how to ruin a Kickstarter

As Kickstarter gets more popular, I’m seeing more lousy Kickstarters. Most of them get ruined because they break the fundamental rules implied by any Kickstarter project:

1. If you don’t meet the backing goal, this project will not happen.
2. If you do meet the backing goal, this project will happen.

In case they’re not obvious enough, an example:

The Furry Pink Car Example

Let’s say I built an absurdist art car, and I want to add furry pink seats in time for the next Burning Man. I have a good reason to want the new seats: riding in the car without them is uncomfortable enough that people complain loudly. However, I don’t have the funds to add them myself.

I have some rewards in mind: an exclusive video of the seats being installed, a ride in the car itself, and for top backers, your name painted on the passenger door.

I know there are plenty of people who would back my project, so I’m ready to go. How could I screw it up?

Remember: If the goal isn’t met, the project won’t happen.

Easy. I could state my project in broader terms than I’m actually funding. “Absurdist Art Car at Burning Man 2013!” My project video could talk all about the car, with a quick mention of how pink fluffy seats would be nice.

When potential backers read that title and watch that video, they’re left with a big question: “You already have this car. Why do you need more money?” From the project page (which is all they have to go on!) it sounds like the project will happen whether they back it or not.

I had this feeling about a recent space company that went the crowdfunding route. The rewards were the usual space-company merchandise, and the project boiled down to “Help us do what we’re already doing!” My contribution wasn’t going to make a difference, so I didn’t bother.

How could I fix it? Change my title to “Pink Fuzzy Seats: The Only Way To Travel” and describe the benefits (and unreasonable expense!) of the all-important seats. If the money doesn’t come through, the art car will be as uncomfortable as it was last year, so no rides for anyone!

Great! How could I screw that up, then?

Remember: If the goal is met, this project will happen.

Messing this up is more subtle, but a lot more common. There’s an assumption underlying my whole project, something I might completely miss by (correctly) stating the goal narrowly. Take a look: can you spot it?

That’s right: I need a working, drivable art car. The rewards require it, the seats are useless without it. If something happens to that car so that I can’t take it to Burning Man, then I’m on the hook to fix it.

WITHOUT asking for more money. That’s the really tough part. Going back to those fluffy-seat backers with a second Kickstarter (or IndieGoGo, or anything like it) seems natural, but it’s dead wrong. By asking for new funds to make an old project possible, I’m casting doubt on my ability to complete that project at all. Why would my backers throw good money after bad?

I often see this problem with films and other art projects, the kind that have lots of steps. (Writing, shooting, editing, post-production, distribution, aigh!) It’s natural to make the film the project, with backer rewards to match, but if you’re just funding the first steps you should only provide rewards from those steps. (A rough cut of the film, for example.) Don’t offer the whole film if you’re only funding part of it.

In my case, I’m resolving to keep the car running and get it to Burning Man, no matter what. It’s something I would have had to do anyway, but now my backers are relying on me to get the furry pink seats on the road.

Note that I’m not going to list “car breaking down” as one of the “risks” or “uncertainties” on the project page, either. If Burning Man is canceled, that’s an uncertainty. If faux pink fur melts in the Black Rock sun, that’s a risk. However, I’m pledging to do everything I can to get the car there, and it’s reasonable to expect me to deliver on that promise.