Of the 490,000 Kickstarter campaigns ever created only 440 raised over $1M. We were one of them. This is what we learned.
By Filippo Yacob
Crowdfunding has helped FINH fund 2 projects, Cubetto and Pigzbe. Over the years I’ve found myself talking on panels and TED talks about my experience, but I’ve never really shared an unabashed recount of my experience.
April 2022 marks the 6 year anniversary of my Cubetto 2016 Kickstarter campaign. It raised $1.6m from over 6,000 backers, becoming the most crowdfunded ed-tech project in the platform’s history.There have been 479,000 Kickstarter campaigns to date. Only 433 have raised $1m+ in funding, less than 0.09%. It’s safe to say we accomplished something out of the ordinary that I believe deserved to be written about.
I’m particularly proud of this campaign because it was the first I led and managed end to end, obsessively overseeing every single detail. From creative to communications, from community management to delivery.The campaign catapulted the careers of our team, and is still the headline piece in each of their CVs.
I thought it was time to codify and share some of the knowledge i gained from it to inform and inspire future creators.
I hope you find this useful!
A few stats and acknowledgements first...
The statistic I’m most proud of is the number of children we’ve positively impacted. From remote island nations to megacities, Cubetto has gone on to teach coding to more than 20 million children globally. Aside from putting a Cubetto in every continent, and in over 180 countries, I'm proud to say that Cubetto's books have also been published in over 9 languages.
From Mochi to Kumita to Matat Labs and beyond, Cubetto has been imitated the world over. I embrace this as part of our legacy too. It is humbling knowing we influenced the course of an entire industry.
Valeria Leonardi, Matteo Loglio, Ben Callicott, Danilo Di Cuia, Hugo Mathers and myself fought shoulder to shoulder for months to bring this campaign to life. Many have taken credit, but few were actually there.
Of the many more who helped, two are deserving of a special mention up top. Rachel Masters, who masterminded the campaign with me and worked tirelessly to open every door for us, and Julio Terra.
Thank you! Now onto lessons learned…
Lesson 1. Have a good product
Products can be whimsical or serious, complex or simple. It doesn’t matter, as long as they serve a clear purpose. Make something that works, make something original, and you’re there! It took 4 years of R&D to get Cubetto where it is today. Every feature, colour, line and interaction serves a specific pedagogical purpose. We strived to create something seminal and pure.
A genuine product is like a source of renewable energy that attracts people to your project and keeps you motivated when you most need it. It has the power to carry you and your team through tough times.
Whatever your product, just make sure it’s good and fit for purpose. Be as deliberate and honest as you can about every detail, and be transparent. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding.
These are some of my favourite hardware campaign examples:
Toyi — Possibly my favourite campaign. Modest in target, big in impact. The creator’s social purpose is clear, well reflected in their product, and the campaign resonated globally as a result.
Pen Type-B — An over-engineered pen, created for the joy of over-engineering. I love how honest the creators are about the permanent redundancy of this product. I actually own two!
Ding Doorbell — A specific solution to a specific problem. Beautiful Industrial Design by my Pigzbe co-founder Jon Marshall, and very “to-the-point” delivery by creators April and John Nussey.
Lesson 2. Build a community
Between 2013 and 2016 we delivered delivered a DIY version of Cubetto entirely built by hand. We toured schools and meet ups dressed in Cubetto cardboard boxes to evangelise, and shared Cubetto’s story with anyone who would listen.
We didn’t do any of it to “build a community”. We did it because we loved Cubetto. The community was a byproduct of our passion.
In 2016, the thousands of people we connected with came together to help!We started small, by networking with industry peers, friends and families.
We were deliberate in asking everyone for help, and used this as a way to get people intellectually and emotionally invested in our project.
Building a community takes patience. It requires you to consistently show up, and to have faith in your product. It’s hard work, but it’s easier to do if you have a good product that people genuinely love.
Some helpful tips to building community:
0 to 1 — You build communities one connection at a time. Focus on the person you have in front of you RIGHT NOW. Transmit enough energy to them so they will love your product as much as you do.
Create a hub — We never did this at Cubetto, but I strongly recommend you do. A WhatsApp group, Slack or Telegram channel can serve as a more intimate, yet frictionless tool to invite people into your world.
Connect with other creators — Do this as early as possible. Crowdfunding is a little bit like the Free Masons. Once a creator, always a creator, and we love supporting one another!
Lesson 3. Don’t sell a product, tell a story
I was in the Louvre Abu Dhabi with my friend Aymen one evening. He told me how working on the building helped him appreciate the power of stories “Without stories, these old thing would just be junk…”.
