Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Same Mistakes Every Time

With the popularity of Kickstarter and Indiegogo many people who had never even considered getting involved in running a crowdfunding campaign have tossed their ideas, hopes, and dreams into the crowdfunding arena often with mixed results.  For every big giant success story like Pebble Smartwatch and Banner Saga,  there are dozens of smaller projects that have a hard time getting 2 backers, let alone 2000.  Yet even though all these failed projects are for a hundred different kinds of things, many of them have these same problems.  While there are dozens of books and articles explaining how to run a Kickstarter and what you should do, fewer point out the huge things you shouldn’t do; and since I got started in Kickstarter writing by focusing on the negative I figure why not go for more?  

So here are a list of some of the biggest things new creators do wrong when they post a Kickstarter campaign and what makes them wrong.  I’ll be including real examples of projects with links so you can see that I’m not making this stuff up, people really do these things and continue to do so.  Taken individually many of these will not sink your campaign, but none of them help!

This project will show up many many times.

Video killed the Kickstarter star

The internet LOVES video and Kickstarter isn’t an exception.  With every phone, laptop, and video game console now a days seemingly all equipped with video cameras why would you ever launch a campaign without a video?   If you can’t find a friend of a friend of a friend with a smartphone to film you, or even a web camera, then how can we expect you to get anyone involved in funding or making your project?  

Don’t feel comfortable on camera?  Don’t know how to edit?  No worries!  Sometimes figuring out how to get past these problems can lead to some of the most interesting successes such as Help Fund My Robot Army!!!  John didn’t like the video of himself talking and couldn’t come up with a good way to pitch his book in video as he didn’t have an animating or editing experience so he used his resources to unleash one of the most powerful forces on the internet: Cats!  Seriously go check out his video and see how resourceful and great that video is without being a simple “stare blankly into the camera and talk in a monotone from a script” video.  

Another problem with videos comes with not viewing the videos before going “live” with a project.  We all know cel phone cameras suck, and the microphones suck, but there are plenty of ways of getting by with those limitations you just have to try.  Don’t put the light behind you, but in front of you.  Don’t try to record outdoors on a windy day, or by a woodpecker or a busy street.  Record at night when your kids are asleep.  There are lots of ways of improving the quality of the video no matter your source, but the biggest way to do so is to WATCH IT BEFORE IT GOES LIVE!  Let people who aren’t connected to you see it and comment on it.  There are Google+ and Facebook groups full of people who will critique your campaign before hand and help you fix it before you waste your time going live. (Get used to this point as it’ll come up a lot as well)

Finally in videos, please for the love of all that’s good in the world: help stop the spread Vertical Video Syndrome!

Trust Me!

I love creative people, they’re the ones who invent everything after all; but one of the biggest problems I’ve noticed with creative folks when it comes to Kickstarter campaigns is they’re not really any good at selling themselves or their work.  They seem to think that “their work speaks for itself” or that “if you build it, they will come.”  Sure, once upon a time when Kickstarter first started you might have had a few folks post a few pretty pictures and a quick bit of words, maybe even a video and still get funded; but those days are long gone.  As such creators have to actually attempt to sell not only their ideas/products/concepts, but their ability to actually deliver on all of those promises to complete strangers.  

I think everyone knows a relative, or a coworker, or a crazy blogger who has lots of “great ideas” for this or that but we all know there’s absolutely no way they will ever actually make it.  They’re either not motivated, don’t have the skills, or have no clue what they’re actually talking about.  Yet people like that often come to Kickstarter and toss up a campaign that isn’t much better than a “give me money” sign.  

No, I won’t trust you and neither will the vast majority of people on Kickstarter.  No matter how interesting your idea is you have to demonstrate some ability to actually pull it off if we give you our hard earned money.  There’s a reason why people ask for resumes, we want to see if what you did previously shows you have the skills to do what we want; and in Kickstarters case having an actual product in hand goes a long way!  That means prototypes, game demos, rough cuts, past performances, restaurant experience, and many other kinds of things that show you have the experience and drive to actually go out and do it when you have our money in your hands.  

That’ll be $24,000 please

The Cost of doing business

Speaking of money, you can have a great looking project, with plenty of pretty pictures and videos; but if you can’t tell me what you need all that money for, what makes you think I can trust you with it?  When you get down to brass tacks crowdfunding is all about getting money to creative people to have them do creative things with it, but as I’ve mentioned before creative people aren’t always the most business savvy.   One way to help alleviate potential backer’s fear and show that you have the most basic level of business acumen is to include a budget breakdown of some kind.  

