Our Crowdfunding “Failure” & its Lessons

Jan 15, 2016Blog

With less than a week left in our Kickstarter campaign and having only raised 14% of our $40,000 CAD goal, I wanted to share some of our observations. It’s still entirely possible a miracle happens this week and we’re fully funded but… just in case…

There are a lot of blogs, books and podcasts out there that will tell you how to build a great crowdfunding campaign. We studied them extensively, we did comparative analysis of similar kinds of campaigns and we created what we thought was a compelling call to action.

Except I think we got a few things wrong with the campaign.

1. We tried to pitch to too many people with our campaign and our messaging wasn’t clear. Our platform provides software for storytellers to create and publish an interactive story game – a hybrid of a book meets video game, with a focus on narrative more than flashy, expensive graphics. With our campaign, we were all over the place – trying to appeal to creators, future players and early adopters that gravitate towards Kickstarter projects. We should have focused on a benefits (What’s In It For You, Writer) approach. Know who your audience is and what they want to hear.

We’ve got great benefits for writers – easy entry into a new technology, be among the first to pioneer a new way to experience stories, reach a worldwide audience by using our translation tools, access to having interactive stories available for your fan base on web, tablet and Facebook, additional royalties by being a Kickstarter backer (which we are prohibited from stating per their rules), and an opportunity to have a voice in shaping this new medium as part of the creative community.

2. We didn’t include the backers from the beginning of our project. We confidently thought that we had an advantage over many projects on Kickstarter… we’ve nearly finished the bulk of our development and people will be able to a) write content and b) play published content within the coming months. Our goal was to raise funds to hire a full time artist and pursue content licenses from well-known and established best-selling authors.

Many projects on crowdfunding sites only have concept art and a general outline of what their future game will be and go on to be successfully funded, despite many projects not being completed. I think part of the magic of Kickstarter is thatpeople want to believe they are part of the whole picture – that their pledge helps the project from conception to completion. Having put in 16 months of development already, we’ve done what a lot of people have said was impossible. We didn’t want to be another Kickstarter that promised the moon and didn’t deliver. I think, deep down, Kickstarter backers like being promised big things – it appeals to our inner adventurer.

3. Likes and shares don’t equal financial support. It is great to have the moral support of a personal network as you trudge through indie development, but don’t mistake the Likes on your Facebook posts for an avalanche of pledges and don’t take it personally, either. We didn’t want to be pushy so we were ‘afraid’ to ask for early support, to ask people to commit to pledging within the first 1-3 days, when it is critical to a campaign’s growth. I had a number of friends who told me to “chill out” but there’s a reason they say that reaching 20% of your goal in the first 3 days results in an 80% chance your project will reach full funding.

Many of our personal network were new to the concept of crowdfunding – preparing them ahead of time with helpful information would have been good, as well.

4. We didn’t focus enough on pre-Kickstarter marketing. That’s pretty self explanatory – we should have been actively converting social media followers to our email list and been more active with a development blog/vlog series. We were thankful we cancelled our media blitz by one of the MANY companies that solicited us once our Kickstarter was live. If you can’t put the proper words to your own project sales pitch, chances are a media blasting service can’t either. We would have been well served to hire a PR or sales/marketing consultant well in advance, to shape our message and focus.

I’m sure we got a few other things wrong, too…

What we got right

1. We successfully raised $175,000 from friends and family investors in 2014 – which allowed us to grow our studio of 5 to 14. Over 16 months, we’ve done well to cover our overhead, salaries, development and marketing costs with what we’ve had. Imagine – 16 months of development with 14 people on the equivalent of 1 Silicon Valley engineer’s salary! We’re pretty resourceful.

2. We’re developing relationships with our core audience of future storytellers – authors, screenwriters and game developers from around the world. By the end of April, we expect to have over 50 storytellers in the process of creating interactive stories. By the end of August, we expect that number to be over 500 as we develop our online webinars and resources on interactive storytelling.

3. We’ve reached out for advice and mentorship from some of the top people in storytelling and games. We’ve had endorsements from Chris Jones, the creator of adventure detective ‘Tex Murphy’ games, Kate Edwards, the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association, and we welcomed Megan Gaiser, former CEO of Her Interactive, the studio that enthralled young women to play Nancy Drew interactive games, as one of our creative strategists.

4. We asked for an appropriate amount for funding and had a detailed project plan. We’ve seen somewhat-comparable concepts pitched on Kickstarter raise over $200,000 (and still haven’t delivered). Asking for too little, to meet Kickstarter’s “all-or-nothing” threshold would have been silly and indicative that we, as a studio, have no idea about production costs.

5. We’re getting better at social media, especially Twitter. Twitter has been fantastic for developing relationships with storytellers. Tweets about our project often go out and disappear into the noise but direct tweets establish bonds and connections and are yielding wonderful developments. Dare to connect with those you “worship” – after all, they put their pants on one leg at a time, too.

6. Our strengths are connecting with people one-on-one. We know how to get people excited about being digital storytellers with our tool. The number of these excited people is multiplying and we are reaching people all over the world as a result!

Where do we go from here?

We’ll offer our backers the chance to come and purchase their rewards directly from us. We’ll offer them more services and benefits for sticking by us as early adopters – we’ll treat them like royalty for believing in us.

And when we’ve had a few more months under our belt, we’ll do a smaller campaign on another crowdfunding platform with flexible funding, with a more focused message to recruit more storytellers to this new age of storytelling… with testimonials, stories to play and whole new worlds to explore.

A failed crowdfunding campaign is only a failure if you don’t learn from it, make changes and adjust your plans. So we won’t have fancy art next month, but we do have 50 writers who are excited to create with StoryStylus — and that’s a good start!