KALAMAZOO, Mich. — When Fido Motors Cafe opened two years ago on Fulford Street, it quickly became a neighborhood hotspot. Owner Krystal Gast said customers could buy lattes and check out her husband's custom-made electric scooters all within one visit. She always wanted to expand the business into the next room to include couches, tables and a play area for children. However she lacked the funding to do so.
“We weren’t able to get a bank loan, a traditional bank loan,” Gast said during an interview at the cafe. “A bank that we talked to wasn’t willing to loan us any any money for this.”
By Tuesday, her circumstances changed. She and her husband were in the early stages of constructing their new space thanks to a $10,000 loan from Kiva, a crowdfunding loan company based in San Francisco.
“It’s a micro-lending program sort of like a kickstarter except that it's a loan,” Gast said. “So everybody gets paid back. It’s not a donation.”
Gast said she applied for the loan on October 18 after hearing about it from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC. She first had to secure 20 lenders to loan her $25 or more. She did that in two days. Then Kiva posted her request on its online network.
“Then you have 30 days to raise the $10,000 or else you don’t get it at all,” Gast said. “I think we raised all of that in five days.”
LISC matched her loans dollar for dollar, Gast said. She didn’t get to see who gave her money or how much. However she received “email after email after email” when new lenders added to her campaign and it came from people all over the world.
“It was exciting,” Gast said. “I had no idea it was going to happen that quickly. I was really shocked.”
Gast said working with Kiva was easy. It's an international nonprofit with the mission of “connecting people through lending to alleviate poverty” as the website states. There’s hundreds of borrowers on the website requesting money for anything, from cooking equipment for a small restaurant in Costa Rica to laundry detergent for a village in Senegal.
“A lot of them are actually really important life-changing things,” Gast said. “And a lot of women are on there too.”
Gast has three years to pay the loan back, she said. And the perk is that it’s zero interest. She stated that working with Kiva was easy and she’d gladly recommend it any small business owner.
“It’s really nice to see that people are willing to offer you help for your business when they don’t know anything about you," Gast said. "It’s just a great platform.”