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Finding a Knut: Kickstarter advice from an entrepreneur

Posted by Chad O'Connor  June 20, 2012 04:00 PM

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A few months ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to a Kickstarter project that was very much like an idea we had been working on at Amperic with our product, Knut, a battery powered Wi-Fi enabled sensor. Upon reading this I began to feel defensive, angry, despair, rage, sadness, envy and a whole lot of other things all at the same time. I have never experienced such a thing simply by reading a web page. Nothing had ever felt so applicable to me before. I ran into a colleague of theirs. I told him my situation and he told me the one thing that kept me going: “There is enough space in this industry for more than one product.” I decided if more than one product can exist, we will do a Kickstarter as well.

When we launched on Kickstarter, the pledge rate was high. Amazingly high. We raised about half of our requested funds in 2 days. This didn’t last though.

Kickstarter has a very strong community. When people back a project, they help make a product exist and people want to protect what they make. Our project appeared as an attempt to steal from the success from another project. This put us up against serious criticism. Our product was called a cheap knock off, poorly implemented and a scam. Worst of all, as criticism increased, pledge rate decreased.

It was painful see this but it made me realize something very important. Everything that the community was saying in some way or another was 100% right. Because we spent so much time focusing on the competition, we failed to clearly show that our product was different. In a sense we were attempting to ride the wave of others’ success simply because we chose to focus on how we are better than the competition rather than how our product is good for the community. We had made a big mistake.

It isn’t easy to learn from people who are highly critical of you, but we decided that we would address each major issue through updates.

Doing updates on a consistent timeframe has been one of the most rewarding experiences of the whole Kickstarter process. When you post a decent update, pledge rate increases. If you post a bad update, pledge rate decreases. You might even lose pledgers. If you post a really good update, people comment and tell you how great it is. It’s nice to see a correlation from action to result.

We discovered we were featured on a popular tech site thanks to Kickstarter's amazing pledge tracking system. Kickstarter watches where a pledger initially clicked in from and gives this information to you in neat graphs and charts. About 75% of our pledges at this point were from this tech site. As new news was posted on this tech site, our post fell lower on the site and the further down we were, the lower our pledge rate would be. We had no idea how we ended up on this tech site but we realized we needed more of this attention to make the project successful.

We needed more traffic and had no idea how to get it. So I emailed every news site that came to mind, with no response. I attempted to email all of these sites again, but this time with something unique to content on their site, yet once again, nothing. I considered maybe these people didn't like me after my first canned email attempt, so I tried yet again, this time with a fake email account, trying to act as one of their readers recommending they feature this cool project, and still nothing. So time passed and to my surprise we started to appear on a few of these sites, and a few others that I had never heard of either. I wasn't sure if my actions had ever made a difference. I emailed these sites to thank them and still, nothing. Traffic started to improve, and I felt accomplishment.

Prior to this Kickstarter experience, I had zero online presence. I had no Facebook account, no LinkedIn profile, and had no idea how Twitter worked. I reached out to my friends. I asked if they could Tweet about our project. Some did and continue to tweet on a consistent basis but most didn't and told me not to worry, as I had already raised half my funding. There are sites in the deep dark corners of the Internet that you can pay $5 for someone to tweet to their supposed tens of thousands of followers. I attempted this and I am certain paying a random person to tweet is a complete waste of time and money. These people actually do tweet you to their amazing amount of followers, but it turns out these followers are actually fake followers which are just thousands of zombie accounts all following each other, with few or possibly no real followers. We still haven't gained a backer from Twitter.

Many of my friends had become personally committed to my project which was quite nice. One suggested we use reddit, a site which allows a post to rise or fall on a huge list based on how many up or down votes a post received. The longer the post is on reddit, the further it falls down the list, preventing stale content. We got a bunch of friends together, posted the link to our Kickstarter project and up-voted the post. Our post hit the front page. People were posting tons of questions, up-voting it more and soon we were the top post. The pledge rate was increasing. We managed to keep the top spot for 3 days. We tried posting again but no matter what we did we could never repeat our previous work. The reddit community was tired of our idea.

This is when I learned the most painful thing about Kickstarter. People can cancel their pledge. I felt a special kind of pain when I discovered this. I figured people were canceling because they were losing faith that the project would succeed with the slow pledge rate and lack of activity on the page. We had no questions asked directly on our project page. Every backer asked us questions using private messaging. The only way that a project owner can show activity is by posting project updates.

So far, I haven't found a decent way of bringing in a substantial amount new traffic for any extended period of time. We did manage to get above our goal slowly, 2 steps forward 1 step back. If I have one recommendation for anyone attempting a Kickstarter, it is to carefully plan far in advance. Establish a strong online community surrounding your idea using forums and going to meet ups. Line up backers before posting your project. Find a method to get in touch with multiple media sites as you likely have to be referenced by someone on the inside of these massive media sites to get featured. This plan could take months but it is worth every second. Your idea is only as good as your marketing.

Richard Pasek and Jay Gondelman of Amperic have been building and maintaining remotely monitored aquariums in the Boston area for the last six years. Over time they realized that this technology could be used for so much more than just aquariums. After three years of development, Knut is the result.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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