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]

Networking with crowdfunders in London UK (Part 1)

It was a busy few days of networking for me as an independent crowdfunding adviser in London in November 2016. This is the first of a two part recap of 19 equity crowdfunding pitches at five events I attended in eight days that show the diversity of businesses working towards a brighter future through this route to funding for startups and scaleups. These events were free to attend and if you are an entrepreneur considering equity crowdfunding I’d say they are an indispensable research opportunity. Get out there and get involved!

Busy networking with crowdfunders in London UKThe run of five events began with a busy evening of eight live pitches organised by Crowdcube, the UK’s largest equity crowdfunding platform, at the green and leafy Barbican Centre Conservatory. Crowdcube co-founder and CMO Luke Lang introduced the speakers to an audience made up mainly of personal investors, professional service providers such as myself, and some other entrepreneurs who were considering their own crowdfunding campaign and wanted to get some tips and make some useful contacts.

The sums of money sought by these companies ranged from £250,000 to £1.75m. Some were about to start their crowdfunding while others were nearing the end and chasing the final amounts of money to reach their target. The companies and range of business sectors covered were:

  • Clive Jackson of Victor, a private jet charter business for high net worth individuals. In early November they were seeking £1.75m. By 29 November they had reached just 3% of target, and the campaign can no longer be found on Crowdcube’s site.
  • Bluebella, an upmarket lingerie brand that more than doubled its £500,000 target when it went on to raise over £1m.
  • MUSH, a social media platform for mums to find others with kids of the same age. They were targetting £650,000  for 15.66% and had raised over two-thirds of it in the first week. By December 5 they had overfunded to almost £850,000.
  • AltFi, a media platform that reports on the alternative finance market. They were offering 7.69% for £250,000.

Thankfully there was also a craft brewery seeking investment, Innis & Gunn from Scotland, who went on to successfully smash their target of £1,005,000 and eventually raised almost £2.5m from 2,000 investors for 4.79% equity. Plenty of samples were available during the evening while the crowd of potential investors also heard pitches from:

  • StepJockey, a company that encourages office workers to take the stairs and get fitter (resulting in a reduction in staff sick days). Targetting £500,000 for 11.76% equity. Currently used in more than 11,000 buildings around the world by clients including Disney, Pearson, JLL, UBS, Channel 4, NBC and The Wellcome Trust. Raised £279,290 in four weeks after launch, though no details available on the full outcome. Crowdcube don’t like to keep details online of the projects that fall short.
  • Happy Finish, a creative technology and visual content agency seeking £395,000 for 4.45%. No details still available on the Crowdcube site, have to fear the worst that they failed to reach target.
  • Hurree, a marketing automation platform seeking £300,000 for 20% equity. Their crowdfunding closed on 16 December and 187 investors backed them to the tune of £320,290

A few days later I was at an event organised by Crowdfinders. They are not a crowdfunding platform though they do help companies secure their first 30% of investment offline. They also organise events featuring live equity crowdfunding pitches with real-time investment opportunities, and also deliver industry insights and provide “extraordinary entertainment.” And just to emphasise that money invested through crowdfunding is at risk they held their event in a central London casino.

Busy networking with crowdfunders in London UK
At the half way point of the Crowdfinders’ event crowdfunding pitches there was time for some entertainment from burlesque dancer Miss Polly Rae.

The audience saw pitches from four companies seeking investment, with some unusual half-time entertainment. The target investment levels ranged from £150,000 to £500,000.

  • ScreenLimit Ltd, a parenting app to remotely manage children’s use of electronic devices. Seeking £300,000 of angel investment for 20% equity.
  • FUBAR Radio, an irreverent online radio station targetting 18-34 year olds and operating outside of OFCOM’s regulatory content controls. Set themselves a minimum target of £250,000 for 8.3% equity which they achieved, up to a maximum overfunding target of £500,000 that they are still chasing to 31 January 2017 on the Envestors platform.
  • Sense Products, produce a range of supplement products that includes one to “enhance the body’s response to drinking.” Seeking £350,000, the project closed at the end of 2016 having received £40,000 of pledges.
  • 365 Talent Portal, an online community and career hub for Microsoft technology consultants and companies looking to hire them. They had a target of £150,00 and closed 31 December 2016 after receiving pledges of £65,614.

Event Three was an opportunity to view equity crowdfunding more through the eyes of investors than entrepreneurs when I went to the offices of Kingston Smith, a firm of chartered accountants and business advisers to entrepreneurial businesses, not-for-profit organisations and private clients. A panel of four included Kingston Smith’s Corporate Finance Director and their Partner and Head of Technology, along with Jonathan Keeling, Head of Partnerships at Crowdcube and Amer Hasan, CEO and founder of minicabit.com which raised £1.4m from investors in 2015. He had previously reached a £150,000 target through equity crowdfunding on the Seedrs platform in 2014.

