The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a crowdfunding platform just for women has launched. E-commerce site Plum Alley had added it as a feature to its offering. According to the WSJ one of the founders, Heidi Lehmann, said, “We are going to discover the next Tory Burch, the next Kate Spade, the next Bethenny Frankel or the next Sara Blakely through our program.”
Let’s just pause just a moment and consider the fact that half the examples of female entrepreneurs Lehmann cited were a tabloid star and the inventor of Spanx. The other half were fashion designers.
Nothing against Spanx, tabloids, or fashion, because I love all three, but let’s get a little industry diversity up in here when boldly describing the type of women you hope to discover through a female crowd funding site. What about the next Kathryn Bigelow or the next Jennifer Pahlka?
But I digress. My real beef with Plum Alley’s new offering is that I’m not sure whether women really need their own crowdfunding site.
I’m not saying that crowdfunding for women is a bad idea. I’m a woman. I love the idea of helping other women. Whether that’s tokenism or not, I don’t particularly care. I feel a kinship with my fellow sisters in arms, so if one of them has a great product/artistic/other idea, it would be nice to find their crowdfunding campaigns easily.
But I’m not so sure we need a separate, distinct crowdfunding site just for women. Wouldn’t we be better off with a “campaigns created by women” category on Kickstarter or Indiegogo’s site, allowing donators to peruse at their leisure after they’ve finished checking out music or game or theater or any other category? People surfing these sites can happen upon the female category even if they weren’t specifically looking for it. More clicks: more funding for the ladies.
Let me be crystal clear on that point though. My recommendation is that Kickstarter or Indiegogo should have a category called “campaigns created by women.” Not a category of “products made for women.”
If the curse of the vertical has taught us anything, it’s that distinct vertical versions of consumer sites frequently struggle. A separate Facebook product for dogs just does not work. People would prefer to use their normal Facebook, and post pictures of dogs on it. Same goes for a separate Twitter for fashion or eBay for gamers. Users are comfortable with their preexisting platforms, so why not just repurpose them for particular activities?
Of course, well-known sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo and RocketHub do not yet have categories of “campaigns created by women,” so in the meanwhile multiple female-focused crowd funding platforms have popped up. Despite what some outlets are claiming, Plum Alley is not the first.
The dubiously named, nobly purposed website Chic CEO was the first. In case you couldn’t tell from the teenage title, Chic CEO (seriously, it sounds like the sequel to “Sweet Valley High”) aims to help women who want to build companies get the guidance to do so. It rolled out a crowd funding offering back in April.
MoolaHoop was the next, launching in July to target female entrepreneurs for crowd funding. The site includes a networking aspect with the hopes that users will mentor, teach, and help one another.
Just like subscription crowd funding platforms, or app crowd funding platforms, or film crowd funding platforms, women crowd funding sites are fun in theory but I doubt they’ll have staying or scaling power. Why wouldn’t people just use the bigger, more well-known sites? They’re more likely to get people viewing their campaign that way. People surfing these sites can happen upon the female category even if they weren’t specifically looking for it. More clicks: more funding for the ladies.
If one female-focused crowd funding site does wind up having staying power, I don’t think Plum Alley is it. It doesn’t have the right brand. After all, the site is e-commerce, focused on products made for women by women.
It seems pretty limited in its offerings at the moment, and the categories are all classic “women-y” categories like home, garden, and beauty. That might explain the co-founder’s earlier fashion-focused female entrepreneur references.
I checked out the miscellaneous category to see if maybe anything tech-y or app-related would be there. Aside from humble looking arduino and electronics discovery kits, there was nothing.
I can’t imagine a female entrepreneur creating a hardware product like Nest or Dropcam or Pebble would intuitively think that Plum Alley’s site would be a fit for a crowdfunding campaign. Other companies — like the ubiquitous fashion startups — would find it a fit.
I’m not saying that the tech-y startups are more important than the women-y startups.
But if a women-specific crowdfunding site is to survive and thrive, it needs to be a place where any kind of female founded company could come and find money. Software, fashion, Spanx, space, robots or otherwise.
It needs a strong brand name associated with female power behind it. Like Jezebel. Or NOW. Or Ellen DeGeneres. Plum Alley just doesn’t have the right reach or power.