When Retro Computers turned to Indiegogo for crowdfunding, it promised $100-level funders a handheld gaming device called the Vega+. With promises from the company that the device would come equipped with more than 1,000 games, the console quickly gained a following, and more than 3,600 people pledged $100 each to receive one.
The successful campaign gained U.K.-based Retro Computers more than half a million dollars.
But when the time came for those backers to receive the handheld devices, Retro Computers wasn’t able to deliver. Legal battles and production issues caused hiccups. The promised September 2016 delivery came and went. Users began getting upset – more and more publicly.
Finally, after unwanted media attention and, just this month, a lawsuit, Indiegogo intervened. The crowdfunding platform announced on June 6 that it was siccing debt collectors on Retro Computers in an effort to reimburse its donors.
Despite that tale of woe, entrepreneurs can’t ignore the potential of crowdfunding. Kickstarter has hosted nearly 150,000 successful projects, raising $3.7 billion since 2009, and Indiegogo has raised more than $1.5 billion since 2008. Done correctly, crowdfunding could provide the perfect building block for your next venture.
The ups and downs of crowdfunding
Crowdfunding’s popularity is not all hype. It can yield benefits beyond financial backing, helping your company build a loyal customer base and establish credibility before you’ve even launched. But you can’t just set up a Kickstarter page and watch the money roll in. The right strategy is essential to reap the rewards.
Pebble shows how it can and should be done. One of Kickstarter’s most successful campaigns of all time, the company raised more than $20 million from 78,000 backers – exceeding its goal by 4,068 percent. Pebble turned that consumer confidence into more than 2 million sales of its smartwatch and was ultimately bought out by Fitbit.
But when it comes to crowdfunding, there’s more to consider than whether your project will meet its fundraising goals. Even a successful campaign without serious forethought and planning can encounter challenges that will sink a business before it gets off the ground.
Coolest Cooler, on the other hand, might be one of the most disastrous campaigns in Kickstarter history. The company raised $13 million, but it wasn’t prepared to operate in the wake of such success. Coolest Cooler couldn’t fulfill rewards for its 62,642 backers.
Remember: It’s not just about hitting the goal. Even in successfully funded projects, 9 percent fail to deliver on promises to backers. That’s a hard hurdle to overcome in the beginning stages of any new business.
Campaign mistakes to avoid
It’s easy to think of crowdfunding as easy money, but campaigns should be hard work if you’re doing them correctly. If you want to start your project on the right foot, avoid these common mistakes:
1. Kicking off without leads in place
Crowdfunding campaigns have short time lines. What’s more, campaigns rely on a momentum of interest. You’re going to have difficulty hitting your goal if you don’t have leads in place ready to back your campaign on day one. Not gathering enough leads before launching is the problem partially to blame for nearly every failed project.
Set up a landing page ahead of time describing your product and promoting your upcoming project. Include a contest in which people can enter their email address for a chance to win your product. This will give you a list of already interested folks to reach out to the day you launch your campaign.
2. Ignoring Facebook for potential conversions
Platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have large audiences, but if you rely solely on the backers already there, you probably won’t hit your goal.
So, look elsewhere. Facebook advertising is one of the most cost-effective ways to reach a highly targeted group of people that is likely to convert.
Consider the PEEjamas Kickstarter campaign, which my company mounted. That project hit its $14,000 goal early on, but my company wanted to see how far we could go. Funding increased from around $26,000 when we started the ads, to $227,469 by the time the campaign closed. I highly recommend working with a team of Facebook Ads specialists who can make the most of your ad budget.
3. Failing to consider scale
You might have a goal in mind, but what happens if you exceed it? Is your business model scalable? Are you going to be able to fulfill rewards? Don’t be Retro Computer or Coolest Cooler.
Make sure the price of each of your rewards is sufficient, whether you hit your goal exactly or raise more than you anticipate. Have a plan in place for shipping and fulfillment. Examine your profit margins closely as you set your funding goal, and determine product pricing. Consider factors such as minimum order quantities, manufacturing costs, marketing costs, platform fees, shipping costs and more.
One last thing to consider: Kickstarter and Indiegogo both have a 5 percent use fee and a 3 percent to 5 percent processing fee. Factor this into the goal you initially set.
Platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have broadened the horizons of start-ups and consumers alike, but getting the most value out of crowdfunding requires forethought and planning. There are plenty of Cinderella stories out there but also just as many cautionary tales. Avoid their mistakes to make the most of your fundraising endeavour.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
What Funders Look For From The Funder’s Perspective
Essentially, Secha brings three key ingredients to the table.
Secha Capital is an FMCG and Agri fund that is focused on the ‘missing middle’, established but small businesses that need additional capital to assist them to reach next-level growth.
