CrowdFoundme Interview: CulturalGrassroots.com

Black professionals

CultrualGrassroots.com: An Interview with CrowdFoundme Magazine

What inspired you to create Cultural Grassroots? What is your mission? I came across the work that the folks at Black & Sexy.tv are doing and wanted to help them do more. They are producing multiple shows with a team of writers, directors and actors and their work is resonating with certain crowd of young folks that revel in the authenticity of the images and stories being depicted. It brought me back to the days when I was a founding member of KJM3 Entertainment Group, an indie film distributor that experienced some success with a few films in the mid to late 1990s, most notably, “Daughters of the Dust”, by Julie Dash, and “Man By The Shore” by Raoul Peck. With the international success of Daughters, we generated a lot of hope in the Black independent film world that our raison d’etre, “Three Dimensional Images and Stories from The African Diaspora”, would translate into investment from the Black business community into production and distribution. As I went about putting money together to contribute to Black&Sexy’s crowd funding campaign, it dawn on me that the “crowd” can be the Producer, the financial backing, that the Black independent media world has been looking for: the audience. These “affinity” backers, the crowd, had a direct interest in the creation and dissemination of this information beyond financial return, and would constitute a network that could be transformed into pieces of the distribution and marketing infrastructure. That effort lead to the creation of CulturalGrassroots.com as the intended source of financing for projects from our best and brightest. Images and Stories, represents a strategic industry where we have a competitive advantage that we are using to compete in a global world. We talk more about this in: “A Black Crowdfunding site? Is that really necessary?”

How does your platform revolutionize the industry? Who is your target audience? Well, in terms of the industry of images and stories, the success of CulturalGrassroots.com would mean the success of a viable financial model that has been the missing piece of the puzzle for Black independent media voices. We are talking about the potential to create and legitimize the independent voice and imagery of the Black diaspora that has not been seen through the current system of financing and distribution. I think that holds true for financing of business ideas and projects in general. This is a new source of financing that is open, accessible, meretricious and not compulsory or continuous. From those standpoints, we believe that our target audience are people that understand the importance of infrastructure building, and of the ability to turn the pennies from our friends and family networks into dollars from our larger crowd that can fund good ideas and serious, committed people.

Why did you choose this particular niche? What makes your platform different from similar platforms? There have been other crowd funding portals aimed at the general Black audience. What sets CulturalGrassroots.com apart from those efforts is our focus on a smaller niche within the worldwide Black audience. Our niche, if you will, is comprised of people with a world view that recognize the power in the ability to ascribe value to our goods, services and ideas, and the potential of the internet to harness that power. In my many years of being in business I’ve come across so many Black entrepreneurs and activists committed to improving the competitiveness of our community and most often, financing is where their enthusiasm and commitment meet the realities of finance capital. CulturalGrassroots.com is an effort to be a source of capital for strategic entrepreneurs, those entrepreneurs with projects and ideas that help to build what we call, “an infrastructure of self-sufficiency”. 

What is a ‘green light activist’ and how does one become a ‘green light activist’? When we talk about “strategic entrepreneurialism” we are referring to ideas and projects that are practical and capable of broad impact. A good example is the business of Images and Stories, otherwise known as film, television, theatre and publishing. One of the terms we use for those that register by leaving an email address, “Green Light Activist”, comes from the world of film where the power to “green light” a film is the power to give it the go ahead, to start writing checks and hiring people.

Tell us a bit about your future plans; what are your goals for the platform? Our future depends on the crowd. CulturalGrassroots.com is currently just a proposition. Once we reach 50,000 email registrants, we will then crowd fund and crowd source the building of the actual portal. We are building the crowd before we build the portal. Once the portal is up, the brand recognition should be such that good, viable projects will seek out CulturalGrassroots.com as the best prospect for funding. 

Lastly, what has been your biggest challenge thus far with this venture? So far, the biggest challenge has been reaching the community of activists and entrepreneurs with the message that CulturalGrassroots.com is not a “proprietary” project, CulturalGrassroots.com is a resource financed by people with a vested interest in their success, a community of Activist Angels, ready to fund the best and brightest projects and businesses that can help build an infrastructure of self-sufficiency capable of increasing the competitiveness of the Black world.

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GoodHairCards.com: A Crowdfunding Story

good-hair-cards-girlAs we go forward engaging our people about crowd funding and spreading the CulturalGrassroots.com message, we are encountering some strong, entrepreneurial Warriors that have offered advise, counsel and experience willingly and without reservation. Jeanetmarie Smith, owner of GoodHairCards.com, a greeting card company celebrating our natural aesthetic with compelling images and pithy say’ins, has been one of these Warriors. Jeanetmarie emailed me with her crowd funding story that also offers insightful observations about Our people. Her story is published here:

My crowd funding experience…

I had launched a crowd funding campaign for my greeting cards in May. I have an opportunity to place them in retail stores, and I wanted to raise money to print 20,000 cards. While I didn’t meet my $5,000 funding goal, I was successful nevertheless.

When it comes to crowd funding, I can see why Whites, Asians, and Latinos have an advantage over Blacks. They have more discretionary income (Whites and Asians) and are more willing to support startups (especially Asians and Latino immigrants) than Black folk.

I knew going into my campaign it was going to be a hard sell especially to Black folk online. I had sold thousands of cards off-line, but only a dozen online.

