Kickstarter recently made changes to some of their policies and added a -Risks and Challenges- section to projects. Changes are certainly needed. But the community response is that more changes were made than what was needed. How will these new policies affect our project and yours?
From the Start
Kickstarter is a crowd funding site for creative projects. It’s about allowing just about anyone with a creative idea the means to capture an audience and find support in a short amount of time. It’s about liberating great ideas and sharing something unique with the world.
Within that process crowd funding bypasses some of the traditional funding and development mechanisms. What’s more, it puts you and your idea in direct contact with the most important part of your project; your backers…your fan-base. It’s a dream scenario for any creator.
The Art and the Art of Delivering
The problem is taking the dream into reality. Otherwise stated, it seems that, for many, the development and, in particular, the project deployment stages, are overlooked and/or underestimated. It’s not just the project creators who underestimate things but the backers of projects do this as well.
In T.A. Edison’s words, a great idea is typically 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. And, it’s not surprising that Steve Jobs years later said that “Real Artists Ship“.
There is an art to creating something new. But it’s also an art to producing and shipping it. And, with such a direct connection between creators and their fan-base its easy to feel compelled to over-promise and end up under-delivering.
Backers however tend to overestimate the development stage of a project. At the same time backers seem to be viewing Kickstarter as some type of retail store. This is what Kickstarter is not.
Many backers get the impression that once a project is funded the next step for the project creator is only to gift/shrink-wrap and ship. To illustrate this assumption, take into account that setting your project’s funding duration from, lets say 45 to 30 days can have a significant positive impact on your chances of success. Backers seem to get the impression that you will be shipping in less time. The same applies to lowering your funding goal. Lower your goal and the chances for success increase. High funding goals suggest to backers that it will be more difficult for a particular project to reach the goal. That’s reasonable but project creators should not feel compelled to shrink their goal and wind up with not enough cash to deliver their creation.
Correcting the Misalignment
Kickstarter now finds this misalignment between creator’s and backers to be too wide. So, changes are needed. But I believe that Kickstarter is faced with a complex task in finding solution here. And, its important that Kickstarter clearly asks about what has made Kickstarter so unique in the crowd-funding arena. Use that to make change.
Their recently applied strategy to find solution is the implementation of tactics which resort to shifting the responsibilities of backers to the project creators.
That may solve the problem? In part, yes, its setting a foot down with rules to kickstart a set of practical solutions. But what I am hoping is that it starts a process that allows all to contribute to finding the best possible solutions. More specifically, its important for the community to respond so that Kickstarter can gain a better understanding about what might be the best course of action towards solution.
To me, one of the success factors of Kickstarter is that its message is very simple, it’s very clear. And, that message starts with its application process.
Apart from some basic selection criteria, Kickstarter allows you to present your creative idea as a “project” meaning that it must have a beginning and a definite end. Other than that the rest of the process of proliferating your project is more or less up to you. The complexity here is keeping things this simple while bringing more alignment between creators and backers.
To meet this challenge Kickstarter announced, in a recent blog post titled “Kickstarter is Not a Store“, that some changes in their policies were needed. With these new policies Kickstarter wants to make things more transparent and clear to backers and the larger Kickstarter audience.
The transparency relates to the project creator’s ability to actually deploy their creations within a reasonable amount of time or at all. These policy changes pertain, in particular, to -Hardware and Product Design- projects.
Risks and Challenges
To enforce this policy change a new section was added called “Risks and Challenges”. Creators will need to show what qualifies them to overcome the risks and challenges that they face in the realization of their project. The idea is that this will allow backers to not only better understand what they are backing and who they are backing but also what development challenges still need to be overcome before the creation ships.
In my view backers already have some idea about a project creator’s ability to deliver. Examining a project creator’s bio as well as any other material about a creator and their past work, for instance. In addition the Kickstarter comminity and the comments they leave behind provide insight into answering a lot of things. These elements build a pretty good picture already.
