Rally.org, the U.S.-based crowdfunding platform designed for socially-minded causes, is taking its mission to Europe. Today, the startup is opening an incubator in Berlin, its first outside of the U.S., and on a limited beta will start to process donations made on its proprietary payment platform in euros, with the intention of adding British pounds and other currencies in the very near future.
Rally.org — which, commendably, used its own platform to raise $7.9 million from the likes of Relay Ventures, Mike Maples of Floodgate Fund, Reid Hoffman of Greylock Partners, Kevin Rose of Google Ventures, Craig Shapiro of Collaborative Fund, Michael Birch of Bebo, Tim Ferriss and Eric Ries — recently passed 3 million people contributing to 23,000 campaigns on its platform, and the idea is to tap into more local social causes and fundraising activities in this part of the world to grow that base even more.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Rally.org co-founder and CEO Tom Serres says that the company chose Berlin for its incubator and head office partly because Rally.org had already opened a Rallypad co-working space of sorts in the city last year; and partly because it’s a very startup-friendly city economically (in other words, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to start a new company there). “We wanted a community, not just a product,” he said.
But the intention is to expand very soon to the UK, which Serres notes has the highest concentration in Europe of people who donate money to good causes. For Rally.org, a cause can be anything from a donation drive for a non-profit; to an environmental startup project aimed at improving, say, energy consumption; to someone looking to raise money for their education — not a small issue in Europe, where student fees are skyrocketing in many countries as states pull back spending in these recessionary times. (Rally takes a 5.75% commission on all final fundraises.)
While crowdfunding sites seem to be approaching a dime a dozen these days, Rally.org has a few points that distinguish it from the pack. Its emphasis on good causes is the obvious one. But the other may be the one that helps it grow: it has built its own payment platform — independent of PayPal, Amazon and the rest — that underpins the service, which is already capable of handling 17 different currencies, says Serres.
“My long term vision is to be the infrastructre of the next economy, the cause economy,” Serres told TechCrunch, describing a future where we make purchasing decisions based on making bigger statements and helping the world: think Tom’s Shoes and its idea of donating one pair to a needy child for each pair bought, expanded into all of your daily transactions. “The idea is: Everywhere I go I make a statement to the world.”
Serres points out every person who makes a contribution through Rally.org gets a virtual wallet, and the idea is to eventually make that wallet into something that consumers can use for more donations, as well as for purchases elsewhere.
For now, those posting campaigns on Rally.org will need to have German bank accounts to receive funds — although this will expand over time, Serres says. Companies based in the company’s Berlin incubator — Startup Weekend, music resource-sharing company Muzup, and social relocation community G1OBALS — will be the first Europeans to use the product. Another group is starting a campaign to preserve Berlin’s princesses garden, Prinzessinnengarten.