The world will celebrate Olympians who are able to make it to Rio and compete on behalf of their respective countries. However, the process to make it to Rio is rarely celebrated nor noticed by the vast majority of followers.
By and large, Olympic hopefuls struggle to foot the bill to train and otherwise prepare and compete to make it to the main stage of the Summer and Winter Olympics. Fortunately, there is at least one company that has inadvertently found a way to connect those hopefuls with people willing to fund them as they seek to represent their nations.
Providing an out-of-the-box opportunity for Olympic hopefuls.
GoFundMe has been around for roughly 6 years now. It remained a small start-up for the first 3 years of its existence, trying to figure out the proper product market fit. During that time, the company realized that people constantly need help surrounding specific issues like emergencies, medical care and sports teams.
The crowdfunding service achieved $1 billion raised on the platform in May 2015. Then, 9 months later, it hit the $2 billion mark. Now, it is almost up to $3 billion.
Part of GoFundMe's success has been to focus on helping Olympic hopefuls to succeed by providing them with tools to more efficiently raise money.
"At first, it was not a concerted effort by us," said GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon. "I said, 'let's do something to help Olympic athletes out to pursue dream and raise money.' I played water polo at Berkeley. Fortunately, water polo is a sport that has a federation that is well funded. However, in many sports, each person doesn't have access to the capital to focus on training."
Over past few months, more than 100 athletes have raised over $400,000 on GoFundMe with the specifically stated goal to make it to the Rio Olympics. At first, GoFundMe takes a hands-off approach.
"When we see certain campaigns gaining traffic, we will help amplify through social media and connecting campaigns to local media," added Solomon.
Solomon's big idea comes with a lack of competition.
GoFundMe had not planned on actively targeting the Olympic hopeful space, and it seems as though not many others are either. Solomon noted that he was unaware of any specific competitors in the space, but seemed to invite them to enter to help build the space.
However, Solomon is not alone in crowdfunding for Olympic hopefuls. Another company in the space is French start-up Sponsorise.Me, which is similarly working with potential Olympians in helping them achieve their fundraising goals.
These companies seem to be on to a novel idea, which may be duplicated by even more start-ups in the future.
Difficulties in navigating NCAA bylaws.
Every big idea comes with a bit of criticism, and I asked Solomon his take on how his service complies with NCAA regulations. The NCAA has historically taken a hard-line approach against student-athletes receiving improper assistance. It has also released crowdfunding-specific rules for companies like GoFundMe to follow.
"It's pretty uncharted territory," said Solomon. "It's certainly not the intention of ours or people raising money to have a bunch of boosters come together and raise money for a kid going to the University of North Carolina. To be honest, we don't know what the implications are of the NCAA and other governing bodies. We don't see a lot of fundraising, from what I can tell, for the person pursuing the student-athletic dream."
If anything, it seems as though a site like GoFundMe would make it a lot easier for the NCAA to police violators of its regulations who may otherwise use back channels to give money and, as a result, jeopardize a student-athlete's eligibility to compete in intercollegiate athletic competitions.