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“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.

 

Definite tech firm skew to live crowdfunding at StartUps2016

The ‘Show Me The Money Zone’ at the recent StartUps 2016 day for aspiring entrepreneurs saw five tech-based crowdfunding projects showcased to a panel of judges in front of a maximum capacity audience in KPMG’s Canary Wharf building.
DSC_1271_01
The event was organised by IntelligentCrowd.TV and three of the five startup companies will be included in their weekly Seed & EIS Hour show going out at 19.00 on January 28.

The top class judging panel included (l to r):
DSC_1288_01

  • Modwenna Rees-Mogg, founder and CEO of Angel News – “The intelligent and relevant news service for investors and entrepreneurs”
  • Grant Calton, partner at Ironbridge Capital Partners. Grant has spent much of his career in the music and media industries as an entrepreneur and investor and is also an active investor in the media, tech and property sectors.
  • Jenny Tooth OBE, CEO of the UK Business Angels Association, the professional trade body for angel and early stage investing.
  • Damian Wasey, Head of Sector Partnerships, KPMG Small Business Accounting
  • Julia Groves, Chair of UK CrowdFunding Association and a director of Trillion Fund – a crowdfunding platform focussed on loans to renewable energy projects.

The five pitching companies seeking funding later this year each gave very professional presentations that summarised their business idea, outlined their development plans and aims, and explained what they intended doing with the funds they wanted to raise. They had to do this within a strict time limit and then field questions from the panel. The panellists assessed each pitch to decide on a final ‘winner’ on the day.

DSC_1305_01The winner was WorkMatch, a smartphone app creating a marketplace to connect vacancies in the hospitality industry with a somewhat itinerant group of informal workers. It allows employers to run background checks, hire, pay and review staff from their smart devices. Workers can access, screen and apply for hundreds of vacancies. CEO Matthew de la Hey and COO Alexander Hanson-Smith presented.

DSC_1329_01Close second was BackTracker. CEO Henry Latham and co-founder Geordie Palmer pitched their plan for an online social guide for backpackers. Backpackers have a different mindset and set of criteria to holidaymakers and this app enables them to find other people’s tips and to pass on their own.

In the order that they presented, the other three startups were:
DSC_1297_01FindEx, a currency exchange marketplace on a powerful mobile app that enables users to locate the most competitive currency exchange rates and provides FX retailers with a cloud-based platform on which they can encourage business. It was pitched by CEO Ricky Lee.

DSC_1317_01The Virtual Insight team of CTD Thomas Clayton and CEO Dr Cyril Godart presented their virtual reality means of learning to play the piano from a private tutor to a point of experiencing performing any one of hundreds of compositions to a ‘live audience’. The audience had been filmed listening to a maestro performing each piece of music to ensure genuine reactions and appreciation. In time this could be expanded to include other instruments.

DSC_1356_01Final pitch was Owlstand, an online exhibition and gallery platform for the display, sale and purchase of art. Art is currently displayed online the same way as products on supermarket shelves, said CEO Stephen Yang. When questioned, he admitted it was tricky to find sellers before there were any buyers and buyers without any sellers first committed to the site. His solution had the judges and the audience in fits of laughter: “Well, you just gotta fake it ‘til you make it.”

Panel laughing
The judging panel appreciated Stephen Yang’s candour: “you gotta fake it ’til you make it.”

The IntelligentCrowd.TV website show on January 28 will feature WorkMatch, Virtual Insight and Owlstand.

If you want independent crowdfunding advice to develop your own business idea from a dream to reality then contact me, Clive Reffell, at [email protected] or on 07788 784373. You can follow me on Twitter @Cliveref.

Plenty for crowdfunders at London’s ‘The Business Show 2015’

The Business Show 2015 on December 3 and 4 in London provided great opportunities for aspiring crowdfunders to check out several aspects of what’s involved.

