Illustration by Dylan C. Lathrop.
When the Ubuntu Edge high-end smartphone raised $3.4 million in the first 24 hours of its crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, it seemed poised to crush previous crowdfunding records. Two weeks later, the Edge is projected to wildly miss its $32 million mark. But the campaign’s swift rise hinted that maybe the chronically second-place Indiegogo was finally catching up to the crowdfunding gold standard, Kickstarter.
Indiegogo was founded in 2007; Kickstarter didn’t come along until 2009. The former has hosted 1.3 times as many completed projects as the latter. There were some breakout Indiegogo campaigns, like the $1.3 million Tesla museum and the $703,168 raised after a video of an elderly bus monitor being bullied by kids went viral. But the biggest blockbuster crowdfunding hits — the Pebble smartwatch, the Veronica Mars movie, the Ouya gaming console — have all been on funded on Kickstarter.
All the blockbuster crowdfunding hits have been on Kickstarter
Furthermore, out of 142,301 projects that have ended on Indiegogo, only 9.3 percent raised 100 percent of their goals or higher, according to an analysis of public data by The Verge (an Indiegogo spokesperson says that figure includes "test" projects that shouldn't be included in the statistics, but did not provide different numbers by the time of publication).
That’s much lower than on Kickstarter, where about 44 percent of projects meet their funding goals, but it's not as bad as it sounds — there’s no "all or nothing" requirement on Indiegogo, so creators can still opt to collect money even if the goal isn’t met. Many underfunded projects still come to fruition, and underfunded creators who choose to cash in are still supposed to fulfill the rewards promised to backers. James Franco’s Indiegogo was a flexible funding project, meaning he collected the $328,329 raised even though he fell short of his $500,000 goal. The Edge is a fixed funding project, meaning backers will get their money back if it doesn’t raise the $32 million in time.
Indiegogo does incentivize creators to hit their goals by adding a penalty for projects that fall short. If you reach your goal, Indiegogo takes a 4 percent cut; if you don’t, the fee jumps to 9 percent. Kickstarter backers are never charged when a project misses its goal, which adds considerably more pressure to hit the mark.
Still, about 80 percent of Indiegogo projects fail to raise more than just a quarter of their goal, according to results from its search engine. By contrast, 46 percent of Kickstarter campaigns fail to raise more than 20 percent of their goal, according to Kickstarter.
80 percent of Indiegogo projects fail to raise more than a quarter of their goal
There are a number of reasons why projects on Kickstarter may have greater success than projects on Indiegogo. Although Indiegogo may be home to more projects, Kickstarter has more traffic, according to web-traffic tracker Alexa. Kickstarter also screens campaigns, rejecting the chaff and the projects that don’t meet its strict guidelines, which include bans on raising money for charitable causes, nutritional supplements, beauty products, or social networking apps, among others. (The latest dictum says creators cannot offer genetically modified organisms as a reward.) Indiegogo has much looser rules and creators can post their projects right away, so it picks up a lot of the poorly designed projects that are doomed from the start. It’s also a natural second stop for Kickstarter rejects.
In the crowdfunding world, Kickstarter has been compared to Apple: closed, curated, and high-quality. Indiegogo is more like Android: let ‘em all in. "We’re all about allowing anybody to raise money for any idea," co-founder Slava Rubin said in 2010. While Kickstarter is only available in the US, Canada, and UK, Indiegogo has run campaigns in 200 countries. Indiegogo is also full of projects that would never make it onto Kickstarter: helping a neighbor whose car got stolen, paying for a school’s soccer uniforms, or covering the expenses of a couple's new baby.
In the technology category, about 3.6 percent of Indiegogo projects meet their goals. On Kickstarter, it’s about 34 percent. So it was somewhat surprising to see a product like the Edge on Indiegogo instead of Kickstater, which has produced dozens of high-quality tech products.
Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Edge, tells The Verge that its decision to raise money on Indiegogo was due to the site’s global reach and "better variety in the way perks can be set up." However, a look at the reward levels shows where Kickstarter might have blocked the project had Canonical tried to Kickstart the Edge. Backers who pledge $1,400 will receive two Edges, while those that donate $80,000 will get 100 Edges for enterprise use. Kickstarter’s rules prohibit offering multiple or bulk quantities of a product at one reward level.
Would the Edge have done better on Kickstarter than on Indiegogo? It’s hard to say, especially since Indiegogo has declined to publish project success rates, funding totals, or much in the way of stats at all.
Indiegogo is still playing second fiddle to Kickstarter — for now
"We don't quantify the percentage of campaigns that are successfully funded because even if a campaign doesn't reach its funding goal, it can still be considered a success," reads a statement from Indiegogo, citing the flexible funding option.
Kickstarter is on the other end of the transparency spectrum, publishing an extensive set of stats that automatically update daily with the latest project data. The wealth of data on Kickstarter campaigns may be another reason why creators are attracted to it, and why an entire economy of Kickstarter consultants has arisen around it.
Indiegogo is still playing second fiddle to Kickstarter for now. But as Kickstarter’s policies grow more draconian, we may start to see more projects debut on Indiegogo. Even if the Edge doesn’t meet its goal, people still pledged $8.3 million in two weeks. That shows Indiegogo is doing something right. But without greater transparency from the company, it’s hard to know exactly what.