Welcome Back to Exponential Thinking: Part 7
It has certainly never been easier to get started with aquaponics than it is today. With the exponential technologies we have been covering over the past weeks, we’ve seen it is possible to learn all you need with online educational courses, connect to other like-minded aquapioneers through online groups, and even run an off-grid vertical farm using solar power! It really is a great era we are living in. This time, I want to cover another exponential technology that is radically changing the way modern aquapioneers can access nearly unlimited resources.
This exponential technology has been in the news a lot recently catching equal amounts good and bad news. So what is this great tech that allows anyone, anywhere to draw upon infinite resources? The power of the crowd is harnessed with Crowdsourcing, a new set of tools cropping up all over the web.
In its short existence, Crowdsourcing has already spawned many types, including crowdsourcing knowledge and advice, crowdsourcing services, crowdfunding (crowdsourcing money), and now your business can even crowdsource a round of equity instead of using traditional venture capital firms or angel investors.
Let’s explore each one of these and look at exactly how the modern aquapioneer can utilize these new tools to help secure their abundant aquaponic future!
Crowdsourcing Knowledge and Advice
We’ve already talked about the benefits of online communities and online educational tools in a previous article in this series, so I will keep this one relatively short. The internet is an amazing place where anyone around the world can congregate around any topic at all. Websites with forums, Facebook groups, and sites like Instructables.com are built on user-generated content to provide answers to your question before you even ask them! Other sites like Quora and Stack Exchange allow you to post a question and have experts and amateurs from across the world answer them. Many of these sites rely on experts from many fields who are so passionate about what they do that they post online about it when they aren’t actually working. Access to these minds has never been more available thanks to crowdsourcing sites for knowledge and advice.
I highly recommend becoming a part of an online aquaponics community if you aren’t already. I myself am a part of many, our own group for local CT aquaponics practitioners, the awesome True Aquaponics Facebook group, and aquaponics anonymous; just to name a few! As part of these communities, you will absorb a tremendous amount of the best information on earth while engaging in a community of aquapioneers that may not yet exist nearby you, physically. These groups are great for questions at any experience level and welcome newcomers looking to learn with open arms.
Not all crowdsourced knowledge is free. There are many websites available to hire real service providers from across the world. Whether it is a virtual assistant to field your emails from Bombay, or hosting a design contest on 99designs.com and having dozens of real designers from around the world pitch your ideas and you only pay the ones you like! This type of crowdsourcing was originally popularized by the Amazon website, the Mechanical Turk. On this site, projects are broken down into microcomponents and then assigned to people across the world, earning a small bit of money for every task completed. Now, crowdsourced service providers are used by the biggest companies in the world to tackle some of their most difficult and innovative R&D problems.
The modern aquapioneer can definitely tap into the power of the crowd’s services in many ways. For example, if you are thinking about going into business with your system then branding is key. With 99Designs, you’ll get real designers from around the world to take your ideas and create a logo, banner, or whatever you need. You only pay for the designs you want to use! Why waste time and money paying a single designer when you can pay that same designer but choose from a larger pool of submissions too? It is a great deal for lean aquaponics businesses who want to use every dime effectively.
Got the next great idea for aquaponics technology? Use the Mechanical Turk or other similar websites to get people to do the work you don’t have time for! Use a virtual assistant to take care of email and find all the right contacts for you to make the process from idea to creation as smooth and elegant as possible. You can use fiverr.com to find all sorts of tasks that can be done for you from $5 and up. This includes anything from simple tasks like blog post content to complicated projects like website building, app building, etc.
Crowdfunding (Crowdsourcing Money)
Crowdfunding is probably the type of crowdsourcing people are most familiar with on a day-to-day basis. Kickstarter is a household name after helping to create dozens of huge successes and massive funding rounds for innovative new products and creative projects. Many aquaponics projects have been hosted on Kickstarter and similar sites like Indiegogo. These crowdfunding aquaponics campaigns include the recent success of The Grove’s new Ecosystem. This team raised over $300,000 in their campaign, which will go to a wider production of the model they’ve been testing in the Boston area for the last year.
Another Aquaponic crowdfunding success was the Back to the Roots water garden. They raised enough money to build a production quality version of their small desktop system. You can now buy this system in any Petco and other big pet store chains.
Not all aquaponic projects make it through though. A small system designed to convert a fish tank into an aquaponics system, sponsored by Sylvia Bernstein of the Aquaponic Source, failed to achieve their goal and sadly did not get the project off the ground.
In fact, recently many of the biggest crowdfunding success stories, like the Coolest Cooler and a palm-sized micro-drone, have been in the news as potentially huge failures after their massively successful crowdfunding campaigns. The Coolest Cooler had 62,642 backers pledged $13,285,226 to help bring it to life. However, these 62,642 backers were pretty upset to learn that The Coolest Cooler was being sold on Amazon before any of the backers received their coolers. Coolest? Not even close!! The microdrone maker Zano, who raised $3.5 million on Kickstarter, recently filed for bankruptcy. It’s unclear whether any of the backers will receive the drones they paid for. Failures like this are leading many to think about the next generation of crowdfunding. Kickstarter is not the only method of raising money from a crowd that’s online!
Another method is known as microlending or crowdsourced loans. Sites like KivaZip offer super low-interest loans to small businesses around the world, mostly with a farming focus. My business, previously named FRESH Farm Aquaponics, used KivaZip to secure a 0% interest $2500 and a subsequent $10,000 loan from dozens of different backers from all over the world. Since we paid it off the first loan in an extremely timely fashion, we were able to reapply for even more; $10,000! This is an amazing resource that small business oriented aquapioneers can use to get their system off the ground with the support of their community. I highly suggest you check out KivaZip for microloans because of their agricultural focus and the 0% interest… it’s pretty hard to beat that!
Recent legislation opened up another very intriguing avenue for crowdfunding: crowdsourcing equity investments. Now businesses interested in selling a portion of their company’s own stock can do it online with potentially thousands of micro-investors instead of being stuck with large venture capital firms and angel investors. This just happened last year so it will be extremely interesting to see how it plays out. Will some enterprising aquapioneer leverage the crowd’s resources to earn a few million dollars and change the world? With these types of resources, the new year will surely be filled with an abundance of a new order!
As readers of this series, you know I am optimistic about the future. I believe many of the technological advances we’ve talked about over the past 6-7 months will help create a brighter food future for us all. We are facing trying times in many ways, and 2016 won’t likely see any slowing down of droughts, famines, and other food security problems. Maybe it is up to us aquapioneers to utilize the new tools being created every day to help feed our communities in a more sustainable way. Learn to leverage the resources of the crowd and you will see a huge response. The world needs aquaponics now more than it ever has in the past and the crowd knows it. Our first KivaZip loan was funded in a just around 3 days. How long will it take to get yours?