Opening Lines

GAH! Too late! The message on the page reads: THIS PROJECT IS FUNDED! Now I feel left out. I could have been in at the start but now I’m pressing my nose against the glass as the funders and the fundees smile inside.

In a crowd. Hence the term crowdfunding.

It works as follows — someone has an idea, they need a few grand to take it to some sort of fruition. It’s not a charity so they can’t walk the Inca Trail or the Sahara. They put their idea on the internet, look for small amounts of money from lots of strangers and friends. In my patchy record I’ve helped fund two books, one DVD, one short film and one documentary.

My line of work is full of crowdfunding — over the past while actors, directors and comedians have announced their plans to fund the financially ruinous month in the crucible (or incinerator depending on how it goes) of dreams that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. My head says — why fund the competition? My conscience will say “Cop on Colm” and I’ll chip in with a few bob. Unless my procrastinadenum (one of the largest organs in my body) becomes active and I miss the deadline. Like I did for a few people recently. So I’m sorry for them but they got fully funded. Hence my glass-flattened nose.

Crowd-funding isn’t new. In Ireland, it starts early, with children selling lines. Just to be clear, these lines are not a method of distributing hard drugs, rather they are lines on a dog-eared card held by a hardworking primary school child who is going door to door in their area looking for money from the community in order to sponsor ‘something’. In some cases I don’t even know what they’re selling. They hold out the card with lines on which to write your name and a donation amount. Some of the neighbours will have already filled it out — or at least I think it’s them. There’s no time for the procrastinadenum to kick in so I hand over an amount half-way between the most and least generous neighbour.

For children, it’s not a bad introduction to the world of sales so it’s good to give the little cherubs a win now and then lest they turn into a small version of the Jack Lemmon character in the film Glengarry Glen Ross.

Crowdfunding in other forms goes back centuries. In the New York Public Library in Manhattan they have a collection which in their own way represents a landmark in crowdfunding. The Maps. Many of the oldest ones where drawn by Dutch cartographers a lot of whom worked for the first crowdfunders of modern times — the Dutch East India company who sold joint stock to investors to finance risky exploratory trips. Obviously their language was a bit more formal than: “Hey guys! I’m off exploring new trade routes for spices. Would be great if you could sponsor me — thanks a mill.” But a small number of people bought in. The company went on for 200 years and made many millionaires.

Which compared to being 12 and selling door to door is not a bad line of business.

More in this section