Musings of an Eon...

My Backer Journey: A Kickstarter Tale

Published 2021 Sep 24 @ 20:14

I’ve recently been reflecting on the many investments I’ve made through Kickstarter over the last decade. I backed my first campaign shortly after Kickstarter had turned 1. At the time I was primarily interested in giving video game developers that had worked on previous games a chance to make sequels and spiritual successors. Since then I’ve branched out to all manner of projects, though typically still within the realm of video games or physical products. I thought it would be nice to go over my own personal journey as what Kickstarter is labelling a “Super Backer”, which kind of feels like a backhanded compliment.

First, let’s start with some statistics.

  • I backed my first project at the end of 2011 and have invested in a handful of campaigns every year since then.
  • I have backed 5 campaigns that either didn’t hit their minimum funding goal (no money collected) or refunded my pledge after collection.
  • I have backed 138 campaigns that have successfully funded (money collected). Of those…
    • 99 campaigns have been successfully fulfilled.
    • 27 campaigns are still in-progress.
    • 12 campaigns that have failed to deliver.
  • I have a success rate of 89% (99 / 111).
  • I have a failure rate of 11% (12 / 111).

Ok, so let’s unpack some of these details.

I want to first say that nearly 90% of all investments returning something to me is amazing. Some of these companies have no presence prior to their Kickstarter debut, meaning it can be nearly impossible to determine the legitimacy of the campaign prior to backing it. And even for campaigns run by people that are genuinely legitimate and have a track record of delivering on previous projects, they can still encounter issues that cause failure. Being able to “win” 90% of the time is, in my opinion, impressive.

And I want to clarify that I’m impressed by the creators on Kickstarter, not my ability to select winning campaigns. Some of these people have experience building products but not necessarily running a full business. Supply chain, design, fulfillment… these aspects and more can cause even the best campaigns to ultimately fail and I find it impressive how many people manage to figure it out. They commit an overwhelming amount of their time and energy toward ensuring a successful post-funding campaign and, at least for me, that translates to a win nearly 90% of the time.

There’s also typically no strong correlation between how much money the pledge tiers were requesting and whether a project would fail. So if you’re thinking that campaigns asking for lots of money in exchange for goods is an indicator of success or failure, that hasn’t been my personal experience. And even complexity of the final product isn’t typically an indicator. I’ve had some rather “simple” campaigns fail to deliver while having some more technically challenging campaigns deliver on their promises.

Ultimately, I’m saying that it would be incredibly difficult to extrapolate any additional data that might help anyone understand whether or not a campaign is “safe” to invest in. So I have instead taken a different approach to deciding, ultimately, whether I will back a project. Cost, previous campaigns, prior works… these all factor into my decision. But there’s one aspect that is typically more important than the rest: I would like to see their idea realized and I don’t mind losing my money in pursuit of its realization.

What does that mean, exactly? My hope with any investment is that as long as lessons are learned then the company can continue to iterate and improve until they have a truly remarkable product, something which may never have been possible without angel funding. Angel funding, for those not familiar with the world of venture capitalism, is money with no strings attached. Typically, investors want some kind of collateral for their investments, but angel funding is given freely and without restriction. Let me give you two examples of campaigns that turned out less than pleasing but which I’m still comfortable having invested money into.

The first was for a product called Rollova. It was an interesting idea but ultimately the quality and execution ended up lacking in what was necessary to make it an easy buy, especially at its price point. Many complaints included difficulty of use, lack of precision, and measuring corners. All of these complaints and more were addressed in a v2.0 that would likely have never come about without the launch of the original via Kickstarter. Not only that, but the company is now creating a new product called Meazor, which seems like it will be a significant improvement not only over the previous Rollova product, but a marked improvement for any device that measures three-dimensional spaces. This could finally be the product that makes the company a more commonplace name. And even though I didn’t like the original product I received, I will be glad if my initial investment brings about the creation of a product I might actually use and enjoy.

The second was for a product called Phree. They never managed to launch their product (only a handful of test/pre-release units). However, they did some amazing work on technology for enabling a pen-like device to capture movement on any surface and reliably convert it into text. Basically, write anywhere and have it become text on your phone or computer. You could bring the pen anywhere and just write on any surface to make a note. At the store? Write on the counter. Have a great idea at 2am but no paper nearby? Write on your pillow or the bed. Out for a hike and need to jot down an idea? Write on your stomach! It didn’t matter what surface, it should “just work”. What’s unfortunate is that it worked well enough in most circumstances but they wanted to make it better and ended up running out of money with no feasible way to raise more outside of a second Kickstarter (or something similar) to save their first one.

In both cases, I’m hoping that my investment eventually leads to the creation of a product that might not otherwise exist or which would have taken longer to become real.

I plan to start reviewing some of the campaigns I’ve backed and the products I’ve received. I’ve done enough of these that I feel like I have plenty of content I could churn out. Plus, I would love to share my most pleasing campaigns because I want to support these wonderful creators any way I can.