Exploding Kittens is a Thing – When Your First Crisis is Success

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Disclaimer: No kittens were exploded in the writing of this article.

Yes.  I said Exploding Kittens.  Exploding Kittens Kickstarter

“Exploding kittens is a card game for people who are into kittens, explosions, laser beams, and sometimes goats.”

Exploding Kittens, a card game designed by The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman and Xbox veterans Elan Lee and Shane Small has become the latest Kickstarter success story. The project page opened on Tuesday with a $10,000 funding goal, and needed only 8 minutes to become 100 percent funded.

As of the start of this post – 10:00 AM Eastern 1/21/2015 funding stood at an incredible $1.7+ million from more than 46,000 backers; one hour later? Up $100,000. At 2 PM, $2 Million. Funding “officially” closes on February 19.

The Product

Exploding Kittens Cards“The deck is made up of cards that let you avoid exploding by peeking at cards before you draw, forcing your opponent to draw multiple cards, or shuffling the deck,” its creators explain. The game should become increasingly intense with every card drawn because fewer cards remaining in the deck means there’s a better chance of drawing the exploding kitten card.

“So if you’re into card games or laser beams or weaponized enchiladas, please help us make this game a reality. We think you’ll love it as much as we do,” the developers said.

From CNN:

Although there are a lot of reasons why the Internet loves kittens, one hint to Exploding Kittens’ fiery success is the Oatmeal’s cult following. Its Facebook page alone has more than 3 million followers…

…The game also adds a bit of humorous complexity, featuring cards that enable player powers such as weaponizing back hair and laser pointers to defuse a kitten’s explosiveness.

Exploding Kittens might seem too magically absurd to be true, but with the success of other Kickstarter campaigns such as party game favorite Cards Against Humanity, this project might be another crowd-funded home run.

Now What? Execution


First, the game’s creators are seasoned pros. Elan Lee and his projects have won several industry awards for both design and marketing – including a Webby and an Emmy. Small is a creative powerhouse with successes in photography, advertising, marketing, branding, apparel, and of course, gaming, including being the Principal Art Director for XBOX. And Inman is of course The Oatmeal – cartoonist, author, and marketer extraordinaire with 450k followers on Twitter and more than 3 Million on Facebook.

So we know the marketing machine works; does the production one?

Lee joked on the page’s update section:

<2 Months Ago>
Printing Company: How can we help you?
Elan: Hi, I need a quote for printing a bunch of cards for a new game.
Printing Company: No problem.  We can quote you in quantities of 1000, 2500, or 5000.
Elan: I think 1000 will be more than enough.

As one commenter on the Kickstarter page put it: “I am immediately worried that these guys have all died of heart attacks in the last few hours and nobody will be able to fulfill the rewards. Also that they had a cool idea and will be so overwhelmed with shipping out 100,000’s of decks of cards that a tiny mistake in shipping logistics could cause these guys to go broke really fast…”

The last time a Kickstarter crowdswarm like this happened, Coolest Cooler raised more than $13 Million.

“On August 26, 2014, at around 10:00 PM EST, after 862 days, the Coolest Cooler took over Pebble’s spot as the most funded project in Kickstarter history,” Kickstarter wrote of the achievement on its blog.

After topping the Kickstarter funding record, Coolest Cooler’s creator Ryan Grepper was obligated to make and deliver roughly 50,000+ coolers to project backers.  In an August interview with the Oregonian, Grepper said: “Every day I see as a production deadline.” He said he’s been working steadily with industrial designers, engineers and sourcing companies to ramp up for production. The timeline, he acknowledged, is “aggressive.” But he thinks he’s still on track.

Grepper’s latest update on Kickstarter from December of 2014 explains shipping delays as a result of quality and features improvements; “…But as you know, adding any new features can slow manufacturing and delivery time…”

Now a cool card game is not a cool cooler, but production and fulfillment are concerns nonetheless. Plus, in an over-funding situation such as this, there is an explanation of goals – stretch goals – expectation from Kickstarter backers.

From the Kickstarter Website:

A stretch goal is a funding target set by the project creator beyond the original Kickstarter goal. Stretch goals as a term and a practice emerged from the Kickstarter community as a way for creators to “stretch” beyond the initial, official goal of the Kickstarter project and raise more money (and often make cooler stuff!). Funds are collected whether stretch goals are met or not, as long as the project has met its Kickstarter funding goal.

What happens when a project is over-funded varies depending on the project, and stretch goals are not right for every project. If you are thinking about stretch goals you should consider:
Project complexity: Stretch goals can make a project more difficult to complete. Fulfilling rewards can be demanding, and any time you add new stuff (more songs on your album, better materials or options on your creation) the demands increase. More costs to consider, more things to ship — things can get complicated fast. It can be tempting to add stretch goals — especially if a project quickly exceeds its initial funding goal — but this shouldn’t be done without careful planning.

Communication: If adding stretch goals, think carefully about how to announce them to your community of backers. Take the time to explain your intentions, your motivations, and your plans. Any changes made midstream should be accompanied by an assurance that you are honoring your initial promises to backers. Simply proclaiming, “New goal!” without recognizing what you’ve achieved together can rub backers the wrong way.  

The Explodingkittens Team has promised stretch goals at some point today. Personally, I think they should take the day off – who knows when they’ll next have a chance?

Firestorm Analysis

Firestorm Business Crisis-Risk Prevention & Performance Group Managing Director Jack Healey, CPA/CFF, CFE cautions the team to stay on top on these key areas:

  • Transfer of Risk: Exploding Kittens has a great opportunity to complete the orders from their Kickstarter, and to use this to expand into other retail sales.  However, it is critical for them to decide early on if they have the business acumen to run a business, or whether they are ‘creators’ who have a product. 

These are two very different business models.

While the Exploding Kittens team says it is working with “its pals” at Cards Against Humanity to ensure smooth delivery, building a company is extremely risky, difficult and time consuming, perhaps ‘all consuming’.  I have seen too many people with a Product confuse it for a Company.  Selling the rights to the game to an experienced company in the card game space in the long run may yield greater riches with little down side. Of course, the company buying the intellectual property will extract a heavy price and limit the ‘upside’ potential, but the transfer of risk may be well worth it.  An experienced, established company could deliver the product much quicker to the ‘investors’ and avoid delays with design, manufacturing and logistics that others have faced.’

  • Business Crisis-Risk: If the Exploding Kittens team decides to run this as a business, then they will need to address the key elements of Business Crisis-Risk:

Structural Risk – which is leadership and governance;

Functional Risk – the business functions of Procurement, Logistics, Accounting, Human Resources etc… and

Operational Risk – manufacturing, quality assurance, customer service etc…. Time and attention needs to paid to all three of these by building sound processes, workable policies and actionable and timely metrics.  Failure in any one of these areas could spell disaster for this group.

For our part, we’d love to help.  And I can’t wait to get my cards.

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