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Posts Tagged ‘crowdfunding’

Last week will be a historic moment for StartSomeGood, one way or another. One chapter has ended and a new one is beginning, pregnant with possibility, fraught with danger.

Alex is leaving, has left, StartSomeGood.

Only recently I wrote about how much I valued having a co-founder with StartSomeGood but no, to my enormous sadness, found myself writing a blog post last week to say goodbye and good luck to that same co-founder. Alex is currently based in Stockholm, Sweden and wants to get more involved in something on the ground there. He’s also burnt out from being the only full-timer working on StartSomeGood for the past three years and from the juggling of too many responsibilities during this time. He’s been amazing to work with to this point and I’m going to miss him, but life must go on.

We are now midway through a transitional period with new leaders joining the team and existing team members stepping up to replace Alex. I introduced a couple of those key people in last week’s post. Brendan Rigby, who raised money for his initiative WhyDev last year, joined our Venture Support team in June and is stepping up to become Director of this team.

We also have, for the first time, a Chief Technical Officer, one with incredible experience both technically and entrepreneurially. Renata van Diest spent 9 years as a senior engineer at Microsoft before moving to London to get her MBA from London School of Economics. She will continue to be based in London and will start with us in a couple of weeks. We’re incredible lucky to have her and it’s very validating and encouraging for her to recognise the potential we have and be prepared to dive in and help us realise that potential.

While Alex leave is a personal sadness to me because he’s a friend and a really enjoyed working with him, it is also a significant business challenge.

We are still a small bootstrapped start-up, fuelled by the passion, commitment and optimism of our team. Alex has always been incredible at motivating our team, making new people on every level feel included an respected and keeping everyone focused on serving changemakers. The worst-case scenario for something like this is that it drains the motivation and optimism of the team, that we slow down, that we start letting more and more things fall through the cracks in terms of implementation.

But as with any challenge it is also an opportunity, for us as an organisation and for the entrepreneurs joining our team. Without Alex leaving we wouldn’t have gone looking for new co-founders, and wouldn’t have found and connected with Renata. We wouldn’t have recruited Brendan with an eye to promoting him to Director, and he wouldn’t be busy proving us right by doing an incredible job.

I want to be clear, Alex isn’t leaving because he’s given up on the business. If we were going to give up the time to do so might have been a year ago, after almost two years of hard work and no real growth. But since relaunching the site in March this year we’ve been moving strongly in the right direction, and with several great new features and partnerships to roll out over the coming months we’re as confident as we’ve ever been.

Here’s what that growth looks like in terms of funds pledged:

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And here’s the growth in the number of individual pledges:

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So the business opportunity is incredibly strong and we’re working hard to become the world’s favourite platform for crowdfunding social impact.

Alex leaving is also a chance to re-thinking our priorities in terms of our team and the positions we create.
Alex had three main roles, overseeing development of the site, managing the Venture Success team and handling much of our operations. (No wonder he burnt out! This was clearly a mistake and too much). So we’ve been recruiting replacements for each role. Our focus on bringing in new leadership and capacity has resulted in leaders for our tech and Venture Support.

So now I’m looking for a business partner to oversee our operations.

I am, as many of you know, not the most detail-oriented person in the world. I am good at getting things going, great at articulating a vision and getting people excited about it, a strong networker, partnership-builder and entrepreneurial leader. But to really succeed I’ve always needed a partner who brings greater experience, focus and understand to the operational side of whatever we’re working on.

That’s who I’m looking for now.

I’m looking for someone who loves to dive into the details and work out the most effective way of doing something. Who is smart, entrepreneurial and driven, able to figure out what they need to know and learn everything about it, and who has the communications skills to then explain it. Someone who is looking to create a positive impact with their life and is excited about the potential of social enterprise and crowdfunding to change the world. They will manage our accountants and lawyers, staying up-to-date with the legal implications of our business model and managing risk and compliance. They will oversee HR and develop and manage business relationships with vendors. They will refine and redesign our processes as necessary to allow us to operate in a more efficient and impactful way as we grow. They will need to be comfortable with the inherent risk and rapid evolution of a startup.

This isn’t a full-time role. We are open to differing levels of commitment however based around your other commitments, starting with as little as 8 hours/week. This would be equivalent to what Alex was previously able to give it amongst his other roles. StartSomeGood has core team members in Sydney, Melbourne, London, California and Washington DC. There’s some advantage in you being in one of those places (especially Sydney, where I am and where we maintain an office) but for the right person it’s not a deal breaker.

