Danae Ringlemann, Indiegogo: what it feels like to start a business

Indiegogo was started 7 years ago by Danae Ringlemann, and has since become one of the biggest crowdfunding websites in the world. But Indiegogo wasn’t an obvious success story. Virgin Startup mentor Ross Kingsland talks to founder Danae Ringlemann about coming up with the idea and overcoming hurdles.

Ross Kingsland: Indiegogo has quickly become an industry leader. What inspired you to start this business?

Danae Ringlemann: It was a very organic process - it's not like I woke up in the morning and just said, "Let's do this". For me I think it started when I was a kid watching my parents hustle and struggle for many years. They struggled to grow their business because they could never get financial access to the outside world.

I had witnessed first-hand the failures of my parents’ experience and the reason is that they didn’t have the right people to develop their ideas, and couldn’t get access to the right people with financial capital.

And so they had all these ideas that were building and building every day but couldn’t get them off the ground. They were willing to work hard; they even had audiences and a market - but they couldn’t get investment.

That's what got me to think about how we can change finance to give the decision making to the people.  We decided to use the internet as a way entrepreneurs can access to funding through a crowd investment. And that's when we came up with the idea of Indiegogo.

R: The safety of structure is something, I believe, we all struggle with. If we stay within our comfort zones that we recognise and are familiar with we feel safe. But stepping outside there we don’t really know what we are doing and self-doubt inevitably creeps in.

D: Yes, exactly. My dad would always tell me: “If you're doing anything important in the world or creating any kind of important change, the world doesn’t like change - it has inertia and it likes to say no.” So it's your job as an entrepreneur to get it to say "yes".

If you expect the world to say “No" you won’t get disappointed, and you’ll find a way around those challenges. That literally was one of the comments he left for me.

It's totally true, after he passed away - a year into Indiegogo – everything started to go wrong, whether it was something breaking, or we'd get ridiculed. It's then you experience real resistance. It’s the world saying, "No" and it comes in all forms, and I think that one of the forms is self-doubt.

You ask yourself hard questions about your own idea: "Am I really on to something?"

I think it was at this point that it was really nice to have co-founders because we're all very different. I remember in the really early days I had a bit of a freak out moment. I was thinking "What are we even doing?" and I started to believe the negative things people were saying about this thing that we had created.

We heard people saying that the business would never work; I was with my co-founders, Slava Rubin and Eric Schell. Slava got some perspective and said "We're not going to know if we're onto something for at least two years - you just can't know". Thinking that you will know any minute now is kind of a ridiculous expectation.

Once I started realising, "Yeah, we won’t know for 2 years," I relaxed about that and I gave myself the freedom to not know for sure if it was great.

And that's where it was really helpful to have co-founders. You'll have bad days. That's just the ebb and flow of having a good relationship to keep you all motivated – that’s important.

R: I know what you mean about the influence of our fathers. My Dad passed away about five years ago and I didn’t appreciate the insights that he passed on to me, which I find to be more and more important than I ever realised.

D: Because he's still with you - and that's wonderful. I think about my Dad every day in a way it keeps me grounded. In this world of technology and entrepreneurship there's a lot going on. There's a lot of energy and it's very easy to get lost. For me that memory of my Dad helps me to go right back to where I was and ask myself the questions that matter: is Indiegogo growing? If not then we're not actually helping people get their projects off the ground and if we are, we are. So that's all that matters.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons