Tasty Humans is the latest, and in my opinion, the greatest creation of Pangea Games. It’s a tile-placement, puzzle-solving board game for 1-4 players about villagers attacking monsters. Except it’s from the monsters’ point of view! The Tasty Humans Kickstarter went on to raise $20,536 and then several thousand more on BackerKit for a total of $28,000 and counting.
It’s been an extraordinary privilege of mine to work with Ryan Langewisch, the designer of the game as well as Tyson Mertlich, the developer who helped make the magic happen so early on. They were the creative force behind the game, and really, the soul of it.
But my role? I took their work, which they had so painstakingly and lovingly created, and marketed it before printing it and sending it around the world. Now I’m going to tell you how I did that last part.
What is Kickstarter fulfillment?
You hear all this talk about Kickstarter fulfillment. What exactly is it?
As backers use the term, fulfillment covers basically everything between a Kickstarter campaign ending and people receiving their rewards. That means manufacturing, freight, customs, and order fulfillment.
How Tasty Humans was manufactured is complicated and I intend to write a post about just that. Suffice it to say, BangWee printed Tasty Humans and they did an absolutely phenomenal job. The price was low, the material quality was high, the colors were gorgeous, and the customer service was handled remarkably well. I have nothing but praise for those folks printing board games out in Hong Kong.
As for the rest of fulfillment, there are basically three parts: freight, customs, and order fulfillment. Freight involves getting large shipments of games from the manufacturer to a fulfillment warehouse. Customs involves importing goods into a different country. Order fulfillment involves finding a warehouse to store inventory, putting items in boxes, and shipping those boxes to customers.
How did we handle freight shipping and customs?
Freight shipping is one of the most intimidating parts of Kickstarter fulfillment. It’s one of those legacy industries that even in the 2020s is bursting at the seams with unnecessary middlemen and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Many freight companies have websites that look like they were made when Friends was airing new episodes. What’s more, their customer service tends to be spotty and vague.
So imagine my relief when the CEO of Fulfillrite turned me onto a tool called Freightos. It’s basically Expedia for freight companies. You make an account, log in, describe your shipment and its weight, and – boom – you have a list as long as your arm of sea and air shipping companies. You literally just have to pick one, enter in your credit card information, and fill out a few forms. How these guys haven’t taken over the world yet is beyond me.
Now most freight companies that you select through a marketplace like Freightos will handle customs for you. But there are still two salient points which I feel must be made.
First and foremost: pad your schedule to account for customs exams. Make sure you have some extra cash set aside, too. Customs flags games for additional exams pretty often. Tasty Humans, in particular, was pulled aside for about two weeks and X-rayed. Shortly thereafter, a bill for $600 arrived in my email inbox. Nice.
Second: if you absolutely feel the need to have warehouses in different countries, split your freight at the point of origin. Don’t ship from China, import the whole thing into the US, pay a customs bill, and then ship part of it to Germany, and pay a customs bill again. What’s the use in that?
A brief note before we talk about fulfillment…
I would like to talk about how we handled order fulfillment. However, I am first obliged to say the following.
We used Fulfillrite for order fulfillment. I have done a considerable amount of paid consulting work for Fulfillrite, and I still do. As such, consider this paragraph the necessary disclosure of that fact. Even still, I will relay the facts of our experience with them exactly as they happened.
How did we handle order fulfillment?
Fulfillment went really well! During the downtime caused by the customs delay, I went ahead and integrated BackerKit with Fulfillrite’s systems. On that fateful Monday morning when the games arrived, January 6, there were about 700 orders ready to go. The remaining 140 were either $1 backers with no physical reward, stragglers who had not yet provided an address, and people whose credit cards expired before they could be charged.
The games arrived sometime around 10:30 that morning. They had about 200 shipped out by noon. By the time I had typed up an update to go out to my backers, a mere five hours later, there were only 100 orders left unshipped. The only reason they had not received the inventory and shipped every order that day is because I had to wire transfer more funds into the dashboard.
Holy smokes! I’ve consulted with these folks for a long time, so I know what they’re capable of. But I really think the same-day shipping and receiving speaks for itself.
Now you may ask yourself, as I initially did, “how do you fulfill international orders from a US-only warehouse?” They had recently partnered with a company called Asendia, which is a postal carrier that specializes in shipping to foreign countries in such a way where the shipper pays the customs fee. It’s a neat way of circumventing the myriad problems that come with having a dedicated warehouse in Europe or the UK, a subject about which I will likely write a 2,500 word, SEO-friendly diatribe about later.
No campaign fulfillment ever goes without a hitch, of course, and Tasty Humans ran into two distinct ones.
Problem 1: The Padded Envelope Affair
I marked “padded envelope” as an acceptable form of shipping packaging for a 2-pound, foot-long, sharp-cornered board game. Thinking back, this was likely something I did because I expected there would be large padded mailers with thick walls which would be acceptable packaging for board games. This wasn’t the case.
No one overrode my initial error in judgment by forcing the games to go out in rigid boxes. My approval of shipping Tasty Humans with padded envelopes instead of rigid boxes went unquestioned. But let’s be real: can I truly be frustrated with a fulfillment company for following my instructions to the letter?
Problem 2: The Customs-Free Customs Fees Affair
Remember how I said we were using a service called Asendia to pay for customs on behalf of our international customers? Well, Politifact says “mostly true.” A lot of people don’t know this, but you have to cross a certain threshold item value before customs fees are incurred. This is called the de minimis customs value and it’s different for every single one of the 200-odd countries on this planet.
Fulfillrite’s systems are very smart. They calculate the cheapest overall postage, and they assign that to your order unless you override it or otherwise specify. So for many European countries, we ended up sending packages via USPS or FedEx, and no one was hit with customs fees. Places like the U.K. that have low de minimis values, we sent packages via Asendia and paid the customs fee for our customers, and they never even noticed!
But this was not so for Denmark or Sweden. No, our northern European friends were hit with value-added taxes that were not covered by Asendia…mainly because we didn’t use Asendia. We used USPS.
You could call this a fault of Fulfillrite’s system. You could call it my own error for not overriding the default shipping method. No matter who you blame, though, the fact remains that I ended up Pangea-PayPal’ing six or seven Scandinavians because we take our “no customs fee” promise very seriously, even if it means reimbursing customers.
What did we do well?
Overall, the process was very smooth. We’d go with Fulfillrite again in a heartbeat. Freightos was also wonderful in helping us to arrange freight as well. BangWee, the printer of Tasty Humans, has gotten nothing but compliments and we are particularly thrilled with the quality of their materials.
I’m own worst critic and I’m happy with how this campaign turned out. This campaign’s fulfillment process has met the standards of a guy who beats himself up for not being able to run six miles when it’s 100 degrees outside.
What would we have done differently?
Looking back, we’d fix the two problems we mentioned with fulfillment earlier. We would also pad our timelines by another month or two overall. The simple fact is that even though we were very fast and efficient in shipping this campaign, we missed our target date by two weeks. A drop in the bucket for a five-month process, sure, but still not what I had intended.
Final Thoughts on Fulfilling the Tasty Humans Kickstarter
We were very happy with how fulfillment went for Tasty Humans. The campaign ran into few issues, was pretty close to shipping on-time, and stayed within our budget. By sharing our story with you, we hope that you can have a similarly positive fulfillment experience with your board game Kickstarter!