不怕夢想太微小

──群眾募資網站挺你!
:::

2013 / 2月

文‧劉嫈楓 圖‧林格立


自從90年代網路創業潮爆發以來,每隔一至兩年就有一項顛覆既有規範的網路創新模式問世。當網路日益深入人們生活後,網路上又會出現什麼新鮮事?

 

2009年,萌芽美國的群眾募資網站竄出,他們集結無遠弗屆的網友之力,匯聚眾多小額金錢,變成大力量,幫助圓夢。向來尾隨美國網路趨勢的台灣,兩年前也出現群眾募資網站,這股圓夢的力量正在台灣發酵。


「我想出版一本兒童插畫繪本,需要1萬5,000元。」「我想要生產一款腕錶,需要資金36萬元。」若把這些看似很個人,也不太難完成的企劃案放到銀行與創投業者的眼前尋求投資,可能會換來嗤之以鼻的冷眼。

然而,夢想不在大小,而在執行。現在,實現夢想不用向銀行借貸,毋須商請親朋好友贊助,只要把提案放到網路募資平台,讓網友直接評斷夢想值不值得支持?一旦獲得認可,網友就會大方贊助小額資金。這項被喻為「網路海選」的群眾募資方式,近兩年引發熱切關注。

群眾募資大爆發

2009年創立,現為全球最大群眾募資網站的「敲門磚」(Kickstarter),是這股風潮的帶動者。Kickstarter的成立,始於36歲的華裔創辦人陳佩里的自身經驗。喜歡爵士樂的他,2002年因為無法募得2萬美元,喪失了在美國南方紐奧良爵士嘉年華表演的機會。十多年前這段無法圓夢的遺憾,促成了Kickstarter的誕生。

陳佩里創業的初衷,是為了幫助藝文創作者,募得經費。不到一年,網站迅速竄紅,提案內容從最初的影像拍攝、藝文創作,擴大到美食、遊戲軟體、科技等領域。網站成立至今,累積超過8萬個提案,超過200萬名會員註冊,成功率達43.63%,募得近4億美元的資金。2010年,兩位留美台灣學生蔡牧民與賴佩芸,靠著Kickstarter提案,從335名網友手中,募得近1萬8,000美元,拍攝設計題材的紀錄片《思考與設計》。

社交網站Twitter的創辦人傑克‧多西,和圖庫網站Flickr的創辦人卡特麗娜‧費克都是Kickstarter的股東。2010年,美國《時代》雜誌,讚美Kickstarter是當年度最好的發明;《富比世》雜誌甚至預言,今年群眾募資網站將大爆發,募資總額可望達到50億美元。

台版Kickstarter陸續問世

群眾募資網站的創新趨勢,也從美國吹向台灣,台版Kickstarter陸續出現。2011年,由輔仁大學新聞系副教授陳順孝、中正大學傳播系副教授胡元輝等學者共同成立的「We Report」,就是將群眾募資的手法應用在新聞報導領域。因拍攝紀錄片《不能戳的祕密》,揭發禽流感真相而聲名大噪的獨立紀錄片導演李惠仁,也透過We Report平台提案募資。隔年,更有無名小站創辦人林弘全、旅英建築設計師徐震、台玻集團總裁林伯實的女婿彭康育陸續加入,各自成立群眾募資網站。

2007年無名小站被雅虎收購後,創辦人林弘全即進入雅虎,擔任亞洲區產品規劃管理部資深經理;2011年,他看中群眾募資網站的潛力,決定再度創業。同時是文創基金豐利創投董事的他,深知如果按照創投界、新創公司的效益評估標準,小規模、資金需求不高的創業者很難獲得青睞。

林弘全表示,募資網站上的部份創業提案有時稍嫌青澀,加上許多育成單位輔導新創者的心態過於積極,壓縮了容許提案者犯錯的空間,久而久之,個人的多元創意難免遭到扼殺。

因此,他希望能協助與他一樣懷抱理念的微型創業者,在銀行融資、創投挹注資金的傳統管道外,找到新的活水。「這是讓沒有資源的彼此,互相拉抬幫忙的新方法,」林弘全說。

2011年下半年,林弘全成立群眾募資網站FlyingV,2012年4月正式上線。初成立的第一個月,FlyingV即有5個提案成功,共募得新台幣50萬元。目前,FlyingV有近萬名註冊會員,集結近百個計畫,募款資金達新台幣七百多萬元。

