A New Set of Rules to Kickstart Kickstarter

Dear Kickstarter,

We love you. We wouldn’t be here without you. Last week you updated your rules and streamlined the approval process. This was a wonderful step forward, but don’t stop now. There is still more you can do to improve the process, the platform, and the community.

Sincerely,

A Creator, Backer, and Member of the Kickstarter community.


O.K. Now here’s how I really feel.


Last week Kickstarter announced a new set of rules. This simplified set of rules replaced a rather complex predecessor. Overall, this was a step in the right direction, but I feel they did not go far enough to create a truly great experience for both creators and backers.


It seems that these rule changes are an attempt to ward off competitors like Indiegogo, who recently raised $40 million to compete with Kickstarter. Changing course to be better positioned to compete is not necessarily a bad thing. Indiegogo has been steadily growing into a real competitor for Kickstarter. It’s plain to see that many projects choose the smaller platform specifically because of it’s open door policy. A great example of this would be Game Golf, a startup that partnered with the design superstars at FuseProject to raise over $280k on the Indiegogo platform. That's a lot of lost revenue for Kickstarter. These rules are designed to help Kickstarter maintain their competitive advantage.

Kickstarter's Simplified Rules

Lets take a look at these simplified rules:

  1. Projects must create something to share with others.

  2. Projects must be honest and clearly presented

  3. Projects can’t fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items.


Rule 1: Projects must create something to share with others. While seemingly simple, is actually fairly restrictive. The goal is to prevent “fund my life” type projects. It would prevent a group of high school students from raising money for new basketball uniforms. Why? This would not be a project the creators could share with others. (NOTE: I thought this was the case. Apparently I was wrong. Now, I’m not sure I understand the boundaries of this rule.)


Is it the right move? In the case of Kickstarter, probably. Kickstarter is a community of makers. Opening their platform to other kinds of projects would fundamentally shift that foundation. Kickstarter doesn’t need to be all things to all people. It needs to be the right thing for the right people. In this case, the right people are the community of makers(and their supporters) that have made Kickstarter a success. At some point, it may make sense for Kickstarter to open up their platform to these “fund my life” type of projects, but it should do so under a different brand.


For now, that high school basketball team who needs new uniforms and wants to use crowdfunding to do it? Be creative. Team up with your school’s film department... or a friend with a camera... and raise money to make a documentary about your season. Become characters we can connect with... and use some of the money you raise to buy “new costumes”. That could actually be interesting.


Ok... so it appears I was wrong about that basketball team being able to raise money to buy uniforms on Kickstarter. This confuses me and points to a larger problem within Kickstarter: the lack of clarity and transparency. I’ve read their rules, both old and new, many times and I have no idea which projects they would accept. This is a problem. The rules seem to be clear and easy to understand, but some of the projects that make it on to the platform seem to break them. I don’t get it. I left the suggestion for that basketball team in this post purely because it’s an idea that I would support.


Rule 2: Projects must be honest and clearly presented. Kickstarter wants backers to be open and honest with their community. This is admirable. They want people who are making objects to show prototypes. This is smart. They outlaw photorealistic renderings. This is idiotic.


I understand why Kickstarter created this rule. In the past, well intentioned designers used the tools at their disposal, namely renderings, to sell a project to their potential customers. In far too many cases, these designers (often students) didn’t actually have the resources they needed to bring their projects to life. Occasionally, they raised a ton of money. Sometimes, they didn’t deliver on time... or at all.


Kickstarter’s reaction was to eliminate a key tool from the designer's toolbox. For those who are not familiar with the contemporary design process, asking a designer not to use renderings is like forcing a game developer to sell a game using only actual gameplay. No trailers. No cut scenes. None of those awesome animations that help sell everything from Call of Duty to Assasin’s Creed. The use of animation has become an acceptable way to sell video games, just as using renderings are an acceptable way to sell physical products.


A bigger issue here, is that banning renderings does not actually solve any of the problems they are trying to combat. It just adds an extra step. See, designers are good at making 3D models in a computer. They are also really good at making models that look like something real, but don’t necessarily work. Kickstarter has added a step or two to the process, but hasn’t done anything to increase the likelihood that these projects will be successful. They are just forcing people to spend more time, energy, and money on the wrong thing. I’m just glad we make things out of fabric, a medium where 3D models are rarely used and prototypes can be relatively affordable.

 

Rule 3: Projects can’t fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items. I don’t have much to say about this one. It appears that this rule is designed to prevent Kickstarter from becoming the crowdfunding version of Silk Road. From a business... and community... standpoint, that absolutely makes sense. If you read a little bit deeper, Kickstarter is attempting to enforce a form of moral authority here. In addition to banning illegal activity, the company bans both offensive and pornographic material. Both of these designations are extremely subjective, but I understand what they are attempting to do. Kickstarter has spent a lot of time creating an environment that is safe and supportive. Prohibiting these items helps to ensure that will continue.


