With over 9,000 projects on their site, from over 134 countries, you’d think IndieGoGo had been around for far longer than their two and half years online would suggest. Launched at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, IndieGoGo positioned themselves as the go-to crowdfunding solution for filmmakers everywhere. Nowadays their message is larger than just film-centric. According to IndieGoGo co-founder Slava Rubin, the site is “all about allowing anybody to raise money for any idea.” That said, this is Film Threat, and Slava was nice enough to answer a bunch of my questions about funding and film projects on IndieGoGo…
Let’s start from the beginning, where did the idea for IndieGoGo come from?
“There’s three founders: myself, Eric Schell and Danae Ringelmann. The three of us had experience in raising money and building awareness for different ideas. My Dad died of cancer and I started a charity, so I had experience with building awareness and raising money. Eric was on the board of a theater company and Danae had experience working with filmmakers in different productions. I was best friends with Eric, already now for thirteen years, and we all met while Danae and Eric were getting their MBA at Haas in California. While we were at San Francisco having dinner, we were discussing how hard it was to really raise money and build awareness using the tools that were out there, in 2007. Keep in mind that, at this time, Google did not own YouTube, Twitter was barely formed, Facebook was not even bigger than MySpace, no one knew the word ‘Obama’ and we thought some tools should be built, so we created it.”
Why start with the film audience, specifically by launching at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival?
“At the time there were different players within different industries within cause, within music. We felt film was really the most under-served and the most behind in terms of digital tools and we thought had the most opportunity to really make our product sell by supporting a customer need.”
“It was always planned to be for everything. We opened in up like Amazon where we just wanted to start with one vertical, like ‘books’ so we started out in film and then in December of 2009 we opened up to everything. Anything cause, anything creative, anything entrepreneurial.”
Is film still under-served, or behind the curve set by the music industry, for example?
“I think it’s all kind of converging. I think the music industry is a little bit ahead in terms of using tools. I think the concept of ‘crowdfunding’ the music industry is embracing faster but I think that the film industry is definitely catching up over the last couple of years in regards to using different tools from social networking to crowdfunding to distribution tools to really kind of creative empowerment.”
What about the negative interpretation of crowdfunding as this belief that the entire scenario is nothing more than a fancy form of begging?
“People who are just begging for money on IndieGoGo really aren’t very successful, so if that’s what you’re trying to do, you’re probably not going to raise that much money. Typically whatever your campaign is about is really about getting people involved; we like to say ‘do it with others.’ It’s about creating a story or creating a campaign that others can be a part of. There’s a lot of reasons why people want to support or become part of your project, whether it’s just because they care about the project, you or the cause associated with it. Some people actually genuinely want the perks. They like the idea of having their face animated into the movie, they like being part of the credits, they want the discounted DVD, they want to be able to show up at the Sundance party with the actual filmmakers, they like the idea that they’ll be able to go on set. I don’t think that has anything to do with begging, and also it’s about getting people involved. In today’s day and age it’s much more about building up your audience and getting them involved so that when you do open up the gate you can really have a packed first weekend or you can have a lot of people downloading or viewing your movie. I think crowdfunding and using platforms like this is a great way to get your audience involved.”
“Funding platforms like this are not just people hiding behind the curtain waiting to hand out thousand dollar bills. You really have to build the money through trust and you have to first use your own social network, your own community, your own social graph, your Twitter followers, your Facebook followers, your friends and your family to really seed your campaign and to really establish the trust. Then there’s opportunity for what we call ‘discovery dollars’ from random strangers to be able to find your project and think that it’s interesting and give you money. Or a contributor-buyer perk.”
“Someone who’s a complete stranger will very rarely, if ever, give the first dollars to the project because, why would you trust that you’re money is going somewhere valid? It’s very important that you seed your project with your own social graph, your own community and your own reaching out. On average, on IndieGoGo, about 80% of the funding is coming from your own social graph, 20% is coming from strangers. Some projects don’t get $1 from strangers, some projects get as much as 75% from strangers. It’s really all about the main components around how good you’re doing with your campaign. What that means is: One, how good is your pitch. How proactive are you being? And how engaged is an audience out there for your campaign?”
If you’re looking to invest or donate in a IndieGoGo project, how can you be sure that it’s on the up-and-up? How do you lessen the possibility that folks won’t follow through on their project?
