If you’re considering launching a new product, solution or next-gen business idea, you might have heard that crowdfunding could be a unique way to garner attention and raise capital. But is crowdfunding the most effective way to get you the necessary funds, and are there potential shortcomings that you should know about in advance?
How crowdfunding works
Put plainly, crowdfunding is a way to collect a bunch of financial contributions instead of looking for just one large investment — commonly achieved via websites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. These sites often highlight innovative ideas that are brand new to the market — launching to a wider audience and getting exposure that would have been time-consuming and much more costly through traditional methods.
Most crowdfunding platforms use a rewards model, allowing would-be entrepreneurs to provide incentives in order to get the crowd to fund their concept.
The most common incentive is providing the product or service when it’s ready, without additional charge. Some entrepreneurs utilize a tiered structure, where a small contribution preorders the product while a larger one garners additional perks, such as a special edition item or even a chance to collaborate with the developers on its final design. For early adopter consumers, getting in on the ground floor for a new product would have a great appeal.
Once the incentive structure is in place, most sites set a time limit on the idea’s profile. Nobody wants to look through abandoned ideas, so the time limit ensures that investors are only seeing active projects whenever they look for something to back.
That said, not all crowdfunding sites require a rewards model be in place.
GoFundMe is one example of a popular crowdfunding platform with no incentive structure. Instead, backers pledge their support for causes that they believe in. Patreon is another platform that allows artists, musicians and other content creators to solicit monthly contributions to support their work, rather than a specific project. There are also a few sites that allow investors to purchase a tiny equity stake in the idea they are backing, turning the process into a more traditional investment.
Advantages of crowdfunding over other financing
The biggest advantage of crowdfunding is that entrepreneurs are generally allowed to hold on to their equity. Backers get a product in exchange for their contribution, leaving full control of the idea to the original developer. If the idea ends up being worth millions, this can prove to be very significant. It also allows entrepreneurs to maintain unquestioned control over their company’s day-to-day operations.
Crowdfunding also creates an instant customer base with a vested interest in a given concept. Backers pick projects to support because they think they’re cool — meaning that they want to have it first. They’ll often go to great lengths to help promote the idea to their friends, family and anyone else who might listen on social media. After all, if an idea fails to resonate with the masses the way backers expected, they lose this cool factor.
Consumers are increasingly looking for products online, so an active digital presence can really help grow your brand, build awareness, positive sentiment and make consumers more likely to choose you in the future. And since crowdfunding is generally conducted entirely online, entrepreneurs can foster a meaningful relationship with their audience via multiple channels in creative ways that don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
Disadvantages of crowdfunding over other financing
The time limit is essential for crowdfunding platforms to maintain a fresh inventory of ideas, but many of the downsides are tied to this restriction. Most platforms utilize an ‘all or nothing’ model that prevents entrepreneurs from keeping any of the money they collect if they fail to reach their stated goal. Failing to meet your goals can turn the entire endeavor into a costly waste of time.
Underestimating the capital needed can prove even more disastrous. Once an entrepreneur keeps a backer’s money, they are legally and ethically obligated to provide whatever incentive was promised in exchange. If they’re unable to deliver, the resulting litigation is likely to prevent the company from ever getting off the ground.
Some entrepreneurs see crowdfunding as a shortcut, but be warned it will take just as much (or more) preparation, business planning and effort to convince your backers. The digital-savvy and hyper-selective audiences demand a complete business plan detailing what their money will be used for regardless of how much they invest.
The online component of crowdfunding also requires business owners to live online and build support for the duration of the campaign, leaving little time for other duties. There are professional agencies that help manage crowdfunding campaigns, but using them adds to the costs that crowdfunding platforms already deduct from the money raised.
Not for everyone
Crowdfunding is a relatively new and potentially thrilling way for would-be entrepreneurs to raise money, but it’s not right for everybody.
Before you get started, look at all your funding options to determine if you have the right resources in place (time, money, expertise) to venture into a crowdfunding model. Talk to other business owners who have had successful (or unsuccessful) online campaigns and ask them for tips on getting started. Investigate the various crowdfunding sites and learn which ones will give you the appropriate platform to connect with your audience.
This process is just a starting point, and it can get a lot more complicated — so it pays to do your homework before jumping in headfirst. Once you’ve made an initial assessment, it’s time to get deeper into your analysis to choose a platform, crunch numbers and treat the crowdfunding just as seriously as you would any other business lending opportunity.