Want To Fund Your Kickstarter? You’re Not Steve Jobs–Ask People What They Want

Why 56% of Kickstarter projects fail, and how to make your project succeed, from the guys behind two incredibly successful projects.

Want To Fund Your Kickstarter? You’re Not Steve Jobs–Ask People What They Want
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We’ve taken the call from panic-stricken entrepreneurs more times than we can count. “I have two weeks left in my Kickstarter campaign, and we’re not even 20% of the way there. How can I get on TechCrunch?” We bite our lips to keep from saying the truth, “Press isn’t your problem. Your problem is that people aren’t buying your product.”


Our company, Fortified Bicycle Alliance (formerly Gotham), is onto our second successful Kickstarter project–an invincible bike light. Before our first project last year, we meticulously studied hundreds of Kickstarter successes and failures and interviewed countless successful Kickstarter entrepreneurs. In the last two years we’ve given guest lectures on Kickstarter, written articles, and coached entrepreneurs (pro-bono). We do it because we believe venture capital is slavery and crowdfunding is freedom.

But there’s a myth around the Midas touch of crowdfunding. For every high-flying $10 million Pebble Watch and $8 million Ouya Game Console there are thousands of dead and quickly forgotten projects. In fact, 56% of Kickstarter projects fail.

And despite being teachers and practitioners of Kickstarter we have almost failed several times. We’ll get to that later, but first let’s debunk the biggest myth about Kickstarter success.

Myth: Like Steve Jobs, I know what customers want.
Truth: You are not Steve Jobs.

Jobs, the greatest product developer of our time, loved quoting Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Jobs had a crystal ball that the rest of us mortals don’t have.

Customer Development

Don’t listen to Steve Jobs. Listen to Steve Blank, Stanford professor and author of Four Steps to the Epiphany, and creator of the Customer Development Methodology (book PDF here). You can have ideas or opinions on how to design a product, but as Blank writes: “An intelligent opinion is still a guess.” And it doesn’t matter how smart of an entrepreneur you are. “The dumbest person with a fact trumps anyone with an opinion. There are no facts inside the building so get the heck outside.”


Market research doesn’t start behind a computer screen

Many entrepreneurs we meet will say, “I did my market research. I posted an online survey.” Market research is a full-contact sport. Don’t hide behind a computer screen. Go outside and talk to customers.

We almost messed this up. After emailing product renderings to hundreds of customers, they told us they loved the design. The problem was, they hadn’t seen the physical product. After walking into bike shops with a 3-D printed prototype, customers told us it was too big and clunky. If we didn’t spend one hour showing the product in a bike shop, we would’ve lost thousands of hours and dollars on a failed product launch.

Qualitative first, quantitative second

Mark Ritson, our favorite marketing professor at MIT Sloan, taught us that you can’t create a survey without first knowing what questions to ask. He gave Procter and Gamble as an example. When P&G created Swiffer and Febreze, the former CEO was known to invite himself into customers’ homes and observe the way they go about the daily rigors of keeping house–how they scrub the floor, diaper an infant, and make a bed. “It takes courage to talk to customers but you have to do it,” Ritson would say. “First the qualitative, then the quantitative,” he repeated. Interview customers (qualitative) before you create surveys (quantitative).

When we started Fortified, we asked hundreds of customers what they love about biking and what they loathe. We followed them on rainy night-time commutes, watching them lock their bikes and remove their bike lights.

Only after speaking with hundreds of cyclists did we carefully craft an eight-question survey with the focus and precision of a neural surgeon. The data was mind-blowing. We learned that one in three city cyclists have had their lights stolen and 84% of city cyclists unclip and forget them at home. But we wouldn’t have known what questions to ask had we not first stepped out of the building, and qualitatively observed our customers.

By Slava Menn and Tivan Amour, co-founders of the Fortified Bike Alliance. Next week they’ll debunk a second big myth: “Once I get on Kickstarter, my product will sell itself” and describe three simple storytelling frameworks to pitch your product.