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How to Run Successful Equity Crowdfunding

I had the privilege of putting questions to a number of international experts on equity crowdfunding in an event organised by Crowdsourcing Week. This article sums up their key insights. If you want to discuss any plans of your own, I’m an independent crowdfunding advisor, which means I have no ties to any particular crowdfunding platform beyond my own personal investments. Send an email to [email protected]

Raising capital through equity crowdfunding

Andrew Zhang of Republic, a U.S. equity crowdfunding platform, ran through the essential structure of a money-for-equity campaign.

They have certainly hosted enough projects to have built up a wealth of insight and experience. Republic has enabled over 150 companies to raise a total of $45 million. Last year the average raise was $500,000. Most of the investors were non-accredited, and the raises were capped at a top limit of $1,070,000 by SEC regulations.Top Insights to Successful Equity Crowdfunding

Equity crowdfunding can run alongside other funding mechanisms that between them can bring in a maximum of $5m.

There is a strict vetting process to ensure that only the best opportunities are put to Republic’s database of investors: under 1% of all applicants end up launching a campaign.

However, keeping to the theme that equity crowdfunding has democratized the process of funding a startup business, 40% of project leaders have been women, and 20% have been Black or Latinx.

Funding generally comes from four sources: friends and family; people who know the business – customers, suppliers, other stakeholders; Republic’s network of investors; new supporters brought in by marketing activities.

Top Insights to Successful Equity Crowdfunding

The usual timeline is for a three to four month campaign from going live online to issuing shares to new shareholders. Though prior to this there are issues including arriving at a company valuation, preparing marketing materials, and pre-selling to reach c. 30% of the financial target. Pre-selling ensures a campaign starts with a bang and not a whimper, and gives it dynamic momentum that attracts investors looking for a home for their money.

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 include the realization that at whatever stage of a company’s growth, in addition to raising money, successful crowdfunding involves, builds and strengthens communities. 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 – which of course from 1 January 2021 includes the UK.

Retail investor access to VC deals

Equity crowdfunding is often described as having democratised access to investment funds for startup owners who do not mix in the same circles as high net worth individuals and VC managers. In the same way, equity crowdfunding has opened up opportunities for retail investors to invest in private companies, sometimes alongside institutional backers.

Top Insights to Successful Equity Crowdfunding

Jonathan Medved is CEO of Israel-based OurCrowd.  As the country’s biggest VC investor, he said their links with crowdfunding are becoming more stretched and tenuous than before, though they still allow individuals to piggy-back on their VC investments. For a management fee and a 20% carry-over on profits, retail investors can enjoy the same pre-IPO terms as a VC. Half of OurCrowd’s investment deals are in Israeli businesses.

OurCrowd’s prospects are looking good. Their investor network includes 50,000 U.S. accredited investors. Jonathan is delighted the U.S. SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) is relaxing its stringent rules on who is allowed to invest, and how much they can invest, through crowdfunding projects. Professional qualifications can now replace former demarcations based on income or savings definitions. And smaller businesses will be able to raise more than the previous cap of $1,070,000.

Also, a recent normalisation of political and trade relationships between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has the potential to unleash a torrent of investment capital, perhaps as much as half a billion USD in the first 12 months.  

Crowdfunding for Policy Makers

Author and management consultant Tim Wright, of TwinTangibles, closed the event with a session based on insights gained from co-authoring a recently published book “CROWDASSET, Crowdfunding for Policy Makers.” The book looked at crowdfunding from a variety of perspectives, given that policy makers can represent the interests of diverse stakeholders.

His visual device representing the core benefits of a crowdfunding campaign relates to core policy maker interests. In gaining a better understanding of what is of key concern to policy makers, crowdfunding project leaders can better ensure their campaign is fit to succeed.

Top Insights to Successful Equity Crowdfunding

Naturally, the key element of the whole exercise is that businesses want to grow. For that they need Finance, which in equity crowdfunding is achieved by selling part-ownership of the company. This aspect is overseen by financial regulators and authorities that ensure compliance with financial regulations. National tax regimes differ on how they treat the funding received, cross-border investing is scrutinised for possible money laundering, and the U.S. has an added complication of different rules that apply to accredited and non-accredited investors.

Some countries still bar equity crowdfunding in the interests of protecting unsophisticated investors from possible financial harm, including India.

Crowdfunding also provides Insight to company founders through receiving feedback from people on the nature and structure of the business, validation of the value put on the business, and feedback on the proposed products or services to be delivered. Business trading standards authorities, as an example, would be keen to know that any products offered by firms using crowdfunding meet statutory minimum requirements.

Good Communication is vital to succeed. This covers the marketing activities, raising awareness and stimulating sales. Most countries have extensive regulations on what can and can’t be said about crowdfunding opportunities, which can differ from one to another. So a crowdfunding campaign can’t always be picked up from one country and then run again in another.

