When Kickstarter Campaigns Bomb, It May Not Be So Bad

Sometimes Kickstarter campaigns bomb. But as Michael Barney knows, you still can learn valuable lessons.

Newtown Square-Pa.-based Barney ran the campaign in question at the end of last year  to raise money for his fitness product, called AbDominator, which promises a way to get a really good core workout. His goal: $80,000. Amount raised: $4,196.

He also plans to donate a portion of sales to A World Fit For Kids, an LA-based charity aimed at teaching inner city children about health and fitness.

Barney originally created the AbDominator to solve a problem. A lifetime basketball player and exercise enthusiast who also spent eight years in the army, he ended up going through five surgeries–four on his knee and one his lower back–in two years. They pretty much made it impossible for Barney to engage in the rigorous workouts that had been a part of his daily routine for a long time.  “With all those surgeries, I was sitting around doing pretty much nothing,” he says.

What he really wanted was a way to get back in shape and, especially, target the area known as the core.  Nothing he encountered at the gym did the trick. Then, about two years ago, he came across an old roller ball mouse in a box filled with computer stuff.  The roller ball, of course, allowed the mouse to move in any direction.

In the middle of night, Barney snapped awake with an idea.  He would create a product that would allow  unrestricted, multi-directional movement and, as a result, exercise all those core muscles at one fell swoop.  A commercial pilot and aerospace technical writer, he hired engineers and artists he knew to do initial production drawings and a design engineering  firm to create the look.

Then a friend suggested that Barney, who was funding the project with his own savings, try Kickstarter. It seemed like a good way not only to offset some of his costs, but also to get feedback from customers and see how much interest there was in the market. So he decided to launch a campaign.

Trouble was, he didn’t learn until afterwards a few of the cardinal rules of successful crowdfunding.  For starters, like a great many Kickstarter campaigners before him, “I assumed it was such a great product, that would carry it, “ he says.  As a result, he did very little behind the scenes marketing to build up interest. Then there was the matter of how much to ask for.  Figuring it would be best to raise enough to cover his costs, Barney  listed a goal of $85,000–a really high number. He also included ten reward tiers when, he says, four to five is best. The campaign didn’t come close to raising its goal.

But there were definitely upsides. He got 92 backers, for one thing,indicating real interest in the product. For another, some of them offered ideas, a few of which he ended up incorporating.

Now, Barney is planning to run a new campaign, starting May 1, to coincide with national fitness month. This time, he’s hired an expert in retail and crowdfunding, as well social media and public relations specialists. And, he’s asking for $3,500 to help fund a work-out video .

He also researched 26 charities to pinpoint the  one with a mission that jibed best with his own. The plan: to donate $1 to A World Fit for Kids for every product he sells; retail price will be $49.95, although it will be less for Kickstarter backers. And he’s going to feature a success story on his site every quarter. The organization, he says, “goes deep into the mental and physical aspects of teaching kids healthy habits.”

It’s also fortuitous timing for the charity.  “We’re 90% funded by state and federal after-school grants and we’ve been looking to diversify our financing,” says CEO Normandie Nigh.