Friday, February 6, 2015

Lessons from a Kickstarter Campaign

Last summer, Cherngzhi (Erwin) Lian of Singapore conducted a Kickstarter campaign to create "The Perfect Sketchbook"—a pocket-size gem with artist-grade cotton watercolor paper and a built-in gray scale. The campaign was successful, raising $53,850, just over the goal. 
"The Perfect Sketchbook" Kickstarted by Cherngzhi Lian
But that is just the beginning of the story. What it took to execute a successful Kickstarter effort from start to finish is a tale of hard work and smart business that should inspire anyone who is thinking about crowdfunding.

Gurney: Have people used your sketchbook in any ways that particularly surprised or impressed you?

Cherngzhi: Absolutely! Our backers were really impressed with the quality of these sketchbooks and I reckon that The Perfect Sketchbook presented a unique opportunity for many who didn’t dare venture into quality watercolor paper. Generally speaking, most avoided 100% cotton watercolor paper because it is usually a lot more expensive than generic 20% cotton watercolor paper. Many of our backers were particularly surprised by how light these sketchbooks weigh and were delighted with the way that cotton paper responds to heavy washes and ‘lifting’.

Gurney: What did you learn from doing a Kickstarter project? Were there any unexpected difficulties or things you would do differently?

Cherngzhi: There were many things I learnt from this Kickstarter. For a start, I am not a celebrity of any sort and do not have a huge following. In an effort to rally for support, I resorted to approaching friends, strangers, famous artists, interest groups, art councils, art publications, and possibly anyone related to Art, travel, sketching and watercolor. It was not the easiest thing to do and rejection was common. I persisted and reminded myself that it was a rare opportunity where I can mass-produce something great, and persevered. When the fund was at $28,000, I thought that the campaign would fail. I wrote the greatest number of emails at that stage but it did not correlate to the fund's momentum. Although daunting, I kept going at it, even during the last 4 days when I was more than US$10,000 away from target. I thought it was game-over. Miraculously, the funds came in big during the last 4 days and we eventually managed to surpass the target of US$50,000, finally finishing at US$53,850. It was not easy and I slept little during the 45 days of our campaign.

The Project would have never made it without the support of all my backers. Every contribution along the way fueled my motivation, and my conviction in the success of the project increased with the number of backers and contributed funds. I fought harder, and we eventually made it. My backers were the true drivers of The Perfect Sketchbook, as without them, this project would not have taken off. I am truly grateful.

After the funding was complete, I dealt with a lot of special requests. This was challenging because Kickstarter's customer management system is not meant to handle changes and special requests. The increase in fees for raw materials, shipment, wiring and postage also worried me throughout the project. There were so many hidden costs that we were not able to foresee. We also ran into a few production issues, but these were readily resolved by my experienced manufacturer, Bynd Artisan. For that matter, I am really lucky to have partnered with them. It was amazing that they made most of The Perfect Sketchbooks by hand.

Gurney: I'm curious about logistics of the Kickstarter fulfillment. What services did you enlist to help fulfill your pledges?

Cherngzhi: In a desperate attempt to raise the required funds, I added many more reward tiers throughout our campaign. After the campaign was over, I worked immediately to fulfill the Giclée prints and hand delivered framed, original paintings to our top backers. To streamline the fulfillment process, we decided early in our project to send rewards separately even when a backer had backed both a sketchbook and a print. My collaborator, Bynd Artisan designated some their staffs to pack The Sketchbooks while Dan Hong (another employee from Bynd Artisan) and I worked on the labeling and sequencing of the packages. All the Giclée prints were printed and processed manually by me. Most of the packages were international and since we couldn’t afford to lose any package, we purchased a tracking option. Apart from the hefty cost of international registered mail, we had to manually sequence every package at the post office so that they are traceable. It was an extremely time-consuming and laborious process. The neighborhood post offices couldn’t handle our volume in a single day, and we ended up making multiple trips to their headquarters in order to complete the fulfillment process.

