Crowdfunding Co-ownership of Tangible Assets

crowdfunding co-ownership of luxury assets

Property crowdfunding

The biggest asset class is property. Developers create individual companies for each development project, and decide whether to offer investors opportunities to buy equity or lend money.

Equity crowdfunding investments in US real estate on reputable platforms, with terms of 5 or more years, have an average annual return of over 17%. Shorter-term real estate crowdfunding investments have average returns in the 10% to 12% range.

I have made one modest equity crowdfunding investment in property and received a 28% gross return after two years.

The UK property loan platform Kuflink is currently offering annual gross returns of up to 7.44%. CrowdProperty is a much larger UK property crowdfunding platform (it has raised over £500 million in total) and is offering up to 8% p.a. for investments held in an IFISA.

A newer format of property crowdfunding allows retail investors to acquire fractional ownership of property that is leased or rented, and offers a regular income from it. Buy-to-let crowdfunding platform InRento, licensed by the Bank of Lithuania, has earned a historic average 19.49% ROI for its investors. It recently became the largest licensed crowdfunding platform in the EU by the number of investors, providing an opportunity to invest in rental projects. Projects currently listed on the platform offer an average 7.96% annual return.

Non-property luxury assets

Other platforms offer crowd investment opportunities in non-property, luxury item assets including fine wines, art, watches and cars.

Konvi is a European crowdfunding platform for people to invest through shared ownership of such luxury items. A holding company is created for every asset that is going to be funded. This holding company’s purpose is to own, manage, and sell that one particular asset. When a person invests in an asset, they become a shareholder in the relevant holding company that will exist for two to ten years. Average returns have been up to 20% p.a. over the past decade.

Konvi’s main competitors include Rally Road (USA), Masterworks (USA), Yieldstreet (USA), Otis (USA) and Timeless Investments (Germany).

The Masterworks platform makes it possible for anyone to invest in blue-chip art, with works by artists like Banksy. From 1995 to 2020, contemporary art prices outpaced S&P 500 returns by 174%, and it is part of an estimated $1.7 trillion asset class that is expected to grow 58% in just 5 years, according to Deloitte.

US equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine is currently offering equity in fine wine from Bordeaux, France. According to Wine Guardian, wine is a stable investment that has earned investors a solid 13.6% annualised return over the past 15 years.

Risks

Investing in luxury item assets is often beyond the control and protection of financial investment authorities. As well as poor decisions made on receiving poor advice, there is also the prospect of deliberate, fraudulent scams.

As an example, rare whisky has recently been the top performing UK luxury investment. According to The Wealth Report 2020, rare whisky was the best performing collectable of the decade, experiencing a meteoric rise in value of 586% up to 2019; faster than any other collectable luxury asset, such as watches, art or classic cars.

Whisky is not under the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which would only get involved if the investment was structured under a collective investment scheme.

HM Revenue and Customs is responsible for excise duty for whisky casks, approving persons to hold excise casks without payment of excise duty, while the whisky matures in a secure and approved excise warehouse. They would only get involved with a potentially fraudulent firm if it didn’t pay the correct tax.

Misleading investor advice through paid-for communications is under the authority of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Yet high returns attract undesirable actors, out to part the unwary from their wealth. And in unregulated markets, with plenty of grey areas, it can be easier to achieve.
– With alcohol there is no spot-price like with commodities such as gold to provide a common yardstick.
– Even if their was, the main problem with buying into whisky as an investment is that you don’t always know exactly what you’re getting.
– Identifying fakes, if it indeed exists at all, can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive. It could even involve lab-tests such as carbon dating.
Given time, NFT technology could make it quicker and cheaper for all stakeholders – investors, brand owners and enforcement bodies – to identify counterfeit products and distinguish fakes from the genuine article.

In the meantime, good advice for potential investors is they should fully research any firm they are looking to engage in an investment with. Look at the age of the company, the duration it has been trading whisky casks for, and whether there’s a valid Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme and WOWGR licence (under The Warehousekeepers and Owners of Warehoused Goods Regulations 1999).

