Still being in something of a shock over the overwhelming response Memoto’s Kickstarter project has had, we feel we need, for reasons of self-therapy if nothing else, to put down in words what has really happened these past few weeks since we launched.
We will do this in two parts, one where we describe the process leading up to the launch of the project and one where we disclose some lessons learned during the actual project.
So, what’s Kickstarter? Well basically, it’s a website for crowdfunding projects. Anyone can set up a project and seek funding – and anyone can fund a project. As a project creator, you have the possibility to raise money for projects that otherwise would have trouble being realized. As a funder (or “backer”, in Kickstarter lingo) you can be part of the creation of brand new goods and services and you often get to start using them before they hit the regular market. That is, and this is important, if a project is successful. Because if the project doesn’t reach its announced goal (the amount of money needed to make the idea of the project a reality) the project creators get nothing and might need to give up the idea completely.
Memoto’s Kickstarter project was launched on October 23rd, with the goal of reaching $50,000 before November 30. It would turn out to be way more, but that we didn’t know that when we started. So, let’s go back to when that was; Let’s go back to Sweden, spring of 2012:
Beginning in March 2012, the Memoto team began to expand from only three original founders to a team of a dozen in June. This was made possible thanks to small funds from Swedish governmental institutions and the founders. The process of taking the Memoto Lifelogging Camera from an idea to an actual product had then already begun (led by experts on market research, product design and interaction design.) With this reinforced team, Memoto was able to start the electronics design and the software development.
We wouldn’t have much to show for the outside world in terms of prototypes for another 6 months. Doing any kind of marketing or communication might have seemed unnecessary or even stupid, (Why spend time and effort on marketing a non-existing product?) But even though we didn’t have much to talk about, we thought we had a lot to learn by listening.
So from the very beginning, more than half a year before the Kickstarter launch, Memoto started reaching out to the community of daily photographers, lifeloggers and quantified self enthusiasts who were already discussing the aspects of wearable cameras and lifelogging photography. We created a blog, made a Facebook page and opened up a Twitter account. To mark our vision, we let our friends at HouseofRadon do a visionary video for us.
With some basic social media channels in place, we started to collect all the intelligent and interesting thoughts we stumbled upon, and posted them as blog posts (“This week in lifelogging”), re-tweeted them and shared their stories on Facebook. This way, we were able to make Memoto a somewhat recognized brand at a very early stage, albeit for an extremely limited crowd.
In July, we even took steps to launch the production of a full-length documentary! We sent two young film students, Amanda and Ville, on a six week long around-the-world trip to interview entrepreneurs, scientists and thought-leaders about their thoughts on lifelogging and the impact it will have on our lives in the future. Amanda and Ville returned home with not just over 100 hours of lifelogging material (see the trailer for the upcoming documentary here), but with invaluable high-quality contacts with some of the world’s most influential people in our field.
Meanwhile, Memoto received a seed round of funding from an institutional investor (Passion Capital). The extra capital enabled us to continue developing the Memoto camera, the software and growing the team for another few months. But the money wasn’t enough to cover the cost of setting up mass production of the camera. This was about the time when we decided Kickstarter could be a realistic means of getting those funds.
In August, The Memoto team continued the efforts of community building at the major Swedish web “unconferance” Sweden Social Web Camp and tested the idea with some of Sweden’s early tech-adopters. The first prototypes were 3D-printed and the concept for the smartphone apps had started taking shape.
It was time to start preparing the Kickstarter page.
It’s worth mentioning that “preparing the Kickstarter page” is not the same as “preparing for a Kickstarter project”. The preparations for the project started at the same time we started reaching out to the lifelogging community (it’s only that having a Kickstarter project wasn’t yet decided at the time). Since we now had more of the product in place, we got down to the actual creation of the project page.
After researching and finding inspiration in numbers of other Kickstarter projects (like Boosted Boards, The Pebble Watch, 1Q and The Biochemies DNA Molecule Plush Dolls) plus listening to what previous project creators had to say we realized a few things:
- The video is key – it doesn’t necessarily have to be super slick, but it needs to align with what you want to say and stand for
- The project page needs to say it all – if there are questions your potential backers don’t find answers to, the risk is that you’ll lose those backers
- Once the project is launched, it will need constant care during the rest of the project period – updates need to be posted to keep the project alive, backers need to be kept in the loop about the project’s progress and potential discussions in external channels need to be curated
These realizations would later turn out to be not more than a fraction of the lessons we would learn in the coming weeks. But we didn’t know this when we started preparing the Kickstarter page in late August.
