Kickstarter · Crowdfunding

Kickstarter as validation tool

Sam Feller Mechanical Engineer at Foliage

May 22nd, 2013

I recently ran a failed Kickstarter campaign. We were trying to raise $25K, and the majority of the funds were going to be used for paying for injection molding tooling.

Now, I'm pretty happy that I didn't spend $25K of my own money to find out that this wasn't going to launch on Kickstarter, but I'm also out months and months of time, from concept design, prototype testing, to factory sourcing, marketing, etc...

Of course, the lesson is fail fast, but I'm trying to figure out what to do next.  Would you still call Kickstarter a validation tool if it takes months to get ready for it?  How would you vet ideas?


Michael Sattler President, Splitzee

May 22nd, 2013

Glass half-full: 200 people validated your concept.

My advice? Pivot and try again. Message the 200, thank them for their support and ask why they thought it didn't hit the goal. Use that (and whatever else you learned) and queue up another campaign for round two. Round two should take you far less time - you're already 200 people ahead, and you should be able to re-use a lot of material from round one. Keep going until you nail it. Refine your marketing and outreach techniques too - you may actually be close on the product side, but haven't  yet figured out how to reach your tribe effectively.

As to whether the campaign was worth it: absolutely. It saved you the cost of an misplaced MVP.

What you're doing is the future of entrepreneurship. Why? Because the cost of validation has dropped below the cost of building an MVP. I make that case here. Let me know what you think.

Erik Larson

May 22nd, 2013

In my experience, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between a false negative and a real one when it comes to consumer products...especially if you focus on finding the reasons for the negative outcome.

Instead, I think the best advice is to put your engineering 'solve the problem' hat aside for a moment, and instead put on your marketing 'follow the enthusiasm' hat.

Try to figure out why the people who did buy in were excited about your idea. There are probably only a few reasons they got excited, and if you are lucky and honest with yourself, one or two of those reasons will point towards a the business opportunity. 

Learn what those people have in common with each other, and then tweak/pivot to make them even more enthusiastic. Maybe they are all moms with kids who want to be frugal and fun but never buy cookies anymore, so you should get Oreos to include it in a promotion to attract those ladies and their kids back into the Oreo family... Who knows.

But don't try to figure out why more people didn't buy in - there are gazillions of reasons, and thus gazillions of possible actions each with their own unknown outcomes.

This first stage of product development is unpredictable, so spending a few months to learn what you've learned seems like par for the course except for a very few very, very lucky perhaps mythical entrepreneurs who get it just right at the start. If you were hoping for a home run and instead got walked, you need to decide how you feel about that situation now that it happened. Is running the bases fun for you, or would you rather play a different game?

Michael Coates

May 22nd, 2013

It really depends on your audience.  Is the Kickstarter "audience" the consumer of your product or service?  And if they are, did you tell your story well and get their attention?  Seems like if the answers are "yes", that would be validation.  If not, there's probably a better way to gauge reception.

Douglas Tarr Entrepreneur and Software Architect

May 22nd, 2013

Sam -

So, you had 199 backers and $7734 raised, how is that a failure?  

It feels like you could have argued (in a different world) that there was sufficient validation in the market to continue.

I'm curious how you decided that it "failed"

- Doug

Michael Grassotti Founder, Technologist & Coder

May 22nd, 2013

I wouldn't read too much into it. My friend Adam tried using kickstarter for his Kingdom Death project. First one raised  $1000, 2nd one failed, third time took off and pulled in just over $2M. 

Thing about kickstarter is that it's not really setup for rapid build-measure-learn cycles. Behind the scenes Adam always testing new ideas against his own mailing list and experimenting with variations of the product. Ideally you would be doing lots of customer discovery and validation leading up to a kickstarter campaign, with the campaign itself as a way to fund a validated concept.

Joshua Butner Founder / Partner at Vulk

May 22nd, 2013

Sam, I would make sure and recognize that with any campaign of this type, there are so many factors that can contribute to success or failure. It can be more than just your idea: perhaps your reward levels weren't right; perhaps you just didn't appeal in your intro video, if you had one. I haven't seen your kickstarter page, so obviously this is conjecture. Don't give up on your idea if it's something that you truly believe in and want to pursue. -Josh

Rob Mathewson

May 22nd, 2013

I haven't run a KS campaign yet, but if/when I do it will be the culmination of a 3-6 month offline validation effort.  Totally agree with @Lonna's comment about following the Running Lean methodology for validation of the problem definition, solution strategy and your minimum viable product. If you had established those in advance, then the KS campaign would provide the final, confirming market validation that you would need in order to begin scaling your proven solution. Plus, every person whom you touched during the 3-6 month validation run-up becomes part of your KS early-adopter crowd, providing a starting boost to your campaign. 

Alex Gourley Founder at Active Theory Inc

May 22nd, 2013

I think that's just the way it is. Validating ideas is fundamentally expensive. Kickstarter was a good short cut, but it's not a magic bullet. 

You could create a low-fi version of the video (and nothing else) and see if you can get even 10 strangers to commit money... but that's not a perfect test.

Sam Feller Mechanical Engineer at Foliage

May 22nd, 2013

Thanks all! This has been helpful.

with regards to the Kickstarter campaign, we may license the idea (the Kickstarter attracted a potential licensee, probably the best outcome from the campaign), and we're seeking other funding sources. no telling where it will turn out yet.

with regards to future product ideas, it helps us think about the approach we take to our development process.

James Setaro Software Development Manager at Pearson

May 22nd, 2013

I remember seeing this so you did something right!  Maybe you could share more about this.  How many people actually viewed this kickstarter(I haven't done one so I don't know what kind of metrics you can glean)?  

I am assuming that with the coverage you got the number of people who committed was very low versus the reach of the campaign and that's why you are a little down on it?

I totally agree with Michael about reaching out to the 200 people who bought in, and you would certainly want to reach out individually to the people who pledged $59(especially the $1000 backer) or more right?  They clearly loved you idea and may be able to tell you more that could help you improve.