Tell us about Fringebacker!
FringeBacker is the world’s only entirely bilingual crowdfunding website, with everything in English and Chinese. It’s an online platform for creative, entrepreneurial and charitable projects, allowing individuals and organisations to present their work and engage directly with others in order to raise awareness and funding. In return, project owners offer exclusive rewards to their supporters. Benefactors therefore have the opportunity to actively engage with a project and have public recognition for their support, which makes it different from traditional fundraising.
As a Network Partner of the UNESCO Observatory for Local Cultures and Creativity in Education (RLCCE), we make a big effort to support the arts, education, culture and the sciences.
Who is the team behind Fringebacker? How did this idea come about?
I have been doing direct investments for many years and have come across numerous projects with great potential, but unfortunately they were not compatible for traditional investment strategies. Then in 2009, we first came across crowdfunding in the USA. I was fascinated to learn that this new channel allowed growing ranks of entrepreneurs, artists, IT developers and many others to raise money online. Crowdfunding has proven to be very successful in filling the gap where projects have great potential to succeed, but are not yet at the profit generating level for venture capitalists or angels to invest. With that in mind, we decided to use our fundraising, investment, and technology experience to set up FringeBacker.
What makes you different from Kickstarter and other crowdfunding websites?
We have several distinguishing qualities that make us stand out from Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms. As we operate in English and Chinese we open up fantastic opportunities for projects owners, particularly entrepreneurs and startups, who wish to reach a wider audience and access markets in Chinese-speaking territories.
Our payment system also appeals to a wider audience. The Amazon payment system used by Kickstarter is not friendly or convenient for application by non-US citizens, so applicants from Hong Kong – or anywhere else in Asia – who don’t have a US connection really struggle. That’s where FringeBacker comes in. FringeBacker allows you to raise funds in multiple currencies. We try to make it as easy as possible for backers to support projects, hence why we also facilitate payments by bank transfer or cheque.
Another unique quality is our thorough verification process. This provides validation for project owners and backers alike. By challenging project owners to meet the standards we set, this helps them gain a surer footing with their proposals which in turn produces a higher quality project and potential benefactors can be confident of its value and integrity.
What were the early days of FringeBacker like?
Very exciting! Our inaugural project was undertaken by an esteemed collegiate a cappella group from King’s College London who successfully raised nearly HK$100,000 for their international music tour to Hong Kong and Singapore. Our projects have since been extremely diverse – including computer games, art exhibitions, theatrical productions and even an iPhone movie – and it is thoroughly enjoyable to work with such enthusiastic and talented project owners.
First and foremost, it is important to recognise that crowdfunding is not a passive activity and you need to work hard to receive contributions. We encourage all our project owners to be creative with their campaign and interact with their backers. As a starting point, it is very important that project owners plan ahead before their campaign starts. To ensure the success of their campaign, they should identify their target audience and put a plan in place to reach out to their community for support.
What is your favorite success story that came out of FringeBacker?
One of our favourite and most successful projects to date – which in turn achieved a world first by crowdfunding for a professional athlete – was to help the International Equestrian Jacqueline Lai raise nearly HK$500,000. Jacqueline’s story is particularly touching as she miraculously recovered from a potentially career-ending injury after falling off her horse in training in Denmark. Not only did the money she raised then help her to compete and represent Hong Kong at the All-China National Games, she successfully won a silver medal in her category.
What’s next for FringeBacker?
We will endeavour to continue to provide a platform for creative and talented individuals as well as entrepreneurial projects. FringeBacker also celebrates the many achievements of Hong Kong’s charitable organisations and we hope to develop our support of their virtuous fundraising efforts. In addition to this, we are working with independent arts festivals and partnering with UNESCO to further promote and sustain arts, creativity, and culture.
Interviewee: Maryann Hwee, Executive Director at FringeBacker. Ms. Maryann Hwee has over 20 years’ experience in direct investment, marketing and business development in IT businesses in Hong Kong, the PRC, and Southeast Asia.
Interviewed on February 25, 2014