Meefund’s Reward Crowdfunding Eyes Up Asia
By Tadhg Walker
Meefund came to life in September 2015. A group of Thai management and business consultants knew Fintech was more than the latest trend, and with their core competency being new business, started Meefund to capitalise on crowdfunding.
It has long proven difficult to attract funding for ventures in Thailand. Banks are unwilling to lend without collateral. Venture Capitalism has never taken off in Thailand. Meefund’s founder and Chief Hunting Officer Tony Boontanorm explains: “The government [from its Venture Capital fund] will give out money and not get a return. They put money into projects but they fund the wrong projects. They do not know how to find the innovations.”
This is not for lack of opportunity. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account 98.5% of total enterprises in Thailand, contributing 37% of GDP and employing 80.4% of the workforce. Mr Boontanrom recognised a gap in the market. “We have good universities and good research yet we do not put what we learn into practice.”
A revelatory moment occurred when Kickstarter and Indiegogo bought crowdfunding into the mainstream. They showed crowdfunding was not only possible, but profitable and saw it gaining traction worldwide. Importantly Mr Boontanorm believes “Kickstarter have done everything right” through establishing the right ethos, recognising it was the community that counts as your first and main supporters.
Meefund currently offers reward crowdfunding. It was an obvious first step; it is less regulated than other types of crowdfunding, primarily based on trust. The Thai SEC and the Bank of Thailand are not regulating it. It is also very fast, with tangible results. “You can talk about a project this month and it can be started next month” Mr Boontanorm explains, which creates a large pool of project starters and drivers to draw on.
Meefund currently attracts most of its projects through seeking out artists and creators to try out crowdfunding. It is about creating the community that begins to sustain itself. Most are receptive to the idea of crowdfunding once it is explained, indicative that crowdfunding is not yet mainstream in Thailand. Meefund also works extensively with starters to teach them about crowdfunding and how it works. Starters have the responsibility to put themselves out there, drum up support for their projects and attract the essential day one donors.
Crowdfunding, and Meefund’s profile, is growing in Thailand thanks in large part to extensive media coverage, both in print and online. Meefund talks extensively at a variety of art and culture events, as well as to government bodies. Attracting support through universities is on the horizon. Crowdfunding alongside corporate companies, such as Bar B Q plaza, also allows for massive outreach into the general population. Mr Boontanorm noted their numbers “skyrocketed” after the launch of their campaign with Bar B Q Plaza, causing their website to crash.
Meefund has been a catalyst for the growing crowdfunding community in Thailand. Building on this awareness they have ambitious goals for 2016, focussing primarily on reward crowdfunding. Meefund hopes to have 200 projects listed, with an average value of 500,000 Baht ($14,000 USD). He would also like to see more organic growth, which currently sits at around 30%, through getting the community to bring more projects to Meefund.
With Thailand’s prevalence of SMEs equity crowdfunding is also on the horizon for Meefund. Once an established reward crowdfunding platform Meefund will seek to use its reputation to move into equity crowdfunding. However Mr Boontanorm believes “demand is much more limited in equity crowdfunding. When the demand is there we will move in.” This is partly due to Thailand’s low innovation rate of 0.36%, meaning Meefund would really have to hunt for the golden project, the next Oculus Rift. He notes everyone can give a reward but “not everyone can run a successful equity campaign.”
Meefund will also release an app in 2016, with the hope to include mobile banking. Mr Boontanorm expresses disappointment in banks being “conservative and slow”, part of the reason we now have Fintech. Meefund has “offered banks to walk with us but the banks do not want it.” Sooner rather than later banks may not have choice but to embrace new technologies.
Mr Boontanorm views Thailand as “too young and not enough” for Meefund’s ambitions. From day one they started off as a two language website, in both Thai and English. With a motto of “being clean and clear and business will come” Meefund plans to be the next Kickstarter of Asia.