The story of Cubetto is one of family, friendship, and growth. My co-founder and I both came “of-age” through the process. We gave Cubetto everything we had, and we put it all out there for the world to see. Our Kickstarter page didn’t sell a product, it told our story through it. It gave viewers a clear sense of what came before, and what would come after.
Through updates, videos, and milestones, we took everyone on a journey.
What is unique about you? What is unique about your product? What have you done to get there? If you are willing to put yourself out there, you will succeed in connecting with people.
3 tips on how to tell your story:
Go beyond the video — We hand wrote a personal letter to all Cubetto customers prior to launch. It told part of our story in an unusual way that our community appreciated.
Do PR — Press is helpful, but if you don’t have the budget for a PR firm, you can still do it yourself. Prepare a release, research journalists, and reach out to them personally.
Focus on quality — Quality copy, videos and images are a way of showing your audience respect. It signals that you care about their opinion, and with today’s access to digital tools, there’s no excuse.
Lesson 4. Build momentum
A good product is like a spark, your community is like kindling. Once you’ve got your fire going, it’s all about feeding it fuel to keep it burning.
Campaigns begin well before you press the “go-live” button. At a Macro level, our 2016 campaign enjoyed a tremendous amount of momentum from 3 consecutive pivotal events over a 3 year period. Each serving as a springboard for the next one.
At a Micro leve, we timed the release of our campaign content so as to keep interest high over the full 30 days.
A good example can be observed on Yonatan and Alex’s Kano 2013 Kickstarter campaign.
A lot of what we did at a Macro level was unintentional.
We just followed the breadcrumbs trying to stay alive, but I’ve summarised below what the impact of each event was, and how it all helped:
2013 Kickstarter — We launched an embryonic version of Cubetto as a DIY product. We raised over £50k, and gathered our first 350 customers. We didn’t deliver until September 2015.
2015 Highway1 — We joined San Francisco accelerator Highway1 off the back of our small success. Momentum continued as we were able to network with Silicon Valley communities and influencers.
2015 CrowdCube — As Highway1 closed, we opened a CrowdCube campaign that raised £275k from 300 investors big and small. Armed with a sense of ownership, each became a die hard supporter of our cause.
2016 Kickstarter — From the delivery of our first campaign in September 2015 to our “grand opening” in March 2016, our community received a crescendo of positive news that resulted in an epic build-up.
Lesson 5. Timing is king
You can get everything right: community, product, story, momentum, but the most important factor in any campaign is one you can’t control… TIMING.
You can however, improve your odds by managing your expectations.The Zeitgeist of 2012 to 2016 was the Maker and STEM movement. We were part of a swell of ed-tech companies led by charismatic founders like Alex Klein and Ayah Bdeir that competed against, and energized one another.
From SAMLabs to Tech Will Save Us to Robo Wunderkind. We were a unique player in a nascent movement, and the mere fact of “crowdfunding” something was still newsworthy on its own.
4 years on, the STEM market is saturated, and while crowdfunding has become an established industry, it is less “sensational” than it was.
If Cubetto launched in 2020, would it still do as well?
Lesson 6. Spend money to make money
I would be remiss if I didn’t write about the fact we spent $250k in marketing to achieve our $1.6m goal. The ROl was good though, especially considering the additional $10m in global sales the campaign has generated since.
We spent about ~$20k on multimedia production, ~$40k on PR, another ~$20k on prototypes, and ~$170k in targeted advertising during the campaign.
On top of that we also received a ton of free support that is hard to quantify. Rachel Masters was invaluable in securing pro-bono PR work from Sunshine Sachs, and introduced us to investor and influencer in ways she didn’t have to.
The budget you’re playing with matters, but don’t make the mistake of chalking up Kickstarter success as something you can buy, which leads me to my last and final lesson.
Lesson 7. It all happens in the gutter
Like many start-ups, we struggled. For the first 3 years, our highest salary at Primo was $20k per annum! But it made us hungry and determined. It made us look harder for opportunities and ask for help in all directions.
When David Austin offered us a spot at Highway1, I packed my bags, left my 1 year old son and wife in London, and moved into a smelly San Francisco basement for 5 months.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet, our first investor, lined-up half a dozen angels to support us through our CrowdCube campaign, without which we would have never launched on Kickstarter.
It all added up in the end.
You won’t have the same opportunities we did, but If you’re willing to look hard enough, different ones will present themselves. When they do, grab them with both hands. It all happens in the gutter.The end…