International Lessons on Achieving Crowdfunding Success

My work with Crowdsourcing Week as a content marketing creator and as an independent crowdfunding advisor has brought me in to contact with crowdfunding experts and thought leaders from around the world. We have talked about reward crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding, and crowdfunding being used by major corporates. I’d like to share some recent insights.

Lessons from 10 years of Crowdfunding in Europe

Christin Friedrich, CEO of the Innovestment platform in Berlin, is also Chair of the European Crowdfunding Network.

Top Insights to Successful Equity Crowdfunding

Key lessons learned at the ECN include the realisation that at whatever stage of a company’s growth, in addition to raising money, successful crowdfunding involves, builds and strengthens communities. Though in an increasingly competitive environment this requires expert communication skills.

An equity crowdfunding project should make it clear what it is asking for; what the organisation raising the money hopes to achieve; and who will benefit. Any funder can go on to become a customer, an advocate, or a supplier. So keep communicating after the crowdfunding closes, share news about your progress through achieving milestones or report on KPIs.

As well as improved professionalisation of all aspects of the process, regulations are adapting to crowdfunding being a global practice. Funds need to flow freely to encourage cross-border financing, though authorities have to be aware of laundering. European harmonisation through the ECN will ease cross-border payments from outside the EU – including the UK.

Evolving best practices in Reward Crowdfunding

New Zealander Nathan Rose is a crowdfunding strategist and author, his latest book is about reward crowdfunding. Across several years he has been able to track changes to what used to be, and what are now, the key factors for rewards crowdfunding success.

Crowd-building and effective communication strategies have definitely changed over the years. For example, these days, many more successful projects have used paid-for social media advertising.

Though project owners should not rely on purely virtual contact – he recommends getting out to events and meet influential people in person. Though beware of trade shows where more people are likely to be like yourself, looking for investment, rather than be potential backers.

PR efforts to crowdsource media coverage remain a valid activity, though not for the reasons you might expect. A published article is unlikely to generate much traffic to a crowdfunding project, though a collection of media logos is a strong endorsement of the viability of a project once site visitors see them.

Nathan also warned of a classic error. He still comes across project owners who calculate the production cost of the rewards they will supply, and set a donation value without checking  the fulfilment costs to deliver the items. Seemingly successful projects can then sometimes incur a loss for the project owner, or are simply abandoned leaving many disappointed backers.

Tips for startup founders on running Equity Crowdfunding

Cheryl Campos, Director of Growth and Partnerships at the US equity crowdfunding platform Republic. Cheryl provided the article’s main image on a general timing plan for an equity crowdfunding project.

Before accepting an investment opportunity to put to its network of half a million investors, Republic uses four important criteria to evaluate startups: “The 4 Ts.”

Team
A startup funder has to have prior career and industry experience that adds up to a set of skills and expertise that can give investors confidence. But few investors will back a one-man (or woman)-band, and want to see a credible management team already in place, a team that has bought in to the founder’s vision of the startup business and have the ability to make a solid contribution.

Traction
Evidence of traction includes a passionate and engaged user base. Perhaps this has been achieved by an earlier round of rewards crowdfunding?

Technology
Is the startup’s product range superior to competitors? Or maybe their technology to make their products is superior, delivering a cost advantage. Are they following the sector’s traditional business model, or have they developed breakthrough innovations to shake up the established incumbents?

Terms
The terms a startup offers investors can vary, based on different methods of estimating a company valuation and with different classes of preference or voting shares, for example. It could make it harder to reach a financial target if crowdfunding backers receive poorer terms than other investors.

Corporate use of Crowdfunding

Esben Bistrup Halvorsen, Co-founder and CEO of Danish platform Lendino, gave a Crowdsourcing Week webinar some examples of major corporations using reward crowdfunding.

Sony has a co-creation and crowdfunding platform called First Flight, which operates within Japan only. It encourages entrepreneurial “Challengers” to propose ideas and suggestions for new products and services and allows them to canvass for input and support among a community of Sony fans and early adopters.

Fleshed-out ideas that have withstood this crowd’s scrutiny can then go on to a reward crowdfunding stage to check for demand to actually acquire the product or use the service. Where response from Sony’s First Flight crowd is strong enough to warrant investment, Sony makes the products and services available. Who knows, someone may come up with the best idea since the Sony Walkman!

Thinking about your own Crowdfunding?

In this most recent stage of my marketing career I’ve immersed myself in crowdfunding for the past six years. The crowdfunding projects you see hosted on any of the crowdfunding platforms are like looking at the 10% of an iceberg that’s visible above the water level. If you want to know the full extent of what has to be prepared to achieve success, let’s have a call. In the first instance please send an email to [email protected]

How Civic Crowdfunding Helps Build Support For Cycle Routes

The Tour de France in East London, 2014

Governments the world over are encouraging more people to use bicycles, and various forms of crowdsourcing are used to support their efforts. This article looks at co-creation to map popular cycle routes in a city; automated sensors and data collection to monitor traffic levels in smart cities and control the flow; and the use of civic crowdfunding to steer local authority decision-making and influence local residents and other stakeholders.

