Since July 2022, we’ve been building the tools we need to develop a cooperatively-owned handmade marketplace. In this post, we’ll discuss how we’re going to pay for it all with our 5-stage fundraising plan.
We created this plan with guidance from our co-op advisors at Start.coop and this excellent article, the Co-op Financing Playbook.
What We Need Funds For
First, let’s recap everything we did in our first nine months with about $1,000 in donations and a passionate team of volunteers:
- Grown a community of nearly 1,500—including subscribers to our email list and a vibrant forum on Discord.
- Polled our community four times and incorporated their responses into the design of our plans and policies
- Finalized our 2023 work plan, marketplace tech plan, ownership model, and handmade policy and presented them all in Open Houses
- Hired a lawyer, filed the articles of incorporation, and drafted the bylaws
So, what comes next? The most critical (and expensive) pieces of the puzzle: enacting all the plans and policies we’ve made together.
Build the Marketplace
We’re using cost-efficient and secure existing e-commerce technology from Shopify rather than coding from scratch. This will save us time, money, and uncertainty. Nonetheless, we intend to hire a professional Shopify developer who knows the technology well. We plan to roll out the marketplace in phases, each with a larger number of artisans.
Estimated cost: $25,000-$30,000
Develop and Execute a Robust Marketing Plan
We believe the future success of our marketplace lies in our ability to attract a critical mass of artisans and shoppers. Building both audiences presents a “chicken-or-egg” dilemma: how to get shoppers without a lot of products to shop, and how to get a lot of artisans and products with only a few shoppers. We’ve decided to follow ShareTribe’s advice and focus on artisans first, shoppers second.
If funded in full, our marketing plan will include content, social media/influencers, digital advertising, email, a printing and travel budget for grassroots outreach, designers, and advisors.
Estimated cost $100,000-$120,000
Ideally at least two: a marketing person and a technology person. Staff will execute our plans, lift the burden off volunteers, amp up our professionalism, be our first worker-owners, and create awesome jobs.
Estimated cost $100,000-$125,000
All together, that totals about $250,000. So, how are we going to pay for all of this?
Our 5-Stage Fundraising Plan
We’ve already done some successful fundraising, but we’re ready to take it to the next step, and make this a reality. To do so, we have a five-stage strategy for raising the funds through a combination of sources.
This is our fundraising plan in 5 stages:
Stage 1: Donations / Fundraisers
We began our fundraiser in October 2022, accepting donations through our Paypal site and Ko-fi page, and from artisans via a mutual-aid physical goods fundraiser. In 6 months, this raised approximately $2,000, which we’ve been using to pay for operational expenses, like email and social media scheduling software, domain hosting, etc.
Stage 2: Grants / Business Competitions
We’ve researched, found, and applied for dozens of grants and business competitions. So far, that has resulted in a $10,000 grant from the Start.coop 2023 Spring Accelerator, and we’re continuing to find additional opportunities to apply for. We’ve used those funds to pay for the legal expenses of business incorporation.
Stage 3: Member Investments
Memberships are critical for two reasons:
1) they provide quick and early funds to pay for the website
2) they provide leverage for greater capital from lenders
Just like partnerships but with a lot more members, it is typical of member-owned businesses to pool their funds to get the cooperative off the ground. We are beginning a member capital campaign this spring to raise $25,000 for the marketplace tech plan / website development.
The member drive comes before financing because lenders need to see that we’ve raised the beginning stake ourselves before they’re willing to finance us. Memberships prove to bankers we have traction, momentum, and commitments.
Stage 4: Financing
Update September 2023: After successfully raising $50,000 in memberships during our first two months, the membership voted to “bootstrap” our way to success rather than rely on significant outside financing. We may still pursue some cooperative-friendly financing after our launch, such as friends & family loans or bank loans, but are not seeking outside investors.
Loans could come from a variety of sources, and we have a list of leads from our advisors at Start.coop. They could come from co-op friendly funders like Shared Capital Collective, or crowd-sourced through a platform like Kiva. Our membership capital and website revenue would provide leverage for any debt financing.
Stage 5: REVENUE!
As soon as we launch our marketplace, artisans will begin having sales, and the co-op will begin earning a sales commission. Those sales commissions will:
- Hire staff and pay for marketing
- Pay off our debt
- Build up a rainy-day fund
- Improve our marketplace
- Pay expenses going forward
- Be returned to co-op members as dividends when there’s a surplus
We’ve made solid progress on Stages 1 and 2, and we have more momentum than ever. We will continue to work on Stages 1 and 2 as we begin the third stage: Member Investments.
Member investments are the most critical: we need artisans on board to prove their interest. Not just for bankers, but for ourselves. We need to see and hear each other and band together. We know this is our best chance to get off Wall Street and take back control of our livelihoods.
You’ll be hearing from us in the next few weeks as we launch our first Member Capital Campaign for early founders. Get ready!
What do you think about our fundraising plan? Share your thoughts in the comments below or contact us.
About Artisans Cooperative
We are growing an online handmade marketplace for an inclusive network of creatives: a co-op alternative to Etsy.
Shop the marketplace!