Indiegogo.com is the 722nd most visited website in the America, and one of the most visited websites in the world.
Because Indiegogo gives possibility to peoples’ dreams.
There are over 300,000 campaigns on Indiegogo as we speak. They send millions of dollars each week to over 100 countries.
People, like you, ask others to financially support their passion, their project, or even to help someone suffering from illness.
Recently 2,500 people raised money for Syrian refugees.
There are three types of projects on Indiegogo. Entrepreneurial Projects:
Like Flow Hive which raised over $12 million to fund a way to get honey directly from the bee-hive.
Or Sondors Bike raised over $6 million, for a new type of electric bike.
Maybe if you got funding you could get your project off the ground. Imagine thousands of people from all over the world who wanted to help you?
That’s the idea the Slava Rubin and his cofounders had back in 2008 when they began INDIEGOGO.
Slava understands how difficult it is to raise money for a new idea. He was rejected by VCs 93 times. And he wasn’t just somebody with an idea. He graduated from Wharton and was working at Goldman Sachs, at the time.
Slava understands how difficult it can be because he was born in Belarus, a small country in the former Soviet Union. Other famous entrepreneurs from Belarus were the painter Marc Chagall, the TV pioneer David Sarnoff, actor Kirk Douglas, composer Irving Berlin, and media maven #Gary Vaynerchuk.
So Slava Rubin’s vision was to fund creative and worthy projects all over the world, to allow everyone to ask and everyone to give.
A second category of projects at Indiegogo are Creative Projects – many films have been supported – for example: Miles Ahead about Miles Davis career
A third category of campaigns are Social Impact campaigns:
and Code.Org providing an hour of coding to students across America, raised $5 million.
Then there is Generosity.com (formerly Indiegogo for Life) is free personal online fundraising. It is for personal emergencies and we host those completely free. Which is for someone who wants to raise money for a friend’s recovery from a disease. Indiegogo does not charge for campaigns here.
Here are my questions and Slava’s answers!
What are the factors that make a great Indiegogo campaign?
Have a great pitch. If you use video as part of your campaign you will raise 114% more money.
Start fast: If you raise 25% of your goal within the first week, then it’s five times more likely that you will reach your target.
Keep telling your story: If you update your campaign at least every five days you will raise four times more money than if you update every 20 days or more.
Find an audience that cares: Reach out to your own network first, and then Indiegogo will help amplify your reach.
It looks like a no-brainer now, but how did you come up with Indiegogo.
++Fall of 2006, I was visiting my friend from college Eric Schell, who I had worked with after Wharton. He and Danae Ringelmann, our other co-founder, were at business school in California. Eric asked Dene to tell me about an idea she had, to come up with a mutual fund, the right to vote on the investment into artistic projects. I told her that you can’t reform the finance industry you can’t do it from inside the finance industry. She repeated her idea, and I said, well there’s this new online service called YouTube that has democratized video, and there’s a service called Prosper which is a peer to peer lending. I think what I hear you saying is ProspoTube, where you could use video and social media in a peer to peer manner to present an authentic story to say what they want to raise money for; and if people want to fund that idea then they can fund it. She said, “That’s exactly what I want to do.” I said: “okay that’s not a finance company, that’s a technology company. “
Did you have any idea it would be so compelling?
It was a massive vision. So many act as gate keepers, VCs, bankers, get to decide who gets how much money. We thought we could have a huge impact. In terms of the creative ideas, a crowdfunded baby after a couple had been turned down by insurance companies, or a gun to shoot flies, called Bug-a-Salt, no we had no idea that people could come up with these remarkable ideas.
Why do people fund these campaigns? They are not getting equity.
We like to call them the four Ps, and the fourth was going to be profit, but we learned about the legal challenges so we focused on three Ps. The first one is passion, the care about the person or the cause. Second is perks: They want the movie, or the shoes, they want the download. Three, participation, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
But previous to this you were raising money online for cancer weren’t you?
Actually all 3 of us were raising money for some cause. Danae and Eric served on the board of theater companies, and I had started a charity, Music against Myeloma to raise money for a cure to Myeloma, in honor of my father, Mark Rubin, who died from cancer when I was 15.
Indiegogo is a funding platform where anybody can raise money for absolutely any idea. We launched in January 2008 with a mission to democratize funding and now we send millions of dollars around the world to 70 to 100 countries, per week.
