What We Learned from Running a “Successful” Kickstarter Project

February 25, 2014 | 24 Comments

So a lot of you are probably wondering what happened to OpenFrame. We launched the OpenFrame Kickstarter campaign almost a year ago and received an overwhelming response. We crushed our $40,000 funding goal and by the end of the campaign we raised over $68,000. We were pumped. The months of work all seemed worth it. We knew OpenFrame solved a problem for us and it was exciting to hear from so many other people that had the same problem. Our prints, posters and photos that were stuck in tubes or stashed away in closets would finally have a home on the wall.

We couldn’t wait to get the frames manufactured and shipped to our backers, but unfortunately that wasn’t as easy as it sounded. In fact, we ran into more problems than we ever imagined could be possible with such a simple product. We learned a lot of valuable lessons and wanted to share our insight into what we learned from running a “successful” Kickstarter project.
Lesson 1: Making a prototype is not the same as making 1000 of something
We worked closely with a local shop to build out prototypes and to refine the details of how to best construct the frames. We were confident in our final design which functioned and looked great. We knew if we could hit our $40,000 goal we could produce the frames at a reasonable cost, but manufacturing 1000+ frames is a completely different animal than making 10. The shop we were working with just wasn’t equipped to handle that type of volume. (We’re talking pallets of wood and steel, and truckloads worth of sawdust produced from routing out the the back of the frames.) Because of the inconsistency of working with a natural material like wood, we also ran into all sorts of finishing issues with the colored stains. All of these issues slowed our timeline down immensely.

Takeaway: Though it’s impossible to plan for every production issue that may arise, be ready to face unknown problems that will pop-up when doing things on a larger scale. When estimating the timeline, double your estimate and then double that again.

What we would do differently: Better study what problems could arise when producing the frames at a large scale and increase our timeline estimates to allow for the inevitable unexpected problems.
Lesson 2: Keep it simple
We thought it would be nice to offer a variety of sizes and stain colors for our Kickstarter campaign to give backers lots of options. The more options the better, right? Wrong. 3 sizes plus 3 finish colors plus a variety of other combo packs turned into a massive headache to track and keep everything organized. Add in international shipping and special requests from individual backers to the equation and it gets even more complicated. Kickstarter does a lot of things well, but they are not set up very well to handle multiple reward tiers and backer requests.

Takeaway: Keep your backer reward options simple and streamlined. It’s tempting to add more variables and bonuses but this can overcomplicate things.

What we would do differently: Offer less reward options and limit to one finish color. More options can always be added later. Use Kickstarter as an initial launch platform to prove concept.
Lesson 3: Don’t underestimate shipping
We’ve shipped tens of thousands of Ugmonk products all over the world and consider ourselves somewhat savvy when it comes to shipping. We knew OpenFrame would involve a bit more work, but we drastically underestimated the amount of sweat and labor that it would take to ship everything. Packing and shipping giant pieces of wood is completely different than shipping tshirts. Even with hired help the shipping process took 10x the amount of hours that we estimated. We spent weeks up to our eyeballs in packing tape, cardboard, bubble wrap and shipping labels. Trust us, it’s not as glamorous as it may sound. On top of that, we ran into other issues like boxes being too big to ship internationally and underestimating the cost of shipping materials.

Takeaway: Have a well thought out shipping plan in place. Even if your Kickstarter campaign isn’t successful, it’s essential to plan for the absolute best case scenario (like exceeding your goal by 10x). This may involve working with a fulfillment company who is equipped to handle large volume.

What’d we would do differently: Practice packing and shipping a small batch of items to better understand how much time and effort it will actually take. Research fulfillment companies and have those relationships in place if needed.
Lesson 4: Carefully consider packaging
It seemed pretty straightforward, purchase a ton of boxes, tape, and bubble wrap and pack the frames. Nope. We had no idea how fragile the frames were and how much packages get thrown around in transit. In our 5+ years of shipping tshirts we’ve probably had less than 10 damaged packages. That wasn’t the case for OpenFrame. Many of the larger size frames got damaged in transit and we had to ship replacements to the backers. After we realized that we weren’t packing them carefully enough we added corner protectors and increased the padding to ensure safe delivery, but still ran into numerous problems with damages.

Takeaway: Carefully think about packaging and plan for your items to get thrown around and dropped.

What we would do differently: Do more research about packaging and seek advice about how to pack items safely. Also do shipping tests like shipping all size frames across the country and back to see what happens in transit.
Lesson 5: Treat your backers well
Your backers are what make your Kickstarter campaign succeed. Treat them as valued customers and take care of them. Even though it cost us thousands of dollars, we shipped replacement OpenFrames to backers who received damaged products. It was hard to watch our net profit number dwindle with all of these extra costs, but we value people over profit. Rather than leaving them in the dark, we tried to communicate with our backers to keep them in the loop with the production delays. Looking back, this is an area that we could have improved on.