Good hair cards had 4.6k fans on Facebook, but only two contributed to my crowd funding campaign. I knew having a large fan base did not guarantee support. But hundreds of these “fans” were using my artwork (illegally) to promote their online business or events yet they couldn’t or wouldn’t support my campaign.  I have since deleted my Facebook fan page because it made no sense working with a community that wasn’t supportive.

I also ran two ads on two popular Black blogs for Black women and still I only received two contributions although at least 100,000 Black women visit these blogs each month.

So after two weeks of doing everything I could online to get support and raising only $300, I took my campaign to the sidewalks of Harlem where I raised $1,800 by selling my greeting cards although some gave donations. I might have raised more but it rained a lot and I have a 9-5 job. Yet I had a wonderful time as a street vendor, and I received too much support on the ground to bemoan the lack of support from Black people online.

Street vending in Harlem mirrored my vending experiences at several Black trade events around the country last year. I learned valuable lessons about making connections. So I plan to do another crowd funder in September.

The best thing about my campaign was the interesting conversations I had with Black people. I met unemployed Black MBAs, displaced Black business owners, laid-off workers, the retired, the mentally ill, Union workers, and people who bought me lunch, dinner and water. While most people who spoke to me promised support, life happens and many forgot. A lawyer said she would give me the $5,000 I needed as an investor. Another person promised $3,500 but of course at the last minute things fell through. LOL!

There is definitely a segment in Black America that will support Black start-ups. I stood outside a Black church after Sunday services and raised $200 in one hour. But finding these Black supporters is like “looking for a needle in a hay stack.” And I’ve discovered most of them are not on social media platforms. They are too busy living their lives or running their businesses to spend much time on Facebook, etc. Of course, the new social media has its advantages. But old school marketing still works and I plan to expand my off-line activities and limited my time online. Hope you found my experience interesting. Cheers.

A Black Crowdfunding Site? Is that really necessary?

Black power crowdWith the billions raised through Kickstarter and Indiegogo, is there really a need for a crowdfunding portal to specialize in ‘Black’ projects?

 

Some time ago, I received this question from a well-meaning and committed Sista. It gave me the chance to talk about why We Need To Be Our Own Angels.

“Crowd funding websites like Kickstarter is all the rage. Now the small business person can appeal to the crowd for support their project or startup. They no longer need “the Man” to okay their business idea. Many African American projects have been successfully funded on these various crowd funding platforms. So is a Black crowd funding website really necessary? In the global marketplace of ideas, do African Americans need a crowd funding website to cater specifically to their needs?

What kind of project is more likely to be funded on a “Black only” crowd funding website than say on Indiegogo? Please enlighten me because I see a diversity of Black projects funded on these platforms. I also see little activity on Black crowd funding websites. I mean no disrespect, but I think it’s time for some of these ‘Black only” funding websites to re-think their mission. Maybe it’s time to bring more than “just us” to the table of ideas when contemplating how to bring economic development to Black communities around the globe. Just my two cents. Wanna ya think? Cheers.”

Well, my Sista, I’m glad you asked. Every entrepreneur knows that start-up financing for businesses comes first from friends, family and business associates. And for all the reasons that history has to offer, including the economic dependency that was forced upon Black folks worldwide — from Africa to the Caribbean to the Americas — our individual “affinity networks” have been inadequate to provide a level of entrepreneurial support that would help us develop an “infrastructure of self-sufficiency” which is the key to our community being competitive with other communities economically. You see the downside of this lack of competitiveness in all the economic numbers showing broad disparities in Black wealth, personal and business, as well as in the prevalence of Black states at the bottom of most worldwide indices of wellbeing. You also see the impact of this dearth of infrastructure in our inability to capitalize on our human capital — our best and brightest do not work for us, their accomplishments get absorbed into mainstream society, benefiting the mainstream business owners and communities from which they come. The individual wealth — intellectual and material — never makes it back to our communities because we don’t have an infrastructure with which to absorb and leverage this human capital.

Crowdfunding has the potential to allow us to turn our collective pennies into the investment dollars that our best and brightest need to innovate and create on our behalf in the first instance. And with the introduction of equity crowd funding, it will be possible for our “crowd” to potentially benefit from an idea turning into a product turning into a company. I’ve been in business for 20+ years and I’ve met very smart and enterprising Black folks that take our collective condition very personal; these folks spend good time, energy and money trying to develop pieces of this self-sufficiency infrastructure that we need to compete with others, and the only thing standing in their way much of the time is Black money. Because in my experience, it’s only other Black people that are also focused on improving our competitiveness as a community, that see the strategic value of these investments in infrastructure building.

As the crowd funding industry grows, there will be many portals parceling the market out in categories, and like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, both general market leaders, there will develop other category leaders. CulturalGrassroots.com is the most promising proposition targeting the segment of the Black market that sees power in the ability to ascribe value to the economy of our existence. The pitch is unique in that CulturalGrassroots.com will only exist if the crowd wants it too, and in it’s focus on infrastructure building through activity that gives us a competitive advantage, images and stories in particular.

Finally, at the end of the day, crowd funding, in most instances, isn’t a completely random “crowd”. Most projects succeed on the strength of the promoter’s network of business and kinship relations, why wouldn’t Black folks, one more category of similarly situated market forces, want to be the ones to benefit from these personal, community networks?

This is not a “separatist” movement. Change happens because smart people come together to make it happen. CulturalGrassroots.com is simply a way for like-minded people to come together to inspire our best and brightest to innovate and create on behalf of the world we want to see! To let them know that, “We Got Your Back”, that you don’t have to seek out “angels” from everywhere but your own community. That we are willing to “Pay the Cost To Be The Boss!”
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