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众筹成为投资“新磁场”

(众筹融资)这样的免费服务是否真有高回报,不然何以吸引大量草根融资?答案也许会令你大吃一惊。

对那些为新产品创意、公司甚至个人需求投资的人来说,不乏证据证明众筹融资的价值。就在这个月,Facebook就以20亿美元收购了诞生于Kickstarter众筹网站的Oculus VR。去年智能表制造商Pebble通过众筹售出超过40万块智能表。而今年3月,Kickstarter在抵押业务额度也已经超过10亿美元。

据Massolution研究报告显示,2012年众筹平台融资达27亿美元,成功为超过100万个项目融资,2013年则又增长了81%,预计总额高达51亿美元。据世界银行2013年的报告称,到2025年,全球众筹融资市场可融资达900亿美元到960亿美元,约是如今全球风投融资额的1.8倍。

同时,针对众筹平台自身层面的融资也正在悄然进行。诸如Indiegogo、Crowdtilt、Patreon这些平台的兴起似乎都是草根阶层的功劳,但它们确实在为自身吸引投资上做得相当好。今年1月,IndiegogoB轮融资达4千万美元。不久前,Crowdtilt在B轮融资中获得2300万美元的投资。去年夏天,艺术众筹平台Patreon在种子期获210万美元投资。而这个趋势还在继续。

投资者们热切地涌进众筹融资平台。为什么呢?

帮助创业者和NGO(非政府组织)
其中一个原因是投资者看到了这些平台开发未来市场的潜力。Bee Partners的管理层合伙人Michael Berolzheimer认为,这和Muhammad Yunus通过小微信贷将资金配置给没有银行账户的项目大同小异。他说:“我们也在众筹融资上看到了相似的变化。” Bee Partners在2012年参与了Indiegogo总额1500万美元的首轮融资。

Berolzheimer又说:“我们需要帮助项目发起人与其投资者(或捐款人)之间建立交易,当然,这其中的佣金数目也是十分可观的。”

同样投资了Indiegogo的SeventySix Capital管理层合伙人Wayne Kimmel则说,对那些并不需要大企业交易基础的组织来说,众筹平台同样很有帮助。

Kimmel说:“我相信众筹融资民主化对创业者和非营利机构来说是一个巨大的突破。”

扩展初期融资
股权众筹和债权众筹同样有潜力。众筹资本咨询公司负责人兼《傻瓜也能投资众筹》的联合作者Sherwood Neiss相信,“此举将改变初期融资行业,正如Facebook改变了社交网络行业那样。投资众筹平台的大众不仅仅看到了这些公司的潜力,也看到了初期融资行业的潜力。”

Neiss说:“想想,投资者Peter Thiel在初期就可以凭500万美元估值投资Facebook,但是普通民众却只有等到Facebook IPO值达到1040亿,才算有机会参与其中。这些众筹融资的早期投资者正在赌谁将会成为众筹行业的下一个Facebook,并期待从中获得同样高的投资回报率。短期内,这些平台的交易总额将高达数十亿美元,投资者都希望自己下对了注。”

机构风投合伙人公司(IVP)的一般合伙人Jules Maltz相信,众筹融资平台“在未来具有成长为大企业的潜能”。Maltz说,IVP之所以投资Indiegogo是因为“我们相信这个公司促进了融资民主化”,同样,由于Indiegogo与其平台上的项目分享了(融资民主化的)成功,“它才能做出如此大的业绩,财务指标才能如此良好”。

“市场总是遵循‘赢家通吃’的法则,最好的项目、最好的投资者总是会青睐最大的平台” Maltz说,“因为具备了最协同的团队,最开放灵活的运作方式,以及最新颖特例的技术手段,Indiegogo注定会在市场中赢得一席之地。”

