2013-10-23

Co.Exist

Want Your Kickstarter To Work? You Better Have A Good Story

More than half of all Kickstarter projects fail. Want yours to be among the lucky few? Having a great product isn't enough. You need to connect with people using storytelling.

In the last two years, we’ve launched two successful Kickstarter projects to fund rugged, urban, bicycle lights. It took a lot of research to get here: interviewing countless Kickstarter entrepreneurs, studying hundreds of Kickstarter projects, and making many mistakes along the way. Now we teach classes and coach other entrepreneurs on Kickstarter.

In the process, we’ve uncovered two myths many entrepreneurs have about crowdfunding. Last week we debunked the first myth we see in failed Kickstarter projects: “like Steve Jobs, I know what customers want.” The truth is that you are not Steve Jobs. You do not have his crystal ball of product development. You need to ask people what they want.

Now, let’s get to the second myth that leads to Kickstarter failure.

Myth: Once I get on Kickstarter, my product will sell itself.
Truth: A product without a story typically won’t sell.

The stats around Kickstarter are amazing but misleading. While over $800 million has been pledged, 56% of Kickstarter projects fail. Second in importance only to getting the product right is the story behind it. And you don’t need to be Steven Spielberg to tell a great product story. Here are three simple frameworks to help you.

1. Start With Why

The mistake most people make when sharing a product or idea is they start by telling what they’re making. “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” says author Simon Sinek, in his top 20 TED Talk. He gives example of how Martin Luther King, Apple Computer, and the Wright Brothers got this right while their competition and predecessors got it wrong. The “why” is the core of the story, the raison d'etre. Yet, it’s not always easy to communicate your product’s big “why.”

Our MIT friend and Kickstarter Entrepreneur Hyungsoo Kim understood this in creating The Bradley, a “watch that everyone, including the blind, can touch to tell time.” In their moving $594,000 Kickstarter campaign, they tell their “why” by drawing inspiration from war veteran and Paralympic gold medalist Bradley Snyder.

2. Make It Emotional

The question most entrepreneurs ask is, “How do I get people to buy my product?” It’s the wrong question. In their book Made to Stick, Stanford and Duke Professors Chip and Dan Heath ask the right question: “How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. “A credible idea makes people believe, an emotional idea makes people care, and the right stories make people act." A powerful story elevates a functional product to a meaningful experience.

It took us weeks of banging-head-against-the-wall brainstorming to recognize the emotional aspect of our product. “How the hell do you make a bicycle light emotional?” we asked ourselves.

Ultimately, we told a simple, honest story in our Kickstarter video about a friend who had his bike light stolen and was hit by a car. We could’ve used safety statistics, but stats alone won’t do it. “We are wired to feel things for people, not abstractions,” write Chip and Dan Heath. Inject emotion into your product and supercharge your Kickstarter campaign.

3. Start A Movement

A successful Kickstarter campaign doesn’t sell a product; it starts a movement. Legendary organizer, advisor to Obama’s campaign, and Harvard Kennedy School of Government Professor Marshall Ganz is an expert in creating movements. “The initial challenge is to figure out how to break through the inertia of habit to get people to pay attention,” says Ganz. “Sometimes it happens out of anger--and by anger I don’t mean rage, I mean outrage. It’s a contradiction of a world as it is and the world as it ought to be.”

Entrepreneurs often ask, “that’s great for politicians, but how does this apply to my product?” Again, we can look to past projects for great examples. Jake Bronstein elicits outrage against the status quo of apparel manufacturing and the evil practice of “planned obsolescence.” “The clothes you’re wearing were designed to fall apart,” Bronstein says in his $1 million Kickstarter video. His battle cry shouts, “It ends here, and it starts with a sweatshirt.”

By Slava Menn and Tivan Amour, co-founders of the Fortified Bike Alliance. Last week they debunked a second big myth: That you know more than your customers about what they want.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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