You might have seen his name in the comments in different Kickstarter advice groups. I usually try to do everything this guy says and I think you should too. This week I have spoken to Timothy Cassavetes, one of the top Kickstarter advisors I know. Read below and understand why.
Tell us a bit about yourself and why people should listen to your advice.
I’m a late thirties guy, living in the frozen north, who has enjoyed a somewhat tempestuous, irascible, yet loving and generous relationship with Kickstarter since 2010. Since that time, I’ve helped run 19 projects from start to finish, given advice on 60 or 70 live projects to various creators, (I’m currently doing that now with 2 live projects, Tao Long being one of them) and given feedback on over 900 since 2013, probably more. I think I’ve amassed enough knowledge and experience with running, managing and giving advice on Kickstarter projects, that I could easily consider myself in the Top 25 of “go to” people for anything related to Kickstarter. I feel James Mathe, and Jamey Stegmaier round out the Top 2 in that regard when it comes to Boardgames, and Richard Bliss would be a definite contender for “the circle” when it comes to a general swath of Kickstarter projects.
Kickstarter for me, is an amazing tool, it’s the great democratic soap box, anyone, and I mean, anyone, can run a project, fund or fail. It’s the great equalizer, and I honestly, wouldn’t trade it for the world.
How I got into boardgames, was a little game called Kingdom Death. I was hooked the moment I saw the game, and their final goal really opened my eyes to what was possible.
What questions come up the most in the groups you admin and what is the answer to those questions?
There’s actually 6 that come up all the time, and I can tell you, I copy and paste my answers from previous answers, because, 9/10 times, its exactly the same. I’ll admit, I edit the C&P for the particular case. But here’s a tldr version of each;
- Stretch Goals; Hide them until after you launch, if you have to put them up, don’t pigeonhole yourself by putting the “goal” amounts for them, esp. if your project looks like it’s going to go gangbusters. And limit yourself to 12 or less, anymore than that, people will think whatever your project is, is incomplete.
- Launch Date; You should only ever launch on a Mon/Tues between 8am and Noon Pacific, and end on Thursday around midnight pacific time (sometimes that Friday for some people). Never launch or end on the same week of a Holiday, and stay out of December if you can at all help it unless you have an audience that’ll get you funded in the first 4 days. I used to say, and still do think, July/August is a bad month, so occasionally I’ll say to not do a project, but if you have an audience, it doesn’t matter when you launch really.
- Early Birds; Don’t do them. Unless you have such an astoundingly large audience you know you’re going to fund on day 1, anything else is a waste of time, and you’re just going to alienate backers. I don’t even bother with projects with EB’s, I will barely even look at them. And I’m not alone, many, many backers hate them.
- Shipping; If your shipping is more than 30% of your “main” project item pledge level, your shipping is too high, fold it into your pledge tiers. You want to keep shipping in an around 5%-10% ideally.
- Delivery Dates; That first delivery date you think you’re going to deliver for? Yeah. No. You’re wrong. You aren’t delivering when you say you are. Your delivery date is off by months and months. It’s almost, always wrong. Twice in the history of over 900 projects I’ve given advice on, have people actually delivered when they said they would. Twice. Any project that lists their delivery date at 7 months or less from the END date of their project, isn’t going to be on time. I would bet $1000 with 50 to 1 odds, and win every single time. The reasons are always varied, but I tell everyone, “move your delivery date up”, to at least 10 months from launch day.
- Marketing Companies (After Launch); If they come to you. They’re scams. Or worse, delusional marketers selling snake oil. I don’t personally know of a single company that has EVER helped push a project over the finishing line that wasn’t already going to on their own accord. It just isn’t a thing.
What question do you think should come up the most?
Beyond the above six, I think questions like, “is my art good enough”, “is my pitch video too long?” (yes, it almost always is, over 1 minute 20 seconds is too long in my opinion), “do I have too many pledge tiers?” (if you have more than 7, yes, yes you do), “do you think my project page is complete?”.
Honestly, I could probably go on, but, those are the important ones I think.
If you were creating your first game now. What would you do to build up a following before you launch?
IF my art was done, and I was 90% done, I think I’d start out about 6 months out from my project launch date, and I’d get to “promo’ing” my art, talking about what the game was, asking questions of other boardgamers, having prototypes sent out and played at in gaming stores.
