Interview: Barry James Talks UK Crowdfunding Day, Crowdfunding Deep Impact Conference

barry-jamesBarry James is founding editor at The Crowdfunding Centre and the founder and director of The Social Foundation, an organization that aims toward “providing leadership towards the new open social economy via research, education and policy development.” We recently caught up with James to discuss the upcoming Crowdfunding Deep Impact conference, which is taking part in UK Crowdfunding Day. UK Crowdfunding Day takes place on November 1st and hopes to catalyze crowdfunding-related events across the United Kingdom. Crowdfund Insider is a proud supporter of this initiative. Here we seek more info about the state of crowdfunding in the UK as well as the events forthcoming. Oh, and we picked James’s brain about getting a cease and desist from Kickstarter.

Crowdfund Insider: First, tell me a bit about The Crowdfunding Centre. What is the goal behind that company?

Barry James: We want everyone to be able to benefit from Crowdfunding. It’s easy to forget that the majority of the population have only a sketchy idea of what it is, at best. Even less idea what to do about it. So it’s first role is a place to go to find our what Crowdfunding is, how it works and where to start – either as an entrepreneur or a potential contributor looking for interesting stuff to back.

The second role is to provide a central place for news and comment about Crowdfunding combined with a way for journalists to research stories and a central, searchable, database of pitches and platforms.

One place to come if you want to learn about Crowdfunding, find a platform to pitch on, find some cool stuff to back or to research a story.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 11.16.38 AMYou’re holding the first annual Crowdfunding Day UK on November 1st. Tell me a bit about what you hope attendees will learn from this conference? What makes it different from other conferences in the space?

We are – but UK Crowdfunding Day itself and the Crowdfunding Deep Impact conference are two distinct things. Lots of people all over the UK are doing things for UK Crowdfunding Day – which we are also supporting with our conference as well.

There are going to be some big, high profile, events too ,,, You may have heard by now that Sir David Attenborough is launching a crowdfunding campaign with Fauna & Flora International to save the mountain gorilla. And we are also have a panel debate on the FCA proposals to regulate the crowdfunding industry. Happy to tell you more if you want to include it.

The sole aim of #UKCrowdfundingDay is to raise interest and awareness of Crowdfunding and give us all a chance to come together and celebrate what is a great new innovation – and all we can do with it!

The conference has a deeper purpose. We believe that Crowdfunding holds important new DNA for a new, more people-centred economy. An opportunity to reboot capitalism itself into a more democratic mode. The conference brings together key leaders and thinkers from across many sectors to explore and catalyse the positive disruption that’s already started and is taking hold.

Obviously crowdfunding has taken hold in UK, thanks in part to tax incentives that encourage investment in early-stage companies. From your perspective, how much do the SEIS and EIS tax schemes help small businesses in the UK?

Not nearly as much as we need them to. The banks have left a huge hole and have shown no inclination to pitch in with the rest of us to fill it. The SEIS and EIS tax schemes are very generous schemes and a great effort from the government to get people interested and investing in small companies. But not enough people know about them or understand them so the effect is not anything like we – or the government – would like.

I don’t think that this has had much effect on equity Crowdfunding though – or not yet anyway. This is being dogged by another arm of government, the FCA, actively trying to deter ordinary people from investing in startups and growth companies via Crowdfunding. So the government is shooting itself in the foot on this at present – we’re trying to help them sort this out.

We’ve just help get a new all-party parliamentary group off the ground who are now working with us and the Westminster Crowdfunding Forum to try and address this and similar issues.

kickstarter-logoYou dealt with a bit of legal pressure from Kickstarter. What was that like? Do you feel you were in the wrong?

Scary – but only for a fleeting moment. It turned out to be more of a test for Kickstarter than for us.

There was a moment when the whole industry did seem to hold its breath. We are used to a more friendly and collaborative way of doing things. It’s still something of a puzzle to us why Kickstarter, having launched in the UK last year, would not only want to actively support Crowdfunding here – but would act in a way that’s so blatantly and needlessly aggressive. They can hardly be scared of the competition from other platforms? We listed them as a prominent UK organisation – in line with their guidelines. We didn’t abuse a thing and there was no way we could – or would want to – force the mighty Kickstarter to do anything it didn’t want to do. Their reaction remains something of a puzzle.

In that moment there was the question as to whether this could change the atmosphere in the industry – from open, supportive and collaborative to what Thomas Power has called the ‘aggressive, closed and controlling’ corporate model that you see every day in the City . Thankfully it passed and within a day or so we were deluged with support and requests to add more logos from a wide range of Crowdfunding organisations from the UK and beyond.

We know that among those in Crowdfunding – or any industry – there are now those, a tiny minority, who’d happily strip-mine this new territory if it made them rich enough. We never had Kicstarter down as one of those, and still don’t. But you do have to wonder to what extent it can change an organisation when the VC money comes in – and the demands that go with it.

What most excites you about this conference. Any particularly notable speakers or events?

I’ve attached a link to the programme for the conference so you can see the breadth of speakers and panellists, but highlights for us would be Julie Meyer, entrepreneur, VC and author, Thomas Power (founder of Ecademy), Richard Swart (co-founder of the World Bank report into crowdfunding, amongst other things) and some fantastic crowdfunders and crowdfunding platforms with great stories and case studies to share. We also have a very special 7 yr old joining us, the UK’s youngest successful crowdfunder.