Gurney: How did you use social media to raise awareness for the campaign?
I have been using Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook to document my travel and sketches for the past two years. At first, I thought it was just a great way to document my thoughts on-the-go and felt that I might be able to refer to them for content if I should one day write a book. Over the span of 2 years, I gathered about 2000+ followers on Instagram. Most of my Kickstarter backers actually came from my own social media circle. Our biggest backer, Dr Ramona from Austria, has been following me on Tumblr, and kindly answered to my call for support.

Apart from my own social media network, there were generous artists like you, James, who were influential and kind enough to the share my project with your audience. This helped extensively with the visibility of my project. Without the internet or social media, this project would have never taken off.

Gurney: What advice would you give to artists who want to manufacture their own product ideas?
I think it’s really important to find a reliable and experienced manufacturer to work with. I was really lucky to have found Bynd Artisan, and their experience in book-making has proven to be invaluable. Extensive research also needs to done on budgeting, because every process along the way tends to cost more than the initial budget. Without economies of scale, you cannot produce something that can compete with other sketchbooks based on price. As an artist, you have the ability to make something out of nothing. However, you will need to be tenacious to reach out to people who value your work and effort. Bear in mind that even when you put in the best materials and effort, there will be a lot of harsh criticism out there. Enjoy the process and remind yourself that it isn’t the end of the world if the project fails. Stay positive and don’t give up.

Gurney: What are your plans for manufacturing or distributing the sketchbook now that the Kickstarter project is over?
A lot of satisfied backers wrote to me with feedback that I should also make a bigger sketchbook. I am currently approaching top-quality paper mills, in hope that they will be willing to collaborate with us to make an affordable A5 [148 x 210 mm or 5.8 x 8.3 in]version of The Perfect Sketchbook. The current pocket-sized sketchbook is a limited edition, and the limited excess from our project is currently only available at Bynd Artisan stores in Singapore.
Thank you, Cherngzhi, and best wishes for your continued success.
GJ post about the campaign


Steve said...

These are wonderful sketchbooks -- "perfect" is hard to achieve, but they are very nice. Cherngzhi was conscientious about communicating with backers throughout the process, giving behind the scenes views of the book making process at Bynd Artisan.

It may just be my computer, using Chrome, but none of the photos in this post loaded after the top one.

James Gurney said...

Thanks for letting me know about the photos, Steve. I've changed them out and added new ones. Would someone let me know if they come through now?

Kelly Borsheim Artist said...

I am using Firefox. At first, I only saw the top image and none of the rest... when I saw your comment, James, I decided to refresh the post before responding.. I see all of the images now.

Thank you for this post. I am about to start my first Kickstarter campaign to help me fund some bronze casting. I appreciate all the tips.

Parka said...

A larger sketcher at A5 or A4 landscape would be more "perfect".

pictogramax said...

As a backer that enjoys his PERFECT SKETCHBOOK, I can really recommend it as a portable sketching option. The paper is great, the book opens flat for painting spreads and is very well made.
Now reading this "behind-the-scenes" story, I respect it even more. For those that might be interested, here's the initial test in the field:

Warren JB said...

Informative insights. Thanks James and Chernghzi!

"Our backers were really impressed with the quality of these sketchbooks and I reckon that The Perfect Sketchbook presented a unique opportunity for many who didn’t dare venture into quality watercolor paper."

This was true for me. Of course, now I've got my perfect sketchbook, I'm struck with the same malady that affects Dave Kellett:

Anonymous said...

I would love a "perfect sketchbook" in a larger format, and look forward to it.

Unknown said...

photos seem fine to me. I am browsing on Chrome BTW.

Mike Porter said...

I looked into ordering one...about $32 in USD but the size is a bit small for me.

Philip said...

For those interested.. a similar product is available both in this size and larger from Pentalic known as the Aqua Journal.. paper is heavier 140lb also 100% cotton... I've used and enjoyed the larger 5" by 8"...