Unsuccessful Kickstarter – Lessons Learned

October 19, 2012

My newest venture: Musketeers.me recently tried to fund some new project ideas that we had, via Kickstarter: http://kck.st/QjQZho

As you can see, we weren’t successful.  In fact, we fell extremely short of our goal.  It wasn’t a failure however, because we really learned a lot about our products and made some great contacts and the beginning of a community for them.  We still plan on making these two products.  Just now they will have to be built in spare hours/cycles, instead of us dropping all consulting work and focusing on them fulltime.

But that’s not why I’m really writing this blog post, for things that we’ve learned about our products will come out in time as we do, eventually, release them.  In even better forms than we’d originally conceived.

No, I’m writing to share lessons learned about Kickstarter itself.   Now, all of us at Musketeers.me were familiar with Kickstarter.  We’d watched it, we thought we understood it.  Heck, we even googled for every possible “How to make a successful Kickstarter” article we could find and read them.   And we thought we knew what to expect.  Boy were we wrong.  So I wanted to share some of my own personal findings (some of which are directly about Kickstarter, some are more tangential)

  1. Amount of funds
    Obviously in the end, we were asking for far more money than we were able to raise.   The interesting thing is that we had already dropped our asking amount significantly.  We originally calculated that we’d really want to have $200k in order to really have the four of us really focus on making these products up to the point of being fully featured websites that could live a life of their own.   We did quickly realize as we did the math, that asking for $200k was just going to be far too much.   So we backed it down to $50k, which was the minimum we could afford to make that will let us focus 100% on these for a little while.  But, for a ‘non-physical-product’, where people were essentially prebuying a service that they couldn’t even see.  It was just too much.  Unfortunately I’m not sure if there’s anything different we could have done there.  Versus having a completely different kind of product.
  2. % of followers
    So part of the calculations that lead us to come up with our number of $50k, was based upon the size of our networks.  Between the lot of us, the Musketeers have around 5000 followers on twitter (and that’s not counting some of our extensive networks on Facebook, Google+, etc).   We erroneously made an assumption that:  “Hey, if even only 50% of our followers would chip in $20, we’ll make it!”  And we were expecting at that point for it to go viral!  (Think Big!).   However;  the reality was that we had 1% of our networks who backed us.   There’s actually a number of reasons for that, but it meant we had started from a very wrong mindset.
  3. Noisy Networks
    Everyone talks about how noisy social networking has gotten lately.  But this experience really drove it home to us.  Weeks after we had started the Kickstarter, and all four of us had been pimping it on all of our social networks.  We still constantly run into people in our network who hadn’t heard of it.  Talking to them personally, or emailing them directly, would be greeted with great applause and an instant high backing amount.   But no amount of social network traffic matched that.  (Heck, if you want to see even the worst case of that.  We still to this day run into people who think we are actively working on mojoLive, versus all the posts to the contrary about Musketeers.me)
  4. Slow contacts
    Another interesting effect of the noisy network, was how long it would take some acquantances to respond to emails, Facebook Messages, or Twitter DMs.  People that we directly reached out to in the 1st week of the campaign, were suddenly coming out of the woodwork in the last week.  Responding to us saying they thought it was a great idea, and backing us.   With us all being addicts to our social networks anyway, where any direct contact suddenly makes our phones start screaming at us for attention.  This idea was alien to us.
  5. Proper network
    We were halfway through the campaign, before we realized this one problem.  Pointed out to us by a good friend.  Simply put, the products that we are wanting to create – are not products that our own networks are the target audience for.  While some ‘tech geeks’ would be interested in these tools.  They really are marketed, if at any specific audience, at more of the self-improvement, “getting things done”, or project management networks.  We started reaching out to these once we realized that.  But since those aren’t part of our core network to begin with, it just wasn’t successful, even after days spent blind emailing prominant bloggers & contacts in that sphere.   The moral of the story here, is that since successful Kickstarter campaigns, start from tapping your own network first.  It needs to be a product that your own network is going to go bonkers over.
  6. Higher pledges
    This is a positive thing we learned which we just hadn’t expected (nor really planned for).   We assumed that noone would be interested in backing our project, if they weren’t getting a ‘good deal’ out of it.  So we value priced the primary level at $20 (for a $40 value), hoping to pull people in.   But then something happened.  People started compaining that we didn’t have higher levels.  $100, $200, $300, or higher.  Even if what was being given out was more esoteric (fun?) concepts, versus physical goods.   In the end, we found that the majority of the funding we did have pledged, came from smaller numbers of people, but at MUCH higher pledge levels than our original $20.  Had we planned for this effect appropriately, we would have started off with higher levels, and not ‘value priced’ things so much.
  7. It’s all about the video
    Finally now that we are all Kickstarter addicts … we’ve really realized the value of the video.  We spent a day putting ours together.  We shot it on high quality equipment, took a little time planning out what each person would say, spent some effort editing it together, etc.   And it was in the style of a number of Kickstarters that (previously) we’d seen be successful.   But; honestly, it was boring.  And you would see that in the statistics, where only 25% of people who started the video, watched it to completion.   During our campaign, we saw numerous campaigns kick off, who when you think about them have rather abstract concepts behind them, or are charging (in our opinions) way too much for their product.  Yet that get amazingly great, amazingly quick traction.   When you look at the one common trait of all of those campaigns?  Funny, inventive, entertaining videos.   Now thinking about it in retrospect, we are laughing our asses off at some video ideas we would have had that could have gotten the idea of the campaign across, and entertained during the process.   They would have given an emotional response to the campaign, instead of just a basic (if extremely informative) video

