The Font Awesome 5 Kickstarter raised $1,076,940 with 35,549 backers, making it the most funded and most backed software Kickstarter of all time (and if you haven’t seen the video yet, please take a moment to watch just below — we genuinely think you’ll get a chuckle out of it).
Font Awesome is an open source project that makes it easy to add vector icons an social logos to your website. With Font Awesome Pro, you’ll get 2,500 more icons, an SVG framework, and tons of stretch goal extras!
First, thank you to our backers. We are absolutely blown away by the reception for the Font Awesome 5 Kickstarter. We never expected this kind of success, and we are tremendously grateful for the support.
Along the way, folks have been asking us what we thought contributed to the project’s success. This article is our attempt to summarize some of the things we think worked (and a few that didn’t).
This is one of Y Combinator’s mantras (we’re YC S15), and for good reason. If you don’t have something that folks need or want to use, you won’t get anywhere. It’s necessary (but not sufficient).
Several years ago, we made Font Awesome, an open source set of social logos and vector icons for websites. We originally made FA to scratch our own itch when making websites. It turns out that other people find it useful as well, and Font Awesome is on 73 million-ish websites now. And it looks like about 1 in every 3 new website uses Font Awesome. So we already had a sizable audience coming into this, which helps a ton.
This is another one of YC’s excellent pieces of repeated advice. There’s no way to know for sure what people want unless you talk to them.
It’s still amazing to us how many folks use Font Awesome. But figuring out how to commercialize an open source project is no simple task. We’ve tried a few things we’re really proud of (like Fort Awesome and Font Awesome CDN), but they aren’t enough to be sustainable. So we went back to basics: talking to users.
About 6 months ago, we asked Font Awesome visitors to fill out a survey. In a week’s time, 6,000 people completed the in-depth, 45-minute survey. We learned about the folks using Font Awesome and how they are using it. In the end, the survey drove home one key take-away for us: our users want more icons.
Folks wanting more icons should have been obvious to us already. We have almost 4,000 open issues on the FA GitHub project, almost all of which are requesting new icons. But explicitly asking made sure we took the hint.
We’ve also noticed a lot of folks really prefer SVG. Chris Coyier’s seminal article Inline SVG vs Icon Fonts [CAGEMATCH]well summarizes the occasional downsides to icon fonts. While we don’t agree with all of the conclusions, SVG is definitely the new hotness.
Talking to users helped us form the main premise for the Kickstarter: that people would pay for more icons and a modernized framework using SVG.
Don’t do this. Please. Hire a professional if you can.
Your video is the very first thing people see when visiting your project. But Kickstarter videos are tough to make. We should know. A couple of years ago, we launched the Kickstarter for Black Tie, a multi-weight icon set. We wrote, directed, shot, and edited it ourselves. And it shows. The video quality is off, the whole thing had to be overdubbed because we didn’t know how to do audio, the background music is just terrible, and I am absurdly awkward on camera. It was bad. In spite of that, the campaign did raise a bit over 200% our goal, which was great. But we learned we needed to work with folks who actually know how to make phenomenal videos.
So we did some research into how much a great Kickstarter video should cost (i.e. Googled “how much does a kickstarter video cost”). To work with a fantastic production company and get the quality we wanted was going to run somewhere around $15k. This sounded like a lot to spend on a video, but we were pretty sure we’d be able to make back our investment. And a great video goes a long way in telling your story — we knew we couldn’t tell the Font Awesome story without an awesome video.
After talking with some other YC startups, we found Videopixie (YC S11). Basically, Videopixie has you describe your project and 20–30 professional video production companies will bid for your business. It works fantastically well, and you get some excellent options really quickly. Cannot recommend them highly enough.
If they talk about their equipment, there’s a good chance they don’t know it well enough.
We noticed a pattern during the Videopixie bidding process. Basically, any production company talking about their equipment (e.g. “we shoot in 4k!”, “Red camera!”, etc.) didn’t actually know how to use it that well. The really amazing production companies were talking about how to tell your unique story, which was precisely what we were looking for. And it was easy enough to verify their technical ability just by watching their recent videos.
After sorting through several bids, we settled on Knox Avenue Films (Vimeo) out of Los Angeles. They have quite the quirky vibe and clearly some serious talent. For us, we knew we wanted something funny and offbeat. (And yes, we absolutely took inspiration from Dollar Shave Club’s seminal video!) We wanted something folks would share with their friends. Knox Avenue seemed like a great fit. (After we launched we were told that comedy is VERY risky on Kickstarter. Glad we didn’t know that ahead of time!)
The real challenge for our video was how to talk about a software product without resorting to the tried-and-true explainer video. We wanted to do something different and more fun. We went back and forth with Knox Avenue several times on script revisions and tried to inject as much of our personality as we possibily could into the video. The filming process was super fun and super quick! They found this amazing little bakery in Burbank called Half Baked that was absolutely perfect for what we wanted. We spent 12 hours on site, filming at night from 6pm to 6am and had a blast. Then Knox worked their magic editing the whole thing together.
