I decided to take a detailed look at the tesselated cookie cutter project. I chose this one for a couple reasons. First, the project succeeded, so I'm not rubbing it in when I suggest things that could have been done better. Second, a lot of interesting things happened over the course of this project. Third, the product is cool.
I scraped the list of project backers to make this graph of backers over time:
The red diamonds single out days when the Keith Kritselis, the project owner, did an update.
This project was very popular among people who don't use Kickstarter. This pie chart shows how many other Kickstarter projects this project's backers (including me) have backed:
Half of the people who backed this project signed up for Kickstarter just for this project, and never used Kickstarter again. These are the numbers as of today, so someone who joined Kickstarter because of this project but then went on to back another project would show up in the "1" slice of the pie, not the "None" slice.
Despite the broad appeal, the main reason this project succeeded was that something really anomalous happened on the last day. According to this update, what happened was Stephanie Nelson, who has a huge following as "The Coupon Mom", posted about the project on Facebook. This brought in a huge number of new Kickstarter users.
Here's another pie chart that looks at the Kickstarter experience of people who backed the cookie cutter project on the last day. 77% of those people signed up for Kickstarter just to back this project and never backed another project.
If you go to the bit.ly statistics page for the Kickstarter page's shortened link, you'll see the effect of Stephanie Nelson's Facebook post there as well. The vast majority of clicks on that shortened link happened on August 16.
This is not the first time the project had gotten a lot of publicity. Update #3 shows that in early August, the project got a write-up in the local newsweekly, the Austin Chronicle. But that only brought in ten new backers, probably because you'd have to type in a long URL.
Keith Kritselis hustled quite a bit on this project, both online and off; you can see this by looking at the content of the updates, and clever Kickstarter hacks like this:
It's also clear that Kritselis's hustling worked: the project was funded. But it would have come up about $1500 short if the hustle hadn't grabbed the attention of one person with a huge preexisting audience. It's not smart to risk the success of your project on being able to find that person (unless you are that person).
Obvious equation and nonobvious corollaries
Your project will succeed if B*Cm>=G. B is the number of backers, Cm is the mean contribution, and G is the amount set as the goal. (British newspapers, feel free to use this section for meaningless filler.) You have control over all three factors. You set G directly, you increase B by hustling, and Cm depends on how you've set up the rewards system.
How big can B possibly get? Here's the number of backers for each successful Month of Kickstarter project:
Obviously this varies widely based on your hustle and the appeal of your project, but realistically you're not going to get more than 350 backers, and 150 is more likely. The project all the way to the right on that graph is The Endangered Alphabets Project, which got a huge amount of press coverage from mainstream sources including the New York Times. That project has 533 backers. If your plan assumes you'll get 1000 backers, your plan is probably wrong.
Because your number of backers is going to be pretty low, you need to make each backer count. That means raising the mean contribution or lowering the goal.
Recall from last time that the mean contribution for a successful MoK project was $76, plus or minus $39. The best solution is to have a product that's worth $50-$100, and to make a $50-$100 tier that is the first one with a really cool reward. This, I think, is why board games do so well on Kickstarter.
If you don't have something that's worth $50, get that tier up as high as you can. Don't undersell your product! It will doom your project! It very nearly doomed the cookie cutter project.
Let me show you what I mean. Here's the data on the pledge levels and how popular they were among the 317 backers of this project:
The $5 is the first pledge level where you get something real in return: one set of the cookie cutters. At $10 you get two sets, and at $20 you get four sets. (The retail price of one set of cutters is given as $12.) These three levels account for 85% of the backers.
These prices are way too low. (Again, I say this knowing that the project was funded--your project might not be so lucky.) To fund this project using only the $5-$10-$20 funding levels, you'd need 550 backers. It needs to be more like $10-$20-$40. This is the part that I don't have data on, but I'm willing to bet that getting someone to spend $10 instead of $5 on your $12 cookie cutters is easy, compared to selling them on your cookie cutters in the first place.
BTW, if you sum up all the backers at the listed pledge levels, you get a total of $5800 raised—two hundred dollars short of the goal. So even with all the hustling and the big last-day influx and everything, the project succeeded because people pledged more money than was strictly necessary to get the corresponding rewards.
In short, the tesselated cookie cutter story is a story of bad incentive design overcome by hard work, generosity, luck, and network effects. But do some work up front and you won't have to rely so much on that stuff. Look at other projects in the same space and see how they succeeded or failed. Look at the tiers they set up, see how many people pledged at each level, see how much money they actually raised and where it came from. A cool video can get people wanting to back your project, but the reward tiers and the goal you set will determine how much money you see.