Grabble imageOn the topic of business start-ups, Daniel Murray spoke about raising £2m to launch online fashion shop Grabble without previous fundraising experience, and some of the important lessons he learned along the way. Like no matter how clever he thought he’d been in his advertising job he quickly realised that he knew next to nothing about running a business, and that there was possibly something to learn from everyone he met. This included leaving every meeting with the name of at least one person who might be able to help him.

Also on the subject of start-ups, Nidhima Kohli, founder of online beauty products site My Beauty Matches, talked about how she built from nothing a community of 85,000 people. Big lessons from her also included the personal sacrifice necessary to build a successful business, which involved quitting her job, renting out her flat and moving back in with her parents. Nidhima also strongly recommended working with students hungry for work experience rather than burning money using agency advisers

Bill MorrowThree different aspects of crowdfunding were represented at the show. Bill Morrow, CEO of Angels Den, explained that angel investors are often looking for fun reasons to get out of bed in the morning rather than focussing exclusively on their return on investment. Expect mentoring involvement from Angels Den investors, know how much money you need and what you are going to do with it so that you give a good pitch, and also show some good social skills when you pitch to them so that investors want to work with you on a personal basis.

A different ‘money only’ option is provided by the investment loan platform Funding Knight. Chief Exec Graham Marshall explained it matches multiple lenders – not investors – with borrowers. This means lenders are able to diversify their investment loan across numerous businesses, and they can also benefit from a secondary market to trade investments as they have fixed, known returns. And the people seeking investment can retain their equity.

James Chalk, CrowdcubeIn between these two alternatives is Crowdcube, the world’s largest equity crowdfunding platform with 52% of the UK market. Head of Equity James Chalk explained that earliest investors in equity crowdfund projects are often quite small-scale, though when enough of them have created momentum behind a crowdfund project it is not uncommon for serious high net worth individuals to then step in with significant investments in which they may want to take an active interest. 19% of Crowdcube’s registered investors earn over £200k p.a., and HNWIs have been responsible for 59% of all the money invested through Crowdcube since it started in 2011.

Other important issues for crowdfunders included protection of Intellectual Property through copyright, registration and use of trade marks. This is all very valid if you’re going to essentially post a business plan online for people to decide whether or not to invest in you and your idea.

There were further lessons for deciding on items to offer as crowdfunding perks from a branded merchandise supplier. Thank about what’s memorable and relevant, allows good quality at an affordable price, is going to be useful to people and will last long enough.

Acquiring contacts and driving enough of the right types of people to an online crowdfund project is the core basis of success or failure, and the most popular seminars were any that offered to explain how to put together an effective social media strategy. Relevant presenters included Kristian Downer of DowSocial.

Alastair CookFinally, it’s well known that anyone trying to put together and run a crowdfunding project on their own has the odds stacked against them. A team of people almost always gets better results. And Alastair Cook, captain of the England cricket team, made an appearance to draw some parallels between leading teams in business and in sport. When things get tough – and inevitably at some stage of crowdfunding they will – believe in yourself as a leader and dig-in rather than pack it in. And when your team is under pressure it’s vital that everyone keeps putting in their fair share of contribution, no ifs, no buts, no excuses or cop-outs.

Picture-of-CliveThis collection of issues to consider shows how complex putting together and running a crowdfunding project can be. If you think you could benefit from independent crowdfunding advice, whether for equity or donations-for-rewards crowdfunding, then please get in touch: [email protected].

Equity crowdfunding hopefuls and ten tips from successes

This month I enjoyed a week in which week I met nine entrepreneurs at different ends of the equity crowdfunding spectrum. Six were seeking investors, three were sharing tips on having achieved successful results. The willingness to share experiences and support each other is a very positive characteristic of the crowdfunding sector that helped me decide to specialise as an independent crowdfunding adviser. And those tips apply just as much to donations-for-rewards crowdfunding as equity projects.

