Ever have a brilliant idea that you knew, just knew, that if you could only get the money to get it off the ground it would make a mint? Haven’t we all? Getting that seed capital to make the next great music video, iPhone gadget, website, or yoga revolution isn’t easy. Banks don’t lend like they used to. And, let’s face it, not everyone is going to be as excited for your great idea as you are. But what if you could connect with an audience of millions of people who do love your idea? What if you could ask each of them for a little money, instead of one person for a whole lot of money? Can you guess how I’m going to start the next paragraph?
Welcome to crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a fantastic concept that leverages the social networking and promotional power of the internet to introduce your big idea to as many people as possible. Instead of seeking half a million dollars from one investor, you can ask for ten dollars from fifty thousand. You might think it’d be harder to convince more people to give you money but the results speak for themselves. An incredible number of projects and startups have gotten their start thanks to crowdfunding, and the people who donated or invested are the first dedicated customers and promoters.
The beautiful thing about the internet is that it allows you connect with like-minded people all over the world. No matter how unique or strange your idea is, you can pretty much guarantee that somewhere, someone else likes it. The internet lets you find those people; you can (try to) convince them that your project will make them rich, or you can simply take contributions from people who really want to see your product exist in more than just your imagination.
Here are five websites that allow people to either donate money to your idea for a reward or invest in it for a piece of the action when you hit it big. Go make your dreams come true.
Let’s start at the beginning. No list of crowdfunding sites is complete without the website that defined the concept. Kickstarter is a beautiful thing. Creators post their projects and offer potential backers – not investors – a reward for their donations. Everyone likes a reward, but donations usually come from people who just want the product to exist. Of course, quite often the reward is a discounted or special version of the backed product.
While it seems to be most successful with creative and media companies, Kickstarter’s mission is that of helping people make things they wish existed. The spirit of Kickstarter is less, “Let’s get rich,” and more, “Let’s make dreams real.” But some very profitable ideas have been born thanks to Kickstarter investors, and Kickstarter funded projects that get big community support often exceed their funding goals many times over.
FUNDING TYPE: All Or Nothing – the creator doesn’t get any money unless the funding goals are met. When the goals are met, Kickstarter takes a small cut.
STRENGTH: Social – people back you because they want the project to be fulfilled. If they want it to happen, they’ll share the project with other potential backers.
SUCCESS RATE: Amazing – 44% of projects have been successfully funded!
SECRET TO YOUR SUCCCESS: Appeal to nerds, or have celebrity support. Having both pretty much makes your project a sure thing.
On the opposite side of the crowd funding spectrum from Kickstarter is Crowdfunder, a very business-oriented website. Crowdfunder is a platform for ‘investment or equity’ crowdfunding, which means that you aren’t offering a sample product or other reward for being backed. It means you’re offering the general public the chance to purchase a piece of your startup before it’s even launched, as seed money. In other words, instead of hitting the phone and the pavement – or doing your own impersonation of Max Bialystock in The Producers – you’re posting to a website and promising your backers a % of your company, should it become a reality.
Crowdfunder is a very businesslike, professional company with an impressive masthead and they seem to have all their loose ends tied down. They wish to – and succeed at – giving the impression that they are intelligent business people who are there for their investors and for their entrepreneurs. And they had better maintain that impression, because at the moment only accredited investors (AKA those with lots of money) are able to participate in equity crowdfunding. And they are only interested in doing so to make more money.
FUNDING TYPE: Negotiable – Investors find you on crowdfunder and begin negotiations. You pay a subscription fee.
STRENGTH: Big Bucks – You’re in a marketplace where people who want to invest and have a lot of money are actively shopping for a startup to back.
SUCCESS RATE: Unknown – I could not find a metric for successfully funded startups, but those companies that are raising money are raising very large amounts, very quickly.
SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS: Professionalism. Have a good business plan, a good presentation, and and high profit potential. These investors aren’t looking for their next graphic novel; they’re looking for their next million dollars.
Somewhere between Crowdfunder and Kickstarter lies Fundable, a very friendly company with the all-or-nothing and rewards based Crowdfunding of Kickstarter and the equity offered funding of Crowdfunder. Fundable’s trademark is that it really seems to care about its entrepreneurs. It boasts that it will guide starter-uppers through the entire fundraising process, from profile creation to collecting promised investments / donations.
As you may be able to gather from that, this platform is intended for the person who knows everything about the business they’re trying to start and little to nothing about fund raising or websites. In other words, it’s not for techies. And it seems to be working out pretty well for them.
Fundable boasts $83 million in commitments and an average raise amount of twelve times higher than Kickstarter’s. Then again, Fundable is just for businesses, and businesses tend to cost a little more than the creative projects that Kickstarter allows.
FUNDING TYPE: All-or-nothing – rewards for donations or equity. Fundable is a subscription service.
STRENGTH: Assistance – The Fundables team want to help you to succeed, and they will train you in how to make your fundraising successful. Fundables founders are, themselves, successful startup fundraisers.
SUCCESS RATE: Unavailable, but the “recently funded” page is updated frequently and very full.
SECRET TO YOUR SUCCCESS: Utilize the assistance and communication of the staff and make an attractive public presentation.
Gust is possibly the biggest of the startup funding internet platforms, and it was intended to be so right from the beginning. Originally called Angelsoft, Gust began by researching and creating a database of angel investors. Gust is obsessed with its size, boasting on virtually every page how more than 1,000 organizations use it for its funding processes in six languages worldwide. And it is impressive. It is also a little daunting.
Gust is a fully robust platform to manage the funding of your startup from start to finish, but it’ll take a little bit more tech-savvy than the other websites on this list. You really need to have your stuff together to make it on Gust. But if you do you get access to a large, established and active community of investors who are itching to be a part of the next big thing.
FUNDING TYPE: Angel and Venture – these are not donators; they are investors, and they expect a return.
STRENGTH: Data – Gust provides the most information to their investors, and if there is one thing that inspires confidence in investors, it is intel.
SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS: A really, really good business plan.
Startgarden is a truly new type of funding platform. Startgarden is the public face of a 15,000,000 investment fund that seeks to vet submissions via public interest, as is gauged by social investment on the World Wide Web. It’s kind of like a combination of American Idol and Shark Tank without all the snarky commentary and glitz.
People with ideas submit those ideas and a description to Startgarden. The investors are looking for things that are innovative, creative and have big international business potential. You can submit your idea and promote it on social media. Whatever ideas get the most traction in a one week period are eligible for a $5,000 grant. If the idea shows promise after that, it can receive $20,000 in the form of an investment. After that, if the project gains momentum and the investors are excited they will invest with a new contact worth between $50,000 and $500,000. In their own words, it’s their way of investing the minimum to discover startups that may have big business potential.
FUNDING TYPE: Unique – $5,000 grant, then investments in stages of $20,000 – $500,000
STRENGTH: All you need is a great idea and the ability to sell it.
SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS: Have your idea very well thought out, make it very interesting and be able to sell it! If you want to get past the first $5,000 investment, be sure you can show something exciting from that initial grant.