Memoto: Secrets of a half-million-dollar Kickstarter campaign

By Oskar Kalmaru , written on December 2, 2012

From The News Desk

On November 30, Sweden's Memoto closed a month-long Kickstarter campaign that raised $550,000 to manufacture a lifelogging wearable camera. Last week, we published a story about Memoto and the implications of its camera. Here, we present a guest post from Memoto co-founder Oskar Kalmaru in which he takes us behind the scenes of the startup's wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.

Memoto’s Kickstarter project was launched on October 23, with the goal of reaching $50,000 before November 30. The end result would turn out to be way more – more than $500,000 – but we didn’t know that when we started. So, let’s go back to the beginning: Sweden, spring of 2012.

From March to June, the Memoto team expanded from three founders to a staff of 12, thanks to funding from the founders and Swedish governmental institutions. 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.

We wouldn’t have much to show the outside world in terms of prototypes for another six 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 we thought we had a lot to learn by listening to the public response.

So from the very beginning, more than half a year before the Kickstarter launch, Memoto started reaching out to the community of lifeloggers and "quantified self" enthusiasts. We created a blog, made a Facebook page, and opened up a Twitter account, and got our friends at HouseofRadon do a promo video for us.

We started to collect all the intelligent and interesting thoughts we stumbled upon related to lifelogging, and posted them to our blog, Retweeted them, and shared them 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 start the production of a full-length documentary. We sent two young film students on a six-week 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.

Meanwhile, Memoto secured a seed round of funding from Passion Capital. The extra capital enabled us to continue developing the Memoto camera and software, as well as grow the team. But the money wasn't enough to cover the cost of 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, we set to work on a Kickstarter page.

"Preparing a Kickstarter page" is not the same as "preparing for a Kickstarter project.” We learned from other Kickstarter projects (like Boosted BoardsThe Pebble Watch1Q, and The Biochemies DNA Molecule Plush Dolls) a few key points:

  • 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 needs constant care. You need to post updates to keep the project alive, keep backers in the loop about the project’s progress, and curate discussions in external channels
These realizations would later turn out to be not more than a fraction of the lessons we would learn in the coming weeks.

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. 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.

Now we were in the middle of September, only weeks before the planned October launch date 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.

Behind the scenes of the making of the new product video Behind the scenes of the making of the new product video

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 look 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 problem hit, and this time it was a major one.

On the evening of September 21, Kickstarter posted a statement on its blog introducing some important changes to the guidelines for hardware projects like Memoto’s. You were no longer allowed to use 3D renderings, which it exactly what we had. Furthermore, we were not allowed to show product simulations – for example, “Here’s how the camera would work, if it did work.” Finally, multiple quantities of rewards were abolished, meaning we couldn’t go ahead with our planned pledge levels of twin packs or special offers such as “Buy 10 for the price of eight."

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.

The next day, we had a crisis meeting. There seemed to be three options: 1) find another, less scrupulous, service for our project; 2) stick with our time schedule and launch an extremely downscaled version of the project; or 3) wait until the camera and app were ready enough to show according to the new guidelines (which wouldn't be until December).

We decided to go with a fourth one. We quickly postponed the announced launch by two weeks. 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.

After an intense two weeks, in which HouseofRadon gathered their forces to do not only the video but also a concept animation for the app and other illustrations, 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 23 with high-profile media lined up to publish our story on that date, our friends waiting with their fingers on Retweet buttons, and a launch party planned at our Stockholm office. Failing to launch would mean trouble on a scale we barely dared to consider.

On Wednesday October 17, only six days before launch date, we received Kickstarter’s verdict. Our project was rejected.

Kickstarted said some parts of the video were simulations, and it needed more explanations for 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 Kickstarter project. As a plan B, Memoto’s development team gathered in the southern city of Linköping to quickly build our own web shop, 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. Twenty-four 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. The sigh of relief we let out from our office in Linköping could probably be heard in Kickstarter’s in New York.

We have lift-off

The day before the launch, the Memoto team gathered in our Stockholm office. Normally, we’re scattered across Sweden, but for the launch we figured we should all get together and enjoy the first days of the Kickstarter campaign in the same room.

We had lists of reporters and influential people in our network that we were prepared to call and beg for their engagement in order to boost interest the first hours. We had started an unofficial Facebook event to lure our friends to the launch. For the first days of the campaign, each person in the Memoto team of 15 had a designated promotion task – call your friends, email 100 reporters, DM people on Twitter – to help us get started. It was not going to be easy, we thought, but we were committed to put in the effort needed to make the project fly.