I am an independent crowdfunding advisor, providing strategic overviews of how to plan and structure a successful crowdfunding campaign, without links to any particular platforms. If you think that could be useful to you, please get in touch.

New UK Crowdfunding Platform CrowdInvest Will Offer Equity in Indian Startups

Clive Reffell's interview of Nakul Garg, co-founder of crowdfunding platform CrowdInvest

Since January 2022 I have written numerous articles for what is going to be a new equity crowdfunding platform in the UK, called CrowdInvest. Its unique market position is that it will offer UK investors opportunities to buy shares in tech startups that operate primarily in India, which is the world’s third largest startup ecosystem. With a population approaching 1.4 billion, startups in India can seriously scaleup without the added complexities of developing or servicing a market in other countries.

CrowdInvest is a group entity of Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc, an Indo-British investment company established in the UK in 2007. Crowd Investments Limited is an Appointed Representative of Prospect Capital Ltd, authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK, and investor benefits will be available under the HMRC’s EIS and SEIS schemes.

I recently interviewed CrowdInvest’s co-founder Nakul Garg, an alumni of the London School of Economics. With his permission, here is that interview that was originally published at his LinkedIn account.

Let’s begin with something that many people ask. The Financial Conduct Authority approves CrowdInvest. Particularly for anyone new to equity crowdfunding, does this mean their money is safe?

Money is safe, and we will comply with all FCA requirements and vet the startups we will host to ensure they offer viable investment opportunities. We also ensure that lead investors back the deals and that the risks borne by retail investors are shared with them. However, the failure rate of startups anywhere is notoriously high, and the success of any individual startup cannot be guaranteed. Capital invested in private companies will always incur a level of risk.

UK investors who buy shares through equity crowdfunding enjoy valuable tax advantages when they invest in privately-owned UK companies registered under the HMRC’s EIS and SEIS requirements. Why will they choose to invest in Indian startups?

This is something we seriously thought about. Our solution is that we will require Indian startups to open a branch office to scale their operations in the UK. Doing so will make them eligible for the HMRC’s EIS and SEIS tax benefits. Also, we will onboard UK startups who are already eligible for EIS and SEIS tax benefits and wish to scale up operations in the Indian market.

So the CrowdInvest platform will also host non-Indian startups?

In the first phase, we will focus on startups located anywhere in the world who operate in or want to scale up in the Indian market. They will principally, though not exclusively, be Indian startups. In a second phase, we will onboard investment opportunities from African and south east Asian markets and open up opportunities for investors from other parts of the world. We will truly be a cross-border platform.

Does CrowdInvest have to be approved and regulated by any Indian authorities as well?

No, when we start trading, we won’t cater to Indian investors, so we are not required to be regulated by the Indian regulatory bodies. All our financial promotions will focus on UK investors, so we need to comply with only UK laws and regulations.

What investment options will CrowdInvest provide?

In the first phase, our focus will be on equity crowdfunding and convertible loans. We will start offering other alternative financial instruments as we grow our market penetration.

How will CrowdInvest win the trust of investors? 

We will make sure only vetted startups are onboarded on the platform. The vetting process will include rounds of preliminary checks and due diligence to ensure they have the required certificates, licences, intellectual property, and everything else in place per UK standards.

Other crowdfunding platforms have webinars for startup founders to pitch to potential investors and for investors to ask questions. Will you be doing the same?

Yes, we will, through panel talks, speed date sessions, virtual round tables and YouTube. CrowdInvest will also provide newsletter inclusions and social media promotions. 

With the market value corrections that have taken place this year in the startup space, it has been reported that Indian startups have shed over 11,000 employees, and several are now operating at valuations lower than their IPO. Is there any feeling you may have maybe missed the peak market?

