Kickstarter Experience

My first successful open source project was pgcli. It was launched more than two years ago. It was very well-received at that time. It topped the charts on Github, HackerNews and Reddit.

I received a few requests via twitter to add support for mysql database in pgcli. Somehow this didn't seem right because I knew that pgcli wasn't quite up to par with psql and I wasn't going to distract my focus by adding mysql support to pgcli. So I kept postponing. Slowly a few core devs joined the pgcli team and they were able to share a portion of development effort.

I started to think about mysql support. I wanted to keep it separate from pgcli because I didn't think a unified db client would do justice to either of the databases. I was also interested in learning how to do marketing for an OpenSource project. So I decided that it might be fun to crowd-fund the development of this new tool.

I picked Kickstarter because it was the most popular crowd-funding site. I chose an arbitrary goal of $3000. The preparation to launch the kickstarter was a lot of work.

Preparation:

I knew I needed a video for the kickstarter campaign. I was too camera shy to put my face on the video so I chose to do a screencast instead. I learned how to use Camtasia and chose to use their 30 day trial to record a screencast. I'm a big fan of VimCasts, so I emailed Drew Neil (creator of VimCasts) and asked for some tips. He gave me useful pointers and I realized that I could record the screen and voice separately and then splice them together. This saved me so much anxiety because I realized I can't narrate while I'm typing. After about a week of multiple recordings and editing I had the final version which was slightly under 2 mins. As I said, lot of work.

Launch:

I decided to call this new tool mysql-cli. I bought the domain name and redirected it to the kickstarter campaign. Writing copy for the kickstarter campaign took another couple of days. After receiving some feedback from friends it was ready for launch. I wrote a blog post about the kickstarter campaign on the pgcli blog. Tweeted out the announcement and posted it to Facebook.

During the first day of launch the campaign received more than $300. I was thrilled by the fact that we reached 10% of the goal in just one day. Second day was a bit slower but I figured it was just an off day. It kept getting worse. I posted on Reddit and HackerNews but it went nowhere. I was very confused. By the second week there were no pledges and the campaign was hovering around $800. So I was going through a bit of emotional turmoil.

I had planned the kickstarter to coincide with PyCon. I gave a lightning talk at PyCon about pgcli and plugged for the kickstarter. Zilch! No takers. People were impressed by pgcli but no pledges for mycli. While at PyCon I was approached by an Oracle employee who reminded me that the name "mysql" is trademarked and I can't call my tool mysql-cli. I was frustrated but I didn't want Oracle coming after my $900, so I decided to call the campaign "CLI for MySql and MariaDB".

During the flight from Montreal (Pycon) to Portland (home), I managed to get the first implementation of the tool working. It was fairly straight-forward since I had already done it once for pgcli. So now I had a mostly working clone of pgcli. I reached out to the local MySQL group in Portland and showed the half-working version. This was a successful presentation that earned another $100 towards to the campaign.

By the third week I was desperate, I tried advertising via google adwords and twitters ads. I spent about $50 total, no conversions. By now I started sending cold emails to companies that use MySQL. I sent an email to Youtube, Dropbox, Percona etc. No replies. Then I googled for mysql consultants and found a few OpenSource leaning consultants. When I emailed them, I received a few 'no' replies but then one person responded with a 'yes'. The campaign was hovering around $1500 by now. This company offered to put forth $1500 which would put me over the goal. I was ecstatic. This was TBS (Tech Blue Software) Inc. They hadn't pledged yet since they were working out the details internally.

I decided to push hard on the last week of the campaign, just in case they fell through. When I posted on Google+ MySql community it took off. I received a lot of pledged from there. Then someone posted it on Reddit and a lot of pgcli users started pledging because they wanted to support pgcli and didn't know how else to give money. I was humbled by the support. Three days before the end of the campaign a ton of coworkers and friends from NewRelic started pledging and they pushed the campaign over the goal.

On the final day TBS pledge ($1500) came through and it put us well over the goal. So in the end the campaign looked like it was a grand success. But marketing for the campaign was constant work. I was glad it was over because now I can go back to doing what I know well, coding.

I created a github org and invited all the backers. I gave them all access to the early preview. I started delivering on my promises ahead of schedule and it was mostly well-received. Since the launch I've received two donations via paypal. One for $15 and another for $25. I've donated both contributions to charities since I am gainfully employed and making a good salary.

Conclusion:

Later I found out that the first week and the last week of Kickstarter campaigns are the most active periods. So what I experienced was not out of ordinary but it was still an emotional roller-coaster. It was a great experience and I learned some valuable lessons in marketing. I wouldn't recommend it as a way to fund ongoing development costs of a project.

ps: The name mycli was recommended by an early backer. I don't remember the name of the backer but I decided to use that name for my final launch.

blogroll

social