創站至今,FlyingV接獲的多是「理想重於實際」的無形提案,林弘全希望未來FlyingV能有更多從無形理念走向有形產品生產的提案,延續發想者的創意。「成功募資的提案者是否如曇花一現,還有待觀察,但有了開始,才有後續行動和想法,」林弘全說。

現在,群眾募資推動的創業力量正在擴大發酵。例如,在FlyingV募得354萬元,創下該網站最高募資金額的Ch+U daily創意設計誌創辦人邱維濤,即計畫將提案內的腕錶量產;前樂團歌手廖誌汶提出的「稻田裡的餐桌計畫」,吸引王品集團董事長戴勝益指名嚐鮮,也將在近期再次提案,開辦第二場融入周遭景色的田中央用餐計畫。

同樣希望幫助他人圓夢的還有「嘖嘖」網站創辦人徐震。創辦「嘖嘖」前,徐震是旅英多年的都市設計規劃師,因為工作關係,他時常赴歐洲各地參觀設計展。他觀察,歐洲文創產業成熟,因此,設計者能透過採購風向,得知市場趨勢,減低量產風險。

反觀台灣,設計者只能自行參與各式創意市集,但因為缺乏從創意走向商品化的評估機制,必須背負滯銷的風險,難以讓文化創意產業化。「當時,我在倫敦認識的許多設計者,寧可待在英國,也不願意回到台灣。」他說,不健全的文創環境,澆熄了旅外設計者的返鄉意願。

如何創造成熟的文創環境,這個疑問,不時盤旋在徐震的腦海中。2010年底,他偶然看到一款iPod nano手錶,竟然透過Kickstarter成功募資生產;徐震一心想為台灣文創界找尋出路的念頭,自此找到了解方。2012年,徐震邀集5位橫跨英國、台灣二地的成員,在台成立群眾募資網站「嘖嘖」。

改變傳統銷售模式

透過群眾募資網站的創新經營型態,不光改變了集資方式,去中間化的消費流程,也扭轉了傳統的零售模式。

「嘖嘖」專案經理林能為分析,傳統銷售流程是製造商生產商品,經由代理商或經銷商採購,放在銷售通路上,最後才由消費者決定購買與否;生產者隱身在層層流程背後,與顧客沒有任何互動,「顧客認的是產品,而非人。」

相較之下,群眾募資網站,讓提案者站上第一線,拉近和贊助者之間的距離;少了代理商、銷售商擋在中間,提案者自己就是品牌。

「以前顧客掏錢,是購買商品;現在,消費者不只是顧客身分,還是在背後鼓勵你向前衝的聲援者、支持者,認同感也會出現,」FlyingV網站創辦人林弘全說。

募資網站裡,任何微不足道的發想,都有實現的可能,但限時限額的募資往往是一場殘酷的淘汰賽。「這不只是抽樣調查消費意見,而是直接交給市場終端的消費者決定,」林能為說。募資結果代表了市場願不願意接受提案者的想法,不僅能將市場消費訊息回饋給創作者;甚至還能成為投資者判斷投資目標的參考。

因此,透過募資網站的「海選」機制,常會出現出人意料的結果。一位民俗大師徐福全,在「嘖嘖」提案「增訂家禮大全」,希望勘誤清朝雍正13年出版,記載民間禮節與婚喪喜慶禮俗的《家禮大成》一書。徐震原以為,這項冷僻、嚴肅的計畫,沒有辦法獲得年輕網友支持,沒想到,不僅在預期時間內達標,募資金額也遠比預估的5萬元高出許多。

前台灣數位文化協會常務理事,現為資通訊智庫顧問公司Fertta執行長徐子涵分析,群眾募資改變了商品交易行為中,以金錢換取等價商品的契約概念;贊助者買的是一種無形理念。過去,消費者購買的是最終商品,但在群眾募資模式裡,資助者反而是先「預購」想法,最後才看見商品成形,等於參與了創作者孕育成果的過程。

他認為,群眾募資網站的成功,絕非偶然。90年代網路出現後,個人出版的成本逐漸降低,任何人都有權對外講述願景和夢想,進而促成部落格興起,但這也僅止於單向傳播而已。近年來,在臉書的推波助瀾下,陌生的網友願意連結彼此,加上電子商務的環境成熟,網友才願意接受提案者的理念,掏錢贊助。

