Launching a new, high-end frozen food line brought chef Jen Johnson and partner Serafina Palandech to the point of needing to raise $3,497 in 19 hours.
Not from their bank accounts or from a traditional small business lender. The Sebastopol couple had to get the money from friends, supporters and anyone else who would make a financial pledge toward their project at the online crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com.
Johnson, the executive private chef for Ann and Gordon Getty in San Francisco, and Palandech already had received more than $21,500 in pledges on Kickstarter to help produce tasty chicken fingers, wings and meatballs from pasture-raised poultry. But their new company, Hip Chick Farms, wouldn't get a dime unless the pledges topped the announced goal of $25,000 by 6:54 a.m. Thursday.
"It's nerve-racking," Palandech said Wednesday morning.
By Wednesday evening the couple had hit the mark — aided by one final $3,000 pledge — and joined the growing ranks of Sonoma County business owners and artists who are using Kickstarter to help finance their dreams.
The 3-year-old website made news last month when 87,000 backers pledged $3.3 million for San Francisco's Double Fine Productions to launch a new video game.
The uninitiated might now be asking: Why in the world would people give money to a business?
The answer seems to be that pledgers back the projects and people they believe in. In so doing, they get to play a small role in helping bring forth new music, art, entertainment and food products.
And depending on the level of their pledges, backers can receive rewards ranging from T-shirts to albums to personal concerts or gatherings with artists.
"It's somewhere at the intersection of commerce and patronage," said Kickstarter spokesman Justin Kazmark. In the process, he said, artists and business people are brought closer to their audiences and customers.
One local Kickstarter project belongs to Sondra Bernstein, owner of the Girl & the Fig restaurant in Sonoma.
Bernstein has until May 18 to raise $30,000 to help convert a warehouse on Schellville Road into "suite d," a space for classes, winetastings and other events. By noon Friday she had received $6,400 from 35 backers.
Those who pledge to her project can receive such rewards as private cooking classes, an invitation to a preview party or, for a $1,000 pledge, a multi-course dinner with wine for 10.
"You're going to be a first-in-line friend of our restaurant forever," she said.
Other companies offer microfinancing or crowdsourcing opportunities for both charities and businesses. But Kickstarter claims to offer the largest funding program for creative projects in the world.
Based in New York City, the privately held company has received $185 million in pledges and posted more than 20,000 projects.
Those seeking funding get their own web page where they put up a video to give their pitch to potential backers. Projects don't qualify if they fail to fit in one of the allowed creative categories. As such, a proposal to start a bank would be a "no go," Kazmark said.
A key rule is that no money changes hands unless enough pledges come in on deadline to meet the announced goal. The project's creator sets both the financial goal and the deadline.
About 44 percent of the projects reach their goals, Kazmark said. But about 85 percent of the total pledges — or nearly $160 million — have gone to successful projects.