Why I'm Kickstarting a Book About Kickstarter, on Kickstarter

By Haje Jan Kamps on at

Seems to me that it's almost impossible to swing a USB lead without hitting half a dozen people who are working on a Kickstarter project of some sort.

The best Kickstarter projects make it look so incredibly easy. Step 1 -- have a bright idea. Step 2 -- get some mates together and film a video. Step 3 -- ???. Step 4 -- Sit back and watch the money roll in.

I've done two Kickstarter projects, the first one way back in 2011. It was very successful (300 per cent funded, and it sparked the company I'm still running today), and it's not a shade of a lie if I say that that Kickstarter project completely changed my life. I wrote in some detail about my original Kickstarter campaign here on Gizmodo about a year ago.

Before I launched my first Kickstarter campaign, I was literally shitting bricks. Hell, that "oh my deity what the flying copulation am I getting myself into" feeling didn't subside until well after we finally shipped the products.

See, what I didn't realise at the time is that there are a good few different ways you can 'fail' at a Kickstarter campaign. You can fail to hit your goal, of course, but in many ways, that's the least dramatic way to fail. Only just hitting your goal, and subsequently discovering that you've miscalculated something, so you are losing money on each product you ship is far worse. Or going to the further extreme: Getting funded ten times over, and then realising that your idea doesn't scale, and that it only makes sense when you make ten of something, not when you have to make ten thousand. Ouch.

The other thing not a lot of people realise is that Kickstarter is actually a callous, cruel joke of sorts: In order to run a truly successful Kickstarter project, you have to be part marketing magician, part PR professional, part project management maven, part product development demon, part manufacturing genius, part video production wizard, part word wrangler, part customer support superhero, part budget tamer, part disaster recovery expert...

Let's put it this way: I've had a lot of weird jobs in my life, but none of them meant I had to wear so many hats as when I am running a Kickstarter campaign. And to date, I've never met anybody who had all the skills that are required to succeed on Kickstarter. Which isn't to say that we don't all just blunder our way through it, elephant-in-a-fine-glass-bongs-shop style, but I can't help but feel that the "fluke" to "carefully orchestrated mega-hit" ratio on Kickstarter is rather heavily skewed to the "fluke" side of things.

A few months ago, I ran another Kickstarter campaign, which was even more successful than the first: our goal was higher than what we raised in our entire first campaign. It was pretty nerve-wracking to hit the 'go' button, but we needn't have worried: Our 100 early-bird rewards were snapped up in under 90 minutes, we hit our goal in under 12 hours, and then proceeded to raise nearly £300,000 (580 per cent funded!) from Kickstarter.

Even though I already had one successful campaign under my belt, the second campaign only served to remind me that running a Kickstarter project is a mind-bogglingly multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinarian artform. That doesn't just go for hardware projects, by the way -- art projects, musical projects, film projects, games... I can guarantee that nothing will stretch you to the breaking point quite as much as trying to keep all your Kickstarter balls in the air.

When I was flailing around trying to keep my sanity whilst building my very first hardware product, I kept thinking to myself "Jesus, I really wish there was a book that could teach me how to do this". I even had a look around, but in 2011, there was very little out there.

When the time came to do my second Kickstarter I had an advantage: My company had grown to seven staff, and I was able to rely heavily on their skills and experiences as well as my own. Nonetheless, there were holes in what we were good at. I went on Amazon and bought every single book I could find on Crowdfunding and Kickstarter. Let me save you the disappointment and your hard-earned: They're all beyond terrible. Some of the books are thinly veiled re-written versions of the Kickstarter help section. Some of them were written by people who've never done a Kickstarter campaign before. And one of them was so incorrect that if you follow its advice, you'll almost certainly go bankrupt, lose your mind, forfeit your will to live, or a combination of the three.

I mentioned the dearth of good reading materials out there to my publisher over at Ilex, Adam. He simply said, "Well, why don't you just write your own, then?". Of course, it's not as if I'm not pretty busy with my day job, but I'd be lying if I didn't say the idea appealed to me.

So I started thinking -- how much of the Kickstarter experience can you learn from a book? I decided early on that I wanted to do some basic introductions: To project management, to budgeting, to video editing, to how you can write a compelling press release.

Fast forward a few months, and here I am, writing the book I wish I had three years ago. Writing the book that everyone I ever speak to about Kickstarter wishes existed.

I've spoken to well over a hundred people who've run projects on Kickstarter, and I've discovered what the common pitfalls and challenges are. The idea, obviously, is to create the ultimate guide to how you can avoid the typical mistakes, but most importantly, to give people planning to run a Kickstarter a checklist of Important Questions to answer along the way.

But if you want to read it, you'll have to back the Kickstarter campaign that'll make it happen...

Haje Jan Kamps is a proud photography nerd who has written a small stack of books. He launched the Triggertrap camera trigger and has been known to travel the world a bit. If you're of the tweeting kind, try him on @Photocritic!

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