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Does Marketing need marketing to startups and SMEs?

Does Marketing need marketing to startups and SMEs?
At #IoTUKInvestorDay on July 17 I heard 10 tech startup entrepreneurs with a business related to The Internet Of Things pitching to raise in most cases hundreds of thousands of pounds. Several wanted to make a transformational step by setting up Sales & Marketing teams and start B2C marketing. Sounded like some scaleup work opportunities for nimble marketing professionals.

Does Marketing need marketing to startups and SMEs?

Although it’s hard to be certain in a quick-fire series of five minute pitches, a repeated inference to the potential investors in the audience seemed – to me – to be “we’ve done the hard yards getting this far with our invention/discovery/vision/app/idea, and now all we need to scaleup is [your] money to pay for some marketing, then sales will inevitably follow, and we’ll all be sharing the rewards.”

The marketing function with its complexities and uncertainties was mentioned almost as an afterthought, even though it would be the untested new element in the mix to take some of these companies on a transformational step to the next stage of their development. One speaker had indeed used up his allotted time without getting to what a large chunk of the money he was raising was going to be used for – so he settled for an almost dismissive “marketing and all that jazz.” This shows little regard for the skills and expertise required to organise and execute effectively an organisation’s marketing and contribute to achieving its overall business goals. It thus also underestimates a good marketer’s value to an organisation.

Should the marketing profession, perhaps through its representative bodies like The Marketing Society and IDM (Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing) market the business discipline of Marketing to the entrepreneurial, startup, SME sectors?

If you are an entrepreneur with a business you want to either startup or scaleup and would like to understand more about benefits and opportunities provided by reward, equity or debt crowdfunding then please get in touch, [email protected]. I am an independent crowdfunding adviser, not affiliated to any particular platforms. I have over 30 years of varied marketing experience and have specialised in crowdfunding for the last three – making me almost an industry veteran!

How to have more by owning less

How to have more by owning less

Mass digital connectivity and the personal tools that have enabled the sharing economy to flourish have created a climate of transformational change in which many business sectors have been disrupted almost beyond recognition.

Many retail brand names have virtually disappeared from urban high streets as book, record and camera shops are largely bygone relics of the age when shopping experiences were concentrated there. Renting videos and DVDs in person, going to a bank, saving up to buy a car and searching for affordable hotels to stay in are actions that are either obsolete or in decline now that we can go online to use LoveFilm, Netflix, Spotify, banking services, Uber, Airbnb and many other time saving, on-demand and improved value services that a myriad of entrepreneurs want to offer us.

Or if we are among the people with a spare room, attic space or a car parking space to rent out, or even largely unused clothes and furniture, then we can earn some money by offering them for hire to people we are matched up with online. A surplus of personal residential space (a big house!) and a wardrobe of designer label clothing are still regarded by many people as status symbols, helping them feel comfortably higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Now they are loaned out to strangers.

In crowdfunding – the ‘alternative finance’ area in which I operate as an independent crowdfunding adviser, mentor and personal trainer – those with sufficient disposable income are prepared to support startup businesses launched by people who in some cases they have never even met, either through ordering products that can be at still a prototype stage or for equity in a company they like the look of but which provides no guarantee of successfully providing a return on investment.

So it’s not just a case of technology and connectivity making it easier to behave the same way that we did before. There has been a well-documented and fundamental shift of attitudes towards more emphasis and value on what we can do with money that makes us feel good about ourselves, rather than primarily what we can buy and keep to ourselves to support and project our self-esteem.

Two news items I recently came across in the crowdsourcing/sharing economy heartland of cars and accommodation brought this home to me.

How to have more by owning lessUber commissioned some research among a sample of 2,000 Londoners. 34% of Londoners used an app to book a car in the last 12 months, rising to over 55% of 16-34 year olds. 22% of current car owners would consider giving up their vehicle if they could even more easily get a car on demand by app. 13% of adult Londoners under 30 don’t have a driving licence and have no intention of getting one. London may well not be typical of the whole UK, though the trends appear deeply entrenched among a population that is bigger than that of countries such as Austria, Denmark or Hungary.

