As of Sunday evening, our first ever Kickstarter project closed out to new pledges, and was more successful than we could have hoped! Now to that statement I would say we went into things with a cautious pessimism, despite all our preparation; when your business model is based around giving away your product for free, can you ever really tell how many people would be willing to open their wallets once you start asking for money? That’s why we went with Kickstarter over another crowdfunding service like Indiegogo. Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, where if you don’t meet your goal everyone walks away with no money changing hands and no obligations. Indiegogo lets you keep the money pledged even if it’s just a few dollars, but what were we going to do with a few extra dollars? It certainly wouldn’t be enough to fund a printing run of the trade paperback collection that was the whole point, what with our own budget being tight. Partial funding would just leave everyone disappointed and angry.

Even though the campaign is finished, the project is far from over, since we now have to make good on our promises. But statistics say fewer than half of Kickstarter projects even get this far, much less reach 168% of their funding goal. We done good. And for any of you out there who might head down the same road in the future, I plan to spend the next few weeks laying down some thoughts and observations. Here’s the first:

Set a realistic funding goal.

I looked at a lot of projects prior to and during our run, and I think this is the #1 reason why projects fail, even if they seem to be doing everything else right. For example, I had my eye on the campaign for The Last Cowboy, which was another webcomic attempting to fund a first trade volume. It looked gorgeous. The pitch was comprehensible. The reward tiers seemed tasty. It got a coveted ‘Staff Pick’ status from Kickstarter so it showed up a lot on lists, and was even the featured project a couple of times. Yet in the end it only achieved about 32% of its funding goal.

What happened? Well, she apparently had a problem partway through the campaign where her main webcomic site went down, which certainly isn’t good, but I’m not convinced that was a huge effect on pledging. I’m just basing that on my own stats where even though we had links to this site on the Kickstarter, it seemed like hardly anyone followed them here. People already knew what we were doing, or didn’t care and just pledged based on what was immediately presented to them on the campaign page. No, I believe it boils down to one simple difference: Dawn and I were asking for $2200 as a goal, while she was asking for $10,100. Zoe, the creator and project author, managed to get 95 people to pledge $3216 on her first outing, which is pretty great! But it wasn’t nearly enough.

Now does this mean you should set a goal less than what you need? Hell no. I said ‘set a realistic goal’, not ‘bankrupt yourself’. Zoe already posted a post-mortem update where she’s done her own analysis of what happened, and she can repackage things and re-launch a new campaign just as soon as she’s ready, because again the nice thing about failure on Kickstarter is that everyone can walk away with no consequences but disappointment. In this case Zoe is recognizing that trying for a 1000 copy hardcover print run right off the bat was too ambitious, and makes better sense as a potential stretch goal than the all-or-nothing goal. As an independent creator she was absolutely right to price the campaign as high as she did so as to cover lots of things project creators can forget to account for–such as shipping costs and Kickstarter processing fees–we did the same, just on a much smaller base project scope. It was a modest scope, but we achieved it.

Tim Buckley can set a $150,000 project goal and has already more than doubled it, but that’s Tim Buckley– so even though it’s his first project on Kickstarter, he happens to be the creator of one of the most popular webcomics out there with a fanbase of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. On the other hand, despite being a well-known professional comic artist and getting coverage for his Kickstarter on some big news sites, Jamal Igle so far seems to be struggling to raise the $50,000 he wants to publish his second volume of Molly Danger. It could still happen, but the first volume had a lower goal and barely broke the 50k mark. It also had almost four times the backers that the new one currently does with just 5 days to go. Like I said, a lot could change in those last five days but he’s got to be sweating a bit.

But getting back to Last Cowboy, another factor I think may have worked against it was setting a goal so high without necessarily having the reward tiers to get there. Every reward above the $40 pledge level was severely limited, and in the best case scenario of all the slots being taken totals up to $3100. That left $7000 needing to be covered by all the people pledging at $40 or less, and unless you’re pretty sure you can move over 150 books as pre-orders, that’s some rough odds just getting to the finish line, much less a stretch goal. So I’d say make sure whatever reward tiers you’re offering are capable of carrying your campaign to where it needs to go. Needless to say I don’t advocate insanity with this. All our reward tiers above the $100 level were limited because they potentially required Dawn to have to make full-color sketches, including commissions, and we carefully considered a best (or possibly worst) case scenario where she had to provide all of them within a few months’ time, just in case we proved more popular than we expected. We did take the calculated risk of leaving the t-shirt and ‘get yourself drawn in the comic’ tiers unlimited, which turned out to be a good decision at this stage in the game, since the response was reasonable and really helped our bottom line.

Why do all this work? Haven’t I kept repeating how failure on a Kickstarter means almost nothing? Well, perhaps there’s a lie there. Failure always carries a bit of a sting, and a well-crafted and run project will take a lot of time and energy out of you. So at the end, it’s nice to have something more to show for it than just a lesson learned.

More next week!