A crowdfunding journey - ATD1 Backpack

As soon as ATD1’s Kickstarter campaign came to an end, i started feeling the need to put the whole journey on paper. It’s been a huge, completely new thing to me, fully managed by myself: i learned so many new things and i wanted to be sure that i wouldn’t have forgotten anything.

On the other hand, i was so tired of everything related to crowdfunding that i just wanted to dive into production and fulfilling: they aren’t less stressful, but i already knew how to handle them, so I just postponed this recap.

Now, waiting for my manufacturing partner to complete ATD1’s 2nd production run and working on new products, i feel this is the right time to sum up. Obviously, my result has been too small to allow me teaching other people: this is just a recap of the steps i followed.

If I had to summarize, these are the things I’ve learnt about crowdfunding, random order:
- it’s HARD, HARD work: there’s no golden rule, no shortcut, no secret formula.
- You’ll have to get personally involved: people will interact and they prefer to interact with YOU instead of an external CR service. And, most important, you’ll learn more from backers than from anyone else.
- You’ll need to invest time: PR, media outreaches, customer management, customer care, social media, copywriting, creating basic answering templates, etc… All these things require time to be learnt and to be done.
- You’ll need to invest money in advance: video, shooting, press samples, paid ad, social media campaigns, etc… All these thing require money to be done properly.
- You’ll get stressed due to the constant temptation to check progresses.

While I was developing the backpack I decided to launch it through a crowdfunding campaign. English is not my mother tongue, I had no experience in marketing and I was trying to launch an expensive product, with an unknown brand, from a country that launched very few campaigns, let alone bags related ones. So, I started studying the whole crowdfunding thing, how it evolved and how it works now. I made charts of previous campaigns, trying to detect the DOs and DON'Ts and trying to figure out what the successful ones had in common.

When the pack was finally ready (it took time!) I begun searching for a manufacturing partner and at the same time I started enquiring all the crowdfunding agencies that can be found online, realizing soon that I couldn’t afford them. I ended up using a local PR agency that was a total waste of money since they addressed the contact list i made and provided with the copywriting i wrote ad provided, and a consultant for the prelaunch that actually helped understanding the process quicker and improving all my copywriting. I also scouted and approached media that could be interested in covering my project and sent press samples to some of them.

I launched on June, 1st 2018 and closed the campaign few weeks later. Usually, campaigns have very good or very bad results, while ATD1 was in the middle: we almost reached half goal, but still it was clear it wouldn’t have worked.
I was frustrated thinking about all the effort, all the nights working, all the money invested, but I also received literally dozens of messages by backers asking to have the pack anyway.

Re-Launch, in crowdfunding, mostly means re-fail, but i’m stubborn and I wanted the pack to be finally produced and sent to those who supported it from day one, so I did some changes according to the feedback I had received by reviewers and testers and cut all unnecessary costs to trim down the goal. From a marketing point of view, I really rolled up my sleeves and took this as an opportunity: no external help this time, I reshaped my press contact list spending hours on the web and did all the PR by myself (again, getting personally involved worked better as writers were more prone to cover the product as I contacted them directly), i run my own Facebook campaigns to collect high quality email contacts with good results (i still remember trying to download the lists from 56k connected computers in Kashmir, where i was traveling and testing the pack at that moment), i improved my mailing list engagement, addressed previous backers and started to be more relevant on FB groups and subreddits that could have been interested in ATD1 pack as I noticed that there was more buzz there than on other channels I addressed.

They say failing teaches a lot: it does, but this comes at a cost. The money I spent for PR agencies and Facebook campaigns to gain traffic were gone and I had to work at the relaunch with less founds than the beginning. Every product and every audience is different, but luckily I’ve found that the marketing channels that worked better for me were free, requiring just time, involvement and hard work.

When we re-launched, we hit 50% of our goal in 36 hours and, while success wasn’t sure at all, it was clear that we could have reached the target. This is a pretty small result compared to campaigns that are funded in minutes, but still it was a result to me.

No matter the entity of the numbers involved, there is always a boom at launch and then things progressively slow down until the last days, and ATD1 campaign was no exception. At half of the campaign I started experiencing the first cancellations and this was a pain: I’ve learnt that a 5-6% cancellations is quite common with 12% peaks for products costing over 150$, and fortunately new pledges were more than cancelled ones almost everyday. I also hit the goal and went down again because of some cancellations but the project was finally funded.

During the 45 days of the campaign I spent many nights answering to enquiries I received via email, Reddit, FB o kickstarter itself (most backers are located in the US or Far East and I didn’t want them to wait for an answer that could make the difference for them between purchasing the backpack or not) or managing media PR or social networks presence in order to hit the right timezones at the right time. During those days I also started obsessively checking for campaign progresses on my mobile, getting sad for cancellations or happy for pledges. This is the thing I hated most, as I’m not a mobile phone addicted at all and i became one, losing relevance and focus in real life with bad impact on family and relations in general.

Still, crowdfunding is a powerful tool. If you have a good product and you are able to invest time (and cash) to find the way to reach YOUR audience, it can multiply the results you’d get without using it. i wouldn't have shipped ATD1 backpack in 25 countries without it.
Kickstarter is now a marketing and distribution channel, with well established companies using it to launch new products, but it retains the spark it had at the beginning: most backers are still interested in the whole project over the product, in the creator over the creation itself. If one can play these cards well, with a bit of luck, timing, and skills, he’ll be rewarded.