Crowdfunding: in retrograde

Once exploding with potential, acting as a breeding ground for innovation, the world wide web once represented the limitless possibilities for the human brain. Facebook was – and to some extent, still is – a hotbed of creative discussion. Those with entrepreneurial spark and a little sway could crowdsource focus groups to critique their ideas and even improve upon design and concept. In its heyday, Facebook was the global platform for creative conversation. Alas, in 2018, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a glimpse of that same creativity, and Facebook knows it. The platform recently changed its newsfeed algorithm due to thoughtful, impassioned status updates being overrun by three-minute videos on how to create the perfect omelette. Facebook is no longer a place of human interaction; it’s a dinner table at which we consume endless servings of corporate-produced fluff.

Similar conclusions can be drawn from the likes of Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, along with just about every other prominent digital ‘innovator’ of the past ten years. It’s easy to lay the blame with the creators, who are indeed reaping the rewards of advertising investment and ‘sponsored posts’, but ultimately, on a user-content generated platform, what can anyone do? Inevitably, all such platforms are at the mercy of their marketing teams. 

The same can be said of crowdfunding. Not so long ago, websites such as Kickstarter and Crowdcube were populated almost exclusively with ideas. Individuals would come up with an innovative, unique concept, and simply upload it to a funding site. Many products we now consider to be mainstays of both digital and physical retail arenas made their debuts just like that. As the ideas captured the imagination and popularity of users, the profits for such projects swelled to far beyond the original funding goals. Few industries collectively embraced the concept like the cycling industry. A couple of years ago, the pages of BikeBiz were populated with various campaigns; ideas usually created by one or two lifelong cyclists with an idea that would facilitate increased safety, fun, or a combination of the two. As a passionate industry, we were keen to embrace thousands of products falling under the cycling umbrella.

Tribe is a perfect example of industry-led crowdfunding success. It was created by three friends who believed they could offer a fresh take on nutrition. After a brief campaign of just four days, the funding round was cut short – the trio had raised £1.75 million from a total of 1,833 investors. “Significant increases are planned for our bespoke product service and participation event offering, both of which will directly benefit our investors, customers and future members alike,” said co-founder Guy Hacking at the time. 

Words cannot express how instrumental crowdfunding has been to the progression of the cycling industry’s start-up community. Tribe aside, the likes of milKit, Cycloc, SpeedX and KitBrix have propelled their ideas to the forefront of the industry on the back of such campaigns; but is the system dissolving into the mire of corporate gentrification in much the same way as the aforementioned social platforms? I recently sat down with Trigger Bell creator Stefan Buxton to chat about the concept of crowdfunding. “I genuinely think, given the way the platforms are going, that Trigger Bell just wouldn’t have received the traction to progress as a concept these days,” he said. “I knew nothing about manufacturing or product specifications. I had an idea, and people invested in that idea. Four years later, here we are! It’s essential that inventors, start-ups and brands can do the same. Sadly, I don’t think it works that way anymore. I didn’t have £50,000 to spend on my campaign!”

More recently, we’ve witnessed various announcements of large-scale crowdfunding projects from major brands as they look to launch new products. The concept is a clever one; if the public likes the idea, they invest and the product is made with minimal risk. If the product fails to attract appropriate interest, the campaign fails and the brand hasn’t lost out on the associated costs of bringing a flop to market.

The danger for smaller brands comes from the algorithms used by sites such as Kickstarter, which pushes campaigns to prominence on the site depending on uptake and customer interest. As Buxton highlighted, smaller companies simply can’t compete with the major budgets of the bigger brands.

In other news...

Catching up with the Bicycle Association on its plans for a UK-wide battery collection and recycling service

In March the Bicycle Association unveiled plans to launch a UK-wide battery collection and recycling …