Well, friends, it’s official. Our first Kickstarter project, 99 Shades of Grey, is 99% complete. Once we release the e-book and launch the backer site in a few days, we’ll be done.
While we certainly enjoy the process of making and distributing ridiculous things, we also want to use our projects as a learning experience both for us and for our fans. Thus, we’ve taken some time to sit down and process some of the things we learned during this project. Hopefully one or two (or all!) of these things will help you with something you’re working on.
Lesson 1. It’s possible to run two campaigns back-to-back
Sometime during the middle of the 99 Shades campaign, we came up with the idea for our next project, Run Free 2013. As we began doing the calendar math, we realized that we would need to launch the Kickstarter project fairly quickly in order to give ourselves enough time to get everything ready for race day.
However, all of the advice we’d received had said that we should not launch one project until our last project had been completely fulfilled. And while we understand the logic of this argument, we were also hoping that it would prove untrue, because it would limit us to doing only 2-4 projects a year by the time you consider planning, launching, and fulfillment. We have WAY too many ridiculous ideas to only launch 2-4 projects a year.
With a little bit of nervousness, we decided to launch before 99 Shades had been fulfilled. But in order to alleviate backers’ potential concerns, we decided we would not launch until all the rewards for 99 Shades had been ordered from our vendors and we had all of our shipping materials ready.
Once these things were in place, we explained everything to our backers and clicked the launch button on our new project. Surprisingly (I mean that, too. I was really surprised.) not a single person said anything about the fact that we hadn’t fulfilled 99 Shades orders yet. In fact, a large number of backers from the 99 Shades project backed Run Free, many of them on the opening night of the project.
The lesson we learned from this? Kickstarter backers are cool. They’re quite understanding, as long as you are open and honest in your communications. Since we let people know where we were at in the process of fulfillment (essentially, we were twiddling our thumbs while we waited for packages to show up from our vendors so we could ship them out), they were comfortable with us launching another project right away.
Lesson 2. There will be delays
When we launched 99 Shades, we had a goal of raising $600. Later, some people suggested that we had set a low goal so that it would be that much more impressive when we blew it out of the water. This is a great theory, and it makes us sound like strategic masterminds, but it is unfortunately untrue. We legitimately didn’t think we’d be able to raise much more than $600. In fact, in our pre-launch discussions, we decided to move the goal up from $500 to $600 to cover some shipping and supply costs, and there was some concern that the increase would be the death of the project.
Thus, by the time the project closed after raising nearly $10,000, it was a completely different project than the one we’d started with. This was no longer a short run of 50-100 books. It was many times that size. Additionally, we ended up adding hardcovers, posters, and bookmarks, by popular demand. All of those things took more time to design, and they increased the number of vendors we were working with. That meant that our anticipated ship date of late October quickly became November, and then early December.
Looking back, we should have built a little more cushion into our expected delivery dates to accommodate for overwhelming success (albeit, unexpected), as well as the general everyday delays that can push things back bit by bit. Better to under-promise and over-produce.
Lesson 3. Your bad news is not as bad as you think.
Not only were there delays because of the project’s increased scale, but there were delays because of factors beyond our control – like hurricanes.
Our printer’s offices are located in New York City, and one of their actual printing facilities was in the path of the hurricane as well. Luckily, everyone in the company was okay, but their business was brought to a halt for a few days during the midst of the post-hurricane madness. Even after they got back to their offices, equipment breakdowns and other factors caused our project to get pushed further and further back. We were finally given an estimated arrival date of December 7th.
We were not excited to share this news with our backers, because we don’t like to disappoint people. But we wanted to be open and honest and communicative, so we bit the bullet and wrote this post.
Surprisingly, everyone was completely understanding. We anticipated that most people would be understanding, but we figured there would be a handful of people who would voice their frustration. We were totally wrong. Everyone was amazing.
