A new generation of online entrepreneurship

The team at Phundee, a Shoreditch-based company. Pic: Ashon Spooner

The team at Phundee, a Shoreditch-based company. Pic: Ashon Spooner

Crowdfunding, where people use an online platform to advertise their projects to a virtual community and raise money in exchange for rewards, can be emotionally draining, challenging and advantageous. It can oscillate between exhilaration and extreme hard work, but it can reap rewards. Tallie Maughan, 32, successfully crowdfunded for Turning Earth Ceramics, an open-access ceramics members’ studio in Hoxton, two years ago. “It was the hardest year of my life,” she said, “closely followed by the second hardest year of my life which was the year we actually set up.” By talking to the real experts – the people who have successfully used crowdfunding to realise their dreams – ELL have compiled a brief guide to help you kick-start your own project.

First, you need to find a platform that best suits your project. Kickstarter, Crowdfunder and Indiegogo are some of the big names at the moment. Phundee, a Shoreditch-based entertainment and arts crowdfunding platform, launched in December 2014 and has been named one of the top 100 tech companies to look out for in 2015. The CEO, 29-year-old Ashton Spooner, is a great believer in the power of the community which is created when raising funds for a project: “If you tap into crowdfunding you can see the thing you always wanted to make happen or believe in come to reality… You create an audience or fan base who really care and who will stay with you forever.”

It is vital you have a clear, defined idea, Spooner says, so people understand what you are proposing and the business they are buying into. Crowdfunding is all about preparation and without it, failure is inevitable. It’s crucial you know and understand your market, too. Maughan carried out multiple surveys in order to establish how much need there was for the studio. She advises: “Find the nearest successful comparable business or venture to [yours] and study it completely.” You need to know your area better than anyone else. Indeed, Maughan was so well prepared that when she took her whopping 100-page business plan to the bank they were astounded and said it was the best they’d seen in five years.

We live in a digital age so unsurprisingly having a video is now considered a base-level requirement. Lauren Pears, 32, successfully crowdfunded London’s first ever cat café in Shoreditch two years ago. Here, for a small fee, café-goers, who long for a cat but are unable to have their own, can enjoy the company of ten rescued felines as well as refreshments. Pears explains: “It’s really important for people to see who they are investing in [in the video], that they’re not just investing in an idea but investing in you to do it… People really need to see you in the video. You can communicate more with your face than you can with words.” Yolanda Barker, from Ireland, moved people to donate to her film, ‘After I Saw You’, on Phundee by showing clips of the motion picture in her video.

Needless to say, there is no opportunity to rest when crowdfunding. “Make sure you’re active on social media every day, “ says Spooner, “Have a plan.” Pears had a novel approach to her use of social media dashboard, Hootsuite. She said: “We approached people who were badmouthing [the cat café] and converted them; it was one of the most effective ways of getting large contributions as those people felt they’d been listened to and their opinions had been taken on board.” Your relationship with your ‘crowd’ is very important as their emotional response can change very quickly if they feel they are being ignored or taken advantage of.

With reward-based crowdfunding, the crowd gain physical rewards, although campaigns such as Turning Earth provide a service and can give membership in exchange for donations. One filmmaker on Phundee offered his funders the role of a zombie in the movie they were helping him to make. At the Viktor Wynd Curiosity Museum in Hackney, which opened in November 2014 following a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, a donation of £5,000 won the donor the right to name the disabled toilet. “Name it after yourself, someone you love or someone you hate,” the museum suggested, “a perfect gift for your mother-in-law or ex”.

Maughan struggled for years for Turning Earth to come to fruition but it was the product of a lifelong dream; so much so that her computer’s desktop image pictured a pottery studio for five years before to help inspire her. She recommends anyone with a dream to do the same. She says: “Crowdfunding takes a huge amount of strength and resilience but if you do the research and put the work in, it can’t help but succeed, even if its not in the original way you saw it.”

Let’s get cracking shall we?

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