Make Something People Want: A Behind the Scenes Look at Font Awesome’s 2017 Kickstarter
In 2017, we had the great opportunity to attend Y Combinator (the Silicon Valley tech startup accelerator.) If there’s one key idea that attendees to YC tech startups should come away with, it’s to “make something people want.” It’s a good thing the idea stuck because it’s also a strong theme that frames the story of Font Awesome’s Kickstarter.
Here are some key discoveries we made throughout the Kickstarter process.
Ask your customers what they want.
Amazingly, the Font Awesome Kickstarter became the most funded and most backed tech Kickstarter of all time, and a big part of its success was due to the video we created to tell our story. In this Podcast Awesome Recap, we’ll give an overview of what the Font Awesome team learned through the process.
Prior to the Kickstarter, we dedicated a lot of time to Fort Awesome, an icon services package. But, we were so far deep into the weeds that we couldn’t see what was above. Font Awesome’s Principal Software Engineer Rob Madole says that “we were doing things with icons that people had not yet asked for.” So, we asked them for input.
(Huh. Ask the customers what they want. What a concept.)
So, we posted a survey on fontawesome.com and received 7,500 responses in just four or five days, which we’re really grateful for.
Simply put, the survey results showed that people wanted — wait for it — more Font Awesome. Armed with this feedback, we decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to get a paid version of Font Awesome off the ground.
The success of the Font Awesome Kickstarter proves the importance of the idea “make something people want.” We learned that it’s not enough to just create a product you think is cool; you’ve got to take the time to understand what people really want from it. Once we had all that great customer feedback, we were able to create a product that people were willing to back with their money.
Hire professionals for the video work.
But just as important as making something people want is making sure you have the right people in place to help you get your idea into the world. As we learned the hard way from the Font Awesome Black Tie Kickstarter, the key to a successful Kickstarter video is hiring professionals.
So we knew it was super important to hire creative professionals to help us tell our story, but producing a professional video would cost around $15,000. Though this seemed like a lot, Dave was confident we would be able to recover our investment. We were matched with Knox Avenue by VideoPixie, a service connecting entrepreneurs with professional video production companies. Our team met with Knox’s team and after looking at some of the company’s work, we were convinced that they would be able to help us tell our story the right way.
When it comes to creating a video, purely explaining the hardware and the math and the science behind your software may showcase technical proficiency, but when you’re trying to get your ideas across in a video, it’s all about telling the story.
Create content that will get a laugh.
After some brainstorming, we realized we weren’t able to tell the story of Font Awesome in a digital way, so we decided to look for a real-world parallel that could help us tell the story. We eventually settled on a bakery theme — the perfect analogy for our product. The bakery was a great way to show the intersection of art and technology and the hard work that goes into creating something beautiful with artful precision, and skill. Plus, the theme was visually fun and colorful looking.
We also value humor and nerdery big time at Font Awesome, so we were looking for ways to help make the video engaging. We had a blast writing the script and shooting the video, and made sure to drop lots of nerdy sci-fi adventure references in the dialog. Shooting the video took a full 12 hours — in the middle of the night when the bakery was closed! — and the results were fantastic. After catching his breath from cracking up, Travis was quoted as saying, “this may be the best thing we ever do at this company.”
We were delighted with the result of their video. And though we had no idea how it would be received, we were hopeful that it would hit the mark with our audience. Fortunately, we were right; the video was a hit, and we think injecting our humor into it helped to really make it pop.
Continue to champion open source.
We originally set a humble goal to raise thirty thousand dollars. Despite setting a low goal, we managed to raise one million seventy six thousand nine hundred and forty dollars with thirty five thousand five hundred and fifty backers. We were utterly blown away by the support! And as it turns out, this made it the most funded and most backed software Kickstarter of all time. And we think the success of the Kickstarter can be attributed to a few things: Our use of humor, dumb luck timing, and our belief in open source.
Because we’ve been an open source first company, as the company has grown, we’ve had more opportunities to give more away as we continue to support open source. As a result, the free version of Font Awesome is now two hundred and fifty percent larger than it was before we did the Kickstarter.
If we had to do it all over again …
Given the chance to go back in time, here are a few things we might do differently:
- Do it sooner. Font Awesome 5 was a good fit for our business (though nowhere near how well it performed). We should have prioritized it higher, seeing as it wasn’t yet default alive.
- Iterate more. Having more time to write the script and revise several times, and sitting on it for a while and considering it, would have been really helpful. We would have loved an extra week to add more of our personality into the video.
- Don’t worry about the press during the Kickstarter. While we didn’t spend a great deal of time on this, what we did spend didn’t make much difference. The bump we get from an article isn’t significant. It’s a longer-term game, as people in the know tell us.
- Record Travis when he watched the video for the first time. After watching, he said, “That video just may be the best thing we ever do.” But we think he’s wrong. We’ve got a lot more work to do that we think will be even better!
We’re obviously not an expert in any of this, but we think we figured out a few things that work — for us at least. Hopefully our experience helps others with their own projects in the works. And even though the Kickstarter is several years behind us, we’re still so grateful for the support we got at the time — and for the continued support of our subscribers. Thank you!