Turn your coworking space into a crowdfunding powerhouse

by Melissa Mesku with Luka Piškorič and Abdallah Absi

I want to scream it from the rooftops: every coworking space should be a crowdfunding powerhouse. Hear me out:
(a) A winning crowdfunding campaign needs a talented team, and you’ve got those people in your coworking space right now.
(b) A winning coworking community has talented people with diverse skill sets that would enjoy — and financially benefit from — going in on a project together.

The people in your coworking space have the skills to form a winning team, and some may be hungry enough, or crazy enough, to give it a shot. There is so much potential for collaboration inside your coworking space, and co-creating a project like a crowdfunding campaign is a great way to activate your community and, in some cases as we’ll see, even make money.

First we look at how coworking and crowdfunding can support each other, and then we hear from Luka Piškorič and Abdallah Absi on how to create a successful campaign your coworking space. Abdallah is founder of Zoomaal, the Middle East’s first crowdfunding platform, which is based in Beirut’s Alt City coworking space. Luka is co-founder of the crowdfunding.si community which has launched 10 successful crowdfunding campaigns (some earning 20x their funding goal) from Poligon Creative Space which he co-founded in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Coworking is great for crowdfunding, and vice versa

Luka: Coworking is the perfect scenario for how crowdfunding campaigns can start and be executed. It’s the perfect environment. People are socially incentivized to take part, and also economically incentivized for a campaign to succeed because that’s when they’ll earn their percentage of what is raised. And it’s really great for everyone in the space — when a campaign gets funded, most often far beyond anyone’s expectations, it’s exciting. It’s powerful when the community realizes that working together really does work.

Abdallah: This is funny because almost everyone at AltCity is a potential client of ours. What’s also beautiful is the easy interaction with others; if I need to contact someone, I just ping him by tapping him on the back. That’s sometimes annoying, but helps you get things done faster! Working in a fun, dynamic environment opens everyone to new ideas and keeps up energy and productivity among the team.

How to start a crowdfunding campaign at your coworking space

Here are some tips for pulling together a crowdfunding campaign with the people in your coworking space.

1. Put the idea out to your coworkers. Source interested people and get some ideas for products

The power of coworking is that it brings together diverse professionals with a wide range of skill sets. If you have an idea for a product, or are interested in getting a team together, put that to your coworking space owner, post it to your community’s board, or mention it next time there’s a get-together. Nothing beats having friends and comrades at your fingertips to consult with, to bounce ideas off of, and to co-create. Think of your coworking community as a resource and an asset that can create opportunities for everyone to succeed, and consider crowdfunding a great way to start maximizing the expertise you have at your fingertips.

Luka: Our crowdfunding lab is in some ways the legitimization of the coworking space itself. Every crowdfunding campaign that takes place at Poligon makes use of our community members. It’s our coworkers who are the dedicated team. Each campaign requires a web developer, a copywriter, marketing people, videographers, photographers, etc., and we have these people already working in the space. Everyone knows everyone’s areas of competency, so it’s not too hard to source the right people. It also makes it easier to collaborate on a regular basis.

Over time we have developed our own methodology and built a core team of people who are experts in crowdfunding. We have 6 or 7 people who are regularly involved in each of the campaigns, so it’s become a core team that now has a lot of experience, and plenty of others have participated as well. Sometimes coworkers here don’t just want to work on a campaign but actually want to join the creator and in developing the product itself, which is pretty amazing.

Abdallah: Many underestimate the value of a team in crowdfunding campaigns. If you can involve more people, you’ll get better feedback and advice, more buzz, and ultimately more funders. If you can get people in your coworking community to participate in a campaign, then get them even you have to pay. It’s worth it.

2. Test out ideas with your coworkers

The product itself has to be clever, compelling, and unique because it needs to go viral, at least to some degree, in order to reach the funding goal. Getting a great team together is one thing, but choosing the right product to build a campaign around will make or break its chances of success. It pays to be selective early on.

Luka: Plenty of people are interested in starting a campaign. First, I sit down with them and help them determine whether their project is viable and appropriate for crowdfunding. Not everything is. It has to be able to get media attention so that it can get solid PR. It has to be a great product that captures people’s imaginations, and every aspect of the product’s story needs to draw people in. If the product doesn’t have all of that, it’s not worth it because the campaign has little chance of success. Our campaigns have been successful for lots of reasons, but from the very beginning it’s because we’re incredibly selective. We have to be because these campaigns require so much effort from so many people.

3. Source the right people, including marketing mavens

People don’t sit around on Kickstarter looking for the cool new thing to spend their money on, they engage with a product if they come across a story that moves them. Make sure your team includes marketing mavens that know how to get media coverage. This may sound tough, but don’t despair – great PR is within reach if you are deliberate about including it in your team from the beginning.