At a macro level the benefits appear to be evident. Reduced traffic levels reduce congestion and air pollution. The built environment needs less space used for parking. A fitter and healthier population puts less pressure on the health services.

At a personal level, cyclists feel empowered by measures they are taking to protect the environment and improve their physical fitness. And right now, cycling is being promoted to reduce the number of people using public transport to help maintain social distancing.

The GB Bicycle Association reported that in the first full month of lockdown, April 2020, sales of bikes priced at between £400 and £1000 more than doubled compared to April 2019 (rising by 112% in number, 99% in value). A UK Government scheme offering online vouchers for use as payment towards repairing old bicycles to a state of roadworthiness crashed under the weight of overwhelming demand.

Co-creating route maps

Road safety remains the paramount issue, more so among female cyclists. A crowdsourcing project in the Indian city of Bengaluru, run by the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT), has asked the city’s cyclists for details of their favoured routes through the city, and where they would like dedicated cycle lanes installed. DULT’s aim is to team up with the city civic body and create an initial 34 km network of routes in the outer parts of the city before working into the centre, eventually making the whole city more cycling friendly.

It follows a similar exercise carried out in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Car ownership stands at 93% of households, the third highest level of any city in the world, and much of the city centre is a cycle no-go zone. The bold efforts of Jeffrey Lim, a keen cyclist and vintage cycle restorer, saw city authorities earmark a $765,000 budget to create the city’s first cycle lanes.

Smart city traffic management

Many major cities have bike-sharing schemes. In 2015, Barcelona launched its “Bicycle Strategy for Barcelona” government measure, which encouraged increased bicycle use as a habitual mode of urban transport. Its ‘Bicing’ bike share scheme was suspended when emergency measures were first introduced to tackle Covid-19 in April 2020, though from the start of June the network was re-opened with 97 new hire stations planned, and more than 1,000 additional new cycles available.

Beyond bike-sharing, Copenhagen has installed intelligent traffic signals that prioritise bikes and buses over cars. This system can potentially reduce bus travel time by 5–20% and cycle travel time by 10%. Copenhagen has also built a citywide network of protected bike lanes, as laid out in its strategic plans published in 2011. Local authorities across the country collect as much data as possible, both quantitative and qualitative, to inform their decisions on anything related to cycling.

Transport for London similarly uses video sensors with artificial intelligence capability at 20 locations across London to detect the volume of different modes of transport, especially cyclists and pedestrians. This data will be used to assess demand for new cycling routes in the city.

Civic crowdfunding for cycle routes

Crowdfunding has been a successful way for several cycling related startups to sell products and launch a business through selling equity. I’ve seen projects for cycle wear that lights up at night time, bicycles made of bamboo, even a cycle repair business based on a barge travelling up and down English canals. Though there does remain an element of hostility from a minority of motorists – and pedestrians, understandably, when confronted by a cyclist using the pavement.

Hostility, or at least deserved wariness, runs both ways. I‘m a regular cyclist, and I’ve had two shoulder operations due to accidents caused by a car drivers and a passenger. I also know what it’s like to be abused by drivers for things like not being able to go as fast as they’d like me to, or for being annoyed when they turn across me without indicating. So I do have a personal interest in dedicated cycle routes. 

Critics of such routes complain they restrict road widths for vehicles, actually increasing congestion and journey times, and pushing higher traffic levels on to roads that were previously less busy.

Civic crowdfunding can not only raise some of the cost of cycle routes to influence local authority decision-makers (more usually design and feasibility studies than actual construction costs), but can also operate as a marketing initiative to influence residents and other stakeholders in a community.

This strategy worked well in Denver (fantastic place, 360 days a year with sunshine!), when Colorado’s biggest city built its Arapahoe Street protected bike lane. Community organisations engaged residents and business owners early in the design process, and this made a huge difference. The Downtown Denver Partnership, a local business group, initiated the project based on what it had heard from business leaders. To build on this public support, it launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover $35,000 of the design costs.

civic crowdfunding project for a dedicated cycle route in Arapahoe Street, Denver, Colorado, earned the early support of the local office of the Gates Family Foundation. Good crowdfunding is good marketing.

“Letting communities vote with their dollars isn’t just about budgets. It is much more about letting local residents and businesses know early on about the project and allowing them to participate in a meaningful way,” said Kate Gasparro, Graduate Research Fellow of Sustainable Design and Construction, Stanford University.

Three ways crowdsourcing is boosting cycling

Whether it’s research among cyclists drawing their favoured routes on paper maps, sophisticated traffic management technology in smart cities, or civic crowdfunding to let all elements of a community input ideas as well as raise money, the effects are boosting the takeup of cycling the world over.

I originally wrote this article for Crowdsourcing Week. Please contact me if there’s anything you’d like to ask or discuss about running a crowdfunding project. Email me at [email protected]

Crowdfunding Benefits More Than Just Startup Businesses

Various forms of crowdfunding enable startup businesses to inexpensively test market new products, and for private companies to trade equity in exchange for an investment from new shareholders. However, perhaps it’s my time spent sailing at Greenwich Yacht Club, as well as my work as an independent crowdfunding advisor, that recently drew my attention to two very well established businesses that are currently using crowdfunding to pursue a range of objectives.

