Now trending in the world of artisan cheese: Kickstarter. That is, the social media funding platform that allows entrepreneurs of all kinds to fundraise by tapping into the wallets of essentially anyone on the internet. There are actually a number of these funding websites (Indiegogo, etc) but the premise is simple - they allow you to raise money by tapping into the power of social networking. Dozens, even hundreds or thousands of people give amounts as small as $10 or $20 and it all adds up to funding for your project. This method has risen to prominence in recent years as independent people without easy access to venture capital or other big pots of money look for ways to fund their ideas. And for many, it has worked: the creators of the Pebble E-Paper Watch raised an astounding $10,000,000 on Kickstarter to support the development of their product. In the food world, a number of cheese-based businesses have successfully attracted funds using this method, for example, Portland's Cheese and Crack Food Cart and Mission Cheese in San Francisco.
Artisan cheesemakers are just starting to take advantage of this trend. Vicky Brown of Little Brown Farm on Whidbey Island in Washington recently raised over $20,000 to add a cheese cave and a space where she can hold classes. Hawaii's Naked Cow Dairy successfully raised $18,000 to start a cheesemaking operation on their dairy farm on the island of Oahu. Others, it must be said, have tried and failed (see here and here).
Cheesemakers who choose to attempt raising money this way seem to be doing it a little differently than your average tech entrepreneur. Most of the time the cheesemakers using Kickstarter, et. al. already have a customer base and are known on some level in their communities or regions. Thus, they presumably have a ready source of supporters who are already interested in supporting local farmers. Rather than dazzling you with a shiny new toy like the tech guys, they are essentially sending a message that says - support local food, local farms and help us grow.
This type of social media funding holds great potential for entrepreneurs of all kinds, including cheesemakers as well as cheesemongers and other types of food purveyors and chefs. Still, there can be pitfalls. The latest buzz about social media funding (see, for example, this article) asks the question - what happens when a recipient of Kickstarter funds doesn't do what they said they were going to do with their money, or despite their efforts, the idea fails? Those who use the platform to tap into a pool of supporters can easily alienate those supporters. This could create a difficult situation for a cheesemaker that relies on community support to sell their products.
It will be interesting to see how -and if - this trend continues to develop within the artisan cheese world in the next year or so. Stay tuned!
Feeling in the mood? Here are two cheesemakers on Kickstarter RIGHT NOW who could use your help!