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Kickstarter is not a store. Unless it is.


Kickstarter appears to be suffering from an identity crisis. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it stems from the fantastic opportunities that come from growing.

We’ve run into the same issue. We’re a tabletop gaming company, but we make most of our money making playing cards based on  Cthulhu and intellectual properties like The Princess Bride and The Name of the Wind. How do you say you’re one kind of business when the majority of your revenue comes from somewhere else?

This is the same thing that Kickstarter struggles with. It was made to serve the little guy, the independent artist that has a vision but lacks the funds to see it to completion. However, it makes most of its revenue off of those with more of an eye for business and much larger goals. Kickstarter isn’t huge because of Johnny Artist’s sidewalk gallery project that funded for $800, it’s the Tim Schafers and the Amanda Palmers that bring the noise that has made Kickstarter more and more of a household name.

And this is where it gets tricky for a grassroots company that has outgrown its original mission.

Kickstarter is not a store

That’s what they say. And it used to feel that way. It used to feel like backers were supporting us as a creator when they came to our projects. Now it feels like a pre-order. Here’s why:

Estimated Deadline - The key word here is estimated. I’ve hated the word estimate ever since I worked in corporate because when you give someone an “estimate” it gives you a hard deadline. To quote Inigo Montoya - “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

We try to calculate the best delivery date that we can with the information that we have available. Unfortunately, this date cannot be changed during a project even if you go from an expected backer base of 2500 to, say, 11,334. Or your vendors tell you 5-7 days when and you think they mean Earth days but they really mean Mercury days. (Note: this was originally written as Jupiter days until I researched it and found out Jupiter's day is only about 10 hours whereas Mercury's is 58 Earth days. So that's closer to the point I was trying to make.)

While I understand why Kickstarter doesn’t allow delivery dates to change after a pledge has been made, I find the vitriol that comes with missing such a date (even with valid reasons) to go against the grain of what Kickstarter is ‘supposed’ to be. +1 for Store.

Design - Given the choice, I think most people would prefer to see their feedback realized in the finished product. We’ve always really liked the collaborative feedback that comes with running a project that doesn’t have finished artwork so that we can create the kind of product our backers want.

In my opinion, thousands of people to bounce ideas off of has a very large potential to yield some great ideas we haven’t thought of. And that’s always been one of the most powerful aspects of Kickstarter for me. +1 for Not a Store.

But wait… a lot of backers don’t want to wait for the artwork to be made or for manufacturing process to take place. They thought this was a pre-order. +1 for Store.

Until it’s successfulOculus Rift anyone? Everyone was all about crowd funding a product that they wanted to see made until the creators made a boatload of money. Then some folks started thinking that they should somehow be entitled to a piece of that because they helped make it happen. By that way of thinking, maybe I should get a Championship Ring because I've bought tickets to some Spurs games. +1 for Greed.

Refunds - I found out that you can refund a backer up to something like 60 days after a Kickstarter funds. The kicker? Kickstarter keeps their 5%. +1 for I Have No Idea What To Put This Under, I Just Have Info That Doesn’t Fit Anywhere Else.

Shipping - One point I wish WAS like a store. There are two issues here. The first is that the tools for handling fulfillment on the back-end are horrible. I always say this and after attempting to use their system for orders 20,000 times I think I have every right to criticize it.

The latest improvement is the ability for backers to change their address. At any time. Even after we’ve already solidified our fulfillment list. And there is no way to lock it down. Imagine how upset a backer is when you ship to the wrong address because they changed it the day after you mailed their package. Which brings us to...

The second issue. And I have to admit that I am guilty of this myself. At no point when I order an item from a store do I get upset if I put in the wrong address. Or if I pre-order an item and neglect to tell the store that I moved and they should ship it to another address. Or, in my case, get around to asking for a replacement for a defective part more than a year after I’ve received it.

But if you’ve run a Kickstarter you know, these are very real demands from backers. They will move and they will not read your emails or your updates. But when they remember you eventually, they’ll want their rewards and they’ll want them now. +1 for Not a Store.

Price - Heaven help you if you sell an item for less than what any backer paid. This is quite common with board games and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, you can purchase a game for half of what you could have backed it for when it hits normal distribution channels. On the other hand, the product would have never been made if it hadn’t have been for the Kickstarter. +1 for Not a Store.

We’ve tried to use this as a reward in itself to our backers. We work very hard to not sell items for less than what our backers paid in to make it happen and so far, everything we’ve sold post-Kickstarter has been higher in cost. But that’s a big reason people back projects, to get the lowest possible price. +1 for Store

Don’t deliver at all - Backing a Kickstarter is a risk, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Big ‘successful’ projects can be the worst because the creators aren’t prepared to manage them correctly. Or maybe they are and their original assumptions change like product or shipping costs go up before the delivery of a product. The guiding principle should be Caveat emptor. But if you try something and fail on Kickstarter, you’re actually worse off than when you started.

Now you have a bad reputation and refunds to give out. But it’s even more than that. Remember the part where Kickstarter keeps their 5%? +1 for Store.

Awww hell, when doing research to wrap this blog up I found this. Consider this one more blog post saying that to keep making new things in the world, we need to be a little more patient and not look at Kickstarter as a pre-order system.

At the end of the day I like Kickstarter and I love the idea of crowdfunding. We use it a lot ourselves so this may come across a bit as biting the hand that feeds you but I think it’s important to recognize that Kickstarter is in a tumultuous time during its development. And now that it’s cleared a billion dollars, government regulation isn’t far off.

But I’ve saved the best for last: Backers

As much as I may complain about the things that give us grief, there are many, many people that genuinely love and appreciate the products that we’ve been able to produce because of Kickstarter.

We have returning backers project after project, some of which I’ve had a lot of email correspondence with over the years. They’ve watched us move our base of operations from my apartment to a warehouse so that I can now sit on my couch without worrying about boxes falling on me. They’ve watched us struggle as we learned the best ways to package and ship, to get the lowest international shipping costs, and to scale back our own wild enthusiasm for the sake of simplicity.

And they’ve said thank you. I can’t tell you how great this is to hear at the end of the day after answering email after email and coordinating a project for months. A lot of these creators go out there with a dream and not much else and they work tirelessly to make it happen because you’ve trusted them with your wallets and your time. They’ve worked more hours than they ever thought they would while maintaining full time jobs and taking care of their families. And the road has been much harder than they ever thought it would be when they started.

So if you’ve backed a project and you’re happy with the product that you received, even if it was late, consider telling the creator that you appreciate what they’ve done. Tell them that all of the time and effort spent making sure everything you received was just right didn’t go unnoticed.

And I’ll thank you now for backing projects and making those things possible. Because as long as there are projects that allow us to come together and make something cool that didn’t previously exist in the world, then Kickstarter is not a store.  

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