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We turned $140k on Kickstarter into $40k debt and broke even (medium.com)
757 points by CaliforniaKarl on Nov 28, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 261 comments

I do a lot of marketing, and I smiled seeing what you spent money on. I've been most of those places with bigger budgets and similar results. When I'm working with good companies it usually turns into something more like product management with some relevant search or contextual advertising.

> We fell into a trap. We thought marketing meant we had to come at people sideways to get them to give us money. Turn’s [sic] out, the game’s just good and people want to play it.

One small suggestion: you're not doing a great job on the up/cross sale. I went to your site and added the game to the cart. But after reading about the expansion I WANTED the expansion. Make it easier for people to add them on. Every large ecommerce store does this. It's helpful to your users, increases RPS, and (when done right) relevant enough to not be annoying. Make sure to find a non-popup solution that won't get blocked by ad blockers.

I'll be buying the product and an expansion based on the Amazon reviews: good luck making some money!

Mind telling what RPS stands for? I'm Googling, but can't find anything relevant.

I believe it's Revenue Per Sale.

The advertising industry seems to rival the military in its fondness for acronyms.

Or the software industry, for that matter. TLA's are a literal cliche for us ;) Consider e.g. "This TCP segment has SYN bit set and a random number used for SEQ(A) synchronization". Or, at the more pointy headed side of the spectrum: TDD, TOS, SaaS, etc.

I just recently worked with the AWS IoT MQTT SDK. It was pretty nice.

Acronyms have their place though - you can convey your thoughts tersely and usually reduce ambiguity, which is important in technical writing. You are probably doing a disservice to your reader by expanding acronyms (after first use) in most lengthy technical communication. Imagine a 1 pager full of sentences like the one you used in the example, but with no acronyms allowed. I think it would be harder to read.

It also depends on the perceived audience I guess.

Without presumption of your nationality, but mentioned here because of "expanding acronyms", I've noticed that North Americans almost exclusively seem to use an acronym and then explain it, whilst the rest of the English speaking world does the proper thing of using a term and then introducing an acronym to abbreviate.

Absolutely, but the same is true of marketing acronyms, right? My only point was well, people in glass houses and all that...

The advertising industry is very good at advertising the advertising industry

Can I buy a vowel?

Can you name an industry that doesn't have a fondness for acronyms?

The funeral industry. But it's very very fond of metonyms.

Revenue per sale, but in ecommerce, the standard term is "average order value."

Inserting [sic] into a quote usually comes across as a pretentious nitpick.

In recent months, "pretentious" (along with "elitist" and "smug") is starting to sound like a high compliment. Humanity could really use a few more pretentious nitpickers right about now.

Yes, humanity really needs a taskforce to combat misplaced apostrophes

Facebook ads: spent $1000, got 20 clicks and 0 sales

Is that for real? Is everyone else's experience with Facebook advertising similar?

Anecdotal response: As a user, I hate facebook ads so much that the dislike bleeds into the product/service being advertised. I'm sure xyz widget is great on its own, but facebook insists on inserting ads into really strange contexts, like next to a heart felt eulogy by my friend or someone's random anti-Trump rant that I am tagged in.

Facebook ads for me are "anti-ads". They associate the product with really bad feelings through poor contextualization.

Not a Facebook user, but I see Twitter ads. If they're irrelevant to my interests, and almost all are, I flag them with the "Not relevant" link, which has become the awkwardly named "I don't like this".

I'm routinely surprised that despite me talking openly about my interests, I just don't get relevant ads. On one of my most frequently used sites (about basketball), the ads this week have been all womens fashion. I've not searched womens fashion and my wife doesn't use my laptop or phone. Waste of ad money.

They probably guessed that you were male and then showed you women's fashion to make you buy something for your wife.

I have come to understand advertising a lot better since I asked, while looking at some lingerie ad, "Who would ever want to wear something like that?" and someone replied "This ad is for your spouse who wants to see you in this."

> "This ad is for your spouse who wants to see you in this."

The same reason that underpants come packaged with pictures of hunky guys on the front. The guys aren't there for the men wearing the underpants, so presumably they're there for the women buying them.

They're also there for you: "Maybe I'll look more like this wearing these?"

They don't crop the faces off the model's picture only for costs. They don't have a face so that it's easier to project yourself with said body.

My wife's fashion choices are best left to her. Giftware or gift vouchers for fashion stores I could understand, but not dresses.

Meanwhile, I research hiking trips almost every day of the year, talk online about hiking frequently, and I can't remember seeing a single ad for hiking gear or anything remotely related.

I agree with you, women's fashion choices are not something I think I'm an authority on. But, I research music equipment thoroughly before I make a purchase. There are a couple sites I use that I've white listed in AdBlocker and they serve me ads for music gear incessantly. Ironically, it's for a lot of the same equipment I've already purchased.

The timing of the ad makes me think that they are going after holiday shoppers. Might not be a waste?

In theory perhaps you're right. But for women's dresses, I'd be advertising to women, not hoping men dare buy clothes for their partner!

Have you tried this?


Fixed it for me. Web-only, but I just removed the icon from my phone's home screen and my FB usage went way down, which I think is a good thing.

I did the same thing, except I turned it off after $500. My professional opinion is that Facebook's platform is very accessible for anyone to get up and running with (good). And in terms of offering advertisers good analytics and actionable feedback, it's pretty much garbage (bad).

My background: I spent a couple years optimizing Google PPC campaigns as a full-time professional when I was at a digital marketing agency. I held Adwords certification for a couple years. I added this so people don't think I just couldn't figure out how to do PPC in general.

It depends a lot on the product and the audience, but from my experience, you are never going to get results with your first $500 or $1000 on Facebook Ads, regardless your background. It takes a lot of trial and error just to understand what works, and then some more to drill down, get better, lower costs, etc. I'd say you are looking at three months and several thousand dollars of experimenting at least to start getting decent results, even with a strong PPC background. Facebook is just a completely different beast.

You can most definitely not set up your first campaign, pick the first targeting criteria that comes to mind, and expect good results with a positive ROI within the same day. If you don't keep at, it of course you are going to walk out with the idea that Facebook Ads don't work.

Source: Spent a six figure amount on Facebook over the course of two years.

>You can most definitely not set up your first campaign, pick the first targeting criteria that comes to mind, and expect good results with a positive ROI within the same day.

I have actually literally done this. Just took a stab at an audience, got sales that justified the ad right away.

But we're in a great position with profit margins. They're hand assembled craft items that people generally buy for gifts or weddings, so cost to make is low and sell price is pretty good. Businesses that require high volume on low margins would have a much worse time.

I have a suspicion that artisan products might also work better on Facebook in general, given the context that the users are in when they're on Facebook?

I have done this as well, but it really comes down to the product you're selling. We're an ISP and our market is extremely under served, so people are literally desperate for a better option. Easy sell, IMO. I imagine we'd have a hard time trying to sell literally anything else locally on FB.

Soecifically for weddings, what was the demographic / criteria that you targeted ?

Women, 24+, interested in family, weddings, gifts, babies, family photos, etc. We kept it to Australia for now, but I'm working on going international.

Since the items integrate the buyer's photo, people also often use them as memorials of dead people, but we didn't specifically target that. Yet.

We have just completed a profitable FB campaign (5.5x ROI), after many attempts. The key for us was:

(1) Audience. We created a lookalike audience based on the attributes of our high spenders, which outperformed all previous attempts by a significant margin. I appreciate this option is not going to be available to businesses with no existing customer base.