Hi, everybody. I bet you have a great idea, product or service that you are trying to launch. Something you’ve been thinking about, planning, and maybe you’re thinking, if you could just get some funding for it, you could get it off the ground. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were thousands of people around the world who liked your idea and wanted to help you? Well that is the very idea that Slava Rubin and his cofounders had back in 2008 when they began Indiegogo: one of the world’s first crowdfunding platforms, and today, it has grown to be the world’s biggest crowdfunding platform. Slava and his team’s vision was to fund creative and worthy projects and today they have provided funding to over 300.000 campaigns and are sending millions of dollars, every week, all over the world.
Slava was born in Belarus, a country with a dramatic history, which has brought other pioneers to this country like Mark Chagall, David Sarnoff and Kirk Douglas, and he shares his story there. For you, I think you’re going to love that he shares how you can make a successful crowdfunding campaign, why you might want to invest in someone else’s campaign and the struggles that they faced when they started and grew Indiegogo; how did they started this company in itself? Another thing worth noting is Slava’s desire to empower people and this is a theme in some of the most successful entrepreneurs; the desire to help others, and it’s really evident here. It’s something to really think about in your own endeavors and in what you’re doing in your life. Let’s go.
[2:33] Hi, there.
[2:34] Hey, how are you doing?
[2:35] Good, how are you?
[2:36] Excellent. Are you in California?
[2:37] I’m in New York.
[2:38] Oh, you’re in New York. Ok, perfect. Can you explain what does Indiegogo do?
[2:43] Indiegogo is a funding platform where anybody can raise money for absolutely any idea. We launched in January 2008 with a mission to democratize funding and now we send millions of dollars around the world, every week, to 70 to 100 countries.
[3:01] And, about how many users?
[3:04] Yeah, we have well over 300.000 campaigns now and millions of users all around the world. For example, now we have projects like Flow Hive, which is a new technology for gathering honey that was funded in a matter of weeks in over 150 countries.
[3:25] Your campaigns on Indiegogo, some of them are entrepreneurial for business, some of them are personal campaigns for some emergency, others are for non profit activities. Can you talk about that?
[3:41] Yeah, it’s a completely Internet open platform, just like YouTube or Google, where anybody can raise money for absolutely any idea. The major bucket of ideas is creative projects. For example, in New York City there’s going to be the New York Film Festival and, as part of that, Miles Ahead, the closing film, is a film about Miles Davis that was funded on Indiegogo or Super Troopers 2, which is the sequel to Super Troopers, and they raised millions of dollars on Indiegogo. There are entrepreneurial projects; these are people who are looking to validate their idea, engage new customers and build a bigger audience. For example, Canary, which is from New York, it’s a smart security device that actually, that was just featured in a New York newspaper about how it helped to stop a burglary. We also have Sondors Bike, which is a really cool electronic bike, which was just being used at Burning Man. We also have non-profit projects like co.org, which Mark Zuckerberg came in and funded, which is helping to spread codeine medication across our different school systems in America. We also have personal fundraisers, in case a loved one is having hardship or financial challenges, maybe your friend found out that they have cancer and you’re trying to help them deal with the financial challenges. That’s called Indiegogo Life and it’s completely free, where you get to use it for fundraising without any costs. It’s completely diverse. Some of the ideas will boggle your mind. It’s incredible to see the world come together around the Syrian refugee crisis, there are thousands of projects related to that and millions of dollars are raised for the Syrian refugees. Or when the Greek bailout situation was happening, there was a really loud campaign where somebody actually tried to raise all the money to bail out Greece and; it was incredible how many people was using that Indiegogo.
[5:51] I’m sure you get asked this a lot, what makes a good and effective campaign? You may want to do some non-profit or creative project.
[5:59] Absolutely. There are a lot of things that can go into making a great campaign but here are just some of the points: 1) you want to have a great pitch, so, if you have a video as part of your campaign, on average you will raise 114% more money; 2) you want to be proactive, you want to get off to a fast start and try to raise 25% of your funds within the first week so you’ll be 5 times more likely to hit your target; 3) you want to keep posting updates and keep telling your story, so, if you do an update every 5 days or less you raise 4 times more money than if you do an update every 20 days or more; and 4) you want to find an audience that cares, so, if you build a they-will-come scenario, you really need to reach out to your own network and start having them fund you, and Indiegogo will help you get more money than anywhere else because we amplify your reach.
