Kickstarter arrival in Japan: new monozukuri projects for global backers!

Sabrina Sasaki
8 min readJun 2, 2017

A few days after the official announcement that NYC-based platform Kickstarter will include Japanese projects directly from local creators, Julio Terra, Director of Design and Technology came back to Tokyo to meet makers.

Last time Julio was in Japan, we had the pleasure to host him as our Monozukuri Hub meetup guest speaker in Kyoto, in a special edition about Funding & Crowdfunding — Insights from NYC to Japan.

Our Monozukuri Hub meetup in Kyoto, with NYC-based companies and also startups. (August,2016)

Earlier this week, I had the chance to attend a talk session at TechShop Japan, with International invited speakers. Jackson Wightman (Minister of Propaganda at Proper Propaganda, a boutique PR and inbound marketing agency in Canada) and Gil Shterzer (Co-Founder at Jellop, crowdfunding experts) joined Julio to share some recommendations for makers on how to create a successful campaign on Kickstarter.

International speakers Jack Wightman, Gil Shterzer and Julio Terra discuss with TechShop Japan CEO Shoichi Arisaka

Kickstarter arrival in Japan is a great news for our community, as creators won’t need a third-party located overseas to launch a Japan-based campaign — the platform should be ready to support local projects very soon. It will also give local partners more chances to collaborate and expand our local ecosystem for makers & entrepreneurs, some of the ones already supporting International creators to enter the Japanese market, like Kibidango.

Kibidango can support International projects to enter the Japanese market.

Most of the platforms in Japan tend to focus on the domestic market and haven’t launched International versions accessible to non-Japanese backers, who might be interested to support new monozukuri projects created in the rising sun land.

Japanese soft power is still very strong overseas, with the geek culture spread thru pop trends: manga, anime and events like ComicCon — coming from Brazil, I must admit it’s impressive to check how powerful Japanese culture is in my home country, exactly on the opposite side of the globe. If you doubt, check CCXP Brazil and you’ll be surprised by its global record numbers and the amount of Japanese product maniacs.

Rising Sun is inspired in some Japanese shokunin (crafstmanship) elements.

One of the most recent successful Kickstarter funded projects related to Japanese culture is actually from Atlanta. Rising Sun, the board game with fancy miniatures has reached USD $4,228,060, conquering backers from all over the world.

In this sense, crowdfunding has broken many paradigms in terms of project creation and execution, with entrepreneurs taking its inventions into new businesses and products and allowing more people to get to know their ideas and support remote projects.

And as we can see, there’s definitely a qualified International audience to try new monozukuri projects from Japan.

IoT startups should learn about how to promote its uniqueness from concept & design and translate it into crowdfunding know-how. The best backers tend to be the organic ones, as they are part of this community of supporters who often want to bring new projects to life.

So the question for most makers in Japan is “how to create a successful project at Kickstarter?”

For Japanese makers, monozukuri masters, with the practice of constant improvements and development of new techniques for functional design and better experience, Kickstarter experts believe the main challenge will be in terms of PR & Marketing.

Some of the key points that creators should consider before crowdfunding are storytelling and community support.

According to Jack, the Minister of Propaganda, keep in mind:

  • Identity: explain your project in your own way — a narrative you bring to life must reflect your story and it will be a fundamental part of your page.
  • Community: get engaged with people who’re interested in your work and get support for your project before the official campaign launch.

For Gil, an entrepreneur originally from Israel, it’s also important to consider Kickstarter current global audience:

  • Innovators & tech savvy
  • Male, 35/55 yrs-old (only 20% women)
  • 60/90% Americans — Native English speakers

If the audience doesn’t relate to your work, it’s hard to tell a story readers can identify themselves and actually get involved with. In other words, your campaign must be accepted very well by this specific ecosystem of constant backers who often search for new projects to support.

Gil also shared some failure stories of promising projects, when the cluster for the product creators were targeting were not the main core of Kickstarter. A few examples were a smart golf club and a smart body tracker.

Some other important points Gil also advised:

  • Try and deploy different messages, so you can learn from insights and change your content according to real feedbacks. You can test taglines and key visuals with digital ads or event with your emails.
  • Test your audience before the launch. Ex. Build a local community, join events with demo sessions, one-to-one meetings or even emails. Different clusters might respond in an expected way and it’s better to acknowledge it in advance so you can change your plan.

