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Dixon Cheung Man-tak develops electronic games at an independent local games company, Fingerprint Studio Ltd. Traditional investors turned him down for the two previous games the studio produced, either saying the format was too avant-garde or that the content was too political.

Cheung’s latest project is a game called Dr. Mixinstein. Cheung says an innovative component of the project is that backers are invited to take part in the game’s development, to provide their input and feedback. The company wants to involve players themselves in developing the game.

Unfortunately, with just four days till the end of the funding period, the project had only raised 40 per cent of the target funding. In the end, Cheung and his team found enough backers, including  friends and relatives, to support them and reached the target before the deadline.

Cheung says Hong Kong is not ready for crowdfunding. “Crowdfunding is too new to Hong Kong. Hong Kong people are suspicious of online purchasing. Also, they don’t know much about the game sector. They don’t know what crowdfunding is. There are too many question marks.”

Nicholas Ng, a Hong Kong student studying Economics in the United Kingdom agrees. He has twice backed projects for innovative smartphone chargers through the overseas crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, and believes shoppers in Hong Kong have different habits to those in the West.

“In the UK, we buy books online. We buy electronics online. Online shopping is a habit; crowd fundraising is then a derivative. That explains why it doesn’t work in Hong Kong.”

Ng says he would not back any projects in Hong Kong as he does not think there are any websites that he would be willing to use. “If Yahoo! Hong Kong sets up one, I think it will be better. At least they have brand reputation.”

Despite the pessimistic forecasts, local crowdfunding platforms have found a direction. Hwee of FringeBacker says she is receiving more and more charitable projects. Another crowdfunding platform, Dreamna, supports only charitable projects instead of reward-based ones, although the platform itself is a profit-making business.

“Indeed, we think that [reward-based projects] don’t work,” says Nigel Yip Wing-kei, one of the founders of Dreamna. To focus on charitable projects, Dreamna has changed the way it operates. If a project is successfully funded, the platform charges a fee of five per cent. Volunteer recruitment projects are free and if projects failed to get funding, users are not charged anything.

From his experience, Yip says a successful project should be innovative. The project owner has to be able to appeal to backers on a personal level, so that they can understand the cause. Also, the plan has to be solid and credible to gain trust from potential backers.

One successful project was 7 Days, 6 Marathons in Desert – Gobi March. The project was created by four amateur runners who ran 250 km in seven days, the equivalent of six marathons, in the Gobi desert to raise money for orphans in Nepal. Jay Wong Ka-wai, says the project was inspired by a trip he made to Nepal where he stayed in an orphanage for two days. One of the orphans told him that education was the only thing that could change her life. Wong was determined to help improve the orphans’ living conditions and provide them with education opportunities.

At first, Wong tried to raise funds by making appeals on Facebook but he discovered supporters did not know how to pay him, so he switched to Dreamna where donors can pay through PayPal or credit card.

Wong promised rewards for backers of signed postcards and photographs of the children as well as the children’s own paintings. After setting a target of HK$10,000, he raised HK$18,830 by the end of the 30-day funding period.

Jay Wong Ka-wai (third from right) with his teammates, the director (second from left) and staff of Nepal Orphans Home
Jay Wong Ka-wai (third from right) with his teammates, the director (second from left) and staff of Nepal Orphans Home

But apart from providing a convenient platform to collect money for the orphans, Wong believes crowdfunding is a good way to raise public awareness of the orphans’ plight.

“If the four of us take out $5,000 each, why don’t we ask 200 people to donate $100 each? Then more people can be aware of the problems [of Nepali orphans],” he explains, “We need to have the multiplying factor.”

Whether it is a killer product, a work of art or a charitable project, crowdfunding can be an alternative to traditional methods of fundraising. “If you have a dream and you post it online, you will be able to find someone who will appreciate it,” says Wong.

Edited by Sandy Ho