Networks relates to a business’s customers, suppliers, supporters (who may not always be customers), and social media followers. Trading and Advertising authorities would once again be involved here.

And finally, there are also the vested interests of the crowdfunding platforms themselves, who are often members of their own professional trade representation and lobbying group. Such groups include the UK Crowdfunding Association, European Crowdfunding Network,  National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA) in Canada, and Bundesverband Crowdfunding eV in Germany.

The breadth of interests and responsibilities of related policy makers is thus extremely wide.

Don’t forget, if you want to disucss your own thoughts or plans for an equity crowdfunding project feel free to email me in confidence, I’m an independent crowdfunding advisor: [email protected]

Vital Steps To Achieve Massive Reward Crowdfunding Success

Narek Vardanyan, CEO of The Crowdfunding Formula

In five years, Narek Vardanyan, CEO and co-founder of The Crowdfunding Formula, built the world’s largest agency (in Armenia) that specialises in supporting entrepreneurs who want to launch new and innovative products, and generate high level pre-orders through crowdfunding. The TCF agency is far removed from asking friends and family members to support a modest Crowdfunder, Kickstarter or Indiegogo project. In the past three years they have worked on 13 projects that raised over $1 million of product orders, and that’s the level of ambition they want to work with.

There are plenty of lessons to learn from understanding their almost indiustrialised process of preparing for and executing a reward crowdfunding project, many of which also apply to equity crowdfunding.

How to secure The Crowdfunding Formula’s engagement

TCF uses a simple scoring system, and a project has to score at least 4 out of a possible 6 to be considered.

How To Prepare for High Level Reward Crowdfunding Success

To achieve this rating it’s clear a product must be aimed at a B2C mass market for TCF to become involved.

Beyond the scoring system, a project leader should have a core team of around five people to share the workload, an ambition to achieve at least $1 million worth of pre-orders, and a prototype that’s at least 85% complete.

How and what to prepare in a pre-launch period

Thorough preparation in the run up before a reward crowdfunding project goes live is absolutely vital to provide a foundation for success. This work is never seen in the project content finally visible to the public on a crowdfunding platform, and remains a challenge to many who aspire to be an innovative entrepreneur.  

Prototype

TCF’s team of experienced operatives can identify a host of issues to double-check and pressure test, including sourcing materials and components, manufacturing to regulatory standards in different countries, and supply chain and fulfilment reliability. Some projects have started as long as a year later than originally planned in order for the prototype to be acceptable.

Start to build a crowd of backers

Work here focuses on three elements:

  • Growing a base of early-adopter subscribers who are interested enough to sign up through a landing page, or join a Facebook group, and not only back a project but maybe also add their voice to the marketing efforts. Opportunities to earn perks with limited availability can make them feel special and identify strongly with a project’s ultimate success.
  • Creating a network of influencers, bloggers, journalists and editors of off- and online media who will review and rate a product.
  • Building a stockpile of images and video content.

The question of “How many subscribers are needed?” relates to the item unit price. Once a crowdfunding project goes live, potential backers of high ticket items will need more reassurance than for lower price items, and thus need to see an early and convincing level of support.

How To Prepare for High Level Reward Crowdfunding Success

How to reach and motivate subscribers

TCF can set up a chatbot, a VIP Facebook group, and other social media pages such as Instagram and a ‘regular’ Facebook page. They will create subscriber subsets who will respond better to different types of communication content, and devise a raft of bonuses to keep them all involved during the pre-launch period. You need them to place their orders as soon as the crowdfunding project goes live to give it momentum. Asking them to refer friends can also be very effective.

How to collect and communicate with influencers

Manual searches to first establish the identities of relevant influencers, and to then find contact details, are too slow and time consuming for a project that aims to raise $1 million. The TCF team have the skills to use automated services. Whether you’re going to use a marketing agency to support your project, or handle it all yourself, these are some of the list-building tools that are available.

  • Nymeria enables users to quickly find a person’s email address on supported sites like LinkedIn and GitHub.
  • RocketReach finds email, phone and social media details for over 250 million professionals.
  • Prophet is an advanced search tool available from the Chrome Web Store. Has 30,000 users.
  • Email Hunter extracts and auto saves email addresses from website pages as you visit them.
  • Lead IQ, primarily designed as a tool for sales teams, similarly extracts contact data from web pages and LinkedIn.
  • Voila Norbert has built up a massive database of B2B email addresses which they will examine to meet customer requests. 
  • Anymailfinder uses job title search to find your ideal contacts if you don’t even know their name.
  • Leadgibbon can add email addresses to a list of contact names and domains.
  • PhantomBuster is great for finding contact data in social media profiles.

