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Kickstarter hides failure (misener.org)
115 points by misener 1883 days ago | hide | past | web | 84 comments | favorite

There's a much more insidious way that Kickstarter hides failure: by calling a project "successful" merely because it has reached the funding goal and raised money. For anyone making a contribution, that's hardly a definition of success.

Do they even have a word for projects actually completed that fulfill their promises? (ie, the definition of successful project for the entire world outside of Kickstarter). Can this information be found on the site without reading the discussions for each project one by one?

EDIT: I love Kickstarter. I'm thrilled by it's success. Which is all the more reason I'm disappointed that they have a misleading use of the word "success".

Come on... What is it about Kickstarter that bugs people so much?

Kickstarter handle the funding end of things. When a project is funded they did their bit. People contributing know they are getting promises that may not turn out. They're not buying stuff. They are getting enjoyment out of being a part of something. Celebrating when a project succeeds. Getting disappointed when it doesn't.

Maybe the hype will end and this'll all blow over. Maybe Kickstarter is here to stay. Either way, it's obviously not malicious.

I didn't say it was malicious, I said that it's misleading. And I suspect that their claims about the percentage of "successful" projects are misleading to many of the contributors. You can imagine some class action lawyer gleefully waiting for the right moment to strike.

I point this out because I want Kickstarter to succeed in the long term. If they don't create a way to discourage projects that ultimately fail, adverse selection could become a real problem.

It's not misleading at all. The goal of kickstarter is to fund projects, not make them successful. That's why they explicitly say "successfully funded" and not "successfully successful."

If an angel exits a deal they call it a success. Is that disingenuous?


Or maybe people will just start expecting/demanding that, rather than Kickstarter projects pointing their "successful funding" drop-target at their own pockets, they'll target an agreed-upon escrow service, which will only release the funds on project delivery (and otherwise return the funds for Kickstarter to--if they have enough information to go through with it--"rewind" the pool back into its individual source accounts.)

Of course, this isn't unprecedented at all. At first, eBay was just a place where you put in a credit card and maybe got something delivered to you, or maybe it didn't. Then people started expecting sellers to accept this new thing called "PayPal."

But of course an escrow upon completion doesn't work if the project starter actually needs the funds to deliver the project... which is kind of the whole idea of kickstarter.

I think that limitation of scope is very intentional on their part. Tracking the actual progress of these projects could be a very intensive and diverse undertaking. I don't think Kickstarter calls a project successful, I think they call a fundraising successful.

That would be a better way to describe a funded project, but that isn't what Kickstarter does. They call a project successful when it is funded:


It's a mixed bag, on the each project page you clearly see "FUNDING SUCCESSFUL". On the search page you see "and the thousands of other successful projects!"

I believe this to be a mistake.

http://www.kickstarter.com/discover/successful http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pixr2/once-upon-a-paper

It isn't a mistake: the project is the fundraising itself, not the business/product that is being funded. People are making funding pledges that only turn into actual contributions if the fundraising project meets its target. If the target is not met, no funding happens, and the project is not successful.

The project is not the fundraising, the project is what's being funded. Just see Kickstarter's emails: "Projects we love: <project name>." They are not talking about the fundraising there.

Additionally, the fundraising status is orthogonal to the success, you can be funded and ultimately fail to complete the project, or not get funded but somehow manage to produce what you wanted to.

As a consumer of Kickstarter projects, I don't see why I care that they hide their unfunded (I wouldn't call them 'failed') projects. I can't contribute to them AND those projects don't hurt me anyway: if they don't get funding, I don't lose money.

I much rather wish there were a way to know what percentage of funded projects fail to deliver their product. Are some categories more risky than others? Would there be a class action if, say, the Pebble folks just walk away with their 10 million dollars?

This article isn't directed at you then, it's directed at people considering starting Kickstarter projects of their own. I believe the author's thesis is that the current Kickstarter policy of hiding failed fundraising efforts is detrimental to the capacity of future Kickstarters to run successful fundraisers.

Considering that Kickstarter only makes money if a project is successfully funded[1] I have a hard time seeing how it is in their interests to deliberately undermine future Kickstarters.

Also, of tangential interest on that same page Kickstarter states that the number of successfully funded projects is 'a little less than half'.

[1] - http://www.kickstarter.com/start

"current Kickstarter policy of hiding failed fundraising efforts is detrimental to the capacity of future Kickstarters to run successful fundraisers."

Agree. No question there is something to be learned from projects that have failed by reverse engineering or seeing and analyzing patterns of what didn't work.