“We’ve been around now for 2 1/2 years, we have over 9,000 projects on our site, and there hasn’t been any issues. The reason is because, you know, a few things: One, it’s actually quite difficult to just steal money from somebody. If you don’t trust anybody in person, you trust them even less online. Also, we have some verification processes to make sure that the bank accounts and people are real. And also there’s the community flagging system that ensures that if there’s any issues the community is making sure to flag it as inappropriate. I can tell you that, although we’ve had thousands of projects, we have had a couple that have been flagged and have been appropriately brought down. We also have stopped some projects from being able to start because of fraudulent accounts. The key takeaway there is there haven’t been any issues and we’ve had complete funders satisfaction.”
How competitive is the crowdfunding business right now, with other crowdfunding websites out there looking to offer similar services and functionality?
“It’s a fairly young industry, so really where we find ourselves is trying to service our customers. We’re pretty much competing with ourselves, constantly listening to our customers to give them what they want. In regards to what makes us unique versus any platforms out there in the world, we’re completely international, we let you keep your money, no matter what you raise, and 4% charge if you reach your goal. We have the best analytics and referral data functionality out there. Our customer service we pride ourselves on with always having a 24-hour turnaround. We’re the only ones in the world who have partnerships with fiscal sponsors so that you can have tax deductability for your projects, via Fractured Atlas and San Francisco Film Society, and only have to pay one fee as opposed to two fees. And we’re funder-friendly, so we let you use PayPal, or Amazon, or direct credit cards, or check.”
“One of the most important things is we’re completely open to any projects, and you can start immediately. Some other players out there decide whether or not your project deserves to be on there and we think that fundamentally goes against the reason the internet was created and how to best use an internet platform. Strategically, what I would say is, I would compare that to eBay and those same people would say that eBay needed gatekeepers and I would argue that the whole point of the internet is to allow for it to be supply and demand, democratic determination of what deserves to be funded. Because I’ll tell you very clearly, there’s projects on IndieGoGo that I think would never get funded, and not only are they funded, they’re over-funded. And there’s projects that I think have incredible pedigree, like Sundance filmmakers or you name it, and they don’t get 20% funded. Now, somebody out there might say ‘well, that’s the whole point, that’s the problem: people that deserved the money didn’t get it.’ Well, I think that’s completely wrong. The people that deserved it, got it.”
So what makes for a successful fundraising campaign for a film?
“Your campaign is three things, we think, which is: having a great pitch, being proactive with your marketing and campaigning and having an engaged audience. Having a good pitch, the components include: clear and concise copy, realistic goal, smart deadline, a video would be much preferable, having some interesting perks and being consistent with your updates to your community. In regards to being proactive, it’s really about using social media smartly, using all the integrated Twitter, Facebook, widget, email integration, making sure to be consistent with your updates. Use newsletter blasts because they’re one of the best tools in your arsenal for promotion. Make sure you’re marketing it across all your other channels, like your blog maybe, like your own website, like your Facebook site, making sure that you’re integrating it into your offline events and offline promotions and networking. And having an engaged audience, which is… it’s really about finding that audience. Whatever it is out there, there’s an audience for it but you have to find them. You can’t just promote out to the ether. An example of that is, you can use Twitter to promote your project but you can do even better if your project is about ‘Africa’ and if you use a hashtag ‘#africa.’ It’s just about being targeted about your audience.”
So how savvy does a filmmaker need to be with social media, then? Can IndieGoGo do most of the work for them?
“IndieGoGo definitely provides tools, tips and tricks in terms of our blog and throughout the process. Our customer happiness team, which we call them instead of customer support team, because we’re very much about making sure the customer is happy, definitely is supportive but we can’t do the work for you. We make it easier for you to promote using all the integration into the social media but, at the end of the day, there’s no question that there is work that has to be done. In regards to does the filmmaker have to do it themselves, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes the filmmaker doesn’t feel comfortable doing the promotion or they don’t have the time. I think there’s definitely an opportunity to find a partner in crime, or somebody who will help you with promotion. There is definitely work that needs to be done. It is definitely not a ‘if they build it, they will come.’ The more work you put into it, the more results you get out of it.”
So what is the future of IndieGoGo? What is the end goal?
“I don’t know about the end goal, but what we are now and what we are for the future is we’re all about allowing anybody to raise money for any idea. It could be as silly as trying to group-fund a computer as a present or taking a flight between countries or trying to set a world record or creating a mobile healthcare app or starting a music company or writing a book or opening a restaurant. And all of these examples I just told you are all real examples on IndieGoGo. The idea is your passion, your campaign. If you have something you want to campaign for, use the tools; we make it fast and easy for you to do, and we give you all the technology to make it more efficient and more scalable. If there’s an idea you want to fund, you can use IndieGoGo.”
Posted on October 5, 2010 in Interviews by Mark Bell
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