If my research of Kickstarter campaigns for film and video taught me anything, I learned the final days of most successful campaigns are wild rides. The Kickstarter for my upcoming feature film CENTS was no exception. Near the end of our Kickstarter, I shared lessons learned from the 15 story beats of our campaign, but since our campaign wasn't finished, the 15th story beat had yet to be written. Now that our Kickstarter is done, allow me to take you behind the scenes of our final week to share more lessons learned from the exciting conclusion of our crowdfunding campaign.
Before we jump into the details of the final days of the CENTS Kickstarter, let's take a look at the funding progress of the campaign. You'll notice our momentum started to pick up on Feb. 4, climbing steadily until Feb. 7, when we really took off.
Warning: Crowdfunding May Cause Emotional Whiplash
Some days on Kickstarter campaigns are filled with rapid accelerations followed by screeching halts, taking you to the highest highs and lowest lows, all within the same hour. Friday, Jan. 31 was one of those days. Our Kickstarter crossed the 50% funded threshold, jumping from 47% to 53% ($31,900 pledged, 304 backers). On top of this momentum, we were heading to a party that night hosted by a very generous couple who had invited dozens of couples to come out and support our Kickstarter.
Unfortunately, virtually no one could make it to the party. Most people would have canceled the event based on the lack of RSVPs. Instead, this couple forged ahead, for which I'm very grateful. What we hoped would be the event to thrust our Kickstarter campaign into high gear turned into an eclectic gathering of eight people (only 2 of whom hadn't already pledged), sitting around a dinner table, having a conversation on a wide range of topics on anything but our Kickstarter campaign.
At the end of the party, we had not one single new backer in our Kickstarter campaign, and only eight days to go. Like most screenplays, our darkest hour came right before we broke into Act III.
How to Revive a Flatlining Kickstarter
Weekends on our Kickstarter campaign were typically quiet, and Sat. Feb. 1 was particularly tough. We picked up 11 new backers, which was decent, but only $370 in new pledges with officially one week to go.
We revved up our Facebook and Twitter accounts for Super Bowl Sunday to take advantage of the fact that so many people would be using social media during the big game. If everyone else was going to use #superbowl, so were we. We found ways to use humor to engage our audience and recognize that our film had almost nothing in common with the big game. We scheduled Facebook posts and tweets to go out every hour on Sunday, plus we emailed friends who hadn't pledged yet as well as our existing backers to remind them that we only had 7 days left.
By 9 pm, we had reached 55% funded with $33,220 pledged and 333 backers. That's when my day really began. After putting the kids to bed, I finally sat down to write my NFS post about the 15 story beats of my Kickstarter campaign. At a minimum, I wanted to share as much data as possible with NFS readers about our Kickstarter campaign as a way to pass it forward. I was still confident that we would be successful, but we had a long way to go.
I finished writing the post at 3:30 am Monday. We had to wait to schedule the post for Tuesday, though, so we could balance out the scheduling of feature-length posts on the site.
Angel Matches Ignite the Campaign
Monday was a strong day for our campaign in terms of backers -- 24 new backers -- but our total amount pledged was only just over $34,000 ($34,086, to be exact).
On Tues. Feb. 4, an angel who had backed the campaign from the beginning offered to match pledges up to a combined total of $1,024, but only until 12 noon MST. The idea behind the angel's match was to instill the sense of urgency into the campaign, and giving us only 5 hours to raise $1,024 in pledges certainly lit a fire under our collective ass.
In that 5-hour window, we raised $792 from a combination of 21 new backers and a handful of existing backers who raised their pledges to take advantage of the match. True to the angel's word, another $792 was dropped into our campaign shortly thereafter. We were certainly excited with our progress over the 5-hour window, but a little bummed that we left money on the table.
Our angel, however, was impressed with the number of new backers that the match attracted to the campaign. So, a second angel match was offered at 3 pm MST until 9 pm MST, again matching pledges up to a combined total $1,024.
This match got off to a slow start -- only $50 for a while. But in the final hour, we were able to get some big pledges. I noticed certain friends were on Facebook at the time who had not pledged, so I made direct message pleas to them to help us with the angel match, and they delivered. In the final six minutes, a pledge for $256 arrived.
When the second angel match finished, we had raised another $955 from 20 more new backers, which meant another $955 from our angel. When pledges that occurred between the two angel matches were added to the total, we ended the day at $38,094 pledged (63% funded) with 398 backers.
I should note that we published the lessons learned from the 15 story beats of the CENTS Kickstarter post on NFS that same day, and certainly saw some pledges arrive via NFS. NFS readers would continue to contribute over the course of the next few days, thanks in large part to Ryan tweeting out the article again in subsequent days and encouraging the NFS community to back the Kickstarter -- more on that trend at the end of this post. I also tweeted out each of the 15 lessons, one every hour, the following day to get the attention of the #crowdfunding community.