[6:52] It’s a fantastic story about the origins. Can you talk about how Indiegogo began? And, a kind of follow-up, did you imagine it would be so compelling once you actually started it?
[7:04] The idea for Indiegogo began in the fall of 2006. It was my two cofounders and I: Eric Schell, Danae Ringelmann and myself. Eric had been really good friends with me from our company that we worked with at college, which was called Diamonds. He was on the technology side and I was on the strategy side. He decided to go round up his skillset and get his MBA. He went to Haas in California where he met Danae as part of their MBA and in the beginning, in September, they met and they were saying, ‘hey, we, like any good MBA students, want to single out what businesses ideas we want to watch?’ And I, after a few weeks of him starting school, I was still in the corporate world and wanted to go visit my friend, to be able to just hang out. I was in my first time to ever come to California, we all went out to dinner and Eric said, ‘hey Danae, why don’t you tell Slava about the idea and see what he thinks?’ She had an idea, which was to come up with a mutual fund, which would allow anybody who invests in the mutual fund to be able then to have the right to vote on the allocation of the investment into artistic projects. I said, ‘that’s interesting but if you want to change the finance industry you can’t do it in the finance industry’, and she said, ‘well, no, I want to create a mutual fund, yada, yada, yada’, and I said, ‘well, if you want to change the finance industry you can’t do it in the finance industry’. Then she repeated herself and I said, ‘what I think I’m hearing is there’s this thing called YouTube that just came out last year and they’re trying to democratize video so anybody can put up pieces of content and then anybody can watch it, and similarly there’s this new thing that came out last year called Prosper, which is trying to change banking into becoming more of a peer-to-peer lending scenario instead of going through a centralized bank; so what I think I hear you saying is like cross the two, where you want to create a peer-to-peer situation where anybody can use things like YouTube and social media to be able to provide an authentic story to say what they want to raise money for, and if people want to then fund that idea, they’ll be able to fund it’. She said, ‘yes, that´s exactly what I want to do’, and I said, ‘well, that’s not the finance industry, that’s a technology company’. So, that’s the answer to you first question as it relates to did we envisioned this is what it would become. We always thought that it had huge potential and it was a massive vision to change the way funding gets democratized. So many people act as gatekeepers: the bank, the VCs, the investment bankers that get to decide who gets access to money and it really changes the way the world evolves. And we just thought, ‘if we can democratize that further, then we can have a huge impact’. So, in terms of the scope of what we were trying to do, this is what we’ve always been trying to do and this has always been on our path of our vision. In terms of the specifics of the creative ideas of what we have: the first ever crowdfunded baby and someone would actually get in vitro fertilization funded after all the insurance companies and hospitals turned down the couple; no, we had no idea that would happen. Would we know that eventually there’d be somebody who uses an air compression gun to shoot salt to kill flies and that thing is called Bug-a-salt? No, we had no idea. It’s really remarkable to see the creativity that people put into these campaigns on top of the platform.
[10:30] So, why do people fund these? They’re not getting equity, what is that human motor there?
[10:38] Yeah, we like to call it the 4 Ps. We right away wanted to do the 4 Ps and the fourth one is profit. But we learned about the legal hurdles, so we really stepped that out. The reason somebody funds will be ne of these three other Ps. Number one: is they care about the person or the cause and we call that Passion. The product: they want the service, they want the shoes, they want the movie, they want the combo, they want the actual item; we call that Perks. And number three, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves, they want to be part of that movement, and that’s participation. So we find that everybody’s different and the amazing thing is, sometimes, different people will fund the exact same campaign for different reasons. It could be a brand new peanut butter brand and some people will fund it because they know the founders, some people will fund it because they love peanut butter, others will fund it because they really believe in the local movement and organic food, and eventually, people will be able to fund it for profit as well, with the future of equity crowdfunding.
[11:40] Now, weren’t you doing some type of campaign yourself, previous to all this, for Cancer?
