Los Angeles Business Journal

Crowdfund Site Taps Star Power

By James Rufus Koren Monday, July 8, 2013

A crowdfunding company in Santa Monica is betting Donald Trump, Adam Carolla and other celebrities can convince their fans to open their wallets.

FundAnything, launched in May, plans to compete with big-name crowdfunding companies such as Kickstarter Inc. and Indiegogo Inc. by having the rich and famous promote fundraising campaigns. It wants to become the crowdfunding site of choice for celebrity-led projects.

Founder Bill Zanker said celebrities will introduce crowdfunding – Internet fundraising – to the millions of Americans who haven’t heard of it.

“The hipster community has embraced crowdfunding, but most Americans don’t know what it is,” Zanker said. “I’m saying let’s bring it to the masses. The only way to do that is with Donald Trump and other celebrities.”

Celebrities have helped Zanker build a business before. In 1980, he founded Learning Annex LP, an adult education company offering classes and seminars. The Learning Annex saw huge growth in the 2000s after Zanker focused on huge conferences headlined by big celebrities, including Trump, who is also an investor in FundAnything.

Celebrity endorsements are a new twist in the still-young business of crowdfunding, through which individuals or small companies can raise thousands or even millions of dollars online from small contributors. Crowdfunding campaigns raised $2.7 billion last year, and that figure is expected to nearly double this year, according to West L.A. crowdfunding research firm Massolution.

Zanker hopes to speed up that growth and take over a chunk of the crowdfunding market. His goal is for campaigns on FundAnything to raise $1 billion annually within a few years. The company launched its first celebrity-backed campaign last week, a film project produced by podcaster and comedian Carolla.

Though Zanker and most of the FundAnything team come from outside the tech world, their celebrity focus mirrors that of numerous Silicon Beach firms that use celebrities to hawk shoes, clothes and cosmetics. ShoeDazzle.com Inc. was co-founded by Kim Kardashian. BeachMint sells T-shirts picked by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as wells as furniture picked by Justin Timberlake.

FundAnything might be the first crowdfunding site with that celebrity focus, but others will likely follow, said Carl Esposti, Massolution’s chief executive.

“They’re starting to recognize associations with celebrities with large social media followings are a way to propagate campaigns,” he said. “I don’t think it’s rocket science to think if you get big names associated with something, it’s going to give it uplift.”

Crowding in

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