Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kickstarter doesn't validate your product; it validates your pitch (and that's okay)

Validate This
I came here to praise Kickstarter, not to bury it, but this article on major corporations using Kickstarter for product research reminded me of a lesson we covered at the Louisville Digital Association's crowdfunding workshop a few months ago: Kickstarter is sales training, not product research.

Well, that's not entirely fair. Kickstarter does provide some basic market research about your product description and maybe your price point, but only in the context of your marketing. Kickstarter can't validate a product that doesn't exist. It can only validate what you're putting in front of the consumer and all Kickstarter puts in front of the consumer is your marketing pitch.

Kickstarter validates your marketing pitch, not your product.

If you look at a Venn diagram of Kickstarter enthusiasts and iterative design/lean startup fanatics, you'd basically see two circles atop one another. Yet somehow, when discussing the virtues of Kickstarter, everyone forgets perhaps the single greatest virtue of agile development -- continuous iterative feedback from customers using the actual product.

Under iterative design, customers point out the strengths and weaknesses of your offering, allowing you to improve it over and over again until you reach optimal product-market fit. You can't have product-market fit until the actual product goes to market. Your product doesn't go to market until months or years after your Kickstarter campaign is over.

With Kickstarter, all you're getting is feedback on a slick video and some blog posts about a product you might build someday if you get enough money and don't frak it up. That's not product research; that's the impulse buyer's supermarket checkout line-equivalent of VC money. Stop calling it product research and product validation -- it isn't, and the difference is important.

It's entirely possible to have an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign that leads you to delivering a product everyone hates and ends up a waste of time, money and your own reputation. Success on Kickstarter in no way guarantees a successful product.

But everyone should use Kickstarter (or something like it) anyway. Here's why: Building the perfect product using lean/agile principles is also no guarantee of a successful business. The history books are littered with superior products (Dvorak keyboards, betamax VCRs) that failed in the marketplace because they couldn't be sold well.

Validating your marketing is at least as important as validating your product.

The single greatest barrier to success for all startups and products is customer acquisition. That's why growth hacking is getting so much play these days; marketing is hard and we're willing to resort to math -- something marketers innately hate -- to make it more viable.

All this crap about "marketing is for products that suck" is just that -- crap. The world won't beat a path to your door just because you built a better mousetrap. You have to tell the world about your mousetrap  so they know it exists, and you have to tell them in such a way they can't help but see it's better. After that follows profit. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an underpants gnome.

Kickstarter forces you to make a compelling sales pitch for a product that doesn't exist yet. It takes the two most potent weapons in your marketing arsenal -- the sales demo and the satisfied customer referral -- out of play. You have to convince someone to part with money strictly on spec. That's really hard, but if you pull it off you've got a pretty solid foundation for your marketing efforts once you have an actual product. (It's also why established creators with established followings do well on Kickstarter these days; they have a prebuilt marketing channel that's already interested in their products.)

Use Kickstarter to prove you can market your product; that's what it's for. From there, you can pivot to using lean/agile to build an actual successful product. These are two halves of a successful business, and you can't neglect either. Before you jump into a Kickstarter campaign, be certain you remember that.


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