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How to win at Kickstarter (hint: It involves living with your parents)

On Aug. 6, J.R. Sanchez, 25, launched a Kickstarter campaign for his new product, the eleMount. Five hours and 17 minutes later, he had full funding — $10,000 — and was fielding calls from Brookstone, with whom he’s now negotiating a merchandising deal. While Sanchez funded his goal in approximately the time it took me to find my keys this morning, his success wasn’t a matter of dumb luck or, as it’s known in the tech age, virality.

Sanchez crushed Kickstarter because he mastered the medium and he refined his product: four years of research, a year trading prototypes with a Chinese design firm, hundreds of hours of video production.

We had Sanchez into the office to outline what it takes to win at Kickstarter:

Live with your parents. “You need to be prepared not to get paid for a while,” Sanchez told me. “There’s no way I could have done what I did while paying rent.” The genius of Kickstarter is that you don’t need to sell pieces of your company to pointy-toothed venture capitalists in sharkskin suits. But bootstrapping isn’t free. In addition to enormous of amounts of his time, which, according to patriot and mullet pioneer Ben Franklin equals money, Sanchez had to throw down $5,000 for the 3-D modeling. And that’s with a price break. His friend from the University of Illinois gave him a steep discount, charging $15 an hour instead of the usual $150.

Steal from Steve Jobs. “I followed Apple’s philosophy,” Sanchez says. “No one likes to learn.” By ditching the learning curve, Sanchez was able to increase the shareability of the campaign. Anyone who sees a picture of the eleMount gets what it does. And skipping the instruction booklet means he doesn’t have to hire translators. He even aimed for the “Apple finish,” a halfway shiny, halfway matte sheen.

Keep stealing from Steve Jobs. Sanchez also took a page out of the famously stubborn Jobs’ book when he ignored the advice of his Chinese manufacturers, who said that his curvy design looked like a woman. “When I Skype with them, they still laugh at me,” he says. “And they said the angles were impossible, the ball joint was impossible. I made them try anyway.”

Make a great video. Sanchez figures he spent about 300 hundred hours — the equivalent of about two months of full-time work — producing his two-minute video. Much of that effort was figuring out how to keep it under 120 seconds. “After two minutes, you lose the audience,” he says. “I look at the site, there’s too much talking, people aren’t showing the product enough.”

Launch your campaign on Tuesday at lunch. “It’s a matter of timing,” Sanchez says, arguing that Tuesday is the best day to launch because it’s a strong news day (a suspicion we can confirm). If you run on a Monday, you’ll catch people out on three-day weekends or too demoralized to make eye contact with their monitor. Launch later in the week and your campaign’s pop will be muted by the oncoming weekend. Launching at lunch allows you to catch a captive audience who doesn’t feel bad about clicking around on the Internet and whipping out a credit card.

Prime the well. Because journalists love Kickstarter and serial entrepreneurs and the evocative neologism “bootstrapping” and stories where they don’t have to talk to that many people (see: article you’re currently reading), Sanchez reached out to as many ink-stained wretches as he could find. He ended up on the radar of some well-regarded bloggers and tech writers, including Jim Dalrymple, whose Loop Insight is where Apple junkies go to meditate before an intuitively designed portrait of Steve Jobs.

Have a $1 option. Kickstarter’s ranking algorithm goes in part by number of backers, not just total amount of money raised. But Sanchez isn’t doing this just to raise cash for his invention. His end-game is exposure to merchandisers, which requires climbing the rankings. “Once you’re in the top 12, distributors start calling,” he says. The eleMount is testament to that. On the first day, he fielded inquiries from four different national outfits.

Don’t get greedy. If you set your goal too high, you’ll risk not getting funded because nobody likes a loser, unless that loser is the Chicago Cubs. Instead, pick something that’s achievable, or, in Sanchez’s words, “only what you need.” Funders are more likely to pour on the gravy than donate to a lost cause. Also, Sanchez advocates choosing the 60-day option. Although the 30-day option creates a sense of urgency, it also slices your time to go viral in half.

Write, and write back. Sanchez has received more than 3,000 queries about the eleMount. He’s written back to each one. And he continues to reach out to bloggers and media contacts himself, sending emails between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. — after reporters have gone to bed but before anyone else sends them anything in the morning. “You’re first on their email list,” he says. “On the other hand, you kind of don’t sleep.”

Photo by Susan Du