Rewards Crowdfunding

Rancourt is a US family-owned and run business that has been making handmade moccasin-style shoes, popular with “yachties,” since 1967. They subsequently expanded their range to include boots, dress shoes and leather sneakers. Today, like many other businesses the world over, and despite its good reputation, Rancourt is suffering under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Crowdfunding isn’t just for startup businesses

Through their own website, they have started offering shoes in a limited number of styles on a rewards crowdfunding basis at wholesale prices. They will collect orders to a threshold of around 150 pairs per style, then make shoes in batches of 300. This will ensure they don’t produce an over-supply of stock that will tie up their stretched cash resources and then simply gather dust.

There are several benefits to trying to generate business even if it will not make them much immediate profit.

  • It will keep their artisan workforce employed
  • It will generate business for their supply chain
  • It gives new customers an opportunity to experience their premium products at an advantageous price
  • The cash income will contribute to central overheads
  • They will avoid producing unwanted stock

In crowdfunding terms this is known as the “All or Nothing” model. A crowdfunding project can ask people to pre-order, while also setting a minimum total order figure. That figure will be calculated to cover the raw materials, ‘tooling up’ and all other costs of a first production run, plus delivery of the finished goods.

If the stated minimum target is reached, production goes ahead on a de-risked basis. If it isn’t reached, any pre-payments are returned to customers and the product creators can have a rethink without having incurred costs of producing unwanted goods, hiring storage space or servicing a debt.

In the UK, crowdfunding operates outside the Sale of Goods Act. Due to the time it could take to reach the minimum order total, and produce and deliver the goods, some of the earliest ‘purchasers’ may have to expect to wait longer than 28 days to receive their orders.

Equity Crowdfunding

The second sailing-related project I noticed is being run by a Swedish engineering company, GreenStar Marine International. They have been in business almost 20 years and make a range of inboard and outboard electric motors for all types of recreational boats.

They have no protected intellectual property in their motors, and now that sustainability and safeguarding waterways is a higher priority for many boat owners and users, GreenStar want to expand their silent-running and fume-free product range and dealer network faster than they would be able to through organic growth.

They are offering equity in the business to investors who will become shareholders, and thus share the risks and rewards of company ownership. Crowdfunding has democratised the business fundraising process, that was previously available mainly to people with access to “old boy networks” of VC investors or high net worth individuals.

At the time of writing GreenStar Marine International had raised 131% of their target with 69 days still to run.

With almost two decades’ experience of running their business, they are confident of a high rate of return for investors when they go ahead with an IPO planned for late 2021. Though capital is always at risk, and nothing can be guaranteed.

To learn more about Crowdfunding, registration is now open for free tickets to an all-day webinar on August 27 featuring a range of international speakers. The link gives further information.

In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you are considering crowdfunding to test a new product, to launch a new business or expand an existing one. I am an independent crowdfunding advisor, uninfluenced by formal ties to any specific crowdfunding platforms. Email me at [email protected]

Why Do Many Startups Still Fail After Reaching A Crowdfunding Target?

I have looked at this topic because I help small businesses and startups raise money through crowdfunding. There are plenty of times when an influx of investment allows them to scale up, which can often mean introducing new procedures and “control levers” to steer colleagues/employees, and maybe suppliers and customers, in new directions. It doesn’t always run smoothly.

Unfortunately for these plans, most people are naturally and inherently change resistant. It’s in our DNA to want to keep things around us they way they are. It’s a fundamental part of our defence mechanism as it helps us to spot anything out of the ordinary or unexpected that could be a threat. “Human beings are programmed to fear the unknown,” says a recruitment tv commercial for the Royal Marines.

Many change initiatives fail because they are decided by a management minority and then foisted on to the majority, employees or other stakeholders, who are suddenly supposed to adopt new ways of working that are unknown to them. Without adequate pre-selling or involvement in a process to bring them on-side from an early stage, a change initiative can be sunk by a majority of people simply sticking to doing what they previously did in the ways they previously did it.

This can even be the cause of friction between business founders if they didn’t all agree on the scaleup measures to begin with. In a business’s early days, it might all be about taking risks. As a business develops and goes through successive funding rounds, whether it’s money from a crowd or institutional investors, or even sales, the emphasis – and perhaps pressure from new shareholders – can change to “let’s not start to muck it up now that we’re nearly there.”

Perhaps high risk-taking mavericks that were the company’s early spearhead are still in the team, but may be less disposed to a more cautious approach – and the new people who will now help implement it. This is one example of how friction can develop, distracting effort away from building the business before it’s even standing on its own two feet.

This is what’s meant by “company culture eats strategy.” Company culture is an emotional element that binds colleagues together with shared expectations of each other, and it has to be tackled alongside procedural ones to initiate change. A startup team will have often developed a strong culture, meddling with it can be tricky.

For more on the topic, take a look at this article (which is nothing to do with me, I just liked the look of it from the ones I found in a Google search): Culture eats strategy for breakfast – The Management Centre. It also has a five point plan to initiate change successfully.