In India,Inc42collects data and reports on the startup scene. They said a little while ago that 57 VC funds launched in 2022, 37 focus on early-stage funding. Seed stage funding in India in the first half of 2022 has been four times higher than in 2021. So whilst a market value reset has certainly taken place, many investors had already turned their attention to the higher ROI generally available from backing startups earlier in their lifecycle. This is where CrowdInvest will operate. So No, we haven’t missed out on anything.

That’s very positive to hear. We’re nearing the end of the interview. Can I ask you what is your own background in crowdfunding and what drew you to it?

I started in the crowdfunding industry three years ago and have since carved out a niche for myself in cross-border investments and fundraising in the Indian startup ecosystem.

I graduated with a Masters from the London School of Economics and gained more than eight years of experience in entrepreneurship and risk consulting, with an extensive background in business development and crowdfunding. My expertise lies in developing and maintaining strong client relationships.

I am also a recognised early-stage entrepreneur, endorsed by the LSE Entrepreneurship arm (LSE Generate) and incubated at IIM (Indian Institute of Management) Udaipur Incubation Centre. Additionally, I have worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Consulting and served US-based startups with their financials while working at a PCAOB registered firm (the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board).

That’s very impressive and well-rounded. A final question, if I may. Do you already have some longer-term aims for CrowdInvest?

We will certainly democratise platform ownership by running our own equity crowdfunding. Our vision is to become a crowd-owned alternative investment platform operating across international borders.

Thank you, Nakul. I wish you success. Thank you, Clive.

Using Equity Crowdfunding with VC Support

Startup founders don't face a binaty choise of crowdfunding or VCs

This year I have been writing articles for an Anglo-Indian asset management company. They have been planning an equity crowdfunding platform that will enable tech startups in India to offer equity to UK investors. The latest news is they have received approval to go ahead from The Financial Conduct Authority and the platform, CrowdInvest, will launch on 1st September 2022. Anyone can register to be kept informed of news and progress at https://www.crowdinvest.com/.

Even not so long ago there were still articles appearing that tried to put crowdfunding and VC funding in opposite corners, posititoning them as rivals for the favours of startup founders who were seeking investment. The truth is that while there some limited of overlap, they represent different types of investors who have some different motivations and expectations. Here is a reduced version of the article I wrote on this topic.

Equity Crowdfunding with VC Support

Going to VC investors or using equity crowdfunding is often portrayed as a binary choice. In reality the two are not completely interchangeable. This article looks at similarities and differences, and some examples where they have been used together.

Similarities

Both forms of funding buy equity in a business for it to develop and grow. The businesses do not have to repay the money, it’s not a loan, though the business owners do reduce their level of ownership. Dividends aren’t required because investors expect to see profit reinvested.

Businesses do not have to be making a profit, or to have even started trading. VC fund managers and equity crowdfunding investors gauge future potential. Business sector knowledge and investment experience help develop analytical skills to identify the ones most likely to succeed.

In both cases the investments are relatively illiquid. Money can be tied in for several years, difficult to get back early, and of course a business may fail with all investments lost.

Investors want to know the Exit Strategy.

Differences

VC funds and equity crowdfunding platforms represent different types of investor. Those investing through VCs generally invest much higher sums and tend to be High Net Worth Individuals, or represent family funds or institutional investors. It is Strictly Business. VCs usually invest between £2m and £50m. Whereas crowdfunding’s non-professional “retail investors” use personal money, can sometimes back a business from as little as £10, and perhaps invest in businesses they simply want to give a chance rather than expect a healthy ROI.

VC funds therefore prefer close integration with businesses they back. This can involve a seat on the board, setting KPIs, releasing funds in tranches when certain milestones are achieved, making introductions, and advising the directors. They may also pressure businesses to agree deals or sell out at a time that suits the VC fund more than it does the company founders. A business with hundreds or thousands of crowdfunding shareholders is unlikely to experience such co-ordinated pressure on its decision-making.

Equity crowdfunding allows private companies to raise sums that are far below a level that would interest a typical VC fund manager. Yet at the same time they’re higher than could be expected from bootstrapping or contributions from friends and family.

Used in conjunction

Two trends have emerged.

