My friend and I launched our Kickstarter four days ago. A lot has happened since then, some behind the scenes and some exceedingly public. Through all of that, a few lovely people (primarily friends and family) have already helped us achieve a not-insignificant portion of our goal.
It’s exciting. Really exciting. But it’s also been extremely stressful for a whole host of reasons. The biggest is that trying to crowdfund is simply a unique experience, and one that it’s difficult to really prepare for. But there are a few things I really wish I’d known from the outset. I figured all of this out on the way, some of it more recently than I would have liked, but all of it would have changed my initial approach had I understood it from the get-go. So I wanted to share that all with you.
None of this has to do with our movie specifically or even movies in general. If you want to Kickstart a video game, a CD, or even a delicious new snack, all of this will probably apply to you.
So without further ado, here are five things I really wish I had known before doing a Kickstarter:
[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.]
1) It will consume you.
This really is the most important thing. If you have a job that leaves you with no free time or some other obligation that takes your focus away, don’t set up a Kickstarter. I wrote my first draft of the copy on August 2nd, and we submitted the project on August 26th. For those 24 days, it was pretty much all I thought about. And it’s not because I wanted it to; I would have loved a break here and there, but any time there was a lull in a conversation my head turned back to Reel. Oftentimes it was the film – “Does this line benefit our thematic through-line?” or “Is it possible to do this exceedingly complicated shot multiple times in a row?” – but just as often it was about the Kickstarter – “How can I better word this?” or “Is this the right price for that reward?”.
(There’s a slight irony here that if I had put all of that time on the clock of a paying job I could have probably made most of the goal by myself, but let’s not dwell on it.)
And now that it’s up, I’m on here doing this. I’m over other places doing that. I’m sending texts and emails to literally everyone I have ever met, including people I’m sure never wanted to hear from me again, because that’s what I have to do if I want to hit the goal. Speaking of which:
2) Asking people for money feels kind of weird.
This will be more true for some people than others, but it’s definitely true for me. Because Kickstarter backers receive something in return, it’s not quite the same as panhandling on a subway, but if you aren’t used to bothering everyone you’ve ever met with, “Hey! Give me money,” then there’s a mental hurdle you’re going to have to overcome. Until this project, I had essentially self-funded all of my short films. By extension, they were all made for a few hundred dollars at most. (True story: t-shirts and fake blood took up the majority of my budget in all three of my larger-scale projects.)
But Reel is going to require more money than we have. I mean, that’s kind of why we turned to Kickstarter in the first place (at least in part). But at first it was all sort of theoretical, and now I’m in a position where I have to actually ask people to trust me with their hard-earned (or not) money. Most of my friends are broke college students or recent grads. They’re kind of the worst people to ask for money, but there you go. It’s what I have to do. And I have to guilt at least some of them into contributing. It kinda sucks.
Asking strangers is even weirder. Like you all. Most of you have no investment in my existence, but I would still love it if you backed my project. You’ll get something in return, so it is a business transaction of sorts, but the starving artist in me just feels wrong writing about this.
3) Keeping everything up to date is a full time job (at least)
In order to ask all of those people for money, you need to have a presence on pretty much every social media site out there. We missed two: Google+ and Youtube. When it came down to the wire, we were already creating four accounts and a website (and the Kickstarter). Keeping track of those will be difficult enough without having to consider two whole other services, especially since Google+ is effectively irrelevant and YouTube requires an entirely other level of commitment. Vlogs are cool and everything, but they take way longer than they may seem like they do. And with everything going on, that’s just not possible for us.
So we have to be everywhere else in full force. Following and tweeting, following and Instagramming, liking and Facebooking, pitching and updating our Kickstarter and our website.
If you already feel like there aren’t enough hours in your day, then don’t even consider crowdfunding. The stress’ll drive you insane. (See point 1.)
4) Factor in the approval process.
Our project is running on a stricter deadline than most. We’ll be going into production approximately three weeks after our Kickstarter ends. This came very close to being a problem.
To be honest, I kind of forgot that the internet now generally lets you do things in pieces ahead of time. So we waited until the video, text, rewards, etc. were all completely ready before we started the process of creating the page. It’s something we should have begun much earlier, because of something I hadn’t even considered: Amazon Payments verification. We created the page on a Tuesday and expected Kickstarter’s 1-3 day approval period to allow for a Friday launch. Only then did we see that Amazon requests 5-7 days for verification.
Whoops.[Side note: We had set up a separate bank account at a different bank for accounting purposes, which I recommend. We didn’t set up an LLC, though, because we didn’t (and don’t) expect to make enough money to justify the time or expense required to do so.]
We got lucky that it happened more quickly, and that the Kickstarter approval happened while we waited for Amazon to do its thing, but factor in both potential approval times, especially if you know you’ll be on a deadline.
4.5) Factor in fulfillment.
Unless we fail, the Kickstarter process isn’t going to end on September 26th. In some ways, it’ll only just be beginning. If we only get a hundred or so backers who average $35 contributions, then we’re actually pretty good. Most of our lower-cost rewards are digital anyway, so it doesn’t require too much legwork on our part. But what about a signed poster? That means we have to get the posters made (in that process now), then have them shipped to us while we’re together (not a guarantee) so we can sign them and then ship them to out to the actual backer. That whole process takes time, effort, and money.
Some people will have more time to do it, and others will have less, but it needs to be factored into your schedule from day one for the sake of your sanity.
There’s also an approximate 14-day window after the Kickstarter ends for the company to collect its 5% commission and let Amazon do its thing. We’ll be going into production just a week or so after that, meaning we’ll have the money in hand (assuming we reach our goal) when it comes time to go to the rental house and get our equipment, but we’re cutting it close. And during that last week leading up to the shoot, we’ll have to be dealing with surveys and the start of fulfillments (especially anything that needs signing).
(In all likelihood, we’ll be paying Backerkit to deal with some of these fulfillment issues for us, because that’s basically another full time job on its own.)
And that brings up to what may actually be the most important thing to know:
5) Don’t do it alone.
I know I said the earlier stuff was super important, but if I can impress upon you just one thing, it’s this: Do not run a Kickstarter project by yourself. It’s technically doable (and I know someone who has done it), but if you value your sanity you won’t try. My partner in all this is every bit as busy as I am doing a whole host of other things for the production. I didn’t realize until about a week and a half ago how lucky both of us are that we didn’t try to run this single-handedly. It would have literally been impossible.
But it’s not just about being able to split the workload, because having that extra person also makes the whole process significantly more enjoyable. Creating a Kickstarter is a tense and stressful experience, and having someone to talk to who knows exactly how you’re feeling is vital to keeping yourself going without completely losing your mind.
If you’re thinking about setting up a Kickstarter, get someone to do it with you. When everything really comes to a head, you will be enormously grateful you did.