For the right person this could be a co-founder-type role. We want someone who will be a true partner and co-owner in the business as we navigate our way towards sustainability and epic impact. Note that this is primarily a sweat equity position.

If this sounds like someone you know please send them to this post. If this sounds like you please get in touch: tom(at)startsomegood.com.

And as always: onwards and upwards!

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I posted a more personal, reflective announcement about the new version of StartSomeGood.com here last week but for those of you know don’t subscribe to the StartSomeGood weekly email (and you really should if that’s the case, see bottom-right of the homepage) I wanted to also share with you the email we sent to the 10,000 members of the site on Friday:

The new StartSomeGood

Hi everyone,

In place of our usual newsletter we wanted to send you a personal email this week to let you know about some exciting changes happening at StartSomeGood and reflect on where we are.

Most importantly and obviously we have just unveiled the new version of our site!

The new site is a big step forward for us and we hope you like it as much as we do. The major changes include a lighter, brighter and friendlier design, with a simplified navigation which gives greater prominence to success stories and information to help you succeed at crowdfunding. On the back-end there’s an upgraded project dashboard to help you launch and manage your campaigns and we’re adding alternatives to Paypal for donors (already available to US ventures, coming soon for everyone else).

But it’s not all about technology. We remain committed to a hands-on and partnership-driven approach which provides you with the advice and support you need to succeed.

So if you have an idea for a project which can improve the future of your community, why not start todayRegister on our site and a member of our team will be in touch to help you design a campaign which will succeed.

Over the past two years, with your support, we have built a vibrant community of changemakers at StartSomeGood. Together, we have successfully funded 125 world-changing projects in 23 countries. We have supported social entrepreneurs as young as 16 and as established as Ashoka Fellows. We have helped launched projects as diverse as open-source mapping in Nepal to Sock Monkeys who fight cancer in the US, from social enterprise cafés in Cambodia to supporting young families in Australia and inspiring youth volunteering in 22 cities across America.

While we are proud of these successes there’s so much further we want to go. Our goal is to launch 1,000 new social initiatives over the next two years, transforming millions of lives around the world.

We would love your project, your idea, your community, to be part of that. Without you, we’re just a boring old website. With you, we can be an epic force for good in the world.

So don’t wait any longer. If you have the drive and the passion to make a difference we want to help.

Together, let’s start some good!

Sincerely,

Tom and Alex

Co-founders, StartSomeGood

PS. Read about the details of the new site and all the great activities we’re doing to celebrate, including a riddle hidden in the website and daily twitter chats this week on our blog.

PPS. Speaking about getting started you may be inspired by the first episode of our new podcast series Starting Good, featuring Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose. Check it out.

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Today is Blog Action Day, a day when thousands of bloggers around the world join together to explore and express themselves on a shared topic. This year that topic is The Power of We.

Together, we can do anything.

I really believe that. In fact I co-founded a company, StartSomeGood, based on the belief that we live in an abundant world and that when we join together and share what we have we can create the future we seek.

StartSomeGood, and all crowdfunding, is about supporting new initiatives with the capital that already exists in our community, rather than relying on government, investors and traditional outside sources of capital. We (the StartSomeGood team) believe that we (all of us) already have all the ideas we need to overcome the social challenges which confront us, already have all the changemakers we need, already have all the money we need. The power of crowdfunding is to bring all these things together, to unlock the power of we.

You see this play out in domain after domain – as we become more connected and the barriers to our participation fall away new possibilities become apparent. Our connectedness makes us smarter, more creative and more impactful as we share and collaborative, pooling what Clay Shirky calls our “cognitive surplus” in order to create things far beyond the scope of an individual alone.
The examples of our increasingly collaborative planet are everywhere, from Wikipedia to the 350 climate movement to startup weekends and the Social Innovation Exchange.

StartSomeGood is, on every level, an example of this, an organisation and service only made possible by this trend. Our team is spread across seven cities in four countries on three continents. We have hosted successful fundraisers from social initiatives in 20 countries so far. Every project on our site is utilising an emergent set of social tools to share their story and invite participation and support in new ways.