(2) Tracking. Given the majority of our ads are served on mobile, but convert on desktop or iPad, only Facebook is able to join up the impression and transaction. Previously we had expected to be able to see the attribution in Google Analytics.

This. I also rarely see mentions in comments like this about how they did some basic statistical significance checks. Depending on the conversion goal, sales cycle, and revenue, you might be looking at spending a large sum over a period of months to get proper benchmarks for efficacy.

This was my impression as well. But, from our graphs, you can see we didn't have much to work with in terms of advertising budget.

Further, I think this is true of all advertising to some degree. I doubt the first print ad or billboard you buy has positive ROI.

> Is that for real? Is everyone else's experience with Facebook advertising similar?

Yeah. It's called "Facebook Fraud". See a real live experiment someone did, to figure out the true reach and ROI on Facebook Advertizing. => https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVfHeWTKjag I too did a similar experiment using a pre-paid Visa card (for 50$) so that FB doesn't keep charging my Credit Card and/or lets it get stolen from bad security practices. My results were similar to the guy in the Youtube Video.

Facebook's likes and "reach" are mostly automated or from in-house click-farms in South-east asia (think India, Vietnam, Phillipines etc)

That video is well worth a watch, but to summarise it: the channel owner's users are predominantly first-world and engage with his channel to some degree. He purchased FB advertising to promote his channel, and got a huge amount of traffic 'from' third-world locations that didn't engage (leave comments, etc) and that came from content-free FB accounts that liked hundreds to thousands of FB pages with no particular pattern.

Couldn't be more obviously a scam if it was twirling a waxed moustache.

I've had this experience as well. I'd love an opportunity to chat with someone who runs these click farms for a living, so I can understand their motivations a little more clearly.

I can't wrap my head around why someone would run a bot farm to click on my FB ads. It's not like AdSense, where they're getting a cut. I've read a theory it's to hide the bot accounts from Facebook's bot-detectors. But if people like in your experience can easily ID the obviously fake accounts, FB can (using the same criteria you mentioned).

I get FB has moral hazard to allow bot clicks, because they get paid. But if they're so sophisticated as to require fake engagement on ads (which is why I care -- I'm getting charged!), wouldn't they also be monitoring the simple heuristic you provided?

This could be explained by Facebook requiring bots to make them money to not get banned, but I don't think there's sufficient evidence for such a conspiracy just yet.

In the end, all I care about is how much I put into FB ads, and how much directly attributable revenue that generates. The fraud might hide otherwise profitable campaigns (ones that don't break even), but frequently this isn't the primary concern. (My concerns are usually, "does this part of Lake Facebook have any fish I can catch?", followed by the step 2 of optimizing the campaign to get a positive ROI.

Like someone below said bots are more complicated than just clicking on what brings them money.

In order to be not detected as bots, they need to behave like humans. Hence, they like and visit websites that they have no special interest in. Think of it this way: 50% of what they click is just something random, other 50% is what their masters programmed them to do.

This really doesn't have to do anything with Facebook. There are companies in Russia and India that sell likes, follows, etc. These bots then have to fake their identity and as a result they like stuff that you pay for as Facebook advertiser. I am sure Facebook does something to mitigate this and block the bots but it's a never-ending game for them and those who sell fake like/follows/etc.

The click farms are a bit more sophisticated than that. Follows and likes are priced based on the level of human intervention: simple bots are cheap but less persistent since they are easy to distinguish from organic traffic. Fake accounts created manually are much harder to detect.

"Couldn't be more obviously a scam if it was twirling a waxed moustache." I am absolutely going to use this at the earliest possible situation!

A potential solution for facebook (if they were inclined) might be to not charge for likes from accounts less than N days old or from accounts with > M total page likes. At least this would make it harder for click farms to get around... or, ya know, try and model click-farm accounts which seems pretty tractable.

> A potential solution for Facebook

Sorry, but Facebook is not looking for a solution. I should've made it clearer in my response, that the like and click farms are managed by Facebook themselves.

They (the Ads Team) moved the click-farms and fake likes in-house after discovering other shady companies that were doing this. Then I think they realized how lucrative it was to their share price and quarterly revenues bottom-line so they went with it.

Why the heck would FB run their own click farms? They own the database... They could generate clicks at will. This is the dumbest conspiracy theory I've seen in a while.

Technically, it wasn't FB, it was Jared doing it secretly, until he was caught by Richard. They tried to keep it secret, but Dinesh and Gilfoyle eventually realized where the uptick in users came from. Dinesh _did_ then offer Richard a program to do just that, edit the databases directly...

Man, I can't wait for Silicon Valley to come back next season lol

Running a click farm instead of editing the database would be the sensible thing to do when trying to keep the operation secret. That way, people inside FB would not know about the fraud.

That's a pretty extreme claim. Is there any evidence?

Yes. See my other comments and evidence (the most I could provide without getting in trouble). I worked at the Ads Team as a Contractor.

Just because you get a lot of clicks from Asia, it doesn't mean that they have click farms there. Don't know if you've been to Southeast Asia, but there are a lot of people and most of them use Facebook. If they see the ad they might click it because they're interested, even though they cannot buy the product because they're in the wrong country. Still doesn't mean that FB fakes clicks, it just means they target them badly.

And even if the accounts are fake, they were likely created to sell followers/likes, not to click ads. Clicking on things just shows activity.

I'm sorry I can't really get into a discussion with you (or anyone else) without getting into serious NDA violations.

Well, Facebook's been around for about ten years now, and people tend to check it about once a day, on average, with (say) 5 ads per visit.

So you've personally been served something like 20 000 targeted (!) ads on Facebook, if not more. Have you ever intentionally clicked one? I sure haven't.

When did you ever, upon seeing a TV commercial, pack up and head to the store to buy the thing you saw? Never. Even though you saw many hundreds of thousands of those (OK I'm actually talking about me, growing up pre-internet).

That's not what TV ads are for, and IMO for the same reason not what FB ads are for. They are however both excellent brand advertising mediums. And brand advertising spending is HUGE, therefore FB is worth a gazillion dollars. People don't buy Coke or Nike or Tide because of an ad they remembered seeing, they buy them because of ALL the ads they forgot they saw.

Growing up, I probably saw cool toys advertised and was like "muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum I reaaaaalllly neeeeeed this enormous lego pirate castles it's got hidden doors and cannons everywhere and a TREASURE CHEST. pleeeeeeeaaaaaasssssse".

I didn't get it though. Poor Deprived Child.

Anyway, I always wonder about the brand advertising thing. Do I buy stupidly expensive razor doodads? Sure. Why? Well, I use the same brand my dad did. He bought me the first one and I don't really go in for change, so I've stuck with it. I can logically acknowledge that it's dumb, but here I am yearly spending £30 on razors with more blades than can possibly be necessary.

Coke? I guess I had it somewhere for the first time, I like the taste. I don't think I buy it because of the advertising, I buy it because I like it. Why don't I buy own brand stuff? It tastes different. Would I prefer the own brand stuff if I'd started on that and was used to it? I suspect that is true, so for me it feels like the massive win is in being the first product that I use.

Surely when I go to the shops and pick something off the shelf that I have zero context for: What did family buy? What do friends buy? Is there a brand that somehow jumps out as attractive (advertising works!). But if a first mover gets my social circle to use and approve then that's going to be way more powerful than a shit ton of facebook ads down the line

Just my thoughts.

LOL, that sounds very familiar, I was a PDC too :P.

