We turned to Kickstarter to get our initial funding for production rather than factor financing or long lost rich relatives because we wanted to start building a community and movement around our broader idea. We were successfully funded at the eleventh hour**, raised over $35,000, were voted a Kickstarter staff pick and had a lot of fun hustling for thirty days.
Kickstarter definitely has its pros and cons to consider before (way before) launching a project, especially for apparel given the lead times for sampling and production. Here are some things we learned:
1. Think about whether crowdfunding is right for you.
These days it seems everyone with a dollar and a camera is making their dreams come true on Kickstarter. Keep in mind that the success rate of Kickstarter campaigns is currently around 38.2%. The amount of work to launch a campaign is equal to but different in lots of ways than launching your product, especially for an apparel brand given the different types of press outlets which would cover a Kickstarter campaign versus a fashion editorial. The costs involved can sometimes be significant as well, in terms of preparing a good campaign and fulfilling all of the rewards. It is important to recognize where you want to expend your energy and your funds and plan accordingly.
2. Do your homework.
The moment you even think about doing a crowdfunding campaign, read Hacking Kickstarter on Tim Ferris's blog: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2012/12/18/hacking-kickstarter-how-to-raise-100000-in-10-days-includes-successful-templates-e-mails-etc/. The article includes everything you will need, including email templates for the annoying reminders you'll have to send your friends who don't back you in the first five days. Do yourself a favor and take their advice on getting a virtual assistant.
3. Reach out to press.
Reach out to press a month or two before you launch your campaign. We were on a tight timeline and our samples were late so we didn't have any time to do too many lifestyle shoots or send out additional samples to editors in advance. As a result, we just didn't get enough press to really move the needle despite having a really great press list and friends in PR. We did manage to sort of get on Good Morning America, though it required wearing antlers.
4. Think outside the box with rewards.
We thought of some really creative rewards or perks for midway through our campaign that we wished we had thought of before. The kickstarter community really loves rewards that give them unique opportunities - whether it is an early adopter deep discount or access to an experience they wouldn't otherwise have. For our project, we could have offered up going along on a spray with one of our artists for a lot of cash. Or something smaller like online access to a screenprinting class with David. Think outside the box.
5. Create engaging and interesting content for updates.
And do it well in advance of hitting launch so that it's ready to release throughout the campaign. Planning on doing any of that while managing the campaign is wishful thinking. It's a full time hustle, and you won't have the energy or time needed to take a timeout to meaningfully create. We hosted a panel talk at our offices which helped grow our audience. We wished we had planned more events and prepared videos of our artists at work to keep the momentum going and to keep our backers entertained. Use that creativity to come up with content that is just as cool as your product.
6. Get over feeling like you are begging.
Crowdfunding starts with your personal network and so at first it really does feel like you're shaking down your friends for handout. We all get so many emails asking for money - whether to support a charity or an alumni organization - that it is hard not to feel like you are not being a bother. But the amazing thing that happens when you launch a crowdfunding campaign is seeing all of the support that friends want to give you because they believe in the underlying mission of your project in addition to believing in your ability to carry it out. Entrepreneurship can get very lonely sometimes and building a community to cheer you on has positive effects beyond just simple finance.
7. Make friends.
If you don't have a huge personal network, you'll have to work hard on building a community around the idea you are trying to bring to life. Having that community ready to contribute upfront will definitely help the campaign. Don't be shortsighted in terms of the community either. For us, the obvious communities were art lovers, fans of our artists, sneakerheads, and Amisha's ex-boyfriends. We thought a lot of our support outside of our own network would come from Kickstarter addicts, but in fact it came from tech entrepreneurs and others who were interested in hoodies and innovation. We also thought being a Kickstarter Staff Pick would lead to a lot of backers from Kickstarter, but we got more backers from Product Hunt.
8. Don't hit launch until you're really ready.
Like we said, we really wish we had waited until we had that content ready and our samples on hand so that we were able to maximize our success on Kickstarter. Set a timeline, stick to it and build in some flexibility to launch when you've gotten everything in place. It's a pretty fast moving train once it's out of the station. Good luck! We made it. We're sure you will too.
** No we didn't kick in that last bit of cash (but you should have it ready just in case because Kickstarter is all or nothing and it would be sad to be 99% of the way there and then not get anything)