「這反映現實社會人與人彼此的信任程度。」徐子涵解釋,如果一個社會充滿詐欺,實體交易存在風險,群眾募資的模式也很難運行。

三大隱憂:無法源、監督難、創意枯竭

Kickstarter為許多夢想家敲開創業的第一塊磚,但行動先於法令之前的群眾募資,仍存有爭議,因為募資手法並無法源根據。去年4月,美國總統歐巴馬簽署簡稱為「JOBSA」的《創新公司啟動法》,鼓勵美國中小企業創業。法案分為7大部分,其中一章即針對群眾募資網站訂定募資條款,除了規定最大募資金額、單一投資者金額上限外,也要求網站向美國證券交易委員會註冊,公開揭露相關資訊。此法被群眾募資業者視為一大鼓舞。

Kickstater創辦人陳佩里曾說,群眾募資網站是商業營運,不是公益性質的募捐。因此,國內外的群眾募資平台通常在提案者募資成功後,從中抽取5%~10%不等的費用,並規定餽贈機制。在台灣,屬於商業營利的群眾募資網站,並不適用內政部的《公益勸募法》,由於目前尚無其它法源,因此群眾募資的未來仍存在變數。

徐子涵認為,面對網路創新,政府相關單位往往抱持著讓民間自主發展,再行規範的態度。現階段的台灣群眾募資網站,因為案件不多,單件金額、募資總額不高,加上避開有所爭議的股權分配,不致出現重大爭議。但倘若未來網站規模持續壯大,問題勢必浮現,尋求法源的必要性將會提升。

就像訂購預售屋,網友在群眾募資網站上購買尚未成形的創意或理念,隨之而來的問題是:網友付錢後,募資者能不能按照提案內容,如期執行計畫?

為了減低爭議,FlyingV除了和提案者簽訂合約,還會定時派員監督執行進度。鎖定文創設計類型為提案主力的「嘖嘖」網站創辦人徐震坦言,提案計畫就等於網站產品,故事內容會影響網站的品牌力,如果未來提案創意枯竭,就不見得還能持續吸引網友,募資網站也無存在的價值了。

無論如何,群眾募資網站的興起,已再一次刷新世界對網路的想像。過去那些微小夢想、缺乏資金的新創事業,以及說來引人發噱的故事,都有了實現的可能。

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EN

No Dream Too Small:Crowdfunding Comes to Taiwan

Liu Yingfeng /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Phil Newell

Over the last two decades we have seen the rise of the Internet, the blossoming of blogging, and the meteoric success of social media like Facebook. What revolutionary new web model will emerge next?

 

“Crowdfunding” websites first began to appear in the United States in 2009. They bring together the resources of a broad range of Internet users, turning tiny amounts of capital into a major force to help people realize their dreams. In Taiwan, which has always been quick to pick up on Internet trends in the US, crowdfunding websites began appearing two years ago, and today this force that makes dreams come true is starting to have an impact.


“I would like to publish an illustrated book for children; I need NT$15,000.” “I want to produce wristwatches. I need NT$360,000 in capital.” If you put proposals like these in front of a banker or venture capitalist, you’ll likely get a very frigid reaction.

But today people who want to turn their dreams into reality no longer need to ask banks for loans or cajole friends and family to help them out. All they have to do is put their proposal on a fundraising website, where Internet users will be able to directly evaluate whether the idea is worth supporting or not, and, if so, the person making the proposal can then collect small amounts of capital from a broad circle of Internet users. This fundraising approach, known as “crowdfunding,” has been getting increasing attention in Taiwan over the last couple of years.

The crowdfunding explosion

This trend has been led by site “Kickstarter,” founded in 2009 and currently the largest crowdfunding site in the world.

The kick start for Kickstarter was the personal experience of its founder, Perry Chen, a 36-year-old Chinese-American. A jazz lover, he missed an opportunity to organize a performance at a jazz festival in New Orleans back in 2002 because he was unable to raise US$20,000 to fund his project. This unrealized dream became the impetus behind the birth of Kickstarter.

At the beginning, Chen’s aim was to raise money to help creative artists fund projects. Within less than a year, the site had taken off. Since its founding, it has listed over 80,000 projects, has had more than 2 million people join as members, and has raised nearly US$400 million, successfully funding 43.63% of the proposals.