In the evening before launch day, we went out for dinner and started talking about our expectations for the days to come. We had learned that the first 48 hours are crucial for any Kickstarter campaign. The exact numbers vary, but the general consensus is that if you haven’t raised 30 percent of your goal (in our case $15,000 of our $50,000 goal – or 75 pledged purchases) within the first two days, you’re bound to have a tough time making it to 100 percent during the rest of your campaign period.

Memoto team dinner, the night before launch Memoto team dinner, the night before launch

Someone at the dinner table took a bold guess. “We should be able to get to 30 percent the first day, shouldn’t we?” I couldn’t contain my skepticism. “Are you crazy? How would we do that? If we’d have 75 people pledging for a camera the first day, we’d have a conversation rate from our mail subscription list of 25 percent! Get real.”

I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

Come Tuesday morning, waking up on team member’s mattresses somewhere on the other side Stockholm, we opened our laptops to watch the campaign see the light of day. Amazed, we witnessed our baby getting the kind of reception we had only dreamed of.

After the first 15 minutes, 50 very quick-on-the-draw people had watched our campaign video and 10 trigger-happy backers had pledged for a camera. After 30 minutes, we had reached 10 percent of our total goal of $50,000. After an hour, we had passed 20 percent, and the beautiful linear progress kept on climbing.

On the Interwebs, the word on Memoto started to spread. We got headlines on The Verge, TechCrunch, and TheNextWeb. Wired UK, Huffington Post, El Pais in Spain, and Internet World in Sweden also picked up on the story. The talk about Memoto continued on Twitter, Reddit, Hacker News, and Quora. The designated begging lists we were supposed to use to get people’s attention were quickly thrown out the office window.

Not that we could, by any means, kick back and relax. Instead, we would soon learn the real power of crowdfunding: the crowd. But more about that in a bit. First, let me finish bragging about the funding progress the first 24 hours.

After three hours, we had raised $25,000.

After four hours, we had reached $40,000.

After four hours and 35 minutes, we passed our campaign goal: $50,000. The Memoto camera was going to happen.

Now the natural question: In hindsight, why did we set such a low goal?

Well, the truth is simply that $50,000 was roughly what we needed to get the cameras into production. Probably a higher goal would have been nice to increase the ability to solve unforeseen obstacles with money, but frankly we didn’t dare set the goal as high as, say, $100,000, because of the risk of not reaching it and thus losing it all. The $50,000 target felt attainable.

The Memoto team celebrates passing its $50,000 goal The Memoto team celebrates passing its $50,000 goal

But by the time people started arriving for our launch party, we had doubled our goal target. When the night was over, we had raised three times our initial goal and reached the first "stretch goal" that we made up almost in panic earlier in the afternoon.

Despite the fantastic, enormous and, for the most part, positive buzz that flew in and out of our mailboxes and Twitter feeds, it should be said that not all of the mentions and discussions about Memoto were completely positive. The most common concerns were, not surprisingly, about privacy issues, integrity, and security. Plus, the inevitable and always nice, “What the heck is this for?” question. These concerns were much aligned with what we had expected. Using the prepared FAQ, we were able to immediately take part in the discussions and present our point of view. .

After just a few hours in the campaign, we learned how valuable all these discussions were going to be for our product development. Reddit, for example, quickly killed what we thought was a key feature of our service. On the Kickstarter page, we had proudly stated: "the photos are automatically uploaded to Memoto’s servers.” Convenient, we thought.

The Reddit community thought differently. Redditors argued vocally for it to be optional to store your photos on Memoto’s servers and questioned why they should trust Memoto with photos randomly and automatically taken. We tried explaining the reason behind our thinking but quickly realized we were the ones mistaken and that the demands were fair.

The next day, we started researching the possibilities to meet the demand of optional local storage. In the evening, we were able to publish a Kickstarter update saying this feature would be included if we reached the next stretch goal of $350,000, to finance the extra development it would need. At the same time, we threw in a couple of other features that had also been requested by the crowd during the first day of the campaign.

