When crowdfunding platform MyFreeImplants announced its ‘Breast Day Ever’ contest, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Some took issue with the way the site operates, while others questioned crowdfunding such a personal operation.
Despite the criticism, MyFreeImplants is a successful platform that has raised millions of dollars for women to get breast implants. the Breast Day Ever will mark the 1000th successful fundraising, and whoever guesses the day and time of the occasion will win $500 to put back into the site (other close guesses will win smaller prizes). it will also mark the first day that the site will offer surgeries beside breast augmentation.
MyFreeImplants started back in 2005, before Kickstarter and the JOBS Act made crowdfunding the popular fundraising method it is today. Co-founders Jason Grunstra and Jay Moore were on a trip to Las Vegas when they started chatting with a cocktail waitress, who expressed her desire for breast implants. the guys at the table all committed sums of money toward her operation – five dollars here, ten there; by the end of the night, they raised $750.
“If you put a lot of people together, you can do some pretty powerful things,” Grunstra told Crowdsourcing.org. “That’s how the idea of crowdfunding first came to my mind.”
The site boasts it has raised over $8 million to date. the women raising the money are never actually in charge of it – the site pays the surgeons directly, reducing the potential for fraud.
The site earns revenue in a number of ways. like many crowdfunding sites, MyFreeImplants takes a fee – ten percent – on all money raised through the platform. Surgeons can advertise their services on the site. the platform also sells one-dollar message credits that benefactors can use to talk to the women. it offers several subscription levels, depending on how involved a benefactor wants to be in a woman’s fundraising quest. Finally, while the women are waiting to reach their goals, the money donated up to that point is held in a “low risk account,” according to Grunstra. in 2009, the account held around $2 million, and the founders said they expected to make a six-figure salary.
In many ways, MyFreeImplants resembles a social networking site. Users create profiles, send messages to each other, and can set up video streams. the site forbids exchanging real contact information, so there is little chance of the “benefactors” and “models” meeting in real life. Grunstra believes that the site’s online dating-style atmosphere helps drive donations.
“there is somewhat of a sexual chemistry, because it is breast-related and there is some sexiness to that,” he said. “Once you start talking to someone, every time a girl sends and receives a message, she gets a dollar toward her goal. As you get to know someone more and more through messages, you can make donations of any amount you want.”
As the members become more comfortable with one another, however, the potential for unintended and inappropriate contact increases. MyFreeImplants has taken its share of criticism over the years for encouraging what some would consider unsavory activity – women are required to post after surgery photos, for example. Some suggest this encourages nudity, though the site’s rules state plainly, “there is to be no pornography of any kind in your personal gallery.”
The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons condemned the site in a press release, calling its method “wholly inappropriate” and “just plain degrading.” a 2007 article in Elle magazine slammed the site, too. Grunstra is well aware of the criticism, and he has a simple response.
“I’m in the mindset of, ‘to each his own,’” he said. “If someone wants to make a decision on their own to alter their body in any way, it’s their body, they’re free to do that. Everyone should be free to make their own decisions. It’s not hurting anyone else, or taking advantage of anyone else.”
Grunstra believes the site is fixing an existing problem regarding the funding of plastic surgery. Traditionally, he says, women who get breast augmentation surgery take out loans with a high interest rate from the surgeon’s partner credit application company. it can take years to pay back the loans. Soon, the site will offer surgeries beside breast augmentation, which, when offered in bundles, can also bring down the operation costs.
For some women, the chance to avoid loans and pay for the surgery with donations may be too good to pass up, though Grunstra explains that the women on the site are not impulse buyers attracted by the promise of free plastic surgery. the average fundraising campaign on the site takes months, not weeks or days, so the models have some time to think about their decision. They can back out at any point.
While the ethical uncertainties surrounding the site are likely to persist, Grunstra and Moore have shown that operating a risqué, donation-based crowdfunding platform can be a good way to make a living – as long as you’ve got the thick skin to take the criticism.