Refer A Friend Day Encourages Backers to Reach Out
[Note: Based on feedback from a No Film School reader, this section has been edited for clarity to help future Kickstarter campaigns.]
With only 4 days left in the campaign, we knew that we really needed to boost our backer numbers. Obviously, the goal of a Kickstarter campaign is to hit your fundraising target, but to reach this goal, we needed to expand our social network dramatically. That meant more backers.
The angel matches on Tues. Feb. 4 were tremendous, but we didn't have anything like that on Wed. Feb. 5. So, we decided to launch Refer A Friend Day to encourage our existing backers to reach out to friends directly and get them to pledge.
By the end of the day, we had reached $41,796 in pledges (69% funded) from 444 backers. The backer with the most referrals that day found 5 new backers who contributed a whopping $602 in new pledges.
Needless to say, we were feeling pretty good around 9 pm MST on Wed. Feb. 5.
Then Kickstarter began counting down the hours with 72 hours to go. Gulp.
Backers Feel the Urgency
At 9 am on Thu. Feb. 6, we had exactly 60 hours to go on the campaign. We picked this time to rally the backers with an update. For many of our backers, this was their first Kickstarter campaign, and the task of raising just over $18,000 in 60 hours seemed insurmountable. At the same time, leaving almost $42,000 on the table seemed crazy, too.
When we sent out our Kickstarter update with 60 hours left, we made sure to include big Facebook and Twitter share buttons embedded right in the update for our backers to use. The Facebook share button automatically pulled up a Share Window with our CENTS Kickstarter link, letting our backers type their own message. The Twitter share button automatically pulled up a pre-written tweet, courtesy of Click to Tweet (thanks again to Ryan for pointing me in this direction).
Above is an excerpt from our Kickstarter update with 60 hours to go.
And this is the pre-written tweet we crafted for backers via Click to Tweet.
At the same time, we boosted a post on Facebook, setting our budget at $30. Over the course the promotion, that post reached 6,452 people. More importantly, 201 people clicked on our Kickstarter link in that post.
With constant Facebook posts and tweets throughout the day, coupled with the "60 hours to go" update and several personal emails, we were getting close to $45,000 (75%). In the final hours before 9 pm MST, we send out Lightning Round posts on Facebook to see if we could reach $45,000 before the 48-hour mark. We fell a bit short, ending the day at $44,895 with 495 backers.
The amount of money pledged on this day certainly takes center stage, but I want to highlight the fact that 51 new backers joined the campaign on Thu. Feb. 6. We had no angel matches, no Refer A Friend contest -- just the ticking clock and a lot of money already pledged to encourage our backers to spread the word. With our Facebook and Twitter share buttons in the Kickstarter update, we made spreading the word as easy as possible.
Sometimes, Crazy S#!t Happens with Kickstarter Campaigns
After we just missed reaching $45,000 before our 48-hour mark, I was determined to see the campaign hit 75% funded before dawn. I knew this would be an important mental milestone for our backers. So, I kept working Facebook and Twitter for several more hours. Finally, we hit $45,000 around 1 am MST on Feb. 7.
[As an aside, five NFS writers randomly joined our collective HipChat room around this time for about 45 minutes. It's the closest we've ever gotten to a staff meeting. Sadly, Ryan was not present. Thus, weird antics ensued.]
At the same time, I made a personal push on Facebook. I went through my entire Facebook friend list to see who had not already pledged. I was pleasantly surprised that a vast majority of my Facebook friends had already pledged, but I sent out 80 direct messages via Facebook in those early morning hours on Feb. 7 with less than 48 hours to go. Each message was slightly personalized based on the social circles of each friend, such as high school, college, ABQ filmmakers, etc. Thanks to ClipMenu, a clipboard manager for Mac OS X, a staple of NFS, this process went relatively quickly.
I finally went to bed at 2:45 am.
When I woke up, Kickstarter was popping. Between 2:45 am and 10:20 am MST, we picked up 34 new backers and we were fast approaching $48,000 (80%). All of our research had shown us that if we ran our campaign well, we would go into high gear with 48 hours to go, and that was certainly happening. Our existing backers were now determined to make this Kickstarter successful. Facebook caught fire. We literally could not keep up with the thank you's and shout-outs via our Facebook page.
By 3 pm MST, we had reached $49,199 in pledges and 564 backers -- 63 new backers in 12 hours.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Pick Up the Kids from School...
Just after 3 pm, I left the house to pick up my kids from school. While driving, my wife Jennifer called me and asked what just happened on Kickstarter. I wasn't at the computer, so I had no idea. She proceeded to tell me that the Kickstarter had suddenly jumped to 96% funded.
96%. What. The. F....
Jennifer logged into my email account and told me the name of the new backer. Never heard the name before. Then she told me this new backer had pledged $8,192. Besides being shocked, I quickly realized this pledge was a power of 2: 2^13, to be exact.
