The year was 1976. Director Shyam Benegal needed Rs10 lakh to make a feature film on the Anand milk co-operative model in Gujarat. When funds proved to be a hindrance, he abandoned the project.
Until Dr Verghese Kurien, the man behind the White Revolution, came up with an idea unheard of in those days. He convinced half a million farmers in Gujarat to contribute Rs2 each towards the making of the film. Manthan won a National Award, and trucks full of farmers and their relatives came to cinema halls to watch it. Evidently, crowdfunding has been around. But the concept has come a long way since then.
Today, crowdfunding via social networking platforms is the go-to option for anyone with a creative idea but few financial backers. From music albums to technology and art projects, community events to higher education, board games to comic books — if you have a concept that touches an emotional chord, strangers across the globe will, potentially, help make it a reality.
The concept took off in the west in the late 2000s, with the launch of platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo — which remain market leaders till date. But years before the process was streamlined, fans of the British rock band Marillion raised $60,000 (approximately `40 lakh by today’s rate of conversion) in 1997 to fund their reunion tour via the internet. This gave rise to Artist Share, a fan-funded platform for artistes and fans to connect. Soon, charity organisations tapped into the idea. And, over a decade, as the web got hyper-connected, crowdfunding gained prominence.
Closer home, Wishberry, Ketto and BitGiving are the most prominent platforms. While Wishberry is popular for creative endeavours and BitGiving focuses on social causes, Ketto does both. Besides, there are platforms such as Pik A Venture and Catapooolt, which mostly help start-ups and entrepreneurs looking to launch or scale up their enterprises.
“Crowdfunding is a wonderful way to achieve what many of us couldn’t in the past. In some ways, crowdfunding has always been there in the form of peer support and donation by family but the internet has definitely made it a lot more democratic. It’s no longer about how many influential people you personally know,” affirms Sachin Bhandary, a 32-year-old former PR professional who now travels full-time. Bhandary crowdfunded a part of his travels under The 12 Project, which involves him travelling for 12 months in 12 countries and undertaking 12 different challenges. The project was also the launch of The Odd Traveller, an alternative travel media brand he is building.
The spectrum of projects being crowdfunded in India today is incredibly diverse. The Taxi Fabric Project — which works with designers to give Mumbai’s black-and-yellow taxis arty makeovers — raised £11,100 (approximately Rs.11,46,700) recently. Last year, when the Mumbai Film Festival was in danger of being shelved, film lovers came forward to lend financial support: it raised a staggering Rs.1.5 crore in two days with support from the film fraternity and cinemagoers. Music fans are also known to have turned financiers for their favourite indie band or artiste. Vasudha Sharma, Demonic Resurrection and Skyharbor, all boast of crowdfunded videos or albums.
Who’s paying, and why?
So, what’s in it for a sponsor? Apart from the fuzzy feeling of having aided a bright or noble idea, ‘rewards’ are also thrown in as incentives. Depending on the amount pledged, these could range from an official acknowledgment in the credits to merchandise, to access to the funded product before it launches in the market. But those are mostly a show of gratitude — as sponsors aren’t always in it for the freebies. Jerry Johnson, 33, a marketing executive, has been contributing up to Rs 10,000 each year for the LGBT film festival, Kashish, over three years. He says, “My experience at the event had been incredibly valuable. So I felt the least I could do was support them. I also had no doubts that the funds would be utilised well. I doubt they break even.”
In fact, Kashish (incidentally, the only LGBT film festival in the country) has survived largely due to crowdfunding. Festival director and film-maker Sridhar Rangayan says, “It was difficult to find resources. And people were willing to give back.” It helped that Rangayan already understood the crowdfunding model. Five years ago, he had raised funds for a documentary on the LGBT community, called Breaking Free. He plans to go the same route again for his next feature film, Evening Shadows.
Community power is also what the team behind Maker’s Asylum, a unique collaborative space in Lower Parel, is banking on. They are running an online campaign (on till September 7) to be able to afford the astronomical rent in the city. “The concept of Maker’s Asylum only works if people volunteer their time, expertise and tools. We opted for crowdfunding because that way, the people own the space and are automatically more invested in seeing it grow,” says Vaibhav Chhabra, co-founder, Maker’s Asylum.
While platforms provide channels, it helps to have social media influencers throw their weight behind an idea, or a cause. A tremendous example of the power and combined strength of a world willing to give comes via the popular photoblog, Humans of New York. Photographer Brandon Stanton uploads pictures of regular people he meets, with a nugget from their conversation. Earlier this month, while in Pakistan, Stanton put up a picture of a mother holding her child in one hand and wiping her eyes with the other. She had left an abusive relationship, suffers from Hepatitis C and couldn’t bring herself to give up her toddler for adoption. Stanton’s followers were so moved that, upon request, he arranged for a way in which they could help with accommodation and/or medical treatment (as opposed to cash donations).
