Crowdraising

Naveen Mishra talks about working with his co-founder to clarify their messaging and get their novel "crowdraising" business idea off the ground.

Hey Indie Hackers! I'm Naveen, the co-founder of Crowdraising. I started out consulting in tech and innovation strategy, and now I am working full-time on Crowdraising.

We built Crowdraising to usher in the future of work. It is a platform for collaborative action online — similar to crowdfunding, but where members pledge time instead of money. We have a community of more than 200 people who are working on projects and getting rewarded. The community is full of entreprenuers and artists who are dedicated to bringing their next prject to fruition.

We currently have 23 campaigns in the pipeline, including some social businesses and awesome games.

What motivated you to get started with Crowdraising?

I had just quit my corporate job at an innovation department at a large, fast-moving consumer goods company — I was constantly frustrated with the missed opportunities to streamline the process and get to results. I was consulting, but that still wasn't at the scale I desired. I met Max (my co-founder) while we were working separately on similar ideas around bringing concepts to life, so we decided to join forces to build Crowdraising. Sparks flew, and after some elbow grease, here we are.

Max and I are huge believers in ownership over data and creating value for people. We are also contributors to HN and Quora, we give unsolicited advice on Twitter, and we're always willing to support entrepreneurs. We're huge fans of the hacker culture and want to power a future where people can create solutions to problems irrespective of their backgrounds.

Always solve real problems and have skin in the game. It's easy to see when an entrepreneur's heart isn't in it.

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One thing we knew we had to do (and which is apparent from Indie Hackers) is work to solve a problem and validate that there are customers for this problem. So we ran a "meta campaign" where we reached out to the community to see if something like Crowdraising was really needed.

The meta campaign was our crowd-sourced, community built alpha version of Crowdraising itself. We thought to ourselves, if we are making a product that will be used by people to build as a group, we should have a group build the product. This was unnerving, as we were going to be completely open and give up so much control.

We mapped out features and solutions we thought people would like, and estimated how long something like that would take to build. We shot for 1000 hours of community build and review time, and we thought we could ask for and receive these hours in 30 days. Boy oh boy was that an experience. We worked hard and reached out to all of our contacts via an email list we'd built from our previous conversations with people about the idea. We also reached out to blogs and influencers to get people to pledge time.

In the end, we ended up surpassing our goal, and the community spent 1556 hours building Crowdraising.

What's your tech stack look like behind the scenes?

Version 1 was built on PHP and MySQL, and as we've scaled we've built the back end to leverage tech to make the crowd aspect of crowdraising much easier to deal with. We are looking into decentralized ledger tech very seriously for version 3 (solidity for the Ethereum plaform) to help with scaling and settlements.

By the way, I have a computer science background and my co-founder is a lawyer+hacker, which is an incredible combo.

What marketing strategies have you used? How have you attracted users and grown Crowdraising?

We reached out to our networks and posted on Hacker News (HN), Product Hunt (PH), and Quora to get our initial bump of traffic, but it wasn't as large as we expected. On HN, for example, Max and I actually got better results when responding to other people's posts like this one. As for PH, we had a great hunter submit us to their website, but the resulting traffic was quite low.

The digital efforts that got us the most attention were two-fold. First, our Open Letter to the AssemblyMade community (a predecessor of our idea) was featured on HackerNoon. Also, Inc. Magazine reached out to us (special thanks to Sonya Mann) and wrote a review of Crowdraising.

We were also constantly testing and changing the homepage, taking it through at least three signifcant rounds of changes. We listened to our community, who were very honest and gave us good direction.

Our biggest advantage has been having a network of people we can trust to provide honest feedback.

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The first version of the homepage was pretty confusing, with literally every feature listed alongside a timeline and a list of target audiences. We showed it to our board and a few friends, and they hated it.

Initially, we had a two-step process: (1) come to Crowdraising to understand the concept, and (2) click to another page to pledge time to the meta campaign. We eliminated the first step and began sending Crowdraising.co visitors directly to the meta campaign, with the first option being pledge time.

Our passion lies in helping entrepreneurs get from 0 to 1, so our product needs to be easy to use and address the real issues facing people who are working to solve problems themselves. Our scope has always been defined as "Idea to Product", but what we've had to work out is: in which industry/vertical/niche can we be most helpful?

