Networking with crowdfunders in London (Part 2)

This is the second part of a two-piece blog on attending five crowdfunding-related events in eight busy days in London. As an independent crowdfunding adviser such events give me great insight in to crowdfunding motivations from the perspective of the crowdfunders, the crowdfunding platforms, and investors whether they are high net worth individuals, angel investors or venture capitalists. Here is a link to Part 1.

Networking with crowdfunders in London (Part 2)The fourth event in my sequence of five was a visit to The London Business Show 2016 at Olympia. Among hundreds of exhibitors and scores of seminar presenters I heard Henrik Ottosson of equity crowdfunding platform Invesdor and Bill Morrow, CEO of angel investment platform Angels Den.

Angels Den also ran two live crowdfunding sessions during the day and at one of them I saw pitches from three businesses that were seeking investment. The levels of investment being sought ranged from £60,000 to £250,00 (which had £175,000 already pledged).

  • Networking with crowdfunders in London (Part 2)TrooGranola, a family business making fresh granola and offering 12% equity for £60,000 investment. Already on Tesco’s radar.
  • Flexiapp, a free app for people to find and book a wide range of yoga, dance and fitness classes with a variety of smaller, specialist instructors as well as mainstream providers. Offering 15% for £150,000. Free for users, 30% commission payable from class instructors.
  • Eat Grub, what it “says on the tin” – highly nutritious energy bars made from insects and kinder to the environment than cereal bars. They were chasing the final £75,000 of a £250,000 investment target for 20% equity.

The final event was a combination of entrepreneur and investor perspectives. Equity crowdfunding platform VentureFounders staged an event hosted by Pennington Manches LLP, a leading UK law firm.

Keynote speaker was Justin Urquhart Stewart, co-founder and Head of Corporate Development at Seven Investment Management LLP. SIM “helps individuals and their families manage capital to meet their financial needs and aspirations,” and now looks after over £7 billion of their own and their clients’ money. He gave an entertaining quickfire summary of his take on topical political and economic global developments. Some of his comments included:

  • The Euro is ultimately bound to fail, he said, though not quite yet while Angela Merkel is on the scene. What happens if she isn’t re-elected in 2017?
  • The growth rate of manufacturing in China is slowing down, but not dropping as some media have mistakenly reported. And their services economy is growing too.
  • The emerging economies not doing so well are the ones whose economies rely on exporting natural resources – such as Russia and Brazil. The nations doing better are the ones that import resources and make things, particularly China and India.
  • Trump wants an annual growth rate in the US economy of 5% – but it’s impossible to grow an economy that big that fast.
  • The world’s overall business growth rate is about 3%, which is also the average of the last 50 years or so. To have reached 3% so soon after the 2008 financial crisis shows the world’s major economies are in relatively good shape.

VentureFounders specialise in equity crowdfunding for companies already in business, so their platform is for scaleups and not startups. There were pitches from four companies whose crowdfunding was at the time hosted on the VentureFounders platform, and between them they were seeking from £500,000 to £1.1m

  • Samba Networks, a mobile software company that addresses advertising avoidance for advertisers and app developers, aiming for £500,000 for 10% equity
  • Fatsoma, an ‘influencer marketing network’, on the day of this pitch they had received pledges of £650,000 out of a target of £1.1m
  • freemarketFX, a peer-to-peer currency exchange for companies with better rates and lower fess than banks
  • Lightpoint Medical make imaging equipment enabling cancer surgeons to remove all affected material in the first operation, reducing the need for repeat operations which is good for both the patients, the hospitals, and other cancer victims who won’t have to wait so long for a hospital bed. Without it, 1 in 4 prostate and breast cancer patients still have cancer left behind after their first surgery. CEO Dr David Tuch received the 2016 Start-up Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

I’m often asked how much equity a client should make available. Or how much money to ask for. Of course the answer is “it depends”, and it depends on a variety of factors, including the company valuation, target market share of the specific business sector any company operates in, and an investor assessment of the likelihood of achieving it. This was adequately brought home by seeing 19 sophisticated equity crowdfunding pitches in 8 days.

If you are considering equity crowdfunding and want to talk with an independent crowdfunding adviser not tied to any particular platform, or maybe you’ve already decided to go ahead and want to get a second opinion on some aspects, please e-mail me at [email protected] or send a Tweet to @Cliveref.

The sharing economy at work in recreational boating

The sharing economy at work in recreational boating

As an independent crowdfunding adviser I had my eyes open among the hundreds of exhibitors at the 2017 London Boat Show (January 6-15) to find ones operating on a crowd economy/sharing economy business model. This article features three of them, the oldest being twelve years old and the youngest is a brand new company that launched at the show.

Beds on Board is a simple concept to grasp. It’s like Airbnb except all the accommodation is on boats that don’t leave their mooring. Since 2015 it has operated as an online as a peer to peer platform beds-on-board-examplesconnecting boat owners and accommodation seekers. The average amount of time an owner uses their boat is the equivalent of just six weeks a year, so they are very often vacant though still with on-going costs of a mooring place (usually in a marina) and maintenance. Yachts and motor cruisers not only depreciate, but also cost approximately 10% of their capital value per year to keep and maintain. Beds on Board enables owners to have an income from renting their boats at minimal risk to overnight guests who aren’t going to do any sailing or cruising.

