Crowdfunding Space: Is it rocket science?

Crowdfunding Space is an occasional recap about efforts to crowdfund amateur or professional space projects.

An Examiner article by Brian Enke discusses the challenges that space crowdfunding projects face. Enke mentions struggling projects -- Mars Arctic 365 and Project Moon Dust -- and cites the $1.5 million success of the Arkyd space telescope project before closing for a wish that more people would donate to space projects. But he doesn't dig any deeper than that. Now don't get me wrong. Enke is a science fiction writer, advisor to Mars One, and a senior research analyst for the Southwest Research Institute where he writes algorithms to study asteroid collisions. He's certainly capable of writing a much deeper analysis, but how deep do articles at the Examiner get? Enke does what he probably set out to do - highlights worthy projects that are struggling and calls on space enthusiasts to do more. The Mars Society even reposted the article on its website for its members to see.

I have a self interest as a future Kickstarter in figuring out how to plan and execute a successful crowdfunding project. My Crowdfunding Space posts will highlight crowdfunded space projects and review the lessons others have learned. Crowdfunding isn't rocket science. Anyone can do it. Many people have. But many have failed. Like anything else, success depends on preparation and execution. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and the other crowdfunding services publish advice and tips and guides for project creators that are very similar. 

One of the most important lessons is that Kickstarter won't create an audience for your project. 30% of a successful project's funding comes from the creators' own social network. If the people you know won't donate then you can't expect anyone else to donate. Consider the projects that Enke mentioned in his post. 

Project Moon Dust's creators have successful crowdfunded before, but their previous campaign was for an iPhone dock. How much overlap is there between people who buy their iPhone accessories and the community of space enthusiasts? Apparently only fifteen people. They donated about $50 each which implies that the project needed to attract eight hundred people to reach the $40,000 goal.

The Mars Society has been around since 1998 and has thousands of members around the world yet only got ninety-three people to donate during the crucial first two weeks. At about $72 each, the Mars Society has to recruit almost fourteen hundred more people to reach its $100,000 goal.

There's more to each project than this, of course. Successful projects must match set goals that donors think are achievable, offer attractive perks, explain their projects in a clear and compelling way, and conduct a well executed marketing campaign. But the first step is to make sure the people you know care about your project donate early.

It may not be rocket science. But screw up the launch and you're not going anywhere.