A challenge that almost every start up faces is funding. Kickstarter, the popular crowdfunding site, is a great tool to see if your idea has potential and to raise money to get a product and its company off the ground. However, it's only the first step for starting a real, long-term venture.
It takes more than a successful Kickstarter campaign to create a successful company. It often takes the ability to transition from crowdfunding to more traditional funding to sustain that initial momentum and grow the venture into a larger company.
While there have been many effective Kickstarter campaigns since the site debuted in 2009, less than 300 raised more than $1 million. And for every successful campaign, there are about three that come up short.
We used Kickstarter to start our company and have since been able to raise additional capital through angel investors to fund our growth. Here are the lessons we learned that you can apply to grow your business both with Kickstarter and beyond.
Kickstarter allows you to determine whether there is enough interest in your product before fully investing and committing. We used the site to decide whether to build a business around our initial idea, which saved us years of time and research. Come up with an idea, plan a Kickstarter, make a video and see what kind of response you get. If your video doesn't get 2,500 to 3,000 hits, try with another approach or idea. Rinse and repeat until you hit on something big.
Kickstarter also serves as a pre-marketing exercise. When it's time to start your campaign, there are a few points to consider. First, make sure you have plenty of time to plan. Too often, people think they can launch something right away. This attitude won't work. The biggest mistake you can make is prepping at the last minute. Instead, take up to three months to find the right people to assist. Trust me; you'll be glad that you did.
You should map out a plan for the first two days of the campaign. Ideally, this means getting bloggers and friends primed to put out stories on the day of the launch. You should also invest $5,000 to $10,000 for the campaign on day one. Consider it like the bartender trick of putting money in the jar to get others to do it too.
Another suggestion is to set your goal low enough so that it's met on the first day. By doing so, there's an impression of momentum, which will carry the campaign further in the long-run.
Management-wise, your campaign should last no more than 30 days. Most of what you get will likely come in the first week and the last few days, but make sure you're adding updates to the campaign. Also, structure your rewards in so that each level includes everything from the previous level, plus something new. Otherwise, you'll confuse people.
People do judge a book by its cover – make sure you have fantastic images. Too often, folks begin a project with amateur-looking photos. And when it comes to creating a video for Kickstarter, think quality. You can find publicly available music or compose your own. You can also hire someone to get the job done for around $500.
Marketing and running your startup
Once you get past a successful Kickstarter campaign, you'll need to concentrate on running your startup. A big part of this, at least initially, is implementing a marketing plan.
If people don't know who you are, it won't matter how well you run your company. Prepare to advertise in different channels to see what works, including email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Also, find contacts in the press who can help you get your message out.
Plan for your growth; know how you can scale and how much money you'll need. Decide if you want to sell your company, build a behemoth and go public, or build an excellent business that you can keep running and generate revenue off as a career.
While Kickstarter is an easy way to get funding, it shouldn't be a primary source. Usually, the success you have found with Kickstarter will help you get your foot in the door, which is what it's beneficial for at this stage. It's a sign of market traction.
To raise more, turn to angel investors like the New York Angels, the Keiretsu Forum, Sand Hill Angels, BlueTree Allied Angels or other similar to them. Once you've raised funds from one angel group, you can get introduced to others from those same members.
If your company starts to succeed after your first angel round, you'll have to decide whether to seek venture capital funding down the road. VC financing is the way to go if you have the type of business that needs $30 million to $50 million to "buy awareness" and massively scale. That's what Evernote, Dropbox and other companies required to get where they did. Wunderlist, Acompli and others didn't.
Understand that VCs typically need to put $15 million to $30 million into a business and hope to see returns of 15 to 20 times on it. Would you be okay with this?
If you don't want to seek VC funding, you can raise smaller amounts from angels over a few rounds. But your company needs to be able to succeed at those lower levels of support.
Circling back to Kickstarter
Before you can worry about running a start-up or whether to contact VCs, you must take the time necessary to create a successful Kickstarter campaign. In summary, this means using the Kickstarter process as a way of validating an idea to see if you can build a business out of it.
Most Kickstarter campaigns take three months to plan and are over in 30 days. If you want to build that into a real company, it'll take the next three to five years of your life to get somewhere meaningful, and you might fail along the way.
My biggest advice is to think about where ultimately you want to be at the end of five years and work back from there. You'll be happy that you did.
About the author: Eric Shashoua is the CEO and founder of Kiwi for Gmail, the only platform that takes both Gmail and Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, and separates them from the browser so they exist on their own as an independent desktop application. He is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for increasing productivity and improving user experience through better design. Eric's devotion to creating software that is beautiful, seamless, and simple is reflected in every aspect of Zive's products. Eric previously started and led Zeo, Inc., where he raised $14M in VC funding and launched the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach in the US and Europe. Eric was raised in Atlanta and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Computer Science.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.