The global brand ad spend is >$400 Billion a year! It's about 10x bigger than the "transactional" advertising market (Google CPC, coupons, etc). Brand is a very ephemeral almost artsy thing though, and it's not easily broken down into metrics (probably why Google didn't focus on it). Building a brand takes a lot of time and ad impressions to build up. Consider full page magazine ads or most bigger TV commercials; they often don't have a immediately obvious conversion ask, they're more about establishing a perception of something over time.

If you look back to the beginning of commerce, there were no brands. You would go down to the bazar or church to ask around and find out the best grain farmer or milk producers or whatever. The butcher you trusted might say "Oh go see the Quakers, they have the best oats!" That reputation became brand over time as commerce got more complex. Eventually they stuck a picture of a Quaker on the bag of oats to associate a certain expectation of quality or price or consistency with their products. Brand is really sticky too. Once you make that choice as a young adult to buy Tide detergent, or Gillette razors, or Honda cars or Nike shoes, its very likely you'll keep buying Tide, Gillette, Honda, or Nike. The lifetime brand customer value is very high even though the marginal profit on each purchase might be relatively low.

Im just suggesting essentially that the FB news feed is the new TV; a passive state where you "flip though the channels" consuming entertainment, and that's an ideal place to present a brand message. The fact that a FB advert fills the users' mobile screen for a few seconds as they scroll is analogous to how TV commercials interrupt a show for a short period.

On razors: I just don't get why they are still a thing. I got an electric shaving machine in my mid teens, and I still have and use the same damn thing. Basic, cheap Philips machine that probably cost $60 and has lasted literally decades. The battery's long dead, so I just use it plugged in.

Can anyone tell me why razors are better?

Closer shave, more time before I get bristly. I personally prefer a tidy facial appearance. And since having children, more time for snuggles before the whiskers get to scratchy for them :)

They aren't :P

I guess they remove your manly stubble if you're into that, but my clippers keep me going for another day easily :P

> When did you ever, upon seeing a TV commercial, pack up and head to the store to buy the thing you saw? Never.

I just spent $150 today buying a product online I had never before considered or researched, from a company I knew very little about, thanks to an (organic) tweet in my Twitter feed.

So…it does happen, if the timing is right. :)

I'll say one thing about FB advertising. It really is starting to get creepy. I recently entered several new markets and FB was the first to start advertising. I can't believe I'm saying it, but I clicked a few links. A few of them I opened a new tab and googled the company name, just to feel less grimy.

That probably still counted as an attribution.

You're probably right.

I've been served more ads from Google than from Facebook and I've never clicked on one of those either... but somehow Google has managed to turn a profit during that same time.

I've seen the numbers for the company I work at and when they adjust their Google ad spending amount, it correlates pretty directly to sales. I was quite surprised as I had a similar feeling before seeing that.

What's interesting, though, is that the company I work for does a lot of repeat business. So I don't think we actually pick up many new customers. It's more that the ads encourage our existing customers to visit us again. They may not even click on the ad.

Then the ad is doing exactly what it needs to. As mentioned elsewhere, the ad doesn't even need clicks; as long as the ad instills a conscious reminder or unconscious reinforcement of the product/brand then it's done its job.

They make practically zero dollars on each, but make up for it in volume. That's a joke, but it's also their reality. They're much less spammy than most spammers, but they have much better targeting and hugely more volume.

Sponsored articles from pages I have already liked I sometimes click on.

Retargetting works okay for us, nothing amazing but at the same time it isn't throwing money away.

i've stopped liking pages entirely because facebook has started showing you sponsored content from pages your friends liked. i didn't mind clicking like to increase the like count for companies i wanted to support, but i do not want to have any part in my friends being shown ads.

Once I started actually buying products of interest, I will admit I started clicking on a lot more facebook ads as they have become better targeted.

I click google ads when I'm actually looking to buy something. I don't when I'm looking for anything else. I never click Facebook ads, as Facebook seems to think I'm someone I am very far from being.

I've heard a lot of similar experiences using both FB and Google.

I feel like the entire ad-tech industry is a house of cards that is bound to topple over at some point.

Most online ads today are not aimed for direct sale or click, but more for impression. When you have big budget to deliver hundreds of millions of impressions, it CAN work.

You have to be good at it!

Yes, it's very possible to throw money into a hole with advertising. If you're selling something people don't want, targeting the wrong people, or have ads that don't work with your audience then you'll get nothing back.

Buying advertising isn't a guarantee. Lots of people with little advertising experience would do good to seek out tools and advice to get started.

Oh yeah. I've def click on other people's Facebook ads. It's not a skill that I had and we didn't have the bankroll for me to get good at it.

I think it is too. We finally killed our campaigns on bing, google, and fb - we go with just a few smaller ads on more targeted platforms... and get 10x the results for 1% of the money.

Still nothing to brag about, but money on adwords is definitely money wasted

What are these targeted platforms and how did you find them?

There're many RTB platforms (hundreds of them) specialized in different ad format and area. For example, some are good at mobile app ad, some are good at video ad, some are good at targeting user behavior. One common rule to perform well in your small-budget ad campaign is to maintain your own site-list (list of website relevant to your product). For example, if I wanna sell a video game, I'll target websites like gamestop and ign exclusively instead of wasting my money on google search ad or facebook. This might not work for big budget because you'll have trouble spending all the money.

That's precisely it.

Advertise to people who are already interested in your type of product in places they may be looking for something new. Games at Gamestop/IGN etc, specific subreddits, books at goodreads, camping/hiking stuff on hiking boards.

Not really, it works great for some people. I'm very interested constantly turning over 1.2x roi using FB.

There are just specific types of campaigns you don't do using FB and if you're not experienced you most likely burn money.

Print and TV ads are probably worse and they are still there. The thing replacing them is online ads.

I think adwords is likely heavily dependent on what you are selling. For example trying to make money on a popular travel term is going to be impossible, but selling a niche long tail product with little competition and cheap cost per click might be fine.

Which is kind of scary given that most the major internet services (search, social media, news, etc.) are basing their entire business models around advertising. Would hate to see the state of the economy if that started to dry up.

This turns out to be an argument for ad-blocking.

By blocking all ads, because I am not going to buy anything from an ad anyhow, I'm not being counted towards your bill, which makes things cheaper for you and more pleasant for me.

You're welcome.

Only for awareness marketing.

Usually direct response marketing (like ads to buy a game) is paid per click, so you weren't getting people charged before you started ad blocking, when you weren't clicking on the ad anyways.

And as a beside, people typically don't do direct response marketing to engineers, because it's known they don't click on ads and they're better marketed to through referrals from other engineers and online content (like this article).

Yes, exactly that.

I'd love an easy option to only include ads on sites that I trust, or that do ads well, and some reliable metrics surrounding that. Then content producers could get some feedback on "ad acceptance rates" and create better user experiences.

Now that I think about it, one of the most obnoxious things about online ads isn't that they are eerily intelligent, but that they are still mostly dumb forms of broadcast.

It's real. I asked all my digital marketing friends for advice too. I made ~20 iterations, tried different pictures, headlines, targeting schemes to no avail.

There are def ways to make it work, but it's not an easy thing. If I were to try again, I'd make an audio-less video.

Getting started from 0 with ads on facebook is hard.

If you don't have good email lists, have the money to throw at ads to figure out your ad groups / demographics (just because purple fish people are your #1 customers doesn't mean they buy things off of facebook ads), and don't have a whole ecosystem (landing pages, cross platform re targeting, etc), its an uphill battle that even the pros can't always get working right.

