Crowdfunding does more than raise money

Crowdfunding does more than raise money

I was recently asked about crowdfunding by the founder of a startup business that makes a range of non-alcoholic wine.  There was nothing confidential in my reply, so I thought I’d share it with you.

You’re absolutely right that crowdfunding can be a more time consuming way to raise money compared to perhaps a VC investment or an angel investor. Yet there are other benefits that go way beyond the money it raises.

For example, VCs were queueing up to invest in Chapel Down (the celebrated English sparkling wine maker) when in 2014 they launched their equity crowdfunding campaign. Beyond raising £3.9m in three weeks, their CEO Frazer Thompson told me that crowdfunding had generated 1,500 brand advocates who would spread positive word-of-mouth, buy Chapel Down products at every gift-giving opportunity, and create sampling opportunities by stocking their wines (now beers as well since they built a brewery with some of the money they raised, and gin too) both at home and in their company drinks cabinets. Priceless!

Crowdfunding creates a virtuous circle whereby customers can become shareholders and shareholders become customers. I’m caught up in it myself as an investor in a craft brewery and a gin maker. If “my brands” are available,  why drink others? Shareholders catapult themselves right up the brand loyalty ladder.

Hop Stuff Brewery started five years ago when it raised £58,000 through offering 34% of equity. It’s now valued at over £25m, with products stocked in Wetherspoons (which encourages lower than regular cost product trial), Tesco and Majestic Wine; it has a growing chain of beer and pizza outlets; and international sales and franchise brewing agreements.  Hundreds of their 1,000+ investors from three rounds of crowdfunding on Crowdcube attended an “Investor Fiesta” event at their new brewery back in August.

A network of investors can be used for research purposes and to ask for ad hoc assistance such as help recruit staff,  recommend suppliers, volunteer their own services, and so on. At the Hop Stuff event I heard a fellow investor volunteer to use his contacts to help sort out supplies of CO2, which if you remember was in short supply in the summer.

Crowdfunding does more than raise moneyEven if it’s not a main aim of the crowdfunding, it could find you an angel investor. This happened to some people I know who started a business making tissues from bamboo. To begin with, all they wanted was an initial £10,000 of orders through rewards crowdfunding to provide validation they weren’t wasting their time. A backer was impressed with what he saw and stepped forward to invest, which allowed the founders to greatly speed up product development and company growth. So do eveything as professionally as possible.

They were a top-seller on Amazon very quickly. Within three years the company founders raised £500,000 in October 2018 for 10% equity on the Seedrs crowdfunding platform  – they had a business valued at £5m!

Their latest news is The Cheeky Panda tissues are now stocked in Tesco and Morrisons; in the summer they signed a £1m corporate investment deal that valued them at £20m; and right now they are running a second round of equity crowdfunding for existing investors in which they are offering 5% for £1m.

Good crowdfunding is also good marketing. I call it an ultimate direct marketing campaign. There’s a start date, an end date, lots to do, and if you fail to hit target you don’t raise any money. Naturally there are risks, though by breaking a crowdfunding campaign down in to component parts each potential risk can be addressed and minimised. I’ve created a Seven Stage Assessment to check if a business is ready to start crowdfunding, and identify areas that need to be addressed before going public.

My approach is more from a marketing angle, since that’s what I’ve always done. I am not a finance expert and not qualified to give financial advice. Though I can provide an experienced layman’s assessment on how appealing any offer may be to the public. I do have a post-grad diploma from the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing and a Professional Diploma in Management from the Open University Business School.

One vital tip is that crowdfunding should not begin until you have done enough personal pre-selling for 30% of the financial target to fly in to your crowdfunding campaign within the very first few days. This applies whether you’re trying to generate product orders or offering equity. This gives immense confidence to other backers who don’t know and haven’t met you, and creates valuable momentum. So if you have a target of £200,000 your pre-selling should reach a guaranteed support level of £60,000 in the bag before you start crowdfunding in the public eye (ideally more to allow for dropouts).

Early success is newsworthy and hard-working PR will generate media coverage to add to your early momentum.  On the other hand, crowdfunding without pre-selling is like shovelling quicksand – hard work and you get nowhere.

