I launched a Kickstarter last week to relaunch Pitas.com (an early blogging platform), and it’s sort of stuck around the 10% mark. If it stays like this, it won’t get funded. It’s much too early for a post-mortem, but I thought I’d sort of analyze what’s going on here.
1. This is How Kickstarter is Supposed to Work
I love the actual concept of Kickstarter – a place to gauge interest in a project, and fund it if there’s demand. I know that most people think of it as just a place to raise money for a project, but I think it’s just as useful for the part where you judge how much demand there is. As much as I really want to relaunch Pitas, if nobody cares about it, that’s fine – I’d hate to work on it for 3 months and then never have any users.
2. Failure Was at Least Anticipated, if Not Expected
I launched this Kickstarter with the expectation that there was probably less than a 50% chance of it working, at least as far as I could tell. To be honest, I thought it might be even lower, like 20%. This informed a lot of the way I created the Kickstarter.
If you read anything about the correct way to run a Kickstarter (I read this good book, although ignored most of the advice, as you’ll see), one of the main takeaways is that you need to build up to a Kickstarter, take your time, build up some pre-launch hype and an audience for it.
I started to work on a Kickstarter for a years-old idea of mine last year (Number Notebook), and the process stretched out into maybe 10 times as long as I expected, and I couldn’t make a very compelling video, so at the last minute I shelved the idea, because I was positive it would fail (maybe I’ll bring it back in the future).
Spending that much time again trying to build something that nobody might care about wasn’t an option so I just fast-tracked this one.
Pitas had hundreds of thousands of users in the early days, so I figured that there was at least a chance the Kickstarter would have a bit of a built-in audience.
3. Turns Out, It’s Hard To Reach the Old Users
Pitas launched in 1999, so the people who used it are fairly scattered, and a lot probably just have normal lives and, like so many people now, just use the Internet to go on Facebook or Instagram. Emailing everyone is out of the question for a few users (for one thing, so many people signed up with their student email addresses, or using old email providers that haven’t existed in ages).
4. It’s Very Hard To Explain the Site to New Users
The idea is to bring back Pitas in a modern form – same usability and simplicity, but built on more robust technology, and lots of privacy.
Unfortunately, people who never used the site are likely to look at it just like a nostalgia trip, and not be interested. If there’s anything that doesn’t sell online, it’s web nostalgia. People (including myself) might say “Ahh remember Geocities, it was great!”, but I think that feeling always lasts for about 10 seconds, and then we all go back to being happy at how much you can get done easily now.
I’m biased, but I think a site like Pitas would be very useful right now, just a fast way to get up a traditional blog, with no privacy trackers, ads, etc. Not having an actual example built to show people makes that a tough sell though.
5. The Kickstarter Campaign Had No Video at Launch
I am well aware that the biggest thing everyone talks about with Kickstarter is that you HAVE to have a video, and it has to be GREAT. I don’t really dispute this (although to some degree, I don’t think this has ever really been tested, because every serious, viable campaign has a video), I knew that making one would be extremely tough for me. Resurrecting an old web site doesn’t really lend itself to any visuals, other than screenshots, and the only other thing I could put in a video would be, I assume, me talking. I hate being on camera SO much, so so much.
I added a video after hitting about 9% in funding, when I could tell the campaign at least had a shot, but it’s not great. I look terrible, the music at the start may be a bit too long, etc.
I have mixed feelings about the Kickstarter video thing. When KS started, I thought that putting a video box front and center of every campaign was so, so smart, and I’m positive that it was a huge reason that the platform took off, and people used it. On the other hand, it’s a double edged sword for people who might have a really great idea, and be able to execute on it, but have no experience or talent in making videos. Of course you can always get a pro to make the video (as all the experts recommend), but that costs money, takes time, etc.
For a while, it was odd to me how a video isn’t compulsory for most other things online (most online stores don’t have video, most blogs don’t have video, Reddit users don’t have to make videos to do everything, etc. etc.)
At some point though, I realized that the video is the trade-off that the creator makes, in lieu of actually creating the product before someone gives them money. It sucks for people like me who would rather just make something and never go on camera, or spend time making a video, but that’s just how it is.
6. The Funding Goal May be Too High
Kickstarters are notorious for delays and non-deliveries. When I set this goal, I looked at what it would really take for me to not take any other work for the time it would take to work on Pitas, and I set my goal to this.
In retrospect, I guess I would still work on the site if I had set the goal to 10,000 instead of 20,000, but I thought the number I chose was the most honest, and gave me the best chance of completing the work quickly, and well.
If I asked for a really low amount, that may have given the campaign a boost in credibility when people say the number reached. On the other hand, I know that when I see a moderately ambitious Kickstarter with a really low goal, I don’t take it as seriously, and assume the creator is making a mistake, and may not deliver what they say.
I’m not sure whether this has hurt the campaign, so I’m not really too bothered. I’d rather be realistic and honest here than try to mind-hack people somehow and have it cause trouble later.
7. Bad Timing
On one hand, the timing is good, because everyone is mad at the huge social networks, for obvious reasons. On the other hand, people still spend all their time on the big networks, and prying any of their attention or time away from those platforms is insanely hard.
If I had launched this campaign maybe 10 years ago, before these networks had taken over, when people were still blogging, I’m sure it’d be better. WordPress is awesome software, but too complicated for some people, and it’d be easier to position this as a simpler WordPress than a less evil alternative to Facebook or Twitter.
8. Bad Messaging
I guess this goes back to not being able to really explain the site to people. I’m usually good at summing up things I make, and explaining what the benefit of them are, but for whatever reason, I have a lot of trouble doing this with Pitas. To some degree I feel like it’s sort of obvious: It’s a solid, simple blogging platform where you’re in control, and you’re not harassed, and your data isn’t tracked or given to horrible companies.
Maybe some of the trouble might be that I am hesitant to sort of push the privacy aspects of it, because I keep thinking that they’re obvious. I also think that people care about privacy, and talk about it a lot, but when it comes down to it, they still go on tons of sites that track them like crazy.
9. Press and Links are Hard
Getting press is tough. I pitched the story to some reporters, but probably not enough, and with no results yet. When I go to a site like WIRED or Motherboard (who wrote a pretty insulting piece about me a while ago haha) and I look at all the stories about social media, they’re such BIG stories – Facebook is giving out massive amounts of data to horrible people, the President of the USA is threatening nuclear war on Twitter, which is overrun by Nazis, etc. It’s hard to imagine these places are going to care much about someone reviving a blog platform from 1999. A Kickstarter for an old website feels like a very 2010/2011 type of story to me.
Getting linked on sites like Reddit, news.Ycombinator, etc., also seems tricky. I’ve made things that have gotten huge traffic from these places before, but you’re really at the mercy of someone actually submitting your article, or product or whatever, since (to my knowledge) they don’t allow you to submit things you created.
The same goes for Facebook to some degree – with Facebook, you’re at the mercy of whoever posts a link to their friends. Twitter, at least, lets you just post a link, which can, theoretically, be seen by anyone (here’s a list of people discussing this project).
10. I’m Just Bad at Selling Ideas
I was just thinking about how to wrap up this article, and realized that while writing the draft, I hadn’t linked the Kickstarter anywhere haha. It probably says a lot about me that I’m more eager to explain everything I’ve done terrible than to remember to link the “product” – woops!
Well here it is. If it sounds good to you, please pledge, thanks!
(Also, huge, huge thanks to everyone who has already pledged!)