One of the questions we get asked the most at VOZ is about how we are funded. And people are often surprised to hear that we take absolutely no corporate, government or venture capital financing. We don’t believe it’s possible to serve two masters, and for us, the users of our system are the reason we’re here. Although this has meant our development process has been slower, by refusing corporate, government or venture capital financing we can remain independent and can protect you better.
To date VOZ has been funded from the following sources, in no particular order:
- Crowd funding: The initial funds required to get VOZ off the ground and out to Colombia for testing were generated through a crowd funding campaign on the PleaseFundUs platform (now called Zequs).
- You: We are still reliant of donations from members of the public. We never want to charge people to use our service, but any donations received help to keep the servers running.
- Our team: Everyone working here could be earning a lot more money in big internet companies or in the development sector, but money is not the motivation behind this work, and all our team dedicate many ours for free to help move VOZ forwards.
- Our Managing Directors pocket: As the founder of the project I believe whole heartedly in the importance of this work, and the importance of getting it right, which is why when I came into some money I chose to invest it in creating VOZ and giving a voice to those who are not heard.
While it would have been possible to develop VOZ much faster with government, corporate or venture capital funding, we’d also have picked up some “partners” and while there are definitely good funders, we don’t think this kind of project can be built using this kind of money because of potential influence that might be exercised counter to the best interests of our users. This is why we haven’t taken any government, corporate or VC money, not a penny.
When you take government, corporate or VC money, you are going down a different path than the one VOZ is on. While there are many successful companies and NGOs that have taken this kind of money, there is an inherent conflict of interest with many potential funders, their investors and the goals of VOZ and the users we serve. This isn’t to say that everything is bad about corporate, government or VC funding or the people who work there, there are definitely some good ones. The group you take your funding from will change your priorities, that’s all.
When you take corporate, government or VC funding, there are several places where they exercise control and have control exercised on them. First, they themselves might have interests in other companies or relationships that they don’t want impaired. This could be companies they are invested in at the same time where there could be conflicts of interest. Even companies related by interlocking directors can exert influence over certain companies. Second, the investors in a fund also exert influence on a funder by threatening to withhold funding from a subsequent venture fund, as an extreme example. This is usually unspoken, but tempers the funder’s behavior. Lastly, some other businesses that a funder has an interest in might be regulated by various entities, who would then have influence over the funding body. There are many points of leverage.
We’re not saying it’s all bad to take money from these sources; for some businesses and NGOs, it makes perfect sense. However, there are also advantages of not taking money from this kind of funding source. It’s definitely more difficult and there are many things VOZ could upgrade and build faster if we had the resources from a large funding round. Increasing our tech team, building out more server capacity earlier in our development, promotion and marketing and other staffing could be improved — these things would definitely move things a lot faster. However, the price of hardware, the ability to reach a huge market and the availability of opensource technology significantly lowers the amount of capital required to build this kind of business. In the end, we think our users will be better served the way we are funding VOZ, with all the warts and wrinkles this involves.
If you want to support us in this aim please visit our Donations page.