Kickstarter is an amazing resource for entrepreneurs looking for the funding to launch a big idea. And, while there are plenty of guides for how to create and run a successful Kickstarter campaign, few have experience with, or understanding of, what must happen in the event their campaign is fully funded. Still fewer have a clue what to do if they are over-funded, leaving the maker responsible for a legitimate response to large community of backers.
In the world of Kickstarter product campaigns, this response is called reward fulfillment.
For example, at the time of this posting there is a Kickstarter campaign that has blown all funding expectations out of the water. A creatively, comically zany card game called Exploding Kittens (@gameofkittens) has, well, exploded. Creators Elan Lee and Matthew Inman, the latter of @oatmeal fame, asked potential backers for a reasonable $10K to fund the production and launch of their game. The response was something Kickstarter had never seen.
Within 20 minutes, the campaign had been fully funded. All $10,000 the makers requested had been pledged by a community of backers eager to support the project and share their excitement, spreading the word at viral speeds.
Within 12 days, the campaign had received $5,000,000 in funding and, to complicate things, they achieved more individual backers than any campaign in Kickstarter history (+130,000). This is where we get to the point of this post.
TWO PAINFUL REALITIES OF SUCH AN EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL KICKSTARTER PROJECT ARE:
1. THE CAMPAIGN'S CREATORS ARE NO LONGER JUST CREATING A PRODUCT. THEIR SUCCESS IN THE MEDIA HAS TAKEN OVER AND CREATED A NEW BRAND TO WHICH THEY'VE BECOME ACCOUNTABLE.
2. THEY HAVE COMPLETELY SKIPPED THE "BETA" PHASE OF GOING TO MARKET IN A TIMED ROLLOUT, BUT ARE STILL OBLIGATED TO LAUNCH A NEW PRODUCT; AND NOT TO DISTRIBUTORS...TO CONSUMERS!
Instead of being responsible for standard(@Forbes) "successful" Kickstarter funding—fulfilling a few hundred, or even a few thousand, products to their supporters, the Exploding Kittens campaign now has to do a full-scale product launch and successfully ship at least 1 deck of cards to over 130,000 individuals. Their new brand has created an identity synonymous with success, and whether they wanted it or not, they are now accountable to it.
We don't have all of the numbers in yet, but we've estimated the logistical requirements behind this kind of response using what we do know. Again, running a successful Kickstarter comes with a massive list of to-dos, but we are just focusing on the post-campaign physical response.
For backer expectations to be met, the reward fulfillment effort for @gameofkittens will need to look something like this:
- Campaign Closes, Product Manufacturing Begins
All funds become available. This is the part where successful campaigners start paying manufacturing partners and suppliers.
- Backer Address Confirmation
Residential or Commercial? Domestic or International? An email survey confirms all backers' preferred shipping addresses.
- Distribution List Development
Final address data is compiled into address-to-reward matches. "Bob Wilson gave at the $20 Reward Level, so he gets X shipped to his home address. Jenny Thomas gave at $35 Reward Level, so she gets Y sent to her office." And so on.
- Product Arrives at Fulfillment Center
This card game is a printed paper product, so production doesn't happen in a swampy workshop in someone's basement. It likely involves at least one large, experienced print house. And, with the exception of a few of the larger print houses in the U.S., the majority of printers you'll find will ship out their final product to a third-party fulfillment center to manage individual distribution. We'll assume that is the case here. Once the shipment arrives at the fulfillment center, it is received into inventory—that means new product moves to its place within a pick-and-pack workflow, and is labeled for internal tracking (typically with a barcode used on master cartons for inventory management).
- Shipping Strategy
The individual product SKUs are weighed and an outbound shipping calculation is tallied. Totals for U.S. and International shipments are taken into account before assigning carriers and shipping methods. In this case, USPS and/or regional networks would be a fine low-cost solution for the campaign's domestic backers (so long as shipment tracking is not a priority). And, a consolidator would be an ideal solution for International shipments, ensuring a low, per-pound shipping rate for parcels leaving the country.
- Shipment Customization
Some Kickstarter successes have chosen to send backers exactly what was listed in their reward level and nothing more, but, there is a missed opportunity in that strategy. This community has magically formed around your product, or idea, so why not go the extra mile to thank them? Customizing each reward through either a personalized "Thank You" note or letter can make lifelong friends and brand ambassadors. Production of any custom materials should happen at this stage, and be added to the pick-and-pack inventory for insertion into matching packages.
- Order Fulfillment
The bulk of the work happens here. To responsibly use the funds backers have pledged, this process must be as streamlined and cost-effective as possible. At this stage, each product station has been labeled, so each backer address becomes an order to be fulfilled. Over 130,000 shipments need to be prepared, and time is of the essence. All of these orders should be accurately packed and shipped within 3 or 4 days. At that rate, a minimum of 25 order packing professionals are going to be needed—each packer assembling orders at a clip of 1,680 per day(240 shipments/hr @ 7 hr/day).
This response is going to be real work, even for a veteran 3PL/Fulfillment company with pre-existing processes and automation in place. When the campaign closes, after 30 days of open funding, Exploding Kittens becomes a real-world product with real-world customers. Here's to their successful response to their backers. It really looks like an hilarious game, and we can't wait to get our decks.