I will not back your Kickstarter project

Who am I to talk about Kickstarter? I’ve started 6, yes s-i-x, campaigns. Two of them were underdeveloped ideas back in the early days when people were still figuring out what Kickstarter actually was (and they failed). One was a project that I put a solid three months of work into, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. One project I relaunched and became one of my two successfully funded projects, one short documentary and one short narrative film. I’ve been to the school of Kickstarter and back.

Visiting my profile on Kickstarter shows I’ve officially backed 59 projects. One project failed to meet its funding goal (so no one was charged), and another is currently funding.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that running a Kickstarter project is an immense responsibility. These are real people, giving you real money, to make something real.

Kickstarter is not a store. That much is clear. But it’s also clear with the rewards system that there’s an expectation of projects to be completed — or at least the process shared along the way of a failed vision. That’s the idea—you help support an artist or inventor and they show you the nuts and bolts of what they do. Hopefully, they launch a product or release a book or film and you get a cool token of their appreciation—maybe even that product or book or film.

I love Kickstarter. I love the idea of Kickstarter. I love that I can make a film through Kickstarter not because I have a rich uncle that can lend me $2655, but because 68 people came together and let me use their money, anywhere from $1 to $500. That’s the power of Kickstarter and it’s beautiful.

Yet, I think I’m done with Kickstarter. If a close friend launches a project, I’ll back what I can. If Joss Whedon launches a Kickstarter to bring back Firefly, I mean, come on. But I’m no longer checking the local page or the film category to see what’s new. I’m not excited about new crazy product ideas that someone dared to dream up. It’s unfortunate that even with a “successful” project that eventually delivers its rewards, you can still feel burnt.

Below are some stats on projects I’ve backed.

  •  17 out of 57 projects have delivered their rewards (another 5 projects I opted to not receive a reward).

Of those 17 delivered projects…

  •  6 projects have delivered on time.
  •  2 projects delivered within 3 months.
  •  4 projects delivered 3-6 months late.
  •  1 project delivered 6-12 months late.
  •  2 projects delivered 1 year after funding.*
  •  2 projects delivered more than 2 years after funding.*

Of the 35 remaining projects that have yet to be delivered…

  •  1 project is 2 years late.
  •  2 projects are 1 year late.
  •  21 were due between January and November of 2013.
  •  4 are due this month.
  •  7 have delivery dates sometime in 2014 or 2015.

*Before Kickstarter required estimated delivery dates, but yeah… those were late.

There are two major issues with projects on Kickstarter. The first is often forgivable. The second issue is more prominent, and really is at the heart of my issue with Kickstarter.

  1. No one knows how to estimate when a project will be completed. At best, with a perfect success rate from here on out, no more than a third of the projects I’ve backed will deliver on time.
  2. Project creators woefully under-communicate throughout the process.

The lesson from the first issue is simple: Take the amount of time you think you need to finish your project and double it. Maybe triple it. No one will complain if you deliver a product 6 months early. People will grow frustrated if you deliver a project 1 year late. Under promise and over deliver.

This second issue is nearly universal, but it also has a simple solution.

Many fail to do something as simple as respond to an email. I currently have no fewer than a half dozen comments out to project creators that have not been responded to… innocent enough things like, “How’s it going?” or “Any update? Hope all is well.” Some of these comments have been ignored for months.

That’s not right.

But that’s unfortunately common on Kickstarter.

No, creators don’t owe us a product or book or film for our pledge. Kickstarter is not a store. Creators do owe us the courtesy of communication and showing us the process of the project—that is what Kickstarter is all about.

At least one project hasn’t updated or responded to backer comments since December 2012. Its estimated delivery date was January 2012.

Until there’s some type of accountability, until project creators universally feel the responsibility of their accomplishment (many raising tens of thousands or more), no I will not back your Kickstarter project.

I really hate that it’s come to this. I believe Kickstarter changes the creative landscape, and it will continue to revolutionize it without me, but it needs people like me. I’m the person who gets my mom or my wife to back projects. I’m an advocate and a success story. But they’ve lost me.

From Kickstarter’s Terms of Service, something every creator agrees to before launching a project:

What should creators do if they’re having problems completing their project?
If problems come up, creators are expected to post a project update (which is emailed to all backers) explaining the situation. Sharing the story, speed bumps and all, is crucial. Most backers support projects because they want to see something happen and they’d like to be a part of it. Creators who are honest and transparent will usually find backers to be understanding.
It’s not uncommon for things to take longer than expected. Sometimes the execution of the project proves more difficult than the creator had anticipated. If a creator is making a good faith effort to complete their project and is transparent about it, backers should do their best to be patient and understanding while demanding continued accountability from the creator.
If the problems are severe enough that the creator can’t fulfill their project, creators need to find a resolution. Steps could include offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers.

What’s so hard about that?

To project creators out there: I know it’s not an easy road. I’ve been there. I’ve run into hurdles. I’ve spent my own money to finish projects and deliver all the rewards.

The one thing you have is communication. Too many people are afraid to be honest, to admit failure or struggle, but from my experience, people respect you when you’re honest. People respect you when you share lessons you’ve learned. Most of all, people are patient when you’re kind. Be kind.

Heisenberg: A genius, a madman, a little bit lucky

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