Thirty-nine-year-old Ryan Grepper’s first attempt to crowdfund his record-breaking Coolest Cooler idea on Kickstarter.com initially landed him not the thirteen million dollars he recently raised—but not even a single cent. In 2013, Grepper launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund his initial souped-up beach cooler idea and selected a campaign target of $125,000. He knew the campaign was risky because not only does Kickstarter collect 5% of all of the money raised, but it also has an “all or nothing” policy—project creators only get to keep the money they raise if they meet their financial goal. As many crowdfunders who had come before him, however, Grepper was willing to take the risk. After all, he lacked the capital to convert his idea into mass-manufacturing reality. Thus, with high hopes, Grepper launched his first Kickstarter campaign. Instead of raising $125,000, however, he only raised $100,000. Thus, despite all of his design work and marketing efforts, Grepper actually wound up not collecting a penny.
A year later, however, Grepper launched a new Kickstarter campaign, this time for a more modest and more easily attainable amount: $50,000. He’d also revamped his cooler idea and had created an actual prototype. Grepper’s new campaign not only met his lowered financial goal, but it ultimately overshot it by more than 2,000 percent. By the time his campaign ended in late August of 2014, Grepper had raised an astonishing $13,285,226—the most money that a single Kickstarter campaign had ever raised in the company’s brief, five-year history.
Before collecting his windfall, however, Grepper paid approximately $398,556 in credit card fees (or 3%) and $664,261 to Kickstarter (or 5%). Grepper thus paid more than a million dollars ($1,062,818 to be precise) in fees, or 8% of his total, and kept the remaining $12,222,408. Not bad for an inventor who clearly had a highly marketable idea but had no capital of his own to do much more than make a prototype and some doodles.
What Would Have Happened to the “Coolest Cooler” On GreenOurPlanet.org?
But here’s the thing—had Grepper added a few green touches to his invention—solar panels, for example to recharge the cooler’s batteries to run its light and blender (it’s a cooler for the beach, after all, so plenty of sun comes guaranteed!) and had the cooler been made from recycled plastic–then Grepper could have kept an extra $664,261 in his pocket, which would have been an extra 5% of his total. That’s all because of the recent launch of a new green crowdfunding site—GreenOurPlanet.org—which offers the same kind of platform that Kickstarter and other for-profit crowdfunders do, but which foregoes the typical 5% crowdfunding fee. The amount the new green crowdfunding platform charges creative types to convert their ideas into reality? Zero percent. Only typical credit card fees apply, which are less than 3 percent and which all for-profit crowdfunders charge, in addition to their standard fees that range anywhere from 4-9 percent. Currently, it’s the best crowdfunding deal in an increasingly crowded crowdfunding market: a green crowdfunding platform that charges zero fees and that both individuals and nonprofits can use.
“Crowdfunding has blown up hugely in the last six years,” says Ciara Byrne, Green Our Planet’s co-founder, who along with fellow co-founder, Kim MacQuarrie, beta-launched their green crowdfunding site in 2013. “Crowdfunding platforms have raised some $2.7 billion and successfully funded more than a million campaigns in 2012”, according to a report by Massolution, “with an 81% increase to $5.1 billion expected for 2013.”
While Kickstarter has carved out the creative projects market—music, films, or eve the Coolest Cooler–Razoo has carved out the non-profit market along with other crowdfunders such as FundMe and Crowdrise. Documentary filmmakers by profession who had made conservation films all over the world, Byrne and MacQuarrie decided to create a green crowdfunding site that not only was free to use, but that would also encourage project creators such as Mr. Grepper to perhaps think of making their creations a little bit greener—if only to save the creators a bit more money. That way, project creators could save money at the same time as benefiting the planet.
Why Not A Green Crowdfunding Site?
“Why not add solar panels to that cooler?,” says Byrne, a native of Ireland who has lived in the U.S. for nearly twenty years. “So that it’s powered by sunlight, instead of by gas or coal? And why not use recycled plastic instead of newly-created plastic? Or from other materials? Why not make the “Coolest Cooler” really cool? And why not raise that money on a free, green crowdfunder?”
Byrne and MacQuarrie beta-launched their green crowdfunding site in 2013, and began testing GreenOurPlanet.org amid the nation’s 5th largest school district, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Their idea was to test their green crowdfunder by asking the local school district if they were interested in using a free green crowdfunding site to raise money to build vegetable teaching gardens. Teaching gardens, after all, are known to improve student test scores, improve students’ knowledge of nutrition, and also improve students’ knowledge about ecology and conservation. Byrne and MacQuarrie approached one school initially and asked them if they would like to test out a free green crowdfunding platform. The school agreed. Within a month, the school had raised $11,000 via the local community and soon afterwards built a teaching garden.
Green Crowdfunding $400,000 for School Gardens
Soon, other schools heard about the free green crowdfunding site and tried it out themselves. To date, and solely locally and by word of mouth, Green Our Planet has raised nearly $400,000 and has helped fund more than sixty vegetable teaching gardens that affect some 30,000 students. Fifty more schools are preparing to launch their own garden campaigns. Green Our Planet, meanwhile, has also raised funds on its green crowdfunding site to retrofit a homeless shelter with solar panels in northern Nevada, is helping to replant an endangered Queuña forest in the Andes of Peru, and is currently raising funds to retrofit a local school so that the school becomes “green”—raising enough funds to replace several thousand light bulbs with lower energy ones and replacing water-hungry grass with drip-fed vegetable teaching gardens.
As a crucial part of their business model, however, Byrne & MacQuarrie decided to avoid the for-profit crowdfunding model and instead based their green crowdfunding site on Kiva.org—a nonprofit, micro-lending organization that launched in 2005 and since then has distributed more than a half billion dollars in small loans around the world. Byrne & MacQuarrie spoke to Kiva’s founder early on and were impressed with his revenue model—one that is especially adapted to launching projects in the Third World.
Launching a Free, Green Crowdfunder
“Kiva doesn’t charge project creators a percentage,” says Byrne, who ran a large documentary film company for years before combining her interests in documentary films and conservation. “Their platform is free to use. Instead, they ask lenders to make an optional donation before they check out. The platform attracts people who want to do something to improve the world,” Byrne says. “They want to connect with other people and they want to know what their money’s dong. What effect it’s having. We don’t want fees to prohibit someone from launching a great green idea—whether its creating a radio collar for lions in Kenya or restoring habitat or creating a great green beach cooler. So we’re are making it as easy as possible for people to raise money. Crowdfunding is here to stay. So why not use a green crowdfunding site? Why not use a free crowdfunder? Why not make the next generation of beach coolers green?
Byrne & MacQuarrie may be on to something. According to a 2013 study commissioned by the World Bank, the global crowdfunding market could soon reach between $90 billion and $96 billion dollars—almost twice the size of today’s entire global venture capital industry. All by people donating relatively small amounts of money to encourage the emergence of great new ideas. And why shouldn’t some of those ideas be green?