This is a problem also with the business press. Sure, you hear about spectacular failures (if it bleeds it leads as they say in the news business) but you don't hear about less than spectacular failures and therefore you can't learn from the mistakes of others.

The raw numbers of success and failures are helpful, but I'd additionally like to dig into the specifics.

More transparency also gives more data points into gaming Kickstarter. Although not 100% effective, obfuscation is a first step to prevent gaming the system and ruining the whole experience.

If you are starting a new Kickstarter campaign http://www.kicktraq.com/ may be a useful research tool. They're fairly new so their data doesn't go back too far but what's there is a good resource.

But that depends on who you think Kickstarter is ultimately serving. I'm pretty sure Kickstarter cares more about the funders than the products that get displayed. This seems patently true, though obviously they need some people to post projects. But the number of people looking for money is always going to be non-trivial.

Second, if that is the thesis, it's silly. We learn more from success than from failure http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/successes-0729.html; http://hbr.org/2010/01/success-gets-into-your-head-and-chang.... And you can see all the successful projects you want.

"We learn more from success than from failure..."

This might very well be true, however, if failed tactics/strategies are obscured it is possible that said tactics/strategies will continue to be employed.

Furthermore, even if we do learn more from success than failure, both are necessary lessons for individual success.

I'm not willing to predict that Pebble walks away with their $10M...

but I can tell you that it's nearly certain that Pebble is going to slip the schedule by months.

and what happens then is anyone's guess.

Rumors are in the air that Kickstarter is now refusing to host any more 'hardware' plays, due to the huge overhang on Pebble. I have no idea how to find out if those are true or not.

As someone offering a product in the same competitive set, I have to be careful how I say this, but here goes.

The more I watch Kickstarter in action, the more I see them not as an innovator and entrepeneur aide, but as a middle man trying to profiteer on people that don't necessarily need their help.

The heavy hitters, celebrities, and true product engineers use Kickstarter not because they need to, but because it's hip...and that makes sense for both parties.

However, there are thousands of solopreneurs and dreamers trying to raise funding for really neat projects, but can't because Kickstarter isn't designed to help them. There are many that think they can post their project and watch the money roll in. It just doesn't work that way.

Additionally, Kickstarter never highlights projects that are near failure or underperforming. They only highlight those that make Kickstarter themselves look good. They do the same thing on their blog. Every time a project reaches a million dollars (or a new, similar milestone), the blog entry is more about the Kickstarter team than the project team.

I'm not saying all of this to bash Kickstarter, but I find it frustrating that so many people think Kickstarter is the only option. I find it more frustrating that people feel Kickstarter is out to help the little guy, which if you read the post, you'll see they aren't doing that at all.

Kickstarter lets you test your idea and get better (accurate) interest metrics. Kickstarter let's innovators set the terms of engagement and not have to chase after some angel investor. In some fields, it is not necessary, but in hardware production, it is costly as hell to start even if you have a good designer, developer and businessman.

The most valuable service kickstarter provides is in gauging real-world interest in your product.

BTW, I am not affiliated with kickstarter, but I did interview with them and we discussed the creation of a job 'open hardware consultant' that would have me try to ensure the success of any open hardware project on kickstarter. From design & development, supply chain, marketing, that job would be a resource much like meetup's constant helpful aides for ensuring successful events. Question their motivations, but they are trying to help 'the little guy' because its in their best interests to.

"The most valuable service kickstarter provides is in gauging real-world interest in your product."

I don't think it even does that as a product can fail to garner interest due to lack of adequate marketing. I think most projects fail because they can never reach their intended audience.

"The most valuable service kickstarter provides is in gauging real-world interest in your product." Kickstarter doesn't exactly provide this - they provide a place to host a site to gauge that interest. The project creator themselves do all the legwork to get that interest dredged up (as they should).

I think KickStarter is the PayPal of crowd funding....

But this also means that not every entrepreneur needs what KS offers.

The argument here seems to be that Kickstarter, by hiding failures, is doing a disservice to others who may want to start a similar business.

Kickstarter is a business. Showing failures would be a bad business move, as the author admits; they obviously don't want to do that. On the other hand, entrepreneurs starting a business have a ton of work to do to ensure their business is viable. Kickstarter is doing them a tremendous favor by keeping failed attempts on their site; they don't have to do that! Writing a post that calls them out for not doing more to showcase failures seems pretty misguided to me; the only person served is the budding entrepreneur, and it has potential to significantly harm Kickstarter, as it could induce fewer people to start projects.