How much it costs and how long it will take depend on:

  • how well your business rates against my Seven Stage Assessment
  • how much work has to be done to become investment-ready
  • of that, what can be done internally and how much has to be outsourced
  • including how enthusiastic and good you are at using social media – and “it’s ok, my kids use Facebook, they can help” isn’t good enough
  • success rate of using PR to secure media coverage
  • how long it takes to drum up support to reach the first 30% of your target.

If you have no social media networks to drive people to your crowdfunding project it may first require months of work to build some. Or months to accumulate impressive media coverage you’ll be able to refer to, or both, ideally.

Outsourcing support and input can even begin with the pitch document. A 30-chart deck may be very thorough but it’s too much for a potential equity investor to wade through with enthusiasm. Most look for the first reason they can give themselves as to why not to invest so they can move on to the next opportunity. Simply having to spend too long to get a feel of an opportunity is a good enough reason to discard it right away.

Don’t forget the taxman. Many retail investors prefer businesses to be registered with HMRC under EIS and SEIS agreements. These Enterprise Investment Schemes allow tax-paying investors to claim valuable rebates of up to 50% of the cost of their investment, and shelter capital gains from CGT. Under SEIS a company founder can invest up to £100,000 in their own business and claim a refund. Make sure you understand and take advantage of these benefits for yourself and your backers.

To close, what you see online when people and organisations run crowfdfunding campaigns is like the tip of an iceberg visible above the waterline.  Invisible under the water is a vast amount of planning and preparation, and a fair amount of stress. It’s not impossible to run a crowdfunding campaign alone if you’re tough and resiliant enough, though most people need some help and support, be it technical or emotional or anything else. This comes either from a team of willing supporters who between them provide all the necessary skills required to achieve your success, or you need a budget. Most times it’s a bit of both. If you want to talk about your ideas that could transform your life please get in touch, [email protected]

How Crowdfunding is Changing Business

How crowdfunding can turn a holiday idea in to business reality

For many startup entrepreneurs (and d-i-y investors who back them) the most significant form of modern day crowdsourcing is crowdfunding. Rather than trying to impress a single backer to support a business idea, perhaps through chasing a grant or bank loan, or by catching the attention of an elusive angel investor, crowdfunding has decentralized the process and enables business startups to ask crowds of people directly – some of whom they know and many they don’t – to each provide a relatively small level of support.  It also builds communities of followers and supporters, where customers become investors and investors become customers in a virtuous circle.

Favourable “light touch” treatment of equity crowdfunding (where investors pay for a slice of ownership of a business, and accept the risk that it may fail) by the financial regulators allowed the UK to emerge as the world’s market leader. Crowdcube was one of the first equity platforms to appear, in 2011, and it recently announced a total figure of more than £500 million invested so far in 700 funding rounds. The banking app Revolut and the Scottish brewery Brewdog, both currently worth over £1 billion, launched through Crowdcube.

Although some of the startups supported by crowds of sometimes relatively unsophisticated backers might be mocked by professional investors for some fanciful financial forecasts, many disruptive and challenger brands have emerged whose impact on established business sectors often far outweighs their market share or company valuations. Being new can mean a fresh approach unbound by a legacy of the past, even though a lack of a track record makes it hard to interest traditional investors at the beginning.

Here are examples in three business sectors where challenger brands used the power of crowds and are disrupting the status quo.

Banking
London-based Revolut, the UK’s fastest growing fintech company, ran a crowdfunding campaign as recently as 2016 to raise £1m and get started. Crowdfunding was also good marketing for them as it generated a core crowd of hundreds of investors who would become keen customers and brand ambassadors.

Crowdfunding is Changing Business

Revolut’s CEO and co-founder Nikolay Storonsky

The co-founders’ business idea came from their personal frustration with exchange rate markups, inexplicable foreign transaction fees and the overall hassle of managing a bank account abroad.

Today, Revolut provides over two million customers (two million customers acquired in two years!) with a debit card allowing the holders to spend money in 150 currencies with no fees. They estimate they have saved their customers over £560m in traditional banking fees, and in 2018 raised $250m through corporate investment which valued the business at $1.7bn (£1.2bn).

