Startup Diaries from the US: How I Funded my Company with Kickstarter

Carin Luna-Ostaseski fulfilled a personal dream when she launched her own brand of Scotch, which she funded using Kickstarter. If you've ever wondered how to create a successful campaign on this popular funding platform, look no further than her comprehensive guide.

SIA Scotch Whisky was successfully funded in November exceeding my goal of $39,000 for production of my first run. Many friends and strangers asked me how I did it? Well, here you go….

First off, I should say, my situation is quite unique. There are very few projects on Kickstarter for spirits brands. The challenge here is most people are used to pre-ordering a product they are funding, and they receive the product as a reward for their contribution.

Kickstarter rules prohibit giving alcohol as a reward, so it takes clear explanation on the part of the project owner and some very creative rewards instead.

The financial rewards, while amazing, are dwarfed by the publicity and exposure that listing a project on Kickstarter may bring. In my case, this was remarkable.

I was able to share what I was doing with the world, and had people asking me how they could order it, and when was it coming to their state, or country.

Kickstarter is not free money by any means. It requires a hard work and a lot of social networking, but was such a rewarding experience in how many new connections I’ve made and how much enthusiasm was generated around the project.

Many friends had no idea I had been working on this, as I was a little nervous in coming out and asking for help, but once I got the courage to go this route, and share with the world what I was working on- the world came out to support me.

Reaching out to old contacts was also really great in terms of reconnecting with former colleagues and friends. Some of the most unexpected people contributed and had I not asked out of shyness or reservation, they would have never known what I was up to. Many people did not respond at all, and that’s okay.

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

Before you begin…

  • Research your product fits with Kickstarter Guidelines (you have the option to try IndiGoGo.com or other crowd-sourcing routes if Kickstarter does not accept your type of project) There are specific prohibited items and subject matter you’d be surprised by: http://www.kickstarter.com/help/guidelines Mine was tricky because as I mentioned above, I could not pre-sell my product, nor could I give it away as a reward, so I had to get very creative about my rewards.
  • Make sure you join Kickstarter well before you launch your campaign and be sure to fund a few projects. I read that Kickstarter likes to see that you are an active part of the community and I’ve heard from others that funded my project that we both funded similar projects.
  • Read every page of the Kickstarter School- it is very ,very helpful- I can’t stress this enough. http://www.kickstarter.com/help/school It gives great advice on writing your description, creating your video and setting up your rewards
  • Set up your Amazon payments account- this takes a little verification time, so be sure to factor this in early in the process.
  • Collect your list of personal contacts. Export your Hotmail, Gmail, Linkedin and Facebook contacts and get them all sorted/cleaned up.
  • Organize your Press and Media list. You won’t have time to build your audience during your campaign- it WILL become a part-full-time job and that’s not the time to do this work. This is pre-game and necessary homework, you should have this for your business anyway, so do it now. Collect local publications, trade/industry writers for magazines and blogs.
  • Take some professional photos of yourself, your product and you with your product. I was lucky to have an amazing photographer (www.sarahpeetphotography) help me capture the essence of my brand. Have a variety so that it’s not the same photo on various websites. Many people will be asking you for these. Have them posted somewhere easy to download so you don’t need to constantly email files.
  •  You’ll need a good logo and artwork to really sell the professionalism of the project. (This is one place you have to sink in some significant time and/or money ahead of time.)

Make an Amazing Video

The reality of our short-attention span theater peers is that we prefer to watch a video over reading many paragraphs of dense content. As a designer, I was very picky about my video. I storyboarded it out (literally a script with small squares with drawings of each shot in my mind about how I wanted it to play out (Introduction, opening shots of me, shots of product, process, call to action, etc). Keep it short. I saw in my stats that only 42% of people made it through to the end of my 4 minute video.

And that’s where I had the most important parts about my project. Had I to do it again- I’d put the more critical bits towards the beginning and keep it to less than 2 minutes.

I had bookmarked some past Kickstarter videos I really liked – both in narrative and in execution and reached out to the videographers mentioned in the credits since I figured they had KS experience. I was surprised by how expensive some of these were, but in the end found a great videographer who helped me work my script and with the editing process. If you are in the Bay Area, I highly recommend Jan Sturmann (www.albinocrow.com). He really helped me get over my nerves by having me face him rather than the camera and posed questions to me which were edited out later so that I felt like I was telling him a story rather than memorizing a script.

I also had the help of a dear friend KC Baker (www.kcbbaker.com) help me out with some on-screen speaking coaching. KC helps women find their voice. She gave me some excellent pointers and did some on-screen coaching with me to help me get clear about what I wanted to say and how to communicate it in a way that felt compelling AND authentic.

Write a Great Description

Use the opening pitch to lead into a 500-to-1000 word detailed description of the project, its goals, and what a backer gets in exchange for their early pledge.

