in Life Optimization

What I learned from Kickstarting and writing a family book

My family self published Life is a Game: Group Games for Kids, Teens, and Adults this summer, with a successful $5,000 Kickstarter campaign. I even turned down a paid summer internship in order to be the project manager. I looked forward to flexible hours, the chance to work from home, and to an easy enough project: our book is so awesome, it would surely sell itself! Things turned out a bit differently. Here’s what I learned:

Crowd funding is complicated

First off, you have to figure out which platform to use. Kickstarter is the most well known, but projects must be approved by their team beforehand and must have a designated funding period, after which no donations will be accepted. Plus, if you do not meet your stated goal, you don’t keep any of the money. Crowdtilt generally has more events versus Kickstarter’s hardware and artistic products, while Indiegogo allows more flexibility – you have the option to keep any money you earn, regardless of the goal (I’ve also heard that Indiegogo has better marketing analytics tools). Then there’s Crowdhoster, which lets you build your own open source fundraising page and continue to recieve orders after the fundraising period is over.

We chose Kickstarter, since our book is a physical product. Even that choice brings up more issues: how long to make the funding period, what to do if it fails, how to make a snazzy video, and so forth. Turns out 4 weeks is statistically the best option – more than that and people lose interest, less than that and  funders miss their chance. (Here’s some helpful tips/resources to get started)

Moral: Do your research before deciding on the platform for your campaign, and choose the one that fits with your product.

Marketing is important – and hard!

There’s a saying: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will come knocking on your door.” Sadly, the world won’t know about your mousetrap unless you tell them, no matter how awesome it is. We knew our book is filled with worthy games because we have tested each and every game personally, but the world at large doesn’t know a thing about our family, doesn’t trust us as game experts, and doesn’t care that we’re launching a book. It was up to us to convince them every step of the way.

Good marketing is required for product success, no matter how kickass it is technically. That’s something many businesses forget – they assume that “if you build it, they will come”. (This is the E-Myth: that all you need is technical skills to start a business.

There’s a science to marketing that is difficult to figure out if you don’t know the nuts and bolts. There are right and wrong answers to establishing virality – (this breakdown from someone who got over 3 million views is a good primer). I found myself wishing that our product was controversial like Tucker Max or American Apperal, to make things easier. (More on anger as the best agent for virality from  [publicity agent of the above] Ryan Holiday in his stellar book “Trust Me I’m Lying“.

We pushed our book to all local media outlets, and tried to use contacts at larger national agencies to slot us in. We sent emails to blogs who post quirky family stuff, like BoingBoing and Wired’s Geekdad. We even targeted editors who had recently written posts about the national trend towards interacting with screens rather than humans and inquired as to whether they could continue their investigation with a piece on our book, which helps you fix exactly that problem.

Nobody even responded except for two of our local town news outlets, with whom we had already had established connections. It’s humbling how little the world cares about you when you try to make it notice. (A friend of mine who started Yes Man Watches noted that it took him 70 emails to Huffington Post contributors in order to get 5 responses, and only one of these converted into an article.)

Moral: There’s a formidable wall between news editors and the public. The only way that you can break through is with stubborn perseverance, a media-friendly spin on your story, or by knowing an insider.  Marketing your product is as difficult as making it.

Whether due to a lack of the above or something else, our successful  campaign was 98% funded by generous friends, rather than digital passerby who heard the word from someone other than a Breier. I regard the project as a marketing failure because of this, but consider myself lucky that we have friends willing to trust us enough with their money to make it happen.

Human Resources is under appreciated

Since I was Project Manager, I had to rope in the family members, the illustrator, and the designer to make sure that they contributed what was necessary to make the book happen on time. This turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the project for me, since nobody else was working on it full time and regarded the tasks as secondary importance.

We had some heated discussions over how to do certain parts of the book and what was the best way to execute our vision (which turned out to differ from person to person). This strained family relations and led to some terse dinners. Family members would snap at me for reminding them about deadlines, saying that I was nagging. Getting people to work together and bring a group project to fruition is tough.

Moral: Make sure to clearly inform workers about the deliverables expected of them, and agree over specific deadlines for each task in writing. That way, it’s up to them to do what they promised, instead of you nagging.

I appreciate things more
Now that I have seen how much work goes into even the simplest of objects, I have a newfound respect for the world around me. I look at everything from park benches to software widgets and marvel “Somebody imagined that thing, and went through every step required to bring it into reality. Somebody designed, pitched, and fought over every single minuscule aspect of that object – from the fonts to the shape.” The fact that almost everything you see in daily life was willed into existence by a human make the world around us seem incredible. Yet nobody notices this truth until they personally endure the trial required to make their own creation.

Moral: Nothing man made is there by accident – somebody fought to make it a reality. We live in an incredible world!

After all that work, wrangling, and writing, we still had to publish the dang thing, which we did with Amazon’s CreateSpace platform. That process is enough to constitute a whole different blog post.  (and that I’m still immersed in, in trying to get an ebook version of our beautiful physical brick online. )