Commenting on the overall UK business investment market, Kingston Smith reported that:

  • In the first nine months of 2016 over £1 billion has been raised by UK private companies in equity raises of over £1 million
  • Institutional fund managers account for the majority of activity by value
  • Technology and online business sectors continue to dominate
  • There was no slowdown in Q3 after the Brexit vote and prospects for 2017 are good

There were no live equity crowdfunding pitches at this event, though here is a link to Part 2 of this two-piece recap of business investment events with another 7 equity crowdfunding pitches.

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.

Crowdfunding sessions at a major European crowdsourcing conference

Spread throughout the four full days of speaker sessions and panel discussions at the Crowdsourcing Week Europe 2016 conference in Brussels November 21-25 there were a number of sessions dedicated to crowdfunding. As an independent crowdfunding adviser they were naturally of great interest to me, and here is a summary of them I’d like to share.

fredic-barkenhammarFredrik Barkenhammar of House of One told us on the first day of conference about his crowdfunding project to raise money for something truly unique – building a mosque, a church and a synagogue under one roof in central Berlin. This will be a multi-denominational house of prayer and interdisciplinary learning, bringing together people of different faiths to share experiences and get to know each other through dialogue. Even people with no religious focus are welcome.

He is running open-ended crowdfunding asking for a €10 contribution for each brick – and the project will cost €43.5m. That’s a lot of bricks! His project is a stand alone, it isn’t hosted on a crowdfunding platform, there is no cut-off date, and the project keeps all donations. In these respects I guess it’s more like JustGiving than what we usually categorise as crowdfunding, though in simple terms he is asking the crowd to fund the project.

brussels-beer-projectSebastian Morvan and Olivier de Brauwere started the Brussels Beer Project (a brewery) in 2012 to shake-up Belgium’s conservative brewing sector. Through a number of rounds of donations-for-rewards crowdfunding via the Beer For Life platform they have received support from almost 2,000 crowdfunders.  The formula is simple: each crowdfunder receives 12 beers, every year for the rest of their life, in exchange for €160. Watch the video here. Thanks to that support, they were able to start their venture in 2013, fund their brewery in 2015, and after the last round ended on 31 January 2016 they were able to recruit more talent and invest in more equipment.

Their website says: “Not only the financial support but also the positive energy we received from this beautiful community has been overwhelming and will bring us even further. We don’t have the means of Big Industrials – so the enthusiasm and word of mouth permitted us to take on this adventure and look into the future.”

They continue to involve their crowdfunders with pop-up beers, one every two weeks, at their open evenings (Thursday to Saturday) at the brewery. Based on this crowdsourced feedback they decide which ones to go ahead with on a commercial basis. One that got the thumbs up from the crowd was a beer made with soda bread. This had the added benefit of recirculating 10 tonnes of unsold soda bread that would have otherwise been thrown away.  They are also asking their crowd to propose beers for them to brew. They have so far received 150 suggestions and the winner will be able to go to the brewery and be involved in making it.

The first day also included a panel discussion titled “Are VCs Getting Disrupted by Crowdfunding?” It wasn’t much of a contentious debate, as Bill Morrow, CEO of angel-led investment platform Angels Den made the points that there is no reason to compare venture capitalists and crowdfunding since they operate within distinctly different funding levels. Most businesses using crowdfunding are looking for far less than VCs would consider as a minimum investment.

Walter VassalloOn the second day of the conference the economist and entrepreneur Walter Vassallo, co-founder of internet company MC Shareable in Monaco, gave a talk under the heading Crowdfunding for Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Innovation. One of his key points was that crowdfunding is so much more than simply getting funded. An effective crowdfunding project also increases awareness among wider stakeholders: project proponents; project investors; policymakers, regulators and the related research community.

A new book he has edited pulls together contributions from different authors to try and identify key factors that influence crowdfunding success, and create a validation tool that can assess the viability of crowdfunding projects before they run. The average success rate on Kickstarter is 37%, he said, so there is clearly room for improvement. Copies can be ordered here. A full copy will set you back $205, though individual chapters are available at $37.50.

img_4239The third day of the conference focussed on energy and sustainability issues. The energy market shift to decentralisation and renewable sources dramatically lowers the industry entry cost for new producers. However, investment to fund new energy initiatives and bring them to fruition can often be an issue, and Dr Chiara Candelise of Ecomill – an equity crowdfunding platform in Italy – told us about Smart Financing and Empowerment: Crowdfunding in Energy. Her global study of energy crowdfunding shows that 80% of the money raised has come from loans and equity. For homeowners unable to switch to a renewable or a more sustainable energy supply, crowdfunding renewable energy projects is a further way the crowd can stimulate this market and show their support for alternatives to the established major energy producers.

cedric-donckEntrepreneurs always face funding issues. Cedrick Donck, business angel and co-founder of the Virtuology Academy told the conference on the final day that angel investment and crowdsourcing are increasingly popular routes. Bringing an angel investor onboard has benefits of access to their experience and contacts as well as their money. Crowdfunding could be used to raise further money on top of an angel investment, or maybe use crowdfunding on its own if for some reason you don’t require an experienced mentor.

