When I launched my first Kickstarter campaign I expected to sell around 200 watches. By the time pre-orders had finished, I’d in-fact sold around 1000. While on the surface this seemed great (more profits, more customers etc) it screwed me over in a couple of ways:

  1. It took me over the VAT threshold in the UK, which meant I had to pay VAT on every order from within the EU. When I did my numbers I didn’t expect that to happen
  2. Lots of the shipping calculations I’d done and estimates I’d given were based around shipping 200-300 watches

I’ll talk about pricing your product for success in another post, but for now I want to talk about shipping.

It doesn’t matter how well your product is built, how well you design your product page, or how appealing your pricing is, if you don’t deliver your rewards roughly when you say you will. I say roughly because almost no Kickstarter campaigns deliver exactly on schedule and (unfortunately) people have started to accept a certain amount of delay and good communication will see you through that. But it’s not what you want.

While I built in a good amount of slack for shipping on my first project, I ended up shipping over a month late. This was partly because suppliers took longer than they said they would (don’t believe anything from a supplier until you’ve tested them or have received decent references!), and partly because I totally underestimated the work involved in checking, boxing, labelling and then shipping 1000 products.

Calculating shipping times

Providing a shipping date on a Kickstarter project is a tricky balance. You don’t want to set it too far in the future (nobody is going to back a project requiring them to wait a year for a string bracelet), however if you set expectations of an unrealistically quick delivery and then miss it you’ll be swamped with angry customers.

Having completed a few production runs with various factories, my experience is that adding 1 month to whatever they say for delivery of the product to you is a good start. Things like customs clearance can easily add another week, depending on product type and shipping method. Once you’ve received them you’ll need to do quality checks before you send each one out and you need to be realistic about how long this will take. Got a full time job and so limited to evenings and weekends? Then it’s likely to take a while. The more you do in a day the less precise you’re likely to be, so you’re going to need to build in slack. Once quality is checked, you still need to box them up, print labels, and get them ready for

Kickstarter shipping services

There are a number of tools and services that can really help make the shipping process smoother. I have used all of the services here at some point and can recommend them without hesitation. I wish I’d known about them up front.

  • BackerKit. BackerKit is a service that replaces the built-in Kickstarter surveys and integrates nicely with a lot of other services. If you use the Kickstarter surveys you’ll be stuck with all your backer details in CSV format and you’ll have to work out a way to get them from there in to the shipping system you use. For example I had to copy and paste 1000 sets of customer details from a CSV in to the DHL shipping software. Nightmare. By using BackerKit you can collect the details and (via ShipStation – see below) automate the shipping label creation. Another nice feature of BackerKit is the ability to up-sell to your customers, allowing them to add extra items to their pledges. This can result in a nice extra bit of funding at the end of your project. BackerKit is not free and has a couple of pricing plans, but on average they charge around 2-3% of your project total, which they claim most projects make back via up-selling. Note: There is a $199 setup fee but you can usually get it waved by adding their logo to your campaign page in advance of the project ending. Talk to them at backerkit.com
  • ShipStation. ShipStation sit between your shipping company and your eStore, automating the label creation process. If you ship lots of packages it’s a priceless service. They work well with BackerKit for Kickstarter projects, and then work with Shopify and other eCommerce platforms when you move your business to the next stage. They integrate with pretty much all the main shipping providers around the world (I use DHL) and will save your hours. They sstart from just $9 a month and you should sign up at ShipStation.com
  • DHL. Yes, there are loads of similar shipping services but I’ve found DHL to be easily the most efficient and competent option. Assuming you are shipping in volume they will give your prices far far lower than those they advertise, so don’t write them off based on the pricing on their website. Find an account manager and explain your needs. They will provide free labels, free boxes, free documentation pouches and everything else you need to ship your products, and they will provide a free printer designed just for their labels that makes the whole process far smoother than having to alternate between documentation and labels on the same printer. They will also collect your packages from your home or office, so you don’t waste time treking down to a depot.

In summary – shipping will take longer than you think, be more stressful than you expect, and cost more than you anticipate. Create a schedule and a budget based on reality, and make use of third party services to avoid losing your mind.

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