Again, the lesson here is that Kickstarter backers are super cool. They understand delays, they understand that it takes longer to order 750 books than 100, and they understand that certain factors are outside of your control. What they don’t understand (and rightfully so) is a lack of communication. That’s why we tried to overcommunicate. We’d rather have people say “Okay, enough with the updates already!” than “What are those guys doing? I haven’t heard from them in forever.”
Lesson 4. Shipping is Expensive
When we set up the rewards for this project, we were under the impression that the project wasn’t going to be incredibly successful. As a result, we under-priced a lot of things. In retrospect, $10 is really cheap for a book (especially on Kickstarter), and $15 to name one of the shades is ridiculously cheap.
That’s okay, though. Part of the success of the project had to do with the accessibility. Just about anyone could afford to be a part. And we didn’t price it so low that we lost money.
Shipping, however, is where we could’ve lost our shirt. Specifically, international shipping. For some reason I (Kyle) was a little gun-shy about charging a lot more for international shipping. I didn’t want it to appear as though we were gouging people, and I didn’t want to exclude any potential international backers.
You know who wasn’t gun-shy about charging a lot for international shipping though? The United States Postal Service. Man, those guys are proud of their ability to get a book across the ocean, let me tell you. We only charged $5 extra for international shipping, but some of the international packages cost over $10 to ship. I think we actually lost money on a few of those.
In the future, we’re going to have to do a better job of calculating shipping costs, both domestically and internationally, or else we could stand to lose our shirts. We were able to scrape by this time, but it could’ve been a lot worse.
Lesson 5. Spreadsheets are a good thing
All of this talk of costs and estimates and financial projections brings us to the topic of profit.
When you have a Kickstarter project hit almost $10,000 on a $600 goal, you start getting a lot of questions like “Wow! How much money did you guys end up making off that project?!”
Over and over again, we had to give the disappointing answer of “You know, we’re not sure yet.”
You see, like we mentioned earlier, this project was only supposed to raise $600. Our projections were all based on that, and if we had hit that goal, we would’ve made next to no profit (our goal wasn’t to make profit, since this was our starter, learn-the-ropes project).
Once we blew through that goal (within 12 hours of launching), all our projections went out the window. Suddenly we went from printing few dozen books to several hundred, which meant a whole lot of changes.
Add to that all of the extra rewards we ended up adding (posters, bookmarks, hardcovers, etc.), and suddenly we had no idea how much money we were making. We priced things so that we knew we wouldn’t LOSE money, but we didn’t have time to hash everything out in a spreadsheet.
When we went to launch Run Free, we wanted to make sure this didn’t happen again. We spent an entire afternoon building a pretty intense spreadsheet that included costs for every reward level (including shipping estimates). It also had some neat functions built in that would notify us to re-quote something once the quantity moved above a certain level (since it’s much cheaper to buy a t-shirt if you’re buying 200 of them than if you’re just buying a dozen).
Everyday (often several times a day) we’d go in and update everything on that spreadsheet to get a good idea of how many items we’d be ordering, how much they would cost us, and how much profit we stood to make.
Thus, we actually knew our estimated profit on Run Free before we knew it for 99 Shades, since we had to wait to tally receipts on 99 Shades.
From here on out, any project we do will have a very specific spreadsheet built out before we launch. In fact, we’re building spreadsheets before we even decide on a project, just as a way of helping us evaluate which projects are worth pursuing and which are not.
In conclusion, this project was an incredible learning experience for us. We set out intending to raise a few hundred dollars and learn a little more about Kickstarter, and we certainly exceeded those expectations on every front. On top of that, we gained 435 backers who we hope to keep as fans for life.
You guys are awesome.
-Kyle, Honest Abe, & the rest of Team Ridiculo.us
P.S. Some of you have been asking about how to pick up extra copies of the book. We have a limited number available over at shop.ridiculo.us, and we’re even offering free shipping through the end of the year (Or the end of the world. Whichever comes first).