The crowdfunding boss inspired by her parents' struggles

Danae Ringelmann

While many of us have a lot to thank our parents for, Danae Ringelmann credits hers with inspiring her to help establish a new global industry.

Ms Ringelmann is one of the three co-founders of Indiegogo, one of the world's first - and now one of the largest - crowdfunding websites.

Every day 8,000 small firms or individuals around the planet use Indiegogo to try to raise funds from members of the public to support their business idea or other project.

In return for their money, the donators or "crowd" receive a reward later down the line, such as getting their hands on a new gadget before its widespread release.

Start Quote

I vented for about 20 to 30 minutes, crying, talking about how unfair the world was, that America was [only] the land of opportunity if you knew the right people”

End Quote Danae Ringelmann

From an almost unknown concept just a decade ago, crowdfunding is now for many small companies a viable alternative to seeking bank loans or shareholders.

For Ms Ringelmann, 35, the inspiration came from remembering the endless funding struggles her mother and father faced running their storage and removals company.

"I grew up the daughter of two small-business owners," she says. "Essentially I watched them struggle for 30 years to grow the business.

"They bootstrapped for 30 years, which means they were never able to get any kind of outside financing or a loan of any kind. The business was too slow growing and non-sexy, and they just didn't know the right people.

"I just grew up with that awareness... that funding opportunities for small firms were not fair."

'Heartbreaking'

A native of San Francisco, following school Ms Ringelmann did a humanities degree at the University of North Carolina.

Actors in a play Helping to put on a play was a key event in Ms Ringelmann's story

While she may not have studied finance in college, she was by now obsessing about how the industry could be improved or changed to better support people like her parents.

So upon graduating from Carolina, she decided to get a job in finance so she could "really understand it". Moving to New York she took up a position at investment banking giant JP Morgan.

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That is when I realised that the way to fix finance is to put the decision and power back in the hands of the people, to democratise it”

End Quote Danae Ringelmann

It was while at the bank that Ms Ringlemann attended an event which took her one stage closer to coming up with the idea for Indiegogo.

The occasion in question was called Where Hollywood Meets Wall Street, which as the name suggests, was designed to bring film industry representatives together with potential financiers.

Ms Ringelmann says she expected to see "a sea of powerbrokers talking to each other".

Instead, aged just 22, she found herself surrounded by scriptwriters, directors and producers, many decades older than her, desperate for her to help them fund their films.

"At that moment my heart sank. It was pretty heartbreaking," she says.

"I called my mum, and I vented for about 20 to 30 minutes, crying, talking about how unfair the world was, that America was [only] the land of opportunity if you knew the right people.

"She said to me, 'Well if you are that annoyed about it, why not do something about it?'"

So to begin with, Ms Ringelmann set to work with one of the people she had met at the gathering to put on a play, using her connections to ensure that a host of potential investors were present.

Indiegogo's website The Indiegogo website and services are now available in 190 countries

"The night was great, everyone was into it, the actors, the audience," she says. "And then the investors said, 'This was amazing, we are not investing, good luck!'"

Ms Ringelmann adds: "If my parents taught me that finance was broken, this showed me how it is was broken - it was completely dependent upon third party investors making it happen.

"That is when I realised that the way to fix finance is to put the decision and power back in the hands of the people, to democratise it."

Failure rate

With the idea for Indiegogo now increasingly taking shape, Ms Ringelmann realised she needed to gain some knowledge in how to run a company.

So she quit the investment bank, returned home to California, and did a Master of Business Administration or MBA at Haas School of Business.

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Thanks to Indiegogo firms can realise in months whether they have something viable. Previously this could have taken a few years”

End Quote Danae Ringelmann

It was at Haas in 2006 that Ms Ringelmann met her two Indiegogo co-founders Slava Rubin, and Eric Schell.

Finessing the idea for the company over brainstorming sessions in Ms Ringelmann's kitchen, it was Mr Rubin who came up with the idea of using the internet, and Indiegogo's website was launched in January 2008.

With crowdfunding such a new concept, and no money for advertising, Ms Ringlemann says the co-founders simply "went out of the building and found potential customers".

Being based in San Francisco certainly helped, as Indiegogo started to be used by technology start-up firms in nearby Silicon Valley. It has since grown steadily from there, and last year it accepted £15m of venture capital funds to drive its future expansion.

Now available in almost all countries, typically small firms and other users will set a target that they hope to raise, and they will only receive funding if they do hit this figure. If they do reach their goal then Indiegogo will take a 4% commission.

Indigogo's headquarters in San Francisco Being based in San Francisco close to California's Silicon Valley has helped Indiegogo's growth within the technology community

So far the most raised by an Indiegogo campaign is $2m (£1.2m), which was secured by a US home security company.

Although Indiegogo does not release a breakdown of its figures, only an estimated one in 10 campaigns ever reaches its fund-raising target.

Ms Ringlemann defends the high failure rate, saying that small firms can use Indiegogo to test interest for their product or service.

"Thanks to Indiegogo firms can realise in months whether they have something viable. Previously this could have taken a few years."

Looking ahead, she says both she and Indiegogo continue to take "one step at a time" as they try to transform the world of finance.

She adds: "My father sadly passed away early on, but my mother is proud."

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