My Kickstarter Experience

Disclaimer:  This is a long post.  I should have written this up months ago, but, as my mom would say, it’s better to be late and brutally honest than on time and skimp on details.  (She never said that.)



In case you weren’t aware via an annoying email, call, text or social media message from me, earlier this year I ran an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign.  The campaign would have fully funded Soundtrack: The Story of the DJ,  a documentary about DJing that I’m currently filming.  The campaign was not successful in terms of reaching it’s funding goal.  It was however successful in spreading the word about the project and also in making me dislike crowd-source funding (for the most part).  In the following article I will walk you through my Kickstarter experience and tell you how I feel about the whole thing.


Note:  You can donate to my documentary project at www.TheDJDocumentary.com and every single donation goes towards making the film.  Thanks in advance.


Hurry Up… And Wait


Once I decided that I was going to run a Kickstarter campaign, I sat down at the computer, cracked my knuckles, took a swig of coffee and thought that in no time, I’d have a campaign set up.  I knew that I could get the campaign approved and then launch it when the time was right.  It was November 2013.  Boy was I wrong.


All your Kickstarter donations are processed through an Amazon Payments account you have to set up.  (Don’t like Amazon? You’re SOL.)  To set up this account you need an EIN (employee identification number) which means you need to set up a corporation.  (hits brakes)  So I spent the time and money figuring out what I’m calling my new company and then filed for a corporation.  (Didn’t want a corporation?  Too bad, dissolve it later I guess.)  After the corporation was set up I had to wait for Amazon to verify my bank account.  This whole process took at least a week if I remember correctly.  Ok here we go again!  (makes more coffee)


Once you set up your Kickstarter campaign with all your Amazon information, the campaign needs to be approved by Kickstarter.  (hits brakes again)  The Kickstarter staff checks out your campaign and reviews your rewards (things you give people who donate money) to make sure everything looks good.  This involved a few back and forth emails to the staff, most of which made zero sense.  I had several rewards that were very similar and they’d single out one, ask me to explain it (every reward had an explanation) and then not respond when I explained why I priced something a certain way or what a reward meant.  I changed a few words and they approved the campaign.  It’s now December 26th, 2013.  I launched on January 13th, 2014


Pricing note:  I’ll break down “Kickstarter math” as I call it later so you can see how much you really (don’t) pocket once you send out rewards.  Muy importante.



“Running” Your Campaign


I say “running your campaign” because, as this wonderful article points out, you’re basically running for mayor.  If you think you can just launch a Kickstarter campaign, sit back, count rewards and have a life, you my friend, are wrong (or most likely a celebrity).  You will have the most success if you contact every human you know, who you think might care and give you at least $1, as personally as possible and multiple times.  I kept a spreadsheet of who I hit up, whether or not they responded, donated, etc. and when I hit them up.  I’d reach back out to them several times if they didn’t donate the first time.  If a site posts about your KS, you need to thank them and repost their post several times.


I was emailing news sites, DJ sites and any other site I thought was relevant.  I was doing radio interviews (sometimes in other countries at odd times while I was pulled over on the side of the highway).  I was doing podcasts.  I was driving around the country on a DJ tour and trying to spread the good word.  If you’re bad at whoring yourself out, just stay in bed.  I hate selling things.  I just tried to spread information and hope that people thought it was a cool idea so I could sleep at night.  You will feel slimy when you’re done.


Note:  During this process, Kickstarter “lost” over 1,000 shares to FB.  Meaning, when you looked at the campaign, it went from 1.4k shares to 10 shares one day.  Looks great!


“We Want To Help (Ourselves)”


It won’t be long before you start getting hit up by people who “believe in your project” or “think it looks cool” and want to help spread the word via their website.  Some of these websites, ironically, help people run Kickstarter campaigns.  These people want to milk you for promotion strategies, your Kickstarter experience and whatever else they can get from you to sell to other people.  These dirtbags charge people to help run Kickstarter campaigns by promising that they know how to get you to your goal and beyond.  Their success stories smell fishy as hell and their interactions with you are as genuine as a used car salesman.  They care so much that they don’t have $1 to donate.  Treat em like mushrooms; feed em shit and keep em in the dark.


You’ll also get websites and blogs that want to do a story about your project because “they care”.  When you read the final writeup, you’ll see that they just wanted content and hopefully your hard work and promo outlets will send more people to their site.  Ultimately they want YOU to repost their work because you probably have more of a reach than they do.  They also care so much that they don’t have $1 to donate.


Note:  Only 35% of people watched the entire 4 minute promo video on my Kickstarter page.  It even had DJ Jazzy Jeff in it.  (I should’ve included cats.)


You WILL get good people that believe in you.  I had lots of great interactions with people, made some new friends, did some cool interviews and really felt like I was doing something good by how much these people believed in my idea.  How you decipher the whole bunch of characters depends on how well you read people.  For every cool interview that I did or inquiry I answered, I had 10 that made me feel like a hooker.  You’re basically doing sales.  At this point you should also be fully repulsed by asking your friends for money.


So Close… Well Not Really


In the end, I didn’t even get close to my goal.  Kickstarter sends you a 3 sentence email and that’s that.  Luckily for me, I had already started on the website for my documentary and I sent out a post-campaign update sending people there.  I’m not saying that worked very well but still…





If your campaign fails and you’d still like to try to retain some donations, guess what time it is?  It’s your favorite time ever.  It’s time to re-contact everyone who donated and ask them to re-donate to your new platform, assuming you know them and have contact info.  If you don’t have their contact info (Kickstarter doesn’t provide it) and they don’t follow your update to your new donation platform, you’re SOL on those donations.  (People love when you ask for money again.)  I ended up batting about 20% or less in terms of getting people to re-donate.  It didn’t seem to matter that I kept every new donation post-Kickstarter (via a Paypal link) or that I kept a larger percentage of the money (“Kickstarter math” coming soon), they weren’t clicking that new link.