I would probably print out a good 50 prototype copies of my game, and give them out to people in various places, like 25 to the US, 10 to Canada, 2 to the UK, 2 to Germany, 1 to Italy, 1 to Spain, 1 to France, 1 to Denmark, 3 to Australia, 1 to Singapore and 1 to Tokyo, and get people to demo them for me at their FLGS. I would do up sell sheets, press kits, and do giveaways/contests like, stickers, pins, swag etc, on my website/bgg, and do a t-shirt contest or two or four (with the art of the game) on Twitter and Facebook. Make sure to do some posts on Imgur, Instagram, tumblr, reddit. Get booked up for reviews, have ad buys ready to go for BGG, Kicktraq, and Project Wonderful, other places, local media, get FLGS stores I’ve developed friendships with let me post up ads about it with QR codes, hit some conventions, gencon, pax, etc.
What is your best marketing tip?
Don’t be boring. Be excited. If you can’t talk at length about your project, I personally feel you aren’t invested in it enough. And that’s something that shows. Be genuine, be focused, and don’t let the Debbie downers of the world suck you into the “that’s not going to work” or “why are you spending time/money on that?”. Listen to your gut.
Sometimes, you do a thing. Sometimes it works, you get lucky and its great, other times, you do poorly and it’s gut-wrenching.
If there is one thing you wish every creator knew before they launched, what would it be?
Kickstarter is Risk. Backers and Creators need to be ok and know that, so often they don’t. There is one, very, very hard lesson every creator should know. And it comes in two parts.
Firstly, just because your project funded, that doesn’t make it successful.
What makes a project successful, is delivering on time, making a great product, creating your brand, building your audience base, and ensuring you can get those backers to pledge for your next project. So many creators fail at this, even when they fund.
The second, is that as much as it’s a common enough corollary, that Projects fail (example being not funded at all), however, even with full funding, sometimes during the delivery phase, sometimes during the manufacturing phase, sometimes, things just don’t work out. Maybe it’s your fault, maybe your manufacturer is to blame, maybe, the ship carrying your freight, sunk and is lying in the bottom of the ocean.
As long as you didn’t deliberately go out of your way to steal people’s money, it’s ok to fail even after you’ve funded. It happens. Don’t mortgage your house over it, it’s been done, it’s bad. Accept failure as an option.
The beginning and the end of the campaign are when most of the backer’s pledge. What’re your main tips to handle the mid-campaign drop?
Video Updates make things better. That’s my #1 tip for anyone for the “Lull”. And make the updates, regardless of video or no, interesting. Have mystery stretch goals to keep your backer’s eyes glued to the project page.
How often should creators send out updates and what should they include?
You need about 12 to 20 updates during a 30-day project run. All updates should include “art” or “content” you haven’t talked about in the main pitch page. Or, further expand on what that content is. Almost every stretch goal should be an update into itself. I think though if you have 9-12 stretch goals, you should limit the updates for those to include, 2-3 stretch goals. This way you maximize interest. I wouldn’t ever go more than 20 updates during a 30-day project, information overload is a thing.
First 24 hours, Last 48, Last 24, Last Hour, Funded, End of Project (if Funded isn’t on your last day), 50% of Goal. One every Monday one every Thursday.
You have a very clear meaning about how creators should reveal their stretch goals?
For me, personally, its one my pet peeves. Time and again I say to creators, don’t put up your stretch goals until you’ve hit day 2. I’ve seen projects put up 4-12 stretch goals with “$$ posted”, and on day 1, they pass 2 or 3 of them, which means they’ve underestimated their audience, and worse, they’re now stuck with where they’ve put them.
More than once, a creator has scrambled to come up with more stretch goals when they’ve already hit the ones they came up with because the backers are all clamoring for them and that can cause a lot of problems down the road. I actually get pretty annoyed when those same creators come back asking for help, when if they listened to me, or any of the dozen others who’ve all likely said the same thing, and it just comes to the point that we’re have to say, “yeah, we can’t help you now, you’ve already launched, there’s not much to be done to fix it, maybe on the relaunch?” And we wish them good luck.
It’s not meant to be mean; it’s just there really isn’t anything we can do for them once the project is live. Day 2 or 3 has passed, and the bulk of backers have already had a looksee, so it’s too late, they’ve passed on the project and gone looking for others. And that goes for generally anything in regards to advice.
When you’ve already had eyes on the project, backers go on to other projects if they don’t “feel it”. Once a backer passes on your project, 90% of the time, they don’t come back.
What are the most important elements of a Kickstarter page?
There isn’t one most important. The whole is important, ignore one over another at your own peril.
