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Creating and Running a Successful Kickstarter Campaign for OpenFarm

A project log for FarmBot - Open-Source CNC Farming

FarmBot is an open-source CNC farming machine and software package built for small scale, hyper local, DIY food production.

Rory AronsonRory Aronson 07/18/2015 at 16:580 Comments

This post was originally written on the OpenFarm Blog.

In this post I’m going review the entire process of creating and running the successful OpenFarm Kickstarter campaign. I’ll cover what worked, what didn’t, and what we would do different if we could do it all over again. I hope this helps inspire others to run their own campaigns, and inform them of what they should be thinking about and doing throughout the process.

Intentions and Metrics of Success

A common misconception is that crowdfunding is exclusively about the money – that the total pledge amount on your campaign page is the only thing that matters. Though the money is obviously a very important metric of success, it is not the only one. There are many other factors that can make you and your idea succeed.

In order to define our metrics of success, we first set out our intentions for creating the crowdfunding campaign. What is the purpose of creating the campaign? What do we want to achieve? With the OpenFarm campaign, these were our intentions:

  1. Raise Funds – Our goal was to raise $7,500 in 30 days to pay for two things: website hosting fees and professional software development time
  2. Build Brand Awareness – OpenFarm is a community based project built on crowdsourced information. Without awareness of the platform and brand, we would not have any users nor data to share with others. Therefore, raising awareness and building a following was an important intention.
  3. Attract Volunteers – As a volunteer created project, we wanted to attract more volunteers to actually write OpenFarm’s code.
  4. Gain Validation and Feedback – Who wants to build something that nobody wants to use? By running a crowdfunding campaign, we were testing our idea with a wide swath of potential users. This is an excellent way to validate our ideas. Going hand in hand with validation is feedback. Aspects of our idea that would not have served our users have been reported to us as such. Additionally, we have had a flood of new ideas come in that we had never considered before.

By setting out these intentions, it was easy to define our metrics of success:

  1. Raise Funds
    • The total pledge amount on our campaign
  2. Build Brand Awareness
    • The number and quality of social shares and interactions
    • The number of articles written about the project and their number and quality of readers
  3. Attract Volunteers
    • Number of contributors and the quality and amount of their contributions on our code repository
    • Number and quality of other contributors (design, UX, data, etc) contacted through email
    • Number of “watchers” on our code repository
  4. Gain Validation and Feedback
    • General sentiment of the project
    • Number and quality of feedback and new idea messages

With clear intentions and metrics of success defined, it was time to move forward in creating the campaign, starting with our communication strategy.

Communicate Your Idea

How we communicate our idea is the foundation for our campaign. This is absolutely the most important step we took before proceeding with anything else. Having consistent, simple, descriptive, and memorable ways of describing OpenFarm increased engagement, reduced the time and text required to share our idea, and streamlined all of our other communication efforts (video scripting, press releases, interviews, etc).

Below is how we, in general, communicated the idea of OpenFarm in various formats. Start thinking about these things now. Ask your friends for help and feedback. Write all your ideas down. Take breaks. Keep questioning what you come up with. Remember: Simple is always better.

Some notes about your Hashtag:

Write the Campaign Description

Once the foundation of communication was defined, we started writing the campaign description. Here is the process we went through:

  1. Draft a Project Description – Just write everything you can think of at first. It might be good to start with an outline too.
  2. Include all the Details – You are the expert of your project and it will be easy to gloss over details because they are so obvious to you. Have friends who are already acquainted with the project (but not an expert) read through your draft to help you make sure all of the right information is included.
  3. Simplify – Now cut out all the fluff. Then cut out more. Rewrite sentences to be more concise and written in plain language. Boil your description down to convey the essence of your project. Make sure you maintain continuity. Remove as much jargon as you can. If you absolutely can’t remove it, make sure you define the word ahead of time. Have your friends help you. Keep simplifying. Question every paragraph, every sentence, and every word. If it is not adding value, cut it out. Keep in mind who is going to be reading this -everyone: academics, kids, those with English as a second language, those without great vocabularies, those who are rushed and distracted, those who skim rad, news reporters and bloggers, your friends and family, and ultimately: people that you are trying to convince that your project is worth backing.
  4. Proofread – Use a spell checker. Ensure you are using punctuation correctly. Be consistent with your styles (bullets, italics, bolding).

