There has never been more options for startups to get early funding. In the past one was expected to put personal cash or beg for some love money from family and friends – with few lucky ones being able to get bank loans on their mortgage. Today the list of crowdfunding sources, incubators, angel hubs and similar is rapidly growing around the world – creating a strong motivation for early startups to try and take advantage from some.
Probably the most known funding platform is Kickstarter (founded in the US in 2009), which has used crowfunding to support a wide range of creative projects, ranging from indie music to video games. There are many more – some focusing on crowdfunding like Kickstarter, some giving access to angel money to incubate and support new startups or looking for alternative sources. To give you an idea about the opportunities out there, if you haven’t looked, this is a selection of popular ones around the world: Appsplit, GoFundMe, iVenturers, StartupAddict, IndieGoGo, Ulule, PleaseFund.Us, Peoplefund.it, Sponsume.com, Rally.org, Idea.me, Camp-fire.jp, ReadyFor.jp KissKissBankBank, Catarse, …
This is all good news. More ideas get funded than ever and innovation comes out as the winner. Or so it seems.
Platforms like Kickstarter can be a distraction for those who are passionate about building great products. They help the risk averse, true, to try and enter the startup game, but they’re a distraction for the true entrepreneurs. The risk of making it appear all too easy to use one of these platforms to raise funds is that many startups end up working on their funding strategy and forget their products.
I have noticed a trend recently: more and more people with product ideas create funding pages, polish slides or create videos and then put a lot of effort in promoting them via social media hoping for a viral spread that will lead to winning the funding they’re after. There is initially nothing wrong with this, but in the process they forget about their products or the companies they have started. (If this reminds you of the dot-com boom when VC money were raised with the help of slides or mockups instead of demos and proofs of concept you’re not alone.)
Money don’t make great products. People do. You do! If you have the choice to work on a business plan or a demo, focus on your demo. It will pay many fold as working products speak volumes about the idea you’re selling and the passion you’re putting into it.
I have been a part of several software start-ups – I joined some as part of the first teams and some as part of the effort to restart existing companies trying to change technology or move into a new direction. I also funded a not-for-profit organization two years ago, World4Children, and since built a team to create a unique event in British Columbia – TEDxKids@BC. What I found working for the startups I worked for (when they were successful) and for my own endeavor in the not-for-profit world was the early focus on people.
Hire talent early on and empower them to advance your vision while you try to get the funding needed to pay them is the best advice one can give you – I am probably not the first to say this. Think of your talent as your human capital. It is easy to look at this and say, yes, that is a good advice, but the reality is many startups forget it as they end up getting distracted with business plans and funding.
It is hard to imagine that people will work for you if you haven’t got the funds you need to pay them good salaries – on the other end, one could not imagine that total strangers would end up giving you money through funding platforms either. By treating your early employees as your angel investors you gain both from their investment (by accepting less pay) and their passion (by working hard to build great products and get real money).
When I started World4Children and TEDxKids@BC I spent 6 months focusing on building the team (and haven’t really stopped doing that). I reached out to people via social media, stalked people on their Tumblr pages, went to conferences and signed up to present to make myself and my idea visible. All this with the goal to get those who liked my idea to join the team early. Not having any funds available, I gave them a chance to take my initial idea and run with it as if it was their own.
Every team member was empowered to shape the vision and influence the outcome. In my case, I was passionate about empowering youth in particularly so I put a lot of effort to get some youth on the team and give them ownership in critical areas. The result was most rewarding – three successful events, many heartfelt comments from the audiences who left our events inspired and an increased visibility with potential sponsors.
I don’t want to draw conclusions from my own experiences. That is not the point of this post. I just want to ask the question – what motivates you to start a new venture? The possibility to raise money and use them to build great products? Or the possibility to gather a great team together and let them loose on your ideas? I know my answer.