Deconstructed: 3 Most Successful Crowdfunded Campaigns and Why

We've seen it happen countless times before: the underdog turns into an overnight sensation by way of the crowd.

As a society, we've become fixated on scenarios where unlikely allies band together and communally brinf an unexpecting, earnest talent to the top. We're not just talking about American Idol winner Ruben Studdard, or British charmer, Susan Boyle. We're talking about crowdfunding — an entrepreneurial movement that has come to embody the contemporary American Dream.

However, not all gifted, hard-working, and seemingly deserving entrepreneurs make it. In fact, most of them fail. A few simple calculations using Kickstarter's data will reveal that 59.8% of the platform's projects are unsuccessful. In other words, majority of the goals set by people like you and I, simply aren't met.

Kickstarter also shares that "12% of projects finish having never received a single pledge". Although this figure is a bit depressing, it's not surprising.

In today's market, a talented individual driving a cool product or idea is not enough. The most successful crowdfunded campaigns don't just get lucky, they're executed with artful, Da Vinci-esque precision.

Let's dig deep into the 3 most successful single-platform crowdfunding campaigns of all time. Here we can extract the golden wisdoms, commonalities, and recyclable lessons behind their crowd-assisted rise to the top.

The 'Coolest'

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Target Collection: $50,000
Amount Collected: $13,285,226
Campaign End Date: August 14, 2014
Campaign Run-Time: 52 days
Number of Backers: 62,642
Platform: Kickstarter

Founder Ryan Grepper was preaching the truth, the "Coolest Cooler" really is just that. If you haven't heard about the Coolest, you were offline hiking the American Discovery Trail all summer, or simply don't like anything fun, at all. Ever.

The Coolest, a portable, 60-quart cooler with built-in ice-crushing blender, bluetooth speaker and USB charger raised a more-than-cool $13,285,226 on Kickstarter. Although this isn't the most money ever raised via crowdfunding, it is the single-most funded on one platform to date.

Lesson 1: Try Again.

Interestingly, this wasn’t the Coolest’s debut on Kickstarter. Last Boxing Day (December 26th), Grepper attempted to raise $125,000 to bring his idea to life. The Coolest gained considerable traction, having 279 backers, but hardly surpassed the $100,000 mark. Since Grepper was unable to hit his target, he received no funding, and was back at ground zero. Or was he?

Lesson 2: Appeal to Your Community.

Although he didn’t hit his initial goal, Ryan Grepper gained supporters and a considerable cult following for the Coolest. By announcing on the failed campaign page his intention to still bring the cooler to market, he redirected his original backers—and then some—to his product website.

On the Coolest blog, he carefully outlined the logistical challenges he was facing, and detailed the desired timeframe for release. Alongside this “investor relations” information, he did something crucial to his future success: He asked for help. By voicing his intent to reintroduce the Coolest on Kickstarter, he appealed to his community for support.

With the funding goal lowered to $50,000, the product visually redesigned, and his video and media kit sharpened, Grepper raised nearly $6.5M in the first 20% of his campaign alone. This accelerated start was undoubtedly fuelled by early Coolest community members who accepted his plea, and backed him within those first crucial hours.

8 months after its debut, the Coolest became the most-backed crowdfunding project on a single platform in history.

Pebble

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Target Collection: $100,000
Amount Collected: $10,266,845
Campaign End Date: May 18, 2012
Campaign Run-Time: 37 days
Number of Backers: 68,929
Platform: Kickstarter

Pebble Smartwatch was a slamdunk for phone junkies and technology enthusiasts alike. Building upon their already-developed Blackberry inPulse Smartwatch, the tech-savvy founders turned to the public to fund a sleeker, more advanced iOS version.

The watch boasts e-paper display, activity tracking, and when connected to a phone, can receive texts, phone calls, and social notifications.

Lesson 3: Set the Right Goal. No Overkill.

Within the first two hours of going live, Pebble surpassed their goal of $100,000, and crushed the $1M mark in just 28 hours. 28 days in—75% through their campaign—Pebble hit the $10M mark.

Before 30 days were up, the project had raised nearly all of the total funds they would earn during their 37-day stint on Kickstarter.

Pebble had an important network of supporters which allowed them to reach their $100,000 goal in fewer minutes than Titanic’s runtime. Undoubtedly, they could have bumped up their $100,000 bottom line, but chose not to. How come?

