The millennial generation has a reputation for resilience, grit, passion, confidence, and optimism. They’re eager to put those traits to good use; two-thirds of them vow to start their own businesses. So it’s perhaps not a surprise that millennials are often described as “The Most Entrepreneurial Generation.”

Statistics, however, suggest that the “Entrepreneurial” title isn’t quite justified; millennials are starting businesses at a much lower rate than any previous generation. The reason is simple: money. Millennials are often saddled with student loan debt and a lack of access to startup capital.

So where do millennials turn to get the money they need? The interwebz, of course! Millennials aren’t only entrepreneurial, they are connected. These digital natives often look to crowdfunding to help them launch their entrepreneurial dreams.

Crowdfunding is the act of soliciting contributions from internet users to obtain funds for services or ideas. At first glance, crowdfunding looks like an easy route to start-up success. Highly publicized stories reinforce this perception. For example, Oculus VR, a virtual reality headset manufacturer, raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter. A few years later, the company was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion.

Raising money this way is a lot trickier than it seems, however. The dirty little secret of crowdfunding is that it’s incredibly hard work and almost impossible to achieve success without, well, being successful. In crowdfunding, people behave like herd animals. The herd follows the money. If you haven’t raised about 30 percent of your money in the first two to three days of your crowdfunding campaign, the odds are pretty good you won’t reach your fundraising goal.

Crowdfunding may also be reaching its saturation point. More than 1,000 crowdfunding sites have popped up since the trend developed momentum about five years ago.

The oldest and most well-known crowdfunding player is Kickstarter. About half of Kickstarter’s projects hit their fundraising goal, but the stakes are high: If projects don’t meet their target in a set time period, the fundraisers collect nothing. Kickstarter takes a five percent fee if projects hit their funding goals.

Perhaps the next most well-known site is Indiegogo. Founded by an MBA student and her friends, it’s now one of the top players in the rewards-based crowdfunding space. The site has robust small-business and tech sections. Women entrepreneurs take note: The site reports that female crowd funders have had particular success on the site, with 47 percent of its fully-funded campaigns run by women. Fundraisers pay between four percent and nine percent of the money they raise to Indiegogo, depending on whether they hit their goal. Those who fall short can keep the money but must pay nine percent.

GoFundMe has charged into a highly visible role, with many of the fundraisers on the site soliciting for charitable causes. However, small businesses and would-be entrepreneurs are also well represented.

Rounding out the top seven crowdfunding sites according to Forbes are Crowdtilt, RocketHub, AngelList, and RallyMe, each targeting a niche audience.

The average successful crowdfunding campaign is around $7,000, lasts around nine weeks, and is more likely to succeed if it can gain 30 percent of its goal within the first week. Leveraging social media is a critical factor in crowdfunding success. For every order of magnitude increase in Facebook friends (10, 100, 1,000), the probability of success increases drastically (9 percent, 20 percent, and 40 percent, respectively.). Also, men are the chief investors. They are more likely to take a risk on an unknown start up. Men earning over $100,000 per year are the most likely to invest in startups through crowdfunding.

In a way, this doesn’t sound much different from the traditional ways would-be entrepreneurs have faced start-ups in the past. Most micro and small businesses start with under $5,000 raised from personal funds, and from family and friends. The more friends you have, (especially male friends who make more than $100,000), the more likely you are to be able to launch your idea.

Crowdfunding is just a new word for an old concept. It is not a magic bullet or a free source of money. However, this doesn’t seem to deter millennials, who sense that career success will require them to be more nimble and independent than past generations. They are already less interested in managing others than in having their autonomous, creative work lives. Many believe that starting a company, even if it crashes and burns, teaches them more in two years than sitting in a cubicle for 20. They are changing the very way that work is conducted. They know they may never have (nor do they want to have) just one job for life. They frequently have two or three jobs, a freelance gig, a blog, and maybe a side “hustle,” weaving together a patchwork quilt of mobility and flexibility that really is just another term for “entrepreneur.” Perhaps they deserve that “Most Entrepreneurial Generation” moniker after all.

 

Wanda L. Rutledge, Ph.D., is Chair of the Management Department in the NJCU School of Business, teaching undergraduate and graduate students. An entrepreneur, sports management and sports marketing consultant, she has more than 30 years of experience as a senior global non-profit sports management executive, working on four Summer and one Winter Olympic Games and doing research on current issues and challenges facing women entrepreneurs.