We started with the video. We didn’t know how to create a Kickstarter video, so we started out writing a script. We tried to cram in each and every detail we thought was needed to convince the audience about Memoto’s excellence. We asked Amanda and Ville to do the video (rashly disrupting their work on the post-production of the documentary). And, of course, we ended up failing miserably. There was a lack of clarity in what the essentials of the project were, so the script was a mess and the resulting video was doomed a catastrophe.
Now we were in the middle of September, only weeks before the planned launch date (October), and we started getting nervous: would we have a video good enough in time for the launch? We knew Kickstarter would take some time to review our project as well, so we needed to submit the video and the page a week before launch date.
Luckily, HouseOfRadon came to our rescue. Literally throwing our original video script in the trash, they started from scratch in making us a video that would present the Memoto Lifelogging Camera the way it deserved to be presented. Since our early prototypes didn’t exactly have the looks and finish we aimed for, they designed beautiful 3D-renderings to use in the video and on the Kickstarter page. Despite the lack of time we had left for preparations, things actually started to look promising again.
Then the next drawback hit, and this time it was a major one.
On the evening of September 21st, Kickstarter posted a statement on their blog introducing some important changes to the guidelines for hardware projects like Memoto’s. Being a hardware project, you were no longer allowed to use 3D-renderings (which was about 100% of what we had in terms of product exemplifying images…) Further more, we were not allowed to show product simulations, i.e. “here’s how the camera would work, if it did work…” Finally, multiple quantities of rewards were abolished, meaning we couldn’t have (our planned) pledge levels of twin packs or “buy 10 for the price of 8” etc.
Looking back, we admit that these new guidelines are nothing but fair and do make Kickstarter a better place for both project creators and backers. But at the time, we felt frustrated. We were only days away from submitting our project for review and we were basically told there was no way we were going to be accepted.
We had a crisis meeting on the morning of September 22nd. Should we a) find another, less scrupulous, service for our project, b) stick with our time schedule and launch an extremely downscaled version of the project or should we c) wait until the camera and app were ready enough to show according to the new guidelines (which we now know would have taken until December to accomplish)?
Hesitant as we were to all of the three options, we decided to go with a fourth one. We quickly postponed the announced launch by two weeks, until October 23rd, to buy ourselves some extra time. Then we had Prototal, a professional prototype producer outside of Stockholm, do three copies of high-end, 3D-printings of the Memoto camera. As soon as the prototypes were ready, we ran over to HouseofRadon to have them shoot new scenes with the prototypes in them. And we re-wrote practically the entire Kickstarter page, removing all simulations and 3D-renderings and doing our very best to present our project as transparently and honestly as possible.
On October 13th (after an intense two weeks, where HouseofRadon gathered their forces to do not only the video, but concept animation for the app, wearing illustrations and product photos) we were finally able to submit the project for review.
Some VERY nervous days followed. Would our project be approved? Memoto’s entire business plan more or less relied on us to run a crowdfunding campaign to get the finances needed for mass production of the cameras. Also, we had timed the campaign to start on Tuesday, October 23rd (after, don’t forget, changing the date once already) with high-profile media lined up to publish our story on that date, our friends waiting with their fingers on re-tweet buttons and a launch party planned at our Stockholm office on the night of the launch. Failing to launch on October 23rd would mean trouble on a scale we barely dared to consider.
First version of Memoto’s Kickstarter video.
On Wednesday October 17th, with only six days left before launch date, we received Kickstarter’s verdict. Our submitted project was not accepted.
The video contained parts that were seen as simulations and there were much more explanations needed to show the functional prototype. With so much lacking and so little time to fix it, getting through to launch date suddenly seemed unrealistic. After the miserable first video, then the change in guidelines in the middle of our preparations and now this, we were seriously starting to consider giving up the whole idea around a Kickstarter project. As a plan B, Memoto’s development team gathered in Linköping to quickly build our own webshop, inspired by what that the team behind Lockitron had done.
Meanwhile, we tried getting more specific details from Kickstarter’s support on what we could do to, by a long shot, be accepted. What exactly did we need to remove or add? Could it be negotiated in any way? After two nerve-racking days, Kickstarter’s support team got back to us with clarifications that actually gave us a little ray of hope. 24 hours of hard (slightly panicked) work later, we had restructured our project page and reedited the video to fit the new instructions.
We submitted the new version.
Crossed our fingers.
And…we were still not accepted.
A frantic back-and-forth conversation with the Kickstarter support team followed, where they gradually specified what was needed and we gradually added, removed and reedited until finally, early Saturday morning (!), we got the long anticipated news that we had been approved! This was only three days before launch day and the sigh of relief we let out could probably be heard from our offices in Linköping, Sweden to Kickstarter’s in New York, USA.
Our Kickstarter journey was about to begin.