[11:46] Right. The reason my two cofounders and I even came up with some of these ideas is that we all had a mutual experience of trying to raise money using the internet, prior to coming up with this idea. So, Danae was an investment banker working with her friend, a theater spokesman. Eric was on the board of a theater company in Chicago and I had started my own charity on behalf of my father who passed away from cancer when I was a kid, ten years before that. We were all using the Internet or various forms to try to raise money an we really struggle in the middle of solving this. And then when Danae had this idea and then I proposed to move it towards the Internet, everybody just agreed.
[12:29] So what did you gain from Wharton and how did that help to launch you towards Indiegogo?
[12:33] Going to Wharton undergrad was absolutely incredible. Being surrounded by so many intelligent people. Getting to actually take on the experiences of finance classes or trying to price the Ebay IPO, open classes or coming up with new business models and new Internet company innovations. Being able to come up with the idea of online groceries or peer-to-peer hosting before the concept of cloud didn’t even existed. It was just an incredible environment: to be challenged, to be inspired, to really be rewarded. One of my favorite experiences was definitely being involved with Management 100, where I started as a class member but then became a TA. It was a wonderful experience.
[13:27] Wharton has produced a lot of very successful entrepreneurs but you’re kind of unique in that Indiegogo is empowering other entrepreneurs. Besides the obvious of providing funding (that’s the key point), can you talk about how Indiegogo is empowering entrepreneurs?
[13:51] It’s funny that you say the word empower and it comes so simply because. If you come to our headquarters in San Francisco and you come up to the seventh floor, when you open the elevator to our office, you’ll see in Hollywood style lights the word ‘empower’. That is what Indiegogo is all about. Our employees are empowered and they are working together to create a website that is empowering the actual entrepreneurs and creators, to be able to change the world. My opinion is that if you empower an entrepreneur, he or she has the potential to change the world; so, if you can do that multiple times, you really have more opportunities to make an impact. People speak about Indiegogo with such high praise; we get love letters all the time from our customers. There’s no question that Indiegogo is doing a really good job but I really do believe there’s a little bit of a placebo effect there, which is really incredible. It’s so hard to believe; becoming an entrepreneur is so hard and there’s so much stacked against you: our educational system not only does not support becoming an entrepreneur but rather the creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit get beaten out of you. As you get older you go through grade school, high school, college and you become much more risk-averse and all willingness to fail gets stifled. On Indiegogo we’re inspiring and empowering others to believe so all of a sudden they say, ‘hey, aspirationally, if I see these other people doing it, I can do it’. They come on Indiegogo, we help them and they may get these incredible campaigns of the ground and before you know it, they have these incredible businesses.
[15:47] You’re getting this award for young leadership and what you just described is leadership. But what else can you say about leadership?
[15:55] For me, leadership is taking action in a positive way when others are not willing to do so. Leadership is being able to set example, is not always having the same form and being able to change given the situation and the time and who else you’re surrounded by. I think it’s really important to be able to recognize the situation and step up as a leader when needed.
[16:27] Anything you like to say about equity crowdfunding or what’s in the future? Issues coming from regulation in the finance industry.
[16:37] It’s super exciting. Like I mentioned, when we first came up with the idea in 2006 we right away wanted to get into equity crowdfunding, even though that concept didn’t even exist because we originated crowdfunding as we know it today, so the concept of equity crowdfunding wasn’t even talked about. It was in 2011, that we actually had a campaign on Indiegogo called ‘The crowdfunding campaign to change the crowdfunding law’ and that was to raise some money to send a legal petition to congress. Then, in April 2012 the signing of the JOBS act happened and the only person who was an actual entrepreneur who was a customer of any of these platforms was Samantha who was one of the owners of Emmy’s Organics, a gluten-free dessert company that was funded on Indiegogo after being rejected by her local upstate New York bank. So president Obama mentioned, “The banks said no but Indiegogo said yes!” Then you fast-forward and now Samantha and Emmys Organics, their products are sold in virtually every Whole Foods in America, she’s hired more employees, she’s adding to the GDP. I think all of this equity crowdfunding and the things surrounding it are super exciting. In the years to come there’s going to be a lot more innovation in these markets.
[18:12] You were born in Belarus, which is an incredible country producing Marc Chagall, Irving Berlin, David Sarnoff (the Steve Jobs of the early 20th century), Ralph Lauren; and yet is such a tragic country too. In WWII they lost more people than any other country. Can you speak about being from that place?