In the end, as I said, we’ve learned a great deal during this experience.  You certainly haven’t seen the last of Musketeers.me, and our products which we will continue to work forward on.  You also haven’t probably heard the last of us running a Kickstarter campaign.   But when we do it in the future, we will find a way to do it at a much lower price point, for something our own networks will love, with higher pledge points, and an amazingly awesome video.


Introducing: Treb – A simple framework for PHP

August 31, 2012

I announced this on twitter yesterday, but figured I should blog about it a bit more today.

As of yesterday, I published a new PHP Framework on github: Treb

Yeah, I know, the world really doesn’t need another PHP Framework, there are tons of them out there.  So why did I create this new one?   Well honestly, I didn’t set out to do so.   You see at numerous previous jobs: Digg, TripAdvisor, HiiDef, mojoLive — I’d ended up building or extending custom frameworks for those specific applications.

In all of those cases, a ‘stock’ framework just didn’t end up making sense.  They locked you into specific ways of doing things, which may not have been what you needed to do in order to scale.  While at the same time, while they provided a lot of structure, they didn’t provide certain features that I felt were necessary (such as built-in write through data caching).
So in each case, something custom got built from scratch (or something existing got customized).   After doing this essentially 4 times.  I was tired :)   With mojoLive I got the ability to take the framework that I’d written for mojoLive, to scrub it of anything specific to mojoLive, and open source it.  So I did.

The moral of the story?  It’s just that in the future now, when I need to start a new custom framework for another site, I don’t have to start from scratch again.  I can start from Treb now that it’s open sourced.   Granted right now it’s very rough as it was part of a bigger system and was just ripped out.  But it’s a good starting point.

Will anyone else end up using it?  I dunno, and that wasn’t the goal of releasing it.  I will say that of others that have used this, they enjoyed it, in it’s simplicity.  And new coders to mojoLive were committing code against it on the first day.  So that’s gotta say something.
If you’d like to know more, you can read up about it on Treb’s home, and start reading it’s documentation as well.

NOTE: I’ve already been called out for Treb not having tests.  No, it doesn’t, I wouldn’t argue if it began acquiring them, but it doesn’t have tests written for it because it’s a child of a rapid-startup-culture web application.  I plan on writing up another blog post about that soon.


Musketeers.me

August 14, 2012

[insert obligatory “I gotta start blogging more” statement here]

So I have a new endeavor that I’m putting my energies towards:  Musketeers.me

My partners and I have worked together before and wanted to continue working together.  We have a great team, and are the perfect mix of techies, project management, and design resources.

We are looking forward not only to taking on some consulting jobs, but have plans for some products of our own that we plan to launch in the coming months.  I’ll leave this post short at the moment and give more information as we continue to move forward.  In the meantime, check out our website, and I’m looking forward to an exciting ride!


