Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in this Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed judges comprising Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits), Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria), Pat Nourse (artistic director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe) and Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria) to help us identify the people changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability. In civics, one such person is Alan Crabbe, cofounder and CEO of Pozible and Birchal.
It's hard to remember a time before crowdfunding when it was almost impossible to directly support artists without going to a gig or an exhibition. That changed when Pozible came onto the scene, more than a decade ago.
"We actually launched Pozible back in 2010," says Alan Crabbe, Pozible's cofounder and CEO. "At the time, crowdfunding wasn't a thing. It wasn't even a word that people would know. And it was a kind of a pivot on what we had been operating, which was a marketplace for visual artists at the time. We did a massive pivot towards being campaign based, but aligning with the likes of creatives. [We created] a kind of a time-based campaign to raise capital to do something with an idea. The initial idea was to use this as a way to raise enough capital for these emerging artists to put on an exhibition, for example."
The idea has been tried in Europe, but Asia-Pacific had never had a crowdfunding platform before. The platform launched with four campaigns, all of them artists with whom Pozible shared a coworking space. Three of the campaigns were successful. The fifth was someone Pozible's founders didn't know, and it was that campaign that proved the model could be successful. "We had a burlesque dancer raising funds to get a flight from Brisbane to Melbourne. And she was successful on her first day and raised the money that she needed to do that. So that came from nowhere," says Crabbe.
From that early success, Pozible has gone from strength to strength and has raised more than $72 million from more than 441,000 supporters in more than 9,000 campaigns.
"In the early days, we grew very organically, particularly from the creative industries," says Crabbe. "You had a few musicians then pick it up. You had a few filmmakers use it as a way, very much a niche way, of raising funds for a relatively small project. But then fast forward to probably 2012, it really started to take off, particularly internationally. So you had some very high-profile campaigns, even in the US."
One of the biggest early successes, and a campaign Crabbe points to as one that he's proudest of, was political publication New Matilda, which raised $175,000 via the platform in memberships. "That was quite high profile for us," says Crabbe. "And off the back of that, we had a really strong year that year from people looking at similar use cases. We had publishers, filmmakers, everyone kind of got the concept. And that really cemented what we call reward-based crowdfunding in the industries."
In addition to New Matilda, Pozible has also enabled organisations like the Bob Brown Foundation, brands like Four Pillars, Patient Wolf and Mr Black, social enterprises like Kinfolk and Tsuno and projects like same-sex parenting doco Gayby Baby to raise funds and achiever their goals. Perhaps most notably, legendary rock music venue Cherry Bar used the platform to stay afloat after the devastation of lockdowns last year. And Pozible has never forgotten its mission of enabling creative people to follow their dreams. "We've always stuck to the creative industries more than anything else," says Crabbe, "supporting organisations where we can to achieve non-donation campaigns for specific projects. Creative industries is where we started and where we've maintained our mission as a company."
In 2018, Pozible spun out a new platform called Birchal, to allow everyday Australians to invest in companies, particularly startups. In contrast to Pozible, investors in Birchal don't get specific rewards tied to the amount of their investment, instead buying shares in the company. "Birchal has then gone on to be the top equity crowdfunding platform in Australia," says Crabbe. "A lot of these are in the same vein as Pozible, quite a lot of them are social enterprises." Some of his favourites include Seabin, which collects plastic waste from the ocean and cleans up marinas, and Shebah, an all-female rideshare company.
"For most people, it's about supporting the companies and the founders behind these companies and really understanding and getting behind the mission and objectives of what they want to achieve. Quite often they're raising capital to scale or to build more awareness or potentially even go international. So you really support helping these in the hope that they will become much more successful. And, ultimately, you're sharing in that upside and the reward for backing it at an early stage."
Crabbe expects crowdfunding to continue to grow as people emerge from lockdown even more energised and creative. "I'd love to see people's ideas and side projects continue to grow and for people to play and experiment... It's giving people that opportunity to do that. And I think, hopefully, some people will potentially use crowdfunding and have a very sustainable career from doing it. Maybe another side to Covid is that people realise what's important for them and full-time work and having side projects and freelance gigs is where they feel they want to be. It plays to the gig economy also plays to the act of doing things on the side or side projects, these kind of things to supplement the day job but also be a passion project as well."