Success or Failure: Analyzing 599 Kickstarter Projects

As news of ever increasing pledge amounts of Kickstarter projects are coming in daily, I find myself wondering. It sometimes becomes difficult to separate anecdotes from data. People (including me) tell other people to “just get some crowd funding”, but how likely is it really to raise any money there? I’m worried that for average project founders the chances of getting funding are pretty slim, while the “big” well-connected guys seem to make ridiculous amounts of money (and not always for a readily-apparent reason, either).

Scraping 599 Project Summaries
The Kickstarter site itself does a good job of hiding the severe limitations it places on browsing through projects. It’s not obvious at first glance how amazingly difficult it is to simply browse a list of projects which has not been filtered and pre-selected to show only those items most likely to succeed. But it’s true. Likewise, it’s not easy to get a list of completed projects, or even some data about failed ones. A lot of projects are on that site – but how many? Difficult to answer. At every corner, the UI does its best to show us only what we are supposed to see.

To get a better feel for the success chances of projects, I decided to pull project data from the “Ending Soon” list. I chose this list because – as far as I can tell – there is little if any filtering going on, it’s the only meaningful list on that site that gives you just the projects, sorted by ending date. I got 599 of them, that seems to be the limit of the endlessly scrolling page. This is the best option I could find short of writing a spider to scrape the site.

The Data
Here is the raw data from this evening. It’s a list of projects, showing how far along they are both in time and funding. The Kickstarter site makes it difficult to know how long a project has been going on, but at least we know when its deadline is. Using an average project duration of 20 days, it’s possible to guess whether a project is going to fail or not. Of course, the closer a project comes to its deadline the more accurate that assessment becomes.

At first glance this shows (on a log10 scale) the projected pledge amounts versus project minimum funding goals of all projects that have 6 or less days to go until deadline. Everything south of the blue line is going to fail. As you can see, failed projects often miss their minimum funding threshold by about one order of magnitude; it’s uncommon to fail by only a small margin. Successful projects, here shown as above the blue line, seem to be more heterogenous but apparently often manage to get more than double their threshold funded.

Of the 599 projects sampled, 335 are projected to succeed while 264 will most likely fail. This means you can expect a 56% chance of getting your funding when applying on Kickstarter.

Let’s have a look at success chances as segmented by project magnitude (aka. the funding goal):

< $1000 < $10000 < $100000 < $1000000
Successes 63 211 57 4
Overfund. Ø 173% 160% 152% 125%
Failures 19 179 64 2
Underfund. Ø 45% 39% 41% 26%
Success Ratio 77% 54% 47% 67%

Now, while the results in the top magnitude bracket are not really statistically significant, it’s apparent that most successful projects are overfunded by at least 50%, even if they are relatively large! Failing projects, on the other hand, can expect to be underfunded by about the same percentage.

Among the failed projects, there was an average 0.42 orders of magnitude shortage between the funding goal and the actual pledge amount (standard deviation 0.29). Successful projects overshot their funding goal by an average 0.17 orders of magnitude (standard deviation 0.21).

So what does it mean?
After a lot of hand waving, you can assume you’ll have a 50% chance of getting funded on Kickstarter. While bigger projects are less likely to succeed, the drop-off in likelihood is NOT linear with project size – so it’s probably a good idea to aim high. If your project is bumbling along at 50% or less projected funding: don’t expect any last-minute miracles, because the data does not show an increase in funding activity towards the end of the deadline. It looks like in most cases, you should be able to tell after a few days whether a project is going to fail or succeed.

I believe there is more interesting data buried way deeper inside Kickstarter. For example, the question whether an “average Joe” type of person has a realistic chance of getting funded is still open. I suspect you’ll probably have an extremely slim chance if you don’t have some social media heavyweights ready to back you and gently steer the crowd towards your project. If this hypothesis is true, it would mean Kickstarter is something of a bubble movement (as in: a mass movement driven by dubious value assessments due to the influence of parties who are experiencing a conflict of interest). It would be interesting to look at Twitter data in this respect – maybe another day.

Update: Dan Misener seems to agree.

7 thoughts on “Success or Failure: Analyzing 599 Kickstarter Projects

  1. Andrew Chapman

    Interesting analysis. I couldn’t access your raw data (downloaded the ODS file, but my computer didn’t know what to do with it), but it’s still worthwhile reading your overview. I’ve been wondering this for some time, and just from casual observation I’ve come to a similar conclusion about whether an “average Joe” could get funded. You didn’t mention the projects themselves; I suspect there’s a correlation there somewhere. Some have more inherent appeal than others. Also, some have better “built in” and relevant rewards that people will want. Anyhow, thanks for the time put into this and sharing your results — hopefully, the necessary info from Kickstarter will be more evident at a future time.

  2. udo Post author

    Hi Andrew, thanks for your feedback. ODS is an OpenOffice spreadsheet that can be read by a large number of spreadsheet apps (that are based on OO).

    The main reason I didn’t write about the projects themselves is I found no way of making an objective judgement about their content. When I look back at the data, failure seems to be disproportionately likely among (documentary) films and music projects.

    Personally, I believe there is a good reason why Kickstarter goes through a lot of trouble to hide (potential) failures from its users, because KS’ fate is tied to overhyping crowd-funding successes. What happens behind the scenes is – as in all things based on social media – entirely different from the public perception of “anyone can make it on their own merits”. I suspect the whole ecosystem is very dependent on the activity of a few influential movers and shakers who direct the crowds.

  3. Nick

    I’ve always hated the browsing on Kickstarter. It is a horrible experience for trying to discover things, yet the whole site is based around ideas or things others haven’t come up with. Really drives me nuts. I’ve had 3 successful Kickstarter projects complete after funding, and one that is still working after more than a year from funding being reached. This article pretty much sums up my experience, and why I’ve been hesitant to fund anything else.

    Success (product to me): Going Cardboard film, The Rizers album, Jimmy Needham album
    Success (still incomplete): Waldok iPhone speaker (funded raised April 2011)
    Failed: iShuttr, Seeds Family Worship album

  4. Ralph A Pearson

    Thank you for your efforts. This article is very usefull. From my casual mining of the news about Kickstarter and succesfully funded projects, I conclude three elements in these funded endevors. (1) The creators are well connected in the social network. (2) At one funding level there is a tangible reward. (3) This reward has potential resale value. IMHO.

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