The budget breakdown is the most basic of budgeting tools that everyone thinking of doing a Kickstarter should use.  Simply put you need to show us where the money is going!  If you’ve come to Kickstarter to ask for $5,000 you’d better be able to tell us how you’re planning on spending the money and show that you’ve prepared for problems in some small way.  Have you taken into account taxes and fees?  How about shipping costs for all those cool gizmos you’ve invented?  How about having a solid price for whatever service you’re going to buy before you need the money?  These are extremely basic and key questions that are covered in a good budget breakdown.

Who says budget breakdowns are boring?  

Just because a budget is a boring thing, doesn’t mean you have to present it in a boring way!  Area 5 has done a good job of making a fancy looking budget for their Outerlands campaign, but it doesn’t have to be that fancy or even done with pictures.  A good thing to do is to think of a used car salesman coming up to you, would you really want him to say, “oh sure this car is worth $10,000!”  Just like a used car salesman potential backers know you’re trying to sell them something so everything you can do to alleviate any concerns they have is a good thing.  

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Art is a very subjective thing, and if you don’t believe me go look at the list of successful comic and art Kickstarters!  One thing about art that isn’t subjective when it comes to Kickstarters, If I can’t see it, I won’t buy it.  In this case I’m talking about not having any pictures to show for your comic project, or art project, or photo project, or anything else really that has some sort of visual aspect.  This would include screenshots, prototypes, and even artist concepts everything helps in the visual medium that is the internet.

Now just tossing up every image in your hard drive can often be worse than putting up only one or two, the big key here is trying to put out enough visual information without being overwhelming.  This can be a tough balancing act to pull off but I’ve found at least one image a section (like this article) tends to be plenty.  The idea is you shouldn’t make the potential backers guess as to what you’re doing, show us whenever possible.  Also, when art isn’t final, be sure to point that out especially if part of your budget (see budget breakdown above!) is specifically to make better art!

Again I have to reiterate you NEED to have folks who are not involved and who don’t know you personally to take a look at your project before you list.  They will point out things like how good or bad the pictures are, if you need more pictures, and the like.  Again find yourself a group to follow, a forum like Board Game Geek or whatever other specialty site that fits your project and let them look at it.  It will do wonders for your project’s presentability and get more eyes on it down the road.  

Yeah I live here and still don’t
know what this one was about.

You’re doing what now?

Remember when that guy did that thing in that movie?  You know the one, the one with that one girl who played music on tv that one time.  You know?  Yeah, that doesn’t work in regular conversations why do you think it’d work in a digital sales situation?  

The final problem on this list is the general “vagueness”  of some projects.  Often these projects will require inside knowledge of a subject, the creators aren’t native English speakers, or the project is just poorly written.  Whatever the cause there are plenty of projects on Kickstarter that do a very poor job of telling you why they came to Kickstarter, or what their project is all about.  Proofreading by those who aren’t connected to you (told you this would come up a lot) goes a long way to making sure your campaign actually makes sense outside your head.  

Words matter, and even with all the pictures and videos you can put on a project a good number of folks will still be reading your campaign and as such you need to ensure they make sense.  If you make a reference to a specific genre like “six-axis shooter” you should, at a minimum, link to an outside reference if not spell it out in the campaign.  Just because everyone you know understands 4d6 keep the highest, or knows what IDIC is, or can tell you how many rounds a minute a ma deuce can put down range doesn’t mean everyone else does.  Even if your project is in a specialized field there’s no reason you should exclude those outside the field the opportunity to help you out by aiming your pitch only at them.  The Kickstarter community is a very inclusive one so why try and exclude potential backers?  

Why even bother?

Everyone makes mistakes, and there are many failed Kickstarters who have learned from their mistakes and come back to great success.   Even if you only had one backer the first time you tried making a Kickstarter project doesn’t mean your idea is bad.  You shouldn’t let failure dampen whatever passion you have that drives you to create!  The best success stories are surrounded by failure but one thing comes through, perseverance and the ability to learn from  you mistakes are the keys to success.  So learn from these mistakes I’ve listed and go out there and have a great campaign!  Who knows, I might even ask you to participate in a future Kickstarter Conversation.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by Fred Davison who is here to talk to us about the QuadStick.  Thank you for joining us today Fred.  

-Thanks, James.  It’s my pleasure.

Just looking at the pictures in your campaign it’s a bit hard to understand what the QuadStick is all about.  Could you give us a brief rundown of the product?

It is a mouth operated game controller, mouse, and keyboard for people that cannot use their hands.  It has a joystick the user can move with their lips, a lip position sensor, and air pressure sensing tubes mounted on the end of the joystick into which the user can sip or puff to provide inputs.

It connects to a game console using a USB cable and also has a Bluetooth transceiver to connect to a secondary computer or device.

The QuadStick does more than function as a game controller, it also makes a great mouse for a computer and can be configured to generate any keystroke.  It can become a key device in the way a paralyzed person interacts with the world.

That’s seems like an awfully niche market, how did you find yourself wanting to create controllers for quadriplegics?  