It also didn’t help that Kickstarter had a security breach about a week after my campaign ended.  Most people that donated to my project set up a Kickstarter account specifically for that reason (KS requires an account) so it wasn’t a big deal for them to just delete their account once they got the security breach email.  No update for them, no contact info for me, no messaging them.  Bye bye donation opportunity.


Note: Kickstarter also spammed people that donated to my campaign with crap about other projects that might interest them.  People love that.


My Advice


First ask yourself the following questions:


-How hard would it be for me to raise this money by just working a bit harder and saving?


I’ve seen people trying to crowd-source very small amounts of money for ideas that involve several people.  Amounts that could be saved in a few months if people just didn’t go to the bar.  Amounts that you could put on a credit card and not really freak out about.  To put it another way, can you afford to fund this in the near future on your own?  Yes?  Just do it yourself.  It’s way less work to just work and save the money.


-Should this project actually be funded by other people?


Are you currently rich?  Are you a celebrity? Do you currently have the assets to fund this project?  Could you sell things you don’t need to fund this project?  Yes?  Again, just do it yourself.

Why is Spike Lee raising $1.4 million on Kickstarter?  Get the fuck out of my face with that shit.  If you can fund this out of your own pocket, please do it and stop ruining the crowd-funding platform.  Why were Zack Braff’s T-shirts $40 and mine were $250?  (see “Kickstarter Math“)  Because Zack doesn’t actually need the money.  He raised $3.1 million on Kickstarter.  Zack is worth $22 million.  There are articles you can read debating people with resources using crowd-funding vs. people without resources.  I’ve read them.  Kickstarter obviously ponies up statistics to say it’s a great idea for wealthy people because Kickstarter gets 5% of whatever they raise.


There are people that could liquidate all their assets and still not fund their projects.  I want to see nerd with no resources and a great idea raise $15,000 for a cool, useful invention.  I don’t want to see a rich person raise millions to make a (quite possibly) mediocre piece of art and then (quite possibly) profit millions from it.


I don’t even want to get into people having crowd-funding campaigns because they forget to get / weren’t adult enough to have car, renter’s, health or some other type of insurance.  Some of these situations are tragedies and I really feel terrible for people in the situation.  I really hope they have a community in place to help support them and some day they can do the same for someone else.   Some of these situations are not tragedies.  I saw one listing for a DJ looking to raise $20k to pay back debts to promoters from poor management of previous tours.  These tours happened in the 80s or 90s.  Stop.


I read a quote somewhere recently that said “High Entitlement + Low Work Ethic = Doomed Generation”.  Part of me thinks crowd-funding is one of the coolest tools to empower people with ideas to improve and create.  The other part of me thinks that quote is taking over a bit.


Drumroll please…


Kickstarter Math:


This is from an actual email exchange with Kickstarter.


Thanks for your submission! This sounds like a cool project, but before you get started can you please clarify what the reward is for the following:


“Tip Your DJ: With each level of backer incentives, costs are incurred in the form of taxes, production of the rewards and shipping the rewards. This level of reward allows me to keep a larger portion of the backing because there are no rewards included in this level.”


Also, please consider adding a lower level rewards tier for a DVD, link or digital download of your completed film. A good rule of thumb is to think about what you’d pay for something similar on Amazon.


Please let me know when you’ve made these changes and I’ll take another look!







Regarding your question about the “Tip Your DJ” reward:


I’ve had several people tell me the just want to give me some money, i.e. $100, and didn’t want anything in return because they wanted me to keep as much of the money as possible.  Without them donating at the $5 level 20 times, I wasn’t really sure how to do that.  Are there any good ideas for this that you’ve seen?  I could make an absurdly cheap reward but I thought that might look worse than just explaining it’s basically a flat donation.


Regarding your suggestion about the “DVD rewards tier” pricing:


The DVD rewards tier is $150.  At that price the backer receives a DVD, a sticker pack and an autographed poster, among other things.  At that level, our “hard” costs are $13.50 for the poster, tube, stickers, design and domestic shipping plus roughly $15 for the deluxe DVD and shipping (possibly more).  A $150 donation minus 9% (5% Kickstarter fee & 4% Amazon fee) and minus 28% in taxes leaves roughly $95.  Subtract the roughly $30 for the rewards hard costs and the campaign receives $65 to work with.  At that point we make a hair more than the digital download.  Working backwards to determine tier costs, we didn’t think it made sense to make less money on something that gave you a physical deliverable vs. a digital deliverable.  (I wasn’t able to figure out how some people priced their tiers and retained any money.)


The “Scratch” DVD is roughly $24 on Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/Scratch-Afrika-Bambaataa/dp/B00006AL1G  If I charge double that ($50) for a DVD tier, I retain roughly $16 using the math above.  I’m open to suggestions but the only other option I see would be to offer a reward tier with only the DVD (no stickers, etc.) for close to $75.


Probably the hardest part of the KS campaign development was trying to come up with tiers that wouldn’t leave us in the red after we paid out taxes and hard costs but I’m open to tweaking things for maximum success and satisfaction.  Our first rough tier brainstorming, after we did the math, basically made us negative money for the documentary.





So now you see why Zack Braff makes somewhere between $10 and $15 on a $40 shirt if he’s lucky.  There also wasn’t a response to my question about flat donations with no rewards or DVD pricing.  They just approved the campaign.