He echoed previous speaker comments when he said positive by-products of crowdfunding include: increased visibility as effective crowdfunding is also very good marketing; you gain access to the personal networks of all the investors; and it raises your credibility to be able to say you raised money from the crowd. Downsides are that you may have been able to raise more money than the business is really worth as early investors may lack experience. This could present problems if further fundraising is needed later and the value is scaled down. And finally, you may lose some competitive advantage because you will have had to put your business strategy in to the public domain.

Picture-of-CliveIf you are considering crowdfunding, whether on an equity or a donations basis, please get in touch for an objective conversation with me, an independent crowdfunding adviser. My background is marketing rather than financial, and I can help with essentials such as building a big enough crowd of the right sort of people to drive to your crowdfunding project. Or maybe you know someone I could assist who is considering raising money to launch a startup, expand their business, or support a favourite worthy cause. I’m at [email protected] and my tweets are at @Cliveref. Thank you.

Close encounters with the crowd economy at Southampton Boat Show

Southampton Marina hosts the largest outdoor annual boat show held in Europe, so perhaps it should have come as no surprise for me as an independent crowdfunding adviser to have encountered aspects of the crowd economy there among the hundreds of exhibitors and the opening day celebrity guests.

Michelle Keegan and Olympic sailorsThe event was officially opened by actress Michelle Keegan, formerly of Coronation Street and currently on our tv screens in the BBC drama Our Girl. On stage with her was the GB Sailing Team from the Rio Olympics boasting four gold medal winners.

Olympic success in a wide range of sports has been achieved with financial state support for our top athletes through National Lottery Funding for UK Sport. Every purchase of a lottery ticket contributes a small amount towards crowdfunding national sporting achievement at the highest level. The benefits to the nation are wide ranging:

  • with more role models to aspire to more people take up or maintain a sporting pastime – which the government encourages as part of the health battle against increasing obesity;
  • association with success puts a spring in the step, encouraging greater productivity and optimism;
  • it inspires more people in all walks of life to achieve excellence in whatever it is they do.

Close encounters with the crowd economy at Southampton Boat ShowIn a similar ‘organisational crowdfunding’ vein, an event on Day One of the show was the official handover of a new yacht to the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. The carefully adapted yacht will be used to take children recovering from cancer treatment on confidence-building sailing adventures and has been funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery. Every ticket buyer has made a contribution.

Sailing has a reputation as something of a rich person’s hobby, sometimes described as similar to standing under a shower and tearing up money. FlexiSail has utilised the crowd sharing model to make boat ownership less onerous for owners and to provide access to a “pride of ownership” to a far wider audience. Boats are expensive to buy in the first place and then expensive to maintain and moor somewhere. Yet most of the time they are unused and simply take up space in a marina.

Close encounters with the crowd economy at Southampton Boat ShowFlexiSail offers a choice of membership options for people to choose from a range of 30 to 40 foot yachts, catamarans and motorboats and use them for a fixed number of days or weeks throughout the year, explained Business Development Manager Suze Hart. Reassuringly for the boat owners FlexiSail also arranges training to ensure everyone has appropriate skills and qualifications, and provides a full two day induction on board any chosen boat. They maintain an online calendar for members to book their time aboard, online logbooks for all the users of each boat to keep a record of problems and any work that needs to be carried out – and FlexiSail carries out the work. And the boat owners have turned their depreciating assets in to an income stream with safeguards in place.

Finally, a vital and integral part of sailing for many boat lovers is a gin and tonic on deck or in the cockpit at the end of a day on the water. In a corner of the Ribeye stand at the boat show Howard Davies, Co-founder and Director of his own brand new gin brand was providing very welcome samples. puedes comprar viagra en la farmacia

Close encounters with crowd economy at Southampton Boat ShowThe Salcombe Distilling Company, based in Salcombe in Devon, batch produces hand-crafted gin made with obligatory juniper and a secret blend of other botanicals. Premium products like this don’t come cheap and Salcombe Gin retails at £35 a bottle. Howard, who spent part of his previous career path as a sailing instructor, only gave up other employment this summer to concentrate on his new venture, in much the same way that many hand crafted spirits brands have come on the market in recent years.

A search using industry data provider Crowdsurfer showed 15 new distilleries/spirits brands used crowdfunding in the last 12 months in the UK. Crowdfunding is extremely flexible and can be used in a variety of ways to match very different requirements. Some used it on a rewards-for-donations basis, others traded equity to gain long-term investors.

At the lower end of financial targets, one person wanted £3,000 in donations to convert a unit in a suburban London market in to a tasting room and install a micro-distillery to make gin, and a couple of guys raised £30,000 through donations for rewards of branded merchandise to establish a malt whisky distillery in Devon.

Meanwhile, at the top end, the Cotswolds Distillery raised just over £1m from 124 investors at the end of January 2016 in exchange for equity – double its target of £500,000 – and GlenWyvis Distillery in Scotland had raised over £2.5m by July 2016 (against a target of £1.5m) using “community shares” through the crowdfunding platform Crowdfunder.