Good on you for trying. Back when I ran ads, a common story from small clients was "I spent $50 - $200 and didn't get any sales, so I figured it wasn't for us" - At least you figured out it wasn't for you, or it wasn't for your budget/time scale.

Judging by the game, your target market is not the type of person who responds to a Facebook ad. I'm running tons of ads on FB, but my market is less sophisticated. I'm surprised by how many responses we get.

Just to throw in our experience (hardware product, UK market) we've tried facebook a few of times over the last 3 years.

The initial attempt was a massive fail, we wasted about £3K on facebook ads to generate about £300 in sales.

Following season we focussed on TV ads and generating lots of reviews from our existing happy customers. We then gave facebook another attempt at the end of the season and generated as much sales and traffic as all of the tv advertising for about £3k of facebook ads.

The primary difference was knowing who our customer is - which we learned from the TV ad customers, you can probably learn from your Kickstarter backers. For all of the TV generated sales we got reviews and sent out surveys to each customer. From this, we learned 1. What people loved about the product (which we could use is ad copy) and 2. Who they were and why they purchased.

This allowed us to create very targetted facebook ad campaigns and hence the improved ROI. Facebook is excellent at generating very cheap traffic but only when you get the audience dialed in.

Also, read anything written by Nick Kolenda (http://www.nickkolenda.com/) amazing stuff.

How about adding an ad on reddit?

About 4 years ago, we got fairly good response rates from Facebook advertising (for SaaS apps, rather than physical products), but nowadays, FB advertising is next to useless. The stats in the article pretty much reflect what we see these days. At most, we get 'Likes' on our app FB page, but pretty much NEVER get any click throughs or sign ups to our apps.

That was pretty much ours: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12969922.

Our best advertising bang has for years been our blog: http://www.seliger.com/blog, in part because many of the topics we write about are also the kinds of search strings people interested in hiring us tend to use.

I have the same thought in the Facebook Ads and Google Adwords control panel that I do sitting down at a craps table:

"I'm going to lose all of this, aren't I?"

Are you very experienced with either? As someone who manages digital media for a living and has dealt with 8 figure budgets, I certainly don't feel that way. However I'm very aware of how expectations are often not properly set by either company.

In their quest to reduce the friction to people's wallets Google and FB in some ways portray it as clicking a few buttons, creating a couple ads, selecting some suggested targets and you'll make a ton of money right off the bat. And perhaps that used to work to some degree.

The reality is that professionals tend to change or disable most of the defaults because they don't perform well or have other issues. We then go in implementing tried and tested best practices, knowing full well performance will still suck initially and that we have a long, expensive road of testing and optimization before we have things dialed in.

It is a tough business challenge because to some degree it is like trying to cram something simplistic like Paint into a hugely technical and complex platform like Photoshop. You just wanted to draw a damn cat, but there are all these confusing menus and tool bars, these weird layer things, and before you know it you've wasted an afternoon and end up just paying someone to draw it for you before you waste more time.

If you're sitting at the craps table then you're the only one who is likely to win...

A company I know well cough is built an app and pays about $7/download via Facebook ads. This company has tried many other options and while it has gotten more conversions using alternatives, the users have tended to be poorer in quality (much lower DAUs/MAUs). I have heard the average cost/download via Facebook is lower than $7 (maybe $5) for an app like this one, but I think it has been worth the money spent, and I would/will do it again. And yeah this company has spent quite a bit more than $1k on these ads.

Downloading a free App is a lower hurdle than buying a card game, so it doesn't surprise me that the author didn't see many conversions. I have read that if your customer acquisitions costs are less than or equal to the money you expect to make off of them during your first year with the customer (supposing a subscription model, not unlike a card game with expansion packs), then you are doing well. The author has seen that his customers have often become repeat customers, so it may be ok to expect that $17.76 is an ok price to pay per converted user, so long as you expect some larger percentage of them will come back for expansion packs.

Some notes: DUDE! it took me WAY TOO LONG to figure out where to buy your game! The link to the product is at THE VERY BOTTOM of your Medium article. PUT IT AT THE TOP WHERE YOU MENTION IT FOR THE FIRST TIME (sorry for yelling). Make it easy for people to find and buy your game!

Haha, you got it!

I like that the price of your game $17.76 hints to the date of the Declaration of Independence.

Try a good subreddit. So far spent <$5, got 300+ impressions, 5 click throughs and 5 subscriptions.

Agreed. Tight-knit communities are by far the best way to market your product/service. Low volume, but high quality if you can pull it off. The catch is that you have to toe the line between being "that annoying marketing person" and someone who's genuinely trying to help out the community. If you aren't trying to help them out, then you'll find yourself being voted out of the tribe very quickly.

Thanks for the tip. I will look at that.

If you've spent $1000, got 20 clicks and 0 sales, then either your targeting or your ad or both are piss poor.

I have made quite a lot of money (and lost quite a lot in the beginning) advertising on Facebook ads in the past. Just because you have a lot of experience with Google Search PPC doesn't mean you'll have success with Facebook, and visa versa. It depends very much on the product, how broad or niche the appeal is, the price point, the approaches you've tried.

You need to know the target demographics of who your customer is, and Facebook is one of many cost effective avenues to reaching certain types of people. You need to be creative in creating great ad images, ad copy, a good landing page, and measuring actions that tie directly to increased revenue.

These are all basic common sense things, but I have yet to see someone's campaign that didn't have some obvious flaw that set them up for failure. There are a lot of ways to fail and only a few ways to succeed.

Yeah, I know there is a way to do it. I assume most people who are also just coming out of a Kickstarter will have a similar lack of experience with online marketing. I could be more clear about the purpose being to temper expectations.

In my opinion, the niche with likes are mostly people who like everything

Facebook ads work best for retargeting. If someone has viewed your site and shown interest in your product but has not converted.

Don't many customers view this as being creepy? Does it cause more brand damage than the sales are worth?

I don't think retargeting is particularly creepy.

What is creepy is that when my in-laws were visiting for the first time I had a American Express ad with Tina Fey congratulating me on meeting my in laws for the first time.

the ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEX5e-_YxxA

That would put me off both the advertiser and the platform (Facebook? Google?) for life.

It's widely known that Facebook is worse than Google in terms of conversions. People go to search engines to find something, people go on to Facebook to browse Facebook. What Facebook offers over Adwords is fine-tuned demographic targeting. So it's good for brand awareness (think traditional TV ads) and products that require targeting very specific demographics where the few conversions are highly valuable(new CS grad hiring, women on dating websites).

It very much depends on your goal. Many advertisers, myself included would say "it depends on your goal." Search has some major limitations over paid social for things like branding campaigns. Even for direct response it is hardly black and white. I have FB campaigns that have performed better than some search campaigns.

We've spent $2300, reached 140,000 people (according to FB). 11,000 of those visited our website. We also have 7300 likes on our Facebook page which we post to every few days.

$2,300 on marketing is peanuts, so we believe is worth it to be able to directly contact 7,300 people who expressed interest in our business. These people are also liking and sharing our posts.

You have 7300 likes on the Facebook page, you can't directly contact those 7300 people. There's a huge difference.

Can you explain the difference for me? When we post, it shows up in their FB feed.

Not to everyone. Neither do all of the pages that you've liked over the years show up in your news feed.

