When artists, musicians and entrepreneurs need a financial boost to get a product or idea off the ground, crowdfunding is an option.
This is exactly how Robert Dobyns launched Texas-based A&D Propane in 2003. Like with crowdfunding, he sought financial help from prospective customers to start the business. Yet Dobyns used the crowdfunding technique before crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter popularized the term in 2009.
“Crowdfunding didn’t have a word back when I started,” he says. “But that’s exactly what I did to start business. I just didn’t have a word for that.”
Dobyns says he worked in the propane industry since 1986 as a driver and technician, but his wife motivated him to start his own business in the early 2000s.
“We were broke and tired of living paycheck to paycheck,” Dobyns says. “So we thought why not start a business?”
Dobyns only had about $100 to his name when he decided to start a new business. He says he reached out to homeowners with propane tanks in affluent areas of east Texas in hopes they would donate money to help him launch the business. In return, he promised 500 free gallons of propane per year for life to anyone who donated to the startup of the company.
His pitch worked, as 12 people made between $1,000 and $5,000 contributions to establish A&D Propane. Dobyns says the donations gave him enough money to purchase a bobtail, insurance, licensing and the company’s first load of propane.
More than a decade later, Dobyns says their investment in the business benefited greatly, as the company has grown from one to four locations in east Texas. One of those locations opened in December.
Dobyns says he’s kept his promise to the people who donated to the start of the company by providing them with their 500 free gallons of propane per year.
“Most of them draw their ‘propane for life’ allotment each year and purchase additional propane for the rest of the season,” he says.
Dobyns also achieved one of his personal goals with the company by starting a cylinder exchange service in September. He adds this is something he has wanted to do even before starting A&D Propane, but it was always too expensive for him until recently.
“When you go into the exchange business, you realize you’re going up against big guys like MLPs,” Dobyns says. “You need a different design for that. We’re all excited about this new service. It makes it seem like our possibilities to grow are endless. In the future, we really hope to become a dominant wholesale provider in cylinder exchange in Texas.”