Moolah for a mad thought, anyone?

Jan 05, 2014, 11:12 IST | Anu Prabhakar

Crowdfunding projects are no longer only about helping acid victims, generating electricity for a rural village or making a statement through a movie. They have now become quirky and wildly creative, with people seeking funds for classes, internships, surrogacy and even funerals

When 26-year-old Shree Kant Bohra, the founder of a technology-oriented startup in Bangalore approached global crowdfunding website Indiegogo early this year, it wasn’t to fund a project with a social cause. It wasn’t to help generate electricity for the rural confines of a backward state. Nor was it to stop human trafficking or make a movie on LGBT issues in India. His reason to approach the website was a 30 x 30 -inch board game called Politics of India.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

There are two sets of cards in the Politics of India — the resource card (which also includes ‘issue cards’, on issues like women’s safety, education and so on) and the candidate card. Each player is dealt 25 cards and they have to place a candidate and an issue card on each seat (the issue card that is placed on the board is known only to the player). A seat here means cities — like Ahmedabad, Surat and so on. Each card is worth certain points and the player with the maximum number of points wins the seat. Here, it literally pays to play politics.

Even to the most seasoned player, the rules of the game may sound a little complex. Even convoluted, maybe. But during the one month that the project remained live on Indiegogo, Bohra and his college buddy-turned-project partner Ritu Chaudhary, managed to earn R20,000 for their wildly creative idea — a far cry from their dream sum of R1 lakh, but just enough to bring out 50 boxes of the board game, send it to the 22 people who funded their project from all over the world and sell the remaining boxes online.

“The success of our crowdfunding project has shown us that we have a good idea and that it will click,” explains Bohra, over a telephonic interview. “Now we are confident enough to venture into this on our own by taking a personal risk,” he adds. The idea for Politics of India came when Bohra sat hunched over a board game during one of the several meetings that board game aficionados like himself organise in Bangalore, where they spend hours playing specially imported German and US imported board games such as Power Grid and Ticket to Ride.

Crowdfunding website owners in India unanimously agree that there has been a paradigm shift in the kind of projects crowdfunding websites fund these days. People are now enthusiastically funding internships and trips abroad, activities like a professional class to learn something new or fine-tune an old hobby and even surrogacy for absolute strangers — a surprising departure from earlier crowdfunding projects that had a grand social, political or medical cause attached to it. “I even saw a project that wanted to crowdfund a funeral,” chuckles Rinkesh Shah, founder of crowdfunding website Ignite Intent.

Crowdfunding platform Ignite Intent’s Rinkesh Shah

Reaching for the stars, literally
In the coastal district of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, KV Varun spends some of his time gazing at the night sky, fantasising about what lies beyond the stars that seem to wink at him. The BTech student approached crowdfunding website Ignite Intent in July last year for something that is, by his own admission, a ‘crazy experiment’ — he wants to send the Indian flag, a HD camera, a GPS and a picture of himself to the outer edge of space. “No one in India has sent our flag to space yet. Once the balloon bursts because of the pressure inside it, it will come back to Earth and it will be nice to see what kind of amazing visuals the camera captured of the Earth,” explains Varun, who once nursed the dream of going to space as a child.

But staying by the Bay of Bengal does not help matters for this 18-year-old for; precision is everything.

In addition to the accurate mathematical work that Varun will have to spend hours doing, he also has to calculate the wind speed and direction for a successful launch. “Or else, the payload will fall in the ocean or forest,” he points out.

KV Varun, a BTech student in Andhra Pradesh, hopes to crowdfund his project to send a camera to the outer edges of space for great photographs

Varun needs R2 lakh for the payload and the kind of equipment he has in mind. The project, ultimately, didn’t go live on the crowdfunding website. “I was a little caught up with my college admissions so I had to take a break from the project,” he explains, adding that he has plans to resume work now.

Satish Kataria of Catapooolt agrees that crowdfunding websites now get a variety of projects. “People now get their studies and even travels abroad funded,” he explains. “Crowdfunding has democratised funding and now people like being a part of someone’s dream or project,” adds Kataria, who is in the middle of launching India’s first crowdfunding guidebook to spread more awareness about the concept.

