Kickstarter and similar crowdfunding platforms have made it possible for anyone with a novel idea but limited funds to get their project in front of a wider audience, with the goal of raising the start-up cash needed to realize their dreams. Most of the nearly 108,000 projects funded on Kickstarter to date have raised between $1,000 and $9,999, a sum that seems small when fundraised by dozens of backers, but can represent an impossible barrier to an entrepreneur entering the market.
That might be especially true in Mexico, where the devaluation of the peso has caused it to be named by Bloomberg as “the world’s worst performing major currency this year,” and average annual household income totals just under $13,000. It’s a sum that doesn’t leave an entrepreneur a lot of money to get a business off the ground, and that’s why crowdfunding is on the rise in Mexico and Latin America at large. While businesses based in the United States still attract the greatest crowdfunding investments, the number of Latin American businesses trying to get their start through platforms like Kickstarter is increasing exponentially—at a rate of 122% every year.
Among that growing number are Nastassja Bamba and Yohann Mlaraha, partners in life and business. Bamba, a freelance artist and designer from Mexico, met Mlaraha, whose background is in business, while she was studying in France. “We began to imagine how we could join those two worlds—art and business—to create an entrepreneurial project that would promote independent designers and artists in Mexico City,” Bamba explains. While the design scene is, she says, like the city itself—“gigantic, frenetic, and eclectic” – the talent in the capital is dispersed so widely that “it can be difficult to find distinct quality designs in a single place.”
They could have decided to open a bricks-and-mortar store; “the price of storefronts in Mexico City is still accessible enough to permit entrepreneurs be successful,” Bamba says, “and we don’t think big box stores are going to replace local ones—at least not for the moment.” But, she adds, the challenge is finding a place that would ensure they reached their target clientele. Instead, thought Bamba and Mlaraha, why couldn’t they take their store to customers? Why couldn’t they create a business on wheels, one that could cross neighborhood boundaries, and assume the burden of the clogged transportation system for customers, rather than hope their clients would be interested enough in their shop to brave traffic jams and crowded Metro trains?
Bamba and Mlaraha settled on a plan. They’d buy an old school bus and recondition it with the help of supporters and friends, turning it into a roving boutique. But to do that, they’d need to raise money—about $9,000, they estimate. With just four days to go in their Kickstarter campaign, they’re a little over halfway toward meeting that goal. They’ve been reaching out to friends and strangers alike via Twitter and other social media channels, incentivizing people to contribute by promising neat gifts at each level of donation. Such gifts, which Kickstarter refers to as “rewards,” are required by the platform, but Bamba’s goodies might be the coolest Kickstarter reward you’ll ever receive, starting with a Bamba piñata at the 10 euro level.
Raising funds is one hurdle that stands between the couple and their business, but if they meet their goal, there’s another one waiting for them: learning to drive the school bus. Bamba and Mlaraha aren’t too worried about the challenge, though. “That’s going to be one of the most fun and crazy parts of this whole experience, definitely adding something to our skill set,” Bamba says. As with other parts of their project, she promises that they’ll document the driving lessons, making the rewards of contributing to BAMBA even more interesting.
To learn more about BAMBA or to contribute, visit the couple’s Kickstarter page.