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Over the past three years, I’ve spent a good deal of money on Kickstarter projects — mostly (but not exclusively) board games. I’ve grown pretty accustomed to getting updates about delays in delivering the rewards. For me, as a blogger and reviewer, I’m constantly receiving something in the mail anyway, so these delays generally don’t bother me quite as much. Hey, maybe by the time that board game finally arrives, I’ll be caught up enough to sit down and play it. (Note: this is not likely.)
Of course, delivering late shouldn’t be the standard for Kickstarter. People should be able to figure out how long it will take them to deliver a product before they even create a Kickstarter listing. CNN had two articles in December that I found pretty enlightening about Kickstarter delays, and if you’re considering running a crowd-funding campaign, please give these a read. 9 Reasons Kickstarter Projects Ship Late and Why 84% of Kickstarter’s Top Projects Shipped Late. Some things are unavoidable: Apple’s switch to the Lightning adapter for its iDevices threw a wrench into many projects based on the 30-pin connector, prompting one project creator to issue the largest-ever Kickstarter refund. There have been several projects where key people involved have died, gotten sick, left the project, had babies — okay, that last one shouldn’t be so unexpected — and that can cause delays.
But really, what I see time and time again are two main reasons: shipping and popularity.
Ok, first the shipping problem. See that pile of boxes in the photo above? Do you have room for that many boxes in your living room? I don’t. Or rather, I don’t if I want to actually use the room for anything but a shipping station. Printing out that many packages, and then getting them to the post office, is not going to be something you can do in your off-hours. If you aren’t a distribution center, then you better have some pretty big favors to call in, or you’re going to be spending vacation hours packaging and labeling for a while.
This is, of course, compounded by popularity. You wouldn’t think popularity is a bad thing for a crowd-funded project, right? But if you had a brilliant idea of making a couple dozen handmade doodads and you have no idea how you would make, say, several thousand, then limit your project. It’s not that hard. Kickstarter allows you to have limited backer levels — only 50 backers can get this reward, 20 on this one, etc. Even if you don’t think your project is going to be wildly successful, if you don’t have a way to handle more than 500 backers, then don’t promise more than 500. A lot of art-based projects have rewards involving signed books, original sketches, and so on — think about how much time it will take to sign, oh, 2,000 copies of a book. Jake Parker’s Antler Boy (pictured above) had just over 2,000 backers — and by my calculations, that ended up being over 2,300 signatures on books alone, not counting original sketches.
I took a look at my own backer history. I’ve backed just about 100 projects that had deliverable rewards, 28 of which have promised dates either January 2013 or later (so they’re not here yet).
Kickstarter only started requiring project creators to give estimated delivery dates starting around October 2011, so I had about 25 projects that are unknowns, with no promised date. Of those 25, I’ve received all but three of them: two iPad games and one comic book, the earliest of which received its funding in May 2011 and still hasn’t delivered.
Of the remaining 47 projects which have past their promised delivery dates, 11 were delivered on time, 18 delivered late, and 18 I’m still waiting on. The late projects were an average of 2 months late, with some as high as 5 months behind schedule. Of course, that doesn’t include the “still waiting,” which are an average of 4 months behind, including three that were promised in April of 2012 that I haven’t received yet.
When I wrote “How Not to Kickstart Your Project” back in September, it was mostly advice about marketing — not hitting me up for your project that has nothing to do with my interests, asking for a review when you’ve got less than a week left, and so on. But if you’re looking into Kickstarter or other crowd-funding platforms, do some due diligence before you launch. Make sure you have contingency plans for a hugely popular project, both in terms of manufacturing and the logistics of shipping. Figure out how much things actually cost so you don’t end up losing money on the deal. Board game designers: listen to this Funding the Dream podcast by Richard Bliss in which he talks to Michael Lee of Panda Games about actually manufacturing a board game.
If your project is running late, update your backers and tell them why. Be honest.
But know that if your honest reason is “I didn’t anticipate how long it would take me to ship 5,000 boxes in my spare time” then I’ll consider that a pretty lame excuse.