社交网络的影子
一些投资者认为社交网络和众筹融资的兴起有一些共同之处——两者都是将众人用某种方式联系在一起。

Charles River Ventures(CRV)的Annie Kadavy说:“在CRV,我们常常迅速投资那些看起来似乎同时有商机或‘草根’的项目,但我们相信它会成主流。Twitter就是个好例子,我们是第一个风投,而当时,它还只是个定位并不明确的在线群体组织而已。社交网络型公司大多是这么开始的,Facebook也不是第一个和唯一一个达到大规模的社交平台,所以我们认为除了Kickstarter,市场上应该还会涌现其他主流的众筹平台。”

去年Charles River就参与了Patreon的种子期融资。

Kadavy补充说:“众筹平台对投资者而言如此具有吸引力,部分原因是其独特的盈利&亏损模式(缩写为P&L)。尤其是一个众筹平台的收入及营销开支可能都为零,因为平台用户会自己负责销售和市场推广。因此,除了信用卡手续费,众筹平台运营成本相当低。如果Kickstarter是个上市公司,考虑到其盈利能力,其估值可达5亿美元以上。”

规模问题
投资者说,规模决定了一个众筹融资平台的投资收益。Maltz称,作为最大的众筹平台,Indiegogo拥有20万个项目,过去两年增长率超过1,000%,但其他的众筹平台似乎就没那么幸运了。

数字还有用吗?

Kadavy说:“去年12月福布斯报道指出,‘Crowdtilt上平均每个项目会有17人筹资,累计金额大致为1,300美元’,如果用这个数字简单计算一下,要使融资增长到1亿美元,这个平台要做150万个项目。换句话说就是,1,300美元/项目乘以付给Crowdtilt的5%佣金乘以150万个项目,等于大约1亿美元的融资额。”

根据Kickstarter2013年年报数据,我假设大约三分之一的人不止投资一个项目 ,那么累计的投资人次有可能达到800到900万。”

尽管Charles River没有投资Crowdtilt,Kadavy认为这个例子已表明“现在的问题是:这个项目按规模程度分析是否可行?我觉得可以”。

“A&R一切皆可”
Metamorphic Ventures的管理层合伙人David Hirsch曾参与Indiegogo的种子期融资,他把众筹融资比作音乐行业的艺术家和节目(A&R)。Hirsch 说:“若你看看音乐行业,多的是人走出去找人组建乐队。这是世上最酷的工作。”

Hirsch说,众筹融资就是一种“A&R一切皆可”的方式,因为它将获胜的点子带到顶峰。这不仅仅能应用到内容里,也能应用到产品上。他说:“众筹融资已成为一个测试用户需求的培养皿,如果那些商业公司足够聪明,它们会把过去的A&R方式搬过来用到产品发展上。”

Metamorphic对Indiegogo这种支付方式的机会非常兴奋。“因为它同时促进了创新和资金流动”。商业模式看起来很稳固。然而,不同于汽车租赁的初创公司Uber,“我们可以说,如果我们中断市场X个百分点,在这样的价格下再投资就有意义”,Hirsch承认,投资Indiegogo 时“重回一个宏观数字”是不可能的。虽然我们相信这种模式可行,但它们只是片段,需要我们把它们联系在一起。

他说,尽管如此,像Indiegogo这样的众筹公司就是一个极具创意和事业的支付方式和众筹平台。“即便难以预测未来的情况,这样的机会仍然值得一试,我们认为它会壮大并普及全球。”

无论如何,至少这种壮大是可见的。ff Venture Capital的合伙人之一John Frankel说:“对于增长,我们有足够的信心。无论是股权众筹还是产品预购,众筹融资都会成为主流的融资方式之一。我们认为这种方式很吸引年轻一代,因为它完全符合如今以社交网络为基础的经济模式。”

Frankel的公司早在2011年就投资了Indiegogo,Frankel说,“当时甚至都没人听过‘众筹融资’这个词。但最近我抽出2011年的演示稿,以便预估一下2013到2014年收益,我看到那些预估值确实都做得很好。他们做到了当初承诺的数字,这是很罕见的。”

他说,一家关注利润的众筹融资公司是一个值得投资的项目。Frankel说:“项目吸引资本能够推动平台发展,而平台发展就能使项目接触到更多国家的投资者、资金币种,发挥更大的作用。不得不说,‘这(众筹)真是个美妙的东西’。”

Is there really much return on a free service that attracts grassroots funding? The answer might surprise you.