While working for a client in the construction sector I read about planning permission approval for a 19-storey tower block in Stratford, London, the main venue for the 2012 Olympic Games. This would be a residential tower block with a difference. Personal space in the 250 units will be scaled down to a minimum that can still satisfy privacy and security issues, to the point of each unit having a “kitchenette” without some of the supposed essential white goods we rely on. The trade-off for limited personal space is that residents will have access to a comprehensive range of communal facilities that not so long ago were the lifestyle trappings of only the better-off. These include a gym, cinema, roof terrace, sauna and hot tubs, library and a food market. It will open late 2018 or early 2019 and rooms will start from £230 a week including utility bills, council tax, wifi, cleaning and gym access

I have spoken with people from several large property developers recently. Planning and building design trends include wider corridors to make it easier to more regularly bring furniture in and out depending on whether a multi-purpose spare room is going to need a hired bed for friends to stay over, or a borrowed table and chairs to invite guests to dinner. In response to recent public consultations, residential projects at planning stages are also often reducing the amount of car parking space to provide more provision for safe and secure storage of bicycles.

These signs of largely Millennial-influenced lifestyle changes may not be for everyone, though they are certainly more than passing fads. This includes using more money, perhaps through supporting crowdfunding projects, to feel good by helping others achieve a personal ambition rather than pursuing a blinkered path more restricted to the acquisition of personal possessions.

If you are one of the growing number of people who seek funding to transform a personal business ambition in to a satisfying reality, then please get in touch for a free initial discussion (in person in London or via Skype) on whether some form of crowdfunding could do the job for you: [email protected], an independent crowdfunding adviser.

Top 10 US Reward and Equity Crowdfunding Platforms

Top 10 US Reward and Equity Crowdfunding Platforms

Mass digital connectivity has significantly disrupted the business investment market. Online crowdfunding enables company owners to trade equity for funds to invest in growth. Who’d have thought 10 years ago that it would be possible for business owners to raise seven-figure sums from people they didn’t know, or even have as a customer? The vital stepping stone was the sometimes massive sums raised on reward crowdfunding platforms. Except early backers are unable to invest in the companies themselves, only acquire their often innovative products.

Reward crowdfunding

  1. Kickstarter is the world’s largest reward crowdfunding platform. It was launched on April 28 2009 in New York as an alternative way to raise funding for performance arts projects and productions. Its model is to encourage low value donations from a large group of people rather than a lot of money from a few individuals.
    It quickly expanded to cover many other hobby, craft and product categories, and has raised almost $3.05bn through hosting 124,935 successful projects (the figures are updated daily by Kickstarter).
    It has an “all or nothing” policy meaning projects that fail to reach their target don’t receive any funding and the backers who made pledges don’t pay anything. Successful projects pay a 5% commission plus up to 3% transaction charges.
  1. Indiegogo actually launched first in January 2008 in San Francisco, again as an alternative way to raise funds for arts projects. Indiegogo also quickly grew to host projects in many different categories.
    A significant difference is that Indiegogo allows projects to receive the money that’s pledged even if they fail to reach target. When this happens their regular 5% commission rises to 9%, plus there are always transaction fees of approximately 3% on every project.

Top 10 US Crowdfunding Platforms (Reward and Equity)Since 1 January 2014, Indiegogo has hosted slightly more projects than Kickstarter: 231,900 vs 218,896 (as measured by crowdfundingcenter.com on May 17 2017). However,  Kickstarter has hosted significantly more that reached their target – 68,984 vs 26,272.

Based on these figures Kickstarter has an average success rate of 31.5% and Indiegogo achieves 11.3%.

These two broad scale platforms dominate the US reward crowdfunding market and to have a point of difference the next largest platforms focus on specialist business sectors.

  1. PledgeMusic is third placed behind these two giants, as measured by website traffic. It launched in August 2009, aiming to do for the music industry what Indiegogo and Kickstarter were doing at the time for other arts genres. It is used by all types of people from hopeful wannabes to established performers with an existing fanbase.
    It operates like Kickstarter on an “all or nothing” basis for people raising money to complete a project like record an album, and on a “keep what you raise” basis when people use it as a sales channel for any finished content that can be downloaded. It charges a flat and all-inclusive 15% commission on “sales” and fundraising projects that hit or exceed target. This looks expensive though they claim a success rate of over 90% for the average 100 projects they carry per month.
    The platform operates globally by accepting payments through credit cards and Paypal.
  1. Seed&Spark is an industry specific crowdfunding platform for the tv and film industry and is based in Los Angeles. It launched in December 2012 and within an overall aim to build an independent film community it provides filmmakers with a reward-based crowdfunding facility. They claim a 75% success rate.
    Projects must reach a minimum 80% of target to keep the money pledged by backers. Then upon completion of a film, any project that also gathered over 500 backers is automatically eligible for distribution through Seed&Spark and their partners including all major cable and digital platforms such as iTunes, Comcast, Verizon, Netflix, and Hulu.
    Seed&Spark charges a 5% fee on successful projects, though offers project backers the opportunity to add this to their pledge. Many choose to do this and on average the crowdfunding projects themselves pay just 1.9% of funds raised to the platform.
  1. Barnraiser is a platform for artisan food producers, small farmers and exponents of sustainable, healthier living. It encourages its community of over 30,000 like-minded people to crowdsource advice and contacts from each other, and also provides a rewards crowdfunding facility they claim has a 65% success rate.
    It launched in 2014 and 187 projects have been successful. The largest amount raised was $93,190.
    Successful projects are charged a 5% fee based on the amount raised plus payment processing fees of 3-5%. If funding isn’t successful there are no fees.

