TL;DR: James Chant, formerly Head of Product at Spacehive, talks to ProductTank London about a social entrepreneurial marketplace, how this ecosystem can driven by the network effect and fed by non-product functions, and what influence “social tech for good” can have on a wider society.
What is Spacehive?
Spacehive is a UK-based crowdfunding platform where people with ideas for projects can build support from their community, pitch for funding from the crowd or commercial partners and then share the impact they’ve created.
For the councils, companies and grant makers that partner with Spacehive it’s a powerful way to attract, support, and showcase projects they love.
Projects vary, and no idea is a bad idea, as long as it can win support from the local community. Success stories include a proposal to temporarily transform Bristol’s high street into a giant water slide and a bid to create an urban park along a disused rail line in Peckham.
Civic Crowdfunding is not new
Although the Spacehive platform is the first one to enable fundraising for local places, collective fundraising efforts have existed for centuries, a good example being the story of how ordinary New Yorkers raised money for the Statue of Liberty’s plinth.
While the statue itself was being shipped from France, the efforts to finance its granite pedestal had stalled. Amidst this uncertainty, newspaper owner Joseph Pulitzer chose to publish a fundraising campaign in his newspaper. “The Unfinished Pedestal” campaign was an incredible success. More than 25,000 people came together and raised the required cash over a five-month period. Small donations from ordinary citizens led to more generous backing from the city’s more prominent philanthropists. This network effect was one of the models inspiring the build of Spacehive.
Hurdles to Civic Crowdfunding
The market was disjointed. People who wanted to make a difference had no way of effectively engaging with those in power or within the sphere of influence. The changemakers had to navigate highly bureaucratic structures to find funding for their initiatives and demonstrate the impact they had on the local people. This was very laborious and frustrating.
On the other hand, the local authorities or the grant holders were unable to collect feedback from the actual communities on programmes they were planning to run. In addition there was low awareness of the initiatives already in place. More often than not, local authorities were expected to front all the money for a small number of projects, and thus couldn’t spread their impact across a larger number of initiatives by collaborating with other grant-holders operating in their area. The system wasn’t working.
Creating a Marketplace Product: Chicken or egg
A crowdfunding product is essentially a marketplace product. As such, you need to consider two different stakeholders. For Spacehive the two key personas who mattered were the partners with their funding pots and the project creators looking for the financial support. If you have the partners on board to grow the number of new projects, then once you had more projects in an area, you would attract more partners. The two worked in tandem so it was important to get them both using Spacehive.
How do you Grow at Scale?
- Finding partners: seek out and build relationships with forward-thinking organisations e.g. grant holders, private companies, local councils, who will test new ideas with you and offer opportunities to validate your concepts before you launch them into the wild.
- Finding projects: fully engage with the local community, go and meet people behind the ideas; make sure you run regular webinars and you can provide a broad user support that smooths out any issues for new and existing users.
- Front-end conversion: make your sign-up process simple and easy to navigate so people can put their projects on the site a the minimum burden and frustration.
- Build additional functionality: listen to your users and only implement functionality that works for them.
- Share your results: tell everyone how it went.