Crowdfunding: Turning your reputation into money

game-changerThe stack of black plastic cases, some of them sprouting wires, begged the question: What was PJ Conley building at his dining room table?

High-tech tackle boxes? Electronic first-aid kits? Something nefarious?

“This was actually my original one,” Conley said, grabbing the device he calls the RaspCarry, a protective case with a built-in screen and Bluetooth keyboard designed to hold the Raspberry Pi, a $35 no-frills computer that sells separately.

Thanks in large part to the nearly $8,000 Conley raised this winter on Kickstarter, he has built and shipped 150 RaspCarrys.

“From there it really opened up doors that I never really thought were possible,” said the 24-year-old packaging designer, who has started his own website, picked up a business partner and is developing a next-generation RaspCarry prototype.

In the age of social media, Kickstarter and other crowdfunding websites are giving charities a new way to pass the hat, helping artists find patrons and allowing entrepreneurs, like Conley, to raise capital in ways they never could before.

CALLING ALL CROWDS

Richard Bliss, a California-based crowdfunding coach, calls Kickstarter the “the monetization of your reputation.”

“There are no gatekeepers,” he said. “You put together your pitch. You go to the public, to the crowd, and say, ‘I’ve got an idea.’”

If the crowd likes the idea, they give it money, which isn’t a new concept. The church collection plate. The stock market. Benefit dinners. All are time-tested examples of crowdfunding.

“The big transformation has occurred in something called rewards-based crowdfunding,” said Bliss, who also hosts the “Funding the Dream On Kickstarter” podcast.

Instead of buying an ownership stake or expecting a return on their investment, donors in a rewards-based system give money in exchange for a gift. Like when PBS gives out tote bags during a fund drive.

Online crowdfunding can be particularly powerful in rural or economically depressed communities, where local financing is hard to find, Bliss said.

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