Investors and business development advisers critique crowdfunding hopefuls
Investors and business development advisers critique crowdfunding hopefuls

The six entrepreneurs ready to trade equity for investment presented to a panel of four advisers and an audience of over a hundred people gathered in Whitechapel, London E1. The audience included several potential investors plus other people who were planning how to conduct their own equity crowdfunding to launch or develop their businesses.

The meeting with the successful users of crowdfunding was organised by equity platform Seedrs and held in a function room at Camden Market, London NW1.

The Hopefuls
Here is a brief summary of the six companies and the diverse business sectors they operate in.

In Your StrideIn Your Stride, founded by Shaun Lancaster, is a smart adaptive coaching platform. It matches runners’ individual abilities with a database of over 20,000 events to create a custom training plan that adapts with progress. It is compatible with a range of wearable technology for easy use. It is available through a personal subscription, and also supported by charities that stand to receive more sponsorship income if people running in events on their behalf achieve better results. In Your Stride has exceeded its £100,000 target on Crowdcube for a 15.8% stake in the business.

Unis Learning provides HR departments with the means to test the aptitude of potential employees and thus place them in the most productive roles compatible with their inherent talents as well as academic qualifications. They wanted £150,000 for 20% and would seek further investment two years on.

Waleed Shihadah, Commercial Director at Perks LoyaltyLeeds-based Perks Loyalty, represented by Commercial Director Whaleed Shihadah, enables local traders to co-operate and utilise electronic customer loyalty cards. It empowers the traders with affordable technology to build and maintain business traffic through customer tracking and dynamic and adaptable benefits. Perks Loyalty is currently seeking £130,000 through Crowdcube for 8% of the company. One of the panellists thought they weren’t seeking enough to establish themselves firmly in their competitive marketplace.

Two bespoke high-end men’s tailoring companies, Daniel & Lade and Edit Suits Co., utilise the benefits of electronic 3D imaging and laser cutting to create quality clothing at a fraction of the cost of traditional suppliers. Both want extra money fast to develop ahead of the me-too competition in this obviously highly competitive business sector.

Colony is a new management software tool to manage increasing numbers of staff working remotely. It helps new office-based companies set up without the need for as much office space as traditional businesses, if any at all. They want £450,000 for 20% and in 12 months they will be seeking further investment.

What all six have in common is harnessing the latest IT, developing its use to provide tangible customer benefits, and trying to raise funding to move faster than inherently slower existing competitors tied to older methods and perhaps dated software. If you have a business idea along these lines then perhaps you’d like to get in touch with me and we can explore the opportunities and benefits that equity crowdfunding could deliver for you.

The successes
The three successful equity crowdfunding users had all used the Seedrs platform.

  • Shaken Cocktails raised £118,690 for 9.43% equity in March 2015
  • Incubus is a business incubation service for start-ups provided on a converted double-decker bus. They raised £53,770 for a 15.95% stake in July 2014
  • Brother Cycles make bike frames and builds custom bicycles for their customers. They raised £125,880 for a 16.22% stake in the business in July 2015

Ten tips the three companies offered.

  1. Thorough planning and preparation is vital. Decide on who (the types of people) you want to tell about your offer, create in advance what you’re going to tell them (the content), and plan when to tell them (don’t overload demands on your own time by telling everyone all at once, stagger it).
  2. Examine projects by other equity crowdfunding users in your business sector. Check for opportunities through your platform provider to identify and contact backers with a relevant investment history.
  3. Build your own networks of relevant people for as long as possible before going live. Every person you have ever met is a potential investor! This crowd-building includes making professional media contacts to ensure a good response to press releases in your local area and sent to relevant trade/business sectors.
  4. Pre-sell to your closest contacts and supporters so that you can count on at least 30% of the funding arriving in the first few days. This gives the project vital momentum and reassures other would-be investors.
  5. Ensure you and your support team have adequate social media skills, or have a budget to access some.
  6. Crowdfunding can be a fulltime role. Organise your day job, maybe by taking on temporary support, so you have the time to answer questions, send out information, and personally meet prospective backers. Don’t forget – people invest in people, get out and meet some investors.
  7. Set weekly targets to monitor progress and check that you are doing enough, and establish what’s working well and what isn’t.
  8. Make it easy for investors to tell their own networks about your investment opportunity, provide them with content.
  9. Be flexible to accommodate other opportunities that arise, such as offers of retail distribution.
  10. Invest some time on your new backers because they could turn in to important brand ambassadors for your business.