Create the Campaign Video

When shooting the OpenFarm video, we wanted to include several things:

Choosing and Pricing Rewards

Almost everyone I know who has run a crowdfunding campaign has given me the same advice: Account for the cost of fulfilling rewards and the time it will take for you to fulfill them. Then add on extra for security! This piece of advice is what steered us to offer rewards at prices that allowed us to focus on our project. Of course, in some cases the rewards are the project, in which case a different reward model is needed. But for us, we wanted to end our campaign, fulfill rewards quickly at a low cost, and then get on with actually building OpenFarm and have a good amount of money to do it with. Our rewards:

Supplementary Setup

Now that you are all setup, it is time to get ready to launch! The next two steps are things I did not do with OpenFarm but wished I would have had the time and knowledge to do so before hand. I am speaking now from speculation, not experience.

Choose a Launch Date and Time

With OpenFarm, we launched as soon as we were ready; basically as soon as the video uploaded. Do not do this. You want to get everything set up and choose a date to launch at least two weeks out in order to start doing groundwork with the press. You want to set a hard launch date and time so that the press can auto-publish an article right on time. Try to launch in the early morning (4am) so that folks waking up for the day and checking their social feeds and news blogs see your story first thing. They will then be bombarded by tons of other articles throughout the day.

Befriend the Press

The most effective way of getting the word out about your campaign is having established bloggers, news sites, and other projects write about and share your project on their website, social profiles, and email newsletters. These sites have large audiences who already like their curated content; they will be able to reach many more people than you ever could on your own. The key here is to do a lot of the press groundwork weeks, even months ahead of launching your campaign. Yes, you read that right. We did not do this for OpenFarm and then ended up playing catch up with the press with several articles actually came out after our campaign had already ended! Here is the recipe for success:

  1. Make a spreadsheet for tracking your press connections
  2. Contact known writers or news tips email addresses and get your shoe in the door
  3. Do not just send them a press release. Rather, mention that you read their site, follow their project, etc, and you think your campaign is something they might be interested in featuring
  4. Make sure to include a press release, a media kit, your contact info, and most importantly: your campaign link and launch date
  5. Be persistent but not spammy. If you start this process months ahead of time, you have the chance to reach out to multiple writers from a source if the first one does not respond. You and the writer will also have adequate time for an interview and to write about the project.
  6. Make sure that their articles are scheduled to be published the day you launch
  7. Make sure that they post their own article on their social profiles, and ask about an email newsletter.

Take the time to find contacts and writers for sites with great audiences. The more suited the audience is to liking your idea, the more likely they will share the article, click your campaign link, and back you. Prioritize relationships with writers and look out for their interests. Their job is to cover great news like your campaign, but they don’t want to be advertised at or spammed. Be cautious with your first connection email headlines and wording!

Launch

You’re now ready to launch your campaign! Go for it and quickly move to the next step!

Tell the World

Facebook

Tell your friends on Facebook, ask them to share the post (not just like it). Post it from your project page too. If you are part of nay groups, post it there. You can try messaging other groups but if they are not following you, then your message will go into their ‘other messages’ section and they will likely not see it. Also, it is unlikely that many people will see your post if you post on the wall of other popular pages.

In general, Facebook is best for connecting with your friends and anyone who reads an article about their project will share it with their friends. It is not so great and connecting with people you don’t know.

Reddit

Reddit is a tricky place. If you have no experience with Reddit, you might just want to shy away from it. The good:

The bad:

With OpenFarm, we got an initial boost of traffic from Reddit. Then some posts didn’t do so well and the auto-moderator stopped us from posting anymore. That pretty much ended our Reddit streak.

Twitter

Flood Twitter with retweets and favorites. Yep, anytime someone says anything good about your campaign, favorite and retweet it. If others come your Twitter page and see a lot of activity from a lot of people, it will be exciting. They may tweet themselves or find their favorite blog who tweeted about you and retweet them. Make sure to be looking at your brand hashtag and other tags that people may have used!

You can also use tools like Buffer to schedule tweets. A lot of news sites do this and will send out a tweet about their article about you twice a day for the next two weeks. This is only worth doing if you had a lot of followers prior to your campaign, otherwise anyone who is following you has probably already seen your campaign and it is more important to share what others are saying about you and giving updates on your progress.

For the OpenFarm campaign, we followed and tweeted at a lot of people we thought would be interested. We found them by searching for ‘Master Gardener’. Anyone self proclaiming that title would surely be interested in our project. Here is an example mass-tweet format that worked really well for us and got a lot of engagement. Things to note: it is more honest and factual and less pitchy. We’re letting someone know about something that we genuinely think they will be interested in. This tweet is also very retweet-able in the sense that the wording could come from anyone and it does not feel like an advertisement.

