The Success Formula – Is There One?
Jon Lunn is half of Jon & Oliver, creators and owners of Spidermind Games. Since Feb 2020, Jon & Oliver have run four Kickstarter Campaigns, from a raised gaming table to dice shaped ice cubes and a fantasy gamebook series, and have raised over £2 million in the process. Their latest campaign, Dragon Eye Dice, is nearing its campaign completion and is currently just over £720,000. Is this success just luck, good fortune, great ideas or something else?
In this article Jon examines their procedures before the campaign to see if there is something of a formula to this success.
Everyone has an idea, right? That ‘Eureka’ moment in the bath or wherever, when you think to yourself, wouldn’t it be great if we had…
But once you have that idea, taking it to a place where it can be shown to a very discerning audience and approved of, is a totally different matter altogether.
However, before we get too carried away with the checklist of what you need to do, as there are many very good articles and videos out there taking potential creators through the process, I need to begin by stressing the importance of the idea needing to be a good one – and I don’t mean to you. With any project that you are thinking of making public and then asking that same public to give you money to make it, the idea needs to be something your audience wants and is interested in.
The quandary comes when you need a good prototype to show off your idea and you need to know whether your idea will work. For us, both things needed money as we were not engineers nor were we social media marketing experts.
"...the idea needs to be something your audience wants and is interested in..."
The idea of Kickstarter, when it began, placed the concept of crowdfunding at the seed funding stage of any new product launch. The basic premise was that you sketched out an idea and then asked for that initial money you would need to make a working sample or prototype. But in the real world, turning up to Kickstarter with no product at all and just a few sketches will not see you reach the funding levels achieved by the very successful campaigns.
NB. This is not an article examining the loss of that premise somewhere in Kickstarter’s life, nor will it examine who is responsible for it, I am just accepting that these are the facts as they are at the moment. People will call into question your legitimacy if you cannot show at least a working prototype with as few imperfections as humanly possible.
So, if this premise is correct, then this means that money needs to be raised and spent well in advance of running a Kickstarter. If you are running a game KS then you need print ready samples to play test and if it is a new widget then you need a prototype to show how it works.
As we had no experience with engineering, for our first project, The Level Up, we engaged the services of a Kickstarter recommended engineering company that we could use to create that prototype. In the end they did significantly more than that and helped with the design and testing of the table as well. Yes, it was an upfront cost but one we had to bear if we were going to make a sample that we could show off to potential backers. The company we used for the Level Up, and continue to use, are called Enventys and our contact there is now as much a part of our team as Oliver and I are.
With the prototype being an upfront cost we wanted to mitigate our risk by looking for a way of testing the idea before paying all that money. So, we needed to make sure our idea was something people liked before ploughing money into a prototype.
This is where social media can be a great place to test your ideas. The problem arose when we realised that we knew very little of social media as a whole and absolutely nothing of the intricacies of advertising on it. Like the creation of the prototype, we needed experts and experts, we realised, cost money.
"Like the creation of the prototype, we needed experts and experts, we realised, cost money."
Chicken and Egg
This is where a bit of luck came in as I was listening to a podcast about crowdfunding (Salvador Brigmann – Crowdfunding Demystified). This particular episode had an interview with a guy who obviously knew a great deal more about promoting a Kickstarter than we did and was advertising his recently set up company. What caught my ear was his enthusiasm for new approaches that were different to the standard ‘we have a huge email list and will send an advert out for you’ type of services. I reached out to Eli and we had a chat. When I showed him my idea, he got it straight away, loved the concept and so we signed up as a client of MadHatter Agency.
In explaining our predicament to Eli, regarding the reluctance to spend on a prototype just yet (or indeed any big spending), he explained that his services started off with very small spend adverts, on facebook, to test the ‘viability and likability’ of our idea. Yes, we spent a small amount on some renders that represented the idea for those test ads, but the whole upfront cost was less that $1,000 (we were partnering US companies) which were happy to spend.
Very quickly the idea caught on and under the expert eye of Eli and his colleague Kurt, we were seeing some very strong responses to the concept. This was the moment for us, and we took the leap of faith needed and decided to launch the run up to the campaign. Realising that to really get this product off to the right start we needed to spend a great deal of our own money.
Overall, we spent just under $25k on the run up to the launch, paying not only for the protype and the services of MadHatter but also on slowly and steadily ramping up advertising cost in order to grow an audience for day one. Importantly though, we did so with much more confidence that this first launch was going to be a success, due to the process we went through and the steps we took to prove the concept. Saying that we still needed to make that leap of faith and to risk that investment on our new idea.
So if I was to give out a formula for our success on our Kickstarters it would be:
Good Idea + Money + Experts = Successful Campaign
The huge caveat that I will include here is that this is not written buy way of eulogising that our way is better above all others, and we accept that each launch has its own unique and separate circumstances, but for us, this formula of having the idea, testing it and then making a working example to prove the concept works, is the same formula we apply to each new idea.
I would love to say that like Kevin Costner, In Field of Dreams, “if you build it they will come”, but for us success needed the willingness to risk our own money backing our own project – but to be fair, what better way to show your backers that you believe in your project than to pledge your own money, just as you are asking them to.
A note from DoodleMeeple
Jamie, Co-Founder of DoodleMeeple has been fortunate enough to follow the progress of Jon and Oliver since their chance meeting at the Dragonmeet in London, UK.
Jamie was exhibiting art work for the first time at a convention while Jon and team were showing the world Elite Dangerous (RPG). Jon and his team couldn’t have been a better group to pitch up next to, some of the nicest guys in the industry. We’re excited to see what’s next for the guys, and so glad they took the time to share their secrets to success. Thanks Jon and Oliver.
Spidermind Games have found success with games and gorgeous products for the tabletop gaming industry, such as the Level Up gaming table solution, Legendary Kingdoms roleplay game, and even the Elite Dangerous official roleplay game.
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