Uncovering what traits make a Kickstarter campaign successful

By Raymond Bai, Samantha Chung, Emily Hou, Amy Tang

Our team analyzed a dataset of over 378,000 Kickstarter campaigns to reveal new insights about what factors potentially contribute to success.

Since its creation in 2009, Kickstarter has provided a platform for creators to pitch their ideas and crowdsource funding to turn those ideas into reality.

One such creator is the company Pebble Technology. They launched the first version of their smartwatch in 2012, three years before the first-generation Apple Watch appeared in stores. The company has since been sold to another name you may recognize: Fitbit.

Perhaps you’re more familiar with taco cats, hairy potato cats, and the unmatched excitement of drawing a diffuse card from an opponent — all from the world of the popular card game Exploding Kittens.

These have been some of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time. One of Pebble’s three campaigns still remains the most funded of all time, raising over $20 million and wildly surpassing their goal of $500,000. Exploding Kittens, with 219,382 backers, holds the record for the most number of backers for a single project. So, what factors do these successful projects share?

In this article, we dive into a dataset of over 378,000 Kickstarter campaigns of various sizes, categories, and degrees of success to uncover new insights into what makes a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The Data

The original dataset from Kaggle contained 15 variables, with data from April of 2009 to January of 2018.

The initial data set defined the status of the projects under six categories: canceled, failed, live, successful, suspended, and undefined. In our analysis, we chose to condense these six categories into three:

  • successful — the project met the goal amount within the time set by the creators
  • failed — the project failed to meet the goal by the set deadline or was irreversibly terminated by the creators
  • unknown — the project was either temporarily suspended, ongoing, or undefined at the time of data collection

What factors make a Kickstarter campaign successful?

To explore this question, we looked at four main factors:

  1. Time elapsed
  2. Categories of projects
  3. Number of backers
  4. Funding goal amount

The Findings

Time Elapsed

According to Kickstarter’s website, “Projects on Kickstarter can last anywhere from 1–60 days… projects lasting any longer are rarely successful.” In our data analysis, only 1.5% of successful campaigns had time elapsed of 60 days or more, which is indeed a very small percentage.

The website claims that “30 days works best,” and our data analysis agrees with this statement as well: 64.54% of successful campaigns were completed in the first 30 days.

Out of over 247,000 observations in the subset of successful campaigns, 39.6% of successful campaigns had a time elapsed value of 30 days. This can be attributed to the fact that time elapsed was calculated using the “launched” and “deadline” dates. Thus, projects that reached their goals before or on 30 days (but did not close the project before the deadline) are categorized as time elapsed of 30 days. It is likely that many creators set a deadline of 30 days and do not close the campaign even when the goal has been met.

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The mean number of days it takes for a campaign to become successful is 32 days, while the median is 30 days. Since the mean is higher than the mean, the distribution is right–skewed, meaning that there are more data points at the left side of the distribution than the right. In other words, campaigns tend to reach their goals sooner rather than later. We can see this in the histogram which includes the mean line.

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Out of all successful campaigns, the minimum time elapsed is 1 day. Only 64 out of the 247037 successful projects, or 0.026%, reached the goal in that time. The maximum is 92 days, and only 10 projects, or 0.004%, reached their goals on the 92nd day. We can see that it is uncommon for a project to be completed at either of these extremes.

To maximize success, campaign organizers should refrain from setting a goal date past 60 days of the initial release since a shorter time frame helps a campaign maintain a sense of urgency.

Category

Our data set consists of Kickstarter projects that fall under 15 main categories.

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The top three most popular categories (defined by the number of projects) are Film & Video, Music, and Publishing, which account for 41% of all projects. Among these projects, the success rate is 38.5%. In contrast, those falling under the remaining 12 categories achieved a success rate of 33.1%.

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We suspect that there are many projects under Film & Video, Music, and Publishing because they can be produced without the need for large budgets (the median goal amount set by these three categories rank 5th, 9th, and 8th out of 15.) However, a negative consequence of having many projects in a category is that any particular product may be drowned out by others and is less likely to stand out to backers. As a result, projects from the most popular categories do not receive as much attention as others, ranking only 7th, 6th, and 9th, respectively, in the median number of backers per project. In other words, they fail to take full advantage of Kickstarter’s crowdfunding.

The three categories with the highest success rates are Dance, Theater, and Comics, with 62%, 60%, and 54%, respectively. A fascinating fact is that there are only 3768 projects under Dance, less than 1% of all projects. A plausible explanation for why the category with the least amount of projects has the highest success rate is its niche. Although there are very few creators on Kickstarter promoting dance compared to other categories, their projects are frequently recognized and supported by interested patrons.