In short, you will need soft ‘people skills’ to engage with potential investors; an ability to segment audiences and identify key prospects; skills to harness the power of the written word; social media skills; an easy to deliver and understand SMART business plan (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timetabled); a budget to bring in any of these skills and any other requirements as necessary (such as video production, temporary office support staff); a campaign plan with KPIs; a campaign manager to oversee everything if you don’t have the time. These requirements are just as important for donations-for-rewards projects.

Picture-of-CliveOr contact me, an independent crowdfunding adviser, at [email protected] or on 07788 784373.

Crowdfinders Live, a top all day crowdfunding conference

Over 400 people booked their place at Crowdfinders Live (#CFLive) held in London on 15 October 2015. A blend of personal and company investors, entrepreneurs seeking funding and crowdfund platform providers spent the day networking and hearing industry updates, panel discussions of topical issues and some live pitches from companies seeking equity funding. This is not a summary of the whole day, it’s selected items that resonated most with me personally.

Will Broome, a respected figure in the events and hospitality industry and creator of My tweet behind a panel sessionlondonlaunch.com in 2001, had the role of MC. In his first of several entertaining sessions at the microphone he reckoned that having a good idea made up about 1% of a successful crowdfund project – 99% being hard work! This was a comment I used in one of several tweets during the day (@Cliveref) which were shown on the big screen behind the speakers and panellists.

Nicola Horlick, CEO of Money&Co, a person-to-business lending platform, was the first speaker. Banks are generally still not lending to SMEs, in part due to recent rules on bank capital requirements to support their amounts on loan. So there is a demand for business loans and through its high net worth clients who are looking for good investment returns there is a source of funds available through Money&Co. There is the risk of business failures among start-ups, though the latest average gross annual yield for Money&Co investors is 9.1%. For those of us of more modest means, a new Innovative Finance ISA will allow individuals to invest up to £15,000 a year in loans to small businesses in a tax-free wrapper.

Next speaker was Christian Mouyesset, co-founder of Hummus Bros which raised £500,000 this year (against an initial target of £250,000) through equity platform Seedrs. He stressed the importance of pre-selling to guarantee some early funding to give a project momentum.  Whether it’s for equity or donations crowdfunding, empirical evidence shows that successful projects receive 30% of target within the first few days. This gives strong encouragement to others who may be thinking about investing or donating.

kiki LoizouKiki Loizou, Small Business Editor at The Sunday Times, chaired a panel session covering topical issues in equity crowdfunding. Sound-bites included:

  • A lingering unresolved issue is how new companies go about establishing a credible valuation figure – some are simply outrageous. Julia Groves, Chair of the UK CrowdFunding Association said investors should just reject those projects, so that the marketplace would cultivate responsible behaviour.
  • Case studies of failed projects as well as success stories should be examined to identify common reasons for failure to reach target. I tweeted whether doing this and making the results easily available should be within the remit of UKCFA?
  • There are people looking to invest more money than is required by current good opportunities.
  • To encourage continued growth, perhaps there ought to be case studies from an investor perspective as well from the companies that receive funding. Another UKCFA task?
  • Equity crowdfunding is maturing fast, though perhaps more should be done to educate potential small-scale investors about possible risks and the length of time they may have to wait to cash out their investments.