Abdallah: Of course, the bigger the outreach for your project, the more funders you will get. But one thing that not everyone realizes is that on crowdfunding platforms, people like to fund dreams, not just projects. One Kickstarter project I recall raised $155k for a $5K project for a coffee filter just because of his language and his story. This project was his dream, his life. If they believe you’re making a difference, they’ll want to help you. This passion is what makes peoples’ hearts beat and what makes them want to fund you.

Luka: The easiest part is making the video, writing the copy, publishing it on the platform. That’s what people see, so it looks do-able. What’s hidden is the amount of preparation and the intensity of the PR work involved. We start 3 months before we actually launch the campaign. Our core team has a background in marketing which we’re sure makes a really strong difference in our success rate. This is one of the biggest factors in the success of any marketing campaign, crowdfunding especially. It involves a lot of people who have to work like a team, know each other, etc. Coworking is really ideal for that.

4. Plan the campaign and solidify people’s roles (and payouts)

Abdallah: Crowdfunding is a full time job: you have to contact the media, send updates to backers, set marketing plans, approach your network, send follow-up emails, and design and fulfill the rewards you give backers. Think all of this out well beforehand.

Luka: In our crowdfunding lab, we start off like a project manager, deciding who we can source to carry the project through everything it needs. Creating winning crowdfunding campaigns is part art, part science. Everything has to be done very professionally with a lot of planning in mind. It’s not easy. You have to be aware of that. But because of the community we have here, there is trust between coworkers. People invest their time and expertise into these projects and get paid after the project succeeds.

Abdallah: Your crowdfunding campaign is supposed to get you only through the first stage, not fund your whole business. The fundraising amount should be the minimum it takes to cover the campaign costs; anything beyond that is a bonus. It may not even make you money, but that’s OK – there are plenty of other benefits.

You’ll also want to plan what you are going to do after the campaign. Are you going to approach investors after you develop your prototype? What is the formal relationship between the people creating the campaign?

5. Find partners that can help

After hearing what it takes for Poligon to create their winning campaigns, starting one yourself might start to seem like a daunting task. But don’t forget that it’s not only you who wants your campaign to succeed. There are organizations that may have a stake in your success and would love to help some enthusiastic upstarts who are doing the hard work of creating something out of nothing. Partnering with such an organization can give you the resources you need to do it right.

Abdallah: Whether you have a community initiative or a hardware product, contact some local entities around you that do something similar and get them to support you, tweet about you, introduce you to funders, and advise you on your campaign. This can never be bad for you and can go a long way to establishing the inroads you need to make your campaigns successful.

Luka: We have a number of partners that have helped us get to where we are now. One of them is the regional centre for the creative economy, funded by a municipality agency (Regional Development Agency of the Ljubljana Urban Region) whose goal is to help develop creative industries in the region. That translates into helping creative communities, and that’s what we are. They are our partners and helped us organize workshops and lectures and offer free crowdfunding consulting, and helped us publish articles and develop the knowhow we use in our campaigns. We also get small sponsorships through these activities. They help us build our capacity so we can help people increase their own capacity.

6. Educate people to support campaigns and start their own

Part of activating your community to get involved in starting a campaign also includes getting your community ready to back you once you launch. Don’t underestimate the value of communicating to your friends, family, and coworkers the important role they have in backing you.

Abdallah: A forgotten point in educating: don’t be too tech savvy in your communication. Give your friends and backers a step by step guide to fund you. Walk them through learning about the project, make clear the rewards, and follow up regularly. Communicate to them that if they need help that they can contact you directly.

Luka: People need to know how and why to back projects. You can have what looks like a brilliant campaign but if people don’t understand the basic concept of crowdfunding, it can’t go anywhere. It’s a new concept and people don’t always understand right away why it’s significant.

We started off by diving in, and with all of the successful campaigns we’ve had in the spring last year, we were about to make a huge media boom in Slovenia last autumn. Now a lot of people know about crowdfunding. But we’ve used that to spread the word. We hold conferences, we lecture and go abroad to speak about it at events. That has helped us educate the wider public about crowdfunding so people know why and how to back projects.

We don’t just do the campaigns; education is a big part of what we do. Educating people about alternative economic models helps people trust and participate. It has been nice that the campaigns succeeded, but more importantly, when we broke records it raised the profile and perceived potential of crowdfunding in our region.

Now get started

Whether it’s to raise funds, get traction on a new project, or simply to have try out a group project to hone your crowdfunding skills, starting a campaign from your coworking space is a great way to activate your community.

If there is a theme to all of this, it’s that with a focused project, anyone harness the people power in your coworking space. Activating your community to co-create a successful campaign requires you to step outside of yourself and start putting together the pieces. Are there talented people that want to help create a campaign? Yes. Are there organizations and resources that can help you get started? Yes. Can your community help back it? Yes.  

“There is so much potential for coworking spaces to do this. Coworking spaces have members that would be interested in investing their time and talent in a project they enjoy,” says Piškorič. When asked whether he had any last recommendations for coworkers who are considering running a campaign, he simply said, “They should start.”

Image credit: Original photo courtesy of Startup Stock Photos, edited by New Worker Magazine.