More Money, More Problems: The Challenge Of Managing Crowdfunding Success
from the it-takes-more-than-just-a-kickstart dept
A lot of the attention given to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms these days has been spurred by the big runaway success stories — the Pebble smartwatch, the Double Fine Adventure, Amanda Palmer's project, and many others that exceeded their fundraising goals in the first few days and kept on climbing. The phenomenon is not limited to these multi-million dollar examples: countless smaller projects have shot past their more modest goals multiple times over.
Whether it's a $500 project that raises $10,000 or a $100,000 project that raises millions, the result for the creator is the same: a stunning success that has the potential to turn into a crisis or an even bigger opportunity, depending on how they handle it.
That's the other side of the double-edged sword that is success on Kickstarter, and it often gets ignored. If you're a creator with a product in the pipeline — whether it's software, hardware, an album, a film or anything else that takes time and work — and your plan is to raise some money while piloting it out to a few hundred people, suddenly having hundreds of thousands of paying customers on your hands can be more daunting than exciting.
Not only does the challenge of order fulfillment become much bigger and more complex (this is where a lot of campaigns fall down), there's also the issue of managing so many expectations. Hundreds of wall comments and private messages (some less polite and more demanding than others) start arriving, all while you're trying to finish the actual work. And that starts the moment the campaign picks up steam — meaning the actual money often won't be arriving for weeks.
Some creators have talked about the problem. Palmer Lucky, who kickstarted the Oculus Rift headset, faced the issue of excited backers drawn in by the popularity of the campaign who hadn't fully read the details, and were anticipating a more complete product than was actually promised. A 2012 study found higher rates of late delivery among overfunded projects.
A big part of the problem is the relatively lackluster backer management tools found on Kickstarter and similar services. Communication is a huge part of running a successful campaign, since things are bound to go wrong, but backers are almost always understanding as long as they aren't left in the dark. Runaway success projects — or at least the ones that still deliver — tend to move beyond Kickstarter for the hard work of customer management: they take the discussion to their own forums, they set up their own mailing lists and customer request systems, and they move more and more communication to more robust platforms (Kickstarter only offers blog-esque updates and an inflexible survey system). Apart from ensuring that a project delivers its goals on time, there's the fact that most crowdfunding campaigns are also about starting a business, which means hopefully converting lots of backers into repeat customers.
Ultimately, the success of crowdfunding campaigns seems to come down to how well the creators build and manage a community — and currently the crowdfunding platforms themselves can only play a small part in that.