Dark Sky Journal

…things we learn, as we make and sell Dark Sky for iPhone & iPad.

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Kickstarting an iOS App, Part 2: Physical Rewards

Posted on by Jason LaPorte

Dark Sky for iPhone and iPad was made possible through Kickstarter. In this series, we’re talking about what we wished we knew when we started the project: previously, we looked at how we got our backers their digital rewards; in this second part of the series, we’ll be talking about the process of getting our backers their physical rewards.

As mentioned in the previous article, all three of us at Dark Sky came from the world of web development, and if creating and releasing an iOS app was on the fringes of our realm of experience, creating and sending out physical rewards was completely off the map. The two physical rewards provided to our backers were silk-screened T-shirts and silk-screened umbrellas; getting these rewards to our backers was by far the most arduous part of the Kickstarter campaign, even considering the positively wonderful support given us by Design It Together, the local print studio that actually produced the rewards for us.

Umbrellas drying at Design It Together.

We got a late start on designing the T-shirts, because our goal for them was so straightforward: the Dark Sky icon in medium-gray on a dark gray background. We handed off our design to the print studio and expected things would go pretty quickly… and then we discovered that “asphalt” and “charcoal” are two different colors, and that the medium-gray ink shows up differently under varying lighting conditions, and that women’s shirts print darker because of their denser weave, and so on; furthermore, each iteration involved several days of waiting simply due to logistics. In total, the process we expected to take a month ended up taking two-and-half, through no specific fault of any party.

After we had the rewards, we still had to ship them out to each of our backers. It seems that places like Amazon have spoiled us into thinking that shipping is cheap; in our experience, the cost of shipping is always much higher than you expect. We looked at every reputable carrier we could find, and in the end found that the United States Postal Service had the best domestic and international rates by far (via flat-rate priority mail boxes), but even then it cost us as much to ship the rewards as it did to have them made (and, in the case of international orders, up to three or four times as much).

USPS has a website from which you can order large quantities of flat-rate boxes — for free! — and have them delivered right to you (though, in our case, the boxes were held at the local post office since they believed a residential address ordering 250 flat-rate boxes was an error). There is a time investment involved in folding the boxes, folding the shirts, printing the shipping labels (which can also be done online) and affixing shipping labels to each; but this part of the process actually went faster than we expected and didn’t factor significantly into the overall reward fulfillment time. After that, we only needed to wait on the postman to pick everything up.

(In our experience, while the post office sapped lots of our time and was generally unhelpful, we found that the two or three mail carriers that we interacted with were wonderful human beings, going out of their way to help us make the mailing process as easy as possible. If you ever find yours off-duty, buy them a drink!)

Relaxing after we packaged up all of the rewards.

While we personally didn’t actively have to invest much time and effort into producing the physical rewards, there was a lot of waiting and back-and-forth involved in both getting them made and mailing them; if we were to do this all again, we would get started on it immediately upon the project’s successful backing and try to do as many parts of it in parallel as possible. We are also quite certain that, given the enormous cost of shipping, there has to be a better way; we’d do more research the next time around, and would encourage others to do so as well.

© 2012 The Dark Sky Company, LLC