Tips on Making an Effective Crowdfunding Video

In my role as an independent crowdfunding adviser I’m often involved in matters to do with making videos as part of a pitch to investors, backers or donors. And where a client wants me to work on the basis of payment based on results of a successful project, it would be irresponsible of me not to ask for involvement with such a crucial aspect of a pitch. So I’ve built up a list of some tips that I thought I’d share.

Video production companies don’t have all the answers

The first tip is do not assume that a video production company knows what should be in your crowdfunding video. Some do, though not all of them. Even if they say they do, they might not.

This week the founder of a video production company asked to connect with me via LinkedIn. I confirmed with him he had worked making crowdfunding videos, and he sent me a link to one he had shot for an equity crowdfunding project.

Throughout the five minutes of the video I was waiting for the company founder to tell me why he was raising money, how much was needed, what it would be used for, the current company valuation, what the new value could be when the latest investment had been secured and the developments implemented, what their potential exit strategy might be, and a possible Return On Investment. None of it was ever mentioned. The video might encourage a few new customers to make a purchase, but there was nothing in it to convince anyone to invest in a share of the business.

It turned out that the video team had simply followed the client’s brief, didn’t offer any ideas on the content, and made their usual sort of company video in their usual sort of way.

How to start thinking about your crowdfunding video

Whether your project is to sell equity in your business or generate donations, maybe for rewards, there are common aspects of a good video. These tips from rewards platform Indiegogo are well worth a look, they’ve certainly had enough videos to look at to spot the common ingredients of what works: https://learn.indiegogo.com/making-your-video-great-campaign-video-creation-guide/. This link takes you to some tips gathered from four sources by the equity crowdfunding platform Seedrs: https://www.seedrs.com/academy/how-to-perfect-your-crowdfunding-video-pitch/

Also, spend time watching the videos of successful projects yourself to identify what they have in common, and to spot anything different that makes any of them stand out to you in a positive way.

Spontaneity or a well-rehearsed script?

As much as you should not rely on spontaneous inspiration of what to say, writing a tight script and saying it word-for-word can sometimes lose too much spontaneity and make you sound flat, unengaging and uninspiring. On the other hand, don’t employ a video company and only start thinking about what to say when they turn up, or you arrive at their studio.

I once saw a good video that had been expensive to make because the video team had been with the project leaders all day and they hadn’t been able to shoot the right content to put together an effective three minute film. At the end of the day, almost in exasperation, the three founders sat round a table to talk it through once again, and the camera stayed rolling. This footage is what was finally edited to produce a very naturally flowing video in which they said all the right things to convince enough backers.

So do some concentrated brain storming and throw some ideas around with people who know inside out what you’re doing with your business or new product idea, film yourselves on your smartphones to get comfortable with talking to camera, and reach a point where you pretty much know what’s going to be in your video. Then get a video team with a decent camera and sound equipment to film it and use a good editing suite to pull it together.

Prepare storyboards

Do you know about preparing storyboards? Storyboards will keep you on track while shooting and give the video team a good idea of the intended end result before they start doing anything.

Maybe share the storyboards with them at a pre-production meeting so they can think about how to stage and light some of the shots you want. It gives them an opportunity for technical input (rather than asking them for creative input) and thus plays to their strengths.

Overall, the more you do, the more the video team can just get on with it and it will be more affordable for you. It will make the process less open-ended, and you’ll be more certain they’ve shot the right content.

Get the most value from the video team

After shooting the main video content, record some other short pieces to use later while the crowdfunding is running, messages like: “Hey, we’ve reached 30% or 40%,” or “we’re half way there” or “we’ve reached the first £50,000 – thank you all so much. But there’s still a way to go. Please let your friends know about us…..”

Have these clips ready to use via your social media before they are actually needed, so anyone can just lift them down from the proverbial shelf.

Consider changing some clothes for these other mesages as they will go out at different times during your crowdfunding project.

Other crowdfunding video tips

There are more crowdsourced tips from various other people here: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-most-important-points-to-remember-while-making-a-crowdfunding-pitch-video

Like anything else, perfect preparation prevents pathetic performance.

Equity Crowdfunding Works for B2B Businesses

There is a common misconception that crowdfunding is only applicabe to B2C businesses. On recently seeing a question posed on Quora, asking if anyone had got some examples of B2B startups that had used crowdfunding, there were three that immediately came to mind.

Energytech
A crowdfunded B2B business I have invested in is Pavegen. They generate sustainable electricity from people walking on their floor tiles which are installed in high-traffic places like shopping malls and sports stadia.

Their customers include transport system operators, and owners of shopping centres and sports and entertainment venues: Pavegen – Global leader in harvesting energy and data from footfall.

Transport infrastructure

Another B2B company that has used equity crowdfunding in the UK is MacRebur. They reinforce asphalt with recycled plastic to create a more resilient road surface, and help reduce the amount of plastic waste.

They have also resurfaced some airport runways, and recently announced a pothole repair material that will be available in 20kg bags: macrebur.com. Their customers include airport owners, local councils and highway authorities.