Crowdfunding websites radically transform traditional models of both capital accumulation and consumer purchasing. Indeed, the Internet users who are the target of appeals for capital are, at one and the same time, the investors behind a given proposal and the future consumers of the product of that proposal. This innovation has drawn a vast amount of attention in a short time. In 2010 Time magazine called Kickstarter the best innovation of the year. Forbes has predicted an enormous explosion in crowdfunding websites this year, and estimates that the total amount raised could reach US$5 billion.

Taiwan versions come online

The innovation of crowdfunding has made its way from the US to Taiwan, and Taiwan-style “kickstarters” have appeared one after another. In 2011, a group of scholars specializing in media and communications, including Chen Shun-hsiao of the Department of Journalism and Communications Studies at Fu Jen Catholic University and Hu Yuan-hui of the Department of Communications at National Chung Cheng University, founded “We Report,” following the model of applying crowdfunding to citizen journalism. In 2012, Light Lin, the originator of the blogging website Wretch, Quake Hsu, an architect who lived for several years in the UK, and Rio Peng, son-in-law of Taiwan Glass Group CEO Lin Po-Shih, all jumped in, each creating their own crowdfunding site.

After Wretch was acquired by Yahoo!Kimo in 2007, Lin became head of social blog products for the Asia-Pacific region. In 2011, having identified the potential of crowdfunding websites, he began his second phase as an Internet entrepreneur. As he is concurrently senior VP at Maxwell Capital, he understands very well the venture capital world and the criteria for evaluating the profitability of startup companies, so he knows that small-scale entrepreneurs with low-cap micro-projects are never going to get much attention.

Having founded his own firms, Lin knows how hard it is to find investors. He hopes to help micro-entrepreneurs who have dreams and ideas of their own, just like he had, to find a source of capital outside the traditional channels of bank loans and venture capital investment. “This is a new approach, whereby people who have few resources can assist one another to get a leg up,” he explains.

In the second half of 2011, Lin founded FlyingV, which formally went online in April of 2012. Currently FlyingV has nearly 10,000 registered members, has collected nearly 100 proposals, and has raised more than NT$7 million.

At the current stage, most of the proposals on FlyingV are notional, and as yet offer no tangible products. Light Lin hopes that in the future FlyingV will move beyond intangible concepts to actual product manufacturing that will take the original ideas to the next step. “It could be that proposals that get funded will all turn out to be just a flash in the pan, we don’t really know yet. But in any case, there can only be follow-up action and ideas if somebody takes the first step,” he says.

The promotion of crowdfunding has already begun to have an impact on entrepreneurship. For example, Eric Chiu, founder of the creative design website Ch+U Daily, who raised a record high NT$3.54 million on FlyingV, is now planning to mass-produce the watches from his initial proposal. Former rock-band front man Liao Zhi­wen, whose initial proposal for “dining tables among the rice fields” (given a thumbs up by Wow­prime Group chairman Steven Dai) succeeded in getting funded, has recently come up with a second proposal.

Another figure who wants to help others realize their dreams is Quake Hsu, who has founded the crowdfunding website “Zec­zec.” Prior to creating Zec­zec, Hsu, a city planner by profession, lived for several years in the UK. As part of his work, he often traveled to design exhibitions throughout Europe. He observed that in Europe, the environment for cultural and creative industries is quite mature. Designers are able to assess market trends by observing the purchasing patterns of large-scale retail outlets. This reduces the risks for going into mass production.

In Taiwan, on the other hand, there is no evaluation mechanism for designers to turn their creative ideas into commercial products, so designers have to absorb the risk that sales will be stagnant. As a result, it has not been easy to industrialize Taiwan’s creativity. Hsu adds that the absence of a sound environment for cultural and creative industries undermines the willingness of Taiwanese designers living overseas to return home.

How can a mature environment for cultural and creative industries be generated? The question kept coming back into Hsu’s mind. Then, at the end of 2010, he happened to hear that someone had successfully raised capital on Kickstarter to manufacture wristbands to mount iPod nanos. It seemed that he had finally found his answer. In 2012, Hsu gathered together five founders from the UK and Taiwan and they established Zec­zec here in Taiwan.