I hope that Howard’s gin proves to be popular and when he is ready to expand his Salcombe Distillery Company he’ll get in touch with me to explore the benefits and opportunities that crowdfunding could deliver for him.

Maybe you have a business you want to launch or expand? I am an independent crowdfunding adviser, please feel free to contact me for an initial conversation about what crowdfunding could do for you and how I can guide and help you through the process. Send an email to [email protected]. I have gained a wealth of experience in a 30+ year career in Marketing, and it is increasingly evident that implementing a good marketing plan helps attract investment.

 

Deliveroo’s attempted new pay deal a return to “bad old days”?

Deliveroo’s attempted new pay deal a return to “bad old days”?

Deliveroo sparked a rebellion among a section of its London delivery workers after trying to impose a unilateral change to their pay structure. It was going to change from £7 per hour plus £1 per each delivery to a straight £3.75 per delivery.

In essence this was a change from a fairly regular and reliable paycheque to payment on piecework rates. If Deliveroo users were to choose not to order much food, some Deliveroo delivery workers could find themselves earning under the minimum wage, yet they weren’t responsible for generating overall customer demand. The advantages seemed to be all stacked up in the employer’s favour.

Although Deliveroo claimed the change had received a warm response when they crowdsourced initial reactions to the idea, either they crowdsourced among an atypical sample of their delivery workers or their claim was no more than a bit of loose-lipped ‘management speak’ after the event.

Either way, they have backtracked and claim they are offering their workers the choice of which pay deal they want to be on. The issue has brought under a spotlight a bigger question of whether the delivery workers are employees or self-employed, but is this trend the best way for employment and remuneration to develop?

It’s of course not confined to Deliveroo. Several of the new disruptor brands that have shaken up the ways of doing things by traditional businesses are hailed as part of a great new dawning of flexible employment, deliverers of a work/life balance where individuals can create lifestyle patterns and targets to suit themselves. Though some workers claim bullying tactics force them to work longer hours than they wish to.

And there are wider implications. Cash savings for Uber users mean less income for the families of ‘regular’ taxi drivers; greater use of Airbnb can reduce prospects for hotel workers.

I’m not being resistant to change and trying to put disruptor brands back in the genie’s bottle, but the ‘caring sharing’ ethos that’s meant to be part of the crowd economy sometimes seems to have quickly worn a bit thin.

Deliveroo's attempted new pay deal a return to "bad old days"?History can give us some lessons. I live near to London’s Docklands, today a thriving centre for international finance. Up until fifty years ago international trade here meant the arrival of ships from around the world loaded with goods. Canary Wharf was for ships arriving from the Canary Islands with fruit and vegetables. And irregular workers paid on a piecework basis often carried out the job of unloading the pre-containerised cargoes.

Deliveroo's attempted new pay deal a return to "bad old days"?This is The George, a long-standing traditional pub on London’s Isle of Dogs, a stone’s throw from the finance centre and even closer to the former Millwall Dock that’s now home to a sailing and watersports centre. It’s popular with local residents, some of whom have lived there long enough to remember the scenes that used to take place in the street outside the pub up to the 1960s.

When dockyards needed extra workers to unload ships they sent lorries round to several places where dockers would congregate early in the mornings in the hope of being offered work.

When faced with a hungry family at home it really was survival of the fittest, and street fights were commonplace as dockers competed to get a place in the back of a lorry for the privilege of a day’s work. Pieceworkers in the docks did dangerous, tiring, physical work for irregular pay with no sickness benefits and no paid holidays.

It’s a story of a different London to the Swinging Sixties and Carnaby Street. So maybe let’s be careful what we wish for if the transformation of established business models made possible through mass personal connectivity creates business opportunities where entrepreneurs try to rely on piecework employees they want to classify as self-employed. It doesn’t sound very Millennial-minded, it’s more like 19th than 21st century.

A crowdfunding project quickly started raising money to replace wages lost by Deliveroo delivery workers who went on strike in protest, and they are being encouraged to join the Couriers and Logistics Branch of the Independent Workers Union, IWGB CLB.

Update on 30 October 2016

Today the Sunday Times reported that following last week’s landmark ruling that Uber drivers are not self-employed, and should receive the minimum wage plus holiday pay and breaks, the law firm that won the case confirmed they are in talks with workers at Deliveroo: “Bicycle couriers push for staff rights.”

In its Editorial in the same issue the paper warned against the risks of over-legislation stifling the gig-economy. Many journalists have for years been self-employed writers and are perhaps better able to manage issues such as lack of holiday and sickness pay, having some savings to cover emergency costs and periods of not working, and completing self-assessment tax returns. I’m not sure the majority of Uber drivers or Deliveroo workers are as educationally equipped or financially well rewarded to be able to plan careers in the same manner with such personal choice of a work/life balance.

 

Crowdcube raises over £5m for itself

Crowdcube raises over £5 for itself

Before yesterday, UK equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube had raised more than £173m from over 295,000 investors to complete 426 successful raises, and described itself as the world’s leading investment crowdfunding platform.

