Our Real-life IP series, in which we interview clever NZ businesses and find out how they manage intellectual property (IP) in their business starts again today. If you have recommendations for who we should interview, please email us.
PledgeMe is New Zealand’s crowdfunding platform. They help Kiwis turn their dreams into reality through crowdfunding. PledgeMe runs two platforms, PledgeMe Projects, their original crowdfunding website aimed at creative projects and PledgeMe Equity for investment into companies.
We talked with founder and Chief Bubble Blower of PledgeMe, Anna Guenther.
Tell us a bit about PledgeMe…
PledgeMe is a crowdfunding platform focusing on New Zealand campaigns. We started two years ago. We’ve had over 700 successful campaigns so far raising almost $3,000,000.
[PledgeMe also successfully raised $100,000 in November through their own equity crowdfunding platform in less than 24 hours.]
How big is your business? Do you have lots of employees?
We’ve got three staff and a group of contractors and consultants on our board as well. We are looking to grow now that we’ve got equity crowdfunding and an equity crowdfunding license into that space, but it’s early days.
How did you start? Did you have investment?
I was working for the government for a few years and realized in order to progress [in my career], I probably had to go back and study or go and work for a private company for a little while. So I decided to go back and study, and I started the company while still working for the government.
PledgeMe actually came out of my Masters thesis. I wrote about crowdfunding and did all that business-y stuff around it, and [then] I co-founded PledgeMe with a developer who was building an engine.
We didn’t have any investment to start with. We bootstrapped it pretty hard for the first year and a half. It’s only the last year that we’ve gotten investment.
Did when you’re talking about a developer co-founder, did he build the whole platform or did you build it off another platform?
He built the platform. We built it from scratch, and we’ve actually subsequently built it again from scratch. We’ve built it twice.
Who and where are your users?
We focus on New Zealand for the campaign creators, but 15% of our pledges come from overseas. We think focusing locally is important, but it’s not stopping people from pledging from abroad.
Where did do you get business advice from?
Right at the beginning, after just coming out of my Master’s, I contacted a lot of the guest lecturers that had taught on the programme. [In the Master’s programme] they had a lot of guest lecturers from industry and entrepreneurs and things come in, so I often get my advice from there.
Now, I have a pretty big crowd of business people I can go to about anything now which is good. We also now work with Deloitte on the financial side of things. Buddle Findlay is our lawyers, so we have advice when we need it.
What about information around intellectual property?
I did an IP paper in my Masters class. There was basics around it, so when I started PledgeMe I went and met with the guy who guest lectured in IP to be like, “What do you think we should do right now?, and his recommendation was really only around trade marking PledgeMe.
[We] still haven’t.
What are the main parts of IP that you use in your business … Have you got trade marking, copyright, branding, those kind of things?
Yeah, our IP is in our technology. And our brand but … I’m really open. I wouldn’t even say our processes are IP-related because we’re so open with how we do everything.
Have you ever run into problems with people using your brand on their websites in a weird way, like changing the colours?
We’ve had people change the colours on us before on different things, but we’ve just let them use it how they want to – getting the word out there. We haven’t had anyone do anything dodgy with our brand yet. I think that would be a scary thing if someone tried to say they were PledgeMe or do something weird.
Have you made any mistakes (in relation to intellectual property) you had to fix later?
Not yet. Oh, no, actually, I did. I got my first cease and desist, for mentioning another company in an email newsletter comparing … making a joke. We got in trouble for using their trade-mark.
What did you learn from that, be careful of what you say?
Apologize very quickly.
When you got investment, did it ever come up about IP and what assets you had? Was it something that was asked?
They didn’t ask for any information on that… because they were investing in our brand, but they didn’t ask for anything, any documentation.
Do you have to worry about user uploaded content?
In our agreements, the person running the campaign on PledgeMe owns all their IP. So whatever they do is theirs on the website.
Have you had anyone complain to you that people are using their IP, such as photos?
There have been a few cases where I’ve been like… “I don’t know if you’re really allowed to use that backing track on that pitch video”… But, so far, we haven’t had any issues. If they say it’s their IP, it’s their fault if anything happens.
Yeah, that’s in the terms and conditions if people want to get in touch and make complaints. It should be.
What about your platform? Could you license that back-end?
Yeah, we can do that, and actually our development partner has been finding potential users who want it – so we could do that if we want to at some point.
We own the code. We’d be selling the use of it, but they [our developers] are constantly asked to build things, so if people come and ask for something that sounds like a crowdfunding platform, they’re sort of saying, “Let’s talk about using PledgeMe.”
It’s funny, because everyone, well, not everyone, but a lot of people want to build crowdfunding platforms. I don’t think they really understand what it means, like, it’s not just the technology. There’s so much more than the technology that you need to do around it.
Do you think you will use IP differently in the future of your business?
That’s probably something that we need to think about more, especially as we expand and grow and do different things, and have/focus on different sectors, but yeah, we haven’t done it yet.
Articles in the Real-life IP series: