Like many creators of today’s most successful startups, Indiegogo co-founder and CEO Slava Rubin was an entrepreneur long before he called himself one. This week Slava Rubin talked to FounderDating about the development of Indiegogo, the evolution of crowdfunding and starting out in the startup world.
You started Indiegogo in 2008 originally to fund films and it was years before crowdfunding really took off as a medium. How did you get through the years between starting the company and hitting product/market fit?
We definitely created Indiegogo before the word “crowdfunding” even existed. We actually came up with Indiegogo being a platform for all things right away, but we came to market just doing one thing (film), vertically, and expanded after that. We couldn’t copy or learn from anybody else, so we just kept on keeping expenses low and iterating the product while listening to our customers and learning from the feedback.
What sets successfully funded campaigns apart from those that don’t reach their goal on Indiegogo?
The three main things I see in campaigns that raise more money are that they have:
1. A good pitch
2. They’re proactive, and they find an audience who cares.
3. The ability to keep the fans updated on what’s going on.
What’s unique about Indiegogo compared with other crowdfunding platforms?
Since we created Indiegogo, we’ve had over 1,000 competitors that have launched, and some have even launched using our site. What we’re about is: openness – anybody can start a campaign; merit – we use algorithms for discovery as opposed to people at the company judging you and deciding how much they like you or where you should be placed on the website; a commitment to love – we provide the best customer service in the industry. Whether it’s the campaign owner looking for help or ideas, or the funder looking to follow up with any questions or payment issues.
There’s been some backlash against crowdfunding in general because people are concerned about scams and the quality of projects. Is this just the cost of doing business or are you doing something to respond to it?
As an open platform, there’s definitely opportunities for people to decide whether or not they want to believe specific projects at Indiegogo. As a company, we’re not making that judgment; we’re allowing the crowd to make those decisions. So, it’s really important that the funder either knows the campaigner, has done their own diligence, or feels the trust through social connection because they see that one of their friends has funded, they’ve seen the follow up, feedback, discussions, etc. But we have done some work to help. The trust passport, which gives more information to the funder to review, or the insurance program that we’ve tested to have funders be able to buy perk insurance so if they don’t receive their perks within the specified time, their payment is refunded. That all said, it is an open platform and it’s up to the campaign owner to share their vision and story and for the funder to decide if they want to believe in it or not.
Funding is just one small part of building a company or project—does Indiegogo have plans or resources to help entrepreneurs beyond the fundraising?
The platform is completely self-service, so if you want to do it on your own without any interaction with Indiegogo, you can set up a campaign in a matter of minutes or spend months making it as perfect as possible. Along the way, if you have questions, we have a customer happiness team available 24/7 that follows up on questions. We also have a campaign strategist team that helps folks who want more intense advice as part of the pre-, during or post-campaign phase. And we do have a number of resources—agencies, fulfillment and design partners who work with us and end up working with campaign owners. Often we also connect campaign owners with each other for mentorship, experience, and advice. That said, there isn’t anything that allows for that on the site.
So far you’ve stayed away from equity crowdfunding – do you see yourselves entering that space?
When we launched Indiegogo in January 2008, our goal was already to move into equity crowdfunding. It didn’t even exist, and right away we learned about legal rules that would hold us back. Now that Regulation A+ has recently launched, we’re reviewing how we should enter that market. But what we’re more waiting for is Title III, which would be the holy grail of crowdfunding. We’re leaning forward but we’re figuring it out.
What do you think the future of crowdfunding looks like?
I think the evolution of crowdfunding will be similar to the evolution of social media and social networking. Back in 2000, people would call any one-off thing like Myspace or Facebook “social networking” or “social media,” but by the end of the decade it was just called “communication” and was layered into the way communication was done. Similarly, when we launched Indiegogo,
More and more you’ll see companies using it as their normal approach of doing market validation, getting extra promotion, R&D and engaging with the customer before they move into the commerce experience, because they’ll learn a lot. They’ll be able to raise money and test the market at the same time. More Fortune 500 and larger companies will move into this because it will be good for business, like you see right now with GE, which has raised a bunch of money with a campaign on Indiegogo for the Opal Nugget Icemaker.
What are three pieces of advice you’d give to entrepreneurs getting started today?
Have massive vision and look to disrupt important large markets, and start as simple as possible to be able to prove product market fit. Along the way, don’t get too stuck on what you think is right; keep on learning and iterating based on customer feedback and data.
Is there anything you would do different if you could go back to 2008?
I’m not the sort of person who really tries to change the past, because experiences you’ve had helped set you up for where and who you are today. That being said, all three of us were first time entrepreneurs and I think having more focus on product earlier could always be better. The more and more any entrepreneur focuses on product as early as possible, the better situation they’re in.
Want advice on product and crowdfunding?