The wisdom of crowdfunding

Crowdfunding image

Image from BoxyRoom

I’ve had an idea. Haven’t we all? But I think there’s something in it… A new experimental publishing project, which I’ll be telling you more about very soon. But the ever-burning question: how to pay for it?


Thanks to the stratospheric growth of crowdfunding, we live in an age where it really does feel like anything’s possible; that any idea that’s good enough can become a reality. From virtual reality headsets to the dying teenager who raised over £4 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust, if it’s an idea, cause or product people believe in, they’ll put their hands in their pockets to make it happen.

And more and more people are putting their hands in their pockets for more and more projects every month: in fact, a report in May (‘The State of the Crowdfunding Nation’), showed that global crowdfunding initiatives raised more than US$60,000 dollars an hour during March 2014.

In the olden days, way back in the depths of time before 2005-ish, someone could have the best idea – for a new product, a new creative project, a new cause, or even a new business – but it’d always meet that tiresome, plummeting-back-to-earth question: “How are you going to pay for it?” The menacing spectre of bank loans, investors, interest, loan insurance and piles and piles of paperwork meant many a bright idea fizzled out and was forgotten before ever seeing the light of day.

Yes, your mum and friends will always back you, but you still have to build a compelling business case to gather the real groundswell of support needed to reach your target.

Crowdfunding doesn’t mean that any old idea, however shortsighted or far-fetched, will become a reality. Take a look around any crowdfunding site (from Kickstarter to Crowdfunder, IndieGoGo to WeFund) and for every funded project, you’ll see plenty that are almost out of time with only 2% of their target reached. Just as the traditional system meant that only the strongest ideas with the most committed, organised people behind them managed to overcome the start-up hurdles to bring their idea to life, a successful crowdfunding process also depends on convincing a considerable number of people that an idea has real potential – and that you are the right people to make it happen. Yes, your mum and friends will always back you, but you still have to build a compelling business case to gather the real groundswell of support needed to reach your target.

The thing about crowdfunding, though, is that it’s all about your audience – whoever and wherever they may be. Before crowdfunding, you had to convince your bank manager or investors that your idea had an audience ready to lap it up, if only you could get the money to get it out there. But crowdfunding connects you straight with your audience. It means you can float your idea with them and, if they like it, they’ll back it. Simple as that. No matter how creative, niche or offbeat your idea may be – crowdfunding helps you tap into likeminded communities across the world who will support you.

Crowdfunding image

Although it feels like a new phenomenon, the seeds were sown in the 17th century with praenumeration – a subscription business model, which was used to finance book prints. Potential readers who supported the idea donated money towards the printing and publishing costs, in exchange for a copy and a mention on the title page. There are all sorts of precedents since then too – including a new pedestal for the Statue of Liberty in 1884 that was funded by over 125,000 people paying less than $1 each. But obviously the difference is the internet, which has “turbocharged” (Kickstarter) the model. The speed of sharing a message and people across the world being able to act, and give, with just a few clicks, has changed the face of communities, businesses and lives irreversibly.

In publishing, crowdfunding has revived the reader-funded model – at a time when it was needed more than ever, with the decline of magazine advertising and paradigm shifts in book publishing. If enough people want to read what you’re proposing, you can take it to print. Hooray. Here’s hoping that’s the case with our new project. Watch this space and you can decide for yourself if it deserves to see the light of day…

In the meantime, here are three projects I came across recently that, I think, deserve to become reality – for very different reasons. They’re all still live and could do with some help to bridge the final gap to reach their funding targets:

Nick Hand’s incredible printing bike project (23 days to go, as of 1/7/14):

Rainforest Saver’s campaign to promote the little known Inga alley cropping farming technique that’s better for both farmers and the rainforest. (9 days to go, as of 1/7/14)

A documentary about ten very different lives connected by having appeared onscreen wearing masks or helmets in Star Wars. (4 days to go, as of 1/7/14)

And finally, a little plug for a brilliant project from some friends of ours: The Challenger’s Almanac. They already smashed their funding target on Kickstarter, but if you haven’t already seen it, it’s well worth ordering a copy from their website as it’s a truly inspiring read, beautifully produced. Here’s a taster:

Latest Stories