Brands like Revolut and fellow banking newcomer Monzo are definitely shaking up the traditional banks and changing customer expectations. The technology was there, but the existing high street banks still provided us all with slower, less sophisticated and more expensive services. With us all the way, are they?

Brewing
Behind Brewdog which is now a unicorn startup valued at over £1bn, there are many smaller craft brewers that continue to launch with modest funding and provide UK drinkers with a vast choice of beers and ales made with hands-on quality control and finer ingredients than high volume mass-market brands can access in sufficient volume.

Crowdfunding is Changing BusinessAn example is the fast growing Hop Stuff Brewery in south east London. City finance professional James Yeomans found he enjoyed home-brewing more than his time spent in the office and became determined to take it further. In 2013, without any commercial brewing experience – but he could talk “money” – he used equity crowdfunding through Crowdcube to raise £58,000 in exchange for 34% ownership of his startup craft beer brewery.

The business grew, and alongside attracting corporate investments it ran a second round of equity crowdfunding that closed in January 2017, and then a third smaller one in early 2018. Although corporate investors were by now queuing up for a slice of the business and crowdfunding was unnecessary for purely financial reasons, crowdfunding has provided Hop Stuff with a dedicated following of over a thousand supporters happy to perform unofficial Brand Ambassador roles. They influence people to sample the brewery’s products through positive word-of-mouth, and ask pubs and bars where they drink to stock them.

Hop Stuff is currently opening a number of its own “beer and pizza” bars under the Taproom brand, filling a global order book and signing overseas franchise brewing agreements. Compare this to the rest of the UK beer trade: the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) recently reported annual sales were 1.7% down, and in August 2018 the BBC reported UK pubs are closing at a rate of 18 a week. Hop Stuff Brewery is certainly bucking the trend, has just moved to larger brewing premises, and five years after launching with £58,000 raised through equity crowdfunding it is valued at over £25 million.

At an invite-only event for his crowdfunding investors in August 2018, founder James Yeomans announced that packaged Hop Stuff Brewery products will soon be on the shelves in London branches of Tesco, Oddbins and Majestic Wine.

Grocery items
Bamboo is a fast-growing sustainable product with four growth cycles a year. Tissues made from bamboo rather than paper are naturally stronger, softer and more hygienic. They can be made with a 65% smaller carbon footprint.

Crowdfunding is Changing BusinessWho created and introduced this breakthrough eco-friendly product to the UK? Was it corporate giants Kimberly-Clark or Procter & Gamble that own market-leading worldwide tissue brands? No, it was a pair of UK holidaymakers who returned home from China, researched possibilities and wrote a business plan to utilise abundant supplies of unwanted surplus bamboo they had seen being left to rot.

A modest reward crowdfunding project on the Crowdfunder UK platform with a target to generate £10,000 of orders gained the attention of a crowd of early adopters and, by chance, an angel investor. Within three years the founders of The Cheeky Panda tissue company ran an equity crowdfunding campaign with Seedrs that raised £500,000 and valued their business at £5m. The brand is a top seller on Amazon.

So even in the high-volume fmcg sector (fast moving consumer goods) dominated by massive brands that are supported with multi-million £ advertising budgets, crowdfunding – the crowdsourcing of both money and a community of supporters – enables entrepreneurs to introduce innovative products and disrupt existing markets.

Mayor of London Has £1m For Community Projects Using CrowdfundingIf you are considering crowdfunding as a means to launch a startup, or maybe to grow an existing business, I can provide you with independent crowdfunding advice and hands-on support. I have no ties to any particular crowdfunding platforms. Please email me, [email protected] Let’s discuss your ideas and set about building them in to a plan of action.

Deliveroo’s attempted new pay deal a return to “bad old days”?

Deliveroo’s attempted new pay deal a return to “bad old days”?

Deliveroo sparked a rebellion among a section of its London delivery workers after trying to impose a unilateral change to their pay structure. It was going to change from £7 per hour plus £1 per each delivery to a straight £3.75 per delivery.