Yesterday afternoon that status was confirmed as Crowdcube exceeded its £5m target when they raised £5,003,024 for themselves from 1,627 pre-registered early investors useful source. This was their largest ever raise, and in the early hours of 19 July the total stands at just over £5.8m from 2,243 investors and they are still open for further business.

Crowdcube raises over £5m for itselfThis initial target of £5m was set against 7.14% equity, valuing Crowdcube at just over £70m. Very handy for the co-founders Darren Westlake and Luke Lang – well done guys. A stretch target for over-funding could see up to a total of £12m raised.

Fundraising moves to Stage 2 today (July 19) when Crowdcube will open their doors to investments from the general public who will no doubt be suitably buoyed by yesterday’s strong performance.

In total, would-be investors apparently indicated an early interest in buying £50m of shares in the company. Crowdcube is believed to be setting up a secondary market where successful purchasers will be able to trade their newly acquired shares. If they do, then given that demand appears to exceed supply by a factor of over four there could be some early ‘stag market’ sales to deliver quick returns. So much for Brexit reducing enthusiasm for equity crowdfunding.

“Best Funding Solutions For SMEs” – a conference in London in May 2016

Best Funding Solutions for SMEs

This event in east London’s Mile End Road explored a comprehensive range of funding options available to SMEs, including equity and debt crowdfunding. I attended in my capacity as an independent crowdfunding adviser. Here is my summary of key points from the day in four sections:

A)  An approximate, overall market background of funds secured by UK SMEs in 2015

B)  The range of funding opportunities available to SMEs

C)  Concerns for SMEs to be aware of when raising funds to grow

D)  Insights on successful equity crowdfunding

A) Overall market background

Best Funding Solutions for SMEsMatt Adey of the British Business Bank presented an overview of the funding landscape, the trends and latest figures available on financing SMEs in the UK.

Many small and medium size business owners, particularly in early days, prefer to bootstrap their way through rather than commit themselves to any obligations to third party finance providers. The extent of using someone else’s money may be restricted to existing bank account overdraft facilities or credit cards – which are already in place and immediately usable click resources.

61% of SME owners that do go further use just one source of external finance and in most cases that is their bank. Bank lending to SMEs is recovering, said Matt Adey, despite the continuing groundswell of media comment to the contrary. What clouds the picture is that high street banks are cutting overdraft facilities, according to Bank of England figures, whilst at the same time making more funding available through loans.

Awareness of other sources of finance is growing, as shown by research conducted for British Business Bank. Almost half of UK SME owners were aware of crowdfunding as a source of finance when the research was carried out in October 2015.

B) The range of funding opportunities available

    1. Asset-based lending
      This is effectively peer-to-peer pawnbroking, securing short-term loans against assets provided as security, as explained by Richard Luxmore of Funding Secure. No business plan or cashflow projections required, just an asset the lender will keep if you don’t make the repayments.
    2. Stock market flotation
      Companies in the EU can be as large as up to 250 employees and a turnover of €50m and still be an SME. Nick Parker, FD of newly floated Yu Energy took delegates through his recent personal experience. Yu Energy floated on AIM in March 2016 based on a turnover of £3.9m the previous year.
    3. Bank loan
      The biggest source of SME funding and on the rise, explained by Ian Warren, Senior Lending Manager at NatWest Bank. Total bank lending is increasing, though to some people it doesn’t seem so because overdrafts for SMEs are being cut.
    4. Peer-to-peer lending
      Best Funding Solutions for SMEsThis sector was represented by Jasper Ehrhardt, MD of Funding Knight, and Maria Samayoa, Production Manager at rebuildingsociety.com. SMEs generally have to show a minimum two year trading history.
    5. Equity crowdfunding
      Best Funding Solutions for SMEsThis sector was represented by two platforms: Frank Webster, Campaigns Director at Seedrs and James Sore (pictured), Chief Investment Office at SyndicateRoom. They both stressed that crowdfunding is no easier way of raising money than any other method. The sector has brought opportunities back to the general public to make direct investments in businesses. It is highly regulated, though investors still have to take responsibility for their decisions and conduct due diligence.
    6. European Union
      Chris Farmakis, EC Funding Manager at GLE Group, explained that through the Enterprise Europe Network they can provide EU funding for “highly innovative SMEs with a clear commercial ambition and a potential for high growth and internationalisation.
    7. Pension-led funding
      Best Funding Solutions for SMEsAnthony Carty of Clifton Asset Management pointed out that corporate pension funds are mainly invested in equities, in companies. So why not invest your own pension in your own company? They verify that it makes sense, to the extent that just 1-in-5 applications are authorised. This process can take three months. If you make it, you can get the government benefits from putting money in your pension, and then put it to work for your business. “It’s like having your cake and eating it,” said Anthony.
    8. Invoice discounting
      Explained by Helen Mackenzie of Platform Black. You can get a high proportion of an invoice’s value very quickly rather than wait for however long it’s going to take to get paid the normal way. Obviously a business has to be trading to have some invoices, so it doesn’t help startups. Platform Black particularly want to work with businesses over two years old with a minimum £500,000 turnover.

