In 2011, Anna Guenther saw how Kickstarter, a US-based crowdfunding platform, helped fund projects that fell outside normal funding systems. She saw the opportunity to introduce New Zealand to a supportive and inclusive funding platform that would “actually make a difference for both creators and pledgers.” And so the concept of PledgeMe was born.
Let’s say you have a plan, but you need money to make it happen. You create a campaign on PledgeMe’s website that explains your plan, what you need the money for and what rewards funders will get in return for investing in your project. Funders have a set time to jump onboard, you reach your target amount and your idea becomes a reality.
But Anna was told that PledgeMe would never work. This could have been devastating advice in a country where over 50% of start-ups fail in the first year. Not to be deterred, Anna went ahead anyway.
“I think starting PledgeMe was part naivety, part passion, and part stubbornness. And people telling me it wouldn’t work, made me want to prove it even more.”
Read on to find out more about PledgeMe’s ‘Chief Bubble Blower’ and how her team helps crowds across Aotearoa make the projects they believe in happen.
Bringing power back to the community
When I asked Anna what makes her excited about playing in the capital-raising arena, she quickly pointed out she is somewhere else altogether.
“The idea of “capital-raising” doesn’t float my boat. But the idea of bringing community back into making things happen does. The idea that there’s no longer an ivory tower of decision makers, but a group of people that care about you helping you make your thing happen is definitely my jam.”
Connecting projects with champions
In 2012, Anna gave a TEDx talk where she predicted crowdfunding was going to change the world. Five years later, she believes her prediction has already come true.
“People are getting funded that normally wouldn’t have been able to, and the scale of crowdfunding is growing.”
While Anna thinks we still haven't seen the full stretch of crowdfunding, she is sure it has already proven its worth.
“There is definitely something empowering about having your crowd fully invested in your success - be it because they pledged to your project, invested in your company, or lent you money. They feel more part of your journey, and you get super engaged champions (if you do it right).”
Chief Bubble Blower
Forget the prestige of being a CEO; Anna’s official job title at PledgeMe is “Chief Bubble Blower”.
The title, partly inspired by the company’s bubble-like brand, is true to the unconventional style PledgeMe takes to funding.
“In some ways it really does explain what I do, getting people excited about crowdfunding. There have, however, been discussions as well that maybe blowing bubbles in the financial markets ain’t the best idea but…. We’re sticking with it for now.”
Agile and online
The PledgeMe team is scattered across Wellington, Auckland and Berlin. It includes part-timers and those dependent on flexible work schedules. The team uses a set of online tools to work productively across these different locations and time zones.
“We use Trello to lay out tasks and keep people updated, we use Google docs to draft documents together, we use Google Drive to store everything, we use Slack to communicate, and we do daily stand ups as well as weekly all hands to make sure we’re across the general going ons of the business.”
Anna’s favourite cultural system comes from agile thinking: good, bad, change. “Every week the team talk about one good thing that has happened (personally or professionally), one bad thing, and one thing that they’d like to change. It means we’re constantly improving.”
Keeping on the cutting edge
Anna goes straight back to the people to keep up with moving technology and industries that may be interested in crowdfunding.
“I joke that my super power would be making friends. I connect in with a lot of folk from a variety of industries to hear what’s exciting for them. There are a few events in New Zealand that really help with that: Kiwifoo (an unconference) and the TEDx events around the country.”
A word for the ladies
For females working to found their own company, Anna advises to start by solving a problem you really care about.
“Start with the smallest intervention you can to prove your concept. Build a brand and experience people love. Ask for help when you need it. And, most importantly, work with supportive people that get your vision, even if they might have different ideas on how to get there.”
I suspect this advice wouldn't go so badly with the guys, either.
Join the crowd
PledgeMe has helped 1,137 projects raise over $15,000,000 since its launch in 2012. To find out more about PledgeMe and how crowdfunding works, check out https://www.pledgeme.co.nz You can also follow Anna on Twitter at twitter.com/pledgeme