And many of these initiatives are themselves building tools to better connect us. From the speech therapy app Speech4Good to the Australian collaborative consumption charity network Dandelion Support Network to GalliGalli who are using open technologies to better map the history, culture and economics of Kathmandu in Nepal social entrepreneurs are leveraging technology creatively to address inequality and create new opportunities for their communities.

Greater connectedness gives We an ever greater advantage over I. Change agents, from activists to organisers, social entrepreneurs to muckraking journalists, have always been connectors of people and ideas, have always been recruiters and inspirers of changemakers and have always confronted entrenched interests and business-as-usual. New tools, including crowdfunding, has created amazing new opportunities for people with passion and purpose to step forward and make things happen.

So, what are you waiting for?

If you want to raise funds for your initiative please check out StartSomeGood and let us know if we can help you!

Image by artotem via flickr available on a creative commons license.

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In Melbourne and curious about how crowdfunding can help you launch your project? Then this is your lucky week as I’m in town for not one, not two but FOUR crowdfunding workshops over Thursday and Friday. Two are introductory and free and two are masterclasses with (modest) cover charges, one focused on startups and the other specifically for social enterprises and nonprofits.

Whether your dream of launching a social enterprise, a nonprofit, a tech startup or a personal creative project these workshops are designed to help you understand how to give yourself the best chance of crowdfunding success.

The masterclasses will delve into the practical issues which will help you win at this new fundraising form: what rewards to offer, how to identify your audience, what’s the right length for a campaign and more.

Here are all the links:

Introduction to Crowdfunding, hosted by Social Traders and RMIT SEEDS, Thursday 1230-130 pm- only three tickets left!

Crowdfund Your Startup Thousands!, Thursday 6-830pm, with me and record-breaking crowdfunders Fee Plumley, Rob Ward and Kylie Gusset. Only four hours left to get $65 tickets! Well worth the investment to hear from all these experts on how to raise funds for your startup.

Introduction to Crowdfunding, hosted by Social Traders and RMIT SEEDS, Friday 9-10am (sold out)

Crowdfunding for Social Impact, hosted by Social Traders and RMIT SEEDS, follows on from the introductory sessions, Friday 10am-1pm. A deeper dive into how crowdfunding can help you launch your social impact initiative, only $20.

This also seems like a logical spot to mention that I’m looking to recruit a Melbourne Ambassador for StartSomeGood so if you love social enterprise, crowdfunding and helping people and think this could be a good time. Looking for a commitment of 8-10 hours/week. To find out more drop me a line at tom(at)startsomegood(dot)com.

Cheers!

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Academy for Young Entrepreneurs poster (get a hard copy here)

Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka and social entrepreneurship visionary, is fond of asking parents, firstly, “what would you do if your child was failing maths?” Parents instinctively have an answer for this. They would spend more time with them doing their home, get them a tutor, buy a math training program. Then he asked, “what would you do if your child was failing to develop as a changemaker?” and the answers come much less readily.

How do we create a culture of changemaking in young people? By giving them opportunities to share their ideas and participate in creating change of course!

You get better at maths by doing more maths. You get better at sport by joining a team,  practicing and playing. We have clear pathways for gaining expertise in academics and sports but it’s only more recently that we’ve begun to see a focus on providing changemaking experiences for people at a younger age and preparing them for active citizenship.

This is something Ashoka has understood for some time, having launched Ashoka Youth Venture over ten years ago to support 16-20 year-olds to develop their own initiatives, and more recently establishing AshokaU to foster a culture of entrepreneurship on college campuses.  In Australia we’ve seen the establishment of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, who run year-long courses supporting emerging social entrepreneurs of all ages to launch and scale social impact ventures and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, of Social Startup 48, a startup weekend-style event for aspiring changemakers. I’m proud to say all the above organisations are partners of StartSomeGood.

I’m also thrilled to see more and more organisations using StartSomeGood to fill gaps in this ecosystem of opportunity, inspiring, mentoring and training young people to create the future they wish to see.

One Can Grow finished a successful fundraiser on our site just a couple of weeks ago and is piloting a social entrepreneurship training program for students at three high school in Sydney. Hope Empowered is currently raising funds to engage an even younger cohort in entrepreneurial activity with their Academy for Young Entrepreneurs Initiative which will focus at the primary school level. (If you like the sound of this please chip in here). And the organisation I founded 12 years ago, Vibewire, has just, as of this writing, hit the tipping point of their StartSomeGood fundraising campaign to support three younger social entrepreneurs (under 35) to work on issues of critical importance including mental health and sustainable design.