C) Concerns to be aware of when seeking funds to grow

  1. Your personal and business credit rating.
    Martin Mitchell and Jamie Allan of Experian highlighted the importance of making your credit score attractive to investors. This included checking for unknown County Court Judgements against an individual or their business. Simple things like paying bills on time improves a credit score. Click here for further information on access to monthly or annual reports.
  2. Intellectual property protection and ownership.
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEsSeeking investment involves telling your secrets, advised Clive Halperin of GSC Solicitors. Make sure what you tell people can’t be copied or stolen. There are trademarks, copyrights, patents and design rights. Make sure you understand the differences and use the most relevant one(s). Also, investors will not be keen if the business does not own its own IP. So don’t try to be clever and own it separately somewhere else.
  3. Shareholders agreements.
    This was also covered by Clive Halperin of GSC Solicitors. Shareholder agreements have to look to the future, not just reflect the present. Give yourself room to manoeuvre if a business partner stops pulling their weight. Allow for death, incapacity and for simply wanting to do something else instead. Consider all circumstances of share transfers, issuing new shares, restrictive covenants, deadlock resolution procedures, and more.
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEsAnd as Bill Morrow, CEO of Angels Den later added: “If you sign anything [i.e. a shareholders’ agreement] and you don’t know what the likes of ‘tag and drag clauses’ are then you will not survive.” Don’t totally rely on advisers, make sure you actually understand it all.
  4. Secure EIS and SEIS tax advantages for investors.
    Founder and CEO of P2P lender Startup Funding Club, Stephen Page, explained the value of these tax break schemes for investors. Business seeking investment should be ready in advance, particularly if the end of the tax year is looming.

D) Insights on successful equity crowdfunding

  1. It requires and dedication time to identify, locate and get in front of enough potential investors to find the one(s) who will back your business.
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEs
    Frank Webster, Campaigns Director at Seedrs (pictured) said: “To raise money, get out there and talk about it [your business]. To potential investors there is nothing special about your business. They’ve heard it all before. So share it.” Or as Paul Grant of The Funding Game put it: “You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.” He reckoned that on average it takes 50 approaches to find an investor.
  2. Share your idea, don’t hold back, and don’t expect people to sign an NDA before you tell them about your business idea.
    To reinforce what Frank Webster of Seedrs said, Stephen Page, founder and CEO of Startup Funding Club said: “I’m not going to sign over a thousand NDAs a year. I know what we talk about is confidential. Investors aren’t going to steal ideas, it’s not what they do.”
  3. When you do find a potential investor who shows interest, don’t rush things.
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEsDon’t immediately give a potential backer too much information. No one is going to stop what he or she is doing to read your 25-page business plan e-mail attachment on the strength of a brief conversation you had the previous day. “Investors have to be wooed,” claimed Roderick Beer of the UK Business Angels Association. “Don’t ask to marry them on the first date,” advised Paul Grant (in picture). Personally, I’d say don’t make yourself sound desperate as it can put people off.
  4. You need a team
    Investors will be wary of a one-man band, no matter how much of a genius you think you are. All the people from Seedrs, SyndicateRoom, Angels Den, Funding Knight, Invesdor and Startup Funding Club supported this point.
  5. Don’t rely on your Business Plan
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEs
    Investors will want to know you have prepared one, but as to how accurate a plan for a startup can ever be is acknowledged as a mystery. What’s more important, said Stephen Page of Startup Funding Club (pictured), is knowing what your cash flow is going to be like, and how long it will be before you need to raise more funds. And as the person who has had the great idea for your business, if you can’t write your own business plan you will be dead in the water, said Bill Morrow of Angels Den.
  6. A mentor can be more important than money.
    Money can be raised later, because maybe what’s needed first is a mentor with experience and contacts in the business sector you want to operate in. Jonathan Pfahl, Founder of Rockstar Hub International said they can effect introductions, and Bill Morrow of Angels Den said they even train their investors on to how to be better mentors. That’s why, he claimed, 94% of the companies that have raised funds through Angels Den remain trading.

If you are considering a crowdfunding project, whether equity or donations-for-rewards, I am an independent crowdfunding adviser with a marketing rather than a financial background. Please contact me about anything to do with identifying and building your own crowd of backers, and underpinning your crowdfunding project with an effective marketing campaign to get noticed and deliver results.

Clive Reffell, Comanche Communications and Marketing

Day One of a global crowdsourcing conference in London focussed on crowdfunding

On April 12 the historic Regent Street Cinema in London witnessed the first full day of the 2016 Crowdsourcing Week Global Conference which focussed on crowdfunding. Here is a recap of the day, writes independent crowdfunding adviser Clive Reffell.