Second panel sessionIn a second panel session, Michael Wilkinson of CrowdCube repeatedly stressed how important it is for crowdfund project owners to understand the need for effective marketing to drive a big enough crowd of the right type of people to their project. This is a very good piece of advice that was also identified by business think tank Nesta as often being a bit of a problem, which I pointed out to conference delegates via Twitter.

The afternoon session showcased 15 minute pitches from seven fund-seekers.

Brabham pitchDavid Brabham, several times winner of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race and son of Formula One champion Sir Jack Brabham is using crowdfunding as part of his plans to revive one of the most famous names in international motor racing.

Kelvin MackenzieKelvin Mackenzie (right), formerly editor of The Sun and owner of talkSPORT radio station, is raising funds for his price comparison site A Spokesman Said. The site also champions the consumer rights of ‘little guys’ who believe they are being bullied or ignored by big companies.

Lauren RileyFormer TV Apprentice challenger and qualified lawyer Lauren Riley (left) wants £150,000 to develop TheLinkApp, a version of WhatsApp designed for the legal industry to improve both their profitability and their clients’ quality of experience.

Husband and wife team Rufus and Charlotte Pearl already have a thriving business selling their Pink Lining brand products to the Mother and Baby market.  In the UK they are stocked in 300 stores including Harrods. They are also stocked in Paris, New York and Tokyo, and are big in South Korea. They want to expand further. Strong social media networks are vital for crowdfunding success , and they have a customer database of over 100,000 people and 55,000 Facebook fans.

Roger Hatfield, Mayfair Brands LtdThe other pitches include a dog-sharing website called Borrow My Doggy, a UK based asset management company called Alquity which invests in sustainable ethical projects in Africa, and Mayfair Brands. Mayfair Brands has achieved national USA distribution for their high quality gin, vodka and rum produced in Clapham, London. Now they need investment to create the stock levels needed to soon meet the American orders.

Me with Luke `Ling. CEO of CrowdfindersAnd Mayfair Brands products were available in the post-event party where I got together with several other delegates, some of the speakers and panellists, and Luke Davis (pictured on the left), CEO of Crowdfinders who organised the event.

If you want to discuss your own thoughts or plans for crowdfunding with a specialist independent adviser then please send me an e-mail to [email protected] or call me on 07788 784373.

Crowdfunding’s role for worthy causes

Crowdfunding goes from strength to strength. And for social community projects and worthy causes, crowdfunding provides new and exciting opportunities for fundraisers to exceed previous levels of expectations, perhaps by up to three-fold.

Here’s how it works. Like most other disruptive changes to established ways of doing things, it is based on the internet. Crowdfunding delivers an innovative way to generate an investment budget to finance a business start-up, expand an existing organisation, or achieve a worthy aim in the community. The crowdfunding process makes your funding requirement public on a dedicated website platform, and you need to drive a big enough crowd of people to it and convince a high enough proportion of them to give just a little bit each towards what you need.

There are four broad types of crowdfunding. For businesses it includes money on loan with pre-set repayment terms, or in exchange for some company equity. For social community projects or worthy causes there are direct appeals for donations (with or without reward incentives) that do not incur any responsibility of repayment.

Donations campaigns are often built around a donations-for-rewards model. Donors not only feel a rosy glow from supporting a cause they empathise with, they are also encouraged to give by the range of perks and incentives offered in recognition of their support. This reduces the net income a crowdfunding project generates by the amount it costs to source and distribute the perks. Though if the perks include merchandise material that promotes the cause or the project then they can deliver valuable longer-term visibility. Perks may also include reduced rates to buy products or use a facility or venue, encouraging a level of habit-forming patronage.

Here is what makes crowdfunding particularly effective for worthy causes. The money raised through donations campaigns tends to come in three roughly equal parts. The first third is donations from your closest contacts and you need to personally secure their support. In the past this may often have been the extent of the fundraising for a particular cause or project. However, crowdfunding now provides effective leverage to use this income as a base upon which to achieve even more, perhaps double the initial amount again. Do the personal selling in time to refine an effective pitch for your important crowdfunding video.

