Freedom To Exist used a Kickstarter campaign to fund the manufacture of a new line of watches that their customers were demanding. Co-founder and MD Paul Tanner shares his advice on marketing spending, videos, the importance of ‘why’ and more.
We launched our watch brand in November 2015, with a debut collection focussing on timepieces for the smaller wrist. The 30 Edition - taking its name from its 30mm case - proved to be incredibly popular as soon our website went live, so much so that we started to get requests for a larger version almost straight away. The most frequent feedback being ‘I love my 30mm watch, do you have a larger size so that my boyfriend can also wear one?’
As we are a bootstrap startup and completely self-funded, we did not have the money to place the order for the larger watches straight away. Our supplier requires payment upfront before production, so we would have had to wait at least six months while we sold the 30 Edition. This was very frustrating as we could see that there was a business opportunity that we could tap into and we already had a customer base keen to buy what was to become our 40 Edition.
The team discussed various options, and after researching and asking friends in the design world who had been in similar situations, we decided upon setting up a Kickstarter campaign. We could have taken a bank loan, but felt that Kickstarter would also act a great way to reach a wider audience, especially as we were a new brand and fortunate to have a product that was small and could easily be shipped globally.
Our listing went up in early April 2016, after the team spent about a week perfecting the imagery, video and copy until it was just right. We wanted to keep it clear and simple, but still get all the product information in there. As soon as the listing went up, we took £1,000 in the first two hours and, at the end of the 30-day campaign, we successfully reached our target of £25,000 allowing us to place the order for the larger watch in two colourways.
We wanted to share what we learned from the campaign.
1. Get the video right
The video is absolutely key, and the difference between successful and unsuccessful campaigns. This will create the desire and interest in your project. Viewers will watch the first 20 seconds, and will then scroll down to read the words and view the imagery on your page while still listening to the rest. For this reason, the video needs to immediately capture the essence of the project as you only have a few seconds to draw the viewer in.
It’s also the place where you capture your story and your ethos. With it being a new brand, the media and customers are buying into a story rather than the product, and the video and listing must capture your ‘why’.
2. What’s your ‘why’?
It’s likely that regardless of the type of product you have put on Kickstarter, there will be at least five others selling something similar, it's the background story and the ‘why’ that will make the difference.
For us, naively, we did start contacting press with “it’s a great watch, the design is amazingly well considered and it’s the best components you can get for the money,” which led to a trickle of early articles. We then amended the press releases to talk about our background of working for a host of design companies (Habitat, MADE.COM, Heals and M&S) and the fact that we started the project because Kirsty, the co-founder, could not find a watch that would fit her, combined with our recent startup experience. All of a sudden the ‘why’ opened a lot more doors as journalists could talk about a story rather than just a product.
3. Have great photography and lots of it
You must have a prototype - Kickstarter will not let you use computer renderings - and spend time ensuring that the photography looks great, ideally with someone using the product to give a sense of scale.
4. Marketing a Kickstarter project
This is something we grew to learn during our campaign. Kickstarter does not wave a magic wand and a month later the money arrives. The prototype and creating the listing page is the easy bit, the hard and time-consuming element is the on-going promotion, and this is the aspect that determines if you will be successful or not.
The viral campaigns that Kickstarter is famous for, the ones that have raised over £1m, have probably had £100,000 spent on marketing them.
The amount of time you put into making contact is reciprocated by the amount of time the person puts into replying.
As a rule of thumb, the 10% marketing rule is about right. Whatever the amount you want to raise, you need to spend 10% of that to promote the campaign. We spent a lot of time contacting friends and family who helped with the early backing of our project, but it was the paid for Facebook and Instagram adverts that really helped guide new people to our page.
A successful Kickstarter is a self-fulfilling prophecy, if there's interest and the orders start to come in then Kickstarter will also start to promote and feature you on their homepage, which will lead to an even wider audience and more sales. The listings that make the big money always have the Projects We Love banner on them as Kickstarter has seen their potential and then amplified the audience that they reach. To get one of these banners is the holy grail, and you should research in advance the kind of projects that get these and how they present themselves.
5. Reaching out to people
When contacting people, it needs to be as personal as possible. This goes for friends and family as well as blogs and marketing. A “Dear SIR/MADAM” will not open the door, and the amount of time you put into making contact is reciprocated by the amount of time the person puts into replying.
Clearly show that you customer will actually get a physical thing. A lot of feedback we had from friends and family was that they were unfamiliar with Kickstarter and assumed that they were donating money. Once we made it clearer, our support increased tenfold.
6. When Kickstarter projects go viral
If your product is quirky and fun, then it does have the potential to go viral as people are likely to share it with friends. A recent campaign for a plastic bottle cutter raised £350,000 (the target was £8,000) as people thought it was a fun project and shared the video on Facebook. It can be harder for a more mainstream item, especially if it's not a cheap impulse buy.
7. Timing you Kickstarter campaign
A lot of our bids came in the final few hours before our listing closed. It's worth checking when you're scheduling your campaign and that its end time is practical for your target customer. If you're promoting an item aimed at men, you don't want the listing to end during a high profile football match. If you're aiming at people with children then don't end it around 6pm when their parents may be putting them to bed. Also, if you believe a particular country will be your main focus, then ensure your listing ends at a suitable time for them, rather than having it end at 3am in one of your key territories.
It is possible to schedule your Kickstarter listing in advance, allowing you to start promoting it before it officially goes live. This will really help with gaining the much needed early momentum as you will have people poised and ready to buy the second your campaign launches.
8. Factor in Kickstarter’s commission
The 5% Kickstarter commission is something you should factor in. This is taken from the total amount you raise. If you need to raise £10,000 to place your order you need to factor in about £1,000 on top of that to promote it on social media and £500 for the Kickstarter commission. Plus the cost of delivery, which depending on your item and the amount you sell, could be another few hundred pounds to consider. We recommend making delivery free to boost the number of people that back you.
Stretch goals is a great feature on Kickstarter (read their FAQ on the tactic here). This is the money you can earn AFTER you reach your target. For our campaign, we had to reach £25,000, but if we had reached £40,000 we could have added in more colours. The stretch is one of the most interesting aspects of Kickstarter and one you should really consider when planning.
What did we learn from the process?
It is a stressful process. We spent many an afternoon clicking refresh hoping for the tally to increase. Ultimately it can be incredibly rewarding, but you really have to work to reach your target and obtain the funding - as an important note, if you miss your target you don't get anything, the backers are not charged.
We had assumed that we would put up the listing and the money would just roll in, but our actual experience was that we had to promote and market our listing every single day. We were constantly chasing blogs, and posting Facebook, Twitter or Instagram updates. Towards the end of the listing, when we got closer to our target, it did become easier as people were more willing to support a project that was already close to coming to fruition, but getting the initial traction was harder than we had anticipated.
We launched a 30-day campaign, but with hindsight, 60 days could have been better. A lot of the online publications really liked our campaign and product, but due to their lead times - some blogs schedule articles a month in advance - our campaign would have been over by the time they reported our story.
Something that Kickstarter was very good at doing was ensuring we asked ourselves a lot of important and relevant questions. As you are selling an idea, you have to make it as compelling as possible, especially as your backer will have to wait six months to receive the product. It challenged us on pricing, photography, our brand, our quality level, and how we compared and could set ourselves apart from the other watch listings that we were competing against on Kickstarter.
Thankfully we were successful, and we were able to fund two colourways (a rose gold and black) in the 40 Edition. Our small business is now stronger and more focussed thanks to going through the Kickstarter process. It sped up obtaining the funds to place the order and also made us more equipped to ensure we have happy customers when we dispatched them.