Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to 'Crowdfund' Your American Dream


Politicians do it, and now more and more people are finding money to start their businesses thanks to small contributions from supporters.

Back in 1992, former and current California Gov. Jerry Brown ran for president against, among others, Bill Clinton. As Clinton emerged as the favorite, endorsements -- and more importantly, money -- started to flow his way. And as a result, the other candidates in the field began to drop out as votes and money dried up.

But not Jerry Brown. Brown had hit upon a then-unique fundraising idea in a pre-Internet day that kept his quixotic campaign alive: He created an 800 telephone number and asked people to call in and donate small sums to his campaign. No more than $100. It turned out that his supporters were more than happy to help him if it didn't cost a lot and was easy to do.
He didn't win, but Jerry Brown was one of the first to 'crowdfund' his campaign.

A more recent example from the business world: Filmmaker Kieran Masterton used crowdfunding to fund his startup, raising more than $12,000 in the process. And maybe even better, like Jerry Brown, Masterton did not have to pay people back with cash, since people who donate to crowdfunding projects expect to be repaid in ways other than money.

Pretty nifty, eh?

Crowdfunding is a process whereby people with projects or business ideas ask the crowd to donate to the cause in exchange for some sort of reward. Typically the reward has something to do with the businesses or project. In Masterson's case, he was starting a website that would distribute the work of independent filmmakers, so he asked them for $100 each – in exchange for getting listed on the website. It worked, big time.

Another example: SellaBand.com is a crowdfunding platform which offers bands something it calls "fan funding." Let's say an indie band has a new tour or album it wants to produce and needs funding for the project. The band would list it on the Sellaband website, and in exchange for donations, would "repay" participants with "free downloads... exclusive CDs, T-shirts, free lunches etc."

Not surprisingly, crowdfunding -- an idea that began as a way for various artists to fund their projects, has morphed into a tool for entrepreneurs to fund their own dreams. As Time puts it, "Politicians do it. Charities too. And now for-profit entrepreneurs are tapping the Internet to get small amounts of money from lots and lots of supporters. One part social networking and one part capital accumulation, crowdfunding websites seek to harness the enthusiasm -- and pocket money --o f virtual strangers."

If this makes sense to you and looks like a way for you to get some funding for your own project, here are some sites you will want to check out:

Kickstarter.com. Listing a project on Kickstarter is free, although KickStarter keeps 5 percent of all money raised, as well as a small portion of all credit-card processing fees.

One interesting thing about Kickstarter is that projects must raise 100 percent of their funding goal, or they receive nothing. Here's why that's a good thing: Let's say that you are trying to raise $10,000 to self-publish a book and that you offer credits in the book in exchange for investments at $50 a pop. If you only raise $5,000, it would not be a very good deal for all of those people who gave you $50, since the book would never get published. So it's 100 percent or nothing at Kickstarter.

IndieGoGo. Similar to Kickstarter, IndieGoGo is a "collaborative way to fund ideas." The difference is that it does not does not require 100 percent funding, although if you do not raise the full amount, they charge you 9 percent as opposed to 4 percent.

Here is one last nice benefit about using crowdfunding to fund your dream: Because it gets people interested in your venture early on, those folks become (literally) invested in your success and thus become your cheerleaders.

Starting a business with a built-in audience and getting funding without having to repay it in cash? Sweet.
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