Agritech

To give a third example, I made an equity crowdfunding investment not long ago in an agritech business called Hectare. Traditional farmers’ markets in the UK are closing down at a rapid rate, meaning more and more farmers have to make long and arduous journeys to take livestock to market. And sometimes it means driving their fit and healthy animals through areas where there is a higher risk of disease.

Hectare provides online marketplaces for farmers to check current prices and sell animals at SellMyLivestock and crops at Grainindex. Their B2B customers are farmers and agricultural produce buyers: Hectare Agritech | Reinventing Farm Trading

Despite Extinction Rebellion’s Efforts, Will Weaponized Robots Give Us Enough Time To Tackle Climate Change?

In October 2019, the activist movement Extinction Rebellion disrupted daily routines in major cities around the world to highlight the dangers from man-made climate change, and that time is running out to do anything meaningful about it. In London, demonstrators glued themselves to office building doors, the pavement, trains and cars – even to the top of an aircraft about to take off!

They also ran a UK crowdfunding project with a target of £1 million to fund their activities, maybe even to pay some of the fines their members picked up – just a guess. As at October 29 the crowdfunding is still running and they’ve reached nearly £965,000, they’re almost there.

Though within the 30-50 year time frame we are usually told is going to be decisive, some people believe there are other threats that ought to be taken just as seriously, if not more, from artificial intelligence and robotics.

Robot threat to jobs

Many of us have become accustomed to doom-mongers’ comments about the threats to livelihoods from robots doing repetitive and menial work. Inevitable consequences usually list mass unemployment, with non-working people subsidized by far higher taxes levied on those still in work. How would norms of social inclusion and the rule of law cope with an ever more divisive and polarized world of haves and have nots? And that includes having a sense of purpose as much as anything else.

Stuart Russell, a professor of computer science at Berkeley, California, and one of the world’s leading experts in AI, has weighed in with his own opinions in a new book published this month titled “Human Compatible: AI and the Problem of Control.”

He asks readers to imagine a scenario in which a comparable risk is external, one in which advanced aliens from another world email the United Nations and say “we’re coming, we’ll be with you in 30 to 50 years.” Would our planet’s best minds be mobilized to prepare for this extra-terrestrial incursion more than we are preparing for the creation of our own super-humanly intelligent machines? 

Pace of technology leaves controls behind

Technology continues to develop at a faster and faster pace. Machine learning-powered artificial intelligence is increasingly likely to enable automation to take on more complex tasks thought were once thought to be ‘machine-proof.’

Flying aircraft, as an example, is a highly skilled profession, not one of the highly repetitive jobs that are supposedly under most threat from robots. Airline pilots can earn substantial incomes and generally receive public admiration. How close are we to that changing, with their role totally automated?

The Probability of Job Automation By Occupation

Source: Office of National Statistics

Lockheed Martin, the US global aerospace corporation, is currently sponsoring an open innovation challenge to combine AI, machine learning and fully autonomous flight. The goal is to create an AI framework that could pilot racing drones through high-speed aerial courses without any GPS, data relay or human intervention. 

420 teams from 81 countries have been whittled down to nine finalists who will compete in four races in the coming months. The winning team will win $1 million plus an extra $250,000 if their AI drone can beat a human-piloted drone: the challenge-winning drone will race the fastest 2019 DRL Allianz World Champion pilot at the end of the season. 

However, there are often unintended consequences. In a less sporting context, weaponization of drone technology has already been achieved. In 2016, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) carried out its first successful drone attack, killing two ‘opponents’ in northern Iraq. Terrorist groups are increasingly using drones and elementary artificial intelligence in attacks. Improved AI could prove a formidable threat, allowing non-state actors to automate killing on a massive scale, creating incidents of mass destruction.

A former Google software engineer and member of the International Committee for Robot Arms ControlLaura Nolan, has warned that autonomous killer robots could accidentally start a war in the future. She has called for automated weaponry to be outlawed by international treaties. Which ones? What treaties do terrorist organizations sign up to? 

Terrorist groups aren’t the only parties involved. Stuart Russell’s book  points out Israel has developed an autonomous “loitering munition” called Harop, which can hunt and destroy objects it classes as hostile. Anti-personnel microdrones equipped with facial-recognition systems and explosive weaponry might already exist. Slaughterbots, they are called.

At the time when Extinction Rebellion were disrupting major cities around the world, and targeting hubs of finance, media and transport, Russell put forward the notion that the leading tech firms in Silicon Valley and China must learn to accept regulation in the area of weaponry. “Let’s hope it doesn’t require a Chernobyl-sized disaster (or worse),” he warns, “to overcome the industry’s resistance.” 

But whilst authors and activists can point and warn of the dangers, I have to ask the question again about “who can introduce enforceable regulation, and act with whose authority?” Any suggestions or comments out there?

Equity Crowdfunding and Venture Capital Working Together

Equity Crowdfunding and Venture Capital Working Together
Not so long ago it was still quite common to come across articles that tried to pitch VC investors and equity crowdfunding supporters and platforms against each other, as if every startup business entrepreneur faced a binary choice of which investment route to pursue. There are growing signs that the complementry rather than competitive nature of these sources of startup and scaleup business funding are beginning to be appreciated.