Boat owners with safe, comfortable boats with shore-side access that comply with all local laws and regulations can list their boats for accommodation-only rentals by guests. Guests looking for alternative accommodation and who respect boats and marinas can search for boats to stay aboard and enjoy a novel way to relax at their chosen destination in over 40 countries. Once accommodation seekers sign up on the website, they are able to make bookings after identifying their required date, number of people and a verified payment option. The owner then has 48 hours in which they can veto a booking if they have any reason to.

There are some ground rules to follow (e.g. no parties and anyone not on the booking form not allowed on board), and all guests have to be able to swim. At the end of the booking the owner and guests rate each other to encourage mutual best behaviour.

Crowd economy operating in the leisure boating marketA company that does rent out privately owned boats for sailing is the brand new Borrow a Boat. At the same time as most boats remain unused for the majority of time, the cost of boat ownership remains prohibitively expensive for the majority of people. Borrow a Boat connects people wanting to enjoy boating with boat owners who welcome a contribution to the cost of ownership. Through working with partners they have standardised requirements for qualifications, experience, insurance, boat safety, and charter contracting. This has made the whole process simpler and more accessible for people wishing to enjoy recreational boating.

The three founding partners all share a passion for boating and have spent much of their lives on the water. They definitely know their bowsprit from a bow thruster and can talk with comforting authority to owners and renters alike.

I’ll talk in greater length about the third exhibitor using a crowd economy business model. Twelve years ago, before any of us had heard of or even imagined going online to share car rides, parking spaces or spare flexisail_01bedrooms with people we don’t know, FlexiSail launched itself as a closed-user group boat sharing business based on the English south coast. I caught up with their Business Development Manager, Susannah Hart, to hear more.

As with all boat charter companies, FlexiSail’s aim is to make recreational boating more affordable and is designed to give a greater number of people an opportunity to get out on the water regularly without actually buying a yacht or motor cruiser. Their key difference is achieved through a boat share membership scheme. As opposed to a traditional boat charter business that offers access to an interchangeable pool of vessels, each boat user commits themselves to just one particular boat from FlexiSail’s fleet. They pay a fixed monthly membership fee determined by the size and how often they wish to use the boat of their choice, and when they have that boat booked out it is exclusively theirs.

Through this method of exclusive access the boat users share some of the ‘pride of ownership’, though without the long-term costs, commitment or worry as FlexiSail completely look after, maintain and manage every boat in the scheme. It is this sense of ‘ownership’ which really sets the FlexiSail model apart from other boat charter initiatives as it helps boat owners trust the boat users to keep them in immaculate condition. What also reassures the boat owners is that FlexiSail ensures all members have appropriate sailing experience and qualifications for the boat they wish to use. On signing up, members gain access to an exclusive RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Training Centre – FlexiSail Training.

It is also possible to join FlexiSail as a crew member and be available to help on the boats under the command of fully qualified sailing members, the temporary boat ‘skippers’. This is not only for less experienced sailors but for anyone who is unable to make the full commitment of a FlexiSail boat share – even some sailing instructors are signed up to FlexiCrew.

Crowd economy operating in the leisure boating marketConsequently, the main advantages for boat owners when they place their boat in the FlexiSail Ownership Programme are:

  • a guaranteed income
  • their boat will be professionally managed and maintained
  • the hassle, worry and costs of ownership are offset
  • there are adequate safeguards and controls in place to protect their asset

In keeping with the growth of the rest of the global crowd economy, the key to the development and success of FlexiSail’s membership sailing model is the advancement of technology. Their online systems are designed for members to autonomously manage their own bookings, further engendering that sense of ownership.

FlexiSail’s iCalendar booking system gives people the greatest amount of flexibility. Bookings can be made up to 12 months in advance and amended or cancelled at the touch of a button. All members are entitled to a certain amount of time throughout the year, dependent on the level of membership they buy into, and this time is guaranteed, the system knows this and over-booking cannot occur.

Standard charter companies rely on labour intensive check on and check off procedures. This increases costs and also means a third party has to be present. This not only restricts flexibility of embarking and The crowd economy at work in the recreational boating marketdisembarking times, but also takes away the feeling that it is ‘your’ yacht. FlexiSail has a comprehensive online system called the iBosun, which allows each member to take care of all of this without any restrictions. A simple form, the iBosun is completed on arrival and departure, and any issues reported are emailed directly to the FlexiSail management and maintenance teams to be dealt with in a timely and competent fashion.

FlexiSail currently provides access to 18 boats for 175 boat ‘skipper’ members plus 25 crew members. Their annual turnover is in the region of £700,000 and they are considering crowdfunding as a means to purchase their own boats.

From one perspective these three examples are about people being able to create an income from an under-used asset within an online framework that vets the users of that asset to protect the owner. Crowdfunding is similar: people with under-used wealth are able to potentially gain a higher income from it through investing in companies pre-vetted by the equity crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending platforms. However, equity investments cannot be guaranteed to provide a return, or even to hand back the original investment, so do so with due diligence and the standard advice is always to invest in a range of companies to offset risk.

From another perspective it’s about people having access to something that was previously our of their reach, whether it’s the use of a fantastic yacht or motor cruiser, or access to funds to launch a startup company or expand an existing business. If that’s what you want to do then as an independent crowdfunding adviser I can help you with your first steps of understanding how crowdfunding can work best for you, and work with you to create an effective pitch to investors. Contact me at [email protected]