SINCE picking up the keys to an abandoned art deco building in a quiet West Brunswick shopping strip, Joanna Wilson and her building team have worked flat out. Digging, rewiring, sanding, painting - you name it, they've tackled it in an eight-month mission to get the eggs cooking and the coffee machine humming at the cafe she christened John Gorilla.
But as with many an ambitious building project, the money dried up. ''We got to the point where we needed funds to get over the line,'' says Ms Wilson. She and husband Nic Kocher thought they had exhausted all options when they discovered crowd funding through local online outfit Pozible. ''I was pretty reluctant at first, because I'm not good at asking people for things,'' says Ms Wilson. ''But essentially what we're doing is selling our product in advance.''
Pozible provides an online platform for people who want to raise money for a project - whether it be a cafe such as John Gorilla, an album, a short film, or an artists' residency in Mexico. Details are posted and updated on the site, and supporters pledge cash in exchange for in-kind rewards. So, for example, Ms Wilson is offering 40 regular coffees (worth $160) to supporters who pledge $100; $500 buys 200 over a year; and $50 earns a voucher redeemable for $60 of food. On another scale, almost $23,000 has been pledged to the Queensland Literary Awards, a grassroots response on Pozible to Premier Campbell Newman's controversial decision to axe the state's esteemed literary awards.
The projects' creators select a time limit and financial target. If that's reached, pledges are processed (via credit card or PayPal) and Pozible takes a cut, typically 5 per cent, for its trouble.
Ms Wilson says she and Mr Kocher set their sights low because projects that don't reach their target don't see a cent. But they clocked $3000 in four days and yesterday, six days from deadline, $4245 had been pledged to John Gorilla.
Pozible's Melbourne-based co-founder Rick Chen says it has raised $3.7 million for 1650-plus projects in Australia and overseas in the two years since he and business partner Alan Crabbe set it up. ''The response has just been really good from day one,'' says Mr Chen, whose background is IT. Mr Chen says Pozible is one of the largest crowd-funding sites in the world, behind US-based Kickstarter and Indiegogo. This year, Mr Crabbe opened the site up to 22 currencies, ''and we have pledges from 60,000 users in 71 countries''. The success rate is about 45 per cent.
Mr Chen says part of its appeal, especially with regards to arts projects, is the end-user involvement from day one. ''They can deal directly with their final target user - who will consume the art, see the show, or buy the CD.''
As for 70-seater John Gorilla, Ms Wilson says she and Mr Kocher will get their money and plan to open the doors to supporters this month. ''We'll spend it on buying stock, and paying contractors,'' she says.
In the meantime, there are still five days left to buy credits for cheap coffee, or watch the Pearson Street cafe finally come to life on Pozible and Facebook.