July 8, 2005

Fundable.org helps open source projects find support

Author: Tina Gasperson

Fundable.org is a new service that allows people who need funds to connect with those who are willing to contribute. Co-founder John Pratt isn't sure where the idea came from, but he and partner Louis Helm have been working on it day and night since the inspiration hit them in January, 2005.

The concept, while unique, is quite simple. Anyone who has a product or service to sell, or needs monetary support for a charitable cause, or who wants to organize a group purchase, posts their requirement on Fundable.org. They specify the number of contributors needed and the amount of money required from each. They also specify a deadline by which to raise the needed capital. Fundable.org holds all contributions until the total amount requested is received, or the deadline is reached. If, by the deadline, the amount contributed is less than the required amount, the project is scrapped and the contributors receive a full refund.

Fundable.org has already proven its worth for one open source software developer. Frederico Caldeira Knabben has spent two years working on a server-side, browser-based html editor called FCKeditor. Well accepted, FCKeditor runs on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Mozilla, and Netscape. However, there have been numerous requests for a port to Safari. "I've been hearing the requests for the last two years," Knabben says. "But Safari didn't have the necessary editing structure needed to build an online editor."

In the meantime, Knabben had been soliciting donations on his own in order to continue his work on the ever-increasingly popular FCKeditor. "I program for a living, so I had to find some way to receive feedback, in this case financial feedback, in order to continue devoting as much time as possible to the project." His solution was to set up a system by which only financial contriburtors could receive email support. This was both a necessity, and a solution, given that the volume of daily user questions was becoming unmanageable.

When Safari 2.0 was released with extended editing features, Knabben knew it was time for a port of FCKeditor. Given that he had never developed on a Mac, and in fact didn't even own one, doing the port was going to be a challenge. Knabben considered purchasing a MacMini but donations for FCKeditor were down. "So, I said... OK, let's call on our big community to ask them for help to achieve this port that is so important to them. But how? Let's ask Google."

While Knabben was in the midst of his fundraising efforts, Ben Chestnut of MailChimp.com contacted Knabben and offered to buy him a MacMini. However, by then Knabben realized that he would need an iBook, a computer that is both more powerful and more expensive than a MacMini. Knabben told Chestnut about discovering Fundable.org. during his Google search for donors. Chestnut agreed that Fundable.org might be a solution and agreed to give Knabben $700, if Knabben could raise an additional $600 on Fundable.org.

So Knabben set up a request on Fundable.org, asking for six people to donate $100 each. "It only took him two days to raise $600," says Pratt. "He received donations from all around the world." Now, Pratt says, it is up to Knabben to deliver the Safari port. He's purchased the iBook and he's "ready to go" on development.

Although the port is in progress, Knabben says it is going slowly because he's finding that Safari is, "buggy, although Safari's developers are interested in not only hearing about their bugs, but also in taking steps to correct them."

Fundable.org leaves it up to the project initiator to make sure all the contributors are satisfied. "You can't really make sure someone is going to do what they're supposed to do," Pratt says. "We're working on a feedback system, but for now we let people post a link to their eBay profile and ratings, thereby implementing a degree of trustworthiness."

"For [software] projects that have been around for a while, I think there's some trust there already. The developers are already donating their time and giving you free software, so I would trust them more than anyone else right off the bat."

Fundable.org receives a 4% fee for transactions over $1,000, and Pratt says they have future plans to implement other fee structures. "We work all day, every day on this," he says. "It's a full time thing." Of course, Pratt and Helm could always place a request for funds on Fundable.org.

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