The seeds of crowdfunding phenomenon Indiegogo were planted when Danae Ringelmann saw firsthand how difficult it was for performance and other artists to get funding for their work.
It seemed that it didn’t matter how good the idea was, if they didn’t have contacts who could help them land cash, the project would die. So, she started pitching a new fund to her colleagues at JPMorgan Chase & Co. It would be a classic fund where the limited partners could choose the productions in which they would invest.
“They said, ‘You want to invest in independent films? You want to invest in independent theater?’ And I said, ‘Well, yes, but in a new way.’ And all they could associate with that was a way to lose all of your money,” she says.
The eye-rolling, snark, and even ridicule didn’t dissuade Ringelmann, who knew she was onto something, even though crowdfunding wasn’t yet a household term. She decided to go back to business school, her nascent idea still fixed in her mind. Here’s how she kept going even when others didn’t believe on her.
She kept her motivators in mind. Ringelmann found a big source of motivation in her parents, who owned an office storage and relocation business. Growing up, she helped them move boxes and saw the difficulty in “basically bootstrapping for 30 years,” she says. At the dinner table, she listened to conversations about the difficulty they had making payroll or whether they would need to refinance the house to make it through the quarter.
While it was hard for her to leave her job at JPMorgan Chase because of the stability it offered, she knew she could do so much more if she could get people to believe in her idea, and that kept her motivated.
She found great allies. When Ringelmann was at the University of California, Berkeley, she was struggling with her concept, which still didn’t have a technology component. One of her classmates, Eric Schell, introduced her to fellow UC Berkeley student and tech guy Slava Rubin, suggesting that she create the company as an online funding platform, which it is today. The three cofounded the company.
She kept making the idea better. Moving the Indiegogo concept to an online platform didn’t solve all of the challenges. The startup would still need to navigate some daunting Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. Nearing a deadline when she would need to pitch her idea to a group of venture capitalists and unsure whether to go with the offline model she originally had in mind or the online model, she turned to a professor for advice. He counseled her to go with the idea that excited her most, even though it still needed work.
She pitched the Internet startup and “got incredible, positive feedback,” she says. There were still many holes to be addressed, but she was gaining momentum and finally being met with more interest than blank stares and quizzical looks.
She trusted her gut. Interest grew in her idea, which she took to the Sundance Film Festival in 2007. There, she says she met with anyone influential who would sit down with her and her cofounders. But just as momentum was building, the recession began and the venture capital market dried up virtually overnight. So, the team “hunkered down” and bootstrapped, building as many case studies as they could to foster confidence that their idea was viable. Ringelmann kept focusing on what needed to be done next instead of focusing on what wasn’t going right. Deep down, she knew she was on the right path.
“I was very scared–scared leading up to the day I had decided to quit [JPMorgan Chase], but the moment I did, the moment I started this company, I hadn’t felt that alive in a long time,” she says.