In India, celebrity campaigns tend to attract a lot of attention. Last year, Bollywood actors Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan kick-started fundraisers on Ketto to raise money for people hit by the floods in Jammu and Kashmir. It helps that one of Ketto’s co-founders is actor Kunal Kapoor. Varun Sheth, also a co-founder, says, “We belong to the land of Bollywood; undoubtedly, it sells the most.” However, Anshulika Dubey, co-founder of Wishberry, offers a contrasting view: “Mainstream celebs project a perception of being wealthy. So their crowdfunding campaigns can, at times, backfire. But if you are an indie artist or work on alternative themes, this is not the case.”
Not surprisingly, crowdfunding is a hit with independent film directors working on offbeat projects. Onir’s I Am (2010), which dealt with sexual abuse, homosexuality and sperm donation, raised Rs1 crore via appeals on Twitter and Facebook. Film-maker Pawan Kumar, again, raised Rs51 lakh to make the experimental Kannada sci-fi thriller, Lucia (2013).
Others, too, are looking to follow. Director Soumitra Ranade aims to raise Rs 30 lakh on Wishberry by October 1, to make a remake of Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai? (1980). Ranade is optimistic: “I have actors like Nandita Das, Manav Kaul and Saurabh Shukla on board. I hope people see value in that.” But that doesn’t mean every project, with an artistic or social flag to wave, gets funded. Musician-actor Monica Dogra learnt that the hard way when her recent plea to raise funds for a “high-art” project — a music video in support of the LGBT community — backfired. When she asked for `50 lakh for a music video, she earned more angry tweets than contributions.
Behind the scenes
In most cases, though, platforms curate heavily, and choose campaigners carefully. For your project to be accepted on Wishberry, it’s not enough just to have a good idea. You need a work-in-progress version of the idea, a team in place for its execution and at least some social media following. BitGiving, too, looks for a well-thought-out pitch, and a plausible target. Transparency is also paramount: campaigners must share details of how exactly they plan to use the goal amount.
Platforms also invest in helping people prepare their pitches and artwork required for campaigns. “A personal account manager assists each campaigner throughout the procedure. It’s his/her responsibility to keep them motivated to reach out to their network for funds,” says Sheth.
And while some fantastic work has already emerging from crowdfunding initiatives, this might just be the beginning. “According to our estimates, the global crowdfunding market is estimated to reach $96 billion (that’s Rs63 lakh-crore) by 2025, and Asia will be a key growth driver,” Sheth says.
So next time you stumble upon that brilliant idea, you know who to turn to for help.
Five real crowdfunding initiatives that sound unbelievable
We’re not sure why one would possibly need a frying pan with a sword handle attached, but over 650 backers (with a total pledging of $46,000) seem to want one.
Because obviously, the need to invent this was pressing. It raised a little over $300 but failed to reach its goal of $25,000.
Sure, bacon is always welcome, but a sculptural bacon strip, made of plastic? Over $2,000 has been raised for what is called crystal bacon, which can be used as jewellery or as a Christmas decoration.
A TARDIS in Orbit
Over 3,000 Doctor Who fans came together to pool in money for the movie-inspired TARDIS (police call box) satellite to be sent to space and orbit the earth. $88,880 has been raised. A launch date is awaited now.
A sex tape shot in space. Now, that’s not only innovative but, as its campaigners like to believe, “brave”. Over 1,000 people raised $236,000 in two months, but the project did not meet its target of $3,400,000.
Wannabe campaigners, here’s how to get crowdfunding right
1) Do your research for at least a month and understand the audience likely to back your campaign. Spray and pray never works.
2) Put together a team of individuals who are good at social media, public relations, content and sales. Make a campaign video.
3) Be transparent and consistent with all your communication. Answer every question thrown at you about your idea or campaign.
4) Take a multipronged approach. Marketing in a phased manner to different target audiences at different times is the key.
5) Constant follow-ups make a large number people — who did not back your project or missed seeing your campaign page the first time — come back and contribute.
— By Varun Sheth, co-founder, Ketto
Take Your Pick
The focus is purely on creative ventures that fall under the categories of film, music, theatre, dance, apps, publishing, gaming, arts, design, fashion, food, photography and comics.
It focuses on all sorts of projects from personal causes and fundraising for NGOs to artistic initiatives.
It focuses heavily on social causes and does not allow personal ones.
Its focus is on creative projects that can be shared with the world and does not allow fundraising for charity.
Indiegogo hosts campaigns ranging from personal causes and charity to start-ups and creative ideas.