Surfing and crowdfunding: a capital idea
In March this year Kickstarter passed $1 billion in funds pledged for successful projects. It was an auspicious milestone for the original crowdfunding website, and impressive too as it only began trading in 2009. When it started the online community was experiencing one of its many subtle shifts, the kind that roll around every few years and change how we engage with the 'net. This time it was the realisation of collective power – how disparate online communities can be accessed and resources pooled - and the owners of Kickstarter were among the first entrepreneurs to tap into it.
Any venture that doesn't fit an existing business model is an ideal candidate for crowdfunding, so among the first projects to utilise Kickstarter were art and cultural projects, and also new media start ups. According to Kickstarter the early adopters were predominantly younger, tech savvy users who held a pronounced DIY ethos. In the intervening years the stereotype has been somewhat diluted, crowdfunding is now an acceptable form of capital raising for all ages and almost any project. However, the desire to do something yourself remains unchanged.
Surfers may have been slow on the uptake but the number of crowdfunded surfing projects has been steadily increasing. As a sport – or lifestyle, or art, or sub-culture, or whatever else you want to call it – surfing is an ideal target for crowdfunding. And the difficulty in defining surfing is part of the cause: surfing has fractured into myriad sub-groups each with separate values and ideas. Aside from time spent in the water the tribes have little in common with each other. It's into just such a social setting that crowdfunding thrives by linking creators with an otherwise hard to find audience.
Darius Devas is a Melbourne-based artist, filmmaker, and surfer. He used a crowdfunding site, in his case Indiegogo, to raise capital for his most recent project, an abstract surf film called Within. Devas already had an established fan base - “Friends mostly” he modestly admits – who connect with his work and understand what he's capable of. They made up the majority of his donors, yet the largest donor was unknown to Devas. “I worked very hard on my crowdfunding," he says. "I treated it as a job and ended up reaching all sorts of people. She [the donor] just liked what I proposed. It struck a chord with her.”
Beyond capital raising, crowdfunding provides other benefits. Tony Been is the Australian representative of Indiegogo, he says that the feedback you get from crowdsourcing can provide invaluable help. “Say you want to raise $10,000 for a new model of sunglasses but you only raise $9,000. Even if you raise less than you want, the real benefit is the market validation that you get from people who have shown they're interested in your product.”
It's something Jamie Brisick, creator of an upcoming documentary on Peter Drouyn/Westerly Windina attests to. The working title of his film is Westerly: A Man, A Woman, An Enigma, and given the story he believes he would've found funding regardless. Yet he chose Kickstarter and was surprised by the unexpected marketing benefits. “It helped us to find out who our audience was,” said Brisick. Also, crowdfunding is largely driven by social media which, as Jamie says, “means it also works as a PR vehicle for the film.” It allowed him to speak to the potential audience and outline the nature of the project. In this case Brisick told them his film, “was more than just a surf story, it was a human interest story.” The documentary easily reached its Kickstarter total, is currently being edited, and should be released in Spring.
At the other end of the process is Angie Takanami, a Byron Bay journalist who recently launched a Kickstarter appeal. Double Barrel is the name of her proposed project, which is described on her Kickstarter page as “a surf documentary following a Peruvian surfer's dream of turning a crumbling oil-dominated surf town to a sustainable surf village.”
The purpose of the film is to raise awareness about environmental issues in Peru and Takanami has found that this aspect has already begun. “It helps get your project out there in front of many eyes before it even kicks off the ground.” And much like Jamie Brisick, Takanami says it “gives you a good idea of how people feel about what you are doing.” And how do people feel? “I’ve learnt that surfers really do care about what’s going on with our oceans...and I’m also learning they have a great interest in seeing the everyday little guy beat the odds.”
The process hasn't been easy though. Much like Darius Devas, Takanami says creating, organising, and then driving her Kickstarter appeal “has been a full time job.” At present Takanami's appeal hasn't reached its target though it still has 12 days to go. “It’s a massive gamble and can put a real stress on your body.”
It may be a new way to access funds, but anyone who thinks crowdfunding is an easy way to get money should read that and think twice.