“We look for founder/market fit and product/market fit and recurring revenues,” explains Brendan Mullen, co-founder and Managing Director of Secha Capital. “We believe there are businesses that are too big for government grants, but too small for traditional funds, and that’s our focus.”
As a result, Secha addresses capital and management gaps of companies, and chooses its sectors based on research and surveys.
“We’re investment thesis driven,” explains Brendan, who contacted Danie because his team had been researching the fragmented packaged biltong sector in South Africa.
Essentially, Secha brings three key ingredients to the table:
- Growth capital: Often used as working capital, but can also be used to purchase machinery.
- Human capital support: Secha joins the team for a minimum of nine months and also sources an intern from a management consulting group or international MBA programme. The result is a skills transfer, a new perspective, additional bandwidth and operational support. “It’s often difficult for SMEs to attract the best and the brightest. We look at it like human capital arbitrage; bringing in a high-level person to really assist with projects and operations.”
- Channel access. This is the side of FMCG that requires the most persistence, and in many ways Brendan already has excellent contacts that the companies he invests in can leverage off. “It’s important to know buyers and be able to make the right connections and introductions in this business. That’s an invaluable level of support for entrepreneurs.”
For any entrepreneurs considering funding, it’s as important to consider what the investor brings to the table over and above capital — afterall, you are giving equity in your business away, a decision that only makes sense if the ultimate goal is growth.
From Secha Capital’s perspective, the first test that Stoffelberg passed was the taste test. Brendan saw the brand in a retailer and bought it. He then did some research and found a business with a one-page website and limited marketing — which meant there was an opportunity for Secha to add value.
“We were specifically looking for businesses in this sector that owned the entire processing part of the value chain. We wanted to be price makers, not price takers.”
An additional plus point was that Danie and Oom Stoffel had already secured their Halaal, HACCP and export certifications, which proved grit.
“We realised that they are the experts in meat. One of the key things they had in place was an exceptional team. Chris Bothma, who worked on the Blue Train as a head chef, is not only Stoffelberg’s chef, but he’s in charge of production, product innovation, recipes and he manages a team of 25 at head office. He’s also a shareholder in the business. Finding the right subject experts drives growth, and was a big plus point for us. If we find a business that has product/market fit and founder/market fit, we know it’s just a case of adding some other capabilities to achieve real growth.”
What funders look for
For Brendan, there are a few key areas that he considers when making an investment. First, he regularly taps into his networks to stay abreast of what’s hot and new, and what consumers are asking for. This will often lead to an investment thesis.
Next, he looks for a large TAM (total addressable market) with adjacencies. “You ideally want a large TAM in a fragmented area, with products that tend to be grudge purchases because top alternatives are not available, as well as a team or founder who really knows the industry, what’s broken, what can be fixed, and how to get recurring customers from that solution. In addition, we want to see what new value-adds you can you bring to the table.
“Stoffelberg is re-invigorating a dormant market, while another one of our investments, nativechild, is operating in a niche growth vertical within a much larger vertical and can expand from there.
“Look for opportunities in fragmented value chains, where there are no clear brands in that specific section of the market. Find that, and you can find a slice of that value.
“I also believe in founder/sector fit. Stoffelberg wouldn’t be here today if Danie and Oom Stoffel didn’t know the different players in the value chain, couldn’t anticipate pricing and didn’t understand consumer pain points. Domain expertise is huge.
Why Not Getting VC Funding Might Be Better For Your Business
Here’s why lifestyle businesses appeal to so many entrepreneurs.
When I started teaching a new venture creation elective to MBAs 15 years and over 2 000 students ago, I’d tell my student teams they each had to come up with – and develop a compelling plan for – a (theoretically) VC-backable start-up concept. Made sense, right? MBAs wanted to be part of building the Next Big Thing, and venture capital-backed start-ups had driven a massive tech boom over the prior decade – a wave I’d been lucky enough to ride.
But, it didn’t take me long to ease up on that “it’s gotta be VC-backable” requirement. Looking back, I had three reasons for that shift:
1. Start-up lessons tend to apply across the board
First, folks immersed in the action-based learning exercise of mapping out a start-up consistently reported back, after re-entering the workforce, that they were able to apply those learnings and frameworks to almost any entrepreneurial – or intrapreneurial – experience in their careers.
2. Many people find low-tech businesses more appealing
Second, a lot of teams would come up with quite interesting but low-tech startup ideas. As I discussed in my recent article, “Who Would Invest in Your Startup, and Why?,” low-tech businesses rarely represent interesting investments to VCs, primarily because of low valuation multiples (often due to limited growth upside).