I guess I completely disagree with the post's intention.

I would agree if there were a way to find these failed cases if you looked hard enough. Other than acquiring the link before the end date of the project there doesn't seem to be a way. This may be a good way to check what happened to project X, but not to answer the question:

"How have other projects in field foobar done, which ones have failed or succeeded, and what does each group have in common?"

That's exactly the kind of thing I'd like to be able to do. For instance, I'd love to know which categories have the highest success rates, etc.

That sounds like an interesting project. Create a spider that crawls funding sites (more and more each day it seems) and collects statistics and timelines.

It could even search for references to individual projects on the popular search engines, to gather data on what sources for attention have what kinds of impact on which kinds of projects, etc.

There's one doing that, but only for Kickstarter - check out http://www.kicktraq.com.

Volunteering to fund via kickstarter is....voluntary.

So the risk is on those who are choosing to obtain investment via the KS platform.

>>>56% of Kickstarter projects fail to meet their funding goal.

Intuitively, this seems like an incredibly low failure rate, doesn't it? I'm amazed it isn't something closer to 80%, considering the fairly relaxed guidelines for getting listed.

Kickstarter certainly seems to have a higher success rate than rival Indiegogo, where 2/3 of projects don't meet their funding goals.

It does seem like a low failure rate - and I don't think that KS has anything to do with it, directly. Indirectly there are certainly things that make a KS project go better than say Rockethub or Indiegogo. I think, because of the 'prestige' that KS has fostered in its image, people put more effort ahead of time into their project. It has nothing to do with Kickstarter, and everything to do with the effort put forth by the Project creator.

Thus - the fact that one does not get the money till it hits their goal number, they spend more time up front getting ready. I actually think currently, that's the greatest service KS provides a project creator. They force a creator to take it more seriously up front.

i don't think its low, when they are curating a majority of the projects. They'll only accept ones that have a higher probability of success.

> it doesn’t help to remind people that 56% of Kickstarter projects fail to meet their funding goal.

Is it just me, or is that actually an amazingly high percentage? If you'd asked me to guess, I would have expected it to be hovering between 5% to 10%.

When you browse all Kickstarter projects rather than simply checking the most popular presentations from each category, it quickly becomes apparent that a lot of the projects have very little effort invested in them and lack the backing of any sort of serious talent. This is especially apparent in the game's category. "Here's some concept art for a game I want to make. I want to make it mechanically similar to games X, Y, and Z. Please give me $80,000" is pretty common, and it's equally common to see projects that don't even make 10% of their fundraising goal. Understandably, Kickstarter doesn't display these projects prominently on the front page; you need to dig several layers deep to find them.

If you've never browsed Kickstarter, your perception of Kickstarter success rates is probably colored even further by the fact that hearing about a Kickstarter outside of Kickstarter (on an aggregate such as reddit, HN, etc) is social proof and that itself is a symptom of success.

For a similar exercise, try checking the HN new queue. Lots of submissions fail to get even a single upvote; you just never see them.

If anything, I'd say that 44% successfully funded seems amazingly high. Much fewer than 44% of Kickstarter projects I've viewed actually deserved to be funded, in my opinion. Then again, this perception is likely skewed by the fact that I've spent a disproportionate amount of time in the games category, which seems to be plagued by "everyone wants to be a game dev without knowing how to code" syndrome.

I make a regular habit of clicking through a large number of Kickstarter projects and back a fair number and that number doesn't surprise me at all. I suggest you also look through a few sometime. A lot of projects on Kickstarter are, quite frankly bad. They are trying to build something nobody wants or their projections or idea are unrealistic. They provide little to no information about the project. Their reward tiers are unattractive or poorly built. Their creators lack credibility and have nothing to back them up. They are obvious scams. They have ridiculously short or ridiculously long funding periods. They do no promotion outside of Kickstarter. The creators provide no updates and don't communicate with backers.

The projects you see are the ones that overcome all or most of these potential issues and I'd suspect that the numbers for those are much, much better. But I'm honestly surprised that only 56% fail given what I've seen.

That's exactly what tried to say. I would have guessed that about 90 to 95% would fail. I suppose I wasn't clear. And now it's too late to edit.

Kickstarter does not seem to approve every project. As discovered here [1], there are currently at least 70,000 unpublished projects. For comparison, between 2010 and 2011 they launched 38,000 projects. [2]

[1] http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB1000142405270230437150... [2] http://www.kickstarter.com/blog/2011-the-stats

I'm really surprised also. I wonder if the ones who hit their funding level are the ones also aggressively marketing their project while the others just "put it out there and wait."

