How I did Kickstarter: Choosing a goal (and considering stretches)


We’re now a week into our Kickstarter, and it’s been pretty crazy. As of this writing, we’ve made more than one-third of our goal, which is fantastic. If we can keep up this momentum during the lull that always befalls projects in the middle of their campaign, then we’ll breeze past no problem. More likely we hit that lull and then make a mad dash at the end.

But let’s talk about that goal. It’s the most fundamental part of any Kickstarter campaign, and it is the metric by which a Kickstarter’s success is defined. We have asked for $3,500 to help us create Reel. Here is how we came up with that number and why we went with it.

[Alec is doing a Kickstarter. You can (and should) back it here. Through the project’s duration, he will be writing a series of articles about the process. More about that here. Check out the other entries here.]


When you’re dealing with the creation of art/entertainment as opposed to some kind of physical commodity, budgets can be a bit more flexible. Not only are we not beholden to some manufacturer’s specific needs, we can react to market changes right until the day we start shooting. If a newer, better type of light comes out that costs $10 less per day to rent the day before we head to the rental house, we can make the switch and save ourselves a not-inconsiderable amount of money. On the other hand, if a shooting day ends up going an hour or two later than expected and we have to spend a bit more on food to keep everyone happy, that costs extra. We tried to factor all of that in when we budgeted, putting in estimates that we hoped were higher than necessary but giving us wiggle room just in case.

It probably won’t shock you to hear that our budget is not $3,500. But that number isn’t arbitrary. When we were throwing out numbers in our initial meetings of how much we thought the whole thing might cost, we were making wild claims. “How about $2,000?” “What about $3,000?” Those numbers were based on past experiences budgeting as well as what we believed was realistic that we could get from others. $3,000 struck me as more reasonable, so at first we started to work with that number.

But $3,000 wasn’t actually our budget. Our budget was $X, and we would be contributing $Y of our own money, so $3,000 was $X-$Y. Our intent, then, was to fill that gap. And $3,000 actually would have filled that gap nicely.


So why not $3,000 then? Irony. That’s why. Because that money doesn’t take into account Kickstarter’s fees and fulfillment. Between Kickstarter’s 5% and Amazon’s 3-5%, we would have lost up to $300 off the bat. From there, we looked at the cost of actual fulfillment both of the physical goods and their shipping cost. Given that the majority of people will go for digital rewards, we budgeted up to another 10%, and suddenly that $3,000 became $2,400.

In our new budget, $3,500 becomes $2,800. And $2,800 closes the gap as well. Not quite as nicely as $3,000 without restrictions, but well enough that we won’t have to worry.

But it was also a matter of realistically considering what we could get. $3,000 seemed doable, based on the relative success of other Kickstarters and what we believed we could reasonably expect from friends, family, and the occasional stranger. Once we were there, $3,500 didn’t seem like too much a reach beyond that (especially if it’s said “thirty-five-hundred” and not “three-thousand-five-hundred”). $4,000, on the other hand, did seem like too much. And the extra $400 that would have come from that wasn’t worth the risk of losing everything.

And so we had to weigh that. That also gets into the idea of stretch goals, putting price tags on things that will benefit either the product or the backers. In our pitch, we list five different places where extra money could go. But we’re not going to say that hitting $4,500 means we get a Steadicam rig (though it probably would), because if we beat our goal then our priorities might change. There are places the money could go and places we’d like it to go, but that’s not our focus, because realistically we won’t even hit $4,000.

[As an aside, I will be discussing stretch goals a bit more deeply next week, because I have a fundamental issue with the way many projects implement them.]

Cat with money

Generally speaking, small scale projects like Reel that reach their funding only go a little bit over, if at all. If we got $3,600 or $3,700, that wouldn’t surprise me. If we got $5,000, I would be shocked (though anyone interested in a romantic evening with my co-director has the option for just that amount). That’s just not the way these things work. Once the goal is reached, the urgency disappears. It’s harder to convince your unemployed friend to give you money when you’ve already reached your goal. At that point, the only people backing are the ones who really want the stuff that comes from it or people who owe us big time (and most of those favors will run out long before we reach our goal).

So our goal is the bare minimum we need, but also exactly as much as we need. It allows us to make the movie we’re trying to make without serious compromises. It just doesn’t give us much flexibility beyond that.

If you’re looking for a tl;dr, here’s a basic step-by-step of our process, in a vaguely mathematical sense:

  1. Figure out how much the whole thing is going to cost.
  2. Ballpark a reasonable estimate of how much you could get from others.
  3. Figure out our own financial contributions.
  4. Add 3 and 2 together.
  5. If the number you just got is the same as or larger than 1, you’re golden.
  6. If not… good luck.