Equity crowdfunding
Title III of the JOBS Act came in to effect in May 2016 and extended online equity crowdfunding opportunities to Americans earning under $200,000 per year, though included limits on the amounts that could be invested. New platforms were launched to provide a full online equity crowdfunding facility to this wider market, whereas the previous ones serving higher net worth individuals (“accredited investors”) required transactions to be made offline.

The Wefunder platform tracks progress of this new retail equity crowdfunding sector based on mandatory Form CU filings on the SEC’s EDGAR database. Since May 16 2016 to May 23 2017, just over $35.8m has been raised through Regulation Crowdfunding offerings.

Top 10 US Crowdfunding Platforms (Reward and Equity)

  1. Wefunder is the early market leader and it launched in 2012. The minimum investment size is $100, and Wefunder has created internal Investor Clubs in order that part-time investors in its network can access the wisdom and leadership of more experienced and professional investors and combine their investments with them on equal terms.
    Wefunder members have provided 55% of all online equity crowdfunding investments through Regulation Crowdfunding in the first 12 months of online equity investment trading being open to non-accredited investors.
  2. Investments made through StartEngine, which is based in LA and launched in June 2015, represent nearly 22% of the Regulation Crowdfunding total raised so far, according to SEC figures. StartEngine also raised $17m from 6,600 investors under Regulation A+ for its client Elio Motors.
  3. In 2016 Indiegogo ventured into equity crowdfunding in partnership with Microventures to launch a platform called First Democracy VC. To date it has accounted for 9% of the sector’s total $35.5m.
  4. NextSeed is based in Houston and its investor network has invested $2.8m in equities, 8% so far of the combined Regulation Crowdfunding. Investors can put in as little as $100 and NextSeed’s equity crowdfunding projects have ranged from as low as $25,000, typically for personal leisure/entertainment/service providers such as bars, restaurants and hairdressers.
    NextSeed also provides companies with debt facilities which contribute to their claim of having provided their clients with total funding of $3.8m.
  5. Three other platforms in this sector tie for fifth place as they have each raised in the region of $1m for clients from equity investors:
  • Republic (offers Reg CF only and investments can begin at just $10);
  • SeedInvest (which mainly focuses on non-Reg CF raises of over $1m);
  • FlashFunders (where Reg CF investments can start at $50 and they also handle Reg D raises over $1m and Reg A+ raises up to $50m).

Whilst equity crowdfunding is now at least possible to some degree for everyday Americans, and there are some equity crowdfunding platforms that at last provide the single “one stop shop” we are accustomed to in the UK, there are still some built-in restrictions that impede faster growth. These include businesses cannot use Regulation Crowdfunding to raise more than $1m (about £833,000).

If you are based in the UK and considering any form of crowdfunding to raise money for a business startup, to scaleup an existing business, or to use a crowdfunding platform as a sales channel for your products, then please get in touch if you’d like a free and confidential consultation with an independent crowdfunding adviser – which is me! Call 07788 784373 or send an email to [email protected]

How crowdfunding can turn a holiday idea in to business reality

How crowdfunding can turn a holiday idea in to business reality

Let me guide you through the inspiring journey of The Cheeky Panda, a business idea to make toilet tissue from bamboo pulp that started on a 2015 holiday in China and then used rewards crowdfunding to test product viability and financially de-risk setting up a company, plus much more. Successful equity crowdfunding completed in August 2017 has given the company founders a business valued at over £5m.

The founders of The Cheeky Panda are Chris Forbes and Julie Chen, based in Essex. In 2015 they took a holiday to China for Chris to meet Julie’s family. They couldn’t help but notice huge quantities of unused and unwanted bamboo lying around. Bamboo is a grass not a tree, and grows so fast there are three crops a year. Local communities had a requirement for only 10% of the bamboo that grew around them, and how to develop a commercial opportunity from the 90% literally left lying around became something that intrigued Chris and Julie.

