Crowdfunding: some lessons and tips

coffee 101Since closing our crowdfunding round in December, coffee invites have been endless. Everyone’s asking me for advice and tips on running a successful campaign. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good cuppa – but in the interest of time, my caffeine intake, and to help share my tit bits more widely, I thought a 1-0-1 in crowdfunding might be better than 101 coffees.

So here we go: my top tips or take-homes for running an equity crowdfunding campaign:

Deciding whether to crowdfund:

1.  It’s not easy and it’s not quick.

The reality is that it takes as long as any other form of funding (it was six months between our first meeting with Crowdcube and the money landing in the bank).

Hands up: I haven’t raised investment from the traditional angel or VC route, so I’m not in the best position to compare. But having seen many people around me go down that route, I don’t think crowdfunding was any easier – you still have to prepare detailed business plans and projections, and you still have to pitch. In fact, you have to pitch endlessly, everywhere: from the pub to client meetings, angel events to your friend’s birthday.

Because equity crowdfunding is regulated by the FCA, each and every claim you make has to be backed up with references and evidence, from market size to advisor’s employment experience. For example, we had to submit employment contracts for all our advisory board, to prove that they really had the experience that they claimed to have. (Whilst this is a bit of a hassle, I actually think it’s great and they should make more of a thing about this – a lot of investors would feel more confident if they knew what scrutiny the pitches have undergone).

So if the reason you’re considering crowdfunding is that you think it’s quick and easy, think again.

2.  On the flip size, you get so much more than money out of it.

We learnt a tonne from it about launching successful campaigns – lessons that we’ll be able to apply to our work almost daily.

And it created a buzz around what we’re doing, helping us to build our sales pipeline: old clients got back in touch, and several investors have already introduced us to potential new clients.  This buzz also led to a record number of job applicants when it came to recruiting once the money had come in.

Everyone’s reasons for choosing crowdfunding will be different, but you can see mine here.

3.  Ask your network.

Before committing to crowdfunding, we sent a very informal email out to all our users asking if they’d consider investing if we were to go down this route. This was a great shout as not only did it put our nerves at ease and make our users feel special as we’d consulted them, but it meant that we could approach angels saying that we had over 100 investors already lined up, before we’d even gone live. *

4.  Talk to angels early.

Any significant angel will want to have influence over your investment offer, and so it’s best to talk to them before you launch your page, whilst valuation etc. is being in negotiated. But frustratingly and somewhat ironically, the doors to many angels will only open once you have demonstrated momentum by getting a sizable crowd on board.

Launching your campaign:

5.  Line them up.

Make sure you’ve got a few investors lined up before you ‘go live’, and get them on board before you start publicising your page. We had about five investors signed up before we went public – advisors, team members, family – but I’d recommend having more than that. This momentum is critical – people are like sheep.

6.  Use your own networks as much as possible.

This might seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people think that they can post their campaign online, sit back, and let the web do the work. That doesn’t happen. You’ve got to use every channel you have to reach your own audience, then the crowd will follow. 54% of our investors came from our own networks – making up 81% of our investment.

7.  People need to be reminded again and again.

We began to feel uncomfortable about sending so many emails out about it (we sent six crowdfunding-specific mail-outs to our users over the two months). But when it neared the end, people kept saying “I had no idea the deadline was so soon, you should have reminded me!”.  We’re all human and leave things until the last minute – most people were grateful for the extra nudges, not annoyed by them.

8.  Every little helps.

Make it clear that even £20 investments are really valuable, but they are more valuable the earlier that they’re made. That’s because their role is more about building momentum than inching you towards your target, and momentum is most important at the beginning.

9.  Video links

When emailing people, share the direct link to your video as well as to your crowdfunding page, as most sites make you create an account before you can even view the video. You need to get people hooked before they’re going to go to the effort of signing up, especially as the FCA requires all users take a test before signing up.

10.  Go to events, lots of events.

Network like crazy. It’s exhausting, but it’s essential. Pick the events carefully though – you could easily fill your diary with crowdfunding meet-ups and tech start-up events, but you’ll only meet other skint entrepreneurs there.

Think carefully about who your target investors are and what events they’ll be going to. Get yourself there. For us, it was sustainability industry events, and some social enterprise events too.

thank you

11.  Thank your investors, and ask for feedback.

Have template emails ready to go for business plan requests so that you can respond speedily, and ping investors a quick personal ‘thank you’ email when they pledge. A little thank you goes a long way. Remember, they’re second only to you when it comes to promoting your campaign…

Post-funding:

12.  Prepare yourself.

Just because you’ve hit your target, doesn’t mean the hard work’s over. In fact, it’s barely begun! Having 200+ investors on your cap table makes the legal process of calculating share numbers and issuing shares just a tad more complex than usual. Start thinking about this and preparing for it as early as possible, you can get many of the steps sorted before you even begin raising.

I hope that’s helpful. I’ve shared more insights on our campaign data here; and of course, if you do still want to pick my brains, I might just be persuaded to sip another flat white… or beer.

* that tip was courtesy of the wonderful folk at OpenDesk.

One thought on “Crowdfunding: some lessons and tips

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s