1.        Before VCs become involved, the earliest startup investors have often already enjoyed the biggest ROI. Some individual VC investors want to feed nearer the top of the food chain. The response has been to launch Micro VC funds that focus on early stage startups. 

2.        Equity crowdfunding has established itself as a viable source of business fundraising and investment opportunities. Demand to be hosted on a crowdfunding platform allows them to be selective about the startups they accept. They receive payment only after successful projects, so they often give preference to candidates that already have high levels of guaranteed support.

These factors converge when VC funds become cornerstone backers of a business  that uses equity crowdfunding. VC backing can encourage more retail investors to get involved, believing that the VC’s due diligence checks must have found no cause for concern.

The Seedrs platform has a substantial network of long-standing relationships with top institutional and angel investors looking to invest in high-growth, high-potential businesses, and arranges meetings to help startup founders secure vital cornerstone founding.

Using both VC funding and equity crowdfunding is particularly good for a business that wants to recruit loyal customers. This applies to fmcg grocery brands as much as fintech startups. Committed customers can become investors, and investors can become valuable customers in a virtuous circle.

Examples of VCs supporting equity crowdfunding

Wealth management startup Moneybox raised £35m institutional cash in April 2022, led by Fidelity Ventures. Moneybox wanted some of its account holders to share in their future success alongside the institutional investors. 14,704 people became shareholders through investing £6.25m in May 2022 via equity crowdfunding.

Insurtech startup Cuvva sells short-term cover to drivers who don’t own a car but are able to borrow one. Its equity crowdfunding target was £2.5 million. By June 20, with two days left to run, they had achieved £3.26m from 2,835 investors. Three VC funds (LocalGlobe, RTP Global and Breega) invested £1.5m, 60% of the declared target.

Online art marketplace Artfinder raised £443,000 from 590 investors through a Crowdcube campaign in May/June 2022. This included further backing from VC firm Wellington Partners which brought its total investment to £5 million. 

Honestly Tasty makes a plant-based alternative to cheese. Their June 2022 equity crowdfunding had a £450,000 target, and Vegan investment fund Veg Capital contributed almost £250,000 – 55% of it. By June 20, over 350 backers had pledged more than another £425,000 with 16 days remaining.

Please get in touch if you are considering using any form of crowdfunding yourself. I have studied it for eight years and I will be able to advise you on how to improve your chances of success.

Issuing Community Shares Through Crowdfunding Can Create and Preserve Local Amenities, Homes and Jobs

crowdfunding community shares

In January 2022 I started writing content for CrowdInvest. It is a new equity crowdfunding platform, and part of Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc. The platform will enable Indian startups to trade shares in the UK to raise investment funding. India now has the world’s third largest startup ecosystem, though equity crowdfunding as we know it in the UK does not happen in India. This article is about how local campaigners and activists can structure a variety of community projects as a not-for-profit company and issue shares in them through a crowdfunding project.

Crowdfunding is an extremely versatile way of raising money. It can raise donations towards personal aims or charitable and worthy causes, act as a sales channel for new products,  and private companies can trade equity. A further use of crowdfunding is to generate funds that are used for a community benefit. Since 2012, community share issues have raised over £155m from more than 100,000 people to support 440+ enterprises.

Why not just pass the hat round and collect donations in a regular way? This article will explain the added benefits delivered by community shares offered through a crowdfunding project, who is eligible to run them, and provide some examples.

What are community shares?

A community project can set itself up as a legal entity and offer equity for money invested in it. The investors seldom take part with an expectation of financial reward, they usually do it to support initiatives that will benefit their local community.

Each investor is allocated one share, regardless of different amounts they may have invested. Also, the shares cannot be bought or sold in a secondary market. These measures protect the integrity of a project from majority control being bought by a third party who could be hostile to its aims. Shares can only be sold back to the issuer, if there are funds available to buy them.

There is little expectation of an eventual return on investment in the standard sense of a company acquisition or an IPO, and dividends are not paid though there could be interest payments at a pre-fixed rate. Like any commercial venture, there is the risk of a project failing and capital could be lost.