Saying it right matters
In another instance, adventure sports enthusiast Rewat Bir Tuladhar managed to successfully crowdfund a movie on his ‘journey to become a professional skydiver’ by taking free-fall classes. “I have learnt martial arts, trekking and so on so I just wanted to experience this,” explains Tuladhar, who works in the quality control department of a Bangalore-based company. His own friends were sceptical about the project. “But I did a lot of research and emailed a skydiving school about the cost,” says Tuladhar. Funders are promised a DVD of the film, T-shirts and many other gifts as rewards. He finally managed to raise 50 per cent of the money he wanted for the project on crowdfunding website Wishberry.

Wishberry founders Anshulika Dubey and Priyanka Agarwal

Wishberry’s Anshulika Dubey explains that she liked the twist Tuladhar gave to his project on her website, which was essentially asking money to learn skydiving. “I liked the way he intertwined the skydiving class with the whole thing. It was smart. If he had plainly asked money for skydiving classes, it may have turned out to be different. It was one of the more creative projects that we have received,” she explains. Although confident about receiving more home-grown quirky projects in the next few years, Dubey explains that as the concept of crowdfunding itself is fairly new in the country, she does not see too many zany ideas breeding here right now, especially when compared to the West.

“I once saw a project for a cat-shaped candle that showed a skeleton once it burned itself out. And it got funded too!” laughs Dubey. “Yeah, abroad you get to see a lot of crazy ideas.”

Ayani Woge aka Ayani Abdisa would be a case in point. The US-based 22-year-old student of Northwest Indian College has asked for funds on an international crowdfunding platform for, what she calls, her ‘spiritual journey’ to India and help her meet spiritual heads like the Dalai Lama. Woge, an Ethiopian-American, had her first spiritual experience in 2009. “Spirits came to me in my dreams and gave me knowledge and prophetic dreams that came true,” she explains in an email interview. Abdisa claims that she can also to enter the soul of another being and have access to its thoughts, feelings
and spirit.

Adventure junkie Rewat Bir Tuladhar is all set to learn skydiving professionally, thanks to his successful crowdfunding project on Wishberry

Quirky quotient
With an increasing number of people in India ditching their day jobs for something that is creatively fulfilling, crowdfunding website owners in India point out that innovators, entrepreneurs and creative artistes in India have begun to slowly, but surely, up their quirky quotient. Wishberry’s Dubey remembers the crowdfunded gig Control ALT Delete that set the stage for relatively unknown, but no less talented, bands from all over India to perform at Sitara Studio last year. “They managed to raise more than R1 lakh. I was surprised to see people who were not even going for the concert contributing money,” recalls Dubey.

Rinkesh Shah’s Ignite Intent gets a lot of project proposals from IIT students. “One of our earlier projects was by a student who was making a robot with skills like walking through tough terrain, taking pictures and operating Bluetooth. That project managed to get about R40,000,” he explains. Another student wanted to make a racing car that ran on electricity. Shah explains that the onus of getting a project funded lies on the creator, who should be motivated enough to approach people for funds.

“Hypothetically speaking, I can take a month off from a job and ask people to crowdfund my expenses or salary and give services or products as an output of my talent as rewards. The rewards could be anything from downloaded or collated clips of best movie scenes or one movie. How cool will it be to see a mashup of Deewar, Sholay, 3 Idiots’ scenes?” he asks. “I could also collate some all time favourite songs and hand it out. Once the ideas are in place, there are truly no limitations in crowdfunding,” he concludes.

Deceptively Easy
Crowdfunding might sound like the easiest way to fund a project, but website founders and owners caution that the success of crowdfunding a project — quirky or not — depends on how well the project owner can reach out to friends, family and potential funders. Talking about how he chooses projects that will go live on his website, Catapooolt’s Satish Kataria explains that he looks at whether the innovator or entrepreneur can deliver the project on time. “The person should not get money and then run away with it,” he points out. Other criteria to greenlight projects includes overall cause of the project and how strongly the project will appeal to potential funders. “Right now, there is a film on homosexuals that is trying to get crowdfunded. The project is also relevant today," adds Kataria, who’s set to launch India's first guide to crowdfunding.

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