10 lessons learned from Kickstarter's hall of fame

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Kickstarter has raised a lot of money in its short history. Over the past five years, contributors to the crowdfunding site have pledged more than $1.2 billion, successfully funding more than 65,000 projects.

Most of those projects raised $10,000 or less, but every now and then there's a true breakout—something that goes viral and collects substantially more. We've already run down the top money earners for you, but what happened after the campaign ended?

Here's a look at what has happened after backers gave their money, along with some important lessons—both good and bad—that crowdfunding hopefuls can learn from Kickstarter's 10 biggest success stories.

By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com

Pono Music

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Analog audiophile Neil Young's prism-shaped music player, which promises to deliver an audio quality unmatched by today's digital music players, is still on track for an October launch, but the company has undergone a few changes. Young has taken over as CEO of the company, following the departure of veteran tech executive John Hamm. That has some backers worried on the Kickstarter comment boards, which forced the company to issue a statement calming them down.

The whole episode gives new meaning to the old Young song, "The needle and the damage done."

Lesson learned: Management shake-ups are rarely well received by investors, and that goes for high-profile crowdfunding campaigns just as much as corporate America.

The Micro 3D Printer

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3-D printing is poised to be a big trend, but the printers themselves are still out of many peoples' price range. So when the Micro showed up as an affordable alternative, it surpassed its funding goal in just 11 minutes. M3D, the company behind the Micro, indicates the device is still on track, with high-dollar backers (who pledged $899 or more) getting their printers next month and others receiving theirs by February 2015.

Lesson learned: You can print money. In fact, go after a buzzy market, where the pricing premium charged by early entrants is asking to be challenged.

Bones: Reaper Miniatures

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This line of plastic paintable miniature figurines was already popular before manufacturer Reaper took to Kickstarter and raised $3.4 million to expand the lineup. Encouraged by the reaction from fans, Reaper decided to launch a second campaign a year later for even more characters. The response was just as enthusiastic, with fans giving another $3.2 million.

Lesson learned: Many successful campaigns aren't one-offs but become formulas for repeated success. Formula one is formula two, and so on.

Mighty No. 9

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Famed game developer Keiji Inafune (who created the "Mega Man" series for Capcom, which has sold 29 million copies) has called this game the "spiritual successor" to the "Mega Man" franchise. And he seems to have plans beyond the gaming world. The property has already locked in a spinoff anime series. The $3.8 million he raised, though, may not be enough. In early July, Inafune launched a second crowdfunding campaign, seeking $200,000 to add English voice acting to the game.

Lesson learned: After one narrow success, it can't hurt to think big, as in building a franchise, even a "mega" one.

OUYA gaming console

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Like Pebble, OUYA's $8.5 million campaign captured the attention of equity investors. The company secured $15 million from Mayfield Fund, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and others and shipped the device in June 2013. It even found a spot with retailers, including Target. Unfortunately, the device was savaged by critics and game-developer partners. And while the hardware is still available, the company seems to be pinning its hopes on a new strategy as a software platform, with the goal of striking a deal to be embedded into televisions and set-top boxes.

Lesson learned: An idea for a great product is much easier than getting great performance from the product. An "ooh yeah!" can turn into a "boo" very quickly. At least have a Plan B (or C) ready to go in the event Plan A falls short of expectations.


Project Eternity

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Remember OUYA? This role-playing video game (RPG) has had a better reception in the market. Developed by the creators of titles such as "Fallout: New Vegas" and "South Park: The Stick of Truth," it has seen its name change since the end of its Kickstarter campaign. Now called "Pillars of Eternity," it's still on track for release later this year, and more importantly, it won widespread praise at the 2014 E3 trade show, with enthusiast site Kotaku dubbing it "the next great computer RPG."

Lesson learned: Exceeding a project total is great, but it's just as important to get king makers in your sector to praise your product. Otherwise, your dreams of eternal success may be short-lived.


Torment: Tides of Numenera

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Torment has the distinction of being the only Kickstarter hall of famer to actually be based on another Kickstarter. In 2012 a tabletop role-playing game called Numenera raised $517,000. A year later the video game version saw much greater success. Unfortunately, fans of that electronic version are going to have to wait a fair bit longer to play: In June developer InXile announced it was delaying the game from early 2015 to the end of that year. In the first academic study of crowdfunding, Wharton School professor Ethan Mollick found that 75 percent of successful Kickstarter campaigns experience some sort of delay in delivering on their promise to backers (non-equity campaigns).

Lesson learned: Success in raising cash more than once doesn't guarantee the most important thing of all; actually getting the product out the door can prove to be an elusive target. Even a torment.

Pebble Watch

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Pebble found its way to Kickstarter only after venture capitalists refused to give it the time of day. After raising more than $10 million from backers, though, the VCs came knocking on its door. Ultimately, the company picked up $15 million from Charles River Ventures. The watch, meanwhile, is currently in its second generation and enjoying tremendous success. The real test for Pebble, though, will come in the next year or so as Google's Android Wear and Apple's iWatch hit the market.

Lesson learned: Don't rest on your laurels. The stiffest test may come later—much later, in fact. Set your alarm to go off well before Apple and Google decide to time their watches.

Veronica Mars

Source: IMDB

After series creator Rob Thomas raised $5.7 million for this feature adaptation of the cult show, Warner Bros. fast-tracked it. The film simultaneously opened in theaters and on video-on-demand services in March. It grossed $3.5 million in theaters, though video-on-demand purchases are not included in that number. More importantly, it led to other celebrities using Kickstarter to fund their pet projects, such as Zach Braff, who raised $3.1 million for "Wish I Was Here," which debuted July 18.

Lesson learned: Hollywood wants to suck crowdfunding's blood; expect more (and more) indie flicks. In fact, "Frostbite: A Vampire Academy Film," based on Richelle Mead's best-selling young adult series, has a crowdfunding campaign that began on Aug. 6 with a goal of $1.5 million.

Reading Rainbow

Source: Reading Rainbow

Seeing as this campaign just ended on July 2, with $5.4 million raised, there hasn't been a lot of immediate progress on it. Direct contributions and Seth MacFarlane's pledge-matching have raised the total to nearly $6.5 million, though. And Levar Burton, in an update, said the money will bring the literacy project to some 13,000 underfunded classrooms for free and offer its interactive library and video features on a variety of new platforms.

Lesson learned: Aiming high—in terms of social good—and having a celebrity to go along for the ride is a higher form of capitalism that lends itself to crowdfunding. If you can't get LeVar Burton, maybe his "Star Trek: Next Generation" co-star Michael Dorn, aka Worf, is up for a version of Reading Rainbow in Klingon.


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