Many startup founders seek investment budgets that are beyond the resources of friends and family backers, yet are too small for VCs to normally bother getting out of bed for. And if a business is in its earliest days without a trading history or future sales orders, there’s precious little hope of securing a business loan, whether from a traditional source like a bank or from a peer-to-peer lender such as Funding Circle. So there is a true gap in the business investment market that equity crowdfunding occupies, at the same time as providing better returns for small-scale investors than they can get from high street deposit accounts or investment schemes.

It remains fair to say that equity crowdfunding is not yet a fully developed entity due to the small number of exits that have allowed investors to reap their rewards: the UK Crowdfunding Association’s website has just one solitary case study (though there have been more). Other business finance commentators harp on about the startups that still fail, sometimes within months of raising seven-figure sums through crowdfunding, as if crowdfunding ought to provide some mystical defence shield against business failure.

Despite these shortcomings, the rude health of hundreds, even thousands of startups around the world that have traded equity for an investment from a crowd of backers supports enough confidence for the practice to continue to grow and spread.

It has now reached a point where venture capital firms are not only taking notice but some also want to be involved. In the UK, for example, the startup support division – called G – of the global accountancy firm Grant Thornton works with the equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube.

It is a symbiotic relationship: Crowdcube can offer its clients a longer business development path than just realising their earliest investment rounds, and Grant Thornton gains an entry point to build relationships with promising entrepreneurs before they are big enough to usually be worth their attention. G also offers to make introductions to some of its network of investors who have indicated they are open to the idea of making early seed-stage investments. Here is an example of this co-operation in practice.

GunnaEquity Crowdfunding and Venture Capital Working Together is a range of uniquely-flavoured, craft-made soft drinks which aims to disrupt the established carbonated drinks marketplace in a similar way that craft beer has. It retails at a competitive price for a product made with better quality ingredients, and contains less than 5% sugar to be part of a healthy lifestyle. In 2018 it was available in over 3,500 UK stores, sales were up 300% on the previous year, and their highly experienced founders wanted to raise funds to accelerate the growth rate.

Initial discussions with Grant Thronton indicated that £500,000 would be appropriate to build distribution through recruiting additional sales people and investing in trade marketing. Although this amount is below Grant Thornton’s minimum threshold, their growth finance team remained involved to get Gunna investment-ready to run equity crowdfunding via Crowdcube to raise the money.

Support from some cornerstone investors who wanted to get involved at the ground level, introduced by Grant Thronton, strongly reassured a crowd of smaller retail investors. The equity crowdfunding project generated £819,150 from a total of 245 backers. As Gunna grows it’s likely there will be a need for further, larger rounds of investment which will meet Grant Thornton’s VC-backing criteria. Gunna’s hoped-for exit strategy is acquisition by an international drinks company.

A less formalised example is that of a business founded in 2013 that recycles surplus fruit and vegetables to make traditional recipe relishes and chutneys, Rubies in the Rubble. They were able to gain investment backing from Mustard Seed, a VC fund that takes a principal investor role in world-class early-stage businesses that generate compelling financial and societal returns.  However, beyond accepting £160,000 from Mustard Seed, the founder of Rubies in the Rubble, Jenny Costa, used it as cornerstone funding to launch an equity crowdfunding project on the Seedrs platform.

A rule of thumb has evolved based on empirical evidence that successful crowdfunding projects ought to start with very early pledges of at least 30% of their financial target. This is achieved through personal pre-selling by the project leader and their team to guarantee – as far as possible – that their project starts with a bang and not a whimper. This creates momentum as it gives vital confidence to what are usually smaller retail investors who require some reassuring encouragement to take the plunge.

Equity Crowdfunding and Venture Capital Working TogetherRubies in the Rubble set a target raise of £300,000, in which Mustard Seed’s investment easily covered the 30% requirement. By 3 June 2019 the project on Seedrs has easily surpassed the initial target and wss overfunding at over £535,000.  The funds are to support the launch later in the year of a mainstream ketchup product and a vegan plant-based mayonnaise. The business aim is to capture 3% of the UK ketchup and mayo market by 2023, whilst continuing the fight against food wastage. A trade sale is the most likely exit strategy.

Please get in touch for further insights and support on how you could use crowdfunding to raise money to startup or scaleup your business, plus reap the benefit of numerous other advantages. I’m an independent crowdfunding advisor, not tied or affiliated to any particular platforms: [email protected]

Five Nominees Remain in International Crowdfunding Award

Five Nominees Remain in International Crowdfunding Award

The public online vote for entries in the international BOLD Awards, launched by Crowdsourcing Week, has closed leaving five nominees in the Crowdfunding category – as well as in each of the other 11 categories.

The main factor each entry had to satisfy was that they had achieved something significant beyond reaching or exceeding their financial target, whether it was a donations-for-rewards project or equity crowdfunding. Here’s a run through of the final five nominees.

Borrow a Boat

After they launched in 2016, I met up with the startup team at the London Boat Show in January 2017. Almost all privately-owned pleasure/leisure boats remain unused for the majority of their lives, moored up and incurring charges in commercial marinas or yacht clubs, while the cost of boat ownership remains prohibitively expensive for the majority of people.

