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Month Of Kickstarter After-Action Report 2: Details >

[Comments] (6) Month Of Kickstarter After-Action Report: Crispy Duck Games Here you see the logo for Crispy Duck Games, one of the fictional studios in my novel Constellation Games (coming soon!). It's the first reward I've gotten out of July's Month of Kickstarter project. (Thanks, Brandon Eck; I didn't tell you anything except the name of the company, but you came up with something funny and appropriate.) Now that all the Kickstarter projects I backed have passed their deadlines, I'm going to take a graph-filled look at how they did, and take a few tiny stabs at guidelines for future projects that use Kickstarter or the Street Performer Protocol more generally.

Success rate

This is not a random sample of Kickstarter projects. I picked projects I actually wanted to back.

In all, I backed 52 projects for MoK. 31 of them succeeded, 19 failed, and two were canceled. My success rate was 60%, versus 40-45% for Kickstarter projects as a whole.

I think this shows good judgment on my part: I usually backed projects the day they started, and I avoided projects like MC Frontalot's music video that were obviously going to make their goal (or I backed them and didn't count them towards MoK.)

I don't have any information about the canceled projects, but I gathered basic information about the other 50: their funding goal, how much money they actually raised, how many backers they had, and how many updates their founders posted. This information became the graphs you're about to see.

I pledged at least $25 to each project, and more if necessary to get a cool reward, so my total expenditure was at least $725, and probably closer to $900.

This graph shows how much money each project raised. The line is the success line: projects on or above the line met their goals, and projects below the line failed.

Success rate graph

Let's zoom in on the projects that failed:

Failure graph

Check that out. Most failed projects raised pretty much nothing. But many raised thousands of dollars but didn't get any of it. If the cheese vat project had asked for $3k instead of $20k, they could have made their goal, and still been able to produce all their prizes. They wouldn't have gotten a new cheese vat, but $3k is better than nothing.

Why do projects fail?

I looked at the failed projects and came up with four classes of failure. These are my subjective opinions about what went wrong with the projects.

  1. About 30% of failed projects didn't hustle. The project creator put up a project on Kickstarter in the belief that hundreds of people would come by and back their project. Instead, they got me, the guy who looks at every single project despite the fact that Kickstarter really doesn't make it easy to do this. (eg. "50's Monster Movie Serial!")
  2. Of course, hustling is no guarantee of success. For about 30% of the projects, the project creator hustled, and got money, but not as much as they asked for. They should have used a different rewards system, or assuming they could have delivered the existing rewards with less money, they should have asked for less. (eg. the "Bursts of Light" anthology.)
  3. About 30% of failed projects clearly had both problems: they didn't hustle and they asked for way too much money. (eg. the Thousand Island dressing documentary).
  4. About 10% of projects hustled towards a reasonable goal, but didn't make it because the project or the rewards were too niche. I think the best example is the oboe chamber music recital, which offered oboe reeds or oboe lessons at the $25 level.

Not shown: a much larger population of failed projects that I didn't back, which may have failed for other reasons.

What is the hustle?

How can I judge projects based on a vague quantity like "hustle"? I'm using the number of updates posted to the Kickstarter project as a very weak indicator of hustle. Here's a graph of updates versus backers, for all projects.

Attempting to measure "hustle"

Kickstarter updates do not cause backers, if only because nobody but existing backers cares about your updates. But in my dataset, no project with zero updates ever got more than 50 backers. Updates and backers are both signs of this invisible third thing, "hustle". Updates are a good indicator that the project founder is hustling. Many update messages are exhortations to existing backers, asking them to propagate the project through their social networks.

It's quite possible to hustle and fail anyway. But if you don't find yourself writing some updates, it's a sign of a problem with your strategy.

Mean contribution

Here's a big difference between successful projects and failed projects. The mean mean contribution to a successful project is $76. That is, dividing the number of contributors by the money raised gives a certain number, and the mean of those numbers is $76. The median mean is $66. The standard deviation of the means is a huge $39, but I don't know if that has any statistical meaning.

(CAUTION: Sumana finds these graphs confusing, because the x-axis doesn't mean anything. It's just all the projects lined up next to each other. But I couldn't think of a better way to present this information.)

Mean contribution (successful projects)

The mean mean contribution to a failed project is $43 (the median mean contribution is $38, the standard deviation of the mean a somewhat smaller $23).

Mean contribution (failed projects)

I was pretty shocked about this. Even the numbers for failed projects greatly overshadow the $25 I usually kicked in (and still usually kick in). However, for a lot of board game projects, I contributed $40 or $50, because that was how much you had to contribute to get a copy of the game, and all those projects succeeded.

Takeaway lessons

  1. Start the really good rewards at around $50. (You can go a little lower if you're doing a book.)
  2. Try to get people who put a lot of money into a few Kickstarter projects, rather than people like me who spread it around.
  3. If you're not sure how much you can raise, try something in the $1k-$2k range.
  4. Hustle, dammit.

What's next

I'm a little loath to do this because it means a bunch more data entry, but I want to take a closer look at at least one of these projects, to figure out what "hustle" looks like in more detail. There's one MoK project that for me just defines "hustle", a project that reached a really high goal with a mean backer contribution of only $23. I figure that's a good one to investigate more closely. So stay tuned, or not.

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Posted by Susie at Mon Sep 26 2011 23:16

I love that you used the word "hustle." Also, Crispy Duck Games is awesome.

Posted by Bob2 at Fri Sep 30 2011 12:51

You didn't buy crispyduckgames.com?

Posted by Andy Baio at Thu Oct 13 2011 13:48

Great analysis. Though I disagree with one point: that raising a fraction of the goal is better than nothing. For many projects, raising 10-40% of their goal would be far worse than raising nothing at all... They'd be on the hook to fulfill rewards to backers, but without nearly enough money to produce the project.

The all-or-nothing mechanic is a huge feature of Kickstarter that occasionally gets written off as a flaw. But in my opinion, it's key to the success of the site. It drives backers to spread the word, and the only thing that's lost if the goal isn't met is the creator's time.

Posted by Leonard at Thu Oct 13 2011 15:41

Raising a fraction of the goal is better than nothing *if you can still deliver the prizes*. I'm just saying some people asked for too much money.

Posted by Andy Baio at Thu Oct 13 2011 16:59

Yeah, I always recommend raising the minimum required to do the project and get it off the ground, plus a little to make it worth your time. I'm guessing some people just get greedy.

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