[18:37] It’s hard for me to speak too much about actually being there. We left when I was 6 months old, my brother was 5 and my parents were in their 20s. we came to America and lived in Brooklyn until I was 7 and then we moved to Pennsylvania. What I could say is being from an immigrant family has been very foundational to the way I have been influenced and have grown up. My parents were never entrepreneurs and people ask me how did I become such a staunch entrepreneur that this is what I’ve always wanted to do and this is what I believe in. I actually don’t agree with that. My mom is a doctor and my dad was a mechanical engineer but I really think they were the ultimate entrepreneurs. Because entrepreneurs really need to take on a challenge that has no clear path and be willing to figure it out. Potential risk of failure is definitely there. My parents left Russia where they had an Ok situation, even though there was religious prejudice, but they risked it all and came to America for the opportunity to have a better life for them and, more importantly, for their children. I think they navigated the hurdles of entrepreneurship as well as any internet, Silicon Valley folks. I learned a lot from them and thy always inspired me to think positively and know that work ethic is super important to be able to move forward and to always have high integrity. So, the thing I can tell you about being from Belarus is that it helped create some amazing parents that helped influence me to be entrepreneurial.
[20:20] Do you have any particular story or something that you remember that inspired your learning from them?
[20:27] I don’t know if there’s a specific story but my dad regularly told me that the people that make it look the easiest are the people that work the hardest. Both have always had really incredible work ethics. My mom still works all the time and she’s kind of funny that way because she is very passionate about being a doctor. She’s like the town doctor: people know her all around whether it’s at the grocery store or at the parking spot, they’ll be like ‘hi, doctor Rubin’. So many people sometimes make it look so easy and you say, ‘oh, that person is so lucky’ or, ‘they really have it easy’ but as my dad said, ‘those people that are often working the hardest are profiting the most, behind the scenes’.
[21:09] Can you offer advice to students, to young alumni?
[21:12] I would say that enjoying your job is a gift. We spend a majority of our time doing a few things. Working is such a major chunk of that time that if you’re not enjoying it, if it’s not bringing you positive energy, you really should change your job. That doesn’t mean you need to become an entrepreneur even though I would challenge anybody or inspire anybody that specially coming out of college they should be willing to take more risks earlier. That’s not to say that having a more standard profession for a few years like corporate experience or working in some other internet company first before you decide something on your own isn’t smart; they’re different paths. But I do think that enjoying your job and being surrounded by people you like and having a positive energy is really a gift and if you don’t feel that way, you probably should change your job.
[22:13] Great advice. Last question if you have time. In creating Indiegogo I’m sure there were some challenges; maybe not failures but mistakes. Speaking of the entrepreneurial journey, how did you go through those in Indiegogo?
[22:27] At Indiegogo we’ve had tons of mistakes and failures. We almost went out of business in 2009; when we launched in 2008 we only had enough money to last until September of that year and we ended up only getting our first money in 2010. We had to deal with the deepest market crash in decades and it was pretty rough. My advice is that the entrepreneur in you has to be willing to follow you own gut; no one will ever what to tell you as the right advice. People that don’t believe in you will always say that it’s hard and you should shut it down or that you shouldn’t do it and the ones that are trying to make you feel positive about your self esteem will give you only positive feedback and have no real knowledge about what’s the right thing to do. So you really have to trust your instinct and just read all the tealeaves, see how the wind is going and be willing to make your own decisions. Outside of that, you just have to navigate and know that if you made a mistake, that’s where you’ll learn from and keep on evolving. My feedback would be think big, start small and iterate quickly.
[23:36] Think big, start small and iterate quickly. Perfect. Thank you very much, Slava. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
[23:44] No. that was great. Thank you very much.
[23:46] One final note: I was actually interviewing Slava for a Magazine article. He is receiving the young leadership award from the Wharton School Club of New York and I just popped the question to him during the interview if I could repurpose part of the audio for The Immigrant Entrepreneur. Without knowing anything about it, he just graciously assented. I think it goes to his character of truly wanting to empower people everywhere without boundaries. I was very impressed by that. So, tell your friends about the podcast, especially about this episode. I think crowdfunding is something that’s revolutionizing people in villages and towns and cities all over the world. It goes to the heart of wanting to empower entrepreneurs. Thank you very much and I will see you next week.