Having created a group of influencers, reminding them about your project and keeping them informed of progress is also handled better through automation. Mailshake is an email outreach software and sales engagement platform that helps you send emails from Gmail and G Suite, and Streak extension is another CRM system for Gmail users. Others are available.

PR tips on what to say

Have product samples available to send to influencers for them to review, and put the most important information in an email in a P.S. Use articles about your product in retargeting ads, and embed tracking pixels in your emails to enable effective follow up.

Let them know you are available if they want to make a video that features you or your product, offer them special perks if they place an order, and ask if they can make any contact lists available to you.

Remember, all this is done in a pre-launch period before your crowdfunding project goes live. Much of it equally applies to equity crowdfunding, where the challenge is to build crowds of influencers and potential retail investors.

How to set a reward crowdfunding target

Narek’s advice is you should set it as low as possible in order to be able to report a fantastic level of overfunding and look to be a sensational success. Nobody else has to know the real aim is at least $1m, or whatever your own target is.

The minimum goal for an “All or Nothing” crowdfunding project should be the breakeven point where pre-orders cover the first minimum production run. It is important to also allow for the following:

  • Any level of profit you feel your team’s efforts deserve.
  • Fees charged by the crowdfunding platform, which will include an element covering transaction costs (credit/debit card, bank transfer fees, PayPal). In total, about 10%.
  • Packaging and delivery costs of the products, plus any applicable tariffs related to countries you are going to ship to.
  • Costs you are going to incur to run the crowdfunding project, such as video production, photography, maybe launch events, product samples, Facebook and other social media advertising, legal services and charges, IP protection, and the  fees charged by a support agency.

Under the terms of “All or Nothing,” if your project fails to meet the minimum goal the backers are not charged the money they pledged, there are no platform fees to pay, and you don’t have to manufacture the product. The manufacturer, however, may still want some level of payment if they had set aside some production time in their schedules. Consider this in your negotiations with them to begin with. Overall though, if you fail to reach the minimum target you can go home to think again without having incurred a great debt.

The Crowdfunding Formula charges 25% of the money raised.  This may seem a lot, though consider what they help each client with, the other benefits of crowdfunding beyond generating sales income. 

How To Prepare for High Level Reward Crowdfunding Success

This article was first published, by me, for Crowdsourcing Work, where my role is Content & Marketing Partner. I am in regular contact with team at The Crowdfunding Formula – what do you want to ask? Email me at [email protected]

10 Top Tips for a Career Change Fuelled by Crowdfunding

Image source: simplybusiness.co.uk

Covid-19 vaccinations have started and perhaps provide a route back to some normality within a few months. Though many businesses haven’t had the luxury of being able to simply batten down the hatches and wait that long, and many people who used to work for them face a turbulent 2021 full of change.

The ranks of the self-employed and small businesses are going to grow. Crowdfunding provides solo entrepreneurs and startup businesses with many benefits, including product testing and raising awareness alongside raising finance without melting down credit cards, re-mortgaging the family home or taking on other forms of a loan guaranteed against personal assets.

Business experience is valuable

Those who had reached the autumn of their career may feel particularly uncomfortable about going it alone in a fast changing world where digital natives appear to be increasingly calling the shots. Yet as The  Blockheads’ band leader Ian Dury might have said, there are reasons to be cheerful.

A study conducted by the US Census Bureau and two MIT professors found:

  • A 50-year-old tech startup founder is 2.2 times more likely to be successful than a 30-year-old.
  • A 50-year-old startup founder is 2.8 times more likely to be successful than a 25-year-old.
  • A 60-year-old tech startup founder is 3 times more likely to be successful than a 30-year-old.  

Not everyone works in tech, though I find it reassuring to know that founding a successful startup isn’t the exclusive preserve of the young, and that the younger business founders aren’t always the best. In my role as an independent crowdfunding adviser I have met many startup founders of all ages. It is always dangerous to make sweeping generalisations, though the high value of transferrable skills and just general understanding of how businesses run is much stronger among older founders. They appreciate far better how solidly things have to done, how robustly claims and plans have to be validated, and that hope isn’t a strategy.

10 top tips for a career change

I’ve been made redundant twice, and worked for a company that folded and left us all high and dry. I know how former salaried employees in their 50s feel, and I offer my ten top tips on setting out in business alone.

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

Considering crowdfunding?

If you want to know more about crowdfunding, either as a means to check consumer demand for a new product, or to raise finance for a business to grow, you could start by following me on Twitter. I also regularly write articles about crowdfunding for Crowdsourcing Week. When you’re ready for a conversation, please first email me at [email protected]. I am an independent crowdfunding adviser, providing objective and impartial advice with no ties to any particular crowdfunding platforms.

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

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.