Consumers into supporters

Crowdfunding has not only proved to be an innovation in raising capital, it has also transformed the traditional retail model by taking out the professional middleman. Zec­zec project manager Wayne Lin explains that the traditional retail model is for a manufacturer to first produce a product, then release it onto the market, after which agents and buyers purchase it on behalf of retail outlets, who then put it on their shelves, until ultimately the consumer decides whether or not to buy the product. “Under this model,” he says, “clients identify with the product, not with the people who make it.”

But crowdfunding websites put the person with the initial concept right on the front line, closing the gap between the creator and individual buyers who ultimately judge whether or not to fund production. As Light Lin says, “In the past, customers dug into their pockets to buy a product. Today when they dig into their pockets, consumers are backing the idea itself. They are providing encouragement to innovators and personally identifying themselves with these creative people.”

To give a concrete example, in the past a band would be signed by a record company who would fund the production of their album, then retail it to consumers through record shops. But crowdfunding allows the fans of an unsigned band to pool money for the production of a new album or concert tour that they can then directly enjoy.

There is the possibility that any idea, no matter how trivial, can come to fruition through a crowdfunding website. But the filtering process, in which a certain amount of funding has to be raised within a certain time limit, can be ruthless. “This is not simply a survey of consumer opinions,” says Lin, “but a final decision actually made by the consumers who are the terminal point in the market.” The “investment” decision is at the same time a “consumption” decision—it is the market giving the proposal the thumbs up or thumbs down even before the production stage.

As T.H. ­Schee, formerly director of the Association of Digital Culture Taiwan and currently CEO at Fertta Communications, analyzes the situation, crowdfunding has changed the contractual notion of exchanging money for a product of equal value, a notion that is at the heart of traditional trading behavior. Instead, what people are buying through crowdfunding sites is an intangible concept or idea. In the past, consumers purchased the end product, but in the crowdfunding model those who provide capital are in fact “purchasing in advance,” and only later do they see the product actually take form.

Schee argues that the rise of crowdfunding websites is not just happenstance. With the emergence of the Internet in the 1990s, costs for individuals to publish their work plummeted, and everyone gained the power to tell others about their visions and dreams. These were the factors behind the blogging boom, but that was one-way communication only. In recent years, thanks to things like Facebook, it has become possible for strangers with common interests to connect. At the same time, the e-commerce environment has matured and people now routinely send money through the Internet for things they want. The upshot is that Internet users today are now willing to put up money to endorse ideas from people they don’t even know.

“This reflects the level of mutual trust between people in society,” he explains. It would be difficult for the crowdfunding model to operate in a community characterized by widespread deception and fraud.

Flies in the ointment?

A couple of potential problems have been mentioned in connection with these sites. First, there is no legal regime governing them. Second, it is difficult to be sure that those who get funding through them will really do what they promise.

Crowdfunding started without any legal foundation. In the US, last April President Barack Obama signed into law the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, one chapter of which deals with crowdfunding websites. This is seen as a very encouraging development by site operators.

Kickstarter founder Perry Chen emphasizes that crowdfunding websites are commercial operations, not charitable or public-interest fundraisers. Websites both overseas and in Taiwan typically take fees of 5–10% from any project that successfully meets its fundraising goals and require creators to deliver promised “rewards” to backers. In Taiwan, though a law has been passed that governs online solicitation of donations by charities, it does not apply to for-profit crowdfunding websites. As there is currently no other legal basis for crowdfunding, this creates some uncertainty about the future.

Schee remarks that when it comes to Internet innovations government agencies have normally maintained an attitude of letting the private sector develop first, then coming up with regulations later. At the current stage of crowdfunding in Taiwan, there are not that many proposals on these sites, and the amounts of money involved for any individual proposal—or even in total, for that matter—are small. Moreover, the current model avoids controversies over distribution of ownership shares. But if these websites continue to expand in scale, or if they initiate equity fundraising, problems will inevitably arise, and there will be a corresponding need for some legal basis to resolve them.

Just as people make down payments for apartments in buildings that have yet to be constructed, Internet users on crowdfunding websites buy only concepts or ideas that as yet have no material form. The problem then becomes, once the Internet users have paid up, whether the fundraiser will be able to implement the project as proposed. To minimize disputes, FlyingV not only signs contracts with people who put up proposals, it also regularly sends out inspectors to check on progress being made.

The evolution of crowdfunding websites has once again revolutionized the way the world sees the Internet. Now the micro-dreams of micro-entrepreneurs who lack capital may, if they can tell their stories in a persuasive way, have a greater possibility of becoming reality.

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