At StartSomeGood we believe that social entrepreneurs need three types of capital to succeed: financial, intellectual and relational. Our mission is to reduce the barriers to raising early-stage financial capital for nonprofits and changemakers through peerfunding (also called crowdfunding). As these barriers come down more social entrepreneurs are stepping up to launch programs which general these other forms of capital, teaching skills and providing community for aspiring social entrepreneurs.

So these initiatives and those like them expand the answer to how to encourage your child to learn changemaking skills will become more apparent and a new generation of changemakers and entrepreneurs will, from an early age, know they can create the future we all need.

How do you think we could better support young changemakers?

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I got a knock-back letter from an incubator the other day. Their reason: “concerns about your ability to out-execute the incumbent.” They are talking, of course, about Kickstarter, the massively-successful website who introduced most people to the idea of crowdfunding. This is a common confusion but completely misplaced in our opinion. I decided to tackle the issue head-on with a post on the StartSomeGood blog, which I’ve re-posted below. I’d love your thoughts on whether this explanation resonates with you and how we can best express our unique value and purpose.

The importance of diversity

We all talk about abundance vs scarcity, knowing logically that there is an abundance of resources to accomplish whatever anyone might want to do in this world, and yet many (most?) people have traditionally struggled to unlock the support they need to pursue their dreams.

So what would it take for all worthy endeavors to get the support they need?

In the real world you would need a range of venues available for different art forms and events just as you find in most cities – some generalist, hosting everything from basketball to ice dancing to concerts, others art form-specific but presenting a variety of acts and genres while other venues specialize in particular genres or performance forms. There are venues for speeches and workshops, parties and performances, for making things together or sitting back and watching. The vitality of a cities culture relies on this diversity of opportunities.

And this is precisely how the crowdfunding landscape is also playing out. For individuals with a passion for anything at all, there is IndieGoGo. For US-based artists and creative entrepreneurs with a product, there is Kickstarter while in Australia there is Pozible and in France Ulule. For journalists there is Spot.us and for app developers there is AppBackr.

And for social entrepreneurs and changemakers focused on making the world a better place, there is StartSomeGood.

Why we are not competing with Kickstarter

It is specifically in relation to Kickstarter that most confusion on this point arises.

Here at StartSomeGood we have heard these questions numerous times:

  • How are you different to Kickstarter?
  • Aren’t you just a niche Kickstarter?
  • Why would people choose you instead of Kickstarter?
  • How do you intend to compete with Kickstarter?

The confusion here is related to Kickstarter’s huge mindshare, being the way many people found out about crowdfunding, but also largely on us. It is our job to explain how what we’re doing fits into the current fundraising landscape and the ways in which we are distinctive even as we work towards a similar vision. This post is an attempt to do that.

This belief that we are not competing with Kickstarter is both a philosophical position but also a practical observation of the different markets we serve. The confusion arises here I believe because with all the media attention to Kickstarter people only casually connected to the space often think of them as an all-purpose crowdfunding platform. This leads some to wonder how we will thrive with our (seemingly) more-niche platform focused on social change projects.

But Kickstarter is not an all-purpose platform, their focus is very clear: creative projects only. They are strict in maintaining their criteria (and explicitly prohibit “charity projects”) and have a particular style of project they prefer – one with a clear, productized outcome which can be shared or consumed. So Kickstarter are a niche platform, just as we are, but in both cases our respective niche’s are enormous. To be sure, there are some situations where there is overlap, such as in the instance of a film about a social issue, a political app or a food justice project. But the vast majority of the ventures we exist to serve simply cannot participate on Kickstarter’s platform due to either not being a creative product or being based outside the United States.

Rather than write another 1,000 words on this, here’s a little Venn diagram we hope will succinctly illustrate the point:

So the concept that people need to “choose us over Kickstarter” is accurate only in a few specific instances; for most social impact ventures Kickstarter is not actually an available choice.

Kickstarter has given rise to countless new films, gadgets and art projects; StartSomeGood to brand new social change organizations.  Kickstarter has empowered video game makers, iPhone gadgeteers and t-shirt designers; StartSomeGood has empowered changemakers of all ages and from many countries to pursue their dreams.  Rather than choosing one platform over the other, in most cases it’s clear from the start which site is the best fit for which project, with our shared purpose of providing an opportunity to rally supporters around your vision being the common denominator.