No longer fun-employed: MojoLive

June 10, 2011

So it appears that the ‘cat is out of the bag’ so to speak, as one of my future coworkers, Sandy Smith, has already blogged about it.

But Sandy, myself and a few others (Who I won’t name yet) … are getting together to start up a new company called MojoLive.  As Sandy mentioned in his post, he is the CPO (Chief Product Officer) and I’m coming onboard as the CTO.

I’ve been working on seeing this happen for a while now and I’m really exited that it’s finally happening.

I’ll share more details as I can, but things are in early spinup mode right now and there isn’t much to say.   What I can share, is that we are going to be working on create a revolutionary new career management platform on the web.

Stay tuned here for more future updates!

 


How not to interview

June 2, 2011

My final post in my Job Search series.  It’s short and simple.

Employers:  Don’t “Bait and Switch” on job interviews.

Multiple times during this job hunt, I’ve had companies contact me, sounding very excited to have me, to talk to me about specific position(s) that they’d be interested in me taking.

Then, at some point in time, usually after both sides had spent a long time (and in some cases having flown me out, or having long in person interviews), the rug was pulled out from under me.  Suddenly the position was something different.  Maybe it was at a different level of responsibility.  Maybe it’s suddenly not remote work.  Maybe it’s a completely different position/technology.

Regardless, it’s something that obviously wasn’t a match for me or that they should have known I wouldn’t be interested in.

When you do this, no one is going to accept the job offer.  If you are upfront with the potential employee, then you both walk in eyes open and not only do you not waste their time but you don’t waste yours either.


Dealing with Maryland Unemployment

May 31, 2011

Unlike the last posts where I have attempted to restrain myself a bit and not rant.  I’m going to enter full rant mode here.

When I got laid off, I was looking at finances and realized: “Hey wait, I should be eligible for unemployment”.  Now, I’ll admit that I felt a bit weird about it.  I make enough money, I have enough assets that if push came to shove, I could live for quite a while.  But at the same time, my taxes pay for the benefits that others receive, I’m a legitimate case, and so it would be (IMO) silly of me to throw away money that was due me.  Money that could help keep my afloat just in case my unemployment went longer than expected.

Which it did.

What began was a saga of pain.  Without getting into details, there was a particular problem with my records in Unemployment’s database.  This one point (actually an almost hilarious cascade of issues), almost kept me from getting my unemployment, and in fact caused me to have a solid 3 months pass before I received any unemployment benefits at all.

The part that was so frustrating, was that it became impossible for me to fix the issue.   The following items kept happening:

  • I’d get notice of scheduled phone calls to discuss my case in the mail.  At best a couple days before the call.  Once I got the notice after the call already happened.  Of course these are ‘make the call or else benefits will be denied’ situations.
  • Any attempts to reschedule calls (if, say, I was going to be on an airplane to a job interview), failed.   Because it was impossible to get a hold of someone on the phone.  It would hang up instantly any time I tried to call, saying ‘too busy’.
  • When I did manage to make a call, the person I would talk to, would refuse to let me try to explain the problem/confusion/issues.  They had specific questions they needed to ask.  They would only let me answer those questions.  The questions being asked were never the right questions.  So I could never explain the problem.
  • They treat each job you had, as a separate case.  So if you give them information about job #2 when someone calls you about job #1.  They ignore it completely.

In the end, I got all the way to having an appeal of my case with a lawyer, where I was told ‘NO’.  (It turns out, because the lawyer was only looking at Job #1, and didn’t have information on Job #2 – Separate cases again)

I would still not have received any benefits, if it wasn’t for a fateful tweet/facebook post that I made.  Ranting.  Turns out, I have a good friend who works for MD Unemployment.  She looked at my case file, had some friends look at it and they all agreed.  I was easily qualified and due unemployment benefits.  Just that ‘one point’ needed fixed.

I was given a number/name to fax some documentation to.  I did that, and a week later, suddenly received benefits.

