From the headline above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Crowdwish might be some sort of elaborate BaaS (badgers-as-a-service) company, and if you came here with that somewhat unrealistic startup in mind, I apologize. Although, some of the blame probably lies on your shoulders, too.
Rather than providing humans dressed as badgers on demand (you’re right, HDABaaS would be the correct acronym for any such service), Crowdwish is a global platform for, well, granting the most popular wish of its users each day.
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This might not sound all that novel, there are plenty of well established – and frankly huge – platforms like the Make-A-Wish-Foundation or Change.org that are doing lots of good things at any one time, and others like Lily Cole‘s Impossible.com, which serves as a sort of P2P network for dreams. Crowdwish is a little different.
“Everyone on earth has needs, hopes, dream, desires, ambitions, wishes – things that they want the future to deliver to them…There are already quite a few wish-making sites…but the danger is that these things end up as a wistful repository of forgotten dreams and half-formed ambitions,” Crowdwish’s founder Bill Griffin, told me.
Grown out of the crowdfunding and crowdsourced data movement, Crowdwish aims to provide an antidote to unfulfilled goodwill by carrying out the most ‘rewished’ (upvoted, essentially) wish on its platform each and every day.
“What we’re attempting to do is take something that would be ephemeral – just Liking something on Facebook, or retweeting it, or mentioning it to someone – and make that into someting tangible and real and three-dimensional so there’s a discernible output from it every 24 hour period,” Griffin explained.
This means that since launching six months or so ago, Crowdwish has carried out some 175 wishes to date. “I wish to find a lovely caring boyfriend, please” looked on course to be yesterday’s top wish. It’ll be interesting to see how that’s carried out.
Obviously, the difference between taking action on a wish like that, versus something like yesterday’s second place (“I wish there could be more trees and plants in the streets of London”) will call for a completely different type of action and the scope of each has to be realistic, considering this is a totally bootstrapped operation that makes no money. Equally obviously, the wishes need to be within the confines of the law, covered neatly by the company’s “Don’t be a dick” rule on its About page.
Have costume, will travel
Examples of ‘granted wishes’ in the last week alone include recommending a language learning app and giving away “mysterious French gifts” to people wanting to learn French; sending out packs containing invitations, BBQs, balloons and bunting to help neighbours get to know each other better; and changing signs on the London Underground “in a probably doomed attempt to try and make people laugh”, as per last Wednesday’s most rewished suggestions – “I wish people would smile more”.
Naturally, there are more serious topics that get rewished too. Friday’s wish was for “Peace in Syria”, so Crowdwish tried to help in its own way by sending out care packages containing games and classroom materials for some of the displaced children.
What strikes me is that most of that list (from the last week alone, remember) revolves around community (global or actual) and every day life in some way. Get to know your neighbors better, see more people smile, learn French. It’s all nowhere near as self-involved as you might expect.
“The overwhelming majority are for the greater good, or something that someone feels as an individual but that other individuals might feel as well – perhaps around stress or anxiety or the desire to do a particular thing,” Griffin said. “Sometimes they are very inner-directed, like ‘I want a MacBook Pro’ or something like that, but a decent percentage of them are things which are designed to make the world a slightly better place.”
Griffin is quick to point out that this isn’t a direction the company is dictating to users – the system works by allowing people to vote up the wishes that resonate most with them, there’s no obligation that it’s objectively ‘worthy’. At the end of each day, the most rewished item is ‘actioned’, regardless of what it is or whether Crowdwish’s team personally agree with the idea, which is why one team member found themselves dressed as a badger outside Parliament not so long ago protesting a cull.
“We haven’t set off on that journey ourselves like born again Christians determined to do a random act of kindness. We don’t distinguish between a ruthlessly selfish wish and something that’s completely outer-directed, because that’s the nature of people – we’re worried about the situation in Syria, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want new Reebok Classics for ourselves,” Griffin observed.
However, given that the wish needs to resonate enough with the community to be rewished to the top of the heap, it’s unlikely that too many MacBook Pros will be handed out by Crowdwish.
Long term prospects
While I like the idea and sentiment behind Crowdwish, there are obviously questions about how long the business will run without a cash injection.
The majority of users come from the US and UK (although Griffin says there are plenty of members in Europe and Australia too) but the platform is open to people anywhere. To date, with no marketing, there are about 10,000 users.
Right now, there’s a desktop site and a native iOS app, plus plans to launch an app for Android devices “in the fullness of time”.
“We haven’t built this enormous great expensive platform and then sat back and prayed that people want to use it, or thrown money at marketing in order to coerce people to using it. We’re into organic growth and people spreading the word about it,” Griffin explained.
One of the things that helps Crowdwish in this regard is its 24 hour news cadence – every day something is being done, whether that’s an action on someone’s behalf, some advice, a negotiation for a time-limited discount for an app. Whatever it is, users have a reason to come back and check the service each day.
Money-wise, the company sees a few potential ways it could sustain itself and grow – a mass of data about people’s wishes is likely to be valuable, or brands could sponsor the wish of the day – but that could be a tricky hurdle to jump in terms of its users. Crowdwish’s USP is generating a single act every day and generating a community feeling, so scaling it up and maintaining this balance while plastering the name of a corporate sponsor on a wish could prove tricky.
Until now, the company has been privately funded and did a “sweat for equity” deal with “a large independent communications group” in London to get its first iteration of the website up and running.
“That [deal] negated the need, in the initial stages at least, to go out and raise a seed round of venture capital money. You can cane through £200,000 really easily in building a site and attempting to put it into the world. We wanted to do things a bit more incrementally than that.
I guess we felt [we would be] in a better position to have conversations with investors, to say this is what it is so far and this is what it could conceivably become were we to invest further in it.”
With proof of concept validated, it’ll soon be time for Griffin to start picking up the phone to VCs if he wants the Crowdwish to grow, although he notes that it’s not really that expensive to run.
“Operationally speaking, it’s a reasonably cost-effective thing to run – the platform is there and built, the app is there and built – obviously you have to keep that ticking over, but that’s not enormously capital intensive. We don’t spend any money on marketing as things currently stand, we rely on word of mouth.
What that means is, on a day-to-day level, the only real expense is on fulfillment of wishes. “All the money is spent on the users, without sounding too sentimental or dewy-eyed about it,” Griffin said, adding that he’s had several expressions of thanks from people telling him that a certain wish had moved them to tears. “It’s really gratifying from that perspective and not enormously expensive to run, because, well, how much does it cost to hire a badger suit?”
Questions remain over whether the service in its current form will appeal to VC investors or whether it could be scaled successfully, but for users right now, every 24 hours Crowdwish is creating something that didn’t exist the day before, putting smiles on faces and granting wishes. And it’s doing so on a shoe-string budget while dressed in a badger costume.
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