3. A vanishingly small proportion of all startups raise VC financing
Finally, I looked at the numbers and realised that most startups – indeed, even most very successful start-ups – do not raise money from venture capitalists. According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2017 saw approximately 556,000 business applications from corporations (what they call CBAs) in the U.S. (That’s only about 18 percent of all new business applications, to make sure we’re not counting sole proprietorships, two- to three-person professional services practices, and so on.) Meanwhile, Venture Monitor data from PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association tells us that, during the same period, U.S. “first financings” from VCs (as opposed to follow-on financings) numbered 2,676, or less than one-half of 1 percent of new corporations started. Now granted, first financings from VCs will tend to occur one to three years after a company first incorporates, but the statistics year-to-year are similar enough that the proportionality doesn’t change in a meaningful way.
But, what I teach and how I teach it completely aside, my real “a-ha” has been a growing appreciation for non-VC-backable start-ups and how they can represent a genuinely appealing path for many entrepreneurs.
Let’s look at the positive side of the ledger for so-called lifestyle businesses:
Ownership and control
Raising equity financing from VCs – or, for that matter, angels – comes with a downside that few talk about: pressure to achieve a liquity event (sale of the company or IPO) within a fairly short time horizon (we’re talking three to six years, typically). Since your company needs to be pretty massive to go public, we’re really talking about pressure to sell the company. If you don’t raise equity financing, you’re in far better control of your own destiny. If you’re in a reasonably protected niche, you’ve got the luxury of time to grow at a more leisurely pace. It’s also up to you as to whether you want a board or directors and/or advisory board, and whom you want to invite to join.
Less dependency and greater chances of success
On the one hand, you’ll need to fund your lifestyle businesses through savings, credit cards, friend-and-family loans, bank lines of credit, small business loans and the like. And while it may sound sexier to load up on lots of VC rocket fuel for your start-up, as we’ve discussed, that funding path assumes you’ll be one of the select few who’s successful in attracting VC investment, and it comes with outside pressure to “go big or go home” and sell the company. So in general, you can think of well-crafted lifestyle businesses as being lower upside, but also lower risk.
Taking the lifestyle business route, you stand a higher chance of getting airborne and achieving some level of success.
More options in life
If you own and control the business, you can decide the degree to which you choose to grow it aggressively to maximise cash flow or wealth, versus taking a more casual approach. Perhaps you’ll decide to build the business to a certain plateau and then simply manage it for free cash flow that makes work an option. And, building a lifestyle business in this fashion by no means precludes eventually selling the company if you choose – or, alternatively, handing it down to your kids some day.
You can still leverage technology
Whereas a lot of lifestyle businesses are low-tech in nature, increasingly, we’re finding that even those entrepreneurs are creatively leveraging technology to successfully launch, grow and become more profitable. Social media campaigns, search-optimised websites, customer newsletters and referral networks can all play a crucial role. And behind the scenes, smart lifestyle entrepreneurs are exercising the muscle of low-cost, online tools for everything from brand management to accounting and finance, inventory control, customer relationship management, point-of-sale tools and HR management.
Building a VC-backed startup can be bracing and both personally and financially rewarding. Been there, got the t-shirt. But, nobody’s going to feel sorry for you if you get your lifestyle startup to the point where you’ve created life options such as hiring a general manager and calling in from the lake house a couple of times a week to check in.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
7 Questions A Venture Capitalist Will Ask You Before Investing In Your Business
Are you ready for external financing?
It’s no secret that the number one cause of business failure is running out of cash. However, an injection of cash alone does not necessarily mean a business will be successful. Our role as a VC is to identify businesses that have a unique mix of skills and offerings that, when mixed with the right capital partner, are in the best position to succeed.
These businesses are generally run by entrepreneurs that seek to have an impact on some sector of society and have the drive, foresight and emotional intelligence needed to succeed. Finding businesses run by entrepreneurs who exhibit these qualities is a big part of our secret sauce, but equally, it’s important that we can work with, collaborate and align interests with these entrepreneurs, so that success ultimately results in both founders and investors alike realising profits and investment returns.
Understanding what VCs look for
After identifying businesses with potential, we spend a lot of time working with the entrepreneurs we’re considering investing in, asking questions like:
- Are we funding a business, an idea, a lifestyle or a big dream?
- Who are the clients, how did the business acquire them and why do they use their services?
- Does the business have a competitive advantage that’s difficult to copy?
- Can the business scale?
- And finally, is the founder and entrepreneur ready?
- Are they prepared to sell some of their company and work with external partners? Do they listen, seek and take advice?
- And when (not if) the company runs out of money, are they the first employee to forego their salary?
If you want to prepare yourself for a capital raise, these are the questions you should be asking yourself in preparation.
Right partners at the right time
Starting a business is hard. Partnering with the right investors with aligned interests is crucial and being comfortable in answering the above questions is just as important.
If answering these questions makes you uneasy in anyway, perhaps you aren’t ready for venture capital financing. Like most things in life, success comes down to people, and partnering with the right people and investors at the right time, is key. Not all entrepreneurs are comfortable working with partners. Understand what you want from a funder before you start looking for investors.
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