Hilarious ending to the story, was that I never heard anything back from Unemployment about my fax.  Just suddenly I started getting paperwork providing me benefits, as if I’d just enrolled for unemployment.   In fact, I was then required to attend a ‘counseling session’ (Intervention) to help me through my ‘recent unemployment’, even though it was over 4 months ago at that point.

Thing is, I understand that these errors might be uncommon.  I understand that right now the office is completely overwhelmed with requests.  But because of the handling, I was originally denied what I was entitled to.  Had I not had that friend, I would have received no benefits.

In the end, it was a case of something getting too automated.   They’d removed all ‘personal’ contact from the process, and had turned it all into a machine with 10 different people calling you, each only allowed to ask you a couple questions, and never could you just talk to someone, like my friend, who could just look at the whole case and go:  “Duh, we need to fix that right there”


Gaming Industry – Do not want

May 26, 2011

This to me is a very sad blog post.  It represents the death of one of my dreams.

You see, back when I was in High School, and getting the “You can do whatever you want to do” dream speech.  I decided (after a brief fascination with chemistry) that I wanted to get into Computer Science.

Why?  Well one reason only.  I loved video games, so I wanted to make them.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m in college, and this ‘Web’ thing appears.  It’s cool, it’s new, none of the ‘establishment’ understands it.  And so the interns/college assistants get tasked to deal with it.  I start working on the Web.   Which leads to my first ‘real’ job being doing ‘Web’ stuff … 16 years later:  Guess what, I’m still on the Web.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the web and everything that it has become.  It’s amazing.  But in the back of my mind, and my heart, there’s always been this little longing for my original goal: Games.

Once, I almost had my ‘in’ to the industry.  At the time, this little barely known company, called Bethesda Softworks, had an advertisement for a ‘Webmaster’ (ah, those were the days).  I tried to apply but we were having some issues between our fax machines, and an official piece of paperwork I had to sign that they would only fax to me, not send in mail.   That was right about the time I got the offer to work at Hubble.  And you know, that was pretty cool also, so I took it🙂

I long let that dream die, and embraced the area that naturally fell into my lap.  Until recently.

As part of doing some soul-searching upon the loss of my most recent position: My wife was asking me what I really wanted to do in my heart.  To think outside the box of the positions that I’d been holding.  To expand the search parameters of companies that I’d been looking at.   Immediately that long hidden thought in the back of my head spoke to me and made me scream: “GAMES!  I WANNA MAKE GAMES!”.   I scared my wife.

So I explored that option.  You see, this is the perfect time for it.  Facebook has almost single handedly make the world of Games & Web collide.  Now everyone is playing games online, and Web Professionals are needed to make that happen.

But, you know what, after exploring this option I came to one conclusion:

DO NOT WANT!

Really.  I talked with a number of gaming companies that wanted Web professionals.  Two in particular I talked to in depth.  One of them is a HUGE name in online games, another was a brand new startup in the field, just about to release their first game.

Both of them had the exact same problem, which led me to walk away:  Ridiculous assumptions/requirements upon the employees.  I’d long heard the horror stories of videogame companies, long hours, low pay, weekend work.  You play video games and read the end credits and the quotes are a litany of “Thanks to my wife & kids who I didn’t see for 2 years”

But I assumed, incorrectly it seems, that the ‘Web Games’ companies would more closely track ‘Web Application’ companies in concept.  (Not that some Web companies don’t have the same problems.)

I was sadly mistaken.  All companies I talked to outright expected employees to put in amazingly long hours, work weekends, etc.  I was told ‘joking’ stories by management about employees complaining that their wives were going to leave them.  I was asked to work for a company for zero pay.  And not even a ‘until we get funding’ type situation.  But even after funding, because marketing dollars were going to be more important than paying salaries.

In the end, I had to take the bitter pill, and walk away again.

This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t love some day to somehow get involved in the gaming industry.  I still love video games and play them nigh every day.

But I’m not going to walk into those situations.  It would take a company that breaks from that mold, and is a family-friendly company that respects it’s employees work/life balance.

The older I get, the more I value stability and just wanting to work for a company that is doing something ‘awesome and cool’, whatever that is.  While at the same time, respecting families, and completely understanding that work isn’t “life”.

I guess your values change when you get old ;)  Too much gray hair on this head.