It all happened very quickly, but in just over the first 48 hours we had some crucial insights on how Kickstarter works:

  • It’s a crowd funding platform. (Notice the two words; not “crowdfunding.”) It is a crowd that is funding you, not a single person or VC firm that you can schedule a Skype meeting with when you have time a week from now, but actually a group of people willing to  give you money for something that no-one knows for sure will ever exist. They are more than “users,” more than “customers.” They are champions of your idea and they should be treated with respect, gratitude, transparency, and an eagerness to go many extra miles to meet their expectations.
  • During a Kickstarter campaign, the best investment you can make is to spend time talking with backers, converted or potential. Done right, you get both inspiration and positive feedback to help you through the hard work needed, plus you learn what works with your product and what doesn’t. Your backers essentially become a virtual product development team. If you doubt it, think about the costs of running a focus group or market research campaign. (Even that is not fair, since respondents in a focus group rarely have made the same commitment to your product as your Kickstarter backers have.) Help them help you and you'll get it back 11-fold.
  • Community management takes time. At Memoto we had to double our community management team from two to four people during the Kickstarter campaign in order to monitor and manage the questions and incoming feedback. You are expected to be extremely quick and correct in your interaction on the Comments section, in your Updates, when personally contacting backers, and in your feedback emails, Twitter discussions, and Facebook threads.
  • Stretch goals are great, but not in the way we thought. It’s hard to prove with A/B tests, but our feeling after having announced three stretch goals, and having reached two of them, is that stretch goals don’t work as triggers for backers. We saw little or no effect on the funding graphs after announcing a stretch goal. Why? We don’t know. What a stretch goal does enable, though, is the ability for you to talk about things to come, thereby inflating your original product with more valuable features even before they are made. For instance, being able to offer the stretch goal reward of “double-tap to take a picture” made the idea of the Memoto camera bigger and better without costing us money upfront for development. Plus, it proved that we listened to our backers.
  • It’s a process, not a product. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the insight still grew on us as our project evolved. Your initial Kickstarter page and video is basically just a statement on where you’re at by the time the campaign starts. With the help of your backers, this will change and improve over time and you will have iterated your project plan over and over until you come out on the other end with a different product than you first launched. To talk in tech-project terms: Kickstarter may require a waterfall spec to launch your project, but it is actually a scrum platform.
  • Don’t be cheap on details. Your backers deserve to know whatever they want to know about your product. What is the name of the sensor in the Memoto camera? Will I be able to use your API to build a Windows app? What’s the photo quality in dawning light? Tell it, and tell it honestly. Use Kickstarter’s various media platforms to place your level of information right: large-scale, top-level “sales points” in the video, essential product information in the page body, nitty-gritty, nice-to-know stuff in your FAQ.
After those first hectic days when everything was chaos, we started to get on top of things again. We brought in extra personnel to assist with the community management. That meant the rest of the communications team could spend some time figuring out the next steps, and the dev team could focus on developing the product.

Most requested feature: Memoto camera for cats Most requested feature: A camera for cats

As the campaign went on, we kept getting the most unexpected inquiries and requests. Adventurers wanting a camera for their walk around the world, researchers seeing a use for a Memoto camera when doing research on sheep, and a world-known rock band asking to have a couple of cameras to document their next tour. And then, there were distributors offering to get the cameras out to the most unexpected markets, super cool social media brands initiating partnerships, and one or two investors placing their money on the table for a stake in the company.

So far we’ve had to turn most of them down. Not because we don’t like their ideas, but simply because we have increasingly seen our need for focus. In a few weeks, we literally went from zero to thousands of buyers, and with that comes a responsibility to also ship what we’ve promised. Seems obvious, I know, but it doesn’t happen out of nowhere and at the time of writing we still have many hard hours of work ahead of us before the first cameras land on doorsteps.

It feels great that we have closed the campaign and raised more than $550,000. But even more important has been the validation of our idea. The thousands of cameras sold, and the positive feedback have, for sure, kept our egos running, but it's because of the "constructive" feedback that we’ve really been able to tighten our product development and keep ourselves on the right track. For this, Memoto owes it to our backers to have a kick-ass product in their hands within a few months. And that is what we will spend all our time on now.

Key data points from Memoto's Kickstarter campaign:

  • Total campaign time: 38 days, 5 hours
  • Number of backers: 2,871
  • Number of new Twitter followers: 802
  • Number of new Facebook page fans: 2,414
  • Number of visits to 116,439 (99,177 unique)
  • Most popular pledge level on Kickstarter: $249 (45 percent of backers, 59 percent of money raised)
  • Total amount pledged: $550,189
  • Average pledge amount: $191
  • Traffic source delivering highest percentage of pledging: ($107,185)
  • Number of video plays: 102,788 (62,054 on Kickstarter; 40,734 outside of Kickstarter)
  • Number of cameras sold: 2,346