In other words, are the projects getting funded on Kickstarter the ones driven by people who would succeed anyway, this just makes it a bit easier for them?

The kickstarters you're likely to pay attention to are the popular ones, which have a much higher chance of getting funded.

I got the impression that the majority of projects were successfully funded; this is likely due in part to the fact that the majority of projects you see on Kickstarter have been successfully funded.

I don't see any problem with the way Kickstart is operated as a business. You see a lot of funded projects, you're more likely to put in the time and energy to a great presentation for your own project. Seeing that most projects fail even the most basic fundraising stage would probably have otherwise discouraged folks from utilizing Kickstarter and ultimately cost Kickstarter revenue.

I clicky the link he provides. I type [amplifier] in the box. I get a list of projects; the first few are still active, the next few are successful, and then there's a bunch of unsuccessful projects.

I didn't even have to click "See all results", so they're not that hidden.

Of course. As I mentioned in the piece, search still turns up unsuccessful results.

The point of the piece is that failed projects don't show up in: a) Kickstarter's Discover interface b) Google results

You gave me the impression, in your article, that I would not be able to find failed projects by searching on Kickstarter unless I had been following them and knew their exact names. But this is not true. Your example, Instaprint, illustrates this. I need only to search for (for example) "instagram" or "print photo" and the failed project turns up. I don't need to know that there was a project called "Instaprint". Kickstarter makes it easy for me to find failed projects in any area that I am interested in. This puts the lie to your main point, that they are making it hard for entrepreneurs by hiding information about unfunded projects. That they selectively ban robots from indexing unfunded projects is interesting, but this is not the kind of thing I would use Google for. If I wanted to find out the fate of various types of projects on Kickstarter, I would naturally search on Kickstarter. And this seems to work perfectly.

Good point. I could have chosen a less specific example to point out that "failed" projects still show up in search results.

I really have no idea why you would expect unfunded projects to appear in the "Discover" interface. The whole point of it is to engage donors - why on earth would I want to look at projects that didn't happen, as a donor?

>>> First, failed projects aren’t actionable. No one can back a project that’s already missed its funding goal.

Right. This is common-sense UI design. Why would it be better to see a lot of information that no one can do anything with?

The successful projects also aren't actionable, those probably get displayed for purely marketing purposes. That seems like a pretty normal sales tactic (like testimonials on an infomercial).

I would do the exact same thing. As the author points out, unsuccessful projects can't have any action taken on them. All they serve to do is get people less enthused about the website.

As DanBC points out, it is definitely possible to find failed projects by performing a simple search. All this says to me is that Kickstarter doesn't want to broadcast them or use up valuable screen real estate for them.

Interesting data here on 599 projects. Which looked likely to hit goals, to go over, by how much, etc.


One interesting point was that most that failed did so by an order of magnitude. There weren't a lot of near misses.

Kickstarter's frontend is targeted at consumers. As a consumer, why would I want to see failed projects?

Seeing failed projects would probably make me significantly less likely to back other projects, not to mention how much more difficult it would make it to find them.

Not to say they couldn't add some advanced search option or something. But in terms of features, that's probably pretty low, and I understand them not having implemented it.

Why exactly would Kickstarter make unsuccessful projects easily found? Nothing can be done with a project that has been unsuccessful, so Kickstarter is actually providing a better experience to it's users who are looking to fund projects that still can be successful.

The reason eBay might keep already sold, or not sold items indexable is because they just might not care if users find those items. eBay also deals with 'commerce' on a completely different scale than Kickstarter. They sell millions of items, daily I would think. One unsold copy of a book doesn't tarnish the service. As for Amazon, if an item is sold out it doesn't mean the item won't become available at a later point. The shopper can probably add the item to a wish list, find a used version or be notified when the item is available again. You can still perform an action on the item, unlike Kickstarter where there is nothing that can be done with the unsuccessful project.

TL;DR 44% of Kickstarters are successful. WHAT! That's amazingly high.

Wow, 56% of projects aren't funded - so 44% are. That's really high. I was thinking it'd be a lot, lot lower - maybe 5-10%.

"if you’re going to use a crowdfunding service like Kickstarter, it’s important to figure out what’s worked for others in the past, but also to figure out what hasn’t worked for others in the past."

