Our first kickstarter campaign roundup

Our kickstarter campaign to pre-launch Underground Restaurant ran from 7 July to 6 August, 2012. We reached our goal of $3500 and surpassed it by over $200. We’re thrilled. Here’s a brief and dry report on what we did and what we learned.

We spent a lot of time preparing the text and video for the kickstarter. We didn’t think too much about how diverse our various audiences were be and how we would message to them (turned out to be a whole bunch of different messages tailored to the interests of different audiences). We’ve written more about that here.

As we launched we sent the first email out to the group of people who we were most sure would respond. (A list of 196 people who had experienced our underground restaurant first-hand.) We used bit.ly for the links which gave us some information about clicking. (We did not use an email system that can tell us whether people open and click on the email.) We received three enthusiastic emails in response to this message, but not one person in this original group backed the project based on that first email.

After repeated personal emails to  the closer people in this group (including the former chefs) we were tweeted by one, and backed by five.

Also as we launched, Amory sent an email to 112 of her former students and activist friends. 13 people wrote back to make personal contact (which was beautiful). Four of them backed the book. One asked us to send a copy and “invoice” him. Another person on this list said they weren’t comfortable buying things on the internet.

Our main marketing plan was focused on networking through 12 other underground restaurants, who were profiled in the book. “Subject: A book! And you’re in it!” We sent personal emails telling them what we liked about their projects and asking them to promote us through their networks. Seven of these we never heard from. We were tweeted by two, StudioFeast and Kerstin Rodgers. Saltshaker did add us to his list of underground restaurants but no mention of the book. As members of the underground network sites, TheGhet.com and Kerstin’s SupperClubFanGroup.com, we were able to post announcements of the book/kickstarter and the Host’s Kit, which Kerstin then tweeted. Ethicalchef.co.uk tweeted us, invited us to call him on the phone, and promised to promote us through his networks.

We also contacted Keith Ehrich of This is Made By Hand, because we admire his work so much and want to be friends. He responded and tweeted about the project.

Amory installed TweetDeck and started paying attention to the TwitterSphere (more on that here). She tweeted announcements to two relevant hashtags, #localfood and #slowfood.

There were no re-tweets.

In order to get our post approved for TheGhet we had to call the list owner, who had a backlog of membership requests and posts. Ultimately we made friends and offered to help moderate the site. This was one of the great outcomes of the campaign.

We made a flurry of posts and updates to all of our relevant internet presence sites: viand.net, amorystarr.com, artisaneconomics.com, liberatoryecology.com, Andrea’s facebook account, twitter @amorystarr, and Amory’s page on academia.com. There were no re-tweets. We also installed google analytics and piwik to examine traffic on our websites (which has gone way up during this process). We are able to see that people are clicking onto the kickstarter immediately after we send emails, and that they are going from kickstarter to viand.net and amorystarr.com.

Then we started working on our email lists and media contacts. Amory’s contact database had 2000 entries. She loaded them into excel and started coding by interest area, resulting in an academic list, an activist list, an underground restaurant list, and friends. (This probably could have been done before we launched, but wasn’t.) Composing emails to these lists took us several days. We got much more distilled about our messaging, clarifying both the role of email, and how to communicate a message.

We could see from the analytics that the emails were getting people to the kickstarter, but things were getting hung up there. Bit.ly tells us that more than 607 people clicked to kickstarter through the links we sent out in email and facebook but only 62 people backed the project. The book is quite expensive at $48 and people may have felt uncomfortable with the more affordable options, like they were being cheap. Or they weren’t willing to go through the process of creating a login for kickstarter AND using their amazon account (two separate accounts they’d have to deal with to make it happen.) We also felt the kickstarter page itself was overwhelming with too much information and too much jargon “incentives”, “backers”, “pledges”. We started to include paragraphs about what kickstarter was.

These emails started to feel vulnerable. One of the reasons we embarked upon this project was that we realize we do great work and don’t know how to ask to be recognized and compensated. We needed to learn how to ask for money. But it was still hard to do. Amory was especially uncomfortable sending marketing messages to her list of 62 academic peers. She found a solution, which was to promote the project as an experiment in learning how to “get the word out about the work we do” an issue she knew frustrates many of her peers (also knowing that they don’t use much social media). She promised to write about the process, and asked people to communicate about their own promotional methods. Two people responded to this part of the email (saying that they only use email), and one of them backed the project.

Amory sent email to a large activist list she’s on with many friends and received two responses but no backers. To the list of 118 former students of the political economy of food class, which had many dead emails. Eventually Andrea started contacting these people one by one on facebook, but didn’t have time to get through them all.)  Amory finally started triaging her lists, researching current email addresses (without joining LinkedIn), and wrote personal emails to 56 people. 13 of these wrote back and 3 backed the project. One of Amory’s professor friends confirmed having sent the email to his lists and we got at least one backer from that list. The numbers were clearly much better on the personal emails. But Amory became so concerned about friends she wasn’t hearing back from that she sent several people a third email saying “could you at least check in and tell me you are ok?”

Two people responded to this one saying “yes I’ve been getting your messages.” But there are still at least ten close friends to whom we have sent several personal emails who have not responded. (These are people who travel and it is summer vacation, so academics are  likely to be inattentive to their email at this time.)

We had a list of online press to contact. We submitted an article (not focused on the kickstarter) to people we knew personally at Slate and The Atlantic, but received no response. We did succeed in getting a post on CityFarmer.info. But our emails and submissions to Make Magazine, Good.Is, Civil Eats, Edible Communities, EcoSalon, and Food First (where Amory is known) went unresponded.

We were successful in our efforts to get coverage by CityFarmer.info (website), the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest (in their email newsletter), Underground Eats (blog), and Andrea’s CSA, FairShares included us in their Newsletter. We were also covered by one media outlet that we did not contact, St. Louis Magazine (and this article was re-tweeted twice).

In the final few days, Andrea abandoned email for facebook. (“That’s where everyone is.”)

Kickstarter allows us to see where people came from. Of our 62 backers, all but 17 were people we know personally. Most of them had never used kickstarter before. 14 of the 17 strangers found us through kickstarter’s own search facilities (topic, city, new projects, ending soon…) which means that all of our outreach returned only 3 backers unknown to us who didn’t come through kickstarter’s own internal marketing.

According to bit.ly, of the 607 people who visited our page, 338 came from our emails, 61 from twitter, 56 from the underground restaurant network sites, 22 from facebook, and 3 from academia.edu.

In the whole process, our project was tweeted by two people we don’t know. Which seems amazing.