Basically, the procedure is the following:

    post is shown to a small minority
    while a proportion of the people seeing it engages with your content:
        show the content to more people
So, if the initial... let's say 200 people that see the post on your Facebook page are not engaging with it, the content wouldn't be spread further among people who liked your page. If they engage with it, the content will be spread further.

That small minority decides the future of your post. If you have non-genuine likes that are not interested in your content at all (as in, not engaging with it), but they see the post first, you're gonna have to spend money to promote posts.

This. Also, under each post there should be written how many people it has reached.

You guys may be in a position to make Facebook Ads work, because of your existing customer list. If I recall correctly, setting up the appropriate demographic channels is way too hit or miss. It'll be an expensive education.

BUT, if you have an existing customer list (like yourselves), FB gives you an option to upload those existing customer emails and it will do some AI matching to find the appropriate customer demographic pools? From the tutorial I read, this was the only chance you'd have to get any sort of traction on your campaign right out of the gate.

Disclosure #1 : I've never run a Facebook ad campaign in my life just read several tutorials regarding running a successful campaign.

Disclosure #2: I don't remember where I read this information, but given the fact that FB knows everyone's interests (directly and indirectly from statuses and likes), their algorithmic assessment of who should see the ad could be worth trying.

You have to find your audience, which is usually doable, but takes iteration and experimentation.

The trick is keeping the cost of testing as low as possible. 100 $1 campaigns are going to have a better return than 1 $100 campaign.

I had success with Facebook with Pokemon Go, I don't believe it's easy reproducible on a lot of other things. I wrote everything down here : https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12858993

Tldr; don't do Facebook ads if your not doing a hype and if don't want to give things away for free

If you only want useless likes locked in on Facebook, you should do go all on. Remember, you can't easy notify the people who liked your page even though you payed for them

You'd be surprised how your marketing strategies will fail when starting a business. Best, recent writeup is Clifford's below. Really shows the level of apathy and confusion you will experience. :)


I've had amazing results with Facebook ads. We usually turn 20$ into a couple of sales of 40$ items with high margins. I've got a new ad going up in 4 hours.

That being said, if the profit margin on the items wasn't so high it would be far worse. We're in a particularly good position that way. But on the other hand I haven't done alot of analytics or improvement on the ads either.

Yes. Same here. I've tried Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, Reddit Ads, BlogAds aimed at design websites, and a custom placement by a site itself (paid $300 for a top header ad (the best position) and got nothing from it.) Literally hundreds of dollars wasted and not a single sale. I was pissed.

People ignore ads. 1 year I was simply mentioned on DesignMilk.com and my calendar sold out. The following year I paid $300 to advertise at the top of DesignMilk.com and didn't get a single sale. That's what really made me realize advertising is highly unwanted.

When I ask around to other inventors and sellers of physical products, Advertising is just a waste (except if you're selling a high priced item that can easily make the money back on a few sales). It's a suckers game if you're like me, selling a low cost item at high volume. If the advertising worked for all these businesses they would keep doing it. They don't. They run a few campaigns, advertise for a bit, watch it fail, then leave, and the next sucker takes their place. Unless you're one of those big box stores that advertise every week. But you are not walmart or target. You do not make millions in revenue a day. You cannot afford to run full color catalog ads bundled with newspapers every single week.

Also, don't let flash sales fool you. Back when I sold my large format physical paper calendar on Fab.com (back when it was big, it went bankrupt and reorganized due to... spending too much on advertising and not enough revenue, ironic isn't it) I sold out in less than 1 month. All 300 units sold out at $15 each. When they reorganized I was literally ruined. They no longer took in calendars like mine. I was stuck selling on Amazon.com and Ebay.com and Etsy.com and sold just a few units.

But man was the journey worth it. I lost thousands but I learned enough to justify it.

It's pretty hard, and super expensive. One thing that really helped us is AdEspresso. Give it a few different pictures and blurbs, and it combines them in all possible ways and A/B tests all the combinations. Then you can pick the winners and refine them. Indispensable tool, even though we only got up to a 2% click-through rate (avg is 3-4%)

Plenty of companies have success. There are tons of digital marketers killing it on there. The level of targeting you can achieve is absurd. It's zero sum game where you compete against other advertisers though.

Because of this it seems incredibly obvious to me that it'll almost certainly be unprofitable until you've done a lot of work to optimise your campaign (as you're competing with bids against people who have optimised their campaigns) and also probably be incredibly unprofitable if you're not a full time professional digital marketer specialising in facebook ads (because that's who you're most likely competing against for eyeballs).

Yet I see average punters throwing tiny budgets around and failing at facebook used as evidence that facebook advertising is garbage on a regular basis.

Oh, I'm not trying to make the case that it's impossible. Just that it seems a lot easier than it is. Most people coming out of a Kickstarter wont have several thousand dollars to figure out how to say "This hoodie, created by a mom, is over 1,000,000 on Kickstarter".

$50 CPC is not unheard of before optimizing the ad content or ad targeting.

Keep in mind that Facebook ads are more like display ads than search ads - users don't necessarily have a specific intent when getting the impression, so they're less likely to give you a direct response.

In my experience, we're able to create a lot more engagement using Facebook, but you have to consider that we're a niche startup in Brazil (where CPC seems to be cheaper).

On the other hand, most of the users we got from Facebook were a kind of "freebie hunters". As soon as they saw it would be necessary to pay a monthly fee to use our services (It's an app! Am I really supposed to pay for this?), most of them disappeared.

In the end, as someone has already mentioned here, Facebook seems to be a really good place to advertise free stuff or products that can naturally trigger some emotional response (Look at this lovely products made by this grandma)... and maybe just them.

I had the same experience with Facebook and with Google AdWords. Zero sales, not that many clicks.

Sometimes it's the platform and sometimes it's the product.

By tracking people that converted and then feeding that into Facebook's Lookalike Audience we were able to drop the cost per lead to about a third of the original cost over time (from $78 to $27). It beat everything else (TV, display ads, retargeting, SEM, etc), to the point where we only did that.

We've noticed that every time we stopped the ads, or changed the targeting parameters/audience, it would take a while for Facebook to get back to the same results.

p.s The lead cost was that high because we were selling $200k land + $500k houses from a small tropical country to US consumers that may have never even heard of that country.

I've seen quite a few Shopify store owners in a group on Facebook mentioning that they've had good results using Facebook ads.

I've only used Facebook ads to have a bit of fun and boost a picture of my cat[1]. He got a couple of likes after I'd spent about 50 cents, which pretty much achieved my goal.


It seems extortionately high. I've just started with some small ads for an ecommerce site I'm playing about with. Currently costing £0.34 per click, with a relevancy of 6.

This is optimising for sending visitors to my website though. If you focus on page likes or soemthing, then it's not likely you'll get very good off-site CTR

In my anecdotal experience, Facebook is really only good for the very top of the funnel. And even then it's sketchy. Creating awareness or piquing interest with your one sentence value prop (e.g "Never manage servers again!", "Write native iOS apps in COBOL!", etc.) seems to be the best use of it.

Ours wasn't as dismal (the zero sales part), but in order to get a sale we had to spend ~5 times as much on Facebook ads vs. Google ads.

The bounce rate alone from Facebook ads was just under 3x that of Google ads - around 90%. I'm assuming a lot of Facebook ad clicks are accidental.

That's the ROI I'm seeing at some of my clients. That said, there is one that is having great success ($10/conversion, average conversion value $200 @ 40% margin) with it because of how they targeted their ads and what they're for (consumer products).

