Anna Guenther is planning to take PledgeMe across the Ditch with the Australian Government set to legalise equity crowdfunding next week.

As chief executive of New Zealand's first crowdfunding platform, Guenther spends a lot of time travelling, and next week is moving to Brisbane to set up operations and work with the Queensland Government on its start-up relocation programme Hot DesQ, mentoring local businesses.

The 31-year-old has had her sights set on Australia since 2015 and is looking forward to spending the next six months there.

"Our plans are to see how it's sitting on the ground for companies but also where the legislation finally lands; and if we can do equity crowdfunding over there."

Advertisement

Guenther expects operating in Australia to be tougher than New Zealand, but is excited about the new challenge.

"The legislation is looking somewhat over-regulated but in the last week they have announced some changes that would make it easier for companies.

"We're hopeful that the final plans will be better for companies, and that we will be able to launch over there."

She's planning to employ a small team in Australia.

"Our plan in Australia is to both partner locally but also hire locally," she says.

Guenther, "an unapologetic feminist", describes her management style as fun and collaborative - she calls herself PledgeMe's "chief bubble-blower".

"When we first started, the logo [for PledgeMe] was a bubble and so it sort of came out of a joke. We did a flash bubble mob as one of the first things as a team and so I became the chief bubble-blower and it kind of stuck," she says.

"My management style is definitively one that is fun and supportive, but I'm also really focused on where we're going."

The Wellington-based company has a team of 11, all with unusual job titles, including "chief bacon sizzler" and "wrangler extraordinaire".

Guenther's views on this are simple: "That's what happens when you get to create your own job titles. We're definitely really clear on our roles and responsibilities but what we call ourselves doesn't really matter."

PledgeMe was launched in February 2012, after 10 months in development, and came about in part from Guenther's masters thesis, and seeing the success Kickstarter was having in the United States.

"I was doing my Master in Entrepreneurship and the thesis was to do everything but launch a business; like do the business plan, feasibility and analysis, and I was just really interested in crowdfunding," she says.

"I'd seen what was happening with Kickstarter in the States when I was living over there and just got really excited, and managed to find someone who was building an engine for crowdfunding, and we partnered up and launched it together."

Guenther was inspired by previous work experience in the area of grants.

"I was really interested in democratising funding, because I'd seen how grants and administration worked historically and how those decisions were made, and I was really excited by the idea of the community that actually knows you deciding whether you get funded or not."

The Financial Markets Authority has had 14 applications for crowdfunding licences since 2014 but currently only has eight licence holders.

"The crowdfunding market is crowded and there are a lot of different platforms," Guenther says.

Other authorised platforms in New Zealand include Alphacrowd, Snowball Effect, Collinson Crowdfunding, Crowdsphere, Equitise, Fulqrum and Crowd88.

It's harder to maintain a licence than to obtain one, she says.

"It wasn't that hard, it's just a lot of paperwork and a lot of processes you need to put into place. It's quite expensive to maintain," she says. "We have to get audited every year, sometimes multiple times in different ways."

At a PledgeMe party celebrating $1 million of pledges.
At a PledgeMe party celebrating $1 million of pledges.

After more than five years in business PledgeMe has raised $16 million in pledges - more than $7m in the past 15 months alone - and has facilitated more than 1100 successful start-up campaigns.

"When I first started [the business] I had really low expectations, but then as we've grown we have definitely set ourselves some pretty ambitious forecasts," she says.

"I think we're in a really interesting phase now, both with the three types of crowdfunding that we have, and also with Australia."

PledgeMe had revenue of $276,000 in its last financial year and is aiming to increase that by 50-100 per cent a year during the next five years.

It has three different types of crowdfunding campaigns - PledgeMe Project is focused on community projects, PledgeMe Equity helps private companies seeking investment and PledgeMe Lend is a peer-to-peer lending platform.

Guenther was born in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.

Her mother was a Kiwi and her father American, and she moved to New Zealand in 2000 at age 14 after her mother passed away, to be raised by her family here.

"We visited when I was a really young kid and I remember being confused by the sheep and farms. My grandparents were farmers, outside of Waitahuna which is a small, small town in Otago, and I remember being quite amazed by all of the open spaces," she says.

Guenther studied a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and has a masters degree in entrepreneurship from Otago University.

Her first "semi-real" jobs were gigs at the University of Otago; ranging from being a cleaner to a grants administrator, before moving to the US where she worked in grants and finance for bio-medical research centre Broad Institute, affiliated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

She then worked for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise for five years in a number of different roles which saw her based out of offices in Shanghai, London, Hamburg and Los Angeles.

Next month Guenther will travel to Hungary to give a talk at the International Trade Centre's World Export Development Forum, a subsidiary of the UN.

My management style is definitively one that is fun and supportive, but I'm also really focused on where we're going.

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

Guenther does not have a traditional background in financial markets industry.

"When we first started I didn't see myself being regulated by the Financial Markets Authority so it's been a really interesting journey," she says.

"I think in some ways it's really good as it means I'm not cut out in that traditional way of thinking about how the financial markets should work, but it also comes with a bit of terror."

Five years after launch, Guenther is still working hard.

To cut down her working hours, her team staged an intervention for her to take a compulsory holiday - in a way they're very familiar with.

"My team crowdfunded to send me on holiday," she says.

"It was actually really beautiful because they did it when they knew I'd be in meetings and I wouldn't be able to check my Twitter or emails, and so in that time they managed to raise more than enough money to send me, and then within a day, they had raised enough to send me and a friend to Samoa - all costs covered.

"The funny thing was they had rewards on it and one of the rewards was if someone pledged $500 I'd have to travel in my panda onesie - so I had to do it."

Guenther says PledgeMe has a 51 per cent success rate overall - slightly higher for equity campaigns, and has crowdfunded for itself twice.

"We decided we needed to know what it was like to go out to your crowd to raise investment, so we'd know what it felt like for our campaigners.

"We also needed to raise investment, and it felt weird to do it any other way, so we ate our own dog food and crowdfunded crowdfunding."

One of her favourite - and most memorable - campaigns was with Wellington-based brewery Yeastie Boys.

"They were our first successful equity campaign, other than ourselves ... and it was just beautiful because [co-founder] Stu McKinlay had only been working part-time on the business up until three months before they launched their campaign but they managed to raise half a million dollars in half an hour," she says.

"That was a really phenomenal moment because it showed equity crowdfunding can work."

Anna Guenther

Age: 31
Born: Massachusetts, moved to New Zealand in 2000
Job title: Founder and chief executive of PledgeMe
Education: Masters in Entrepreneurship, Bachelor of Arts from Otago University
Last book you read: Fight Like a Girl written by Clementine Ford
Last movie you watched: Dirty Dancing directed by Emile Ardolino
Last overseas holiday: Samoa in 2016