We have traversed the thickly congested trenches and perilous peaks of the land known as Kickstarter. We have voyaged across its tempestuous tides and braved its most unforgiving wastes. We have sampled the fruits of its bounty, but much of its terrain is as yet unexplored. While our epic quest has yet to succeed, we have reaped the rich rewards of reconnaissance and self-discovery. On our next foray into this unpredictable wilderness, we will be much better prepared.
In other words:
Massive thanks to everyone who supported our Kickstarter campaign. While it was unsuccessful, we haven't given up. Far from it. We've learned an incredible amount about what to do better next time and how to improve our project itself. It's time for a little brutally honest navel-gazing in the hopes that we can help any of you who are setting out to fund your project. Here we go.
The biggest mistakes we made (in my opinion):
1. We jumped in way too fast. We should have taken months at least to do more research and preparation. It's easy to feel like an expert after reading a few articles and spending a few weeks preparing a great campaign. But we should have tested it and gotten feedback to improve our public presentation. Instead, we were getting that feedback a third of the way into our campaign, when we should have already been most of the way to our goal.
2. We assumed that because we had great response from our local community, the response from other people would be just as enthusiastic. We were wrong. We forgot to factor in that our local community knows us. When we show people here what we're up to, they see not only our project, but the years we've spent building relationships, proving our competence, and earning their trust. They're excited because they know who we are and how amazing a job we can do with this concept. The online community in general doesn't know anything about us, and we didn't take time to establish an extensive online network with similar relationships of respect and trust. So when we started reaching out to others - even others with similar interests - we came off as spammy and entitled. We hadn't earned the right to ask for help by building a relationship first.
3. We didn't seek other sources of funding first. A project like ours with a moderately high price tag would have benefited from some other kinds of funding, whether it be investors, grants, fundraising events, whatever. If we'd been able to raise about half of our total budget from other sources, the amount we were asking for would have seemed a lot more reasonable. Even though we know that a $95,000 budget isn't much for a project like this, we can't expect the average person to get that on the same level.
Some smaller mistakes:
1. Hiring a crowdfunding promotion service. This was not worth it. Even though the guy we hired was very responsible about fulfilling his promises and keeping us informed, his services did not result in even one additional backer. With only one exception, our backers were family, friends, or people we knew in a professional context. Again, the relationship is key. They guy we hired posted our project all over social media, but the accounts were ones used for promoting Kickstarter campaigns: a.k.a. the kind of account everyone ignores. He sent our press release out to lots of places, but most of them had specialties that were totally irrelevant. The release did get picked up and re-posted by a few sites - the ones that made sense because of what they do - but nothing really came of that.
2. Bad timing. With Liz graduating and me faced with end-of-school-year stress, we just got burned out on things. Despite having set out clear expectations for who was doing what throughout the campaign, we lost our energy.
We also did a lot of things right:
1. We made a video, then remade it based on feedback from our backers and others.
2. We continued to update the project page throughout the campaign as more endorsements and other feedback came in.
3. We set up this blog as a home base for information on the project, although we could have (and will) made better use of it.
4. We made social media accounts for our project, and also leveraged our personal networks.
5. We reached out to leaders in relevant fields and celebrities known to take special interest in projects like ours. We actually got responses from a few of them, too!
6. We put together a competent team to create our project.
7. We came up with creative rewards.
8. We started getting into the right kinds of online and local communities.
So where do we go from here?
We've started by taking a step back. We've looked back at everything we've done, questioning even our most basic assumptions about what we're trying to accomplish, and we've come up with a plan for the future. I won't share much of that plan at this point, but for the near future it involves developing some projects on a smaller scale that use the same principles, and building out the established Camera Obscura concept into a gateway and a framework for self-directed, experience-based learning in any subject area. We've got a much longer-term project in mind, and will probably not be seeking funding through crowdfunding again for a year or more. During that time, we'll focus on community building and other sources of fundraising, in addition to developing our project.
We'll keep you informed on the process here. For now, thanks again for your support, and let's move onward and upward!