Tips on Promoting a Successful Hardware Kickstarter

By Jeremy S. Cook

Freelance Tech Journalist / Technical Writer, Engineering Consultant

Jeremy Cook Consulting

November 09, 2021

Blog

Tips on Promoting a Successful Hardware Kickstarter

As I write this, I’ve successfully crowdfunded my JC Pro Macro 2 (JCPM2) mechanical keypad on Kickstarter. I’m extremely proud of this computer interface device, and when this article is published you should still have a few days to get one yourself. It’s an expanded version of the mini keyboard and rotary controller, with the addition of more LED lighting, and additional GPIO breakout features.

This post, however, isn’t about the JCPM2, but instead deals with ideas on how to promote a unique hardware project. While I don’t claim to be an expert, having gone through the setup process, hopefully I can shed a little light.

Image Credit: Jeremy Cook

Your Product’s Unique Position

One reason that I believe the JCPM2 has done well so far is that macropads, stream decks, and auxiliary keyboards seem to be fairly popular right now; however, mine has a few unique features and a unique design when compared to others. I think there’s a sweet spot here between an item that’s totally unknown and something that’s just a copy of another project.

I’d argue something totally new and awesome could work, but you’d have to do a very good job of communicating why someone would want it. In the case of something that’s more iterative, it’s important to highlight its unique features and use cases.

For example, while my device has 8 key switches, so does your keyboard. What’s uniquely interesting is the rotary input, broken out GPIO pins, optional OLED screen, and swappable Pro Micro controller. Figure out what your unique selling point is, and put that at the forefront of your efforts!

Ask Friends, Consider Advice Carefully

Naturally there may be some fear involved when committing to a crowdfunding campaign. There’s the potential for failure, as well as runaway success where you’re scrambling to fulfill many more orders than you anticipated. I hope to post about successful fulfillment in a few months, but actually getting the point where I was confident enough to put something on Kickstarter came from: 1. having experience making electronics to sell and having a rough plan, and 2. talking to people who had run successful, and even unsuccessful, campaigns.

One very helpful tip came from Gürkan Dogan (Pocuter), who, among other advice, encouraged me to consider carefully when to make my Kickstarter live, and referred me to this article. I also interviewed the creators of the successful Project Alpha knife on The Creativity Podcast, which was quite illuminating on a number of different points.

I also talked to a friend at Tampa Hackerspace, where I’m a member, about his failed Kickstarter. His attitude is that there is no real downside, as you don’t pay anything if your project is not funded and at the very least you’ve increased your exposure. Of course, it does take time to set up a good Kickstarter campaign, so that non-monetary cost must be considered.

Image Credit: Jeremy Cook

One thing to keep in mind: most everyone has opinions and input for better or worse. You have to know what to take, what to ignore, and what to modify and/or file away for future use. Consider advice and digest it, but at the end of the day do what you feel is right.

Give Away Prototypes? Absolutely!

Assembled JCPM2 devices are available at an $89 pledge level, a non-insignificant sum of money, which can add up to a bit more with various add-ons. However, I sent out the equivalent of hundreds of dollars in samples to people who could help promote my device and/or offer advice on its development.

So far, this seems to have been a fantastic investment. The obvious payback here is that they could help promote it on their blogs, videos, social channels, and the like. What’s not so obvious, and extremely valuable, is that these beta testers/promotors provided invaluable feedback on how it could be used. They’ve also helped form what I hope will be a growing community of users.

While it’s tempting to try to get that YouTuber with hundreds of thousands of subscribers to review your device (thanks Novaspirit Tech!), don’t neglect those who are nominally less well known but have an interest in the device. Kevin at diyelectronicmusic was hugely helpful in developing the keyboard for MIDI use, and Pat Regan came up with several interesting uses seen here, and even helped with much of the product’s video.

Reach Out to Media, (Social) Media, Maker Fairs(?)

This is largely traditional advice, but I think it’s legitimate. I’m perhaps in a unique position as I work in a large part in tech media, so reaching out to my existing friends and contacts was relatively easy and natural. Perhaps the lesson to those who aren’t “in media” is to start cultivating relationships now, or even grow your personal brand via articles, posts, etc. on whatever platform fits you best. You never know when an interactive audience will be helpful.

For that matter, the people I know (in real life) from Tampa Hackerspace were very helpful, both in advice, and actually pledging for the project. So, it's get connected with a group of people that enjoy similar making, electronics, or hacking as you. Being an active member has been an incredible resource in countless instances.

The final element to my promotional plan is to take my device to Maker Faire Orlando, which happens on November 13th and 14th, a few days before the campaign ends. Supposedly there’s normally a funding bump toward the end of a campaign, and I did consider this aspect when deciding when to launch. If you happen to go, please come by and say hello!

Finally, make a good video if you can, and be sure to sprinkle a few GIFs through your Kickstarter page while you’re at it. Per Dogan’s advice, ezgif.com seems to work quite well for GIF making.

Image Credit: Jeremy Cook

To check out the JCPM2, visit Kickstarter.

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Jeremy Cook is a freelance tech journalist and engineering consultant with over 10 years of factory automation experience. An avid maker and experimenter, you can follow him on Twitter [https://twitter.com/JeremySCook], or see his electromechanical exploits on the Jeremy S. Cook YouTube Channel! [https://www.youtube.com/c/jeremyscook]

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