Crowdfunding within crowdsourcing
Conference organiser Epi Ludvik Nekaj of Crowdsourcing Week and the first speakers of the day set the scene. Affordable, mass communication technology enables Epihigh levels of personal connection and interactivity. This has caused a clear disruption to previously accepted ways of appreciating what’s around us and how we access what we want or need. Through C2C networking we can increasingly find what we want without having to go to an established B2C provider – whether it’s goods, services, entertainment or information. And not only are we beginning to increasingly appreciate that the planet’s resources are finite and at risk, but also change our behaviour to reflect this.

A modern Old World generation is happy to have access to what it wants or needs without the proviso of personal ownership. Hence the ‘sharing economy’. Accommodation and travel are the largest sectors of the sharing economy. We share spare bedrooms on Airbnb – an organisation that after just four years has access to more rooms than Hilton Hotels – and empty seats in our cars through Zipcar, LiftShare and BlaBlaCar. And through equity and loan crowdfunding people with adequate disposable incomes are willing to invest in or lend it directly to others who want a chance to create their own business and realise their personal potential.

Panel session: "Can banks afford to ignore crowdfunding?"
Panel session: “Can banks afford to ignore crowdfunding?”

Crowdfunding and banking
In the meantime, traditional sources of business funding from banks that are no longer perceived as trustworthy are increasingly restricted by regulation and compliance. Tech entrepreneurs in their 20s are developing financial tools that banking C-Suite bosses don’t even understand, let alone have the vision to steer their organisations to a future where they may embrace some of them.

Emily Mackay, CrowdsurferSo the supply of funding for startups and SMEs continues to shift. Crowdfunding supported the launch of over 4,000 UK businesses in 2015, said Emily Mackay, CEO of Crowdsurfer.

Crowdfunding data
The demand from entrepreneurs for better crowdfunding information to increase their chances of success has led to a raft of companies collecting, analysing and providing data on the crowdfunding industry. As well as Emily Mackay of Crowdsurfer, Barry James of The Crowdfunding Centre  and Modwenna Rees-Mogg of Crowdrating were also on stage during the day.

Crowdfunding platforms
Crowdsurfer estimates there are almost 1,800 crowdfunding platforms around the world. Between them they offer opportunities for backers to support businesses in a wide range of industry sectors, and for platforms such as Ethex to specifically provide investors with ethically sound opportunities. The site allows people to “invest in businesses that are changing the world for the better,” said Sarah Flood, and it is the top social investment platform in Europe with over £30m invested so far.

Equity crowdfunding platforms were represented by CEO Goncalo de Vasconcelos of SyndicateRoom. To him, the most important aspect is not the money that crowdfunding pulls in but how much is going to be paid out to investors. If the source of the money dries up because investors get disappointed or short-changed then it’s all over for everyone. His own platform reassures investors with a stringent selection of projects they host so that only two out of 77 projects funded on SyndicateRoom have so far ceased trading. The average failure rate among all new businesses is more like 90%.

Fanuel Dewever, Crowd AngelsWith a twist on donations crowdfunding for money, Fanuel Dewever’s Belgian platform Crowd Angels enables projects to directly ask for the goods, services and human resources they require. He identified the biggest reason for projects failing is the lack of a clear demonstrable need for what’s being asked for that will allow backers to feel they have made a contribution to something significant. Issues such as easing a short-term cash flow problem are certainly important to small business owners but it does not get backers queuing up to part with their money.

Who uses crowdfunding?
Fr Frank Haydru of The VaticanThe companies that use crowdfunding are also increasingly diverse. Through the launch of their app Patrum even the Vatican uses crowdfunding to raise money to restore its historic architecture and many of its art treasures, and we heard from Father Mark Haydu (above left) on how this 2,000 year old business approached and handles it.

Christian Smith, TrackRChristian Johan Smith of the California-based TrackR raised over $2m on Indiegogo in exchange for their tracking devices for people to trace and retrieve lost, stolen or simply misplaced items.

Eric Partaker, Chilango_01Eric Partaker of Mexican food restaurant chain Chilango has raised a total of £5.5m, first through a mini-bond that offered interest repayments of 8% p.a. and raised £2.1m and then through an equity round that raised £3.4m. But it wasn’t plain sailing. After the success of their first two outlets the third and fourth ones bombed – at one stage the company was seriously close to going under.

It isn’t easy
Crowdfunding may sound easy when large figures like these are bandied around, though everyone involved with the conference agreed that successful crowdfunding requires thorough preparation and extremely hard work. It isn’t charity, it certainly isn’t easy money, and about 3 in 4 projects fail to reach their target funding level.

If you want to improve your chances of success with the benefit of some professional marketing input, I am an independent crowdfunding adviser. Click here to e-mail me or here to see my website for Comanche Communications & Marketing.

Four live crowdfunding pitches received a guarded response

By independent crowdfunding adviser Clive Reffell.

Live crowdfunding events give entrepreneurs valuable opportunities to deliver their pitches and receive insightful feedback from an interested audience.

