There’s no turning away from the throwaway nature of culture here in the UK, but initiatives such as Borrow Don’t Buy offer a glimmer of hope that there could be a possibility of turning things around.
Inspired by lending libraries from around the world, Borrow Don’t Buy is literally a Library of Things. From pressure washers to sewing machines, the point is to enable the people of Plymouth to have more, but own less. Lending libraries already exist in the United States and Canada, but are a relatively new concept to reach the UK, with Borrow Don’t Buy in Plymouth being sixth in line to open after London, Edinburgh, Frome, Totnes and Cardiff.
After recently opening, we sat down with Rob, Garry and Sol from the Borrow Don’t Buy team to find out how crowdfunding fit into their grand plan to encourage the people of Plymouth to share.
How did the idea for setting up Borrow Don’t Buy come about?
Rob: Four and a half years ago, I was working for a really big entertainments company and my son was quite young at the time. It was really difficult to work from home. My main office was in Weymouth, so I wanted to get an office nearby but it was too expensive. So I started asking around and it seemed like a good idea to share an office with a bunch of people, so we started ThinqTanq. I saw it originally as hot desking, but it turns out that coworking is really a thing and you end up building an incredible community. Everyone here is drawn to tech and the digital sector, which gives us a uniting thing to talk about. After I started ThinqTanq, we then started doing some things about knowledge sharing which is called MESH, and we got people to teach each other stuff. We started to build a network of like minded people and then one day it seemed like a good idea to start a Library of Things.
Sol: We started researching the idea in February 2017 when I came to the ThinqTanq office to have a look around after moving to Plymouth. We were chatting about what we could do together and whilst we were looking at the workshop upstairs, we began talking about starting a Library of Things because there was a lot of stuff that wasn’t being used. So we started researching the idea and six months later, started crowdfunding for it.
And where did crowdfunding come in?
Sol: We saw crowdfunding as a way to test the market. We could definitely have applied for funding to set it up, but without the members to come and use the items, what would be the point of it?
Rob: Honestly, the conversations initially came about because I had a lot of stuff. About 70% of all the things we have already were mine, so we could have got started right away. However, I wanted to be able to start a user base and there was the potential to receive extra funding from Plymouth City Council that was available with Crowdfunder.
How did you find the process of crowdfunding?
Garry: There is this dip in the middle when pledges slow down – and that is quite scary. We ran our project for 35 days and you just have to keep going, even though in the middle bit it feels like everything you’re doing is making no difference. However, they say that there is this theory where people don’t pledge until they see a project a certain amount of times, so keeping going in the middle is really important, otherwise people simply won’t see it enough! Sol did lots of research into the theory behind it and I basically became Head Cheerleader. I was relentlessly positive for the whole six weeks whilst everyone else got grumpy because pledges slowed down.
What’s next for Borrow Don’t Buy?
Rob: We’re looking into expanding the idea and putting a shipping container shop in the courtyard outside with level access. At the moment, we’re doing everything from the ThinqTanq office which means that anyone with access requirements becomes kind of precluded, which is not an ideal situation. We’d like to make it more visible out there too and then use the data that we collect to look at places around the city that we can drop these containers.
Would you crowdfund again?
Sol: Yes, definitely! This time around I guess not so much for the funding side of it, but again for the promotion and getting people involved with the idea. It was very clear that the support from people made them feel really involved with the project – particularly when it was successful.
Where did most of your pledges come from?
Rob: Over 50% of the people who pledged we didn’t know, which really validated what we were doing. We had a very small following on Facebook before we got going… we actually started from scratch.
Sol: We started a Facebook page with 4 or 5 of us. We definitely learnt that spending a good amount of time growing your crowd before going live would be beneficial, as we were trying to do both at the same time. Trying to promote the idea and getting numbers up was hard work!
What are your top tips for anyone thinking about crowdfunding?
Garry: Planning. Even if you think it’s ready to go, it’s not ready to go.
Rob: Test your rewards. I think it’s worthwhile testing out your rewards on people that you don’t know and asking them. You see some projects offering some really obscure things for high amounts and I wonder, why?Ask people who aren’t your friends and aren’t involved in the project the value of the rewards you’re planning to offer.
Sol: Preview your project. The preview option on the Crowdfunder website is very useful. You can see how your project will look before going live. It’s good to get feedback before launching it out to the world. When you’re so close to your own project, you take it for granted that everyone knows what you are talking about – and sometimes they don’t!
Garry: Create a sense of urgency. We found Facebook posts with a sense of urgency worked really well. Towards the end of our project, we started doing a countdown and enforced that if we didn’t raise a certain amount by a certain day then we would lose everything. That was really effective.
• Want to know more about Borrow Don’t Buy? Check out their project out here.