Of the initial interest we had, there were three kinds of businesses that wanted to be on Crowdraising:

  1. People who knew what they wanted built, but didn't know how to do it or what the functional parts of their MVP (minimum viable product, aka prototype) were.
  2. People who knew exactly which part of their idea could be community sourced and also knew which community to target.
  3. People who had an idea and built their own MVP, but wanted community help with reviews or feature selection.

Since then we've found that we work best for people who have an idea of at least the functional blocks of their business or project.

We, like most entrepreneurs, are focused on letting people see the features of our business rather than telling them how we're solving problems for them. We've recently started our content marketing plan, and have interviews with our advisory board and our incredible founders coming up.

How does your business model work, exactly?

Everything we do is in search of providing maximum value to the campaigner, i.e. the project creator asking people for their time. We charge people $200/month to run their campaign, although all of our initial beta testers got a complimentary campaign. We also give discounts to non-profits and open-source projects.

In fact, our first paying customers have been non-profits. We've had interest from an educational non-profit doing social impact work in India, and from Nourish Local, a food co-op in Denver. We've also had interest from some big educational and STEM initiatives in Colorado and New York. They believe in the mission of Crowdraising, and frankly we were the most efficient option for them.

We plan to go into B2B (business-to-business sales) where Crowdraising can power Open Innovation and Intraprenuership campaigns. There are some learning- and service-oriented revenue streams that we will launch when we are at the scale to do it. If our revenue mostly comes from corporate clients, then we can work on giving our entrepreneurs even more services.

We integrate with Stripe for payments, because of the easy setup and their mission to help increase the GDP of the internet.

What are your goals for the future, and how do you plan to accomplish them?

We're on an accelerating path. As far as our product goes, we're working to streamline the back-end to include settlements and use some of the decentralized ledger tech to leverage scale. As far as the business goes, we are on the cusp of growing the team, working our pipeline to get some corporate clients, and solve some real problems.

There is always room to be better, faster, and more efficient.

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In a field where we are working with rewards and intellectual property creation, some of the challenges we're solving include IP assignment at scale and compensation management. We are constantly running experiments and are hyper-aware of our moves and where we should be.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced growing Crowdraising?

Messaging was a challenge in the first few weeks for us. We have iterated our way out of that issue, but if we had to start over, I would have UI/UX/Messaging expert on hand to get us to action quicker.

More specficially, when we were first out pitching Crowdraising, people defaulted to understanding our idea as either crowdfunding or a volunteer effort. I ended up doing a lot of additional talking and pitching to basically everyone I saw to see if I was explaining the idea correctly. We had to use TimeBanks, Kickstarter, and other analogies, but phrasing things as "pledge time not money" hit home for a lot of people. This consolidated our marketing efforts around "pledging time".

We are running experiments, and there is always room to be better, faster, and more efficient upfront. We are at the point where having processes matters, and building these out will create more value to our campaigners.

What's been most advantageous to you on your journey so far?

Our biggest advantage has been having a network of people we can trust to provide honest feedback and keeping up our momentum during the initial periods. Our wonderful advisors who've helped us think through issues and solve problems creatively are definitely an asset.

Personally, I am a conscious media consumer. I've learned more from the Discovery channel, Twitter, and some online sources (shout out to Indie Hackers, the Breaking Smart newsletter, and the A16Z podcasts) than from my formal education.

Timing is very important when starting a business. Our signs to go full speed ahead have been (a) the decentralization of tech and the social acceptance around it, and (b) the rise and fall of the hype around the gig/sharing economy.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

I recommend a few books:

I could go on and on.

The Indie Hackers community is well-versed in iteration and creating value early, so that is not something I would like to bring up here.

What I do want to underscore is audacity. There can be a negative connotation to solving tiny problems and having side hustles, so one thing I always tell people I meet is always solve real problems and have skin in the game. It's easy to see when an entrepreneur's heart isn't in it. It's easy to ride a wave, but make sure you are riding and not coasting.

Where can we go to learn more?

Please go to www.crowdraising.co to learn more and contribute to projects that you like. You can reach out to us on Twitter @crowdrasing_co.

You can always reach me personally on www.naveenmishra.co, and I am happy to help people starting out in business or to help you think through strategy. I am on Twitter (@urstrulymishra) as well.

The Indie Hackers community is very special to us, and I would love to answer any questions.

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