The donations from the key personal contacts should appear quickly in your online crowdfunding project, certainly in the first few days because they will inspire and encourage other donors to follow them. The next third of donations are likely to come from other contacts in your e-mail database and various social media networks who are not close enough for you to have reasonably approached on a personal basis. It is thus vital to have an organised e-mail database and sufficiently sized social media networks for this to be viable, and some prepared content to quickly distribute. You may want to consider an e-mail automation programme. Independent crowdfunding advice on several of these issues could be very worthwhile.

The average UK crowdfunding donation is around £35, and – again on average – one in twenty people who visit an online crowdfunding project will make a donation. Depending on your target amount you can start doing the sums to estimate the size of crowd you need to drive to your crowdfunding project.

And finally, there are many, many people out there who are open to contributing to good causes. Up to a final third of your  income can come from people outside of your networks, people you have never been in touch with before, but who are encouraged by the quality of your project and reassured by the fact that so many people who do know you are prepared to contribute. It gives them confidence they are making the right decision. Traditional media coverage generated through PR and Twitter hashtagging can usefully extend awareness of your crowdfunding project beyond your known contacts. This needs to be put in hand perhaps months before your crowdfunding goes live. You can of course then add these new people to your database to maintain regular contact and develop a deeper relationship with them.

PrintClive Reffell established Comanche Communications & Marketing in 2014 to provide independent crowdfunding advice to SMEs. He brings a wide range of problem-solving experience from a 30-plus year career in results-focused marketing. His formal qualifications include post-graduate diplomas in direct and digital marketing from the IDM and business management from the Open University Business School.

W: www.comcomms.com. E: [email protected] M: 07788 784373. T: @Cliveref

A high octane evening of crowdfund investment opportunities

It had all the ingredients for a heady cocktail of modern-day wheeling and dealing. Nine entrepreneurs seeking equity or loan investments through crowdfunding. Each giving quickfire three minute pitches followed by a couple of questions from a Crowdcube convenor in front of an audience of around a hundred people. These were potential investors and some would-be entrepreneurs who had come along to get a flavour of the occasion before they go under the spotlight themselves. And it did not disappoint.

Early evening networking_01It was one of Crowdcube’s regular monthly events that allow registered investors and investment seekers to get together in person for some important discussions. The funding seekers were spread around a few tables in a meeting area, some with samples of their products. Potential investors and the simply curious began to appear after 6.30 pm.

Among the refreshments available was a Grind stand. Grind is a small group of espresso and cocktail bars that provide “beautiful spaces in London for eating, meeting and drinking. Their strong, bitter coffee cocktails with Icelandic vodka and Kahlua coffee liqueur were a new take on the classic Black Russian. They are seeking £750,000 through bonds that will pay 8% interest over four years.

Joe Inglis, QTSYIs Joe Inglis on to a winner with a website, Qtsy, aiming to become a favourite for pet owners? They can post photos of their own pets, and vote on others. Votes win points and points mean prizes. Joe is after £150,000 for 12.5% equity.

Doug Bernier, Lumo Clothing_01As a cyclist who has suffered from the actions of errant motorists (and an impatient passenger in a traffic jam) the Lumo Clothing proposition has strong appeal. Doug Bernier is targetting £200,000 investment for 14.29% equity in his company that produces washable bags and jackets for cyclists with built-in powerful LEDs to give added accident-avoiding visibility. This is clothing and accessories designed for the places you’re going to, not the archetypal cyclists’ bright coloured and skin-tight garb. You could wear it in Grind and feel at home.

It may seem unfair not to mention the other projects seeking funding but I want to give you a flavour of the evening, not a blow-by-blow account of the whole proceedings. Though here is a line up of the entrepreneurs using this democratic source of securing funds to achieve their business aspirations.