Borrow a Boat connects people wanting to enjoy boating with boat owners who welcome a contribution to the cost of ownership. Through working with partners they have standardised requirements for qualifications, experience, insurance, boat safety, and charter contracting. This has made the whole process simpler and more accessible for people wishing to enjoy recreational boating.

Borrow a Boat ran an equity crowdfunding campaign on the UK-based Crowdcube platform at the back end of 2017. Against a pre-fundraising company valuation of £1.2m they set a target of £200,000 which was smashed when 688 backers invested £468,880 in exchange for 28.1% equity. This was an average of nearly £682 per investor and valued a 1% share of the company at £16,686.

In January 2019 a second round of equity crowdfunding, again using Crowdcube, raised just £20 short of £1.5m from 564 investors for 30% equity. This was an average of £2,660 per investor and valued a 1% share of the company at £49,999.

Last year 18 million people in the UK wanted to go boating, but only 4 million did (source: British Marine Federation, Futures Project). Borrow a Boat has transformed the boat charter business through creating an affordable entry route to open the pleasures of sailing and motor boating to a much wider audience that seeks life-enriching experiences, while providing an income stream and safeguarding the interests of boat owners. They now have over 16,000 boats available for hire via an app that’s used in 60 countries.

StartupItalia

This is the largest Italian community dedicated to startup founders and investors. A team of 20 talented people in Milan and Florence creates a daily newsletter with crowdsourced content from 600 contributors and it’s sent to 50,000 subscribers.

They also organise the largest Italian event dedicated to the startup ecosystem and have plans to launch the largest digital training academy for the professions and new businesses of the future. Additionally, they want to create a 3,000 square metre space for a newsroom, with 8,000 square metres for events and networking and 1,000 square metres for training, in a former factory building in Milan.

Their current equity crowdfunding project on Mamacrowd.com closes March 31. To date almost 1,700 backers have pledged over €2.25m.

Tam Development llc

There is a growing number of Saudi youths who are facing problems in finding a job or starting a new business as they have grown up in a rather undemanding and cosseted lifestyle to be passive, unconfident, and inflexible.

Tam Development LLC was established in 2012 with the purpose of engaging and activating the public and helping them reach their full potential, and has successfully designed and implemented over 50 local and regional projects in partnership with 20 government and private entities in Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab region.

They provide access to the range of expertise required to execute startup initiatives from start to finish through Jasarah, a crowdsourcing and initiative management platform that enables users to flexibly engage the public at large plus targeted groups of specialists to help create, manage and deploy challenge solutions that meet global standards in fast-paced advanced technology.

Scribit

Scribit is an intelligent writing robot that ushers in a new way of presenting digital content, makes it possible to instantly reconfigure and personalise a wall – whether it’s a storefront, an office lobby or your living room.

Any vertical surface can be transformed into a screen where images, messages or feeds are projected through an ‘always-on’ web connection, allowing you to download, upload or source any content from the Internet, or use your own content. Applications include restaurant daily menus with changing availability, stock market prices, art displays and sports results updates. Checkout here the video from their Kickstarter campaign.

Their Kickstarter project in 2018 generated $1.6m of pre-orders from 4,352 backers.

RAPPLER

Rappler  is social news network of stories in the Philippines that inspires community engagement and digitally fuels actions for social change. Rappler comes from the root words “rap” (to discuss) + “ripple” (to make waves). Readers are encouraged to contribute to crowdfunding projects set up to address some of the issues raised in its content, and to also actively contribute to supporting independent journalism and press freedom, through its crowdfunding and e-commerce platform.

The five nominees here and in each of the other BOLD Awards categories will now be studied by an international panel of judges. They will make their decisions on who are the winners in time for an award ceremony at a black-tie gala dinner in Venice, Italy, on 5 April 2019. A few remaining event tickets are available to spend an evening with award winners, category and event sponsors, and the Crowdsourcing Week team and some of its investors.

Crowdsourced Marketing Makes a Big Impact and Saves a Packet

Crowdsourced Marketing Makes a Big Impact and Saves a Packet
One of the biggest recent trends in marketing is crowdsourcing. In the last decade, 85% of the top global brands have used it in some form.

In pre-digital days it was pretty much restricted to publicity stunts or involved celebrities, or both, and relied on the media gatekeepers – print and broadcast media owners – to be a vital part of the process. Media owners were the b2b crowd that a brand owner sourced, and the media provided the b2c link. Mass digital connectivity has widened the net, and crowdsourced marketing can skip the media owner involvement and still achieve phenomenal results.

Today’s digital connectivity enables all of us to publish online material, if we want to, and social media spreads the word to encourage direct access to content created personally or in-house by brands. It also means people can respond to brand owner call-outs with an array of written content, photos and videos. This means crowdsourced marketing can involve consumers voting on or even submitting ideas for marketing campaigns and advertisements. A well-known example is the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest in which consumers submitted homemade Doritos commercials for the chance of their work being shown during the American Football end-of-season Super Bowl. It ran for 10 years.