DSC_1361An enterprising accountant, Irfan Khalil, has formed a ‘Finance for Startups’ group of over 4,000 people who are interested in equity crowdfunding. Most fall in to one of these four categories:

  • they want to trade some equity for a cash investment in their business,
  • they are looking for investment opportunities,
  • they are at an early stage of considering using equity crowdfunding,
  • or like me they provide professional services that are useful to equity crowdfunders.

Irfan organises monthly meetings at a variety of London venues. There are slots for four or five entrepreneurs to pitch their business investment opportunity in just five minutes to four or five panellists. The panellists have five minutes to ask questions, and then a final five minutes to provide feedback on what they like, what they consider ought to be better thought through, and so on.

At the end of these ‘formal’ proceedings there is then about 45 minutes of networking for everyone there to exchange ideas, experiences and contacts. Each event has a very collaborative feel to it.

February’s event was in Camden. Four entrepreneurs pitched their opportunity to five panellists in front of over a hundred people.

The panel consisted of (r to l):

DSC_1378

  1. Peter Richards, a partner in Venture Pilot, which provides technology organisations with a scalable structure for growth;
  2. Amarjeet Hans, Director of Crystal Clear Business Consultants Ltd;
  3. Raimonda Junkanaite, an entrepreneur and early-stage business adviser who is setting up CrowdVelocity, a crowdfunding-for-donations platform;
  4. John Elsdon, Chairman of the management consultancy Allied Powers;
  5. Akeem Famuyiwa, an intellectual property specialist and an entrepreneur with a background in pharmaceutical science.

The four entrepreneurs and the opportunities they pitched to the panel and the audience were as follows.

DSC_1369.James Grant, founder of Weavee.co.uk. James is creating an app that connects job vacancies, recruiters and candidates seeking work. This is a competitive area, I have seen several crowdfunding pitches in the last few months based on apps for the job placement market. James was seeking £150,000 and believed this would be the only round of investment required before he started making a profit in the back half of Year One – subject to reaching a minimal critical mass of 10,000 registered job seekers and 100 recruitment consultants. Five job agencies are currently trialling the technology. .James had pitched three months before and the panellists agreed his pitch was getting tighter and he was coming across as more confident.

DSC_1371Next up was Julian Tremaud, founder and CEO of Fanteamz.co. “86% of viewers skip TV ads” he declared, as a way to start explaining that he will provide organisations with an opportunity to hire teams of brand ambassadors to deliver positive word-of-mouth campaigns. He has Spanish partners and they already have successful case histories from South America, particularly in the music concert and festival sector. Julian is seeking £250,000 for 20% equity, and forecasts £21m profit by the end of Year Three.

The panel advised Julian to be better able to explain how the company valuation figure was reached. Another suggestion was try a round of donations crowdfunding before an equity deal.

DSC_1373Third pitch was from James Parker from Instaload. One third of all US truck mileage is with empty vehicles. Freight bookings go through expensive brokers, often at short notice that leaves the drivers stuck with no loads to pick up at their destination to then take on to somewhere else. The growers and manufacturers with goods to shift sometimes never meet or speak to the truckers who deliver their products. To address these factors, Instaload are developing an app that will provide a direct interface between the people with products that need transporting with the smaller truck companies that carry about 20% of the USA’s road freight. This 20% market share was valued at an estimated $114bn in 2014. James was seeking £50,000 to complete the app development in exchange for 10% equity.

The panel suggested it might be too difficult to raise the finance in the UK if it was going to be invested in the US. Investors would not have market knowledge to make a confident decision and generous UK tax breaks would not be available to them. There might also be heavy industry regulation that protected the brokers’ position. Later in the informal discussion it was suggested that potential investors might not believe it credible that they could get a 10% stake in a company targeting a $114bn market for just £50,000.

DSC_1377The final pitch of the evening was given by Borja Goyarrola, director of Gobe! Borja hopes Gobe! will become a travel/lifestyle app populated with content provided by users about their own personal favourite locations and places to go. The sharing of such local knowledge and tips would allow travellers and visitors to experience more of the living contemporary culture of a city rather than look at iconic monuments and exhibits that celebrate past achievements. Borja was a last minute addition to the roster and it was understandable he did not have a presentation available alongside his demo video.

Borja wanted £100,000 to finish developing the app and to pay for some digital and social media marketing. The panel suggested he should target some low-scale income from advertising before he pins his hopes too much on a big spending global advertiser such as Unilever stepping in to support the fledgling Gobe! I know from experience that fmcg giants and their advertising advisers can be rather conservative when faced with new marketing channels and opportunities.

Whilst equity crowdfunding is clearly about raising finance, research shows that more crowdfunding project creators have difficulties with marketing issues than anything else.

What crowdfund creators find difficultI have over 30 years’ experience in various results-focussed marketing roles and have concentrated on crowdfunding since 2014. I’m happy to meet for initial consultations free of charge. How things develop after that depends on the scale and scope of your aims and the extent of your marketing activity so far.

Clive Reffell, founder of Comanche Communications & Marketing and an independent crowdfunding adviser: E [email protected] and Mob 07788 784373.