Recently I posted about Fossil Fuels Brewing Company and their Indiegogo campaign to build a lab and brew more beers made with yeast that is millions of years old. A cool idea for sure and one thought up by a molecular biologist and a retired professor. If you peruse Indiegogo’s website for interesting ideas, you’ll no doubt come across some crowdfunding campaigns that aren’t created by individuals or small businesses, but rather big names like Anheuser-Busch, Whirlpool, and General Electric.
In case you aren’t familiar with crowdfunding, it began as a way for projects to gain funding from raising small amounts of money from a large number of people. Now, however, it has started to evolve and big business has decided to get into the game. Indiegogo even launched “Enterprise Crowdfunding” earlier this year, a program which courts corporations rather than individuals and small businesses. Indiegogo says that its investors have greeted the Enterprise Crowdfunding program with “open arms,” in part because they view large companies as more trustworthy and reliable. Indiegogo also says that their investors want “the most exciting and innovative product” and that they don’t care who the company is that makes the product.
I’m not the proper audience for Enterprise Crowdfunding for sure, but I thought the point of crowdfunding campaigns was to contribute money toward gritty start ups that wouldn’t otherwise be able to gain enough financing to launch their products or ideas. It doesn’t seem like the proper venue for a company that makes millions upon millions of dollars every year – a company that probably also has millions and millions to spend on research and development. Large corporations using crowdfunding platforms falls into the same category as crafty beer – maybe it doesn’t matter to some people, but it does matter to a lot of people who think they are supporting small businesses when instead they are giving money to some of the largest and most powerful companies in the world.
Let’s look at an example: VESSI Beer Fermentor and Dispenser, which currently has a campaign on Indiegogo. According to its Indiegogo page, VESSI is a “single tank that ferments, carbonates, and dispenses home-brewed beer in as little as 7 days,” and is a product of W Labs. To date, W Labs has raised well over its initial funding campaign of $200,000. Good for you, W Labs! That must make all the difference in whether VESSI gets made or just ends up in the idea scrapheap because its inventors just couldn’t quite get all the money they needed to make their dreams come true.
Except for one thing - W Labs happens to have super rich parents. You’ve probably met them – the Whirlpool Corporation.
Whirlpool claims that W Labs “operates as a true startup with limited resources” and a “startup budget.” Hmmm, maybe so, but when you start looking into VESSI, you see that you don’t have to look far to see Whirlpool’s name all over media for VESSI and you don’t see a lot of mention of W Labs. Also, the brewmaster listed on VESSI’s Indiegogo page is Bob Schneider, who is listed on places such as LinkedIn not as brewmaster for W Labs, but as a 3D Lab Technician for Whirlpool. So it doesn’t seem like W Labs is quite so independent from Whirlpool after all.
It seems like Whirlpool has turned into a stage mom.
Maybe there are investors out there who really don’t care about the size or clout behind the company producing a cool product. And as a homebrewer, I can say that VESSI does seem like a cool product. However, I’d rather give my money to a campaign that will see a real benefit from my contribution, and I want to see that product or idea come to fruition and know that I had a small part in making that possible. There are a ton of breweries that got started after successful crowdfunding campaigns and the beer world is much better off because of it. My world is far better off with Pipeworks Brewing Company in it.
But there’s something sleazy to me about a large global corporation asking me for money to “help” launch its product. Particularly one the looks to be a kitchen appliance made by a kitchen appliance corporation. You’re Whirlpool – just make it yourself.
What do you think?