I’ve just started a £100,000 crowdfunding activity on Seedrs, the UK equity reward platform, to fund my mission to rid the world of dirty tongues.
Over the last 20 years or so I have been a director and shareholder of a variety of SMEs in what could be loosely called the ‘creative’ sector.
So that has included a packaging design agency, Michelin-rated restaurant, Soho drinking club and fleetingly, a TV production house – all to various degrees of commercial success.
But as every self-starting entrepreneur knows, this type of CV also means I have been able to acquire a broad and pragmatic set of commercial, marketing and person management skills in the process.
Right now I am aiming to launch of a range of premium branded tongue cleansers, based on 2000-year-old Roman design.
My marketing strategy requires an initial range of 15 designs, an e-commerce website, videos and a cost efficient digital ad campaign. All of this feeding off a beautifully crafted and coordinated PR campaign involving celebrity advocacy.
Not surprisingly all of this costs money – so the question arose of where do I go for £100,000 of start-up capital?
My options were:
1. Banks – having previously experienced three years with the threat of house repossession, if my company had failed, I owe it to my wife and kids to NOT choose the mortgaged loan ‘option’ again.
2. VCs – In the past this route has worked for me on a couple of occasions. But this is a start-up so this is a non-starter.
3. Angel investors – I tried this last year, whilst the recession storm still swirled, to mixed results.
US angel funds were initially interested (the concept of ‘niche offers’ marketed via e-commerce appeals to West Coast angels) – but managing ‘at distance’ ultimately put paid to the discussions.
UK angels are a much more conservative breed. They seemed to only want to invest in three types of start-ups: artisan bakeries or any business with the word ‘mobile’ or ‘digital’ attached to it.
The Amano Tongue Cleanser was clearly none of these.
4. Crowdfunding – here’s a challenge to any entrepreneur with a new business to launch. Google ‘crowdfunding record’ and read slack-jawed about all the start-ups, mostly in the US, getting a ridiculous amount of money in yet another record time.
I bet it will make you want to try out this 21st century digital alchemy – after all your new business idea is way better than those you have just read about, isn’t it?
Crowdfunding is big – $3 billion is the estimated funds that will be channelled to business globally in 2013. It has also harnessed the power of social media for a worthy cause. Entrepreneurs have to work the channels but, if Seedrs research is correct, once they hit the magic 35 per cent of target mark – the ‘bandwagon effect’ kicks in and everyone jumps on.
The process is very engaging as crowdfund investors read the pitch, watch the video, ask questions and even meet the entrepreneur/team. That’s more involvement than when I bought my BT or M&S shares.
It’s tax efficient for investors as they benefit from SEIS tax rebates of 50 per cent.
But most importantly, crowdfunding is fun – certainly more so than a two hour meeting with your bank manager. So that’s why I choose the crowdfunding route and Seedrs.
I am only part way through the 90 day funding cycle and in case you are wondering, I am at 34 per cent of my target at present.
More on crowdfunding:
- Kickstarting a chain of lawsuits
- Hop Stuff Brewery: Using crowdfunding to finance a beer business
- Escape the City snubs VCs for crowdfunding
So how do I think crowdfunding will evolve?
The current US model is rewards based rather than equity based as it is in the UK. This means the leading US site Kickstarter will only be able to offer (for instance) freebie concert tickets or albums in return for crowdfunder donations to an artist’s album costs or tour costs. A significant amount of US crowdfunded projects are in the ‘creative’ space. Whereas in the UK, using the same example, equity stakes in the album or tour can be given instead.
This appears to be a sounder business model going forward – for backing serious business projects. I believe the SEC will look to relax the rules in the US and there will be a move to a far more equity reward approach.
Crowdfunding is a young industry, loosely regulated and has something of the ‘Wild West’ new frontier feel about it. The players that look to play the long game and set up sound processes, rigorous due diligence, and quality control – will be the ones that will rise above the fray.
This is very important. The mission to channel much-needed funds to our capital starved SME Entrepreneurs, in the continued absence of bank finance, is crucial – if we are to kick-start UK plc into real action.