Just out of college, independent film enthusiast Danae (Da-NAY) Ringelmann was working as a financial analyst with J.P. Morgan when she attended a Hollywood-meets-Wall Street event. Sporting her company badge, she instantly became the most popular guest at the party. “People thought I was there to finance films. I remember clearly an accomplished 70-year-old filmmaker who was begging me for money,” Ringelmann said. “I thought, ‘This is wrong. There’s got to be a better way.’”
Fast forward to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. There, Ringelmann and two colleagues announced the creation of their new company, IndieGoGo, an online social marketplace that helps filmmakers solicit funding from the most logical source of all: fans.
“We give filmmakers audience-building tools and free ‘real estate’ on the Web,” Ringelmann explains. Producers and directors can post unlimited information about their films, including trailers, and they receive free clickable codes (called widgets) that they can insert into their own websites, blogs, and emails to direct enthusiasts to their project. Fans learn all about the films and are provided easy ways to contribute money and marketing muscle in exchange for perks. IndieGoGo earns its bread by slicing off a modest fee from contributions.
Some 800 films are now posted on the site, and, so far, IndieGoGo has helped 15 projects raise more than $70,000. Among them are Tapestries of Hope, a documentary about the virgin-rape crisis in Zimbabwe, and The Lilliput, a feature film based on the real-life story of one man’s survival of the Holocaust.
“I’ve always wanted to start my own business,” says Ringelmann, who attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, on a prestigious Morehead scholarship. She fell in love with the film industry while working at J.P. Morgan and then Cowen & Co., where she was a securities analyst covering big media companies like Pixar and Disney. Pursuing an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley with a focus in social entrepreneurship, she talked up her seedling idea for a business to democratize film funding, eventually finding her core startup team in classmate Eric Schell and his colleague, Slava Rubin, who both shared with Ringelmann her experience in raising money for artists and a passion for film.
“In giving filmmakers more choices, IndieGoGo allows me to align my values with what I do for a living,” she says. “I wake up every morning and say, ‘I can’t wait to go to work today.’”
Danae Ringelmann’s advice for entrepreneurs
1) Action speaks louder than words. Don’t let lack of information paralyze you from making decisions and taking action early on. No decision is too big that it can’t be undone later.
2) Share your idea. You can’t start a company alone. Talk up your concept with everyone you meet and infect them with your passion.
3) Test and retest. Don’t build your company in a black box. Find customers desperate for your product or service and show them your idea to get feedback.