There is no shortage of evidence testifying to the value of crowdfunding for those seeking to finance a new product idea, company, or even personal need. Just this month, Kickstarter-born Oculus VR was snatched up by Facebook for $2 billion. Smartwatch-maker Pebble sold more than 400,000 of its crowdfunded smartwatches last year. And in March, Kickstarter surpassed $1 billion in pledges made.

In all, crowdfunding platforms have raised some $2.7 billion and successfully funded more than a million campaigns in 2012, according to a Massolution report, with an 81% increase to $5.1 billion expected for 2013. By 2025, the global crowdfunding market could reach between $90 billion and $96 billion -- roughly 1.8 times the size of the global venture capital industry today, according to a 2013 study commissioned by the World Bank.

At the same time, there's another level of funding going on: for the crowdfunding platforms themselves. Indiegogo, Crowdtilt, Patreon -- to name just a few -- may seem like grassroots efforts, but they're doing remarkably well at drawing investments of their own. Indiegogo raised $40 million in a Series B round in January. Not long before, Crowdtilt garnered $23 million in its own Series B. Arts-focused Patreon pulled in $2.1 million in a seed round last summer. And the list goes on.

Investors are enthusiastically getting behind crowdfunding platforms. Why?

Assisting entrepreneurs and NGOs
One reason is that investors see potential for these platforms to reach untapped markets. It's not unlike the impact wrought by Muhammad Yunus, who brought capital deployment to the un-banked through microcredit funding, Michael Berolzheimer, managing partner at Bee Partners believed. "We see similar transformations taking place within crowdfunding," Berolzheimer said. Bee Partners participated in Indiegogo's $15 million Series A round in 2012.

"There's a need to facilitate transactions amongst campaigners and their investors [or] benefactors, and so there's absolutely money to be made in crowdfunding via commissions," Berolzheimer added.

Crowdfunding platforms are also useful for organizations that don't need the same transactional infrastructure that a large enterprise might need, according to Wayne Kimmel, managing partner at SeventySix Capital, which also invested in Indiegogo.

"I believe that the democratization of fundraising through crowdfunding is an incredible breakthrough for entrepreneurs and nonprofits," Kimmel said.

Expanding early-stage financing
There is also potential in equity- and debt-based crowdfunding. Sherwood Neiss, principal with Crowdfund Capital Advisors and co-author of Crowdfund Investing for Dummies, believes that it is "going to transform the early-stage financing industry in much the same way that Facebook transformed the social network industry. People investing in these crowdfunding platforms see the potential not only in these companies, but in the early-stage financing industry as well."

Consider: Investor Peter Thiel "was able to get into Facebook early on at a $5 million valuation, [but] the public wasn't able to get in until the IPO at a $104 billion valuation," Neiss said. "These early investors in crowdfunding platforms are betting on who will be the next Facebook of the crowdfunding industry and hoping for that same ROI. These platforms will be processing billions of dollars shortly, and investors want to be behind the winning ones."

Jules Maltz, a general partner with Institutional Venture Partners, believes that crowdfunding platforms "have the potential to be massive businesses in the future." Maltz said IVP invested in Indiegogo because "we believe in the company's mission to democratize funding" -- but equally because Indiegogo shares in the success of the campaigns it hosts, thus "building a large marketplace business with strong financial metrics."

"[Marketplaces] often have winner-take-all dynamics, with the best campaign owners and contributors going to the largest platform," Maltz said. "We believe Indiegogo is positioned to win in the market because of its strong team, open and flexible model, and differentiated technology."

Shades of social media
Some investors see similarities between the rise of social media, which helped connect millions of people to each other, and crowdfunding platforms.

