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Turning to the Crowd

Jacqueline Lai 

Hong Kong equestrian rider Jacqueline Lai turned to crowdfunding to support her passion


When Hong Kong equestrian rider Jacqueline Lai needed to raise funds to support her sporting endeavours, the 22-year-old’s father introduced her to FringeBacker, a local crowdfunding platform that helps would-be businesspeople, from creative individuals and inventors, to IT developers and sports people, find financial backers. 

“What attracted me most about the crowdfunding method was how it engaged a large audience. The purpose served is ultimately not only to raise funds but also to raise interest and publicity,” said Ms Lai, whose campaign was so popular that her goal of raising HK$300,000 has been exceeded by more than HK$60,000. 

“Exceeding my goal by such a significant amount did surprise me, as well as the people who decided to back me – the high-end support of a stranger and the HK$500 from an old friend.” It gave her, she said, “a sentimental boost.”

According to FringeBacker Executive Director Maryann Hwee, the beauty of crowdfunding is that, more than a means for raising money, it’s an opportunity to be imaginative. 

“Often creative people are in need of funding the most, and the platform allows the product, the service and the campaign to be creative,” Ms Hwee said. “It’s a stage for culture and art, and success really depends on how you craft your campaign, interact with your backers and engage them to feel interested.”


Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs


 Maryann Hwee

Maryann Hwee, who set up Hong Kong-based crowdfunding company Fringebacker, says creativity is essential

Ms Hwee, whose background is in direct investment, saw an opportunity to create a business model for investors to get behind smaller, individual projects that couldn’t get funding from institutional investors. As crowdfunding became more popular overseas, especially through such sites as KickStarter, Ms Hwee began receiving more project referrals, and FringeBacker was launched in September 2012. 


While it’s a profit-making model – the company charges a five per cent administrative, management and promotional fee for successfully funded projects – Ms Hwee said she expects the business “to be profit-losing for a while. It takes a long time to advise project creators, and while we do not interfere, we share and give ideas on how to make a better presentation or how to make the project better.” 

Working with Designers


Ling Cai (left) and Vicky Wu 

Ling Cai (left) and Vicky Wu set up crowdfunding company ZAOZAO to support emerging designers and as a way of finding unique and affordable items 

At about the same time, Ling Cai and Vicky Wu set-up crowdfunding company ZAOZAO. The name  is a play on the Chinese word zao, which means “early, discovery” and “make.” ZAOZAO supports emerging designers, and serves as a way to find affordable items that aren’t mass-produced. 


The initial response to ZAOZAO has been strong. “Designers were very receptive to the idea of crowdfunding when we first approached them,” said Ms Cai. “Bringing designers onboard was the easiest part; we had 26 successfully funded projects in the first four months.” 

ZAOZAO allows customers to browse through a collection of clothing, shoes and accessories and pre-order their favourite products. Designers have a limited time to receive pre-orders, and successfully funded projects are produced, with the orders then delivered. 

Crowd Chatter


 ZAOZAO allows customers to browse through a collection of clothing, shoes and accessories, pre-order

ZAOZAO allows customers to browse through a collection of clothing, shoes and accessories,
pre-ordering their favourite designs

“We knew from the start that education would be part of the process.” Her business partner, Ms Wu, started teaching a crowdfunding course at technology, business and design school General Assembly this year. “Both of us have participated in panels where we introduce the crowdfunding concept and discuss its benefits.”   


Ms Hwee said she and her partner have been happy with their growth over the past six months. “New projects are learning from old projects, and I would say we’re seeing smarter projects today. With crowdfunding, it’s whether the person running the project is passionate about their work, how much energy they’re putting into the project. What I love about crowdfunding is that it’s not about connections or rich parents, but about how good you are and about what you’re presenting.” 

Ms Cai said that designers looking to use crowdfunding as a way to fund their projects need to carefully select their projects and goals. 

“Fashion designers looking to crowdfund their projects should be realistic about their goals and expectations,” Ms Cai said. “They should provide a range of high-resolution photos and as much detailed information as possible. They should also avoid crowdfunding entire collections and focus on individual pieces.” 

“Being able to communicate your campaign to the public is the most important aspect of a successful project,” Ms Lai said. “It’s necessary to open up and share your wildest ideas, because if you are ever going to do it, it’s here.” 

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