Truth be told, people like to back winners. Success generates greater success, and blowing past a goal is a great way to highlight product credibility, be featured on the main page as an ‘editors’ pick, and to simply garner more media attention. Pebble’s founder, having raised $400,000 for his earlier inPulse smartwatch knew he could ask for more, but wisely opted not to.

Setting an achievable financial goal, especially on platforms that abide by the “all or nothing” format, is crucial. Otherwise, you could become the next Ubuntu Edge and raise nearly $13M but fall short—Danny DeVito short—of reaching your $32M goal.

Lesson 4: Rewards for All.

Besides setting a low-ball goal for your campaign (like any nice underdog would) you need to offer attainable rewards for all levels of pledgers. These rewards can vary from a branded beer tumbler to the product itself, and beyond. Often times very successful campaigns will even reserve one-of-a-kind experiences for top funders.

Pebble’s pledger rewards offered something for everybody. The pledge pyramid also allowed earlybird supporters to save some coin on the actual product. For the first 200 backers, the smartwatch was priced at an affordable $99, and subsequent pledgers could get theirs for $115. Bigger spenders could lockdown a customized watch, or even buy the product in a wholesale-like bundle of 100 watched for $10,000.

Although not as fun as the Coolest’s range of rewards, each and every Pebble funder was left with some sort of pledging parting gift. If you haven’t realized this already, incentives work and goody bags are always awesome. For example, without summer holidays, would anyone really sign on to be a teacher?

Exactly.

OUYA

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Target Collection: $950,000
Amount Collected: $8,596,474
Campaign End Date: August 9, 2012
Campaign Run-Time: 30 days
Number of Backers: 63,416
Platform: Kickstarter

Gamers rejoiced and so did Kickstarter—they’d done it again. OUYA, a game console for TV powered by Android, raked in an impressive $8.5M. This made it the third most-funded project in Kickstarter history.

This video game console turned gamers into backers with its open design for developers, inexpensive package price, and promise for a future of free games. These sweet nothings were met with an enormous take-off and a final spike in pledges in the last 5% of the campaign. In fact, (OUYA hit the $2M mark quicker than both the Coolest and Pebble)[https://www.kickstarter.com/blog/some-cool-stats-on-the-coolest-cooler).

How’d they do it? Well, as PSY would say, it’s “all in the video”.

Lesson 5: Make a Good Video. Scratch That — A Great Video.

Although OUYA’s video didn’t go all ‘Gangum Style’ or anything, their campaign video was pivotal. Being a more technical product, the video clearly answered the 5 W’s, outlined their goals, and introduced key people to discuss their console.

According to Kickstarter, projects that include a video get funded about 50% of the time. This means that having any video increases your chance of meeting your goal.

This stat doesn’t account for the inevitable ‘train wreck’ videos, or those that miss the mark altogether. In other words, a solid video is an amazing way not only to detail your product, but to tell your story and connect with your supporters right out the gate.

Fun fact: OUYA’s video rings at just under 3:00 in length, Pebble’s video totals 2:41 and the Coolest’s tops off at 3:36. If we were to forcefully draw an unscientific conclusion, we may suggest that three minute videos seems to do the trick.

Let’s Recap.

For those readers who are ‘skimmers’ and could care less about flawlessly interwoven pop culture references, here’s the scoop: successful crowdfunded campaigns aren’t accidental.

This is a recap of lessons told and important take-aways we’ve learned from years of monitoring winning (and losing) crowdfunded campaigns:

  • Don’t give up. If your campaign fails once, try it again. If it fails after that, maybe ask yourself “why am I doing this?”.
  • Timing is everything. As the Coolest learned, launching a summery product the day after Christmas isn’t ideal. Align your product with appropriate seasons or other timely events.
  • Ask your community for support. Having an existing following is key. You need to have a website, social presence, and people in place. When you’re ready to leap, ask key players to jump too.
  • Set the right funding goal. Keep your goal conservative and create fandemonium when you crush it.
  • Give rewards to everyone. Goodies and other incentives make the world go round.
  • Make a video. Provide as much information as possible without making your audience confused or sleepy.

One last thing: Once you’ve ran a successful campaign, check out Celery when you’re ready to start selling. This is what we do, and we're good at it.