What is crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the internet. In 2015, more than $34 billion was raised worldwide by crowdfunding.
In today’s world, the business of … well … business takes many forms.Many entrepreneurs take a traditional route, putting countless hours into developing and marketing their products. In recent years, though, crowdfunding has become a popular route to get an idea off the ground. Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow innovators to share their concepts with the world, which can garner funds and support from others who believe in their product, too.
Ryan Sim was one such creator back in 2015. The Singapore native “was never the 9-to-5 kind of person” and set about making slim radio-frequency identification-protected wallets via a Kickstarter campaign under the name of Kisetsu. When the first campaign raised more money than expected, Sim started believing in crowdfunding. He went on to launch two more wallet campaigns, each more successful than the last. The third campaign raised $130,000, a fortunate moment that might have been fate, as Sim was fired from his digital agency sales job around the same time. He put all his time and effort into the Kisetsu wallet line but wanted to focus on getting his products out into the world rather than just promoting them online.
“We rented a booth and sold wallets on the streets of Singapore,” Sim recalls. “It was going pretty well. One day, I put out a little sign that said ‘funded with Kickstarter.’ Sales went up threefold.”
Realizing people were intrigued by crowdfunded products led Sim and a few fellow Singaporean creators to come up with the idea for a crowdfunding store. On doing some research, they found there was no such thing, but there was definitely a market for it.
“People look at these products for more than what they are,” Sim says. “They realize they have a story behind them.”
After a successful pop-up event at a busy shopping area in Singapore, We The People was officially born in 2016.
“We The People is all about ideas and how your ideas powered with crowdfunding can have their own life,” Sim says. “Crowdfunding doesn’t look at your background or how educated you are. It looks at the idea and the person behind it.”
Six months after Sim and his team opened their initial Singapore store, they started getting a lot of interest from the United States wanting to bring We The People stateside. Although it was a market they wanted to tap into, they remained focused on their efforts in Singapore until 2018, when they began franchising and looked into bringing We The People to the U.S. They could’ve looked into the country’s biggest cities like Los Angeles or New York City, but instead they opted for St. Louis.
“We picked St. Louis for two reasons: One, it’s right in the center of the country, and two, the talent pool is just as good if not better than on the coasts,” Sim says.
“A lot of people have been asking, ‘Why St. Louis?’ but I say, ‘Why not?’”
We The People first launched in a pop-up format on the lower level of Des Peres’ West County Center in late 2018 and moved to a permanent location upstairs shortly after. The store, which is a bright and clean-lined space, is set up to feel almost like a museum, but where products can be tried out and handled.
“The sales staff will tell you everything about everything in the store, including background on the product’s creator,” Sim says. “Most of the sales staff are creators themselves.”
We The People currently features products from all over the world, but Sim and his team were passionate about including metro area makers in the store. Visitors to We The People will find local products like the Flipstik, an adhesive patch that attaches to the back of a cellphone and can be stuck to any surface, and Skelosaurz, leather dinosaur puzzles that can be molded into a variety of shapes with water.
There’s something for everyone at We The People. Customers will also find everything from a slick bagel-shaped travel power strip (the store’s best-seller), to paper that uses static electricity to stick to any surface, to Sim’s own wallets. Visitors can also check out forthcoming products through a feature called “livefunding.” Creators set up a booth or send a prototype to We The People, and the sales staff will talk to customers for them.
Giving back to the communities that have helped make their dream a reality is important to the We The People team.
“We have a community going on here,” Sim says. “Everywhere we open a store, we work with local schools. We just hosted KIPP St. Louis [charter school] and had the whole entrepreneurship class come down. We talked about what we do and got them inspired and donated 10 percent of profits for one month to them.”
Sim says reception from the area community has been incredible since the store’s launch. In the few months the store’s been open, he says he and his team have seen several repeat customers, with many coming in as many as four times a month.
“Now big-scale education centers like schools are starting to launch crowdfunding courses,” Sim says. “We are also working in a few schools in Singapore to create courses. Crowdfunding is going to become mainstream. It’s going to be an alternative to business. I see it happening right in front of me.
“A lot of people have thanked us for bringing this here. It’s really turned out well for us. There’s a lot of loyalty.”
We The People, 147 West County Center, No. 2187, Des Peres, 314-966-9858, wtpstoreusa.com