I am an embedded systems engineer.  An embedded system is computer dedicated to a specific task, in my case, energy and temperature control systems used in commercial buildings.  Smart buildings.

Years ago, my mother was a victim of ALS and I learned about some of the different ways technology is used to make life more enjoyable for people with some kind of disability.  That was the beginning of my interest in systems like that and when I read about the Quad Control game controller and that the owner was going to stop production due to declining health, I realized I had the right cross section of technical skills plus the incentive to do something.  I met with Ken Yankelevitz, the owner of Quad Control, and the project started.

Monday, February 24, 2014

ISS Above

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Liam Kennedy who is here to talk about his project ISS-Above.  Thank you for joining us Liam.

Thank you for inviting me to share about the ISS-Above.  Very happy to be here.

As someone who tracks the International Space Station almost daily your project obviously caught my attention, would you care to tell us all about it?  

Sounds like we are both cut from the same cloth.  If we were friends on Facebook you would see how often I post things about the International Space Station - when it’s going to be visible and such too.   I’ll often stop people in the street if I am out when I know the ISS is flying over and point it out to total strangers.  Those that don’t run away at that point are often amazed that you can see it - and some even have no idea we have a manned space station orbiting above.   

I also run the web site and I have used that to share what’s going on in the sky to southern california residents.  

In 2010 I wrote my first (and only) App for the Windows Phone called LookUpTonight.  That App was pretty simple - but it does allow you to view much of the information that’s available from the web site (and a few others) on a Windows phone linked to your location.  That of course includes details on the ISS passes.

So.. that’s the story of how I’m always sharing about the ISS and here is the “backstory” to how I ended up building ISS-Above

In June of 2011 I came across what I thought was a very neat Kickstarter for a device called ISS-Notify.  This was going to be a simple little lamp that comes on whenever the ISS is passing overhead.   It sounded pretty neat so I backed the project. It was the first Kickstarter I backed.  Unfortunately although the developer certainly did his best to build the unit something must have gone wrong during the design / manufacturing as none of the nearly 300 backers of that project have heard anything from the developer for nearly a year.  

I guess I just got fed up that I didn’t get my ISS-Notify - so I decided to build something myself.  That’s what the ISS-Above is.  It’s definitely inspired by the idea of ISS-Notify - but also quite different in what else it does - and how it works.  

The ISS-Above is built on a platform of a single board computer called a Raspberry Pi.   I wrote the code on the device using the Python programming language.  The code downloads the orbital elements of the ISS from NASA every few days.  All the calculations for when the ISS is going to pass nearby is done on the device itself (unlike how ISS-Notify would have worked - which needed access to

Of course the ISS-Above flashes/lights up whenever the ISS is “nearby” - but it is also configured to send a Tweet TO the ISS when  it gets particularly close.   In this way it will become a “beacon” to those in the ISS as they orbit the earth.  The more people have one - the bigger the virtual “wave” will be to the ISS.  

It also has it’s own web server running on the device.  This allows anyone who is connected to the same network as the device to bring up a web page that contains much more information about the active or future passes of the ISS.  If the ISS is on an active pass of your location the web page switches in to “overflight” mode and that allows you to send a customized tweet - and to view more detailed information about the

Tracking the ISS isn’t the hardest thing to do, as your own campaign mentions any smartphone can do it right now.  Why make a specialized, stand-alone device?  

I totally love all the Apps that you can get for your phone that tell you when the ISS is visible.  I have just about every kind of ISS and Satellite App for my phones/iPad.  I can’t get me enough of those.   

HOWEVER - when it comes down to it I just don’t refer to my phone all that often to find out about the ISS and when it’s coming over.   And - I don’t need any more apps that beep/flash or remind me about anything.  I guess I am on “notification overload” as far as messages there.  

What the ISS-Above does is it can sit on a shelf/wall in your office or home and just be that reminder to ANYONE who can see it that the Space Station is nearby.   “ANYONE” is the key here.   The device doesn’t only light up for times when the ISS is visible (usually close to sunrise/sunset) - it lights up WHENEVER it is nearby.   

Being built using a Raspberry Pi means there are lots of options available for different types of displays including both LED/RGB lights and LCD displays.  That’s the flexibility inherent in the platform used.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Miss Chromehounds? Check out M.A.V.

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  I am pleased to welcome Chad Mauldin to talk about his exciting Kickstarter M.A.V.  Thank you for joining us today Chad.  

No problem, glad to be here.

Fans of the robot combat genre will definitely see some similarities to other games with M.A.V.  Could you give us a rundown of the game?  