Categories related to popular culture and performing arts have the highest success rates. The top 7 most successful categories — Dance, Theater, Comics, Music, Art, Film & Video, and Games — all fall under these two genres.

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The key point is that content creators should not be deterred if the category that the project falls under is not very popular on Kickstarter. As long as the product is well-designed and looks promising, there may be a particular group of patrons willing to support any further development of the project. However, keep in mind that products related to popular culture and performing arts seem to most successfully receive attention and support on Kickstarter.

Number of Backers

The number of backers is defined by the number of people who contribute to a Kickstarter campaign. We wanted to explore the question: Are successful projects mostly crowdfunded, or do they rely on a few individuals who donate a significant portion of the money?

Throughout our analysis, some aspects of our data did not make sense. For example, approximately 0.07% of successful projects have zero backers. Clearly, a successful project needs at least one backer to reach its goal. This was one anomaly throughout our analysis.

95% of successful campaigns have fewer than 885 backers. However, there was a wide range of the number of backers, with the maximum being 219,382.

For the failed categories, 95% of the projects have fewer than 72 backers.

For the unknown category campaigns, 95% of the projects have fewer than 123 backers.

The histogram below illustrates the number of backers in each category for the number of backers smaller than 885, as defined above, and their respective frequencies.

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As seen from the histogram, the number of backers for unsuccessful projects tends to be lower than the number of backers for successful projects.We deduce that the 95th percentile of the “successful” category is greater than any other category. In general, projects that are successful rely on a greater number of backers as compared to projects that are unsuccessful or cancelled. This implies that for the successful category, they could be successful because they appeal to a greater number of the audience, hence the audience is more likely to contribute to the project, giving the project a higher chance of being successful.

Goal Amount

Kickstarter uses an all-or-nothing funding model, according to its creator handbook. This means that if a project’s funding goal is not reached, then no money is actually exchanged from backer to creator. This way, backers can support projects with confidence, and creators will not be under pressure to produce something when they don’t have sufficient funding. Because of these reasons, Kickstarter recommends that the funding goal amount, while free for creators to set themselves, should be the minimum amount it takes for the creator to deliver what is promised in their project description.

Within our dataset, funding goal amount ranges from less than $1 to over $160,000,000. This is an incredibly large range, so we decided to break things down by category. This bar chart shows the average funding goal by the projects’ main category as defined earlier.

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We can see that Technology has the highest average funding amount, with Film & Video and Journalism also having higher averages.

However, when we look at funding amounts using the median rather than the mean, we get different results. This is because the mean is much more susceptible to the influence of outliers than the median is, despite both being measures of central tendency.

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Using the median, we see that Technology remains the category with the highest funding goals, but this time with a much larger difference: the median is around twice as much of the next highest categories. Film & Video and Journalism fall out of the top three categories this time, showing that for these two categories, the average funding goal is comparatively much higher than the median funding goal.

This means that there are likely a couple of projects in these categories with extremely high funding goals that are bringing the average up. One example of this is a 2015 Film & Video project from Great Britain titled “A Celtic Lovestory”. This project set a goal for $151,395,870 and ultimately failed, with zero backers and zero dollars pledged.

This figure below shows the median funding goal for failed projects vs. successful projects in each category. Across the board, we can see that failed projects have higher funding goals than successful ones. For some categories such as Fashion and Dance, the difference is smaller, while for Crafts, Technology, Design, Theater, and others, the difference is almost a factor of two.

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Many things factor into whether a project gets funded, so it’s not possible to determine a causal relationship between funding goal and project success. However, this analysis can give future project creators an idea of what funding goal range is typical and feasible for their project category.

The Takeaways

  1. Time: Campaigns should refrain from setting a goal date past 60 days of the initial release, since a shorter time frame helps a campaign maintain a sense of urgency. 30 days is the “magic number” that goals tend to be reached on.
  2. Category: Campaigns related to popular culture and performing arts are most likely to receive attention and support on Kickstarter. However, projects with specific niches can also achieve success.
  3. Backers: In general, projects that are successful rely on a greater number of backers (200–800) as compared to projects that are unsuccessful or cancelled.
  4. Funding goal: Successful projects have kept funding goals lower, around $5000 or less for most categories, but up to $10,000 or more for tech products. For a greater chance of success, set goals for the minimum amount it will take to execute the project.

For someone looking to create a Kickstarter campaign, we suggest you follow these tips to optimize your chance of success:

  • Create a unique, well-designed product that will stand out among others in its category.
  • Set a reasonable funding goal that will allow you to complete the campaign in the allotted time.
  • Appeal to as many people as you can. You are more likely to reach the goal when you truly take advantage of crowdfunding.
  • Set an appropriate deadline and do not drag out the funding period.

More details can be found on our Github: https://github.com/datares/blue-team.

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