Need to raise money? Head to the internet—and ask everyoneby Kevin Charles Redmon / January 23, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
Roger Horowitz, left, and Brian Sykora, whose food business was partly crowdfunded
So you want to open an ice lolly shop. You’re 23 years old, a year out of university and bored with web development. Office life doesn’t suit you. You’re restive, uninspired, daydreaming. In Mount Pleasant, your Washington, DC, neighbourhood, restaurants are popping up all over. “I could do that,” you think. You call your friend Roger. In college, the two of you were top rowers, discussing ideas on the way to practice.
You mention artisanal ice lollipops: daring flavours, fresh fruit, local dairy. Roger grew up in a diverse suburb of New York City where Mexican paleterias—ice lolly vendors—were popular with young and old alike. He immediately sees the potential: Latin street food with an American twist.
Thus, in 2009, was Pleasant Pops born: the creation of Brian Sykora and Roger Horowitz. Sykora quit his job, Horowitz moved into his house, and the pair began making ice lollies by hand in a rented kitchen. On weekdays, they took their truck, Big Poppa, down to the financial district to catch bankers during lunch break. At weekends, they catered for young families at the farmers’ market. Hibiscus flower, lavender cream, avocado lime—the stranger the flavours, the better they sold. Their customers weren’t just loyal; they were fanatical.
When Sykora and Horowitz decided to open a bricks-and-mortar paleteria of their own, they launched a campaign on the website Kickstarter. The online crowdfunding website allowed backers around the country—anyone with a credit card—to donate to their epicurean crusade.
Securing a $100,000 construction loan took months of persuasion, plus a Matterhorn of legal paperwork; no commercial bank would lend to them, and a credit union agreed only after the Small Business Administration guaranteed the loan. Their Kickstarter page, on the other hand, was up in a matter of days. It outlined the rewards a donor would receive in exchange for their support: $5 got his or her name inscribed on the “Founders Wall,” $25 bought a ticket to the opening night party. A thousand dollars earned flavour-naming rights, a lifetime supply of treats, and an office party catered by Big Poppa.