Slava Rubin: How I Started Indiegogo

Slava Rubin: How I Started Indiegogo
Editorial Staff
July 18, 2014
We’ve all heard of those amazing or ridiculous ideas that people start crowdfunding campaigns for, earning well past their goal and even into the millions in some cases. How did they pull it off? There are probably a lot of tricks and secrets to the game, but who better to tell us about how to crowdfund the right way than Slava Rubin, the founder and CEO of crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.
Slava got his start through charities. Born in Belarus and raised in Pennsylvania, his father died of cancer when he was young. Around a decade later, he started his first charity to fight cancer his way using the internet.

“I wanted to do something good about the fact that my father died of cancer and turn it into a positive.”

But the internet back in 2005 wasn’t the same as we have today which made raising money through it very difficult and frustrating- so Slava and his partners decided to change that. They created a platform for activists and entrepreneurs alike to raise funds on the internet in 2008, struggling 100% of the way as around the same time, the global recession had hit the economy hard. With the determination of an entrepreneur and the know how of a fund raiser, Indiegogo is now one of the main platforms our generation has to raise funds for any cause or startup idea.
We had the pleasure of hanging out with Slava in L.A. where he shared the three key traits every successful crowdfunding campaign has and his take on the main points all entrepreneurs need to become better at. Watch the seven minute interview below.
You can also read the interview below.
What’s the dynamic like between you and your co-founders?

“It’s totally great. So it’s been now over six and a half years since we launched and we’re still all there which was really remarkable. You don’t get to hear those stories very often. When I was raising money, really the story I would tell was about the eyes, the hands and the heart. So I was the eyes so I would look externally, which is marketing, PR, and fundraising strategy. Eric was the hands so he would make everything, design, development and engineering, and Danae was the heart, which was the glue to put it all together, the culture, the customer support, the back office, the finance and really making sure that we have it at our heart and mind. So that’s what we did initially and as we evolved our roles have evolved. Now Eric is much more on the data side leading up that part of the company and Danae is our lead development officer. So going out into the crowd, being able to speak at things like conferences and being able to be in the press and often she’s the one sitting here as opposed to me.”

Did creating a charity early on help you develop the platform for Indiegogo?

“It was all about trying to create a customer need and servicing that need, so identifying where there was an issue. So the reason I started using Music Against Myeloma is because cancer is still an issue, so I’m just trying to raise money for cancer research and with Indiegogo it really was just a simple concept which is people want to have access to capital. They’re always finding themselves hitting their heads against a wall which is a gatekeeper, a VC, a banker or somebody in the government. So why not just create a more simplified process where supply meets demand? And if somebody wants to fund something they do and if they don’t want to get it funded, the crowd has spoken and given you a feedback.

So it’s really around helping people to find a customer need and that’s part of the reason why we started a charity and also Indiegogo.”

How did you work your way to your first seed round?

“Well in January 2008, when we launched we bootstrapped, so the three founders put in money. After that we got rejected by nearly ninety VCs and then we were able to raise a seed round actually in 2011 which was a lot later. So for a long time we dealt with the market crash and you know I was thinner and we weren’t able to eat a lot because there wasn’t much money.”

Were there any moments where you and your team wanted to quit?

“Absolutely, we had a plan which was launched in January 2008 and by the fall of 2008 we were going to raise money, but the market crashed which no one had predicted and definitely no one had seen this sort of crash before with the depth of how bad it was. So in late 2008 to 2009 we really had to kind of dig deep to see if we were going to shutdown, maybe go temporary employment, maybe kind of do it on the side and in the summer of 2009 it was kind of one of those last attempts to trying to figure ourselves out and we said, “you know what, let’s try to give it one last chance” and we changed a few things around in late 2009 and again, we just kept growing after that.”

In your opinion, what are the general traits for a successful Indiegogo campaign?

“Yeah so I mean we have the most projects than any platform in the world, distributing money in seventy to a hundred countries a week and people always ask me what are the good campaigns doing in Indiegogo and really the answer is “anything is possible.” And it’s not so much about what type of campaign but like you said the attributes of the campaign, which is number one, have a good page. Number two, be proactive. Then three, find an audience that cares.

So you want to have like a video as part of your campaign. You want to reach out to make sure you get your host committee, your initial hundred people to fund you. You want to do updates, things like that to make sure you really get a great campaign.”

Do you have any favorite campaigns?

“You know we’ve had everything from the first ever medical tricorder to the first ever crowd funded baby to a New York Times ad funded as part of the Turkish revolution, there are really just incredible things. And just earlier you guys were talking about films and funding at Indiegogo and everybody has the things that they’re passionate about and that’s why I don’t pick one favorite.”

What is your personal passion that you live through Indiegogo?

“Well the core of Indiegogo is to empower people. To empower entrepreneurs to allow anybody to be able to do what they want to do. To me the ultimate leverage you can have in the world is to empower an entrepreneur to change the world. See because if you give an entrepreneur the money, the time, the effort to be able to do what they want to do then they can do these amazing things and really get massive leverage back. So for Indiegogo we’re at the ultimate leverage point because we empower entrepreneurs, who then empower the world, and entrepreneur, that’s really a very metaphorical concept. It can be a creative entrepreneur, a profit entrepreneur or a business entrepreneur.”

When young entrepreneurs come to ask you for advice, what are their most common mistakes?

“Number one is I would say you need to think big, start small and iterate quickly,and I think the number one thing that they don’t get is they don’t try to focus on the customer, they try to focus on what they think is right or what they think the world needs but not actually what the customer needs or what the customer is actually telling you what they need. So I think it’s really important to be very customer focused.

Also too often I think people are not product focused enough, they think it’s all about the marketing, the PR and the celebrity and they don’t think about the actual content that they are putting out or the thing that they are creating, or the website they are making. It’s all about the product, so those are just a couple of examples.”

Does the JOBS Act affect Indiegogo’s direction when it comes to funding startups?

“So there are four reasons why anybody funds in life. Number one is because they care about the person that caused that idea, sometimes even if it’s considered non-profit. Number two is because they want the product or the service, you know shoes or the product so we call that perks. And number three is people just want to be part of a rally, a movement, something big and sometimes bigger than themselves and we call that participation. Last one is profit, people want to give one dollar and get five dollars back.

Right now Indiegogo works dynamically within the first three. We’ve always have a vision to participate on all four. So it will be very interesting when profit actually happens. The job act has been on discussion now for a little while but you know when you get all these new funders, they get involved because they want profitability, it’s very exciting. It’s hard to predict exactly what would happen. Indiegogo has always wanted to democratize funding across all four so we’re very interested. We’ve been working with the government and all the different stakeholders and trying to figure out what our next steps are. So we’re definitely leaning forward but we all have to find out what is happening next.”

How has the success of Indiegogo affected your lifestyle as an entrepreneur?

“I mean I don’t know that we’re so huge but I would say that I’m just busier than ever. I’m really excited that we have such an amazing team, so I really have to focus on making sure that we hire the right people. We always have amazing people that use Indiegogo, so we have a responsibility to make sure that the platform works, or works well, it’s fair and its democratic the way it’s supposed to work and it’s open. And we just focus on the customers and you know try to move the ball forward.”

What is your one word of advice for any aspiring entrepreneur?

“My one word of advice would be… People don’t want to start making a train move but they always like to jump on a moving train, so you should get the train moving.”

Follow Slava Rubin @gogoSlava
Photography by Melly Lee
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