Indiegogo's global reach: "If we're limiting ourself to the US, we're not providing access to capital for all"

By Sarah Lacy , written on July 8, 2013

From The News Desk

Crowd funding company Indiegogo recently announced it was launching a Spanish-lanuage version of the site, which may not be the world's most exciting news. But what is pretty cool is how global Indiegogo has become -- largely without serving other languages, other currencies, or having a single employee on the ground outside of the United States. To wrap up our June focus on the Art of Going Global, I chatted with Indiegogo co-founder and CEO Slava Rubin about how exactly he pulled that off.

SR: Right away we thought the problem we were trying to solve was global and it had to do with every industry in the world. It was interesting. It started very quickly; people outside of America just started to use the site. We made some updates on the financial back end which made it viable to have anyone from any country able to join, even though it was all still in English and all still in dollars.

Really in the last few years, we've seen consistent growth in international campaigns. According to OPEC rules, we've distributed money to every country in the world where it is legal to do so, so not places like Iran or Cuba. We distribute money to 75 to 100 countries a week. The demand for access to capital is not just a US issue.

PD: It's amazing that you did all of that, all in English with dollars. Are you making efforts to localize now?

A lot of people were happy to deal with English and US dollars and were making the best of what they could with the current Indiegogo platform. But now we have French and German and are coming out with Spanish shortly. We are continuing to localize the site.

How do you pick which languages and currencies to localize in first?

We had a lot of demand in English-speaking countries, so Canada and the UK were easy to chose. We had a lot of demand in Australia.

There are a lot of tools and best practices for localizing Web sites now, is it easier?

I don't know if I would use the word "easy" -- if it were easy, I'd be in every single language and currency that exists. There's still overhead and implementation cost. But it's probably easier than it's been in the past. It definitely required effort to make sure all the transactions are accurate.

My understanding is this global reach is one thing that separates you from other crowd funding sites. Is it in your mind?

Yes. We literally have campaigns in every single country in the world where it's legal, and my understanding is no other crowd sourcing site comes close to that.

Sometimes sites take off in ways founders don't intend. Did you expect to be this global so early? Was it an accident?

I don't think it's an accident at all. Our philosophy is that everyone should have equal opportunity and access to capital. If we're limited ourselves to the US, it's not equal opportunity.

Do you see any trends in terms of the types of campaigns run around the world?

It's across the board. I think one of the first campaigns for a 3D printer was from the UK. You'll see movies from Australia, schools in Africa, all different types of campaigns. I just funded an umbrella from Italy. I've funded albums from musicians where they sent me the physical CD or t-shirts. I'm pretty excited to get this umbrella.

Take a look at this one it's called Ginkgo. It's an interesting example of what happens on our site. It's from Italy, and we don't offer Italian as a language. But notice they've translated it inside our campaign and offered two different languages. It's one of our most popular campaigns right now and probably funded in 50 countries. It's all part of our financial innovation in our infrastructure to allow this to happen on the back end.

Of the 18 most popular campaigns right now, seven are international, and they are spread across four different continents. That's cool to see. [Editor's note: This "Save Our Sloths" campaign our of Costa Rica was my favorite at the time of our call. VIRTUAL SLOTH HUGS!]

So far, we're talking about a lot of Western countries. But it strikes me that the places that really need access to capital are emerging markets. Any plans there?

No question there's the potential that emerging markets might need Indiegogo even more than the current market. If you think about it, in a market like Brazil mobile banking is way hotter than it is in the US, because they never had the same legacy infrastructure by legacy banks. Emerging markets are skipping a generation that provided access to capital like banks and credit cards.

Our goal is equal opportunity so we're spending a lot of resources and effort to improve that around the globe with more languages and currencies and payment options. You're going to see a lot more of that in our future.

You are taking your time in localizing. Do you worry about copycats in different countries?

We have a lot of competitors that's for sure -- more than 1,000 of them. We're not trying to get too focused on any one competitor. But that said, this is a brand new, very exiting industry that has the potential to be big.

So what have you learned that might help other startups, as they grapple with how to go international?

It's hard for me to give blanket advice, because I think it matters what kind of business you are in. Some businesses really require a sales team on the ground, while others can do it through SEO or SEM or just a good user experience. There are a lot of different paths.

But I think it's really important to have a good user experience domestically before you get into the complications of local nuance and infrastructure issues of any outside country. I would try to spend as much time as possible through a headquarter type approach and then invest in local on the ground people or resources, once it's been streamlined.

You have no one else working for you in other countries right now, right?

Right now we have no one on the ground outside of America. We want to make sure we are getting the experience right first. But we have thousands of campaigns and are distributing millions every week to 75-100 countries in the world.