Sticking for the moment with crowdsourced marketing meaning generating editorial media coverage through newsworthy publicity stunts and appearances by celebrities, Richard Branson is very good at it. He continually makes himself a news item to promote one Virgin brand or another. The example below is a press conference for the launch of Virgin Voyages, cruise ship holidays. The media pick up on a lot of what he does, and he also uses his own social media to communicate directly with audiences.

Crowdsourced Marketing Makes a Big Impact and Saves a Packet

Examples that relied on traditional media to leverage the message include the now defunct UK holiday company Club 18-30 (which catered to that age group) that used to get high levels of press media coverage by putting up risqué posters near to newspaper offices where they were bound to be seen by journalists: “Wake up at the crack of Dawn… or Lisa, or Julie” was one example. I created a case study about this back in the Noughties for the out-of-home contractor Clear Channel.

This and other similar poster executions won advertising industry awards for the creative ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, even if public outcry against indecency – ironically fuelled by the newspaper coverage they were designed to achieve – resulted in them having to be taken down early. But they had done their job.

Founder of the Ultimo lingerie brand Michelle Mone is another business person/celebrity who created her own media moments in the spotlight.

Crowdsourced Marketing Can Make an Impact and Save a PacketOne incident, when she was still a cash-strapped startup just beginning to get the first shops to stock her products, involved hiring a dozen actors. They pretended to be plastic surgeons and demonstrated outside the Selfridge’s department store to try and prevent them stocking her cleavage-enhancing underwear.

They claimed they would be out of work if too many women decided to wear an Ultimo bra rather than have surgical implants, and blocked the road, the world famous Oxford Street. Their morning picketing was shown on lunchtime television news and Selfridge’s sold what was meant to be six months’ of stock in five hours. It’s all in her book, My Fight To The Top.

Up-to-date, and on a far more serious theme is an example from South Africa. Francois Du Preez, Digital Creative Director of Grey Advertising in South Africa presented a case study at the Crowdsourcing Week 2016 Global Conference. Dog fighting is an unsavoury and illegal activity in South Africa that causes many animals to suffer, not just the ones that do the fighting, and it’s a multi-million Rand industry when related gambling is taken in to account.

Crowdsourced Marketing Makes a Big Impact and Saves a PacketCriminals steal domestic small dogs to feed to pitbulls being trained to fight, to give them the taste. But over time a majority of the public had tired with and disengaged from the regular media coverage of tattered, battered and mutilated dogs. The ad agency created a mobile billboard that appeared to publicise a dog fight, Nitro vs Thor, with a website URL and a phone number. Social media exploded within one hour of it driving around affluent suburbs of Johannesburg. It was reported on radio news and in the next editions of newspapers. Angry people found out the website had been registered by Du Preez and some came looking for him.

The website was taken down after just  three hours in which time it had received more attention than they had ever anticipated. Against this background of anger they ‘came clean’ that the advertised dog fight was a stunt and then got even more media exposure for supposedly trivialising the distasteful and illegal activity. The issue was suddenly important once again to many people.

The amount of media space and broadcast airtime costed as media advertising exposure was valued at Rand 1.7 million. The mobile ad had cost Rand 7,000, allowing a claimed ROI factor of 240 times the initial outlay. But not only had massive media coverage been achieved for such a tiny sum, the mobilisation of the crowd had made it so much more effective than if a real budget had been used with a regular “this is bad, let’s all help put a stop to it” style of message.

In the digital-era of personal connectivity, newcomer craft beer brewer Brewdog claimed to be worth £1.8bn in January this year (based on some corporate investment deals), and has vowed to never spend a penny on paid-for advertising. Though they happily hired and branded a helicopter to make a video of parachuting “fat cats” (stuffed toys, I hasten to add) in to the City of London to generate news coverage of the fact that they were crowdfunding. They went on to raise their first £5m through equity crowdfunding without the services of any expensive “fat cat” investment advisers.

Crowdsourced Marketing Makes a Big Impact and Saves a PacketA current example is the Royal Mail which has installed four musical post boxes in the run-up to Christmas. When cards and letters are posted they trigger a sensor that plays a loop of snippets from Christmas tunes and reindeer sleigh bells.

There is just one in each of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. The one in England is in Greenwich, the historic area on the south side of London’s River Thames and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, very popular with tourists.

It has been mentioned in social media by many people and organsations including numerous bloggers and local businesses in the area, reported in local and national newspapers, on BBC tv news and by the advertising industry platform Campaign.

The Royal Mail are using the added media coverage to raise awareness of this year’s last posting dates. There, I’ve written about it and you’ve read about it, it works.

Crowdsourced marketing offers huge benefits for businesses. Crowdsourcing saves on marketing costs because either consumers are happy to submit their ideas for free in exchange for seeing them used in the marketplace, or because bloggers, journalists and editors fall over themselves to create engaging content featuring stunts and/or celebrities to entertain their audiences. Plus these days there is direct consumer-2-consumer connectivity. It’s a great way to get affordable coverage of a crowdfunding project.

If you’d like to discuss you own ideas for a crowdfundng project and to see how I can maybe help you please email me at [email protected] Don’t forget, a dream isn’t a plan and hope isn’t a strategy.