Find a good place (near the top) to sell yourself as well; potential backers need to have confidence in your abilities, and highlighting your experience can help make this happen. Sprinkle the content with excellent photos, and remember to use a very distinct photo for your thumbnail.You can even take a screenshot of your project and Photoshop it to see how it will look on the page once it is live.

Some More Tricks

Status update on Google Chat (I kept a running % funded with a link to my campaign on my status, I hear it got many people excited).

I also went through all my old email contacts, I gathered emails addresses from old email accounts and of people I hadn't seen in years and years. I personally wrote to so many people, which seems to be the way to go. I posted on LinkedIn boards, Twitter, Facebook constantly.

I personally thanked everyone, who contributed, with a custom message of thanks.

The exposure your brand gets from Kickstarter is really amazing and you meet a lot of cool people throughout the process, especially since this is something that is relatively new to people who are not in the Tech space. In my case, spirits, it’s VERY new, so still something worth talking about in the media. However, as a San Francisco story, it’s old news, as there have been so many KS stories in the press, didn’t get the local coverage I had hoped for.

Kickstarter Behind-the-Scenes

Try to see if you know anyone who works there. http://www.kickstarter.com/team shows names of all the employees- maybe via Linkedin to see if you are connected to anyone who works there. If you become a Staff Pick, it seems to give you very high profile placement. Unfortunately I got very little attention (sometimes you had to click 8 times to even get to it!) so mine was a true feat of lots of hustle and hard work!

If you know someone on the editorial team of Kickstarter, reach out to them, they make the decisions on what to what to and what not to feature based on a number of considerations. If your project is live, they have seen you and know you are there.

There isn't really a Kickstarter feature that will get you to the finish line. 9,999 out of 10,000 it is your own outreach efforts - spreading the word, getting people excited about what you are up, and helping them understand why pledging now will make the difference - that will get you there.

Share your positive press. People will be happy to hear it, and happy to help you make your dream a reality.

Promote on Facebook A LOT. Give progress reports on % of your goal and tell your friends to tell their friends. but don't just post every day. It will annoy your friends. Actually send individual emails or direct messages to people as some people might not be part of the Facebook friend feed AND people feel more obliged to contribute if you reach out to them directly (they can't hide behind- “Oh- I didn't see it”, or “Oh I don't check Facebook”). Call people out directly. If you are serious about your fundraising, now is the time. Don’t be shy. Ask for help.

Thank people individually when they contribute and directly ask them in that email to send the link to 2 or 3 friends - or tag them out of Facbeook that they think might enjoy these.

I read somewhere that if you get to 30% in the first week- there's a higher chance that you will get funded.

(Or so the stats say – see below). So make a plan for your self- every day spend 1 hour writing thank you’s, 2 hours emailing people directly, 2 hours sending emails to the media (gather your press list now- it's super time consuming, and once you are at it, it become almost a full-time job!).

Kickstarter’s statistics show that 90% of projects that reach 30% of their goal are successful (i.e. reaching 100% or more by the deadline). Given this, you want to do everything possible to hit that 30% “tipping point” as early as possible, and the lower you can set the final fundraising goal, the better your odds of doing so.

And when the project is fully funded- you still have to wait until the end to have it complete. Many people's credit cards will be declined or errored- this can be for many reasons- the card they used is now expired, was lost and replaced, etc. Be sure to write to them a nice note to update it as you need the full amount funded to get all of it. AND Kickstarter and Amazon take out a lot of fees (mine total between the 2 of them was 8% so keep that in mind. AND it takes about 14 days after the project is complete for the money to clear completely. Fulfillment on these rewards is also expensive and time consuming, so start the process early (find your t-shirt manufacturer, calculate shipping costs, etc.)

Other Advice to Read Online

http://craigmod.com/journal/kickstartup/  and http://www.stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter/
These are by far the best read on how to set up reward levels, space out promotions, etc. 

Google Alerts: Set up a Google alert for your Kickstarter campaign. That way if anyone writes about your campaign on a blog or website, you see it. Once you see it you post it on Facebook. That way you have more opportunities to talk about your campaign without looking like you’re talking about your campaign. Awesome idea, I know.

In 2013, Carin Luna-Ostaseski fulfilled a personal dream when she launched her own brand of Scotch – SIA Scotch Whisky.  Distilled in Scotland and  matured, blended and bottled by Douglas McGibbon & Co., Ltd., SIA is a blend of Speyside, Highlands and Islay malts, specifically created to appeal to a contemporary palate. 

For Carin, creating something tangible has been a real passion, considering most of her 15-year professional career has been spent in the virtual world, designing websites, mobile applications and digital products for companies such as ABC News.com, Reuters, Revlon, Bloomingdales and Sun Microsystems.  A pioneer and expert in the area of Internet advertising sponsorships, she has created successful consumer products campaigns for clients including Motorola, Compaq, Honda, Lowes, Citibank, Sony and IBM.

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