Takeaway: Treat your backers as you would want to be treated. Too many Kickstarters abandon their backers when things get messy.

What we would do differently: Take the time to communicate with our backers more frequently to keep them in the loop with what was happening even when there wasn’t a lot of progress.
What’s next for OpenFrame?
After all was said and done we made a tiny profit, but when you add in all of our time it was probably a wash. It was an incredibly challenging experience and took more work than we ever imagined. That said, we’ve received great feedback and the campaign proved that OpenFrame really does fill a need. We get requests every week from people asking when more frames will be available.

Our goal is to bring OpenFrame back to the Ugmonk shop if we can find a way to lower production costs and streamline the fulfillment process while still maintaining the same high-quality product. We are currently working with US manufacturers on new ways of building the frames more efficiently that will eliminate some of the problems we ran into the first time around. We are excited about the progress and hope to relaunch OpenFrame later this year.

We hope this is helpful insight to anyone thinking about launching a Kickstarter project. Thanks for supporting us on this journey as we all live and learn together!

- Jeff Sheldon & Matthew Smith

We’re launching the second round of OpenFrame this year!
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  • Kenny Lynch

    Thanks for sharing your lessons with us!

    • http://ugmonk.com Jeff Sheldon

      Yep, happy to share. It was a rough process but we learned a lot.

  • emilycarlton

    Thanks for sharing with us! I love my openframes, and I thought you all did a good job on the customer service end, responding quickly and inquiring of quality when I had a problem with damage. I’m glad to know that there are plans to make them available again soon!

    • http://ugmonk.com Jeff Sheldon

      Thanks Emily! Encouraging to hear.

  • Trish Smith

    Thank you!! I’m about to launch a Product Design campaign and so your lessons are really timely. I’ll definitely reconsider my multiple variations and instead think of this more as a launch to prove concept, as you suggest. I’ll also put more thought into what to do in ‘the event of unprecedented demand’ as I’ve heard it called.

    • http://ugmonk.com Jeff Sheldon

      Perfect timing. Glad it was helpful and best of luck with your launch!

  • http://www.stephenelliot.com Stephen Elliot

    I love the vibe of this post. So helpful and practical. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://ugmonk.com Jeff Sheldon

      Thanks. Glad it was helpful :)

  • http://www.creativejuus.com/ Jason Stanley

    Very gracious of you to share your story about something you could easily have buried. Also some very useful tips on moving forward with any (not just Kickstarter) crowd-sourcing campaign. Thank you!

    • http://ugmonk.com Jeff Sheldon

      Yes, not always fun to share our mistakes but hopefully this gives a more realistic view of the “overnight Kickstarter success” story. Glad it was helpful.

  • Case Morton

    Great insight Jeff. I’ve often wondered what it’s like on the other side of a Kickstarter campaign. I always appreciate your honesty & openness in how you run Ugmonk. These articles have helped me change the way I run my own ecommerce business. Thanks again!

    • http://ugmonk.com Jeff Sheldon

      Thanks Case! Glad it was helpful. The more honest we can all be about stuff like this the better it is for everyone to learn from. Always lots to learn, but that’s all part of the fun :)

  • DarkSysop

    The second time around will be a lot better, easier, and more profitable for you guys. Enabling you to keep on pumping out products for us for years to come. That’s how I like to think of it.

    • http://ugmonk.com Jeff Sheldon

      I like the way you think :)

  • http://www.soultravelmultimedia.com/ Semhal

    Wow, great and valuable advice. Thanks for your honesty about the whole process. And good luck with OpenFrame in the future.

    • http://ugmonk.com Jeff Sheldon

      Thanks!

  • squaredeye

    Great to hear that this has been such a helpful post for everyone. Thanks for pulling it together Jeff. We can’t wait to take all this knowledge and rock OpenFrame 2.0!

  • squaredeye

    Can’t wait to launch OpenFrame 2.0 on its way. Thanks for the great write up Jeff!

  • Pablo Defendini

    Thanks for the update—and thanks for OpenFrame. I’m so happy that you’re gearing up for another run; I’ll be first in line, since my only regret is not having bought as many as I could the first time around. (here’s hoping you decide on the black finish ;)

    • http://ugmonk.com Jeff Sheldon

      Awesome! It’s encouraging to hear from people saying they wish they had bought more :)

  • Ian

    Thanks for the transparency. Really love the product and love hearing the back story.

  • ethanmessier

    Thank you for sharing, Jeff! Love the idea of learning together.

    I hope to support the second round of OpenFrame.

  • Robert Gilbreath

    Super helpful – thanks for sharing!

  • Kyle Smith

    Anticipating the relaunch of OpenFrame soon (hopefully)!