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]

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.

 

“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

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.