Who is eligible to issue community shares?

There are restrictions on who can offer shares in a community project. It can be used by co-operative societies, community benefit societies, and charitable benefit societies.  Projects have to be registered with the appropriate authorities and legally incorporated in one of these three formats.

Why use crowdfunding?

It may not always be necessary to use crowdfunding and community shares. A group of community activists may be able to afford the cost of their project without publicising their venture to a wider audience. However, there are several other benefits from using crowdfunding.  

Crowdfunding community shares is a low cost way of transferring equity, without needing solicitors and lawyers. The crowdfunding platforms can ensure any relevant financial and legal rules and regulations are followed, they handle the transactions, and issue shares when the fundraising is completed. For this they may charge a fee, which includes handling transactions, of up to around 8% of the amount raised. It varies, and project leaders should check with the platforms they are thinking of using.

Research has shown that investors in community shares put in eight times more than they would have given as a straight donation. That’s a measure of how much it means to people to be formally involved with a local project and have a say in it.

A crowdfunding project can gain media exposure and bring a project/society’s aims to a wider number and range of stakeholders.

Investors can inject more than money. They can also bring added skills and knowledge they are willing to offer to the project.

Once a community project is incorporated as a society eligible to issue community shares, it may also be able to register with HMRC under its EIS or SEIS schemes. Investors who pay UK income tax would then be able to reclaim from 30% to 50% of the money they put in.

Crowdfunding platforms may also be able to offer match funding donated by a third party.

What’s needed for crowdfunding to succeed?

There are basic requirements that include providing a business plan for potential investors to study, and an offer document.

Beyond these essentials, there are three more generally accepted key requirements:

1.      A community project/society has to have a crowd of supporters who can be inspired to make an investment.

2.       The project should provide a tangible long-term benefit, rather than be a way to shore up running costs or cash flow problems associated with some existing infrastructure, for example.

3.       The project/society leaders have to be happy to share ownership with a wider community. Investors who have voting rights will also expect their views to be heard.

Relevant crowdfunding platforms

The most relevant UK platforms are:

·         Crowdfunder

·         Ethex

·         Community Shares Unit at Co-Operatives UK.

What sorts of projects get funded?

Community share projects can often be in out-of-the-way places where trading levels are insufficient to meet turnover or profit targets. This can cover a community buying its local pub when the brewery-owner would otherwise close it down, or taking ownership of a village shop and post office. Shareholders then have a vested financial interest in supporting the community assets.

Campaigns to save local pubs frequently issue community shares through crowdfunding

Preserving a local bookshop in the face of growing online shopping was another example. The project leader said afterwards: “We raised the money we needed quicker and we raised more through community shares than we would’ve done via a loan. It’s great having all these members having a stake. They will be customers as well as members.” 

On a far larger scale, the town of Dingwall in Ross-shire, Scotland, had a proud tradition of malt whisky production dating back to 1690. Ninety years after the town’s last whisky distillery closed, a new one opened as the world’s first community owned distillation plant after a £2.5 million community shares fundraise in 2018. Over 2,400 investors from 30 countries bought shares in what became the UK’s largest community share crowdfunding campaign. The distillery created local job opportunities, with business and personal incomes feeding in to the local economy.

In this example, issuing community shares supported sustainability in the built environment. Carl Elefante, former president of the American Institute of Architects, said: “The greenest building is the one that already exists.” When the NHS decided to close the Southwold and District Hospital in Suffolk it was going to be demolished and replaced by luxury homes. A group of local people partnered with a housing association to buy the former community hospital and recycle it. Their community share offer raised almost £400,000 towards redeveloping and repurposing the former hospital as a community hub with a library and co-working space, plus nine affordable flats and houses. 

LATCH (Leeds Action To Change Homes) is a community benefit society in the Chapeltown area of Leeds. For over 30 years it has been transforming derelict buildings into new homes for people who need them, helping them get their lives back on track while at the same time providing training and employment opportunities. In August 2021 they raised over £550,000 to refurbish vacant properties as eight new homes.

