"…recognize that raising money is an art that requires you to be persistent and unrelenting…be sensitive that you are intruding in other people's lives to ask for them to to spend their hard-earned money on your project." –Cortt Dunlap


Cortt Dunlap is the proud owner of café and bar in the heart of the new downtown Oakland called Awaken Café. His mission statement of "Bringing People Together" is  also a testimonial that when people come together, anything is possible. In this case, raising money to pay for the security deposit for his small business through crowdfunding also turned out to be community-building. Now, he's "Creating Change One Cup at a Time" with his second campaign on IndieGoGo! Take a lesson or two from this creative entrepreneur.


CorttDunlapQ1. Tell us about your project… your inspiration and goals!

 We lost our lease on our old location, and are in the process of starting over from scratch in a whole new location around the corner.  Our new location in downtown Oakland is the perfect place for our café and bar, and we're inspired by what we'll be able to create there.  That said, it means going through the process of building a business from the ground up:  negotiating a new lease, drafting architectural plans, building out the space, paying for permits and licenses, purchasing some new equipment and furniture, advertising and marketing, and hiring staff.  It's a big project that takes a lot of money, and in a tough economy, a small business has to be creative.  In addition to traditional sources of capital, we're excited to partner with our customers and supporters to raise some of the money we'll need.  That's where crowdfunding and IndieGoGo.com comes in!

Awaken Café is a green, award-winning espresso bar, tea house, beer & wine bar, performance space, and art gallery in the heart of the new downtown Oakland, with the mission to bring people together.  Awaken Café represents a reemergence of the café as the town center and gathering place; where people go to share ideas and innovate; meet old friends and make new ones; collaborate on exciting projects and businesses; where people feel at home away from home; and the spark for social and environmental justice is lit and maintained.  We think that bringing people together combats the fragmentation, isolation, and separation that is at the source of many of the problems that face our community.  When people come together authentically in real life, offline, and in a beautiful and safe environment, anything is possible.  Community thrives.  Projects are born.  Individuals shine.

Q2. What's your funding campaign all about? Who should care and why?

We've heard from many of our fans that they'd like to help, but making a $10,000 equity investment or buying a $500 Pre-Paid Value Account (another innovative fundraising model we've been using since the beginning: https://www.awakencafe.com/new/value) is not realistic for them.  The crowdfunding model addresses this in an exciting and fun way.  It gives everyone a chance to chip in at whatever level they want and then share with others in their community; we end up with an amount of money that makes a real difference.  In this case, the money will cover our security deposit at our new location.

AwakenAward Awaken Café is an East Bay Express multi award-winning café in Oakland, CA.

Additionally, when people contribute to our campaign, they are voting with their wallets for the kind of business that makes a difference:  small, independent, local, and green.  Raising money for a small-business is not always simple and often we're competing against national chains with deep pockets.  Contributing just a few dollars is a way of saying, "This is the kind of business I want in my community!"

Q3. How are you reaching, engaging and involving others? Your DIWO tactics, please!

 We've made regular announcements to our potential funders through our website, our business facebook page & personal pages, our yelp page, our twitter page, through our mailing list, and by emailing and talking directly with the people in our lives.  There are ten owner/investors in Awaken Café and we've all personally taken on spreading the word about our project.  We've also asked our staff, vendors, and customers to help spread the word. 

On the advice of IndieGoGo, we also recorded a quick video that explained what we're up to and posted it to our campaign site.


Q4. You're rocking the fundraising on IndieGoGo. Congrats! What's working?

Staying in regular communication with potential funders is the most important part of our campaign.  It's exciting to watch the project evolve and the amount raised grow each day.  It's fun to be a part of this and check in and track the progress.  What's really been working for us is making regular progress reports to the community so they can be a part of the fun!  I know I personally have checked the site to see our progress every 15 minutes or so since it started.  It's exciting to see it grow and involving potential funders in that excitement is very important.  They then turn and make updates to their community and the excitement builds exponentially! 

We've got some ideas for a future campaign that will improve on this one.  Most importantly we're thinking up some more exciting and fun perks, as we feel it's important that the funders feel they're getting something cool that's value matches their contribution.

Awaken Perks
Cortt offered unique perks both non- and coffee-lovers will enjoy!

Q5. Any surprises or especially fun moments during your campaign that you'd like to share?

Watching our project and others, it has been fascinating to see how each time you share about the project a few people contribute; and how as the project progresses the frequency of contributions grows exponentially and how those funders then post and share about the project.  It's been exciting to see faces from the past chip in and others surprise us with the generosity of their contribution amount.  It really is amazing when a crowd of people come together in unexpected ways to make something happen!  I can't believe how fun this is!

Q6. Any tips/advice/DATA for other aspiring entrepreneurs, creators and project leaders like yourself?

My advice would be to recognize that raising money is an art, that requires you to be persistent and unrelenting, and at the same time be sensitive that you are intruding in other people's lives to ask for them to to spend their hard-earned money on your project.  Be humble, keep it light, make it fun and inspiring for your funders, and keep asking away.  I always make sure I have plenty of room for people to say "no" and honor them for even considering it.  Then I move on and just keep putting it out there!

Awaken Cafe header


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