I bought a kickstarter after seeing it adverstised on Facebook. That is some anecdata at least.

I have to say, though, a lot of the stuff advertised on Facebook and Instagram seems kind of dodgy. Unless I am just being targeted for dodgy stuff by their algorithms.

I've actually had good experience with selling hugely discounted shoes through Facebook ads. But then our target market was older women who legitimately enjoyed sharing their love of our $9 shoes with their Facebook friends.

Hahahahahaha, I've blown much, much more for the same result. Lesson learned.

FB works really well for established brands, because of the sharing component and the idea that when you see the ad it doesn't look like an ad.

No, those results are beyond abysmal. CTR for my campaigns rarely dip below 2% with optimized advertisements and audiences.

No different than AdWords, many people lose money.

But many people make money, too.

The first mistake is thinking "how hard could it be?"

Not at all. My latest campaign gave me 129 clicks for $30.

Worse. At least they got clicks.

(But tbh. that was some years ago when the advertising stuff was new to FB ... so maybe it got better by now).

I run a bootstrapped e-commerce fulfillment center that doesn't charge for storage. We also ship for GameBoxMonthly.com - might be a good way to move a decent percentage of your existing stock. Happy to intro to the GBM team and/or chat about working together. Hit me up: alex@monthlyboxer.com

I get alerted that monthlyboxer.com is hosting malware via trendmicro.

Should get that checked.

Cool thanks, will look into it! Our site is a static site hosted on Strikingly and doesn't power anything so hopefully it's nothing major!

Hey gang. I'm John Teasdale (author) happy to answer any questions you have about the write-up.

How many people with industry experience did you talk to about this before you kickstarted?

The hobby game industry is very accessible: Go to the right convention and you get to talk shop with people with decades of experience printing and marketing games. Just two weeks ago I was talking to industry bigwigs about the changes that came to US publishing as part of Asmodee's purchasing spree of very different game studios. The kind of shop talk that describes the different choices you need when making a Fantasy Flight game, a Catan game or the first printing of Codenames are exactly the kind of thing you guys needed to know in advance.

Also, why did you decide to kickstart yourselves, as opposed to talk to a publisher?

Embarrassingly few. Justin and I have a background in team-building, and didn't have any connections in the tabletop space. We also didn't know what questions to ask, even if we knew who to ask them to. Everyone we have talked to since has been very nice. GenCon especially was a huge eye-opener for us.

As for why we Kickstarted, the answer is pretty much the same. We had no reputation in the industry and wouldn't know who to talk to. However, it works out for us. We like being our own bosses. We'll stick with Kickstarter in the future, especially now that we know more about the pitfalls.

Sorry about the delay. I have a new account and am getting comment-throttled. I'll get to everything as I can.

To follow up on hibikir's comment word of mouth is key and have been to a few games cons in the UK and you do see people trying out alpha versions of games.

Ill put this story round my contacts.


couldnt you have ordered stock in batches? like 5-10k pieces pr. order? Or would that ruin margins?

Indeed! And this is what we should have done. However, for producing in the US, the difference in PPU between 5k and 20k units was substantial. We got greedy and thought we'd continue to burn through the units.

Are you the same John Teasdale as @beaglerush?

I am not. I'm @JohnTeasdale_ <- yes, I was that late to twitter.

Great article thanks for sharing.

I wish I could have supported this, but I play board games so as to avoid thinking about current U.S. politics. Diplomacy is set in WWI which is distant enough to provide an escape, and even Arkham Horror is moderately more cheerful than the political news today.

Interested to know how many sales come through from this Hackernews/Medium post.

We just passed 5k in sales on our store today with 2,868 visitors! This is by far our best single day post-Kickstarter and is actually higher than the average funding / day we had through our entire campaign! Thanks so much everyone who shared this!

I guess all you have to do is spend all your money, work for a year to get it back, and then write about it.

Next week, I'll make another post with all the graphs/numbers from this, crazy-ass day, and how long it took to return to normal. I can't imagine it will rank again, so you can follow @JohnTeasdale_ or @ContenderGame if you don't want to miss it.

My friend just texted me that we were #1 on HR. Had to check for myself. I'll post an update here at the end of the day with any numbers I can scrape from our analytics.

Ping me if you want to chat about marketing. No bs or strings attached. pr@yelluw.com

Will do!

You're getting a lot of advice and offers for private discussions because of this post. At some point down the line I'd be curious to know how all of this affects your sales. Were any of the offline discussions helpful? Did you make a switch to a different X company (fulfillment, shipment, whatever)? I'm sure being at the top of HN will give you a spike in sales but I'm just curious what the overall affects will be (in the longer run) so please post a follow-up after the holidays. thanks!

I really cant offer advice because I lack the necessary context. What I aim to do is to serve as a fresh set of ears and eyes that have previous experience selling shit online. Ive helped others discover things that later down the line helped them sell or market better. So, I really like your comment because it brings transparency to the whole thing. I feel thats something we could all potentially benefit from.

Will do.

Especially given that their final conclusion is "just trust that our game is great, because it really is Fun to Play for All Ages." I thought this was a good and interesting post, but it's so transparent I thought they would at least hang a lampshade on the fact that this is clearly another strategy they're testing.

Hi, I'm Justin. I co-created the game with John. It certainly crossed our miiiiind that a post like this would give us some "earned media" but we certainly would have wished it was a rosier story.

Would've been funny too. Just add, "Submit <title of this post> to HN and hope it makes the first page" to the end of the list of strategies tried. Result: We'll see

Did they not?

> Tried: Write a series of tell-alls about your buisiness and hope someone blows it up on Hacker News.

> Result: Hi everyone!

To be fair to @bbctol, I did add that in after I saw we were #1.

Ah, ya, must've been after I read it as well. Good addition!

Actually, that's what I was thinking! I've watched Justin before, and realized that HN might be interested in the article. Looks like people are!

I think it is like all Hackernews, 3 days up, then back to normal counts.

That's not necessarily true. Getting content marketing articles up on the front page of big news sites (like Hacker News) can be an important spark to longer term sales. Once your article hits one big site, the other bigs sites tend to pick it up and you see lots of viral spread on Twitter. If viewership is wide enough and your product worthwhile this can be a big enough spark to initiate organic word-of-mouth marketing. In addition all this aggregation of your content drives increased link ranking back to your site, which improves SEO. That last part works better if the article is hosted on your own domain, though.

Source: I recently finished researching a ton of successful startups to determine what common factors they share (and wrote an article with all the data and analysis).

Yes, IF it goes viral. If not, you got only 3 days more visitors.

Hopefully a lot, the knowledge they provide is priceless.

Manufacturing in China vs the U.S.: for my company's Kickstarter project, the U.S. was about 5x more expensive. (It's a bit different for electronics).

However, after flying me and my co-founder to China, living there for a month to work out all the kinks in the process, then the incredible cost of shipping and customs taxes (has to rush ship for Christmas of course), I'm thinking the U.S.would have been a better choice (at the small volumes of 1000 per batch we were doing).

Now, if you are making 50,000 or a million of something, then China is definitely the way to go. But for small batches I recommend shopping around U.S. factories... They're pretty desperate for it at this point.

I have what is probably a silly question. When you have an idea or something you want to mass-produce, what do you actually do? Is there some website that you can upload your design to, then receive quotes from factories that agree to manufacture N units at M dollars/unit? Or do you usually go through an agent?

Sorry if that seems dumb. I just have literally no experience in this area; if someone handed me a design and said "Manufacture 1,000 of these" I'd just stand around dumbfounded.

