Reflections on a failed Kickstarter

Not too long ago I made a fun Kickstarter that was unsuccessful (OK Emoji). It still baffles me a little why it was unsuccessful, but I hope to share something more helpful than my past, present, and future bafflement. 

It was sad to share it with everyone I knew and see so few show interest. I felt helpless. Somewhere in the middle of the campaign, I considered my frustration and I prayed about it. I see two emotional paths I could have walked.

The first path, which I was already walking down, was the path of anxiety and bitterness. I could give in to fear about what will happen if the project is unsuccessful. I could see all the work that went into it as wasted. I could resent people who ignored it. I could seethe with bitterness, and think about how I don’t even want to make it if nobody wants it. I could writhe in agony as my name becomes associated with something that failed. 

But that unpleasant path is not the only path. If you find yourself walking that path, remember that it is not the only path. I asked God to give me the grace to walk a different path, and he was gracious to me. 

The other path begins with trust that God’s will will be done. If I was meant to do the project, then I will. It continues with seeing the larger picture of life, where this project is a small part. If it fails, it will be sad but not devastating. 

Thankfulness is on this path: for the opportunity to try, for the people who wanted to do the project with me, for friends who support me, for strangers who support me, for the people who created and run Kickstarter, for all the things that I will still have if the project is unsuccessful, for other opportunities that may come instead of this project. 

Humility is also on this path. God continues to answer my prayers for humility in ways that are difficult in the moment yet later satisfying and full of peace. What an opportunity for humility this was, to not just be sympathetic to other artists who are failing, but to taste failure itself and to acknowledge that I am a person who has failed. How much more potential for compassion I can have for other artists in this position! 

The second path was the better. I want to also document other good things that came out of the project. It was fun to write the bios for the other artists. It was fun to make the emoji lines. It was fun to make the emoji diagrams. I enjoyed even the preliminary parts of collaborating with artists and thinking about how to encourage and support them. 

The experience also underscored another idea I’ve had about how to approach a Kickstarter. After my first Kickstarter (which was successful) I came away from it with a few ideas about how to approach my next one.

  1. Fewer reward tiers (no more than 3)
  2. Only physical rewards (fulfilling digital ones wasn’t fun)
  3. Limit # of backers (100 seems reasonable)

I ignored both of those completely with OK Emoji, and so I relearned them. I don’t think these are universal, but they make so much sense to me about the kind of project I would want to make. First, you have a small amount of things. Two, everyone gets something in the mail. Three, fulfilling rewards isn’t a nightmare. 

I am looking forward to applying these in my next Kickstarter. I love the idea of making the smallest possible thing (these things have a way of ballooning). Even something as small as 10 people pledging $10 each. 

Some may say “That’s so small it’s not even worth it” but that’s only true if scale is part of how you decide whether your project is meaningful. If those 10 people are excited about it, maybe even involved in it, and it’s something fun to make and mail out, it sounds worth doing to me. I challenge the idea that scale gives dignity. 

Another good thing that came out of OK Emoji was the support I got from people who do love my music. There is so much joy to be found by being thankful for the people who do support you, rather than becoming bitter at the people who don’t. Even the people who don’t support you may have just forgotten (this happened to me). 

An unexpected good thing that came out of OK Emoji was that people started reaching out to me to collaborate. One person wanted to use some of my music in a film. Another person wanted to use my music in a podcast. I’m thankful for both of those. 

If you are running a Kickstarter that seems like it may not make it, or one that has already failed, or you are simply an artist who has felt some of this, I want to encourage you to choose the path of trust, humility, and thankfulness. It doesn’t feel like it in the moment, but it leads to peace and joy. 

Lastly, I realized that I essentially turned OK Emoji from an album of music into an emoji stationary kit, with stickers, stamps, and tape. The music really doesn’t have much to do with it, and in any case, I can write, record, and produce and album and give it way for free. I don’t need a Kickstarter for that. 

I may pursue the emoji stationary kit, or perhaps I will take my own advice and try them one at a time. That’s another good thing that came out of the project, even though it “failed.” Every project, even failed projects, have the potential to be a garden for new ideas.