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Reflections on IndieGoGo

After a very successful campaign, I took some time to reflect on the activities and decisions we made and wrote them down for posterity. Because Outernet values openness and honesty, I thought I would share them. Hopefully other prospective IndieGoGo campaigners can learn from our experiences, and our customers will better understand our team’s decision-making. The focus will mostly be on shipping, which became a complicated, time-consuming issue, and our attempts to fix the problem appeared as ungrateful behavior to some customers, when in fact, the opposite is true.

The most overwhelming feeling the team and I have surrounding the campaign is gratitude. As a crowd-funder, your customers are more than customers. They are your supporters, your backers. A vote with the wallet is a strong vote, and I speak for the team when I say we are incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support from all over the globe. Quite literally, we could not do what we’re doing without these pledges. So, to all of our backers: please accept our most heartfelt, sincere thank-you!

On that note, I’ll shift gears to tackle the biggest headache of our campaign…shipping.

We apologize to all of our customers for the complex and confusing process we asked you to go through to pay for shipping, and for our poor communication throughout the process. We have reflected on this quite a bit and will make an effort to improve in the future.  Future IndieGoGo campaigners, if you are going to take away anything from this post, here it is: having customers manually add funds to their final purchase amount should be a last-resort option for shipping. Read on and I'll explain why

Shipping Payments on IndieGoGo

Unlike the retail sites most of us are familiar with, IndieGoGo’s check-out system does not have a separate step to pay for shipping. Shipping must be in the contribution.  Though it might seem that the obvious choice would be to just include in in the price, but we were expecting many international orders, which have a higher shipping cost. So this left us with three options:

  • List perks with directions to manually add shipping to the final cost (our final choice).
  • Include shipping in the cost of the perk and double the number of perks, one each for International and Domestic.
  • Include a flat shipping charge in the perk price that covers global shipping.

We chose option #1 because we thought #2 would create too many perks, and #3 wouldn’t be fair to domestic customers. We maintain that this choice was the best based on available information at the time, but if we were to do it again, we'd choose option #3.  Option #1 caused many problems that included, but were not limited to:
  • Customers did not see the note about adding shipping (more than 50% of purchases did not include shipping).
  • Customers added the extra amount, but upon selecting a perk, the system reset the final amount without warning (this happened to me when I was testing the system).
  • After completing the purchase, some customers realized they hadn’t paid shipping. Our initial attempts to fix this problem resulted in very messy data that makes tracking payments difficult to this day.
  • Our requests for payment were interpreted as ungrateful or underhanded attempts to get more money. 
We NEED Shipping

Throughout the entire campaign, each perk requiring shipping included a note to add additional funds to the final payment (the exception being donated Lanterns). It was included from day one because without money to cover shipping, we lose money with every purchase. If you check the campaign page today, you will see that the current price is $169 (retail price of $149 plus global shipping). The $99 cost of the Lantern included no margin for us, so without shipping payments, we take a serious loss on each device.

Many customers didn’t see these notes, so when we asked for shipping later it came across as an attempt to extract additional funds. If you are one of these individuals, please know we are very sorry that it wasn’t clear when you made your purchase, and we realize the subsequent emails poorly communicated this requirement.

Initial Attempts to Fix

Early on in the campaign we noticed that shipping wasn’t being added to the perks being purchased. Initially we instructed customers to make custom contributions without choosing a perk, but we realized it was unfair to ask our customers to do the work. Although we wanted to avoid cluttering the page with additional perks for shipping, we eventually gave in and added them to make the payment process easier.

Unfortunately, we waited too long. Future crowd-funders, be forewarned: without a clear way to indicate a payment was for shipping, payment records get messy very quickly. We ended up creating more work for ourselves than we needed. Before we added the shipping perk, we had our customers pay with custom contributions. Some people made large contributions for the Collage of Humanity perk. We were even lucky enough to have considerate customers email us to let us know what the contributions were for.

These were totally reasonable ways for our customers to pay, but the result was an incredibly complicated database. Even with the shipping perk, some users paid using a different email address than what they used for their Lantern, which makes it difficult to match payment records. Let me be completely clear - we do not fault our customers for these complications – it’s our fault, and we are sorry for the headaches shipping has caused our customers.


Even with these new perks added and a few gentle email reminders to pay shipping, going into the final days of our campaign, fewer than 50% of our customers had paid for shipping. As I previously explained, we need shipping, so we decided to email customers to let them know they still owed shipping. While this was successful in collecting much of the shipping costs, we also discovered we need to be better communicators.

As previously stated, our shipping records are complicated and the update process is slightly behind real-time. So when we sent emails to people who showed up in our system as owing shipping, we included individuals who had paid but weren’t in our records yet, or paid with a separate email account, or thought they had paid but hadn’t. Ultimately, our rush to close the campaign with as many shipping dollars included in the total trumped sensitivity and being thorough in combing our records. We apologize for this sloppiness.

We learned that when we ask for shipping or payment of any kind, communication needs to be gentle and more customer-focused. In the future we will be more aware of customer perception.

All in all, I hope this information is useful to other campaigners, and expresses our regret for the complicated process we put our customers through. We will keep the lessons we learned in mind as we design an online store for our website, and in all of our future customer communications.

Again, thanks to everyone who supported us financially, or helped spread the word!

--- Rachel G Feinberg