An angel I had never met had just pledged 2^13 to our CENTS Kickstarter campaign.
I discovered later that afternoon that this angel had discovered our Kickstarter that day on Facebook after someone had pledged and shared the campaign link. The story about a young girl who was strong at math but hid in a bathroom stall to do her Calculus homework really spoke to this angel and led to this extremely generous pledge.
6 hours and 38 new backers later, we reached our $60,000 goal. With 23 hours and 15 minutes to spare.
After Hitting Our Goal, We Took Our Foot Off the Gas Pedal
For the previous 30 days, we had hammered friends and family with our Kickstarter campaign, essentially taking over their Facebook news feeds for the final days of the campaign. After we hit our goal, we decided to take our foot off the gas pedal on the final day. Instead, we focused on our gratitude toward all of our backers during those final hours. We made sure to get thank you notes out to all of our new backers via Kickstarter and highlighted everyone on our Facebook page.
Without making a big deal about it, we also let our backers know that any money pledged above our $60,000 goal would offset Kickstarter and Amazon fees, meaning more money for the big screen, but we did not harp on this. Nevertheless, pledges still came in. 41 new backers joined our campaign after we reached our goal, which we exceeded by $1,468 (102% funded).
In the end, we made sure to say (Thank You)((2^16)-4,068).
One More Thing: The Story of Our Kickstarter Dashboard
This story wouldn't be complete without sharing the rest of our final data from our Kickstarter dashboard. By the end of our campaign, 27% of money pledged came via Kickstarter. Now, we know this number is somewhat skewed as we personally walked some people through the pledge process by taking them to Kickstarter, searching CENTS, and showing them how to complete a pledge. Nevertheless, we have many backers on our campaign that found us through Kickstarter, underscoring the importance of crowdfunding on the most popular platform. Also, our average pledge amount of over $95 is considerably higher than the overall Kickstarter average of $70, thanks in large part to some very generous backers.
As you can see below, our best source of pledges was from direct traffic, i.e. emails to friends. The next best source of referrals was Facebook. This is consistent with almost all of the other successful film & video Kickstarter campaigns of similar sizes that we researched. We put a lot of time and energy into emails and Facebook because of this research.
Search on Kickstarter provided the second highest amount of dollars pledged. This is where the Kickstarter referral data is skewed. This line item shows us how many of our close friends and family went into Kickstarter to make their pledges. They didn't click on a link in an email or via Facebook. They went to Kickstarter directly, searched CENTS and made their pledges. Some of them returned to Kickstarter later in the campaign, searched CENTS, and increased their pledges. These two activities explain this crazy high amount of dollars pledged via Kickstarter Search.
I'm thrilled and humbled to see No Film School.com now so high on the amount of referrals. When combined with the embedded widget (almost all of which I would attribute to No Film School, too), the number of NFS readers who pledged is quite strong. Most of these pledges are a direct result of the 15 story beats Kickstarter post. Thank you for backing our Kickstarter campaign.
A chart I forgot to share in my previous Kickstarter post was the Project Video Stats. Ryan asked me about these stats in a chat session at 1 pm on Tues. Feb. 4. At that time, we had 4,808 video views with 2,306 views on Kickstarter and 2,502 off-site, with 34.94% completed.
By the end of the campaign, you can see below how traffic to our Kickstarter page really picked up. While it's good to know that only 35% of video views were completed, this statistic doesn't tell us when people stopped watching the video (after only 1 minute vs. only 3 seconds left as we fade to black) or if they pledged regardless of finishing the video. That would be much more useful data (ahem, Kickstarter).
Our final chart from our Kickstarter dashboard is our Reward Popularity. Not surprisingly, our $8 reward for a digital download of CENTS was our most popular reward. I sincerely hope to see more film & video Kickstarter campaigns offer digital downloads of their finished films at a price point below $10. If backers are willing to give you money for your film before you make it, you are essentially asking them to pre-order the movie. I know I expect a discount when I pre-order a movie, and if digital downloads cost an average of $10, I think a 20% pre-order discount is a reasonable offer. 168 backers agreed.
Our next most popular reward level was essentially a tie among the $16 reward (digital download plus digital writer/director commentary), $32 reward (add DVD and behind-the-scenes production diary to digital download and digital writer/director commentary), and No Reward. Many of your friends and family just want to help you make your movie and won't ask for anything in return. For that, we are truly grateful.
I hope you find this post and my previous 15 story beats of my CENTS Kickstarter post helpful in your research into crowdfunding campaigns. If you do run a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaign for your film, please do what you can to share your lessons learned with friends and filmmaking colleagues. Our Kickstarter was successful because of the wealth of information we could find on previous campaigns, so I felt obligated to pay it forward with these posts. I urge you to do the same however you can.
What lessons have you learned from Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaigns you have run or backed? Share your thoughts and lessons in the comments.
Link: CENTS Kickstarter