Building an Ecommerce Business, Part 14: Using Kickstarter

A successful effort on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform, can help validate a company and a product. Cathryn Lavery, the creator of BestSelf, a manufacturer of productivity journals and resources, used Kickstarter in 2015 to establish her company.

This is episode 14 in my show on building an ecommerce company from the bottom up. The preceding installments are:

  • I recently spoke with Lavery about her adventures on Kickstarter and on beginning BestSelf. What follows is our whole audio conversation and a transcript, edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: You are the creator of BestSelf, which sells productivity journals and resources. Tell us about the organization.

Lavery: We began in 2015 with a single product — the Self Journal — on Kickstarter. That is our flagship product. Since that time, we have become other productivity tools around target setting or accomplishing something. If you are a writer, we’ve got the Wordsmith Deck that makes it possible to write daily.

Our Edison Deck makes it possible to develop ideas. Everything that we create is based around assisting you to achieve something or enhance your life.

Bandholz: I have not completed a Kickstarter campaign. What should entrepreneurs anticipate if they are going to start on Kickstarter?

 

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Lavery: Many people make the mistake of believing,”I will put my job on Kickstarter and folks are only going to give me money.” That is not the best approach. Kickstarter is very good for validation that people like your idea. There’s no greater endorsement than somebody giving you something before you create it.

You are essentially pre-selling your merchandise. The excellent thing about crowdfunding as a platform is people are there to purchase your story. The reason we moved to Kickstarter is that we did not have the cash to do a first run of our merchandise.

Our goal was $15,000. We ended up hitting $322,000 in 35 days.

We have still not raised financing elsewhere. That’s a enormous validation in getting that amount of money. And we are not giving equity. We are pre-selling our product.

Bandholz: Was that $15,000 to build the company or more of getting the product on the market?

Lavery: It was based on a minimum order of 1,000 units with some left over to market. We were financing 1,000 units in the price we had to sell it at, but not in our buy price. You want to create some margin for yourself.

Bandholz: Obtaining that validation is terrific. Just how much of that was from Kickstarter and how much was from the public relations efforts?

Lavery: We’d built an email list for the 3 months before the Kickstarter. Kickstarter comes with an algorithm. The most popular jobs will come up first. These are based on the amount of backers that pledge as opposed to the amount pledged. One thousand backers pledging $1 per cent is far better than 10 backers pledging $100 each.

Bandholz: How were you able to grow your email list?

Lavery: We started from scratch in, I believe, April 2015. We found on Kickstarter in August. We went from no contributors to roughly 3,200. We did a giveaway through KingSumo — productivity applications, bulletproof java, books. I believe there was about $800 worth of stuff. That got us about 1,600 email addresses.

Bandholz: Which are the checkboxes to have a successful Kickstarter effort?

Lavery: Definitely generate a video; that is a no-brainer. When folks attempt to launch on Kickstarter with no video, I am like,”What do you do?” Also, reward levels which make sense. So if you are selling a specific item, everybody just wants that product. They don’t need a t-shirt.

We began with eight reward amounts — a diary, two journals, four newspapers, eight journals, 10 journals. Towards the end, we included a cover. The key is to earn the rewards super easy to get, so individuals do not need to ask questions. You also need early bird benefits when you start.

Bandholz: What about Indiegogo or comparable platforms?

Lavery: I have just done launches on Kickstarter. There’s more traffic more people are shopping there. A great deal of people launch on Kickstarter but they then go InDemand in Indiegogo, which is technically another fund Indiegogo after your Kickstarter ends.

Bandholz: What are the realistic time frames for individuals on Kickstarter to expect to get the item?

Lavery: If you are new to the item, take what you feel you can do and then double it. Then do not promise delivery. Do not ever say, by way of instance,”It is going to be there by Christmas.”

The worst thing is when you must delay it a little. That creates a problem.

Bandholz: So you started the Self Journal on Kickstarter in 2015 and then, in 2018, a new, independent product. How many products are you started from Kickstarter?

Lavery: We’ve got about 20 products at the moment.

Bandholz: What have you heard from Kickstarter that assists with the personal launches?

Lavery: Kickstarter compels you to create promotional resources for the product before it exists. Developing a story around each item is so vital. We’ve got a process now of developing a story around a product before it starts.

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Bandholz: One final question as we wrap with Kickstarter. How can you keep the communications with the funders on Kickstarter following the campaign and before the item comes in?

Lavery: We did not initially have a plan. However, the better way to do it would be to convey more than less. Most people will not read all the messages. But then you’ve got these hard-core buyers who wait for the upgrades. Every two to three weeks is normal for a fantastic communication frequency.

Bandholz: Where can our listeners and readers know more about you and your organization?

Lavery: Visit BestSelf.co. My personal website is LittleMight.com. I have a good deal of crowdfunding tools there. I get asked often about Kickstarter. I’ve blog posts about what we did, how we built our email list, how you do a movie, simple things like that — all on LittleMight.com.

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