Community-funding is our updated take on crowdfunding, where the community helps bring your vision to life.
How did you come up with your business name?
I woke up in the middle of the night and three names came to me. I googled all three and the very last one, VisionPledge, was not taken. Intuitively, I knew this was it.
Who inspired you to start?
My initial inspiration were my friends and peers, all of whom had student loan debt but also had dreams of one day creating our own businesses. I had the idea for VisionPledge since 2008 but did not start until 2013. Then one night at a party, I met someone in his mid-20s who had his own company. Even though, I had the idea for VisionPledge years prior, meeting someone who looked like me, a person of color who seemed like a balanced guy—focused but also liked to have fun—showed me that I could actually do this. I asked him, “Where do I start?” And he told me to start with my immediate network. I shared my overall vision, with my two friends, Omar and Dodji, who later became board members. Dodji suggested I read, The Startup Game by William Draper; Omar on the other hand, set time aside for weekly 30-minute brainstorming sessions for a couple of months. This is where the vision quest and startup journey began.
Who is your target market?
VisionPledge focuses on millennials of color ages 18 to 34. We want to support the underserved, underrepresented, and often times underfunded population of millennial minority entrepreneurs.
How have you financed the idea?
My co-founder Lisa M. Fennell and I have financed our nonprofit by bootstrapping, which includes gracious donations from friends, family, and board members in addition to our own personal contributions.
What is your competitive edge?
What sets us apart from crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter is our focus on supporting ‘millennial entrepreneurs of color’ to fund their businesses or projects through community-funding. Community-funding is our updated take on crowdfunding, where the community helps bring your vision to life.
We have partnered with community partners, who offer complimentary online small business mentoring programs and perks. Our first set of partners include forward-thinking companies like Her Billions, Docsend, Progress Playbook, PickFu and Womanifesting University. Forthcoming community sponsors will have the opportunity to support different categories of visionaries, meaning everyone who creates a project to fund on VisionPledge will begin their campaign with money already donated to them courtesy of these sponsors.
What is the long-term plan for your business?
Our vision is to become the first equity and donations-rewards based community-funding platform with a focus on providing a one-stop shop for personal development and business incubation, helping underrepresented entrepreneurs move from idea to execution.
What challenges have you faced thus far?
It has been a challenge converting our #Visionary100 signups to actual visionary campaigners. The follow through is definitely lagging on this end. Also, finding funding sources has been a challenge for us as well and is one of the major factors that influenced our mission and overall business model. We are addressing both of these challenges head on with our very own crowdfunding campaign here.
What key things have you learned since starting this business idea?
I have learned….
- You cannot do the work alone, a team is needed! (Shout out to Lisa, Michael, Dodji, Omar and the many advisors along the way.)
- Do your research. If you do not know how to do it, you can find out how; sometimes with very little effort, just start.
- Listen to your intuition and instincts at all times. The more you continue to work on your idea, the more things will come easily to you.
- People are always willing to help you if they believe in your cause, and/or generally if you put out good karma, which will always come back to you.
- Establishing a self-care routine while pursuing your vision is essential.
What five (5) things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
- Network, go to events and establish good business relationships with people in your industry. Also, join supportive in-person or online startup communities. I enjoy Daily Spark Entrepreneur, Blavity Women’s Creatives, and The Creativity Suite Facebook communities. We have also created a VisionPledge Facebook community to connect Millennial Visionaries and Entrepreneurs of color.
- Funding can be challenging at times, but in tech, you can still get a good deal accomplished with very little money in the beginning stages, especially in regards to marketing, thanks to social media.
- Research and survey your target market. Be prepared to change or update your business model based on your findings. And even after you launch, be prepared to pivot based on your users and their desires.
- Be bold, be confident in your ideas and do not be afraid to approach anyone.
- Your life will change dramatically once you begin, and the experience will be worthwhile.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
There are many resources that are completely free to use, i.e. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are a few places to build a community, also Meetup.com. Once you have an audience and some type of traction, it will be easier to attract funding sources.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
African youths can support each other by sharing and supporting their ideas freely. Often times, we get so paranoid that someone will take our idea and the truth is most people do not want to put in the effort, especially if they are not passionate about a particular issue, so share freely and widely!
How many jobs have you created so far?
We have not created any jobs yet, but we are working on it for 2017. We hope that you are able to see more of our other goals for 2017 and donate here as well.
How has technology enhanced your business idea?
Without technology, we would not have a business. VisionPledge, as a tangible entity, acts as an online funding portal.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
We can support and improve innovation in Africa by investing in, and teaching the younger generation STEM and other future-focused curriculums. We can also improve innovation by investing in the ideas of more women entrepreneurs and millennial-aged visionaries and creatives.
Email: aishah [at] visionpledge.org