@Master_Gardener A group of volunteers are building the “Wikipedia for Gardening” Thought you would be interested!http://t.co/BVfiCFV7qQ
— OpenFarm (@OpenFarmCC) August 21, 2014

Here is an example mass-tweet that did not work very well for us. It is too much of a pitch and we’re asking too many things of the reader: follow the link and retweet us. Too much to do for the average user and it feels too much like an advertisement.

@therealdirt Check out @OpenFarmCC – the “Wikipedia for Growing Plants” on @Kickstarter: http://t.co/BVfiCFV7qQPlease retweet the project!
— OpenFarm (@OpenFarmCC) August 20, 2014
Google+

Google+ has communities that function kind of like Reddit. You can join these communities and post about your project. Again, be non-spammy and try not to come off as an advertisement. Posting from your personal account might get you more engagement because you don’t look like an ad, but rather a community member trying to share something interesting and valuable.

Be Responsive

Kickstarter will send you an email every time someone backs your project. This is fun for the first 50 backers and then just clogs your inbox. I setup a filter in Gmail to auto-archive the New Backer Alert emails so that I could focus on answering messages and comments.

Being responsive to the onslaught of emails, tweets, facebook messages, and Kickstarter comments and messages can be overwhelming when your project takes off. Take them one at a time and make sure to put thought into each response. Running a Kickstarter is no walk in the park – you will need to be answering messages constantly.

Prioritize interviews over anything else. If someone wants to write about your project, help them along as fast as you can. If you can have a half day or 1 hour turn around to responding to interviews, you’ll get a lot of additional press during your campaign. Expect writers to take at least a week to get something published upon first contacting you.

Tracking The Campaign

Kickstarter uses the Bit.ly URL shortening service that does two important things:

  1. Provides a nice short URL to share in emails and social media posts – important for digestible reading
  2. Tracks where users are coming from (referrals, geographic location) so that you can see where your efforts are most effective

To access the Bit.ly dashboard where you can see this information, you must put a ‘+’ in front of the shortlink, like so: kck.st/1yBHkVG+.

Bitlink Share

Kickstarter also has a really nice dashboard for tracking your campaign. They display: a graph of your funding progress, the average pledge amount, referral stats, video stats (plays and completions), and reward popularity. I found each of these areas insightful in their own ways:

It’s important to note that 5% of the backers raised over a third of the money. This reinforces how important it is to reach the right people, not necessarily the most people. It is also interesting to see that for nearly every view of the video, we raised $1. So there is a bit of a numbers game in there about getting the most people possible to watch the video, assuming that if they click a link the are at least somewhat interested in the project.

Another important tool for tracking is Google Alerts. With this, you can get instantly notified as soon as an article or blog post is written about your campaign! This way, you can quickly go and tweet about that article or share it on Facebook.

Share Updates

It is of course important to keep your backers in the loop with constant communication. Share updates on your progress, be honest and up front about any setbacks, and build your community. All of the people who backed your project believe in you and your idea. Ask them for feedback, advice, additional resources like connections or knowledge.

Fulfill Rewards

Be smart about fulfilling rewards, stick to your schedule, and try your best to get everything sent out on-time, This is where simplicity of your rewards structure will be key, either making this part of your campaign fun and easy or a nightmare!

So How Did We Do?

Looking back at our metrics of success, we can evaluate how we did:

  1. Raise Funds – We reached over 323% of our goal from 1,605 backers! Pretty good, huh?
  2. Build Brand Awareness – Just 3 days after the end of the campaign, we now have over 1,400 users registered on the OpenFarm site, several hundred followers on our social media profiles, over 400 subscribed to our mailchimp email newletter and we’ll import the 1,605 addresses from our campaign, and we’ll eventually have a bunch of folks wearing shirts and displaying stickers! On top of this, there is a steady stream of folks still finding out about OpenFarm from the already written press, driving over 2,000 pageviews a day!
  3. Attract Volunteers – This was perhaps the biggest win of our campaign. Since launching we tripled our development team and have had a surge of discussion and development activity on the repository. Currently we’re at 14 contributors, 43 watchers, 159 stargazers, and 40 forks!
  4. Gain Validation and Feedback – We had a ton of great feedback throughout the campaign. I received over 100 direct emails with ideas, questions, and suggestions, 40 comments on the campaign, and about 60 messages on Kickstarter. In general, the sentiment was very positive both on the campaign and in the social media world. We think the OpenFarm concept has been very well validated!

Overall, I’m very happy with the way our campaign turned out and our team is excited to move forward on our project. I hope this blog post will give you some insight and help you run a successful campaign, good luck!

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