Another year older, another year of helping kiwis doing the things they care about. And, in some ways another year wiser. Or at least, another year of learning under our belt.
While not every campaign makes their goal (and we feel that, deeply), we see so much more happening through the platform than money being processed. We see friends supporting friends, new friendships made, things other than dollar bills being offered, and hard work turning into more (but better funded) hard work.
I’m writing this while on holiday (turns out, I’m not so good at completely shutting off). After two weeks of almost screen-free days, I feel like I can properly reflect on the last year’s highs (and lows) with a bit of distance and sort-of hindsight. And, instead of just talking about all the good things, I’d like to share some of our learnings, too. Because, if we want Aotearoa New Zealand to be a better funded and more equitable place, we have to share not just the highlight reel, but the lessons learnt.
You need to look at the numbers. And, sometimes you’re looking at the wrong numbers.
In 2016 we had over $5 million processed in successful campaigns: over 150 project, 5 equity, and 2 lending campaigns. This brought us to over 1,100 campaigns funded since we started in 2012. We had a 16% increase on dollars pledged to successful campaigns than the previous calendar year, but a decrease in the number of campaigns.
For a lot of this year it didn’t feel like that would happen. We had a super slow start, for a whole bunch of reasons. Despite that we still grew on the dollars pledged to successful campaign side. And, even more awesomely, we grew even more on the revenue side. We added a new revenue stream (in a way that we hope helps our campaigners) meaning our revenue increased 30% from the previous year.
We also broke the record for the fastest campaign to reach the $2million cap in New Zealand, and broke our own records for most funded campaign when that happened.
We had so many different crowdfunders – from an urban winery to a refugee catering company, from the Spinoff’s War for Auckland to 8 teams from Diocesan School for Girls.
So, even though our numbers were patchy (nothing new there) and our numbers declined in some areas (fewer project campaigns, but more large campaigns), we still grew in size and impact. You need to regularly step back from the day-to-day and see what the numbers are saying.
New shiiiiiit. You have to constantly be improving (and listening to your team).
We launched PledgeMe.Lend, and had our first two successes (Eat My Lunch and Denheath). This was mainly due to a mammoth effort by our team member Barry in convincing our board it was a good move, creating a simple offering, going through the licencing process, and managing the technical build. And, we’re stoked. PledgeMe.Lend extends so much further than just Auckland based “high growth” companies. It could help community organisations, schools, companies based outside of Auckland, anyone who has a revenue stream to help repay the loan and interest, and it could help their crowd support them too.
We also launched a private version of PledgeMe.Equity and had our first two successes there too (with over $400k pledged). Originally, I was against this idea. I thought that it undermined the transparency that I thought underpinned crowdfunding. But, with the help of my team, I realised that private crowdfunding is still transparent, still a place for questions and feedback, but just with a smaller circle of potential pledgers. It’s great for companies that are super early stage, for companies that don’t want to go too wide (or get too much media coverage).
You can’t just go it alone.
It’s easy to think you know best, and you don’t need any help. But when you’re starting (and growing) a company, you should be constantly finding people to help and accelerate what you do.
Recently, we hired Tan, our first sales person! We’re excited to have one person whose sole job is to get campaigns through the door, so we can do what we do well – helping them reach their goals.
The hiring process is hard though. We don’t always get it right, especially in areas we don’t know a lot about. So we’re constantly improving, refreshing, and figuring out how to do work and team better. And, that means being open to flexible working, supporting folk with families, and checking our assumptions around what (and how) work should be done.
We also announced our partnership with the Akina Foundation, to help more social enterprises crowdfund. We’ve grown up a lot since we first met this crew, but we’re still as aligned with their values as we were on day one. So, we’re excited that we finally managed to put a ring on it.
You can’t just talk about diversity.
We realised we weren’t walking the talk around diversity with our board, so we wrote a blog about it. Then we went through a rigorous process to find and hire a new director (in the end, we had over 100 amazing applicants, and we hired two directors: Mel and Jessica). We wrote a blog about the process, to help other people find new board members.
Leading on from this (and some other work that I’ve been doing) I helped co-instigate an unconference for Women Who Get Sh*t Done in New Zealand. We had 120 women and kids come along for a weekend of learning, sharing, and growing. In 2017, we’re hoping to have three events up and down the country, scaling the number of women we can get along.
Sometimes you need to retreat to move forward.
My team decided I needed a holiday so bad, they did a secret crowdfunding campaign to send me to Samoa. The time away then (and now) has provided me with the space I needed to really review, plan, and relax. And the space to not burn out. The reward of me wearing my onesie to Samoa was not ideal though….
Apart from forced interventions, I regularly get time out with other entrepreneurs to help with this, including my quarterly female founder retreats that I wrote about here.
You don’t get to keep the awesome people forever.
Some of our amazing PledgeMe team moved on to new adventures in 2016: Lana to be the GM of Raygun, Jackson to AirBnB, Will to Canada / the US, Rory to running a design shop.
I think that’s partially another sign that the way we work is different – people move from role to role, learning, doing, and improving. We’re stoked to have the team rocking out all over, and often coming back to visit and help us out when we need it. But we do miss their smiling faces on Team Skypes.
You also can’t get good media coverage forever.
We got our first real slamming in traditional media this year. Previously, it had just been kept to the comments sections, but this was different, and it honestly stung. But, it gave us this opportunity to update our crowd and talk about where to from here. And, as one of our board members put it, we weren’t going to have a good run forever, so we might as well start learning how to deal with less than effusive coverage as well as the good stuff.
My final learning, and something I’m grappling with at the moment is: It’s easy to make something complicated, it’s hard to make something simple. We need to be constantly striving to make things easier, simpler, and better for our users and for New Zealand.
What will 2017 bring? Well, according to our strategy, an attempt at doubling our revenue, getting the word out about PledgeMe.Lend, and helping more kiwis fund the things they care about.
What did you learn in 2016? We’d love to hear.