Kicktstarter content must be defined prior to the campaign launch, as changes are not allowed later, which means you must keep it until the end.

Once you’re running your project, you won’t have much time left to do other things: taking care of your project is already a full-time job.

The launch day should be just one part of a conversation you should start in advance. The PR part starts way before your launch.

And how to populate a global platform with a local community when entering a new country?

For creators consider crowdfunding, talk to the pioneers who’ve been there before, as it helps promoting a more connected startup ecosystem. Every time we organize events with different teams, the lessons they share with each other can save them a lot of time, money and energy, including headaches later. Empathy is a precious feeling that could be a starting point for your journey!

There are already a few cases of Japanese projects who had support from overseas companies to their launch on Kickstarter — talk to them, get involved and ask for advice. I can recommend a few makers from our community:

  • From Tokyo, NAIN has launched recently APlay smart wireless earbuds. The campaign is still going on, so check it out and consider backing their project. I tested the device in our last meetup and it works pretty well. They also had a booth are at Slush Tokyo, where users could test and get excited about their product.
  • From Osaka, PLENGoer Robotics, who already had experienced crowdfunding a few times before. Its new project PLENGoer Cube was also launched on Kickstarter and the COO Atsuhiko Tomita also attended TechShop event in Tokyo, sharing his latest updates with attendees.
  • From Kyoto, Atmoph launched its smart window that brings outdoors experiences in 4-K videos with sounds, and it’s expanding its focus on Europe and North America markets.
  • From Nara, Keigan launched its first Kickstarter campaign for a connected electric motor for building robots.

Some additional advices from Kickstarter experts to Japanese makers & entrepreneurs:

  • Invite early adopters to be the next generation, join other pioneers. Bring a lot of courage, speak up, try out and also support each other’s failures.
  • Learn and share during the entire process: pre-launch, during launch and after launch.

The most recommended kind of project for Kickstarter is a B2C physical product.

Before starting your campaign

  1. Do your homework. Benchmark is a must for creators: find projects similar to yours and check their community feedbacks.
  2. Follow certain basic rules & guidelines with professional support from experienced Kickstarter supporters.
  3. Show a demo prototype to get people excited: media & PR players should be aware of your working product, ready to showcase. Important: your prototype doesn’t have to be final or perfect but you must be honest about the current stage and the next steps you need before delivering it to backers. Accountability is essential for a new project!
  4. Consider the best timing for your milestones. If your product is seasonal, like a swimming pool or snow accessory, make sure to consider the main dates so you launch your product to match the demand. Also keep in mind the best/good days and times for US Media. Projects tend do get more support during weekdays than weekends.
  5. Try to avoid campaigns that will end and/or begin in the end of the year. There’s already too much going on, and you’ll have to compete with all media investments from retailers who do spend their yearly budget considering the highest investments around November/December.
  6. The best length for your campaign should be around 30 days. The slower part of the campaign is always in the middle — longer campaigns just extend the slower parts and don’t affect the final results.
  7. Launch a project with community support + Media & PR guidance, including ads to drive more traffic in the beginning.

Most common issues creators face:

  1. Not planning before launch — the best thing is to do it right instead of fast.
  2. Heavy discounting is not probably a good idea:
  • most people aren’t looking for a deal — it helps to create a sense of urgency but not necessarily will add value to your project.

Julio Terra also mentioned a campaign as rollercoaster, as 90% of makers tend to underestimate the costs involved for running a Kickstarter campaign, which gives them less margin to make mistakes, specially in terms of budget.

The main idea is to have higher margins to make your Kickstarter project feasible .

Shipping to many countries all over the world is very seductive but not necessarily a good idea.

1- Select the most important markets for your product.

2- Choose 5–10 markets and study the legislation, considerind the kind of product, country of assembly or possible extra costs, besides taxes. Investigation is very important. Certifications might also vary from one country to another.

3. For expensive countries, you can always write down a note about additional costs that might be involved — backers from alternative countries can understand and consider those points prior to any commitment.

PLENGoer is an example of a Japanese startup that has launched a few projects on Kickstarter.

If you’re interested to join our monozukuri community of crowdfunding supporters in Japan, meet us at the PLENGoer Fan Meetup on June, 20th from 19:30 at Umeda, Osaka.

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Sabrina Sasaki

Latina in Toronto. Principal@Monozukuri VC. Innovation, cultures & people. Investment & BizDev. Early Stage Hard-tech/Manufacturing Emerging Manager