"At CRV, we often invest in emergent behaviors that may seem niche or 'grassroots' at the time, but we believe can go mainstream," said Charles River Ventures' Annie Kadavy. "Twitter is a good example of that -- we were the first VC investor and, at the time, it was an obscure niche community. Social networking more broadly started out the same way and, just as Facebook was not the first-and-only social platform to reach scale, we don't think Kickstarter will be the first-and-only crowdfunding platform to go mainstream either."

Charles River participated in Patreon's seed funding round last year.

"Part of what makes many crowdfunding platforms interesting to investors are their unique P&Ls," Kadavy added, using the acronym for profit and loss statements. "Specifically, a crowdfunding platform's sales and marketing spend can be effectively zero, as the users of the platform do the selling/customer acquisition for them. So, aside from credit-card processing fees, crowdfunding platforms can be extremely low-cost businesses to run. If Kickstarter was a public company today, it could be worth $500 million-plus, given how profitable it could be."

A question of scale
But it's scale that determines just how profitable a crowdfunding platform investment would be, investors said. Though Indiegogo is the largest -- 200,000 campaigns and growth of more than 1,000% over the last two years, Maltz said -- others aren't quite so successful.

Do the numbers still work out?

"If I do some quick back-of-the-envelope math using the Crowdtilt numbers quoted by Forbes last December that 'the average project on Crowdtilt raises $1,300 from 17 people,' they would need to do about 1.5 million campaigns to gross $100 million to the platform itself," Kadavy said. "That is, $1,300 per campaign times the 5% fee paid to Crowdtilt times 1.5 million campaigns. That equals approximately $100 million revenue to Crowdtilt.

"If I go one step further to assume that approximately one-third of people contribute to more than one campaign -- this is what it is on Kickstarter, according to their 2013 Annual Review -- that gets me to 8 to 9 million people."

Though Charles River has not invested in Crowdtilt, Kadavy said that using it as an example shows that "the question becomes: Is that level of scale feasible? I think so."

'A&R for everything'
David Hirsch, managing partner at Metamorphic Ventures -- which led Indiegogo's seed round -- likens crowdfunding to what the music industry calls A&R, or artists and reptertoire. "If you look at the music industry, there was this whole layer of people who used to go out and scout bands," Hirsch said. "It was the coolest job in the world."

Crowdfunding is a sort of "A&R for everything," he said, in that it helps the winning ideas rise to the top. That applies not just to content but also to products, Hirsch said. "Crowdfunding is becoming a 'petri dish' of user demand that commerce companies will, if they're smart, use as a sort of old-school A&R for product development," he said.

Metamorphic became "very excited" about Indiegogo "because of the payment opportunity," he said. "On one end, it's fostering innovation; on the other, money is transferring." The business model seemed sound. Still, unlike an investment in the car hire startup Uber where "we could say, if we disrupt the market X percent, an investment makes sense at this price," it wasn't possible to "back into a macro number" for investing in Indiegogo, Hirsch admitted. "While we believe the model works, there are still pieces that have to be sewn together."

Nonetheless, crowdfunding companies like Indiegogo are "a payment and crowdfunding layer that's being put into ideas and feelings and commerce and causes," he said. "That, for us, make this worth the risk and uncertainty of being unable to anticipate the future. We think it's massive, with global ubiquity."

At least in sight, anyway. "We think we have the wind to our backs as regards growth," said John Frankel, a partner with ff Venture Capital. "Crowdfunding is a theme that is just going to become more mainstream in the way people approach raising money and putting money to work, whether it's for equity or in order to prepurchase a product. We think it really appeals to Millennials and this new social network-based economy that we live in."

Frankel's firm invested in Indiegogo back in 2011, when "no one had even heard of the word 'crowdfunding,'" Frankel said. "[But] I recently pulled out their presentation deck that we had back in 2011 for revenue projections in 2013 and 2014, and those projections were actually pretty good. They're beating the numbers they said they would do, which is pretty rare."

It demonstrates that a crowdfunding company with an eye on profits is an investment worth making, he said. "It attracts capital that grows the platform, and that enables it to reach further to more countries, currencies, and capabilities," Frankel said. "I look at that and I think, 'That's a wonderful thing.'"


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