Crowdfunding is a great way for just about anyone to get their ideas out there without having to go through the sometimes daunting process of meeting with bigwig investors, it’s also, for the lack of a better term, a crowded space. In 2012 Deborah Jackson, a former investment banker, set out to change that, founding Plum Alley, a website set up specifically to help women entrepreneurs find a cleaner platform on which to state their case and raise their funds.
“When we first launched we were actually an e-commerce platform,” explained Julia Maltby, director of Campaigns for Plum Alley. “After about a year of that, we just kept getting feedback that what we were doing was great but what these women really needed was funds.”
And so Plum Alley moved into the ever-growing space of crowdfunding, but with the intention to do it differently.
“We function kind of like a Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but we work much, much more intimate with product traders so when someone comes to us and they have an idea that they want to raise money for, we really guide them through the process and help them with what they need to do to be successful in a way that Kickstarter and Indiegogo cannot do,” said Maltby, who works one on one with clients in supporting them step by step through the process, something, Maltby says, other crowdfunding sites just don’t do.
“A lot of times people come to us and they just don’t really understand what crowdfunding is,” continued Maltby, “so we’ll guide them through all the basic components of what they need for their site, like the video, the product description, the rewards – all of that and we also coach them on how to reach out to their network, how to ask for money, how to put together email marketing material. So, everything that is on our site, we’re helping them with and we’re also helping to kind of plan and organize their outreach strategy.”
The available team of support is what Maltby and the rest of the crew over at Plum Alley maintains sets them apart from other fundraising campaigns. Personal attention and guidance is what Plum Alley offers to women looking to step into the crowdfunding scene, which can be, at times, overwhelming to walk into. While going to angel investors and seeking help through venture capital (VC) is often the route most budding entrepreneurs are taught to explore first, Maltby is confident that crowdfunding has its place and purpose when raising funds for a product or idea.
“For instance, if someone is raising money to do a new shoe line and they plan on selling red and green shoes and they’ve put both of them up as rewards, if one of them gets ordered 75 percent of the time or one only gets ordered 25 percent of the time, they’re getting really important information about what their user base actually wants because you can kind of think about what you think your users are going to want, but ultimately, you don’t really know until you put it out there. And I see countless times people say ‘oh I know what my users want’ and then they do a campaign and everyone wanted something different,” pointed out Maltby.
To be fair, the advantage of seeing what the public thinks of your product before you even reach mass production is the same on any crowdfunding site, but Plum Alley still stands out, not just because they’re specifically geared towards women, but also because they are selective.
“I think a lot of other women probably gravitate towards us because since sites like Kickstarter have thousands of projects up any given moment, eventually a lot of them don’t even raise any funds and we see that a lot of women don’t really want to be on that space, they don’t want their projects to be embedded with that,” explained Maltby. “We are kind of selective about what’s on our site and we really try to maintain our core, e-commerce background, and you know, the site is beautiful – even if you just wanted to go and browse around, it’s a visually appealing site to look at.”
To qualify, one must be either a female founder or a diverse team. Plum Alley is not so much picky about what it is you are funding for, but rather they want to know why you are on this venture.
“It’s more just a matter of making sure that you’re serious and that you know the project makes sense and that ultimately we think you’re ready to be successful, because it takes quite a bit of work and we don’t want you to get started on all that if we don’t think you’re in a good place to be successful,” said Maltby.
With a success rate of more than 70 percent, twice the industry average, Maltby and the Plum Alley team credit it to the fact that they curate, noting they won’t let just anyone post a campaign. Coupled with their attention to detail in terms of their client base, Plum Alley also requires that their clients raise 30 percent of their goal behind the scenes before going live. If the 30 percent goal is not reached, then the campaign is not launched.
“A lot of times women actually really appreciate that because it’s kind of like a safety net, that if they think they can do it and they get started and it turns out they can’t, then they don’t have a failed project on the Internet for the rest of eternity,” explained Maltby.
So, unlike the many sites now online, Plum Alley offers women not only a place just for them, but also one that exhibits some exclusivity, in the matter that they are looking for serious players who are ready to take their ideas to the next level.
“It’s an online community, not only where you can showcase your products around other really beautiful products done by women, but there is a support system and we even see women that do a project will give money to another project that’s on the site just because everyone’s kind of cheering each other on,” remarked Maltby, who added, “Other sites are just not providing the high touch work that we do.”
While places like Plum Alley and people like its founder, Deborah Jackson, continue to push for more women to jump into the entrepreneurial pool, it is still apparent that more fundraising platforms geared towards women are needed.
“It’s kind of two fold, I will say. Most investors are men and they are investing in products that they understand and, for instance, Sara Blakely, who is the founder of Spanx, she went in and tried to get VC money and they all turned her down,” stated Maltby, “They don’t understand what that [Spanx] is, they don’t understand why it’s needed in the market. So, for products like that, there’s kind of an inherit gender bias that VC doesn’t get because they’re never going to wear Spanx, they’re just, not even going to take a second look. We see that happening time and time again where just because a man doesn’t understand a product, he won’t invest in it. People like to invest in things they understand or they would use, so that’s part of it and I would say because of that, it really is necessary that there are more female VCs and angels [investors] out there.”
In the meantime, Plum Alley continues to work hard to help support women entrepreneurs and spread the word that they exist and are ready to hear your idea.
“Our founder, Deborah Jackson, has been in front of the New York entrepreneurial, tech-starter scene for quite some time and then she was actually an angel investor prior to launching Plum Alley. She’s also a Wall Street vet of over two decades, so she’s been here for a while and I think because of her, people know the Plum Alley name and people do gravitate towards our site. That being said, we do reach out to people. We host a lot of events, kind of like crowdfunding 101 sessions to get people motivated to launch products on our platform as well,” said Maltby, who further mentions that Plum Alley is open to speak to those who just have an idea and haven’t even gone so far as developing a product or much of a plan.
“We are happy to talk with anyone,” added Maltby. “If you even just have an idea that needs a little nudge, needs a little advice, we’re really open and we have a team that is set up to do just that. We’re happy to just walk you through your idea, even if you don’t want to talk about crowdfunding yet and you’re not quite ready, we’re happy to chat.”
Clearly eager to help further along women and their individual causes, Plum Alley is providing a community and starting point for the many women who just don’t know where or how to start. An invaluable resource, as they see it, that they hope more women take advantage of, as having more women-led companies can never be a bad thing.
“Obviously in addition to the fact that if more women want to launch businesses they should be able to and they should have the funds to do it, I think there’s a lot of research that suggests that when women do have successful companies, they’re really using the funds that they get and the business they generate, to do good,” claimed Maltby. “And the money they raise is often recycled back down into their communities and they’re really using their power to do good.”
With plans to continue as a crowdfunding site, Maltby states that it is the hope of Plum Alley to not only just continue what they do but to expand as well, as they look for more ways to get money into the hands of female founded companies. More importantly, they hope to increase the base of both men and women that invest in those companies, noting that as important as it is to introduce more women entrepreneurs into the field of business, it is of equal import to know that there are more investors, men and women alike, ready to support them.