If there’s a local food business you want to see stay open, here’s a simple way to help that goes beyond visiting regularly. It’s called Credibles and it’s like crowd-funding, except it’s designed to provide an ongoing line of credit, not just a one-time sum.
It works like this. You go to the web site and pre-pay an amount, like you’re creating a tab. You might put down $50 at a coffee shop, or $200 at a food store. You then spend against that number until you need to refill the value, or you decide to transfer the credit to another business in the Credibles network.
Why do that? One, because it’s convenient–you don’t need to bring cash when you visit the coffee shop. You just show an app on your phone. And two, because you’re providing capital so the business can make investments. You’re funding the food co-op with upfront cash, and they’re paying you back in calories.
“We’ve departed from the traditional crowd-funding model, because it’s not a limited-time campaign and a one-time thing,” says founder Arno Hesse. “This is a more sustainable, on-going mechanism. It’s a repeat tool that’s used over and over again. Some people are on their fifth or sixth refill.”
We first wrote about the model back in May 2012, when it was launching. It’s since signed up more than 100 businesses in 37 cities and attracted a few thousand customers.
For example, Driver’s Market, in Sausalito, in the San Francisco Bay Area, has raised more than $150,000. The organic store has used the money to buy an emergency generator for when the power goes out. Customers of the Zocalo Coffeehouse, in the East Bay, pre-paid so it could go through a transition to new ownership. The Flying Fish Company, in Portland, Oregon, wanted to expand into meat products and Credibles helped buy a new smoker and fridges.
As well as online pre-payment, Credibles also issues gift cards. And it has an arrangement with Whole Foods in Northern California, so customers can use Credibles to buy certain products, like hummus, yoghurt and milk.
Hesse says some companies have also started to use the system for business-to-business transactions–say, where a restaurant pays a florist in food.
“Businesses have had trade accounts before and we find they want our tool because they want to keep track of transactions and it provides transparency to both sides,” he says. That wasn’t the original intention of Credibles, but it shows the attraction of the service for businesses that are resource-rich, but cash-light.