No Kickstarter campaign is ever money in the bag—even when you’re working with Clay Davis himself, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.

Successful Kickstarter projects not only generate revenue, they also produce incredible buzz for a project or product. But for every successfully funded project on Kickstarter, there are two that fail. According to Kickstarter’s published stats, as of June 9, 2015, there have been 142,534 “Unsuccessfully Funded” projects on Kickstarter—with 94% of those achieving less than 40% of goal. Even most “Successfully Funded” projects raise less than $10,000. 

The truth is, a successful Kickstarter project takes a ton of planning, creativity and hard work. We found that out when we helped Levity Dept. co-founder Lee Miller launch his innovative cat-tech product Kittyo on Kickstarter. As Kickstarter guru Clay Hebert has written, that project’s success in raising $271,000 only looked easy—it was made possible by a level of preparation that made Lee look like “MacGyver” once the Kickstarter clock started ticking.  

Kickstarter’s First $100,000 Bobblehead

When planning the Isiah Whitlock, Jr. Talking Bobblehead campaign on Kickstarter, we knew that most previous bobblehead projects on the platform had failed. Of nine previous bobblehead-related projects only two had met their goal (a 22% success rate), with the biggest of those raising just $10,773.

We also knew that being a celebrity is no guarantee of success on Kickstarter (or, for that matter, on any crowdfunding platform). We set our target at $12,500 knowing that even with a low-price point of $25 for Early-Bird backers, we would still need hundreds of pledges to reach our goal. As our first update explained, with we hit that goal in 12 hours. 
 
By the end of the campaign, we had raised $100,428 from 1,828 backers, with incredible support and social sharing from fans who know Isiah from "The Wire" and Spike Lee movies, tremendous support from fellow celebrities, including The Wire co-star Jamie Hector and Veep co-star Anna Chlumsky who graciously appeared in two of our campaign videos. Plus, we even got an assist from David Simon, creator of The Wire, who gifted our prototype to “The Wire Fan in Chief,” President Obama. The full story of the campaign is detailed here.

Six Keys to Making “Sheeeeeeeee-it!” Happen
Fewer than 1% of all Kickstarter projects raise more than $100,000 and, in joining those ranks, the Isiah Whitlock, Jr. Talking Bobblehead is now officially confirmed as “the biggest bobblehead in Kickstarter history.” (view article here)

How did we do it? Here are six things that helped:

1. Creativity
From the outset, both Isiah Whitlock, Jr. and The Levity Dept. agreed that whatever dollar amount we raised on Kickstarter, we’d have fun doing it. Our campaign was based on tongue-in-cheek videos and sharable graphics designed to amuse and delight fans of “The Wire” and Spike Lee movies. Whatever happened on Kickstarter, it was important to Isiah and to us that the content we created be entertaining and highly valued.

2. Authenticity
Unlike some celebrity crowdfunding projects, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. didn’t just show up and start asking for support for our project. He began working with The Levity Dept. back in 2013 and, over time, established a fun and engaging social presence with Vine videos and lots of direct fan interaction. By constantly communicating their love of his trademark “sheeeeeeeee-it!” it was Isiah’s fans who inspired us to move ahead with the bobblehead project.

3. Community
The online community we built through Isiah’s own account and our “Whitlock Academy” web series, gave us a solid foundation from which to launch our campaign. With the right product and the right creative approach, we knew we would also be able to connect with a broader audience of The Wire and Spike Lee fans on Facebook and Twitter. The key was to make get the word out to as many fans as soon as possible. 

                                                                                                                       We made some headlines on these sites. 

                                                                                                                       We made some headlines on these sites. 

4. Publicity
From working on The Whitlock Academy, we knew that any new project involving Isiah’s catchphrase would likely gain attention. In analyzing the publicity that series generated, we realized that Uproxx—a site whose earlier article generated 24,000 likes and shares on Facebook—could be an important partner in our launch. We offered Uproxx an exclusive pre-launch interview and video preview. Things took off from there.

5. Sharing
The launch of our Kickstarter campaign captured the attention of fans around the world as articles and videos were shared tens of thousands of times, generating millions of impressions for the campaign. It became “the bobblehead everybody is talking about.” To keep the campaign fresh, we continually released new video and visual content. One of our most-shared pieces was a video shout-out to fans in Baltimore, first released as an exclusive on the @WireFans Twitter account.

6. Serendipity
Some things you can’t plan for. But in creating a fun product—and producing a ton of fun content—we put ourselves in the right place to benefit from the kind of serendipity that’s possible in the age of social media. Such as @Questlove (picture above) tweeting about us to his more than 3M followers. And several co-stars from The Wire and Veep adding their support too. In our final hour, as we made a big push to reach $100,000, even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Clark Gregg (who directed Isiah in 2008’s Choke) added his support

Kickstarter success depends on many things. Not the least of which are the right product, the right creative—and the enthusiastic participation of a broad community of supporters. 

If you need to make sheeeeeeeee-it happen for your crowdfunding project, we invite you to give us a call at 212-727-3531 or email richard@levitydept.com.