Given how much there is that needs doing in the world and the people looking for tools to help them make it happen we believe there is a significant business opportunity to do for the social sector what Kickstarter have done for the creative sector. But by far more importantly, there is a huge opportunity, indeed, a need, to empower and inspire thousands of changemakers to create the future they want for their communities.

Allies, not competitors

This opportunity speaks to a bigger and more important philosophical point. We believe that the world is abundant with possibilities: world-changing ideas and changemakers ready to make them happen. We exist to help those changemakers go from idea to action and impact. We have always been enormously inspired by the impact Kickstarter have had in the creative industries. We aim to democratize the social sector, creating opportunities for new types of projects, diverse organizational forms and a new generation of changemakers, just as Kickstarter is democratizing cultural consumption and the creative industries.

We are in fact huge fans of Kickstarter. I myself have supported 36 projects on Kickstarter, which puts me in the top 1% of project backers, given that 84% of Kickstarter members have given to just a single project.

The sectors we focus on are the two most in need of disruption, as funding decisions in both the creative and social change sectors have traditionally been made by small groups far removed from those who most benefit from the work produced. Now social and creative entrepreneurs can go around these traditional decision-makers and turn directly to their communities for the support they need.

We are proud to be part of this movement to break down barriers and provide the tools to help people do epic things. Rather than competing StartSomeGood and Kickstarter are creating the same future: one that is more democratic, open, participatory and exciting.

In Summary, How StartSomeGood is Different from Kickstarter:

  • They are for creative projects while we are for social impact projects;
  • They require a US bank account to launch a campaign while we accept projects from 110 countries (anywhere you can set up a paypal account);
  • They use an all-or-nothing model and we use a Tipping Point model;
  • Kickstarter was founded by creatives for creative entrepreneurs, StartSomeGood was founded by changemakers for social entrepreneurs.

If you are still unsure please get in touch and let’s talk about which platform might be right for you.

So, did that clear things up?

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Language matters. It frames our expectations and can limit or expand our thinking.

I’ve written before about my preference for the term “peerfunding” over “crowdfunding”. More recently I’ve begun to see a spectrum of activities which can be more crowd or peer-focused, making both terms relevant but the distinction important.

To me, crowdsourcing is a competitive process – the crowd is either helping select amongst alternatives or competing to win an award. As an example, GeniusRocket is a design crowdsourcing site – their community competes via the submission of ideas and proposals, to have their work selected and be paid by GeniusRocket’s clients.

The Pepsi Refresh Project is another example of the crowd in action. The crowd is helping Pepsi select where to invest its philanthropic dollars. It’s crowdsourcing because it’s a large mass of people who have little-to-no contact with each other making submissions, in the form of votes here and designs with GeniusRocket, to the organizer of the contest.

What Creating the Future is doing, on the other hand, is peersourcing. They have invited their community to co-create the criteria and process of the scholarship fund they recently raised funds for on StartSomeGood.

In this instance the participants are not an anonymous “crowd” and they are not competing with each other. Instead they are co-creating something together. They are peers, colleagues, collaborators. Whilst the number of responses isn’t large the quality of thinking behind the responses makes them enormously valuable.

If we simply refer to Pepsi Refresh, GeniusRocket and what Creating The Future are doing as “crowdsourcing” I think we are missing a key differentiator between them. I am loath to create more jargon but I fear that calling collaborative efforts like Creating The Future, or the way Beth Kanter aggregates contributions and best practices through wiki’s, Facebook and her blog crowdsourcing is to miss the most important aspect of these approaches: that they build a community of peers and invite co-creation, rather than setting up the “crowd” to compete for the organizers favor.

I believe what we and our ventures do at StartSomeGood is peerfunding rather than crowdfunding. On StartSomeGood, as with other fundraising platforms for entrepreneurs and creatives, the majority of the funding comes from the fundraisers existing community. Supporters feel an affiliation for the project and affection for the organizer, or connect to the cause via a shared identity or experience. These funders are not a crowd, they are peers, and they will be your most important asset in creating change.

I’m thrilled to see a project which was successfully peerfunded on StartSomeGood now move on to peersourcing the details of how the scholarship will work. Check out their thinking so far and feel free to contribute!

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