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Learn the tricks from a hardware development company that has been involved in more than 20 crowdfunding initiatives — that have both failed and succeeded.
Are you exhibiting (or thinking to exhibit) your project at Maker Faire Orlando this year? Have you thought about raising funds through crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter? Whether or not this possibility has crossed your mind, we think it’s worthwhile to look through these tips as they are applicable to activities that go beyond just a crowdfunding campaign.
There is a big misconception that Kickstarter campaigns turn to gold because you put them online — unfortunately, that’s seldom the case. In most cases, there are a series of events that take place before and after a campaign in order to achieve success. Jaycon Systems, a Maker Faire Orlando sponsor and hardware development company who has worked with numerous hardware Kickstarter campaigns has broken these events into 13 steps they believe are most relevant and beneficial to Hardware projects. Let’s go through them:
1. Understand your customer
The first step in creating a successful Kickstarter campaign is to understand the characteristics of those who have a need for the product you’ve created. They will become your audience, and your messaging, both online or offline, will be based on this group’s demographics, motivations, and values. This process is also known as market segmentation.
Are other makers your audience? If so, please be sure to check this comprehensive Maker Study that goes in depth into Maker Faire Attendees’ characteristics. As you’ll see in the next tip, understanding your customers well will be key to planning and implementing your marketing efforts.
2. Plan your marketing efforts
So now that you know your customers well, it’s time to research what channels, platforms, events, and venues they are most likely to be on or attend. The most successful campaigns tend to engage in marketing several months prior to even launching a Kickstarter campaign, so start planning where to reach your target audience even before you have your product made.
3. Plan your pre-prototyping phase
Make a list of the features and technologies involved in your product and talk to a professional to analyze its feasibility. If you are working with a prototyping firm, ask if they are aware of manufacturing processes in order to help you design your product for manufacturing (also called DFM or design for manufacturability). This will save you valuable time and money so you don’t have to make expensive revisions when you go into production. Always remember: design twice, produce once. If your product consists of plastics and you’re thinking to manufacture it by means of injection molding, check out this engineering design guide for suggestions about how to design for manufacturing (DFM).
4. Build a realistic pre-production prototype
Making the prototype is probably the most fun part of putting together a campaign on Kickstarter. Your goal is to get other people to buy into your idea or your concept of your prototype before you mass manufacture it. It is extremely important to have a well-built prototype, so include high-resolution pictures and videos to show the audience exactly how the product functions, what it is made of, and its features.
A mistake that happens often on hardware projects on Kickstarter is to over promise with their prototype and under deliver with their actual manufactured unit. That’s why it’s important to only include in your prototype the features you are able to actually implement in the final manufactured product.
5. Choose a manufacturer prior to launching the campaign
Manufacturing can be tough, mostly because designers and engineers don’t work in the actual manufacturing of a product, and vice versa. Concepts may seem easy when you compare to its execution. Work with an experienced manufacturer prior to launching the campaign so you know what’s feasible and what to promise backers in your campaign. In many cases, waiting until you get funded to pick a manufacturer may throw a curveball on your budget and on your backers.
6. Have a legitimate budget
Budget and finances are the lifeblood of any company. Do your research on costs before you start a campaign. You’ll see that one of the most pertinent costs in your Kickstarter campaign will be for manufacturing. Shipping is also an important issue to consider when budgeting, as you’ll read in tip 11.
Remember to do your research on the different types of manufacturing processes, as they can vary immensely. Injection molding may sound expensive over 3D printing, but if you are going to make 1000 units, your cost per unit will decrease tremendously by paying some upfront mold costs. Also, remember that if you plan on doing manufacturing yourself, ask if making thousands of units be worth your time (and sanity).
7. Implement your marketing plan: Create interest before the campaign starts
Start presenting your idea to your target audience early on to create hype and gather valuable feedback straight from your future customers. Create content, launch social media campaigns and attend shows and events like the Maker Faire Orlando. Also, consider adding some traditional public relations efforts like publishing press releases for an opportunity to get featured on different news channels.
Build your own list of tech bloggers and YouTube channels, then start emailing them about your product. You’ll find YouTube vloggers are always looking for new items to demonstrate. And this usually doesn’t cost you much, except for the cost of the product and shipping.
8. Get liftoff within the first two days
People follow success and fear uncertainty. When potential backers see that you’re successfully funded, they’ll follow, promote and back it. However, if your campaign is not successful they tend to wait for others to back the project. That’s where your friends and family become important. Regardless of the campaign category, it’s important to get liftoff within the first 24 to 48 hours. To do this, ask your friends and family to back your project and make a pledge. Also, note that Kickstarter will promote you on their home page if your backing has been exponential over a short period of time.
10. Learn the metrics
Kickstarter has implemented metrics in their backend for a reason. One of the most important metrics you should keep an eye on is the conversion rate. This rate reflects how many people visit your campaign and back the project, versus how many people visit your campaign and don’t back the project. The higher the conversion rate the better. Kicktraq.com is a great way to monitor different metrics for any Kickstarter campaign. If you notice a low conversion rate, you should revisit your marketing plan and personas and perhaps give your potential backers incentives for pledging through a custom social media campaign.
11. Don’t forget about shipping
It’s important to note that shipping always happens. Budget for these costs and be up front with the backers about whether or not it’s included in the pledge. Also, think of a standard policy in case you get backers complaining that they never received a package even though you shipped it out. International shipping has many restrictions, and in many cases, customs will hold the product until the recipient pays a huge import tax. Backers don’t always know about this tax and might expect you to pay it.
12. Expect delays and plan for them
A well-built and well-designed prototype can avoid delays; however, delays are inevitable. Add time to the delivery schedule and expect them. Underpromise and over deliver. To avoid manufacturing delays, don’t become the person who just finished a Kickstarter campaign then starts looking for a manufacturer. Derek, Jaycon’s COO says he finds it fascinating how many emails he receives from companies weeks after they have told backers they are in production.
13. Successfully fulfill your campaign
Congratulations – you’ve successfully finished your Kickstarter. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate. Now the real work begins. Hopefully, your budget and time estimate allowed for a little padding. The best thing you can do is to be open and communicate with your backers. Make sure your communications are up to schedule — for example, if you do daily posts, then they’ll always expect daily updates. Don’t go off the grid. Always keep them informed, good or bad. You’re all on the same roller coaster together.
Good products don’t just sell themselves. Jaycon has had dozens of amazing products come through their door that were unsuccessful because of poor marketing and planning or an ineffective team. A great idea will certainly be needed, but a dedicated team is what takes a product from being good to being great. In the startup world, it’s very common that investors invest in teams, not products. Crowdfunding campaigns are no different. Plan ahead, budget, underpromise and over deliver.
Make sure you connect with Jaycon at their Maker Faire Orlando 2017 exhibit on October 21st & 22nd.