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]

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.

Crowdfunding London 2015 – brilliant one day conference

The Crowdfunding London (#CFLondon) conference on 23 April 2015 served up a feast of information and inspiration for over four hundred people in The Crystal building at Royal Victoria Dock, East London.

The diverse nature of attendees spanned the full range from significant investors and business leaders running some of the biggest crowdfunding websites to individuals with a somewhat vague idea of a start-up business they want to launch.

First speaker was Luke Lang, CMO and Co-Founder of Crowdcube. Crowdcube is the largest of the UK crowdfund companies that enables funds to be raised in exchange for company equity. Their growth is representative of the whole industry. In total, 230 organisations have used them to raise £80m since 2011, and the industry is growing so fast that projects hosted by Crowdcube have already raised £20m in 2015.

Whilst crowdfunding may have started largely with attempts to raise relatively small budgets to launch start-ups that banks or other traditional lenders would not go near, the biggest individual amount raised on Crowdcube is £3.7m. The average investment made is £2,500, and the largest individual investments have been £0.5m on two occasions.

Luke’s two key pieces of advice to anyone who wants to raise an investment budget through crowdfunding are:

  • Work extensively on your own network of personal and business contacts. If you can’t convince them you won’t convince anyone else. And get them to make their investment as soon as possible because early support and momentum attracts other investors who don’t already know you.
  • Don’t forget that it’s all about delivering returns to investors and treat them with respect.

Next up, an expert panel chaired by the Sunday Times Business Editor Kiki Loizou discussed factors that have contributed to crowdfunding’s spectacular rise in the UK.

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  • Banks are reluctant to lend to small businesses, particularly start-ups with no assets
  • The growth of a stronger UK ‘entrepreneur culture’, and thus a demand for business investment
  • Low returns for investors from traditional opportunities
  • A ‘light touch’ by the financial regulators
  • Ease of use and trust in e-commerce
  • The democratisation of two-way communications with big companies through social media
  • The rise of popular online ‘sharing’ businesses such as Airbnb and Uber

People want to use the internet to do more than post personal content and maintain contact with friends and family, make purchases and let companies know what they think of their products and service levels. They are now ready to be part of something more solid. And it’s easy to build an investment portfolio. After a few clicks anyone can say they are a shareholder in a brewery, an ecological project or whatever else they choose. Crowdfunding has democratised being an entrepreneur or an investor.

Nicola Horlick, the international investment adviser once described as “Superwoman” for her skills balancing global business responsibilities and family life, brought heavyweight gravitas to the afternoon sessions. Her own crowdfunding company is Money & Co though she pointed out her ‘crowd’ was not a large number of people. They are a select group of seriously high net worth individuals looking to make equally serious business investments (known as peer-to-peer lending).

Nicola HorlickTo the previous reasons for the popularity and success of crowdfunding she added:

  • Fees to meet with financial advisers have created a new type of independent investor
  • Medium size businesses are vital to the recovery of the national economy because they employ 50% of the UK workforce, and maybe this has influenced the ‘light touch’ of the financial regulators

Business celebrity Michelle Mone, founder of the Ultimo lingerie brand, gave a very personal account of her life from a 15-year-old unqualified school leaver to founding a global brand and receiving her OBE.

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It was all here. The battles won by her personal drive to overcome doubters and break through the constraints of other peoples’ limited expectations of her. Creating stunts to achieve £multi-million media coverage. Breaking in to the American market through sending samples to Hollywood film set wardrobes. Then being swindled by her American distributors who robbed her of 10 months’ stock and £1.4m. Yet never giving in, never accepting “No”.

It was inspiring and punctuated with spontaneous applause. Thank you, Michelle.

The final session of the day was a guest panel of speakers being honest enough to admit some mistakes they had made in a quick-fire round of How NOT To Do Crowdfunding. I have been helping a project I found already being run by the Steam Tug Brent Trust. Their aim is to raise funds to restore the last steam powered tug, called the Brent, which had worked in London’s Docks. My sincere thanks to them for allowing me to go on stage and share some points with the audience about what could have been done better.