A Cambridge Judge alumna travelled around the world to ultimately pursue a crowdfunding business. Louise Westerlind (Cambridge MBA 2008) grew up in Sweden and is now co-founder of rewards-based crowdfunding platform Fongogo, based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Fongogo was launched in November 2013 and today it’s Turkey’s largest crowdfunding platform through funds raised and website traffic. Fongogo was founded by Louise, Ali Cebi and Ali Tirkes, and now has a team of six people.
Louise, who just came back from Startup Turkey – the country’s biggest start-up conference where Fongogo made it to the final – took time off to share some of her experiences.
How did you get into crowdfunding?
I felt it was an untapped market opportunity. Aside from the start-up and Internet marketplace experiences, I’ve been involved in the microfinance field since 2005. In 2006 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank in Bangladesh “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below”. These events triggered an interest among the general public and me personally.
Why in Turkey?
While living in Hong Kong (where I was running an online gift experience business) I frequently traveled to Istanbul to meet key players in the start-up community. After a close friend’s wedding there I simply fell in love with the place. However, the seeds were planted earlier: during my Cambridge MBA a Turkish classmate and good friend was speaking about the economic development in the region, and in December 2012 I decided to give it a go. Shortly after, I met my business partners – like-minded individuals who also had an interest in crowdfunding and complementary skillsets.
What are the main challenges in Turkey for your company?
In brief, three things: the cost of educating people about crowdfunding; credibility; and introduction of an effective set of equity-based crowdfunding regulations. While Fongogo is a reward-based crowdfunding platform using a different set of legal frameworks, we are exploring opportunities to launch equity-based crowdfunding once the regulators give a green light.
What is your biggest success so far?
First and foremost, I believe Fongogo’s biggest success is the formation of our passionate and talented team, including our effective network. In terms of projects, we have channelled funds to 23 projects so far. SineMASAL is our largest campaign to date. SineMASAL organises cultural events in Turkish villages with international artists focusing on cinema. The purpose is to develop a more positive perspective of life for less privileged children (more than 80 per cent get to see cinema for the first time).
Why do you think crowdfunding is getting more and more popular?
It is a proven concept. New and noteworthy campaigns succeed in reaching their funding goal, and as such are getting more and more media attention around the world, creating a snowball effect. Crowdfunding can be a solution for more than just fundraising: the crowd vote with their wallet, and for a start-up it is of immense value to not only prove a concept but to test whether they’ve got an able team to sell.
How do you think the Cambridge MBA helped you with your career and venture?
The Cambridge MBA helped me to take the leap of faith to embark on a start-up journey. During the MBA we did various things to test our strengths and weaknesses in a safe environment. As such, I made my final post-MBA career choice based on my strengths, and learned to delegate assignments related to my weaknesses. Thanks to the mix of brutal straightforwardness and support I learned to become more confident during the MBA. The Cambridge MBA network is another valuable component which I’ve leveraged in many ways. The fact that the classes were small means that the alumni network was very approachable, and for my first venture I got active support from alumni contacts.
What are the plans for the future?
This year we aim to roll out Fongogo in the surrounding region outside Turkey, potentially through strategic partnerships. We are also exploring equity-based crowdfunding services for more mature projects looking to sell shares online.