Are we sick of talking about crowdfunding yet? It is the topic du jour this year. Just ask this SXSW panel reviewer. For every hundred startups chasing the golden crowdfunding goose, there are at least a thousand scaremongering stories in the news about the dangers of it.
It’s too early to say whether the rising tide will lift every crowdfunding boat, or whether the phenomenon will lead to a million mini-Madoff situations. But there are already a few early winners beyond the most obvious one, Kickstarter. IndieGogo and equity platform Crowdcube have grown to critical mass.
Less dangerous to society is a class of crowdfunding startups that haven’t limited themselves to lofty artistic or commercial missions and the onerous rewards fulfillment nightmares that go along with them. They simply provide an outlet to ask your friends and family for money. That is where GoFundMe fits in.
GoFundMe now does $3 million in fundraising per month for campaigns focused on “personal causes and life events that range from paying off medical bills to bankrolling a trip to Disneyland. At the current trajectory, the startup is on track to raise $40 million in payments this year, thanks to a consistent 20 percent monthly growth rate since October of last year. The company doesn’t impose any Kickstarter-like restritions on what kind of campaigns you can launch.
As of this week, the company is optimized for mobile, which drives around a third of its traffic. The company has randomly offered to waive its 5 percent fees to anyone who works at an active tech startup, too. To do so, contact their support team using your startup email address and provide your company website immediately after launching your campaign. It must be a real startup though — placeholder sites and sparse blogs not invited.
Ironically, GoFundMe has not raised any funds itself. The bootstrapped company has been “clawing away” since 2008 with no outside funds despite being pursued by venture capitalists eager to invest, says CEO Brad Damphousse.
GoFundMe recently acquired the rights to Crowdfunding.com from a mysterious domain owner (they are all mysterious) as a way to educate people that might be curious about crowdfunding and, as evidenced by its incredibly biased “Brief History of Crowdfunding,” drive traffic to its own service. (Not surprisingly, a section titled “Crowdfunding Sites” provides information on exactly one crowdfunding site.)
GoFundMe’s definition of crowdfunding skews a bit closer to “Hey, give me money (please)” than the purportedly more noble causes of musicians, artists, or gadget makers of Kickstarter. But perhaps that’s why it’s so popular. Let Kickstarter handle the complicated stuff. GoFundMe will handle the simple requests for cash, no bells, whistles, or worst of all –perks — attached. The dreaded fulfillment period of of an overly successful Kickstarter campaign has practically become a cliche. It’s even bolstered a shadow services industry of companies offering production, logistics, and marketing efforts to companies once they’ve been funded.
GoFundMe, on the other hand, is essentially a Paypal button under the crowdfunding umbrella. It works because it is actually more rewarding to feel like you’re banding together with a crowd of people for a cause when you’re giving someone money. As GoFundMe has found, it doesn’t matter if that cause is as meaningful as college tuition or frivolous as an iPad. For this startup and probably plenty others, the crowdfunding tide is raging on.
Update: This post has been updated to reflect the 20 percent monthly growth rate since October 2011, not since the company’s launch, and that the company has turned down investment from venture capitalists.