In essence this was a change from a fairly regular and reliable paycheque to payment on piecework rates. If Deliveroo users were to choose not to order much food, some Deliveroo delivery workers could find themselves earning under the minimum wage, yet they weren’t responsible for generating overall customer demand. The advantages seemed to be all stacked up in the employer’s favour.

Although Deliveroo claimed the change had received a warm response when they crowdsourced initial reactions to the idea, either they crowdsourced among an atypical sample of their delivery workers or their claim was no more than a bit of loose-lipped ‘management speak’ after the event.

Either way, they have backtracked and claim they are offering their workers the choice of which pay deal they want to be on. The issue has brought under a spotlight a bigger question of whether the delivery workers are employees or self-employed, but is this trend the best way for employment and remuneration to develop?

It’s of course not confined to Deliveroo. Several of the new disruptor brands that have shaken up the ways of doing things by traditional businesses are hailed as part of a great new dawning of flexible employment, deliverers of a work/life balance where individuals can create lifestyle patterns and targets to suit themselves. Though some workers claim bullying tactics force them to work longer hours than they wish to.

And there are wider implications. Cash savings for Uber users mean less income for the families of ‘regular’ taxi drivers; greater use of Airbnb can reduce prospects for hotel workers.

I’m not being resistant to change and trying to put disruptor brands back in the genie’s bottle, but the ‘caring sharing’ ethos that’s meant to be part of the crowd economy sometimes seems to have quickly worn a bit thin.

Deliveroo's attempted new pay deal a return to "bad old days"?History can give us some lessons. I live near to London’s Docklands, today a thriving centre for international finance. Up until fifty years ago international trade here meant the arrival of ships from around the world loaded with goods. Canary Wharf was for ships arriving from the Canary Islands with fruit and vegetables. And irregular workers paid on a piecework basis often carried out the job of unloading the pre-containerised cargoes.

Deliveroo's attempted new pay deal a return to "bad old days"?This is The George, a long-standing traditional pub on London’s Isle of Dogs, a stone’s throw from the finance centre and even closer to the former Millwall Dock that’s now home to a sailing and watersports centre. It’s popular with local residents, some of whom have lived there long enough to remember the scenes that used to take place in the street outside the pub up to the 1960s.

When dockyards needed extra workers to unload ships they sent lorries round to several places where dockers would congregate early in the mornings in the hope of being offered work.

When faced with a hungry family at home it really was survival of the fittest, and street fights were commonplace as dockers competed to get a place in the back of a lorry for the privilege of a day’s work. Pieceworkers in the docks did dangerous, tiring, physical work for irregular pay with no sickness benefits and no paid holidays.

It’s a story of a different London to the Swinging Sixties and Carnaby Street. So maybe let’s be careful what we wish for if the transformation of established business models made possible through mass personal connectivity creates business opportunities where entrepreneurs try to rely on piecework employees they want to classify as self-employed. It doesn’t sound very Millennial-minded, it’s more like 19th than 21st century.

A crowdfunding project quickly started raising money to replace wages lost by Deliveroo delivery workers who went on strike in protest, and they are being encouraged to join the Couriers and Logistics Branch of the Independent Workers Union, IWGB CLB.

Update on 30 October 2016

Today the Sunday Times reported that following last week’s landmark ruling that Uber drivers are not self-employed, and should receive the minimum wage plus holiday pay and breaks, the law firm that won the case confirmed they are in talks with workers at Deliveroo: “Bicycle couriers push for staff rights.”

In its Editorial in the same issue the paper warned against the risks of over-legislation stifling the gig-economy. Many journalists have for years been self-employed writers and are perhaps better able to manage issues such as lack of holiday and sickness pay, having some savings to cover emergency costs and periods of not working, and completing self-assessment tax returns. I’m not sure the majority of Uber drivers or Deliveroo workers are as educationally equipped or financially well rewarded to be able to plan careers in the same manner with such personal choice of a work/life balance.

