your door.
III. Fulfillment is an alternate universe.
Doing a crowdfunding project is an excellent way to learn the minutiae of packaging, supply chains, and international shipping prices. If you seek to complete the fulfillment process yourself—or foist it upon an unlucky intern—there will be plenty of grunt work, labeling, and spreadsheets to go around.
Some project leaders elect not to take the Styrofoam peanut bath, and instead utilize a fulfillment company. But once you elect to go down this wormhole, there are a gazillion fulfillment houses to choose from, all offering different services and warehousing options in far-flung locations. Be prepared to learn more than you ever wanted to know about inner and master cartons.
So yes, running a crowdfunding project can often seem like re-inventing the wheel.
Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and the rest of the pack—these are all worthy vehicles to connect project creators and enthusiastic backers. But though they may take you to your fundraising goal (or above and beyond), they aren’t built to see a project through to completion. They are just one of the essential tools that a project creator ought to have in her belt.
Aspiring crowdfunders and their backers desperately need tools that remove friction from the road ahead. They aren’t facing new problems—certain business fundamentals haven’t changed—but rather age-old dilemmas arising in a new environment.
Yet the optimal crowdfunding stack has yet to be well defined.
What does that mean? It means it’s time to think of crowdfunding not as a one-stop platform (à la Kickstarter) but as a stack of integrated software and services. Fulfillment centers, mailing tools, customer service platforms, online stores—these could all be components in your stack.
Unfortunately, many of these tools have yet to arrive, or don’t play very nicely together. The good news? Solutions are coming.
Our prediction is that 2014 will be the Year of New Tools for Project Creators.
BackerKit is already hard at work, building software that saves time, money, and hassle for backers and project creators alike. And it’s not just us. Other companies are also jumping into this budding industry, seeking to modernize a whole range of services for a new, rapidly growing crowdfunding market. For our part, we want to be the glue that holds your project together, and allows you to plug the perfect options into your crowdfunding stack. We know that project creators don’t want workarounds; they want easy solutions.
To keep their sanity and keep backers happy, project creators will learn to work smart.
The best advice we can give project creators is to identify and utilize tools that can help ease your journey, and allow you to complete your project without losing your creative soul.
Don’t worry, you’ll get there. And, as more and more project creators seek to personalize their crowdfunding stack, we will be ready and waiting.
Thanks for reading. In upcoming posts, we’ll delve deeper under the crowdfunding hood and share more of what we have learned. We’ll shed the hype and talk about what isn’t talked about in the crowdfunding community. We’ll get down in the trenches with project creators. Let us know if there’s a topic you’d like to see us address.
Love, Team BackerKit