It’s pack-in day at Campus Party Europe, and Indiegogo co-founder Danae Ringelmann arrives with a smile, slightly late, sunglasses on head and water bottle in hand. She’s a native Californian who left home for New York and took the first job offered, in finance. Now she’s back in San Francisco running one of the world’s leading crowdfunding platforms, which just raised $15 million of its own from Insight Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Steve Schoettler, Zynga’s co-founder.
The first stirrings of what became Indiegogo came at a “Wall Street meets Hollywood” event in New York. “I went thinking I was going to meet a bunch of famous people,” Ringelmann, 34, recalls. “I didn’t meet any famous people at all. It was literally a sea of filmmakers and theatre producers hoping for their next angel. I was one of five people from a bank so I got a swarm of interest.”
The spectacle made a deep impression on Ringelmann, then just 23. “I got this script and this experienced filmmaker was basically begging me to finance his film. That’s when it hit me that this business was screwed up.”
She kept in touch with some of the theatre producers and directors she met that night, put on an Arthur Miller play, quit her day job and tried to develop an offline fund for theatre and creative projects offering some kind of return on investment.
Indiegogo – helping geeks who heart Tesla since 2008
After meeting future co-founders Slava Rubin, and Eric Schell, Rengelmann became convinced the solution had to be online and offer perks rather than equity to get around SEC regulations (now due for an overhaul as part of Obama’s JOBS Act). The trio founded Indiegogo in 2008.
Indiegogo is a “platform for everything”, available globally (though up until this month only in English), and pushes millions of dollars towards enterprises, artistic projects, and causes each week, with the platform taking a four percent cut of all takings.
“There’s one campaign that’s pretty exciting,” Ringelmann says, when pushed to pick a favourite. “It just went live this week, it’s our biggest campaign to date – there’s a geek tech blogger who is fascinated by Nikola Tesla and taking it upon himself to see that a museum is founded in Tesla’s name. He’s gone on Indiegogo to raise $850,000, I think it’s up to $800,000 and it’s only been five, six days.”
Since that 2008 start, back when Facebook only ruled college dorms, crowdfunding platforms across the world have exploded – Kickstarter (US), KissKissBankBank (French) and Innovestment (German) are a few of the 450 or so alternatives now available.
Danae Ringelmann on the tech conference trail – via Malone and Company Photography
Keeping ahead of Kickstarter et al – what’s the plan?
To keep Indiegogo in the game globally, that $15 million Series A investment round will go towards hiring, with staff now up to 40 from just eight in December last year, marketing and rolling out country-specific versions of Indiegogo in different languages and currencies.
Germany is the first of those new “deep launch” markets, though the platform has in fact been used in the country for several years. “We built the platform to be global from the start,” Ringelmann says. That’s one difference from main US-based rival Kickstarter, recently used by tech startup Pebble to raise a shockingly high $10 million of crowd-sourced funding, and due to launch in the UK this autumn.
Kickstarter projects must also be approved by application, slowing down its growth but providing an extra barrier against spam or fraud.
Ringelmann is very confident in her team’s anti-fraud measures, though, and making Indiegogo available to everyone – “democratizing” funding – is at the heart of what she wants Indiegogo to be. “In the old days, you used to have to have a rich uncle, or a trust fund or be really savvy at the bank. Now, you just have to be yourself, get the word out, leverage social media – which is free, it just takes your time – and connect with people who want to see your idea in real life,” she says.
Raising even $850,000 is nothing compared to the larger size funds that venture capital can provide, and crowdfunding won’t be replacing the troubled big tech IPO any time soon. But, for the young geeks and entrepreneurs at Campus Party Europe in Berlin this week, Indiegogo and peers will make it a whole lot easier to get good ideas started.