We used Berkeley Sourcing Group. They have an office in China as well as California. So we gave them all the designs, then they did the work of finding factories to do everything and coordinating them all together all the way up to final assembly and packaging. In the end we used about 8 different factories to make all the parts: electronic, injection molding, textiles, packaging, silk screening, etc. I don't know how we could have done it without the BSG team honestly.

Destroying thousands of units kind of sucks - would it cost a great deal to have the inventory shipped to some sort of low-cost offline storage for later sale? Or is that just going to eat into margins?

Edit: since the game appears to be kid-friendly and non-partisan, maybe the company should consider a crowdfunding campaign to buy back the extra stock and send them to schools for free.

The expensive part is shipping.

Option 1: Ship to paying customers. This is the ideal outcome.

Option 2: Ship everything back to the seller, or to a storage place, etc. Expensive because Amazon has to have labour go and retrieve it all (look up videos for how Amazon stores its items- it's madness and it's awesome). Then you need to essentially pay for one or more pallets of stuff to be shipped, which is cheaper than shipping individually, but not free.

Option 3: Destroy it all. Amazon charges you because even destroying it isn't that cheap. It's cheaper than shipping it, yes, but there's still a lot of work involved.

I think if you want to help these guys out, encourage people to buy the game.

Yeah it does suck. We're going to look exactly at how much it'll cost to ship / warehouse them vs destroy. My gut instinct is shipping + storing 5000 for the duration until they sellout would be comparable to just printing a second edition in China if demand picks up again.

Have you heard of meh.com? I'm not sure how they pick their products, but they seem like a good place to dump a pallet of unwanted goods in order to break even.

Can't you give them away? Would be some extra marketing.

Even giving them away cost's ~$6 per unit to ship them somewhere. We're looking into donating a bunch to schools / libraries / other non-profits.

Offer current buyers the option of giving a second copy to charity for an extra $5?

Charity up-sell is an interesting idea. Sort of like the popular buy-one give-one business model, but optional.

Idea: Give them away or destroy them in a spectacularly interesting way that millions of people will want to watch:





Hmm. I wonder if people would tune into a GIANT POLITICAL BONFIRE.

well, i just bought a couple, so knock that problem down a couple more units...

What about selling them very very cheaply as an Amazon Add-on item?

Amazon has worse margins than our online store already. The way I see it. We can drop the price, but we still have to market it. It'd be just as much work to market a $5 as it would a $30 game.

Amazon sets "Add-on" status not the seller.

what if you sell them at a very low price point? Or does that damage the brand value?

It's reach, really. Even if we drop the price, the only people who'd will know about that are the people on our mailing list.

Getting picked up on HN really came out of the blue. It's the most people who we've been in front of since the Kickstarter campaign. You can't bank on that.

Could you do a special offer to previous buyers, offering them a second, cheaper deal which they can then gift to someone else?

Comes across as a reward for them, justifies the lower price (discount for them only), but hopefully solves your inventory/storage issue somewhat.

Funny you mention that! We have a hidden stocking stuffer deal $40 all in for 3 games. If you mined the comments then you get it too: http://thecontender.us/products/contender-holiday-secret-sur...

I have a lot of experience with FBA, feel free to email me, might be able to help.

Address is in my profile here.

It costs 50 cents per item to recall, but you sometimes can't send the same item in again for some time.

By the way, based on the rank of the items, it's selling around 50-100 units a month as of now.

I know zilch about the physical inventory world - is that $.50 something Amazon will charge?

Yes, Amazon charges 50 cents to recall an item.

Sometimes they offer free recalls (right before q4 when they wanted to clear out their warehouse, for instance), but then you usually can't send the same item in for some time.

They really don't want people using them for long term storage, they've been pushing for people to only send in inventory that will sell soon. That's why they have extra fees if you have something there past 6 months, and again past 12 months.

They also started charging extra for storage during q4 (November and December).

It's likely to add up to the printing cost pretty fast.

It's got a 6.8 rating Board Game Geek which is actually pretty good. Anything above 7 is a solidly good game in my experience. Nice article too.

You could be referring to either ranking system here, so I just want to clarify for people not familiar with BGG:

A 7.0 average rating is fairly good, though it's hard to factor out bias with a low number of rankings (this game has 46 ATM). There are about 4500 BGG listings with AR > 7.0 and at least 45 ratings.

A 7.0 geek rating (which has artificial dampening and vote filtering) is very good. There are only ~415 games with a 7.0 or higher, and you need something like 200 votes to be given a geek rating at all.

That said, I mean no argument against the game. I haven't played it and it looks 10x better than the average Kickstarted tabletop game. I applaud the work they've put into it and if I weren't actively avoiding politics in my game group, I'd look into it. :P

Where can you see the geek rating?

Kickstarter is a magical fantasy land where people get excited about your stuff in a way that doesn’t translate into your small business.

I don't really get Kickstarter. The above sums up a lot of my concerns about it and why I have yet to look into it in a serious way.

I think it depends on what you're making through it. For board/card/tabletop games, it's quite possibly the most popular way to get initial funding to make your game. But a game is not a business, it's the start of a product — a massive pre-order system if all goes well. Many that get into the game self-publishing game aren't doing it to make money, they're doing it to make a thing and get it into people's hands. Kickstarter is a nice way to raise money and have a central micro-social-network of sorts for your game.

Social media will do its thing, but most of the games that I've kickstarted are ones that I've seen at conventions, I've tried them myself or watched a demo live, found myself interested, signed up for a newsletter at the booth, then got an email about the kickstarter. And lucky me, I'm batting 1.000 with actually getting a game from the things I back.

(Source: I've been working on a tabletop game for a couple years now, and have been doing a lot of board-game-based research on kickstarter.)

It depends on the type of project. I've backed a number of projects for books by people who do it multiple times and where they clearly assume that most of their income will be the campaign, and that the ongoing sales will be slow, and that rely heavily on cross-promotion with others in the same niche. I think you basically need to set your aims so that it's worth doing for you from Kickstarter alone, and where any breakaway success afterwards is icing on the cake rather than necessary to make it worth your while.

As I said, I just don't get it. (That isn't a criticism of them, it is an admission of my limitations.) I will likely continue looking into it, but, for the moment, other avenues seem to fit my goals more readily.

I do very much appreciate your reply, as well as any other constructive replies here.

Why? It is a great way to gauge interest in your product. As long you as you don't go crazy like these guys, and start projecting 5x growth, you will be fine.

Exactly, we're very happy with Kickstarter.

I view Kickstarter contributions as a form of gambling: even if the Kickstarter reaches its goal, the odds are heavily stacked against you that something will actually get produced and shipped, but if it does then it's pretty sweet.

The trick, as a backer, is to keep your expectations low and not get too emotionally attached to whatever you are backing.

The risk is extremely variable though depending on what products you're backing. For simpler items so far I've had extremely good luck with things eventually coming. Only once have aI not received something and I think that was USPSs fault (I wasn't getting half my mail at the time because the apartment box still had the old name in it).

The problem is that many Kickstarter campaigns are now offering a non-existing product as the main reward that people are paying for. Under the Kickstarter Terms of Service, they are obligated to deliver all rewards upon the successful funding of the campaign.

that's pretty much the whole point. and has been since the first kickstarter project i backed in, let's see... december 2011.

I have backed many things over the years, constantly with lower and lower expectations.

