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Sunday, 26 November 2017 12:30 am

Anna Guenther has plenty of stories to tell about her journey

anna - mike- righttopTHE FIRST time Anna Guenther, co-founder and CEO of Pledgeme.co.nz, cried over a fundraising project, she was sitting on her couch in a panda onesie.

That project was Super Power Baby Project, which aimed to allow a Timaru couple to go around New Zealand and take photos of children with genetic disabilities.

They wanted to compile a photographic art book, and change the negativity of having a disability, Ms Guenther said.

Other projects that stood out to Miss Guenther were Blueskin Energy, to raise money for the first community-owned wind cluster in New Zealand, and Back the Bull, which raised over $200,000 for a Christchurch sculpture. (See breakout below.)

Pledgeme reached $1 million and $2 million pledge milestone last year.

The New Zealand owned and based crowd-funding website allows people to pledge a certain amount of money – usually going up in tiers of $5, $10, $20 – towards a project.

Miss Guenther was born in Dunedin, but grew up in Boston and travelled the world before settling down in Wellington.

She started Pledgeme during her Masters of Entrepreneurship at Otago University, after she had to pick a topic for a thesis, which was to do anything but start a business.

“I was really excited about what I saw in the States around crowdfunding, and I felt that it was just a really empowering way to make things happen.

“I just decide to test the idea to see if I could find anyone else interested in it and give it a go, and I managed to find a guy who was doing a back end engine at the time and so together we decide to start Pledgeme.”

One of the challenges that Miss Guenther faces with Pledgeme is what to do with projects that have the potential become hate speech, and whether to have the project on the site.

“We do want to let people have freedom of speech, and we do want to let the crowd decide what should be funded and what shouldn’t.

“I don’t think we should be deciding what’s a good project and what’s a bad project.”

Miss Guenther had a debate with her advisory board around how they decide what projects should be published on the website.

“One of our advisory board members gave the example of, would we let someone crowdfund to hire a bus to go protest gay marriage.

“I don’t think my advisory board member realised that another of my advisory board members was a very hardcore feminist lesbian.

“It got the point where, that in my mind, where that was already bordering on hate speech, and would be something we wouldn’t let through.

“But if it’s something where people wanted to have a further conversation around fluoride or something like that I think it’s a good way to have the conversation.”

Miss Guenther meets with her advisory board to talk about the future of crowdfunding and Pledgeme regularly.

“Crowdfunding I think is just a tool, but it’s a tool built on involvement of community and there’s so many different areas that could happen.

“We’re looking at how we can go more into the education space, how you can move from sausage sizzles to crowdfunding projects in schools.

Pledgeme already deals with issues based crowdfunding, and is looking to get into the equities.

“Looking at issues based crowdfunding, if people want to protest how they can crowdfund to purchase something or make a really kick-ass protest where you could hire a boat and go out and protest mining offshore.

Changing laws mean equities and shares in businesses are also a possible market.

“Businesses could crowdfund shares in their company or equity investments into their companies and that’s changing April first.

“It’s a lot of different things and we’ve just scratched the surface of what we can do in NZ that’s really exciting to see how it can go wider and deeper.”

Pledgeme stories are plentiful, and at times moving 

ANNA GUENTHER’S most memorable stories about projects.

Anna Guenther has numerous stories about projects on Pledgeme.

When asked about how Pledgeme and crowdfunding had helped political or community projects, an anecdote about a project called Blueskin Energy came to mind.

“There was a really cool project down in Dunedin called Blueskin Bay Energy Group and they were crowdfunding to build a wind measurement tower and they went out to their community and said ‘hey even if you can’t give money, could you give us some rewards to offer the community’.

“They got things like unicycle lessons and blues lessons and for $15 a woman was going to home-kill chickens for them, so just a wide range of things that you wouldn’t even expect but it’s just engaging.

“They said that it engaged members of the community that never really talked to them before about what they were doing and gave them an easy way in and an easy way to help.

She often says crowdfunding is not just about the funding.

“It’s actually really about the crowd as well because you’re building your community and you’re engaging them.”

Back the Bull, which exceeded $200,000 was an example of a huge financial success.

“They raised $206,000 which was for a Christchurch based project, called Back the Bull they wanted to buy a Michael Parekowhai sculpture and set it up outside the Christchurch art gallery.

“It’s sort of a bull on top of a piano and they brought it down after the first quakes and it sort of shows the spirit of Christchurch.”

She described the response as amazing.

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“They had everything from little kids at school fundraising and getting $2 coins to a picture of the bowl they had drawn to 90 year old women who sent in cheques saying they wanted to give some money.

“There was one actually who said she wanted to give money because her friend Edith who had passed away the year before would have wanted to have the bull stay in Christchurch and so she sent in a cheque on Edith’s behalf. Everyone got involved.”

When asked about any projects that had moved her emotionally, a project called Super Power Baby Project was the one that stood out most to her.

“It was a couple down in Timaru who wanted to raise money to go around NZ and take pictures of kids with genetic conditions and make a photographic book.

“Their reason for wanting to do that was they wanted to change the conversation around disabilities into being super powers, so it’s not this negative thing, it’s actually, y’know, everyone’s just differently abled.

“It’s the first project pitch that made me cry, in my panda onesie on the couch first thing in the morning.

“But it also really inspired me, because of people just wanting to actually make a stand and going to their crowd and saying: ‘hey, we need a lot of money to make this happen, but do you want to get on-board?’”

In 30 days the couple managed to raise $80,000, and they have already started taking photos of the kids.

“The reason they’re so passionate about it is because their daughter Evie was born with a genetic condition, she actually passed away two years ago, but they were just shocked how everything was always negative.

“Whenever they went to the hospital or had conversations with doctors or nurses it was always this negative thing about how she was disabled.

“They were like, ‘there are a lot of things she can do she wouldn’t always be this bad and there are a lot of things that other people can’t do that she can do’, so, it’s very cool.”

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  1. Just read the story about Anna Guenther – well done, it’s a great article. Is there any way this could be shared in The Wellingtonian, because I think this could be ideal for that. Or in Fishhead? Just a thought…..

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