How crowdfunding turned a holiday idea in to a business realityTheir eventual idea was to make tissue paper, and the first version was toilet rolls. This was a great choice, as tissue made from bamboo pulp rather than paper is stronger, softer, and naturally more hygienic. Their idea also had strong economic and ecological benefits: it would create work, benefit the local ecosystem to clear away some of the surplus bamboo being left to rot, and making tissue from bamboo produces a 65% lower carbon footprint than making it from trees or recycled paper.

Beginning the manufacturing process for a first trial quantity needed an order for a minimum viable volume, and without any distribution outlets lined up for an as yet unproven product it would have been a gamble to go ahead. Rewards crowdfunding de-risked the process.

A six week campaign on Crowdfunder in early 2016 required £10,000 of donations and pre-orders to trigger the first production run. If support didn’t reach this level there would be no obligation to fulfil any pre-orders, and it would tell them their idea wasn’t such a good one after all. And without product validation Chris and Julie would have put their entrepreneurial efforts in to other business ideas instead.

The volume of toilet tissue they would receive from China would be enough to meet the crowdfunding pre-orders – priced at just enough below the cost of premium paper products to be attractive yet provide a sufficient yield – and give Chris samples to take to potential retail stockists. This really emphasises they were using rewards crowdfunding as a stepping stone to launch a business, and not using it as an end in itself as a limited project to just make a quick and short-term return as a side issue.

Success could transform their lives, and they believed it was worth some considerable effort. While continuing with their regular jobs they put in an estimated 20 hours of work a week for four months to product research, planning and eventually execute their crowdfunding campaign. And they set aside £2,500 to make an animated video, create a website and conduct their marketing.

Their marketing strategy relied on stunts, parties and personal appearances, always wearing their photogenic Cheeky Panda hats to generate media coverage How crowdfunding turned a holiday idea in to a business realitythey amplified through their website and social media. They also courted relevant trade and professional media, and through a flexible content plan achieved coverage in Management Today and FMCG News (fmcg = fast moving consumer goods, a “must read” for anyone in the supermarket business) as well as local media in Essex, the Daily Mail and Huffington Post. I met Chris and Julie at an event at Brand Exchange, a business networking club in The City, where their distinctive headgear invited people to approach them.

My contribution of independent crowdfunding advice to their already well-advanced efforts was to suggest a corporate angle, to approach Chinese companies based in London such as Cathay Pacific airline as potential customers, and to contact the Chinese Business and Social Networking organisation, which Julie signed up to within a few days.

In reality, they had left little to chance. Chris had used his contacts and business skills to personally pre-sell their new product and gain pre-commitments to begin their crowdfunding with high impact. Strong early support creates momentum and confidence to encourage other unknown people to become involved. By just eight days in to their six week crowdfunding campaign on Crowdfunder they had hit 67% of their £10,000 target.

Their further marketing efforts closed the campaign on a high as they reached almost £13,000 of orders and donations. As a crowdfunding backer I received an e-mail with an expected delivery date of my ‘reward’ (45 rolls!), but then received a second one to say there would be a delay. It was for a very positive reason, they were changing from cheap plastic to biodegradable packaging.

This was affordable, and would be a positive note for longer-term reputation and growth, after a financial backer who had tracked their progress asked to be involved in the company. Their rewards crowdfunding with its well-planned and professionally executed marketing had also found them an angel investor.

In summary, The Cheeky Panda team invested £2,500 and lot of effort in a rewards crowdfunding project that achieved:
• Product validation from 67 backers who supported them to the tune of £12,785 of donations and pre-orders;
• A visible media profile in local and national press, general business management and specific supermarket retail media, and online in ecological and current affairs platforms;
• Stock samples for discussions with retailers and other stockists;
• An angel investor.

The Cheeky Panda range has now expanded with facial tissues, their products are available on Amazon and through a number of ‘health stores’, and I gather they are currently (as at March 2017) in negotiations with a major supermarket chain.

September 2017 update
In August The Cheeky Panda ran an equity crowdfunding campaign on the Seedrs platform. Based on a pre-crowdfunding company valuation of £4,653,000 they were seeking to raise £350,003 in exchange for 7% equity. They over-funded and reached a figure of £521,314. With this amount added to the pre-crowdfunding valuation The Cheeky Panda is now a company with a value exceeding £5million. Quite a stunning achievement given the co-founders had a business idea on a holiday just two years ago.

What do you do with inspired business ideas you have on holiday? Please share them with me, in confidence, if you’d like some independent and objective insight on using crowdfunding. Let’s assess the viability of using some form of crowdfunding – whether rewards, equity or debt – to make your dream become a reality. It could change your life for the better, like it has done for Chris and Julie at The Cheeky Panda. Drop me a line at [email protected]

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.