Wishberry - India's No. 1 Crowdfunding Platform
Wishberry is unique an idea in itself since it helps upcoming innovators and those with a creative streak to help get the adequate funding to execute their ideas. No, Wishberry is not like any ‘financial’ company in this sense. Its unique prototype offers these very innovators a chance to actually win adequate funding from the general crowds (friends, fans and so on).
Today’s SHERO is Priyanka Agarwal, the founder of Wishberry (wishberry.in). It’s an inspiration to hear how her business idea helps fuel the ideas of several others,
Let’s see what she has to say because we promise you, you’ll learn a lot from her and come away feeling extremely inspired! Let’s take this to new heights,
How did the Business Idea of Wishberry come about?
Let me start by clarifying Wishberry's current vision since our business model has pivoted several times over the last few years. Our mission is to rescue creativity and innovation in India by providing every Indian an online platform to give their unique ideas a shot through crowd-funding. For example, let's say someone has an idea to make a mobile app to find the best dietician/nutritionist in your area, and they need Rs. 5 lakhs to make the first prototype of this app to show investors -- they can pitch their idea to the crowd (friends, fans, etc.) on Wishberry and ask them to fund any amount they can afford, be it Rs. 500 or Rs. 15,000, in exchange for exclusive rewards associated with the app itself such as an early version of the app before it goes public, free subscription for a year, personal recognition on the app's Facebook/Twitter pages, and so on.
The concept of crowd-funding is not new in India. Veteran director Shyam Benegal collected Rs. 2 from 5 lakh farmers from the Gujarat Milk Co-operative way back in 1976 to create a marketing film for them called Manthan. In fact, this film was instrumental in transforming the Co-operative back then into the dairy giant it is today, Amul!
Likewise, Onir re-instigated interest in crowdfunding in 2009 when he reached out to his personal network, and then the broader indie community on Facebook, to fund his niche topic film, I Am. Even though he raised close to a crore in 2009 through crowdfunding and crowd-financing--crowd-financing is when many people invest large amounts in exchange for stake/equity in the project--his effort only came into light in 2012 when his film won a National Award.
Initially, Wishberry launched as a wedding gift registry platform in 2010 as the founders felt a personal need for a crowd-gifting application in the Indian wedding space. When the founders realized that cultural stigmas around "asking for gifts" would prevent this model from growing, they pivoted their business model into the social fundraising space in 2011 by offering it to Teach for India’s Mumbai Marathon runners who wanted their “crowd” of friends, family members, and co-workers to “gift” them contributions towards a cause they believed in. Wishberry mobilized close to Rs. 4 lakhs for just Teach for India at the 2011 Mumbai Marathon, a figure that grew ten times to Rs. 40 lakhs for several NGOs such as Akanksha, Teach for India and Salaam Bombay for the 2012 edition.
So, we had an idea to save ideas. We made another final pivot in our business model to extend our platform into crowdsourcing funds for creative and innovative ideas online. We have mobilized close to Rs. 4 crores for amazing ideas such as a comic book on menstruation, an app to convert Instagram memories into prints, a wood-fired soda kiln, a cooking show by a metal guitarist, and many more.
What Inspired you to start up your own company?
Born and raised in Mumbai in a reasonably conservative Marwari family, I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. After completing my 12th I went to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue a dual undergraduate degree program, Materials Engineering and Finance, from Wharton School.
Why two degrees? Well, I was a nerd at heart and loved science, but my parents being Marwari, thought I needed to learn the business, too. I spent my summers at a Nanotech start-up in the Silicon Valley and Goldman Sachs as an investment banker. After graduating, I worked as a management and strategy consultant with McKinsey in New York and Mumbai for two years. While in college, I also helped start my first business venture, Innova Materials, now Innova Dynamics, which raised close to $6 million.
What are the challenges you face in this area of work?
With respect to entrepreneurship in general, some of the challenges we faced while setting up Wishberry in India included:
1) Web infrastructure, setting up website code, integrating payment gateways
2) Finding talent, especially those motivated to work long hours in exchange for equity stake in the business
3) Archaic regulations enforced by the government around collecting funds for non-profits and start-ups
With respect to the specific business model of crowd-funding, I would say we continuously face two key challenges in the Indian context:
1) Ingrained concept of service or “khaatir daari” wherein Indian consumers expect others to do their work for them, which in our case means that our campaigners expect the platform to magically raise funds for them without them putting in the effort to ask
2) Shyness in asking for money as it makes the campaigner feel like they are “begging” or collecting donations out of sympathy. Campaigners are raising funds for a project they are passionate about and contributors are shelling out money because they want to be a part of the campaign and because they get exclusive rewards in exchange for their contributions.
What are your short-term plans for Wishberry.in?
Wishberry recently secured $650,000 (4 crores) in seed funding co-led by Rajan Anandan (MD, Google India), and Sharad Sharma (Co-Founder, iSPIRT Foundation), along with 42 strategic investors including leading Bollywood composer Shankar Mahadevan, Rohit Khattar (Chairman, Cinestaan, Mumbai Mantra & Old World Hospitality), SEBI board member Mohandas Pai, and seasoned entrepreneurs Deep Kalra (Make My Trip) and Amit Ranjan (SlideShare).
We plan to use the funds in three ways:
i) Grow our team, particularly bring tech development in-house
ii) Invest in technology, particularly make our application "mobile first"
iii) Spend on building awareness surrounding crowdfunding in India.
Our goal is to crowdfund 100 crores across 5,000 projects over the next two years and raise our Series A. In five years, we want to build a community of 3-4 million funders and support 50,000 creative projects on Wishberry.
What advice can you give fellow women entrepreneurs?
A few things I learned during my journey that could be helpful to other e-entrepreneurs, whether they be women or not include --
1) Have a revenue model from day one - do not rely on ads or monetizing content or monetizing users when you have lots of them. Ask users to pay for your product or service from the beginning.
2) Do not stress about competition and people copying you. Stress about your product/service and making it top notch. Always stay ahead of the curve and forget those behind you.
3) Don't be married to your idea! Be prepared to iterate, tweak and turn depending on how customers respond and where the money is. Look at us! We started as gift registry players and ended up crowd-funding!
There are so many start-ups today. How do you market your own product and ensure a client following?
Crowdfunding is inherently viral. The campaigner goes all out to spread the word about his/her campaign on social media because, of course, it is advantageous to his/her project to do so. And, the news of something being crowdfunded begins to spread. Every successful campaign on Wishberry sees at least 2,000 unique visitors. That’s 2,000 people who are now aware of the concept of crowdfunding. Last year’s 100 campaigns has led to two lakh people who are now conversant with the concept of crowdfunding, and next year, when we run 1,000 campaigns, the number will grow to two million. So, technically, crowdfunding markets itself!
At Wishberry, we do our bit, too. We use social media to raise interest and awareness of campaigns and crowdfunding per se. We have a newsletter with a database of 10,000, and we also organize online and offline crowdfunding events to create more awareness.