Among my contemporaries, there seems to reside a belief that it is hard to make a good thing happen; good ideas exist by the bucketful, but the initiative to turn those ideas into something graspable exists in far smaller quantities. This is why most people hover over coffee tables with good friends and talk about doing good things… then promptly forget about it. The ideas are there, the passion is there, but the initiative…well, the initiative takes a little bit of its own initiative.
Assuming the initiative is found, the next step calls for action, which then calls, more often than not, for money — which there isn't very much of, it seems (and which, incidentally enough, may be very root of the initial lack of initiative). Here's where CrowdFunder comes in. Currently in beta, CrowdFunder is the creation of Dave Rogers and Joe Pezzillo, two Colorado entrepreneurs who wanted to help people help themselves and their communities. Read on to see how one little site may soon be re-writing the rules for big changes.
Joshspear.com: What are your personal backgrounds?
Joe Pezzillo: Dave was a publisher of The Onion in Colorado for a decade until Onion, Inc. bought them out. I worked at the secret Apple lab here in Boulder back in the 90's, and started one of the first and most popular Internet radio companies during Web 1.0. We both spent most of the last year with IV bags of espresso plugged into our arms as we worked on another startup that never made it over the verge of greatness…
JS: Tell us about CrowdFunder…
Joe: CrowdFunder is an innovative new website that makes it easy for people to raise money from friends and associates- with the twist that if you don’t hit your fundraising goal, everyone gets their money back. It really makes it easy for people with a common objective to aggregate the funds to achieve their goal.
CrowdFunder manages, it socializes, it aggregates and really just makes fundraising of any kind easier and more efficient.
JS: What was CrowdFunder born from?
Joe: Basically, a group of us had been meeting late nights twice a week for six months trying to come up with some innovative web ideas. We had already built out a very cool RSS sharing platform but knew that we needed something more “pop” and less “geek”.
YouTube and American Idol were getting big, and we had a moment of inspiration. What if we built a system where U2 could raise a bazillion dollars for Africa? If they reached their goal they would broadcast a few songs live on the web to the contributors from the basement of Bono’s castle. If they didn’t hit he goal nothing would happen and everyone would get his or her money back. We thought big fans and companies would pay more money for the social bling and the little people would just get in for what they thought it was worth. The inertia could be huge and everyone could benefit. At the time, we hadn't even heard of the term "crowd funding," but we put our heads down and got to work.
JS: Is there anything else out there that functions like this, or is CrowdFunder the first?
Dave Rogers: The concept of “crowd funding” is not new, and there are certainly other sites that make it possible to collect donations, plus some very interesting sites that do microlending for third-world entrepreneurs, but CrowdFunder is the first to try to take the collaborative financing concept to a general audience. CrowdFunder is available for almost anyone to use for practically any purpose while incorporating the conditional that money only changes hands if the goal is met. With the local market approach we think we have a critical differentiator that powers the community aspect and is key for accountability and trust.
JS: Do you have any interesting stories as to what CrowdFunder has “funded” so far?
Dave: Some of our favorite examples so far include the stuff that the local schools have done to raise money for equipment and supplies that they can’t otherwise afford. We had a mother raise money to send her daughter to soccer camp. Earlier this week, another local startup used the site to raise money for a ping-pong table. We’ve had a couple of examples where group meetings have collected the money in real time to be able to have a dozen pizzas delivered. Dave used it to throw a party that he didn’t invite any of us to. We’re constantly looking for new and innovative ways to apply these capabilities to help people raise and make money, and we’re continually surprised and impressed at the ideas that our users come up with for listings.
JS: As CrowdFunder expands into other communities, is there increased potential for scamming (ex: Someone raises $300,000 for the “sickest party this side of Vegas” then skips off to Ko Phi Phi)? How does this work as far as safety goes?
Dave: We’re very concerned about the integrity of our site, and that’s one of the reasons that we’re emphasizing the local nature of the site. If you know or are familiar with the person who created the listing (or your other friends who have made contributions) and you can actually go see and verify that the person did what they said they would, that’s going to help prevent people from trying to scam others. We don’t think that people should give money to something if they don’t have a personal connection to it, and, as Craigslist says “avoid scams, deal locally.”
JS: Ultimately, and on the grandest scale, what do you think CrowdfFunder can accomplish?
Dave: We’re empowering people to change the world by helping people do more good more easily. This is really what the internet is about; a little participation multiplied by a lot of people can really make a major impact. It’s community with financial power.
JS: As far as expansion goes… the beta version of CrowdFunder reads, “CrowdFunder: Boulder.” Does that mean it’s only a CO thing right now, and if so, where are you planning to go next?
Dave: We’re piloting the site in Boulder for a variety of reasons, and we’ll be expanding into other cities soon. We also have the ability to take our underlying technology and apply it to other specific activities or websites, and we’ll be rolling out some examples of that very soon, too, starting with “SchoolFunder” specifically to help parents, teachers and others raise money for school-related activities like academics, sports, clubs and travel.