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YoCoFund is a crowdfunding platform geared towards local businesses and projects. Created by brothers Brandon and Chandler Waits, the platform launched earlier this summer in Nashville, TN and Jackson, MS. We caught up with Brandon, the company's CEO, to discuss the motivations behind the platform, recent developments, and his goals for the future.
Anton Root, Crowdsourcing.org: To start, can you just tell me a little bit about YoCoFund, as well as your background and what your role is in the company?
Brandon Waits, YoCoFund CEO: My name is Brandon Waits—I am the CEO of the company and co-founded it with my brother, Chandler Waits. We are currently both in graduate school studying psychology and law, respectively.
YoCoFund is a funding platform allowing locals to exchange ideas and funds to improve where they live. YoCoFund has been in the works for almost two years. We launched the platform to give communities the power to improve themselves. We think a lot of good ideas go unfunded in our communities that could have provided a real benefit to our cities. How many times have we heard the struggles of small business finance or decreases in charitable giving. We aren’t going to get out of the economic crisis by trusting a couple people to pass bills. Our platform is about including everyone to pitch in for local economic growth. Funding communities is about funding the right people at the right time.
What inspired you to create the platform?
Almost two years ago we decided we had seen enough. We had all these ideas and discussions about how to improve our communities but no way of implementing them. We came to the conclusion that communities are unique. Each has its own culture and its own needs. Some communities need better schools. Others need to clean up impoverished areas or revitalize their downtowns. Still others need business growth. They’re unique -- what’s right for Los Angeles may be terrible for Nashville. That’s why we came up with a funding platform where locals can go online and fund projects in their communities – whether it’s a business, philanthropy or civic project.
Why the emphasis on local communities?
Great question. As you know, crowdfunding is growing exponentially. It works best when people buy into an idea or project and have a genuine interest in its success. Often, this is brought about when a project creator convinces backers they will benefit from the project in the form of a new product, service or resource. It is our belief at YoCoFund that everyone in the community benefits from healthy business growth and a thriving philanthropy and civic venture community. For this reason, we expect neighbors to enthusiastically support new project creators who genuinely want to make a difference in their community. It’s in their interest to do so.
Can you talk a little bit about who, in your opinion, will benefit most from YoCoFund? In your blog posts, you've mentioned businesses, as well as philanthropic and civic projects. Can you elaborate a bit on how each of these will be able to benefit from YoCoFund?
Of course. By targeting business, philanthropy and civic ventures, we believe we are casting a rather wide net. The fact is if a legitimate business or non profit comes to us with a project that we think has a genuine opportunity to create value in the community, we are going to give the local “crowd” a chance to evaluate, make recommendations and ultimately choose whether to fund the project or not.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and can use our platform in any number of ways including keeping their doors open, offering a new product or service, business expansion or helping with startup costs. Philanthropy projects can be from an individual seeking to help others in the community or a local project performed by a multinational philanthropy. Civic projects include those projects typically done with taxpayer dollars – parks, city improvement, public libraries etc. Our goal is to give these civic projects a chance even if they don’t get taxpayer funds from their mayor’s offices.
Do you plan to incorporate equity-based crowdfunding into your platform in the future?
We are evaluating that option but it will be hard to make that determination before the SEC completes its rulemaking process.
Can you talk about the brainstorming/ideas aspect of YoCoFund? Do you plan to bridge the virtual and the real worlds? In order words, are you considering taking the discussion from on your platform and combining it with the conversations taking place in town halls and community board meetings?
One of the great things about YoCoFund is a user can contribute even if he or she does not see a project to fund yet. From day one, that user can post an idea, complaint, need, want etc. to improve the community. Other users in his the community see that idea and a conversation begins. Yes, we understand we are primarily a crowdfunding platform, but the ability to exchange ideas about community needs and improvement with other locals is an invaluable tool for everybody, including users who are launching or have launched crowdfunding projects.
Regarding the questions about bridging the “real and virtual worlds”—yes, we think this is important to the success of YoCoFund. We are constantly interacting with mayor’s offices and business leaders to introduce our concept. After all, recognizing community change can only come from involvement and immersion with our communities. We go out of our way to look for new growth opportunities where we live.
I know it's early on, but what has the response been from those who have used your platform?
We have been very pleased with the response from the communities we are targeting. To start, our target markets are where we live -- Jackson, MS and Nashville, TN. In Jackson, we have met a lot of interested entrepreneurs and locals. Some of the local news outlets picked up our story on launch day, which certainly helped. We were also recently afforded the opportunity to speak about YoCoFund to a group of 50 or more lawyers, business professionals and tech people about our company’s vision. We’ve received a great response so far and find that when someone “gets” the vision—it stirs a strong response. We believe this has a lot to do with some of our basic American ideals. Who doesn’t love voluntary grassroots growth occurring through local collaboration? This makes sense to us as a Western, democratic citizenry.
Why do you think now is a good time to introduce a crowdfunding platform for communities, and what effect do you think YoCoFund can potentially have on creating small business jobs?
We recognize that small businesses are the core of the American economy. However, our financial system does not reflect this reality and great ideas often go unfunded in our communities. We believe a local crowdfunding platform introduces a fix to this problem. On our platform the community chooses for itself which businesses receive funding. This way, local entrepreneurs receive market information at an earlier stage than ever before, often before they hire workers or even open their doors. We are taking this decision-making process out of the hands of the financial elites and putting it into the hands of those who will benefit from the success of the business. This is grassroots finance.
What is the timeline looking like for bringing YoCoFund to other communities?
We’re just like any other startup in that you never really know exactly how things will go after you launch until, well, you launch. We have basically completed a soft launch in the past month or so and, although we have some goals and ideas regarding a timeline, the growth of YoCoFund is really contingent upon the interest we receive from the public asking us to add their communities to our platform. In the meantime, we will enjoy sharing our message how we believe our platform can fundamentally transform how communities organize and fund local improvement.