SILICON BEACH — For the more digitally inclined, imagine live streaming video combined with Kickstarter or Indiegogo. For the less digitally inclined, imagine a good old fashion telethon but on a computer. That’s kind of like Cogo, a Santa Monica-based startup that helps entertainers raise money for causes.
Last week, the fundraising platform rebranded, dropping its old name, Laffster, and broadening to include all types of entertainment — not just comedy.
The platform lets fans watch and interact with their favorite entertainers (comedians, until last week) in real time.
The performers auction off pre-determined or improvised incentives for charity or to support a project.
The cast of the television show “Glee” is hosting a Cogo event on Saturday and fans can donate $35 to download the most recent episode or $975 for a guitar signed by the cast. Fans interact with the stars using hashtags on Twitter.
In the case of “Glee,” the cash goes to support youth arts program, The Young Storytellers Foundation.
But often the prizes deviate from the script, said co-founder Dan Altmann. When comedian Zach Galifianakis was fundraising for Smile Train, a charity that provides cleft palate surgery, the conversation got around to the pop-singer Ke$ha. One of the viewers asked if he had any merchandise of hers. He did.
“So he signed a Ke$ha T-shirt, he threw it up as his crowdfunding incentive, and lo and behold people were donating and paying $485 for one T-shirt,” Altmann said. “It’s really interesting the way it all plays out, because everyone is laughing, and it’s all happening live.”
In another instance, fans bid to have their names included in Conan O’Brien sketches.
Altmann and Cogo’s other co-founder, Eric Posen, are both obsessive comedy fans that went to college in Southern California. Investment from MuckerLab, a startup accelerator, drew them to the city by the sea. Since launching in 2012, the company has raised $750,000 from investors and grown to five employees.
“They are transforming the crowdfunding industry and creating a totally new, innovative model that changes the traditional telethon approach to create an interactive experience,” said William Hsu, co-founder of MuckerLab.
About a month in, Altmann could tell Cogo (then Laffster) was working after a fundraiser for a podcast held in a Hollywood comic book store.
“People were at the show that flew there from all these different places, and they’re on their phones buying incentives while they were at the event,” he said. “We just saw that by focusing on these superfans that are willing to fly to a location for an event, we can make up for a million fans that won’t spend a dollar on anything.”
The average Cogo fan that buys something spends $90, Altmann said, and these fundraisers are done in a couple hours.
The average crowdfunding campaign takes nine weeks, he said.
“There’s a lot of marketing and pushing people to go there and a lot of hand-holding,” he said. “For us, we feel like this blends into the content really naturally.”
The aforementioned podcasters raised $3,300 in an hour from the back of a comic book store.
Galifianakas and company raised $140,000 for Smile Train in 12 hours.
Cogo means to congregate or come together in Latin, Altmann said, and the upcoming non-comedy acts are impressive and wide-ranging from drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson to documentarian Ken Burns.
“Obviously we’ll still have comedians there,” Altmann said. “But we do feel like there are superfans and amazing fans in all these different areas and we can reach them with the same kind of experience.”
Cogo’s website can be found at cogo.tv