CrowdFunding Industry Spotlight: Interview with CFB’s Sydney Armani

Josef Holm Tue at 9:18 AM, Editor’s Note: Each week I put a crowdfunding industry thought leader in the spotlight and ask them ten questions to inspire and educate. This week one of my all time favorite people in the crowdfunding industry is on: Sydney Armani, the charismatic CEO and Publisher of CrowdFundBeat and organizer of the Silicon Valley Meets Crodfunders conference.

Sydney Armani
Sydney Armani is a long time silicon valley entrepreneur, with more than twenty years experience in Valley’s community acting in both an entrepreneurial and investing capacity. Sydney’s vision for starting and successfully managing innovative companies like Hello Net Internet and Mobile telephony appliance services or Minitel and Videotex, a first generation of touch Screen tablets. His international experience in trade and International banking takes him around the world, projects with OPIC Overseas Private Investment Corporation for free trade with business engagement in Europe and UAE’s Dubai.

A creative person at heart, he’s working on building a crowdfunding platform “Live Crowdfunding demo pitch contest” building a bridge for new generation of Startup’s in the Crowdfunding industry.”

Sydney is the publisher of CrowdFundBeat, an online daily crowdfunding news site in US and UK. He is also the organizer of the annual Silicon Valley Meets Crowdfunders conference in Palo Alto, CA

Q: How did you get into crowdfunding and what was it that attracted you to this industry?
I entered the crowdfunding industry after observing its growing interest amongst participants and the seeming need of more information and education for the broader community. My background in media and conferences led me to form CrowdFundBeat, as a webzine, and to complement that, I started to produce a series of conferences. I believe we are still early in the development of this space, and I feel there’s an opportunity and a compulsion to develop great content in many forms to support the growth of the industry.

Q: What’s the most common question people ask you about your job and how do you respond?
I guess the common questions lie in two areas – where do you source what you share and how do you differentiate CFB from other media that tries to report on the same space. To the first question, we have a number for sources within the States and abroad that daily provide updates or items of interests.

We also reach out to some of the leaders in the industry, whether platform operators, professional services firms, like the attorneys, and others that in one respect are great content providers, and others, which are seeking a bit of exposure within the industry, and whom provide interesting vignettes about what’s happening out there. To the second question, in consultation with some of my advisors, we are really trying to position CFB as a “smart content” publication, that offers well more than news.

We are seeking out opinions, observations, and with our recent effort “Proud of the Crowd”, we will be delineating lists of top performers, platforms, initiatives. We want to be the platform of the thought leadership in the industry and assist in its development.

Q: Did you have a mentor or is there someone who inspires you as a leader? How did/do they impact on your career and life?
I am quite fortunate to have many mentors, each bringing something different to the table. I have run media platforms before, but the area of finance, regulation, and technology applied to accomplish this is a learning experience. So I try to surround myself with those that I believe are some of the smartest in the space – guys like Richard Swart and Jason Best, Doug Ellenoff and Steve Cinelli, Jeff Lynn, Howard Leonhardt, Bryan Zhang and Brian Koscak. They are willing to share their knowledge and opinions and kindly suggest areas where effort should be devoted to broadening the knowledge.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing crowdfunding as an industry today and what solutions would you suggest?
This is an emerging industry. Right now there are about 8800 platforms out there, from P2P lending, rewards, and securities based, whether equity or debt. There seems to be a love fest with the new platforms and more investment capital is finding its way into the industry.

The big question is how to differentiated one from the other. Certainly the Kickstarters and Indiegogo have great brand recognition. And newer players in the securities space, like CircleUp, Fundrise, RealtyMogul are making traction. And they are raising capital on their platforms. The question is whether the results of their offerings will prove to be good or great deals. So we are in the early innings of this game. I want to see what really makes certain players rise amongs the rest. And what really translates into success. Do understand that raising money online is not a new phenomena. Kiva has been around over a decade and there was the first online platform for private financing, OffRoad, back in the late 1990s. Now I guess its more fashionable. And the traction and the application of social media has really propelled the model.

Q: What advice would you give someone trying to get into crowdfunding right now?
Seems like an easy question, but there are so many directions someone can take. Do you want to become a platform and what makes you different. Can you assist in what’s needed – social media, finance, curation, marketing, technology, UX/UI.

This is a newish industry so lots of different things happening with so many companies. On the flipside, do I use crowdfunding as a means to raise money for my own project?. Within media, I am excited because there are so many opportunities, such as the news, opinions and just wait….
The data side will be huge. Capturing the volumes, and the wins and the losses, what works and what doesn’t. We will see a whole new body of knowledge and research over the coming months and years. This is a cottage industry quickly changing into a highrise.

Q: What resources and events (blogs, books, conferences, podcasts, videos, etc) would you recommend to someone looking to become a crowdfunding expert and why?
Obviously, you should read what we publish on CrowdFundBeat, and the events that we produce. There are other production companies doing vertical conferences such as Lendit, which enjoyed over 1000 participants earlier in the year. In many respects, this is going mainstream, and will continue to gather steam. But there will be hiccups.

The mass media throughout the world is now regularly using the term “crowdfunding”, so we know we are on to something. Just keep learning and reading whatever you can. And associate with experts, like my mentors, who can provide some of the nuance rather than just the daily affairs.

Q: What are you doing to make sure you continue to grow and develop as an industry leader?
My interest will ultimately lie in “smart content”. As an analog, I would like to build a media company that would be considered the “Economist” in the space, rather than USA Today. I would like to be the source of really intelligent discourse and not just be a reporter and party-giver, but play a role in crafting the opinion and the direction of the industry, for the betterment of all those that participate.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how social networking and Web 2.0 have affected your organization or you personally?
We live in a world of social networking and web 2.0 is all about interaction and collaboration, rather than static content. That’s the power of the crowd, and it is incumbent on those of us in this industry to leverage to the tools to enhance the experience of the crowd and hopefully create a more engaging experience. What’s really exciting is the move toward Web 3.0 with semantic search and databases, particularly when it comes to the area of personal finance. Then we move into a whole new world.

Q: What do you think the crowdfunding space will look like five years from now?
I may have some ideas as to what this space may look like in five years, but interestingly, one of my advisors/mentors is about to launch, which we are producing, a research piece entitled 2020 Vision, which will go into what the world of crowdfunding will look like, or at least various scenarios, in the year 2020.
You will be amazed at where this can lead, which amongst other things potentially changes the roles of the major banks and other financial services providers. As with Moore’s law about computing capacity, the world of finance will change abruptly.

Q: What ultimate goal are you working towards?
I thoroughly enjoy what I do. It seems like I work 24 hours a day, and that’s still not enough, but I love it. I get to converse with really smart folks that want to make a difference. So my goal is to make a mark in this space, assist where I can to advance it and make it work for everyone in different ways.



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