 

“Best Funding Solutions For SMEs” – a conference in London in May 2016

Best Funding Solutions for SMEs

This event in east London’s Mile End Road explored a comprehensive range of funding options available to SMEs, including equity and debt crowdfunding. I attended in my capacity as an independent crowdfunding adviser. Here is my summary of key points from the day in four sections:

A)  An approximate, overall market background of funds secured by UK SMEs in 2015

B)  The range of funding opportunities available to SMEs

C)  Concerns for SMEs to be aware of when raising funds to grow

D)  Insights on successful equity crowdfunding

A) Overall market background

Best Funding Solutions for SMEsMatt Adey of the British Business Bank presented an overview of the funding landscape, the trends and latest figures available on financing SMEs in the UK.

Many small and medium size business owners, particularly in early days, prefer to bootstrap their way through rather than commit themselves to any obligations to third party finance providers. The extent of using someone else’s money may be restricted to existing bank account overdraft facilities or credit cards – which are already in place and immediately usable click resources.

61% of SME owners that do go further use just one source of external finance and in most cases that is their bank. Bank lending to SMEs is recovering, said Matt Adey, despite the continuing groundswell of media comment to the contrary. What clouds the picture is that high street banks are cutting overdraft facilities, according to Bank of England figures, whilst at the same time making more funding available through loans.

Awareness of other sources of finance is growing, as shown by research conducted for British Business Bank. Almost half of UK SME owners were aware of crowdfunding as a source of finance when the research was carried out in October 2015.

B) The range of funding opportunities available

    1. Asset-based lending
      This is effectively peer-to-peer pawnbroking, securing short-term loans against assets provided as security, as explained by Richard Luxmore of Funding Secure. No business plan or cashflow projections required, just an asset the lender will keep if you don’t make the repayments.
    2. Stock market flotation
      Companies in the EU can be as large as up to 250 employees and a turnover of €50m and still be an SME. Nick Parker, FD of newly floated Yu Energy took delegates through his recent personal experience. Yu Energy floated on AIM in March 2016 based on a turnover of £3.9m the previous year.
    3. Bank loan
      The biggest source of SME funding and on the rise, explained by Ian Warren, Senior Lending Manager at NatWest Bank. Total bank lending is increasing, though to some people it doesn’t seem so because overdrafts for SMEs are being cut.
    4. Peer-to-peer lending
      Best Funding Solutions for SMEsThis sector was represented by Jasper Ehrhardt, MD of Funding Knight, and Maria Samayoa, Production Manager at rebuildingsociety.com. SMEs generally have to show a minimum two year trading history.
    5. Equity crowdfunding
      Best Funding Solutions for SMEsThis sector was represented by two platforms: Frank Webster, Campaigns Director at Seedrs and James Sore (pictured), Chief Investment Office at SyndicateRoom. They both stressed that crowdfunding is no easier way of raising money than any other method. The sector has brought opportunities back to the general public to make direct investments in businesses. It is highly regulated, though investors still have to take responsibility for their decisions and conduct due diligence.
    6. European Union
      Chris Farmakis, EC Funding Manager at GLE Group, explained that through the Enterprise Europe Network they can provide EU funding for “highly innovative SMEs with a clear commercial ambition and a potential for high growth and internationalisation.
    7. Pension-led funding
      Best Funding Solutions for SMEsAnthony Carty of Clifton Asset Management pointed out that corporate pension funds are mainly invested in equities, in companies. So why not invest your own pension in your own company? They verify that it makes sense, to the extent that just 1-in-5 applications are authorised. This process can take three months. If you make it, you can get the government benefits from putting money in your pension, and then put it to work for your business. “It’s like having your cake and eating it,” said Anthony.
    8. Invoice discounting
      Explained by Helen Mackenzie of Platform Black. You can get a high proportion of an invoice’s value very quickly rather than wait for however long it’s going to take to get paid the normal way. Obviously a business has to be trading to have some invoices, so it doesn’t help startups. Platform Black particularly want to work with businesses over two years old with a minimum £500,000 turnover.