Launch Now

Kickstarter didn’t just go about simplifying their rules, they actually streamlined the process of launching a project. In the past, A project creator first labored over their basic information, rewards, story, and bio... you know the stuff that helps you decide whether or not to fund the project.


Next, she must create and verify an Amazon Payments account. This process is kind of a pain in the ass and takes up to 7 business days. Once finally being approved by Amazon Payments, a creator then had to submit their project to Kickstarter for approval. For most projects, this took less than 72 hours. For a project in the hardware or design category, this could take over a week.


If you do not plan well, this unpredictable delay could really throw off your marketing campaign. Obviously, the backer should plan for this, but let’s face it, not everyone will. This is supposedly a site for makers... not massive corporations. Makers often don’t understand every step in the process, they just know how to make something awesome. This long approval process was a stumbling block for many.


In an effort to remedy the situation, Kickstarter is rolling out a new “Launch Now” option. Once a creator created her project and is approved by Amazon Payments, she now has two options. She can follow the classic path and submit her project for review, or she can launch immediately. This option brings Kickstarter inline with their competitors, but does little to address two problems creators have with their process: a lack of transparency and a lack of genuine mentorship.


Where’s the Transparency?

From the standpoint of a creator, too many of Kickstarters processes are extremely opaque. The approval process is one example of this lack of transparency. A quick Google search shows countless examples of creators who were forced to wait far longer than Kickstarter’s estimated approval time. Waiting that long is annoying enough. What makes things far more annoying is the lack of interaction during the process. Is there a problem with my project? Did someone go on vacation? Who knows.


Providing clarity throughout this process would be extremely helpful to a creator. I’m willing to bet many creators would be able to clarify many questions Kickstarter has about the projects it is reviewing. At the very least, a creator would know what was happening. That uncertainty is one of the biggest inducers of anxiety I can imagine. Waiting for that girl you like to call you back. Waiting for that phone call after your awesome job interview. Waiting for the fucking N train. Waiting sucks. Knowing always feels better, even if the answer you get is one you don’t like.


The lack of transparency extends beyond the application process and into the running of an actual campaign. Kickstarter has a very robust back end that allows creators to track the progress of their projects. You know how your pledges are trending. You know where your backers are coming from. You know which rewards are most popular. You know everything you need to know to make educated decisions about how you run your campaign successfully. Almost.


The success of any project depends on how many eyeballs you are able to engage. If no one sees your project, they can’t make a pledge. Kickstarter offers a few ways for potential backers to discover new projects, but creators have no idea how the actually work. As a creator, it would be incredibly valuable to gain a better understanding of how Kickstarter chooses to display projects on the main page. Kickstarter is manipulating their system and creators have no idea what they are looking for. This is a problem. It is social engineering. I have seen amazing, wonderfully presented projects fail because they show up 8 pages into your search. Most people are just not going to take the time to find a project that is buried in the search results. Kickstarter's other search options have similar problems.


Kickstarter, I’m not saying you need to change how you operate. I just want to understand it better. We can work together to raise more money. You will be more profitable and I will have a better chance of meeting and exceeding my goal. Winning all around.


Help Us Out!

Kickstarter has billed itself as a place where amateurs can finally sell their ideas to the world. They don’t have to sell their soul to a massive, bloodsucking corportation to see their dream become reality. They can sell it to real people and maintain ownership of their intellectual property. Inevitably, many of the people who propose ideas on the platform will have no idea what it takes to bring an idea to life.


Kickstarter has always offered to deliver feedback to creators during the approval process. Now getting feedback is explicitly one of two options creators have before launching their project. Here’s, the problem: Modern Industry has launched two Kickstarter projects. We have not received any feedback from Kickstarter prior to launch. This may mean that Kickstarter believes that we don’t need any help. That’s a nice sentiment, but here’s the thing. WE WANT YOUR HELP.


We follow Kickstarter pretty closely, but we don’t run the company. You review thousands of projects. You know what works and what doesn’t. You have data to support that. We don’t. Providing eedback to creators before they launch a project would be invaluable. It would take time, but it would likely result in a higher percentage of successful projects. Projects that would have been successful anyway would likely raise more money. Everybody wins.


Do What’s Best for Everyone in the Community

Kickstarter’s updated rules and streamlined launch options are a huge step forward. The rules will likely improve the Kickstarter experience for everyone involved. They maintain this platform as a community for makers and make life way easier for creators, but they should still go farther.


Obviously, this is only the opinion of one man. It is based solely on my experiences. I want Kickstarter to show a better understanding of the creative process. I want Kickstarter to give creators the tools they need to make their campaigns more successful. Ultimately, this will be better for Creators, Backers, and the People behind the platform.
June 09, 2014 by Patrick Healy
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