One of the many takes pulling off the flannel shirt. It took more than 12 solid hours to get 2:46 seconds of footage!
We had a really aggressive timelime for the whole video creation process. From posting our project on Videopixie to receiving the final cut took 5 weeks. But a really great video can easily take 8 weeks.
So now you’ve got an Awesome video and a product people are going to want. Now what?
There are no guarantees with Kickstarter, so folks are going to be skeptical about supporting. You want to make sure those who give you the benefit of the doubt get something for their trust — a super-low price. We originally planned to offer the lowest price only to our earliest backers, but after receiving so much more support than we ever imagined in the first week, we felt that extending the early-backer pricing for the duration of the Kickstarter was the right thing to do. We wanted to share the love with everyone.
We’ll be blunt here. Using Kickstarter’s editor to tell your story (the part below the video) is… rough. There are very few options for layout and working with the editor is a constant battle. It’ll likely take you a few more days than you expect just for this part alone.
Strangely, the clearest way for us to tell the story was to rely heavily on images, even for text-heavy sections. As accessibility junkies, we absolutely hated doing it. But it was the best choice for us. Thanks to the ridiculously talented Brian Talbot (whom I am lucky to work alongside each day), we were able to use graphics to put together a clean, grokable Kickstarter story. (BTW, Brian plans to open source our templates. It’s coming soon, so stay tuned!)
Managing stretch goals is hard. Like, really hard. So hard that Kickstarter actually recommends against them. Our philosophy for stretch goals has been to give back as much as we can to backers, while also looking for ways to benefit the larger open source community. So every $25k raised funds an icon pack with 40 more icons (10 of which will be open source in Font Awesome Free). And as the project progresses, our backers are getting more and more perks from their original pledge.
But figuring out how to pace the stretch goals and what to give away is especially tricky. We blew through our first set of stretch goals in less than a day. Our second set took a week to finish off. And now our our largest stretch goal (at $1M) gives some really big perks to the open source Font Awesome Free. But this stretch goal has had a few folks who really didn’t like it.
The truth is, we think our stretch goals give our backers a great value from their pledges. But it’s been hard to strike a balance between giving great value to our backers and also wanting to share the love with the larger open source community.
Also, don’t over-commit with your stretch goals. It’s all too easy to put yourself in the position of promising things you can’t deliver in a reasonable time. Luckily, we have a ridiculously talented team.
While 99.999% of the feedback on Font Awesome 5 has been fantastic, we’ve run into a few folks on Twitter and forums who have been extremely unconstructive in their criticism. One might go so far as to call these folks trolls.
But we’ve found that on most occasions, someone who first appears to be a troll was just a bit unkind with their wording. Once you talk to them like a person, they do the same. I’d say this happens 80% of the time. These folks aren’t really trolls. They’re just having a bad day. For dealing with true trolls, it works best just to be kind and respond positively. If you don’t feed them, trolls give up surprisingly quickly.
And believe it or not, trolls are a sign you’re onto something. You’ve upgraded from indifference to dislike (or outright hate). On the internet, sometimes the noise is the signal.
After the Kickstarter begins, you’ll start getting feedback from your backers. We’ve listened to and carefully considered everything folks have told us. Most of our stretch goal ideas came from suggestions that our backers have made. When our backers weren’t happy with our $700K stretch goal, we thought about it and agreed with them. So we added to it. While not everything folks are going to suggest will be right for you, it’s important to consider all of it.
We feel incredibly indebted to our backer community, not only because of how generously they’ve invested in our project, but because they’ve helped make the project better with their feedback and encouragement. We’re excited to engage with this community over the coming months as we build Font Awesome 5. (And actually, one of our big stretch goals was to build a community forum where all of our backers can be involved in the development process. We’re super stoked about this!)
Given the chance to go back in time, there are a few things we might do differently.
Do it sooner. For our business, we knew Font Awesome 5 had a good possibility of being popular (though nowhere near how well it’s done). We should have prioritized it more highly, as we weren’t yet default alive.
Iterate more. We’d recommend writing the script and revising several times, then sitting on it for a bit and considering. And we would have really loved to have an extra week to inject more of our personality into the video. Things like more in-jokes and nerd references.
Don’t worry about the press during the Kickstarter. We didn’t spend a terrible amount of time on this, but a lot of what we did spend didn’t help much. And even when an article does hit, the bump isn’t significant. Press is a longer-term game, we’re told by folks who know this well.
Record Travis when he watched the video for the first time. He laughed hysterically the entire time, and after watching he said, “That video just may be the best thing we ever do.” But I think he’s wrong. Font Awesome 5 will be better. :)
Thank you, Awesome backers!
Anyway, we’re obviously not crazy experts at any of this, but we think we’ve figured out a couple of things that worked for us. Hopefully it’s helpful to other folks with their own project in the works. Please let us know if there’s anything else you’d like to hear about the Kickstarter process, and thanks so much for the tremendous support of Font Awesome 5. We can’t wait to get started!