Silicon Sentier’s #cobatissons 70K€ crowdfunding campaign succeeds… well, sort of.

Jul 26, 2013
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Silicon Sentier présente Co.Bâtissons   — KissKissBankBank

Earlier this year, we announced that Google would put 1 Million euros into the Silicon Sentier in order to open a new building that would combine its coworking space, La Cantine, and its accelerator, LeCamping, along with a FabLab, conference space, and a few other buzzers and whistles. Given that La Cantine is down the street from LeCamping, that neither are great spaces to hold events (LaCantine’s black walls, fragmented rooms and lack of windows & LeCamping’s attic positioning), it was a great opportunity to bring two communities together, and create a great event space.

Aside from the tax breaks, Google won out on this deal as it reinforced its investment in the Paris Startup Scene (the Google Campus in London had perpetuating a sense of indifference towards the Paris ecosystem), all during a time where rumors spread of SNCF’s discontent with their contribution to LeCamping – all in all, everyone wins.

And then, #Cobatissons

Literally “build together,” Silicon Sentier launched a crowdfunding campaign on KissKissBankBank in the beginning of June in order to raise 70,000€ for their new space. “Truth be told we have not yet hit our budget target for this space,” the campaign announces – somewhere in the Million euro budget, there seemed to be an oversight of 70K€.

The overall tone of the campaign was “this is a community space, let’s build it together” – rewards for contribution included your face on a website, your name on a stair, and the ability to use the event space for free (only in the first year, and on the anniversary of your company, of course). In short, fairly standard community rewards incentives.

With just 6 days to go, I checked in on the campaign, not surprised to find that they had only hit 34K€ of their 70K goal. When compared to successful campaigns like Plug, anyone who’s followed a crowdfunding campaign knows that picking up momentum in the last 6 days that you haven’t achieved in the first 6 weeks is quite unlikely.

This morning, I woke up to find a few tweets bouncing around congratulating the success of #cobatissons – I took a look at the list of backers to see how such momentum had been achieved.

I’m not too sure it can be called “Crowdfunding” when more than 70% of the amount required is donated by one contributor, and that contributor is a former monopoly that is today 85% owned by the French Government.

That’s right: in addition to receiving money from the city of Paris, the Paris Region/Ile-de-France, and, likely, a few national grants here and there, Silicon Sentier now counts EDF among its “contributors.” 50,000€, from what I’ve heard, is more than what most sponsors have given to LeCamping in previous years.

Here’s why this is wrong

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to see the new space open. It will reinforce the Sentier as the center of the Startup ecosystem, despite the government’s efforts to move it elsewhere; however, as a contributor, I would feel swindled to realize that ultimately my contribution pales not only in comparison to the one million euros that Google has reportedly given, but to the 50,000 euros given by EDF in the mini-campaign.

Great companies like Urban Linker donated 150€ (before EDF), BlablaCar donated 2,000€ (after EDF), but what does that amount to in relation to the amount given by EDF, not to mention the individual contributors. Outside of EDF’s contribution, the average contribution side has been 45-50€. Not bad for a campaign, it just lacked the number of supporters it needed.

Update: A official comment from Vincent Ricordeau, CEO of KissKissBankBank

vincent-ricordeau-b8e064032fac326b49b7c21502415c64“Initially, the campaign was set at 20,000€ in order to restrict the campaign to individual, but there was an interest in attracting companies as well as individuals, so KKBB & Silicon Sentier decided together to raise the amount sought. The campaign’s rewards were very transparent, with two rewards (25K€ and 50K€) being very clearly directed at companies, and not individuals. Large crowdfunding campaigns like the Ouya and the Ubuntu Edge always have corporate contributors in order to achieve their large sums – it is something we will continue to explore in the future, whether mixed or not, and it is a great opportunity for large projects to achieve their goals. The question will also need to be raised whether it is within the spirit of crowdfunding to have more than half a project funded by one individual or company.” – Vincent Ricordeau, CEO & co-founder, KissKissBankBank

Ultimately, Google will write off some, most, or all of the one million euros it contributed, so the Government will eat that. EDF will do the same, and the rest of the money will come from various public entities. Lastly, 40,000 euros will go into Silicon Sentier’s pockets. They may tell you that this money will be used to renovate the building, or build a community space. But ultimately, money is money, and French startups, freelancers, students & members of the ecosystem have just paid for another party like LeCamping’s exorbitant kick-off party for Season 4 which took place at Google earlier this year, or an extra staff member or intern.

Where they went wrong

Ultimately, there were a few errors in this project that, while KKBB and Silicon Sentier may call it a ‘success’ in that it will receive the money it wished to receive, ultimately make it a failure:

1) Where’s the sense of urgency? Every great crowdfunding campaign has a sense of urgency – “this won’t exist if the community doesn’t pay for it.” Right from the get-go, we knew that Silicon Sentier had already secured the building. It was going to happen regardless of the campaign. Some may come to the conclusion that EDF’s contribution is an effort to save face in the wake of a lack of real community commitment that the organization tries to perpetrate.

2) Real rewards are real encouraging: My name appears in a few places in cement around the world: a few drying sidewalks have fallen victim, and a Church in California that I attended as a kid, thanks to my parents’ contribution. But this is not a reward for professionals. Silicon Sentier wants to be community center, like the YMCA for startups, but, ultimately, professionals don’t need this as much as they need deal flow, an office, an event space – all things they’re provided. Why not give away free event space to backers? I heard many people complain that they were ultimately crowd-funding a space that they will sell back to the very community that helped them build it.

3) You can’t have your gateau and manger it (Yes, I’ve used this twice in one day): ultimately, Silicon Sentier is trying to be both a community space, funded by the government’s various entities and sponsored by companies, while still being a commercial place of business. Anyone who’s ever tried to host an event at La Cantine knows their exorbitant prices and forced catering policy. Nevermind trying to work at the government-funded coworking space – they’ll charge you while they explain to you their non-profit stance.

Ultimately, Silicon Sentier is the embodiment of the government’s attempt to influence, monetize, and benefit from the Startup ecosystem. An entirely private sector of activity, which receives money from private investors, and sells to individuals, has somehow been twisted in France, turning it into non-profit accelerators supporting startups that only serve the accelerator’s sponsors as clients, all receiving grant money for ‘innovation’ from one of the BPI’s many predecessors.

I see a lot of potential in the new space offered by Silicon Sentier – promoting hardware & 3D Printing, providing office space & community space to bring a community together – these are all great initiatives; however, something doesn’t quite sit right in the message conveyed by #cobatissons.