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Summary:

Quibb, a startup that offers an exclusive content-sharing network for professional users, is experimenting with crowdfunding via an Alphaworks widget that allows users to join in a VC round directly from the company’s website

It’s not exactly a household name, but Quibb — a content-sharing social network aimed at professionals — has built up thousands of dedicated fans since founder Sandi MacPherson launched it in San Francisco a year and a half ago. Now those fans can help support the growth of the service in the most direct way possible: by buying an equity stake in the company, thanks to a plugin from Alphaworks and the micro-financing features of the recently passed JOBS Act.

In a nutshell, the JOBS Act enables small companies like Quibb to ask their users or members for venture funding directly, instead of having to go through the expensive process of lining up traditional VCs or doing a traditional equity issue.

Alphaworks — a unit of New York-based incubator betaworks, which has given birth to companies like Chartbeat and Bitly — is designed to help companies like Quibb automate the process of getting tiny amounts of venture funding from their users or fans. All they have to do is embed a widget on their site where users can express an interest, and Alphaworks does the rest (funders must be accredited and the minimum investment is usually between $1,000 and $5,000).

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MacPherson said that she already tapped some of her users for support in a more informal way late last year, by writing a blog post asking for outright donations, and she has also lined up a seed-funding round with some traditional institutional investors and angels. But she says she wanted to set aside some of her funding round for the experiment with Alphaworks, because it fit with the way she thinks about her service and the members who use it.

“In theory I could have done this all the regular way, but I feel really strongly that Quibb only exists because of the content that people share and the support and feedback they’ve given me, so I wanted to work with them on a more formal level. It just really fit with how I’ve run the company from day one.”

MacPherson, a Canadian ex-patriate whose background is actually in geochemistry, designed Quibb to be a tool for professionals from various sectors to share content that was relevant to their work. Unlike most social networks, it has virtually no bells and whistles and is rather plain-looking design-wise (which some fans see as a benefit). Its main interface is a daily email filled with useful links, which MacPherson says has a greater than 50 percent open rate.

The other thing that makes Quibb unusual is that MacPherson herself personally vets and approves every new member of the invitation-only network — and is proud of the fact that only about 40 percent of those who apply are accepted.

The Quibb founder says the problem with many mass-oriented social networks like LinkedIn — which would seem like a natural competitor for Quibb — is that their social graph almost inevitably becomes too broad, and therefore the content recommendations aren’t useful enough. Quibb takes the opposite approach, and tries to make a user’s social graph as tight and professionally connected as possible.

Those kinds of connections are what made it easy to find angels and VCs to fund the company, says MacPherson — but they are also what convinced her that she should give the service’s users a share in the equity at Quibb, since without them the company literally wouldn’t exist.

Post and thumbnail photo courtesy of Thinkstock / Marc Debnam

  1. Accredited fans.

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