M.A.V. is all about customization and fighting along side your squad. While there will be just plain ‘free battles’ the real meat of the game will come in the campaign mode. This campaign mode is a territorial war against other factions, played out in a persistent environment. You will join or create a faction, take your M.A.V. into battle, either with your friends or with AI mercenaries and start building up your control. With control, comes resources, and you can then use these resources to get new parts for your M.A.V., hire more mercenaries, or build up your defense’s. The goal is to create this really organic play mode that works just as well in single player or multiplayer, and allows players to experience really compelling battles that are unique to their version of the war. If players are not swapping virtual war stories, then I have failed as a designer.

M.A.V. definitely seems to heavily focus on customizability.  How key to success is making a custom M.A.V. going to be?  Will it be an arms race to bigger and better guns all the time?

While there are bigger and better guns, great care is being taken to avoid drastic power curves. How you customize your M.A.V. will be more important to making sure you are comfortable playing with it versus some type of optimal build. In fact, I fully expect some players will not want to spend a ton of time in the garage perfecting a build, which is why I created an ‘Auto Generate’ button. This will just create a computer optimized M.A.V. for you to just hop in and start playing with.

Dear Dad

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation! Today I am pleased to be joined by Pableo Semacio who is here to talk to us about his emotional Kickstarter Dear Dad.  Thank you for joining us today Pableo.   

Hi everyone.

Your project covers a topic that I think most folks don’t even realizes exists.  Could you tell us about it?

I am the creator of “Dear Dad” a poignant documentary about Fil-Amerasians’ quest for their long lost fathers.   A personal encounter with Richard, one of the characters, inspired me do this project.  He shared to me how hard is to be an amerasian, how it felt to be different physically in skin color and how it hurts being stigmatized and discriminated as a son of a “night girl” in a night spot where American soldiers have their R & R at U.S. Air and Naval bases in the Philippines.

Yes, it is true that most people don’t know this group of “children” exists.  Ironically, some American fathers even do not know that they have sired a child and had just left the Naval Station without knowing it.
This is the reason why we would like to let the whole world know especially American soldiers who had been assigned at U.S. Naval bases in the Philippines that there is such a group of abandoned children living in a kind of life without hope of being recognized by their own fathers or better yet know, see and meet in flesh and blood.  It is a kind of life in a limbo, hopeless and a never-ending search.

Amerasian?  Where did that term come from?

Amerasian.  This comes from the words - American Asian, a child born in Asia to a U.S. Military father and an Asian mother. These children are found in most Asian countries including Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and most notably the Philippines where the largest U.S. Air and Naval bases outside U.S. mainland were situated.
In the Philippines, they are significantly called Filipino American Asian or Fil-AmerAsians.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Laser Tag Meets Lightsabers?

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  I am pleased to welcome David who has brought one my childhood memories into the future with his Sabertron Kickstarter.  Thank you for joining us today David.

Thanks James!  Happy to talk to you about this amazing experience that is Kickstarter, and my life-changing invention, Sabertron.

As the oldest of three boys who grew up watching Star Wars your project makes me wonder where you were when I was growing up.  Can you tell us all about Sabertron and why my 8 year old self wishes you product was around then?

Well, you certainly don’t have to be 8, as many 40-year olds are telling me on Facebook.  Sabertron is similar to the game of laser tag, but with swords.  When you hit your opponent, he or she loses “health” just like in a video game.  When your opponent hits you, you lose health.  But sword-to-sword hits are ignored.  I am using the same kind of sensors that are found in smart phones, which makes them cheap and plentiful.  I created Sabertron because I am very competitive and I like to have fun.  The idea was so simple to me that I thought for sure it must exist.  After years of waiting around for someone else to invent it, I finally did it myself.

So beyond classic lightsaber duels what can the Sabertron do?  

There are currently five game modes, everything from a simple “one hit to win it” to a lengthy struggle.  You could really work off some calories and exhaust yourself on the tougher modes.  This is what software can do to turn the embedded hardware into something magical.  We arent done dreaming up game modes and settings either.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Who Makes Comics? She Makes Comics

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by Patrick Meaney and Marisa Stotter from Sequart Research who are here to talk to us about their latest project She Makes Comics.  Thank you both for joining me.

Marisa: Thanks so much for having us!

Patrick: Thanks James!

Would you two be so kind as to tell us about She Makes Comics and what makes it such a special project for you both?

Marisa: She Makes Comics is a documentary tracing the history of women in comics - as writers, artists, editors, publishers, retailers, and fans. It’s a celebration of the contributions women have made and continue to make to the medium. When people think of comic books, they often think of mainstream superhero stories, which are largely about male characters, written by men, and sold to a male readership. We want to turn that stereotype on its head and point out that women have always been creating and reading comics, for as long as the medium has existed!

Patrick: Exactly, I’ve made several different projects about comics at this point, and they were all to some extent exploring stories that people were familiar with. Most comic readers know Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis’s work, if not their personality. But, I think people don’t realize the role that women played in the development of the medium. I’ve already learned a lot, and am excited to find out more.