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The algorithm and the failing kickstarter

I launched a kickstarter yesterday and it’s not doing well.

Here’s my basic algorithm:

  1. Try random things at zero cost
  2. Find the ones that work
  3. Scale those

We really can’t predict what will work or not which is why speed is so important – the more things you try the better since you’ll hopefully find something that will work. Boyd talks about this in his OODA loop. You observe your situation, orient yourself, decide what to do and then act upon it. Then go back to the start. He posits that if you can do this quicker than your opponent then you’ll win.

So let’s observe the situation.  This kickstarter raised about $600 in day one, with a fairly huge amount of publicity amongst map people.

Let’s orient given prior knowledge. The last two kickstarters did $1,600 in day one. They raised just under $15k and $10k total. It’s not super likely this one will reach $5k given the curve and what little we’ve had today (day two).

So it’s decision and action time. I’m pretty sure that:

  1. The prices on the kickstarter are too high
  2. The print images aren’t compelling enough

The prices are easy to drop and simplify. I’m thinking of just having one print at $40 or so since that’s the median price for this kickstarter and the last poster one.

As for the images, I’m working on continent-wide instead of city images. I’ve fixed some of the drawing issues. The thickness of the lines drops as log10() and I’ve changed that to log() which is nicer. I’m also working on aliasing and changing the color from “just black” amongst other things. Here’s an image of all the roads going to london:

foo

There’s a bunch of work to be done here, but it gets the point across. My guess is that continent images like this will be more compelling.

The interesting question is how to get feedback. Asking the existing backers makes partial sense since they committed money but on the other hand, we need to figure out why people who didn’t back it didn’t back it. Feedback welcome of course.

Part of the reason for this whole thing is that the printer I bought for the last project is dead and needs to be replaced. This isn’t compelling in and of itself. Remember the “try random things” part of the algorithm? Well in a sense, yes, random things need to be tried since we can’t predict very well the chance of success. But, there are a couple of things to consider.

If we have two ideas A and B we may as well go for the bigger one. The reason for that is that it has more ways to succeed. A bigger idea may contain some element of a successful idea. A smaller idea has a lower chance of success and a lower overall level of dollars to attract. The cost remains the same: zero. This is because that’s what I’m going to spend since zero means the maximum number of ideas to be tried. Anything above zero restricts the number of ideas.

Second is opportunity cost. Picking the smaller idea costs the potential gain of a bigger idea. Doing a $5k kickstarter is the same as doing a $50k kickstarter with a 10% chance of success. But the $50k idea has a higher potential payoff and the same cost (zero) with a higher number of sub ideas that might spark some following.

There’s also just less competition. Doing anything commercial with OSM right now is hard because there are irrationally funded startups doing everything for free and owning the whole space. Competing with free is hard. At the other end of the spectrum I really love Thing Explainer simply because out of the billion books published this past year, it’s so unique. It’s not another tween vampire romance. Doing unique and big things is the way to go.

Is the cost really zero to do a kickstarter? No. It costs my time and so on, but it’s about as low as you can go.

Back to failure. The typical valley thing is to embrace and love failure. But that’s really just a way of avoiding it the same as treating failure as bad. The secret is to know failure sucks and push through it as a process, not to pretend it’s good or bad. It just is.

I tested a bunch of ideas last year and most of them failed. Nobody remembers any of them. Anyone remember Fake Mayor? That wasn’t even a failure, that sold for actual money. Anyway. I have a bunch of data on the ideas that succeeded and really I should have done one of those as my next kickstarter, or one of the other really big ideas I have laying around. Next time. (And, next time might mean next week at this rate).

(As an aside, I want to do a book about how to test and build ideas for super cheap using the internet, I think it’d be interesting).

So. The plan is to either pivot this kickstarter, kill it or restart it with simplified rewards in the next 24 or 48 hours. What do you think?

(It should be noted that some semi-pivoting by putting the above image on the kickstarter and so on is simple and free so I’ll do that in any case, but it’s not really a full pivot).

One Response to The algorithm and the failing kickstarter

  1. davidgedye January 6, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    Steve — I think it would help if you published a juicy hi-res sample — at least 4K, so people could really see how cool this will be.

    Also, and this is purely subjective feedback, I like the monochrome, and I prefer the thinner lines to these latest thick ones.

    No opinion about city verses continent, but either way each map needs to be rooted at a custom address. That’s the part that makes this idea unique (and I guess expensive to produce!)

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