To change or not to change: modifying the core product mid-campaign

I have backed a number of campaigns on Kickstarter in which backers seem to drive the product decisions instead of the project creator.

Backer’s involvement in crowdfunded projects is part of the excitement of crowdfunding. Typical activities completed by backers include:

  • editing documentation, such as boardgame rule books;
  • translating documentation, such as instruction manuals;
  • offering emotional support during the project;
  • testing the product, for example print and play testing of card games;
  • promoting the project via their social network;
  • voting on product colour schemes.

But, in some projects, backers become the main decision makers about the core product, and the project creator allows this. This seems to happen if the campaign is the project creator’s first crowdfunding campaign or if the project creator is using crowdfunding to test the market to see what will stick.

The result is that the core product offered in the crowdfunded campaign is changed during the campaign, with the brunt of the rework, costs and risks carried by the project creator.

Examples of changing the core product:

  1. initially offering a deck of luxury play cards with dice and coins as add-ons, and during the campaign changing focus to the add-ons because backers prefer these over the cards (result: manufacturing focused on the dice, no news on the cards);
  2. starting the campaign with a notebook containing blank pages, and ending the campaign offering a notebook with a mix of lined, grid and blank pages (result: manufacturing and shipping delay of 4 months);
  3. promoting a board game and then offering a zombie-themed add-on that quickly becomes the focus of the game, muddying what the game is about and confusing backers (result: project cancelled).

Changing the core product excludes stretch goals, product colour or name changes and any product accessories.

Whether to change the core product mid-campaign is not an easy question to answer, but I would like to propose the following:

  • If the core product is a good minimum viable product and already has a target market, then don’t change it mid-campaign. Offering add-ons, customisations and a next version is possible in a follow-up campaign, and will extend the lifecycle and revenue stream of your product.
  • If the core product should be changed, then rather don’t complete the crowdfunding campaign. Design re-iterations of the product and test the market again before continuing with a crowdfunding campaign.

Keep in mind that backers support crowdfunding because they seek disruptive innovation in products and services. Backers understand that the product could only be a beta product, and that project creators are still tinkering with the idea. Don’t confuse crowdfunding with shopping at a high street retailer!

Understanding the impact of changing the core product mid-campaign

If you revise your core product mid-campaign, you need to make sure that this is clearly communicated in the campaign materials, and that future backers understand what you are offering.

The campaign itself also needs to be re-evaluated, because you will need to:

  • revise the manufacturing process to include the modifications;
  • quality test the new product with modifications;
  • re-approve samples and re-start the manufacturing process;
  • incur extra costs for manufacturing;
  • increase the number of resources needed to manage the project;
  • revise communication plans post campaign, as the campaign now includes delayed delivery;
  • revise the entire project plan for the product, as the changes to the product increased the various times needed to complete each stage in manufacturing.

All of this impacts the timing and cost of the project.

It can be argued that by changing a product mid-campaign, a better product can be manufactured with the potential to increase commercialization of the product, because it includes many more features.

But, I question the wisdom of changing the core offering mid-campaign. Seth Godin posts an excellent post about saying “No”, and I would argue that this applies to crowdfunding campaigns as well.

The onus lies on the project creator to define the minimum viable product to be offered in the campaign, and how any changes mid-campaign would impact the project.

As the project creator, you need to retain control over your product decisions. Backers comments and suggestions are only based on the campaign information; you are closer to the product and know what is viable or not. Critically examine any backers’ comments on the product, brainstorm and scenario plan to understand the feasibility and desirability of the requested change, and then decide on a course of action (see the back stories at the end of the article).

Take away points for project creators

As a project creator launching your crowdfunding campaign, you need to:

  • define the minimum viable product;
  • decide whether to offer add-ons and customisations;
  • manage backers’ requests, and if something is not possible during the campaign, explain why and if there will be a second version or update once the crowdfunding campaign is completed;
  • scenario plan changes to the core product and the knock-on effect on the supply chain;
  • consider the financial and opportunity cost of any changes to the core product during the campaign;
  • consider creating a new campaign for an add-on or stretch goal that becomes popular with backers;
  • be able to say No.

Project creators should also be aware of services offered that tests the crowdfunding market before the actual crowdfunding campaigns starts. Salvador Briggman writes an excellent article on these services and tools available. Project creators should use these services to help define their minimum viable product, and to understand the supply chain and the target market for their product.

Back story 1 – Agreeing to modifications and product customisation mid-campaign

I backed a project that has the potential to disrupt the stationery market. It was successfully funded at 13.5x its original funding goal, and spurred at least two campaigns that offered competitor products.

The project creator offered the core product in various sizes with related stretch goals. During the campaign, some backers requested modifications and customisations to the core product which were beyond the stretch goals offered. These modifications could easily have been incorporated into a second version of the project; indeed, without these modifications and customisations, the core product would still have innovated the market.

The project creator succumbed to the backers and created multiple add-ons and offered customisations to the core product. The add-ons changed the core product, and instead of mass manufacturing one product, the project creator now has to manufacture a matrix of products.

The end result was that the project was delayed twice and the shipping date moved out by 4 months. In comparison, the original product would have been ready for manufacturing immediately post the funding campaign.

Had the project creator not offered the add-ons, the backers would have still supported the campaign, because the product was innovative and created a new need.

Back story 2 – Not agreeing to modifications and product customisations

I backed a card game that funded at 6.3x the funding goal. The project creator has multiple successful crowdfunding campaigns under his belt. He strictly managed the backers’ expectations and said No multiple times to backers’ requests for modifications and customisations.

What he did do instead was to convert some of the backers’ requests into stretch goals that he only offered in the last 48 hours of the campaign, and raised an additional $20k.

The difference between this story and the first story is that these additions did not change the core product at all. Indeed, the additional cards offered in the final 48 hours were mainly aimed at collectors and staunch followers of this boardgame company. The additional cards were also not customisable which meant that the manufacturing process was standardised.

Back story 3 – Offering product customisations

I backed a card game that funded at 2x the funding goal. From the get-go, the project creator offered card customisations to backers, but clearly stated the extended manufacturing period for these customisations. Backers could opt for the customisation or not by choosing the appropriate reward level.

The core product remained the same for all backers; the customised cards were additional playing cards that replaced core cards. The project creator cleverly split the manufacturing process into two: producing the core product, and then only producing any customised cards.

Message to backers

This post is also a message to backers: Be careful with the power you wield as a backer. You can and will influence project creators.