Sustainable crowdfunding

my 2 cents on its funding cycle and social implications


This short essay is about the funding cycle and social implications of crowdfunding; why it cannot apply to agile software development and how to adapt it, while impacting social life more deeply for all of us.

This is my first post on the subject. You’ll find it on my website too.

Crowdfunding. Social funding?

You probably heard about crowfunding. If you are here, chances are you already backed a project, or wanted to. I did many times. First was the WingStand, and it was an awesome experience.

Crowdfunding is about connecting people.

And making us, backers, feeling proud of helping project holders.

We allow smart people with smart ideas to bring cool products to life without depending on a sole business angel or a big company decision. This is very nice.

In a way, we allow getting back the process of creation in the hands of normal people, and while doing it we are part of this revolution. Power to the people, in a sense.

All of this boosts the freedom feeling and the ego. Finally, we are really useful to someone. It's been some decades since this kind of thing hasn't happened at this scale, if we take apart benevolent work.

Common funding method

The standard crowdfunding method works well for products: you believe in an idea for a cool object, you back it with an amount of money; the project holder builds the product, informs you about the ups-and-downs. You are a part of the story, and you get the cool stuff at a discounted price.

It's nice. But in my opinion, this type of crowdfunding doesn't fit some creation processes. In which we find software development.

In it's current form, a crowd campaign is one-shot.

Meanwhile and pragmatically, some people [need to] work on long-term jobs. For example, journalists tend to investigate subjects for long periods of time. Standard crowdfunding doesn't easily match.

Software developers — which I am — are often engaged into mid-to-long-term projects (1 to 3-5 years, sometimes more).

Even if they are not crowdfunded, we know that Basecamp is 10 years old, and so is facebook.

Software takes time. Good software needs time.

Side-note: imagine what facebook would have become if it had been crowdfunded and lead by its end-users. A dream…

The social factor

Because of the one-shot nature of current crowdfunding, the long-term social benefits are low. They are like a shot of meth. We go high for a moment, and then? Nothing. Breaking bad ;-)

How do projects holders go on? Some build a company. Will they sell products via a traditional online shop? Or re-enter the arena of innovation and start a new arms-race for a new product (ex: the HandleBand)? It has chances to work. What if it doesn't?

On our backer side, we've got our damn-cool-thingie. What about the 2-years waranty? Will the smart people who created the product still be there to honor it? What will they become?

I feel like in the current incarnation of crowdfunding, no one cares. The short-term pattern prevents any deep social benefit to happen. We are proud during a moment, then everything vanishes.

And what if you were the project holder?

I think this fire-and-forget funding cycle hurts, and I personnaly don't endorse this way of doing things.

We obviously need something more sustainable, more future-engaged, to make this world a really better place to enjoy working with others.

Note: our short-term-driven society and the notion of work deserve their own essays. More on that later.

Crowdfunding software development

Software… It's often virtual in the common sense. But it's not. At all.

Agreed, it takes a few seconds to write down an idea. But rarely less than a few weeks to have a good-shape working prototype.

And is most cases, it takes more than a few months to reach the state of a decent product. Not even talking about maintenance which is always a long-term subject.

Obviously, numbers depend on the project and the software features, but you get the point.

It's about trial-and-error, direct end-user testing and feedback. We go back to the drawing board a countless number of times. Designers know that well. Software development shares a lot with fundamental design, because of the interfaces and internal mechanics. But the design happens all-life-long.

Funding a multi-years project with a succession of 1-to-3 months one-shot campaings is a no-go. It takes too much effort and energy to focus on each campaign, while not working the product. Developpers need to concentrate. For a long time we know that task switching is harmfull.

It could be acheived using forceps: if the project was held by team of people, some of which could focus on the campaigns, while others code. If you ask me, it's not a very efficient way to spend your money.

In the end, N-months deadlines are completely fake an unapplicable, regarding agile software development (more on this later; get a taste).

Happily, Chad has brought something very cool to us that fills the gap.

Read on to know what.

Sustainable?

Sustainable crowdfunding is about building a reliable, trusted two-way relationship between you and the developper(s) of the sofware you enjoy using every day.

You can even give the same amount as in a standard campaign. Instead of giving $50-$250 in “fire-and-forget” mode, you give $1-$5 per week during one year. Note: I will be more than happy if you are entitled to give more ;-)

For me, this way of receiving money changes everything.

It acknolegdes that you understand the way I need to work. I can focus on the long tasks without worrying. With more users funding me or the project, I can forecast a future. As a man and a father, my motivation is stronger because I feel less stress.

I personally back this idea: we get in touch directly — as in crowdfunding — and the relationship is intended to last. Crowdfunding has become sustainable. It leads me to having faith.

Now, we are changing the world, both of us.

But wait, there is more!

Positive side-effects

Working together on long-term implies trust and transparency. At least from my point of view.

You will know what I'm working on, what I need or plan. But it's more than that.

Backing me, you will be able to suggest new ideas, vote for new features, discuss them with other backers, not just follow the public development status.

This is much more fun and engaging than in standard crowdfunding!

If you could previously feel useful and proud to a crowdfunding project during a moment, now you are part of it. You make it live. And you make it last.

The development is open, like in “Open Source®”.

Regarding my work, it's even more because I craft libre software (details in a future post; get another taste). You already knew that I use agile inspired methods.

Wanna see real examples? A handfull of open-source projects are already public and lots of developers aspire to be sustainably crowdfunded. Just browse Gittip communities.

As far as I’m concerned, connect to the 1flow blog. The project is going libre, i’m preparing the public release. You will find everything there when I post it.

Opening our eyes

Taking part in sustainable crowdfunding is more than just giving money.

Of course, you can just give money if you want. You will never be forced to do more. Just keep in mind that you can, and that we developpers will be pleased if you do.

You participate into a new way of building cool software. In my opinion, it's also a new way of engaging humans into the future, making a deeper — more durable — social impact.

“We must be the change we want to see in the world.” — Gandhi

If you enjoyed this essay or want to be part of the change, just back me on Gittip and say hello on irc://chat.freenode.net/#1flow.