Crowdfunding Sites Help Local Businesses

By Andrew Gaug
St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe — if the titles of these fundraising sites don’t sound familiar, then you may not know how some businesses in St. Joseph are helping raise money for their new ventures.

During the past two years, crowdfunding sites have risen in popularity in St. Joseph to help get projects off the ground, like Paradox Theatre and the new book store The Tiger’s Den, as well as help ailing business like The First Ward House and Rumours Salon, both hurt by fires in early 2015.

The services have helped raise thousands of dollars for businesses that may not have seen it initially had they not reached out to others.

Before Paradox Theatre, spearheaded by Beau Walker, Drew Williams and Brett Ryan, launched its Indiegogo campaign in February 2013, crowdfunding was nearly unheard of in the area.

“A lot of times a business venture doesn’t make sense on paper. Like, a project like this, you need help anyway and so, I think it’s an avenue an entrepreneur can take to raise additional funding to kind of offset some of that to begin with,” Mr. Walker said.

With a goal of $30,000 to help pay for all stages of the building at 107 S. Sixth St., including electrical, plumbing and sound equipment, the project fell short by a wide margin, raising $4,000. But that was not the end for the business.

With a well-shot and edited video, word got out about Paradox faster than almost any ad campaign the managers of the business though possible.

“It … definitely helped. Doing the crowdsourcing with Indiegogo, so many people found out about it. We put a video out and we had, I don’t know, 1,500 people view that video and so, just the buzz and momentum to do that crowdsourcing campaign creates, it’s worth more than the dollar amount sometimes,” Mr. Walker said.

Trying to get The Tiger’s Den bookstore off the ground, co-owners Brian Myers and Amy Heath had the capital to open the business, but wanted to get other people involved.

“We had the money to go forth and open the business, as is. But we wanted to add something a little extra to it. The more funds you have when you start a business, the better,” Mr. Myers said.

With a a goal of $2,500, it exceeded expectations and allowed a little more comfort to Mr. Myers and Ms. Heath as the opening date had to be pushed back.

While some people and businesses use crowdsourcing sites solely as a way to raise money all across the world, Paradox Theatre and The Tiger’s Den offered incentives to donors willing to help out.

“I think it’s only fair if you’re going to ask people to contribute to your business venture that they’re getting something monetarily back that is more than what they initially made a contribution for,” Mr. Myers said.

He added: “In our instance, if someone gave $100 to our GoFundMe for The Tiger’s Den, then they get $150 in a tab to use in any way that they see fit once we’re open to business.”

In Paradox Theatre’s case, shirts, coffee and VIP treatment were offered to its guests, which it is still aiming to fulfill, as its coffee shop area is still getting installed.

“We need to make good on our promise. We owe some people some coffee and things like that. We haven’t forgot. But it’s taken us longer. We didn’t raise 40 grand,” Mr. Walker said.

For starting a business, Mr. Walker and Mr. Myers highly suggest they try to gain some momentum by asking for help from others.

“It makes sense. I think that it’s a great opportunity. People want to help and so, crowdsourcing is a great way to just give each person that opportunity,” Mr. Walker said.

As a social media platform, Mr. Myers said there’s few better avenues to get the word out.

“Even if you don’t raise a dime doing it — your friends, your family, the people that have a vested interest in you succeeding that may not be able to financially contribute, they’re going to share your page and that in turn, shares your business,” he said. “There were hundreds of shares in a matter of days on Facebook and Twitter and on Instagram about the business directly related to the GoFundMe account.”

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