Rob Love, founder of Crowdfunder.co.uk, is no novice when it comes to great British design. After winning a millennium award back in 2000 for one of his own innovations and having qualified as a chartered engineer (he doesn’t tell too many people that!), it’s no surprise that he has wanted to work with the Design Council since the inception of Crowdfunder. Although his career took a different path, Rob’s slight bias towards design lays the foundations for his belief that through collaboration, the Design Council and Crowdfunder can form a welcoming network of validation and funding to support ideas that could change the world. We caught up with Rob to discuss the impact of crowdfunding on design.
Where did the idea for Crowdfunder come from?
Crowdfunding as a concept isn’t an original idea, but we could see a few crowdfunding sites emerging and thought that we could do it better. There’s quite a lot of history of the public getting together to help great ideas happen – the Statue of Liberty was funded by the crowd, for example. The funny thing however is that we actually had a TV company initially, and thought that it would be a brilliant way to discover great stories. What we could never have prescribed was how the platform would be used, and that’s the amazing thing that has come from the journey so far. It has become clear that it is less about raising the money, which everyone would think initially, but rather if you are developing a product or service of any kind, then crowdfunding the idea can really validate if people even really want or need it – we certainly didn’t realise that coming into it.
Has the advent of the internet been the catalyst for the success of crowdfunding?
Whilst the concept of crowdfunding has been around for a long time, the internet has evoked a real change because you can now easily reach a much wider network of people. Everyone has their own social network where they can test their ideas, and that is what has drastically changed over the last five or so years. The key thing is that the internet allows us to figure out very effectively and efficiently if an idea is good or not. For example, if you had an idea and a certain number of friends, we know what kind of response you should get before you even start – and this is all down to the internet.
With opportunities such as Crowdfunder now available, do you think it’s easier for designers and innovators to take an idea forward to production?
I don’t think easier is the right word, but I do think that Crowdfunder offers the opportunity for designers and innovators to reduce any risk. There is absolutely no point in anyone going to production without using a platform such as Crowdfunder as a validation stage for your idea. The partnership with the Design Council is particularly exciting because Crowdfunder is only part of the journey in bringing a product to life. Whilst you can validate, fund and gain support from a wider audience, you still need a certain amount of one to one time to get the technical support from people who know it. Many of our projects that come to us are very passionate about their idea, but don’t have a lot of experience. One of the crowdfunding failures of the past is that the crowd like the idea and support it, but the people who hold the idea have no manufacturing experience. It takes a number of ideas to make it work – Crowdfunder and Spark are providing the steps in this journey.
Do you see crowdfunding as the future, and approaching banks and single investors as a thing of the past?
It’s not a thing of the past at all. It’s increasingly apparent that Crowdfunder shouldn’t be seen as alternative finance, but rather as a complementary process between banks and investors. We already work with a number of banks and the future poses the opportunity that these banks could ask you if you have crowdfunded before you approach them for further investment. By validating your idea, their risk is mitigated.
What makes a crowdfunding campaign successful for a designer or innovator?
Believe in the process and start early. As a general rule, designers and innovators tend to want to hold onto their ideas until they get so far, but you really do need to be quite open minded with the crowd for validation. This unwillingness to share early on is a hurdle that needs to be gotten over and could be detrimental to your success. Not only can the crowd confirm whether there is a need or want for your idea, but they can also help you with any of those early challenges. Don’t be scared to engage with the crowd early. You still have control, but your idea will get stronger, quicker.
Can you tell us some success stories in terms of product and innovation that have come about as a result of crowdfunding?
There are loads, but one of my favourite design products we have recently seen at Crowdfunder is ‘The Halto’ – an innovative design product that aims to alleviate the pain and discomfort felt on the back of the neck when wearing halter-neck swimwear. It was started by two Mums in a kitchen. The project did so well because it offered a solution to a problem suffered by millions of women, meaning that there was ultimately a need for the product to exist. Not only did they raise the money they needed to proceed, but they got enormous recognition and support from lots of women, who wanted to be customers. Then it got seen by national and international retailers and distributors. That’s a common story.
It’s important to note that the particular products or services that we, the crowd, are interested in aren’t just the cool gadgets and widgets, but things that are going to have a really great impact... What I mean is, the public are more likely to support something that has a cause and social impact – a drone that delivers medical supplies, rather than the drone by itself is where the real innovation lies. Is it going to make a difference? The crowd really want to change the world for the better.
Why are programmes like Spark important for the future of British design and innovation?
Historically, the British are incredibly innovative. We’ve got a disproportionate amount of inventions and innovation, but we haven’t been as good at other countries at bringing them to the market. Programmes like Spark are essential because not only do they promote bright ideas and collaboration, but most importantly products that improve the lives of others. We’re a nation of people coming up with solutions to day-to-day problems, which is really exciting, and Spark provides the platform to bring these products to the market. Here in Britain, we’re as good as anyone else in the world and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the best in the world if we work together.
What would be your advice to someone considering the Spark programme?
Do it. Don’t be afraid of failure – you have to overcome that hurdle of being more open about your idea. On the other side of British culture, we may be creative and innovative but we tend to be a little reserved. Just go for it and make that leap. Get into the programme and be open to the idea that things may start as one thing and take a big turn. Your first or second idea might not be the winner, but maybe the third will be – and by going through the process, you’ll come to see that sometimes the success comes from within the journey itself rather than the original idea.