Investment seekers line up_01

Left to right: Doug Bernier, Lumo Clothing; Hasan Mustafa, Collar Club; David Abrahamovitch, Grind; Richard Berkeley, Linkz; Joe Inglis, Qtsy; Alex Holland, Brew; Mark Aspinall, Extremis Technology; Sokratis Papafloratos, Togethera.

Crowdcube does not allow questions from the crowd following the quickfire presentations. So you have to stay at the event and find the people you want to talk to. If you have any interest in raising money through crowdfunding, even if it’s on a donation basis rather than equity or loan, checkout how to attend on the Crowdcube website and get along to the next one. It will show you how high the professional bar is set to be a winner in this competitive arena. And if you want help or guidance with any aspects of crowdfunding, please contact me, [email protected].

 

Ten tips for anyone changing their career path

Last year’s Office of National Statistics figures revealed that just 53% of the UK’s working population are fulltime employees with a regular pay cheque. More and more of us are choosing, or being forced by circumstances, to adopt alternative ways of funding our existence. The outcome can range from worries over simply paying basic bills to affording an enviable, comfortable lifestyle.

I have learned that whether starting up in business as a small-scale entrepreneur of any age, or as a local provider of professional services, downscaling from a dazzling corporate career, or on the verge of what could be a great money-making venture, many of us all share the same feelings.

Much of my networking in the four months that Comanche Communications & Marketing has been fully active has been at a local SME level. I have met many people who are or have been in similar circumstances to myself, setting out in business as a sole trader and trying to carve out a modest niche among the opportunities available within the accessible business community.

Recently I found myself networking in different sort of company when I spent a day at the third annual Great British Workforce Revolution conference. These events are tailored around opportunities for former company directors to ‘go it alone’. This can mean starting a new business, investing in other people’s new businesses, or taking interim roles to guide companies unable to afford their experience and knowledge on an on-going basis.

A forum of former ‘captains of industry’ made some useful comments about the attitudinal re-think needed when making a career transition that are worth sharing with anyone who takes responsibility for their own destiny. Many people using crowdfunding hope it’s going to make a significant impact on their lives, but are they really ready for some of the consequences?

Left to right below: Steve Gilroy, Chief Exec at Vistage International (UK), the world’s leading Chief Executive organisation and main sponsors of the conference; Stuart Lucas, a former global finance high-flyer and Founder and Co-CEO of Asset Match which allows shareholders in unlisted companies to freely offer their shares for sale; Peter Collier, Executive Director and Founder of TCWM Ltd, held senior positions in the financial services sector until 2012 when after voluntary redundancy he started a business by taking small consultancy assignments; Robin Hill, Founder and CEO at Ruffena Capital Ltd, previously had senior positions in technology and media businesses. “It’s better to be more in control in a smaller company than lost in a big one,” he said.

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The key ten points they made.

  1. It’s scary to be in a new place. Doing new things, outside of a comfort zone that may have previously been full of support, is scary.
  2. Most of your previous contacts become useless because they were part of that former comfort zone, that former life.
  3. It’s difficult to achieve a target daily rate, so do what comes up that looks like it would be good to be involved with.
  4. But don’t forget that time is your most precious asset, particularly if starting a new enterprise later in life.
  5. Reconsider the people who you know. Build connections among a new group of people who are going to be able to help you.
  6. Think about how to help them, not only how they could help you.
  7. You should remain curious and love learning. Which is now easier than it ever was with the range of material available through the internet.
  8. Add practice to your knowledge, by simply getting out there to start providing others with the benefits of your knowledge and skills. Even do it free for a local charity rather than keep them to yourself. This will help teach you how to best present that knowledge in a way that builds confidence.
  9. Confidence is what your new customers will recognise and buy in to.
  10. Work with people you like, who respect you and pay you on time. Life’s too short to do otherwise.