Fundraising website makes cafe dream work

JESS MCALLEN
Last updated 05:00 18/05/2014
Hannah Feenstra
DAVID WHITE/Fairfax NZ

SUCCESS: Hannah Feenstra’s dream is coming true.

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When Hannah Feenstra was growing up, starting a business was a pretty standard affair.

She dreamed her rags-to-riches story of a hardworking dishwasher who earns her badges carrying four plates, managing staff and eventually impressing investors enough to open her own cafe.

And, thanks to a novel approach fulfilling fairytales, it's a dream still within reach, says the 26-year-old, who is set to open Auckland's first crowd-funded cafe, Open Table, in July.

Despite high property prices Feenstra was able to rent an Ellerslie site on Michael's Ave thanks to $20,000 raised through fundraising website Kickstarter.

"My partner and I live with his parents because we can't afford a house and want to save," she said.

"The amount of support we received shows we have a strong business idea and when the banks saw that they were more willing to lend us money."

No longer do business hopefuls have to court influential backers or rely on rich relatives - the internet provides thousands of small "investors" through crowd sourced financing (crowdfunding).

This method of raising money has made fairytale endings possible for people like Feenstra.

Websites like Kickstarter, Razoo and Indiegogo allow artists, potential business owners or craftspeople to make money through fans and interested strangers, equity free.

However, most projects end up stamped with a failed sign because of an "all-or-nothing" policy where no money is received if the donation target isn't met.

The art to using the platform successfully is very refined and every detail counts, says Feenstra. Users offer services in return for money and she believes it is important to make the donor feel a personal connection with the product.

Everyone who donated to Open Table will have their name printed on the backs of the menus and there are bonuses for certain donations - $10 gets free coffee every time the donor drops in and $500 earns a private function.

Feenstra says people go wrong when they rely solely on donation-based websites without doing any groundwork. She spent weeks dropping more than 5000 leaflets advertising her online campaign in the cafe's neighbourhood.

A fundraising street party also highlighted the desire for a community gathering-place.

"Many people have this faraway dream of one day being able to open their own little cafe and decorating it how they want and fantasising about menus. By helping us I think they were able to feel like they were living out this dream."

She says the friendly community will benefit from the cafe's presence. Initially a liquor store was accepted to lease the property but residents rallied against it.

"They didn't want another alcohol store in the area and so they signed petitions, did door-knocks and went to court hearings. Eventually the people who wanted to rent it backed down and we were able to make an offer."

Feenstra is proof her generation can still live out a cafe-owning fairytale. She started working in hospitality at 14, studied an entrepreneurship degree with a research project focused around the concept of Open Table and is now working with her brother, who is a chef, to develop menus.

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"I was brought up believing I could do whatever I wanted and guess I was a bit naive when I started - it's taken a lot more time, money and work than I had anticipated.

"But I'm still young, if it all goes haywire I have plenty of time to work and it's not going to be all over for the rest of my life."

- Sunday Star Times

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