This is exactly why it would work in Kickstarter's favor to make failed projects visible. Since they only make money on successful projects, they stand to make more money if users don't continuously remake the same failed ideas.

I'm surprised only 56% of projects fail to get funding. I expected it to be much higher.

EDIT: Reading all other comments after posting this... It seems other people are equally as surprised as me. I wonder if this is related to the sort've pre-sale / reward economy that kickstarter has created.

> 56% of Kickstarter projects fail to meet their funding goal.

I would have expected the number to be much higher.

Agreed. 44% funding rate? Compared to other methods of fundraising, I'd take those odds any day.

I'm not sure how he got this figure, but a 56% failure rate doesn't seem too bad to me.

I analyzed some projects in progress once (http://creativepark.net/1381) and that number is about right. There is some variability based on the financial scope of projects but not as much as I expected.

The main issue in my opinion is that Kickstarter tricks "ordinary" people into thinking they have a decent chance of getting funded. In reality of course only socially well-connected projects have a good chance.

In 2011, Kickstarter reported its overall project success rate as 44%: http://www.kickstarter.com/blog/shortening-the-maximum-proje...

>Second, to clarify that I don’t think there’s anything nefarious or ill-intentioned going on here. Just that Kickstarter has made an interesting design decision when it comes to how it displays (or doesn’t display) “failed” projects.

Oh please. If you're going to do a writeup like this, fucking own it. I'm so tired of someone putting out something that bears down on what can only be described as "shady" behavior, but then doesn't have the balls to call a spade a spade.

If Kickstarter is darkening the portions of their site that would undermine their product, that's shady. Plain and simple.

"Successful" also only means "funding goal met" not "product shipped" or "project complete".

Kickstarter says that accountability is enforced by the community of backers, but Kickstarter really needs to be part of that process.

Do people get their money back if a project fails?

If by "fails" you mean "fails to reach the funding goal", then yes.

If by "fails" you mean "is successfully funded but fails to deliver" then no.

I mean the latter. Is there anything to prevent someone from just running off with the money?

Kickstarter's TOS states that if the project owner can't provide a tier's reward to someone, they have to refund the money. And they must make a 'good faith effort' to do so on time.

I am not a lawyer, but I suspect the backer could take them to court for failing to follow through, since this is basically an agreement between the backer and the project owner, and the project owner didn't do their part. It'll be fun to see it tested in court.

It's a scammers paradise.

Kickstarter doesn't even take your money until a project is successfully funded. So, in effect, yes.

Yes, that's pretty much the entire premise of Kickstarter: that a project is only funded if the fundraising threshold is met.

i'd be more interested in what timelines are like if they never deliver.

So create a service that scrapes the "in progress" projects, then highlights them when they disappear.

Thanks for the post. I disagree with Kickstarter approach - "You have to learn how to fail in order to succeed" - http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/famous_failures

In case anyone's interested, I was able to scrape Kickstarter's failed projects. I made it into an infographic here: http://www.appsblogger.com/kickstarter-infographic/.

A little off-topic, but does amazon charge a fee for the authorization that kickstarter does before the project is successful and they charge you? In other words, do unsuccessful projects cost Kickstarter something?

If the Kickstarter project get's funded, and reach the end date, only then the pledge will be charged from your amazon account, at the ETA (if there are a lot of pledgers then it can take some time). Therefore no costs will made. So if you pledge a project who doesn't get funded, no charge will be made (;

This seems like a pretty good list of failed Kickstarters:


Success tends to hide failure. The general problem here is that we, as hackers, scientists, friends, humans, prefer to read stories of success rather than stories of "quantitative results".


"I think is harder to learn from failed projects if you're starting a kickstarter campaign because it's hard to quantify all the things that went wrong."

[edit] This is the statement I was responding to.

I agree with this statement [edit] to a degree. I would also say that it is also hard to quantify all the things that went right. I think that once people see a successful project/individual/company/etc. they interpret that success to trivial actions (that may or may not have contributed to the success.)

This also identifies another underlying problem; how is success defined?

Edited: for clarity & context.

Should be re-titled as "web startup does business as usual".

It's sort of like Facebook having a "Like" button but no button to signal caution. It's a distortion of reality.

If everything we ate smelled and tasted "good", we'd die. Because we would eat poisonous things. There is a reason why some things smell or taste "bad".

As another commenter points out, it's a shame because knowing what projects did not work, and when, would be helpful.

Trial and error is a proven way to reach success.

Kickstarter is hiding the errors.

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