These few examples demonstrate how community share crowdfunding can empower local communities to take control of their environment and resist corporate decision-making that is not always in their best interest.

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]

Online shopping is hurting the high street, but new tech can also help bricks-and-mortar retailers

Many well-known retail brands have shut down in the past few years. We’re no longer dropping in to Maplins, Toys R Us, Oddbins, LK Bennet, Karen Millen, British Home Stores or Mothercare. And that’s just a fraction of the list.

Many others have already re-negotiated their rent costs, or are planning to do so, through CVAs (Company Voluntary Arrangements) to buy time to develop a new business plan that will cope with current pressures of reduced customer footfall, sales figures and profits that are largely held to be attributable to online shopping.

CVAs spread retailers’ challenges – ok, risks – to a wider community of corporate owners of retail space and their shareholders, such as British Land, Hammerson and the Intu Group. Those shareholders, indirectly, include millions of us through pension schemes and government investments. So when media headlines declare “the high street is dying” we ought to take note.

Though is it really dying, or is it a case of transforming to the new reality of a business landscape that now has to include a share of online shopping? Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show 19% of all UK retailing is done online, and the figure is still growing.

Online shopping is hurting the high street, but new tech can help bricks-and-mortar retailers

It’s not the only factor that bricks-and-mortar retailers are having to deal with. The level of business being lost to online retailers is enough to tip many shop owners in to a danger zone, and other factors are under scrutiny. Many local council traffic and parking policies, for example, are based on deterring people from going to their local shops and high street, rather than encouraging them to make a visit.

Changes to the way independent retailers do business are clearly needed, though many people are instinctively resistant to change. Even those that do grasp the nettle, who are willing to change and face up to the costs of doing so, may not be able to work out the best options to choose. But they are on borrowed time if they just sit still.

At a recent “Future of the High Street” meeting organised by the non-profit Smiley Movement, Lucy Stainton of the Local Data Company confirmed a very healthy 64% of UK retail outlets are independently owned. When asked which types of retailer are most commonly going out of business she replied “The boring ones!”

Online shopping is hurting the high street, but new tech can help bricks-and-mortar retailers
L to R: Lucy Stainton, Local Data Company; Enedina Columbano, TRAID; Neil Duffy, Retail TRUST; Andrew Goodacre, British Independent Retailers Association; Robin Osterley, Charity Retail Association

Despite the fact that it’s new technology that has created the new challenges, there are many enterprising tech startups that can help physical retailers. Here are five of them.

Launched in 2014 by a husband and wife team who began their retail careers with a market stall, Down Your High Street enables local independent retailers to have an online presence in a digital marketplace. Shoppers can source out-of-the-ordinary products from 530 independent shops based all over the country, and also opt for a deferred payment plan if they wish through collaboration with the fintech payment platform Clearpay.

Dotty Directory provides advertising for small and medium size retailers on a number of websites that have a local focus on areas around the UK. In return, their details are passed on to service providers such as insurance companies who will try to sell to them.

MaybeTech offers courses on using social media for local retailers to raise their profile and attract more customers. Their platform uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) to help larger organisations listen and engage with their customers through social media, benchmark their results, and optimise the ROI of their activity.

LoLo (short for Local Loyalty) has started rolling out a mobile app that enables shoppers to benefit from using tokens that represent cash price reductions in local stores. It aims to increase customer loyalty to local independent shops.

The retailers can in turn use the tokens they accept to enjoy savings on goods and services they require for their business, and receive customer data feedback in order to improve future decision-making. The scheme is networked so that wherever tokens are earned they can be used with any other retailer or service provider that is signed up to LoLo.

Near Street is a search engine that shows the availability of items in nearby physical stores alongside the regular online options. Any stores that maintain online records of stock levels can participate. The system also helps product manufacturers and brand owners check where their goods are after they have been delivered to distribution centres.

To close, I should declare an interest, as I manage social media for LoLo.


