The Power of Crowdfunding

Written by Draper University Alumni Niti Shree.

Being a startup enthusiast and a budding entrepreneur, I always wanted to attend an unconventional entrepreneurship program in Silicon Valley. (Will be sharing in future posts that why I don’t believe in conventional educational programs). When I was in the middle of “Now what…?” phase, my boyfriend ( a Draper University alumnus himself) asked me to apply. I got the selection email for “April 2015 batch” in Feb.

Two of the Draper alumni (my boyfriend and his friend) were just discussing one day that technically I would be the first Indian woman to attend Draper University’s program. Well, to my surprise I received a call from a journalist friend from The Times of India (The No.1 English daily in India) regarding this. She interviewed me and boom — I started receiving calls from my networks on the eve of International Women’s day (Check out the article that appeared on The Times of India). Now, it was confirmed that I am going. Check out my post on “Why did I choose to go to Draper University”.But the question was “How?”. Only a month was left for the April batch and I didn’t have the visa. The bigger problem was “funds” even though I got a good scholarship amount of 4,500$. I had to arrange for 5,500$. I requested Draper University to defer my admission for the next batch to help me buy some time.For a young professional with hardly 4 years of experience with 3 career switches, there was no chance of the term called “savings”. “Family money” — no way, I stopped that ever since I graduated. There is not much you could expect from a middle-class family for an unconventional educational program like this.

While I was unable to see the way out to make it happen, my boyfriend came to rescue. He gave me the confidence that “Money is the least thing you should worry about. It’s going to happen no matter what”. So, I decided to crowdfund. Crowdfunding was a very new experience for me. I started reading articles on crowdfunding regarding — which platform is good, what approach I should have, tips and tricks etc. Wasted some time on launching as I wanted to be “perfect”. I came across an article on TheNextWeb. Taking inspiration from the article, I finally launched the campaign on Indiegogotitled “Superhero Mission: Everyone’s Personal Stylist” after wasting some time on over-analyzing. I thought ultimately this experience is a step towards my entrepreneurial dream. So, it was titled around my startup idea and in return I was offering perks of PR services. Tried making a video too as a lot of blogs written on successful crowdfunding says that it increases the chances for success. Ended up making crappy videos. So, just designed an infographic of my story on Piktochart. For 10 days, I didn’t reach out to anyone.

Just creating a campaign on a crowdfunding platform does not help you. So, no funds came through in first 10 days. Then, I started sending e-mails to my network. 4 years after college I didn’t focus on minting money, but I did focus on learning and working for the cause I believe in. Helping early-stage entrepreneurs through volunteering for Headstart for over 2 years created a ripple effect of goodwill which I realized during the crowdfunding experience. I probably would have sent 200+ e-mails to renowned entrepreneurs, investors and technologists in India and Silicon Valley. The subject line of the e-mail always remained “First Indian woman at Draper”.I also got small contributions from early stage entrepreneurs who replied to my “Thank you” saying “Come on, if we were at a stable stage we would have contributed a large amount”. It was so touching. Out of many e-mails sent, one of them was to Liz Wald, the former VP, International of Indiegogo. As per her suggestion, I changed the title of my campaign to “Send Niti to Draper University”. In another e-mail to Slava Rubin, founder and CEO of Indiegogo, introduced me to Indiegogo Life and I received a good support from Indiegogo team in seamlessly moving my campaign to Indiegogo Life. I raised 4000$ on Indiegogo. Now, the “perks” were irrelevant. Though I communicated to my backers of support/services at any point of time.

I was still short of around 3000$ keeping in consideration the flight costs as well. I got 1000$ in my account through 3 other entrepreneurs. The biggest contribution of 2000$ came through Meera Kaul Foundation’s woman in technology program which was paid directly to Draper University. There were 36 backers including Meera Kaul and offline contributions. The amazing part was most of these backers were renowned technologists, investors and entrepreneurs from India and Silicon Valley.

With this amazing experience, my belief in myself and my work has gone to a whole new level. I will reveal the names of all the backers when the time is right.

Overall, the journey to Draper University became all the more prized experience because of the amazing backers in my crowdfunding experience.