How to Launch a Product on Kickstarter, Part 3: Building Your Community

How to Launch a Product on Kickstarter, Part 3: Building Your Community

Advice and resources for product designers planning a Kickstarter campaign.

Keyboardio Model 1

Developing and launching a product on Kickstarter is an exciting process, but it can also be overwhelming. In this series—which includes guides on prototypes and manufacturing plans and product storytelling—we offer direction, support, and resources to prepare you.

In this post, we offer tips for building community around your concept.

Kickstarter is the ideal platform for building a following around your product. Backers come to Kickstarter specifically to discover new projects, particularly in our popular Design and Tech categories. The impact of this following is substantial, and a significant percentage of money pledged across the site comes from repeat backers. But, ultimately, building an engaged audience before launch is the key to a successful campaign. This may include creating a distribution list, bolstering your social media presence, and preparing a series of rewards that will appeal to your community.

Does your funding goal seem daunting? Break down the dollar amount by the number of backers you'll need for success—then devise a strategy for reaching this “magic number.” Using your reward prices, you can determine how many backers you’ll need to reach your funding goal. Focusing on backers rather than on dollars can help you to reflect on who these people might be and how you're most likely to reach them. Does it feel like an achievable number to you? In the long term, building a smaller community of deeply engaged backers may be more important to your project’s success.

There are three or four main ways to attract backers to your Kickstarter campaign. Consider each of these methods and create a plan to maximize each one:

Start with your personal community

While an exceptional product can find widespread interest from across the web, your strongest support will come from people already familiar with your work—friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. Here are some steps for growing your community before launch.

Build an email list

Email lists are one of the most effective tools for driving views—and pledges—to your project. While the conversion rates of email lists vary widely, a good yield is between one and five percent—that is, for every 100 people on your email list, between one and five may actually pledge. For the best conversion rate, focus on the quality of signups rather than on quantity.

Building your email list will take time as you earn each signup one-by-one. Attract a community of people to your list by sending out regular updates, offering behind-the-scenes content and early access to your products.

Demo your product at events and meetups

Reserve a booth or table at a trade fair or local meet-up specific to your product’s focus area. If possible, try to get onstage at a pitch night, and be sure that you have a prominent location to collect email addresses. If in-person promotion isn't possible, consider joining industry zoom panels or meetups.

Contribute to the conversation

Participate in forums and online discussions that are important to your community. (For example, are you a music tech nerd? Try commenting on Synthtopia articles. DIY hacker? You might find some interesting threads on Hackaday.) Introduce yourself, be humble, and contribute to the bigger conversations. Consider blogging to share news of your project and the challenges you’ve overcome. The Keyboardio team shared their passion for keyboards, and their early prototypes, in blogs–a practice they continue today on their own site and in Kickstarter updates.

Create a pre-launch landing page

As word spreads about your project before launch, be sure to direct people to a good landing page, usually on your own site, with a visible email signup. You don’t need to give away all the details, but provide enough information to entice people to join your list. This pre-launch page should be available to your email list, social media, and other online presence tools to generate interest.

After your project has been approved for launch on Kickstarter, you’ll be able to set up your Pre-Launch Page. There, you can share all necessary information to start building hype for your campaign, and present a direct call-to-action for backers to be notified when your project has launched.

The Mayku team held interactive workshops at local makerspaces to demonstrate their product, Formbox, in the months leading up to their launch. It helped them spread the word, and resulted in photos and videos they could include on their project page.

Activate the Kickstarter community

Design and Technology projects on Kickstarter typically receive around 20 - 30 percent of their support from backers who discover them on Kickstarter’s homepage, algorithmic project collections, newsletters, and search functions. Here’s how to make your product stand out:

Focus on creating a strong project page

Kickstarter’s editorial team keeps an eye out for exceptional projects to feature as a Project We Love on the Kickstarter homepage, newsletters, and social media. There’s no sure way to get into a newsletter, but start by choosing a hi-res image and telling your story in a thoughtful, authentic way.

Try to get lift from automated discovery

Kickstarter automatically surfaces projects to potential backers browsing the site through features like New and Noteworthy (i.e. newly launched and given the Projects We Love badge), Recommended for You (relevant to the user’s interests), ‘Search,’ and more. While a number of factors influence these choices, gaining momentum by lining up backers and visitors from day one of your campaign definitely helps.

Kickstarter has a powerful community, but it shouldn’t be your only plan

Expect pledges from the Kickstarter community to be a healthy minority. While the support of Kickstarter’s community can be powerful, most campaigns drive the majority of their pledges through their own outreach efforts, with Kickstarter’s community providing an added bonus.

Pitch your project to the press

You don’t need to hire a marketing or PR agency to succeed—just a little pre-launch planning and strategic outreach.

Focus on your top ten target publications and be strategic in your approach

What are the 10 publications that you think can have a real impact on your campaign? If you need ideas, look at similar projects on Kickstarter and see who has shown an interest. Then prepare a Dropbox or Google Drive folder with hi-res press assets. This is one of the first things journalists will ask for if they decide to cover a launch.

Make tailored pitches to specific journalists

Instead of sending a general email pitch, research specific journalists who are writing for those publications and tailor pitches to them. Become familiar with their work and what interests them—you may even develop a rapport in advance by commenting on specific pieces or striking up a conversation on Twitter. For more tips on pitching to the press, this piece by Kickstarter’s own communications director may be helpful.

Create a press assets folder

Collect high-resolution images (free from any text or graphic overlays) and video into a single, well-organized folder, including image credits and any other information a journalist might need. Link to it in your email pitches and even on your Kickstarter project page.

Show, don’t tell, with product demos

Offer journalists a demo so they can understand the actual experience of using or interacting with your project. If you’re attending a trade fair, try to get the press list in advance and invite journalists to your booth. If you live in the same city, offer to stop by their offices to demo. If not, consider arranging a press tour to a few key cities. If you have extra product samples, ship them to an interested journalist’s office.

The Flit e-bike team gave dozens of test rides to journalists and the general public before launch, hoping to turn those first riders into evangelists of their campaign.‌ ‌

The possibilities of digital advertising

These days, many ambitious creators in Design and Technology turn to Facebook or Google ads to help build their communities before or during a project launch. While it may be effective for some projects, it’s important to keep an eye on your budget to avoid eating into your overall margin (i.e. the money you have available to deliver each product).

Do your research

If you don’t have experience with digital advertising, consider hiring an agency or consultant to help you. Locate an agency or individual who comes recommended. A great agency will be honest and transparent, won’t lock you into any onerous contracts, and will take the time to understand your goals.

Be wary of solicitations and offers from companies that sound too good to be true—some of these may end up in your Kickstarter inbox after you launch. Remember that you are responsible for any actions, like spam, that an agency may take in your name.

As a start, you can visit our Experts page for a list of marketing agencies and other campaign consultants who experienced Kickstarter creators recommend.

Use tools to track and optimize your outreach and marketing efforts

Once you launch, your project dashboard will provide an at-a-glance tracking of overall project funding, top pledge referers by domain, and reward selection breakdown. Creators can also generate custom referral codes to track the conversion of their efforts on this dashboard. For access to more data and deeper, we provide Google Analytics integration. This tool enables creators to track and analyze the source of traffic and pledges at a more granular level.

Get more advice like this on our Design & Tech creator resource page.