The Sky Is Not The Limit….Your Mind Is!!!

The Sky Is Not The Limit….Your Mind Is!!!
It was terribly sad to hear the recent news that Mandla Maseko, a South African who had won the chance to be the first black African in space, has died in a motorbike crash before his dream trip was realised. I had met him when was a panellist at the international CSW Europe 2016 conference in Brussels, Belgium, and he impressed everyone who spoke with him with his infectious optimism and enthusiasm.

Born to a school cleaner and auto tool maker in Shoshanguve near Pretoria, South Africa, he beat a million entrants from 75 countries to win one of the 23 places to be the first “Afronaut. ” It was going to be a non-orbital 103km (64 miles) trip into space, travelling at speeds up to Mach 3 – three times the speed of sound. The Axe Apollo Space Academy competition had been organised by the US-based space academy SXC (Space Expedition Corporation) to crowdsource aspiring space travellers, and Mandla was a source of national pride in South Africa.

He also hoped to be the first African to walk on the Moon. After being accepted for space training he became a fighter pilot in the South African Air Force, and used his public persona as a role model to inspire and ignite ambition among young Africans right across the continent. The main lesson he went out with was to teach them that any dream is possible through self-belief and determination – after all, that’s all he’d had to start with.

Space exploration can be used as a metaphor for any great personal challenge and his uplifting, aspirational message at a human level was: “the sky is not the limit, your mind is.” He had poignantly said he planned to call home from space, adding: “I hope I have one line that will be used in years to come – like Neil Armstrong did”. I think he’d already said it.

Rest In Peace, Mandla.

Day One of a global crowdsourcing conference in London focussed on crowdfunding

On April 12 the historic Regent Street Cinema in London witnessed the first full day of the 2016 Crowdsourcing Week Global Conference which focussed on crowdfunding. Here is a recap of the day, writes independent crowdfunding adviser Clive Reffell.

Crowdfunding within crowdsourcing
Conference organiser Epi Ludvik Nekaj of Crowdsourcing Week and the first speakers of the day set the scene. Affordable, mass communication technology enables Epihigh levels of personal connection and interactivity. This has caused a clear disruption to previously accepted ways of appreciating what’s around us and how we access what we want or need. Through C2C networking we can increasingly find what we want without having to go to an established B2C provider – whether it’s goods, services, entertainment or information. And not only are we beginning to increasingly appreciate that the planet’s resources are finite and at risk, but also change our behaviour to reflect this.

A modern Old World generation is happy to have access to what it wants or needs without the proviso of personal ownership. Hence the ‘sharing economy’. Accommodation and travel are the largest sectors of the sharing economy. We share spare bedrooms on Airbnb – an organisation that after just four years has access to more rooms than Hilton Hotels – and empty seats in our cars through Zipcar, LiftShare and BlaBlaCar. And through equity and loan crowdfunding people with adequate disposable incomes are willing to invest in or lend it directly to others who want a chance to create their own business and realise their personal potential.

Panel session: "Can banks afford to ignore crowdfunding?"
Panel session: “Can banks afford to ignore crowdfunding?”

Crowdfunding and banking
In the meantime, traditional sources of business funding from banks that are no longer perceived as trustworthy are increasingly restricted by regulation and compliance. Tech entrepreneurs in their 20s are developing financial tools that banking C-Suite bosses don’t even understand, let alone have the vision to steer their organisations to a future where they may embrace some of them.

Emily Mackay, CrowdsurferSo the supply of funding for startups and SMEs continues to shift. Crowdfunding supported the launch of over 4,000 UK businesses in 2015, said Emily Mackay, CEO of Crowdsurfer.

Crowdfunding data
The demand from entrepreneurs for better crowdfunding information to increase their chances of success has led to a raft of companies collecting, analysing and providing data on the crowdfunding industry. As well as Emily Mackay of Crowdsurfer, Barry James of The Crowdfunding Centre  and Modwenna Rees-Mogg of Crowdrating were also on stage during the day.