There are 3 aspects to a page, that ultimately determine your backer, new or returning; the video, the pitch, the pledge tiers, and each one, needs to be right. And by right, I mean, each one needs to entice a certain kind of backer.
Understanding backers, the way I do, means I see a project from perhaps a different viewpoint than many others. I don’t actually care what the project is, I care about the technical aspects of a projects and that’s how I look at a project I give advice on.
There are 4 types of backers, the Pitch Video backer, the Pledge Tier backer, the Pitch Page backer, and the Whole Package backer. Out of those 4 main backer types, you have 20 subsets of them.
The Pitch Video backer only cares about the video, doesn’t even bother reading the whole pitch page, is prone to just skim it looking for buzz words, and then looks at the pledge tiers and go “I’m willing to spend xyz dollars based on the video. These backers, spend the most money on projects, these are the people you make high prices pledge tiers for. Unfortunately, they’re also the most likely to back out if there’s a new shiny project on the horizon.
The Pledge Tier backer skims the whole page, video, pitch, everything, and if they like the pretty colours, they go, “OH, GIMME!”, and then they look at pledges, and based on what he or she perceives as “good value”. They generally tend to ask the question “For $30, am I getting the same thing I could get at an FLGS? Or is it a better Deal”. They look at shipping, they look at delivery date, if it’s within the “range” they’ve already predetermined, they’ll back, and often they’re the “fire and forget” type of backer. Once they back, they rarely unpledge. They’re your mid-range backer, they tend to go above the norm when it comes backers. These types will almost always get add-ons and special editions, they’re all about the extras.
The Pitch Page backer is the most detail orientated of the lot. They will almost always ignore the video entirely on first blush, then they nitpick spelling, grammar, shipping costs, the FAQ, updates, everything. But if everything looks good, they’ll back, they’re the most likely to advocate for you, and are the most numerous of backers. They also happen to be the cheapest, as they rarely spend above $30 USD.
The whole package backer, this is a new one, I haven’t met many, but they look at the overall scope of the project, and decide if you’re reaching too high, or if you’re over your head. They are polar opposites of the Pledge tier backer, these guys, will wait until the last 48 hours, if you’ve funded, they’ll more likely to back the project, it’s nowhere near to funding? They’ll walk.
If you were to create a board game, what would it be?
I have a boardgame I’m creating, and it’s still in the dev stage, ok, it’s been in the dev stage for 2 ½ years, I may never get it done, but I’m hopeful. It utilizes a 3D game board, and it’ll have 150+ miniatures in it. The closest game I can think it would come to would be a cross of Axis & Allies meets Risk with a hint of Lords of Waterdeep.
Do you have any role models in the Kickstarter industry?
I have a few main people I look to for, I guess, guidance, thoughts, and general advice, or just want to bounce ideas off, or read/listen to podcasts and blogs when it comes to projects. They are, James Mathe, Richard Bliss, Chern Ng Ing and Jamey Stegmaier, these 4 are my heroes, collectively they’ve made millions on KS. And while I may not always agree with them when it comes to certain ideas about Kickstarter and how to run projects, they’ve got my utmost respect and admiration. I bounce ideas about projects off people all the time, I like talking about projects, it’s great.
Kingdom Death got me into Kickstarter in a big way, and James, Jamey and Richard have kept me there.
Anything else you want to add?
I didn’t just spontaneously gain a wealth of knowledge, it took a lot of time, energy, and research. A lot of talking to creators and backers, and bouncing ideas off people for years in the various groups that I run. And I honestly think they have helped to contribute and a helped sculpt my core beliefs, my thoughts on KS in general, and I think without saying a huge thank you to all of them, would be a disservice to them all.
They are in no particular order; Bernard Hamaker, Damien Lavizzo, Andrew Zorowitz, Charles Wright, Kim Brebach, Ross Currie, Gonzalo Bisi, Seth Hiatt, Dan Roland, Gregory Carslaw, Daniel Zayas, Odd Hackwelder, Joel Colombo, Dave Knighthawk, Doug Levandowski, Nicholas Vitek, Jason Glover, Davy Wagnarok, Stephen S Gibson, Eduardo Baraf, Dominic Huang, Bruce Heard, Justin Call, Gavan Brown, Luke Peterschmidt, JR Honeycutt, and I’m sure I’m forgetting more, and for that, I say, sorry guys.
To all of them, I say a heartfelt thanks.
Tim is giving advice on Kickstarter projects in the group he currently curate, called Kickstarter Best Practices. Join the group and join the conversations 🙂