Still, I welcome this new section. It adds an additional layer of insight. It makes things more clear and up-front for the backer. And, it allows creators to more clearly distinguish themselves from others. Sure, some creators will provide only vague explanations in this area such as “there is still a lot to do but we have the means to get it done”. But backers will now have more information to make a better assessment before choosing to back a project or not.
Vision vs Guidelines
Apart from the new “Risks and Challenges” section Kickstarter also introduces new guidelines. From now on you may not provide simulations of the proposed workings of your idea. Sketches, CAD drawings, that’s fine but you may not show photo-realistic renderings. You must only show that what you have. The current state of development. The state of the art. The reasoning here is that backers should not mistake expected workings as being proven workings. In addition they should not mistake virtual products as tangible and ready to produce products.
What I am hoping for is that this guideline stimulates creator’s to start making prototypes of their ideas. This will make things more clear to backers. In addition, the creator’s will have a better idea on what their creation involves.
But I also think that it’s also important to state that while a creation may be owned by the creator, product development is typically an interactive process between the creator and their audience. Within that process its important that the creator can lay down the “the vision” in any and every way possible to get the message across. The backer should have the means make an assessment but also take responsibility regarding the creators ability to put that vision into practice.
Creators should be required to clearly label what is simulated and what is rendered rather than having to omit that important visual material from their project message.
One More Guideline
It seems that creators are now only allowed to provide backers single rewards. Creators should not be compelled to promise more than they can deliver and backers should not feel subdued into thinking that they can. Agreed. But I am not sure if this tactic will have an overall beneficial effect.
The new Risks and Challenges section and in particular, the first two guidelines already shift much of the backers responsibilities to project creators. Also, for our own project, for instance, it would mean that our funding goal goes up while our production volume goes down.
I believe that for many project creators as well as backers this particular guideline will strain things more than it relieves. Lower production means relatively higher starting costs. Its also makes it more difficult to maintain production quality as well as delivery. Backers will also have less choice.
Our Own Project
Your Kickstarter project page is the silver platter for your idea. But my idea is that Kickstarter project creators should also use every possible means permitted to expose and promote their project and themselves. Deliver their message. A blog post such as this, a website or whatever.
Our own project was accepted many, many months ago. But only now are we going to be taking it live within a couple of weeks. Why the wait? Why take such a risk? The longer you wait the greater the chances are that you may loose your first-mover position. Moreover, your target market may shift away. Things change over time.
Actually we have not been waiting. We have been working hard on development.
We choose to do things this way in order to first take the time to develop something that we where certain of. Certain that it worked, certain that we could produce it and certain that we could ship it. Having all bases covered. We already knew that we could from the beginning. But we needed to prove it as well. At the very least it had to reach a certain level of maturity before we start to present our project to others.
Its our project. More importantly, its our signature on those products that we intend to deliver. It’s also then our responsibility to deliver the promise. We want to make sure that we can.
We are artists, engineers and product designers. But most of all we are just good friends with a common desire and passion to create new things together. A passion which leads to consolidating our spare-time and aptitude and put together something that “we” believe is unique. Without this passion the time and effort needed to put a project such as this together would otherwise be too much of a risk and burden.
Our project involves the development of vision technologies, hardware, software and a design to package it all into something that is unique and builds identity. Complex? Yes. But we are all too familiar with the development and deployment processes. Its part of what we do on a daily basis.
Again, to us, our essential role is actually very simple; deliver the promise. Our backers are the most important part of the project. Its that fan-base of contributors, which Kickstarter provides the means to get in touch with, who are most important. I mean, if we think that what we made is inspiring then that is great. But when others feel the same way…well that’s really great!
Kickstarter’s new policies set certain limitations. For our project as well. We have taken great effort and risk to reduce the risk of our project for the very same reasons that these new policies have been introduced.
But creativity has a lot to do with seeing things different, making change and in some cases even changing the game. I am confident that creators will be just as creative about how best to promote their projects as always. I am also confident that Kickstarter is doing their best to listen to their community and guide the creative process in the best possible way.
They have already proven that they can.