Crowdfunding platforms
Crowdsurfer estimates there are almost 1,800 crowdfunding platforms around the world. Between them they offer opportunities for backers to support businesses in a wide range of industry sectors, and for platforms such as Ethex to specifically provide investors with ethically sound opportunities. The site allows people to “invest in businesses that are changing the world for the better,” said Sarah Flood, and it is the top social investment platform in Europe with over £30m invested so far.

Equity crowdfunding platforms were represented by CEO Goncalo de Vasconcelos of SyndicateRoom. To him, the most important aspect is not the money that crowdfunding pulls in but how much is going to be paid out to investors. If the source of the money dries up because investors get disappointed or short-changed then it’s all over for everyone. His own platform reassures investors with a stringent selection of projects they host so that only two out of 77 projects funded on SyndicateRoom have so far ceased trading. The average failure rate among all new businesses is more like 90%.

Fanuel Dewever, Crowd AngelsWith a twist on donations crowdfunding for money, Fanuel Dewever’s Belgian platform Crowd Angels enables projects to directly ask for the goods, services and human resources they require. He identified the biggest reason for projects failing is the lack of a clear demonstrable need for what’s being asked for that will allow backers to feel they have made a contribution to something significant. Issues such as easing a short-term cash flow problem are certainly important to small business owners but it does not get backers queuing up to part with their money.

Who uses crowdfunding?
Fr Frank Haydru of The VaticanThe companies that use crowdfunding are also increasingly diverse. Through the launch of their app Patrum even the Vatican uses crowdfunding to raise money to restore its historic architecture and many of its art treasures, and we heard from Father Mark Haydu (above left) on how this 2,000 year old business approached and handles it.

Christian Smith, TrackRChristian Johan Smith of the California-based TrackR raised over $2m on Indiegogo in exchange for their tracking devices for people to trace and retrieve lost, stolen or simply misplaced items.

Eric Partaker, Chilango_01Eric Partaker of Mexican food restaurant chain Chilango has raised a total of £5.5m, first through a mini-bond that offered interest repayments of 8% p.a. and raised £2.1m and then through an equity round that raised £3.4m. But it wasn’t plain sailing. After the success of their first two outlets the third and fourth ones bombed – at one stage the company was seriously close to going under.

It isn’t easy
Crowdfunding may sound easy when large figures like these are bandied around, though everyone involved with the conference agreed that successful crowdfunding requires thorough preparation and extremely hard work. It isn’t charity, it certainly isn’t easy money, and about 3 in 4 projects fail to reach their target funding level.

If you want to improve your chances of success with the benefit of some professional marketing input, I am an independent crowdfunding adviser. Click here to e-mail me or here to see my website for Comanche Communications & Marketing.

Four live crowdfunding pitches received a guarded response

By independent crowdfunding adviser Clive Reffell.

Live crowdfunding events give entrepreneurs valuable opportunities to deliver their pitches and receive insightful feedback from an interested audience.

DSC_1361An enterprising accountant, Irfan Khalil, has formed a ‘Finance for Startups’ group of over 4,000 people who are interested in equity crowdfunding. Most fall in to one of these four categories:

  • they want to trade some equity for a cash investment in their business,
  • they are looking for investment opportunities,
  • they are at an early stage of considering using equity crowdfunding,
  • or like me they provide professional services that are useful to equity crowdfunders.

Irfan organises monthly meetings at a variety of London venues. There are slots for four or five entrepreneurs to pitch their business investment opportunity in just five minutes to four or five panellists. The panellists have five minutes to ask questions, and then a final five minutes to provide feedback on what they like, what they consider ought to be better thought through, and so on.

At the end of these ‘formal’ proceedings there is then about 45 minutes of networking for everyone there to exchange ideas, experiences and contacts. Each event has a very collaborative feel to it.

February’s event was in Camden. Four entrepreneurs pitched their opportunity to five panellists in front of over a hundred people.

The panel consisted of (r to l):

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  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):
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  • 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.