Wednesday, October 3

Crowdfunding: not a shortcut to personal dream fulfillment

Kickstarter, IndieGoGo ... crowdfunding is hot. Crowdfunding, with its low barriers to entry and inherently viral marketing facets, is making it possible for a whole new generation of ideas and causes to receive funding that might otherwise fall by the wayside. An innovative alternative to the well-trodden conventional paths to raising funds for a venture.

It's also bringing out the me-firsts among us. People who get turned down by, or do not bother with, traditional funding sources, because their idea is simply not a worthwhile, dollar-generating investment. Sometimes these are dreamers, sometimes these are people who are too blind or entitled to realize what they're expecting and demanding from people. Or, they simply do not care.

Don't get me wrong -- I love crowdfunding. I was an early Pebble backer on Kickstarter. A colleague of mine recently funded an exploratory trip back to his native Nepal so he and his team could lay the groundwork for building schools there in the coming years. I've funded a number of smaller, nichey ideas or products that intrigued me, some fitting a need I have, some simply tickling my gadget pickle. (Go ahead, laid that one out there for ya.)

Which brings me to: "hackert0wn:" "A pioneering educational center for clean technology and sustainability featuring the world's first marketplace for hackers." Basically a bunch of shipping containers glommed together, dedicated to everything from hacking to sleeping to machine shopping to retail to gardening.

1. Lose the l33t speak. Does anyone take that crap seriously? Especially when dealing with seven-figure sums?

2. The head dreamer is a guy who co-founded a hackerspace and has some sort of lifelong dream to put together a green building. If hacking spaces are so successful, why can't he bootstrap hackert0wn with his own funds from the hackerspace?

3. The timeline is ludicrously short - starting sometime between now and February 2013, and ending by October 2013. I doubt even half the permits would be acquired in that time, much less the containers, much less the associated infrastructure, much less equipment, much less finishing details on interiors, much less the people required to keep such a project running day-to-day.

4. What's the goal, other than to satisfy one guy's green dreams? What is the requested $1.5 million going toward, really, other than one guy's giant sandbox?

I'm sorry but crowdfunding is not the answer to getting rejected by banks and VCs. I'm quite confident that this project will not be funded, but I find it simply audacious that any rational adult would go out and ask the public for one and a half million dollars to do little or nothing more than fund his dream to begin with. What real benefit is realized to the funders? To the community? If there's a true need for something like this, then it's something that should be capable of being funded in a conventional fashion with conventional expectations around business plans and an actual return on investment. An expectation of fiduciary responsibility.

As it stands, hackert0wn, and a growing number of other crowdfunding projects like it, come off smelling like selfish, entitled, clueless beggars who are hoping to get lucky off the stupidity of mobs. Don't ruin a good thing, ya jerks.