The only 2 products that really surpassed expectations for me were Pebble and Divinity: Original Sin. Everything else has basically been somewhere between a flop and a trainwreck.

Thanks for the write-up. Marketing seems really hard in many of the entertainment-oriented businesses out there. Weak ties and word of mouth are still the dominate way to sell things effectively, but they remain very hard to strategize around.

There seems to be many problems you faced that could have been avoided just be asking questions :(. For example, asking "do you have experience shipping to Amazon fulfillment centers?". Or talking to the several folk in industry and the CEO ahead of time.

I also have an issue with the Big Lesson of "order at most two times what you've already sold". The lesson shouldn't be a rule of thumb. The lesson should be to find methods to gauge interest better, not just "2X maximum".

Anyway, thanks for sharing. I obviously thought it was an interesting read and it got my brain thinking.

Yep. You're 100% right. At the time, we didn't know the questions we needed to ask or who to ask them to.

The first thing on your site -essentially the sales pitch - is a quote comparing it to Cards Against Humanity. While I've heard of CAH, I've never played it - so your product game concept is lost on me.

Counterpoint: A lot of people have played CAH and it is arguably the most popular board/card/party game of the 21st century.

And CAH was typically described as "an offensive Apples to Apples", so yeah, I think you can describe card games by referencing other card games.

That's a good point, I can switch the FastCompany quote with the boing boing one.

I started reading this article thinking, "nice try guys, not getting anything from me".

I'm about to order one, and sent a link to about 10 friends. Good job!


Interesting insight into selling via Amazon.. I didn't know about the long-term storage fees and whatnot. I guess also getting the game into some retail shops might help? How much would it cost to get those games back from Amazon to some other storage?

Just ran it. For 5,000 games:

Destroy: $750 Remove: $2,500 + costs to store it somewhere else.

Also, 5,000 games is a lot of games. Like >15 pallets.

Not specifically direct to this post but something relevant.

We had that discussion with a colleague yesterday while we are thinking of starting a company ourselfs.

The only thing I actually told him that if we start off something I dont want it to focus on investments or anything crazy and I'd like to go very humble with everything. Create a small business with a product and let it grow in a normal pace.

Atm we are both working for 2 entrepreneurs that started a small company and slowly slowly grew it up to a medium company that returns over 50m a year. Its a very stable environment and they don't go into heavy risks when it comes to spending.

I see a lot of people nowadays that are very proficient in tech doing startups. Startups are everywhere. The main thing we see though is that most of them fail at it. I mainly think its because they are not experienced enough on how life works and they think they gonna make the next uber etc. NO! Thats a big NO! People that created uber are like people that win the lottery. They were lucky enough to get investments they way they did etc and kept at it. Thats all about it. For me its not a success story about a company that started small and ended up big. Its just the lucky draw that investors picked up and threw money at. People around tech industry need to realise that. Start a company, have a product, and go slowly with it. Stick with it and yes in 10-20 years time you'll be at some good amount of money. Don't expect it to happen in a year or even 5 years or else you are stressing your company to fail.

I feel like this is the issue with the tech industry entrepreneurs atm. They want to have it all fast, and thats why they fail.

Also you see people celebrating investments... I love the show "silicon valley" because it shows you in reality what this industry is about. When you get an investment you shouldn't be the happiest person in the world, you gonna get people demanding stuff etc which will definitely put you in a difficult position especially if the company and the product is very young as the investors might wanna take a different path and lead you into taking it as well.

I don't see this mentioned in the article, but I think the author makes the assumption that his Chinese company would have been more reliable / more experienced and would not have made these sorts of mistakes (which could be accurate, don't know the two companies). Imagine the setbacks his company had, except then add the delay of cross ocean (air or ship) shipping. Unless things had gone perfectly with the Chinese company, they may still have gotten a faster turn around having it in the US. He mentions in a comment here that they're thinking about doing a second batch overseas, I'm curious to see the turnaround on that.

The author is making an assumption but it is not uninformed. In the comparison list he wrote "I had printed games in China before, and have a good relationship with the company we used." I'm assuming things went reasonably well if relationships are still good.

Indeed, and I don't mean it to come off that way. I'm sure in that time he experienced some distribution hiccups as well, so weighing that against his experience here, he must still be finding that the Chinese company will provide a better outcome (since he's still talking about printing with them in the future).

The first game I made, I used AdMagic. A US based company that prints in China. They were a pleasure to work with, and have a lot of experience with Kickstarter companies, but questions went from me -> them -> factory -> them -> me. The loop took at least 24 hours. Since we were in the Christmas Crunch, this was a consideration.

Also, after we sent the check, I found out AdMagic also has US centers. I've been kicking myself for a year over this one.

Very interesting and well written post. I own a lot of boardgames and follow the hobby in BGG, YouTube, etc. There are a bunch of famous game reviewers in YT that bring sales if they like a game but to be honest I think they won't like your game as it's yet another clone of Cards Against Humanity, which is loathed among the board game community. That's the same reason I won't buy your game as I've no interest in CAH but I wish you the best of luck.

Agreed. We've already been pooped on by the Dice Tower.

Agreed. We've already been pooped on by the Dice Tower.

> On September 9th, 2015 we received $127,827.01 from Kickstarter. This sounds like a lot of money, until we say that this week, November 22nd 2016, we have finally gotten out of debt. That’s 440 days of work after creating the product and running the Kickstarter before we made $1.

As someone who's spent their professional career working for venture-backed tech companies that hadn't yet made a profit, that sounds damn good. Many many companies never get that far.

How about sending some free copies to board game cafés? Only if they want them, obviously.

Hi, I'm Justin. I co-created the game with John. Both of us used to travel the country for work and would drop off copies at any cafe we'd see!

>Tried: Amazon Sponsored Products Result: Actually works. We spend about $2.70 on ads per sale of the base game.

You're throwing money away. I searched "presidential debate game" on Amazon and you're the #1 (non-paid) result. Why are you paying for clicks on a search for which you're the only relevant result?

You are thinking too much about how you can make a bit more one a sale when all you should care about is getting one more sale.

Look at google adwords. Most companies show an ads for there company name when they are the number one organic search. It is worth it to block anyone else from buying an ad over you and not worth the trouble to add negative keywords for all the ones you rank well with organically.

When you do a promotion on amazon, they also list your game under in that 'Sponsored Products Similar to This One section' . That's where most of the clicks come from.

Makes sense - most visitors are going to be looking at some other game, not doing a keyword search, so go where the eyeballs are.

Comes up for "debate game" search. Likely it comes up sponsored because of that term.

How many people actually search presidential debate game?

> We wanted space in the box so expansion cards would fit. The printing company recommended a cheap cardboard insert. The empty cardboard insert created a crumple zone that caused hundreds of games to arrive damaged.

It also means you're paying extra for manufacturing, transporting, storing and then shipping... empty space.

The size of the box seems huge if the game is just a deck of cards (which it seems to be from the demo video? There doesn't seem to be a board or anything like that?)

Is there a way to instead offer different versions of the game, that are simply different sets of cards, that can be played independently (and therefore do not need to be stored together by the end users).

thanks for sharing the level of detail on sales efforts, interesting read

One tip would be get it in front of the guys at the d6 generation and some of the other mini/ board game podcasters.

If you get over to games expo in the UK I will have to buy you a beer

I've listened to Justin all the way through this from the start on the other side, it's interesting seeing this from your perspective. Thanks for sharing.

I bet getting that article on the top of HN should help!

It's been a helluva day, I'm going to update the article in a few days to account for this.

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