C) Concerns to be aware of when seeking funds to grow

  1. Your personal and business credit rating.
    Martin Mitchell and Jamie Allan of Experian highlighted the importance of making your credit score attractive to investors. This included checking for unknown County Court Judgements against an individual or their business. Simple things like paying bills on time improves a credit score. Click here for further information on access to monthly or annual reports.
  2. Intellectual property protection and ownership.
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEsSeeking investment involves telling your secrets, advised Clive Halperin of GSC Solicitors. Make sure what you tell people can’t be copied or stolen. There are trademarks, copyrights, patents and design rights. Make sure you understand the differences and use the most relevant one(s). Also, investors will not be keen if the business does not own its own IP. So don’t try to be clever and own it separately somewhere else.
  3. Shareholders agreements.
    This was also covered by Clive Halperin of GSC Solicitors. Shareholder agreements have to look to the future, not just reflect the present. Give yourself room to manoeuvre if a business partner stops pulling their weight. Allow for death, incapacity and for simply wanting to do something else instead. Consider all circumstances of share transfers, issuing new shares, restrictive covenants, deadlock resolution procedures, and more.
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEsAnd as Bill Morrow, CEO of Angels Den later added: “If you sign anything [i.e. a shareholders’ agreement] and you don’t know what the likes of ‘tag and drag clauses’ are then you will not survive.” Don’t totally rely on advisers, make sure you actually understand it all.
  4. Secure EIS and SEIS tax advantages for investors.
    Founder and CEO of P2P lender Startup Funding Club, Stephen Page, explained the value of these tax break schemes for investors. Business seeking investment should be ready in advance, particularly if the end of the tax year is looming.

D) Insights on successful equity crowdfunding

  1. It requires and dedication time to identify, locate and get in front of enough potential investors to find the one(s) who will back your business.
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEs
    Frank Webster, Campaigns Director at Seedrs (pictured) said: “To raise money, get out there and talk about it [your business]. To potential investors there is nothing special about your business. They’ve heard it all before. So share it.” Or as Paul Grant of The Funding Game put it: “You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.” He reckoned that on average it takes 50 approaches to find an investor.
  2. Share your idea, don’t hold back, and don’t expect people to sign an NDA before you tell them about your business idea.
    To reinforce what Frank Webster of Seedrs said, Stephen Page, founder and CEO of Startup Funding Club said: “I’m not going to sign over a thousand NDAs a year. I know what we talk about is confidential. Investors aren’t going to steal ideas, it’s not what they do.”
  3. When you do find a potential investor who shows interest, don’t rush things.
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEsDon’t immediately give a potential backer too much information. No one is going to stop what he or she is doing to read your 25-page business plan e-mail attachment on the strength of a brief conversation you had the previous day. “Investors have to be wooed,” claimed Roderick Beer of the UK Business Angels Association. “Don’t ask to marry them on the first date,” advised Paul Grant (in picture). Personally, I’d say don’t make yourself sound desperate as it can put people off.
  4. You need a team
    Investors will be wary of a one-man band, no matter how much of a genius you think you are. All the people from Seedrs, SyndicateRoom, Angels Den, Funding Knight, Invesdor and Startup Funding Club supported this point.
  5. Don’t rely on your Business Plan
    Best Funding Solutions for SMEs
    Investors will want to know you have prepared one, but as to how accurate a plan for a startup can ever be is acknowledged as a mystery. What’s more important, said Stephen Page of Startup Funding Club (pictured), is knowing what your cash flow is going to be like, and how long it will be before you need to raise more funds. And as the person who has had the great idea for your business, if you can’t write your own business plan you will be dead in the water, said Bill Morrow of Angels Den.
  6. A mentor can be more important than money.
    Money can be raised later, because maybe what’s needed first is a mentor with experience and contacts in the business sector you want to operate in. Jonathan Pfahl, Founder of Rockstar Hub International said they can effect introductions, and Bill Morrow of Angels Den said they even train their investors on to how to be better mentors. That’s why, he claimed, 94% of the companies that have raised funds through Angels Den remain trading.

If you are considering a crowdfunding project, whether equity or donations-for-rewards, I am an independent crowdfunding adviser with a marketing rather than a financial background. Please contact me about anything to do with identifying and building your own crowd of backers, and underpinning your crowdfunding project with an effective marketing campaign to get noticed and deliver results.

Clive Reffell, Comanche Communications and Marketing

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.