[my] thoughts and it also gave [me] a good impetus to go out there and talk to a lot of these platforms, a lot of the successful equity crowdfunding campaigns from all around the world. And, some of their stories are really quite interesting about what they’re doing and not at all in keeping sometimes with the narratives we hear at all the conferences. And some surprising stuff that actually works. So it’s been the—
Dan Baird: A few examples, if I can trouble you for them?
Nathan Rose: Sure, well one of the things that they’re always told us to do is to build your crowd, right? There’s a lot of talk about social media as being a good way to do that. A lot of the campaigns said that social media was totally ineffective for them. And I think this is actually true in equity crowdfunding. But because the minimum investment amounts are typically higher and as well because people don’t like to share across social media what they’re investing in, people are more private about it. And so, you don’t get the Kickstarter effect where someone might find a cool invention and share it with all their friends, because hey this is a cool thing, let’s all go and buy it.
Some of the things being funded in equity crowdfunding are frankly, hard to understand and unsexy things like medical devices, a new thumbtack, or B2B services. So, social media doesn’t work and another thing is that some of the techniques that can be done mid-campaign, sort of give you an example of that. There’s now a platform which allows you to change your valuation midstream. So if your campaign isn’t going so well, if you like, you can drop your valuation down. And there’s also things going on—
Dan Baird: Sorry, it’s about time we’ve started to see that. I remember talking to people about bidding engines and things like that and, maybe it was even a couple of years ago at this point, but [we are] starting to see at what point people will come in and actually start to say, well here’s the price at which I will participate. At the time we’re just going, we’re still too far away in terms of just building out the technology and the refined experience for some of that stuff to be viable yet. But it was absolutely an idea that I heard batted around more than once.
Nathan Rose: Make it a lot more like a traditional IPO book, where people can put in their interest at certain prices and then the price gets set by the market rather than the entrepreneur going ahead and trying to guess what it’s going to be before the offer starts.
Dan Baird: Sure, they tend to have a rosy picture, don’t they? They better, right?
Nathan Rose: Well, they’re entrepreneurs. They’re hopeful and they’re trying to achieve something. So they tend to view the future as under a bright blue sky.
Dan Baird: Exactly, I see that I wouldn’t disagree at all with the context and the challenge to utilizing social media. Like you’re preaching to the choir absolutely there on, I mean even for standard businesses. For the amount that people actually say that you need to do social media. It is extremely hard for—like I’m a very data driven person, I love numbers, I love dashboards, I love cost per click, cost per lead, cost per qualified lead, and then ultimately cost per investor, and I like cost per repeat investor.
The challenge that I’ve also had on social is that this is the push back that I hear from others and to some extent it actually is a fair point. Each channel has its tool and has its use. The social media stuff, when you’re on a Reg CF campaign, you like the true crowdfunding. It comes into play more because it becomes that validation tool that is really much harder to build, say in a context if you’re doing like a Title II and an accredited investor raise. An accredited investor is not going to tweet that they just threw 25 grand at you. It’s not as good in that context.
That being said, getting someone to say something good about the company, about the pitch, about the product, that’s there. And those are kind of those other, what do you want to call them, everything from testimonials to social validation, that does help. So if you start to think of that social media in the context of—this is about awareness. This is about you sending an email and then utilizing social media to remind someone that they still haven’t kind of gotten to that, checking out your deal page is where it comes in handy.
I’ve actually heard a ton, even from the people doing the Kickstarter raises that social media in and of itself isn’t a great tool unless you really start picking apart how to utilize it, and utilize the PPC associated with it.
So for example, if you can get people to drive people onto your social media feed to the campaign page and then use look-alike audiences or use retargeting methods to kind of bypass the initial cost per click or PPC campaigns, you can basically, undercut the price. A cost per click is not uncommon in real estate and stuff. You can see them at $17 if you’re not careful and terrible at your job but, in utilizing social media there’s less of an urgency there, but you can find those individuals that clearly, they understand the crowdfunding space. On top of that, they understand your field, you can drive them to the deal page, and then you can use retargeting to actually get much much less expensive and more efficient cost per click and things like that to expand your audience and expand and utilize another channel. Or a top of mind type of campaign that says look you’ve already been to it but maybe you didn’t fully pull the trigger, but just a little reminder, we’re closing in 10 days, nine days, eight days, that type of thing, where it can help push you over the top that way.
Nathan Rose: Sure, I think there’s another challenge though with equity crowdfunding and that these numbers about conversion become a lot more meaningless because, yeah you can drive someone to the site and you can measure how many times people are investing but the range of amounts that people are investing is so wide.
So on a Kickstarter page, you might have two or three levels of rewards, one at $20, one at $100, one at $500. But in equity crowdfunding, you could have someone coming in at $10 or coming in at $100,000, and there’s a lot more value to exactly who that conversion is and how much they’re investing in. They’re not just putting in one set amount.
The point you made about exposure is very well made and actually a lot of the campaigns that I talked to said that that was the really transformational part of equity crowdfunding, getting their business out there in front of more people—not just customers but also board relationships have been founded through equity crowdfunding. So that’s got it in common with rewards crowdfunding. It’s really interesting, actually—what’s different and what’s similar about rewards crowdfunding. I think that will be one thing that people who read the book will actually probably pick up on, particularly, if they’re already familiar with rewards crowdfunding.
Dan Baird: I’m excited for those next stages. I think that’s to your point and it’s a different animal with a different need and this is where a lot of the less sexy businesses come in. Like, even to the confusion earlier, regular conversations, at least in the U.S. about how crowdfunding genuinely isn’t the right word when it comes to those accredited investor raises, and that should be general solicitation, you know? Our team has started to lean towards open investing. It’s transparent, it’s a more visible form of a traditional investment scenario.
The excitement that I really see is how the Reg CF and those other genuine crowdfunding raises really start to change the dynamics of how the everyday businesses utilize that financial method, right? So here’s where potentially some of those other channels come back into use. This happens very, very commonly: everyone forgets what happens after the campaign, right? In rewards, they forget that they just raised several hundred or maybe even a million dollars but they won’t have revenue for the next twelve months because they will be doing nothing but fulfilling that campaign for the next twelve months.
Or, in the equity raises they really forget, even some of the platforms, they don’t realize that as soon as that campaign is over, you need to start on that nurturing campaign because for those investors, they’re consumers of the product in most cases and the immediate shift is now not only just the fact that you’ve received some financing that you really need, but now you have a word-of-mouth team, you have a built-in brand ambassador that has some of the most powerful, from a conversion perspective marketing, the word-of-mouth stuff, which is much more believable and relied upon by their peers. And, it’s one of those where this is some of that refinement.
I was saying that looking to see more of is where the after campaign, the nurturing and everything else comes in and gets more and more interesting and really starts to lift those companies, even at $10.
By the way, $10 investments—are you at the point in say, the UK and New Zealand where companies are efficiently raising at $10 per investor? We’re not there yet here in the U.S. It’s still too expensive from all of the—you’ve got to do the ongoing reporting and everything else. But, I’m just curious. Is that actually happening there yet? Is that a common price point that people will kind of go as low as [$10], or if not, what is?
Nathan Rose: Well, it is happening in the UK definitely. The two largest platforms in the UK are Cedars and Crowdcube. They’ve each got differences between each other but both of them focus and cater well towards this B2C businesses, and when you get people in there at 10 pounds each, then you can get a lot of people coming in, because it’s really affordable and it’s really not much more than the price of a pint and a meal, right?
Dan Baird: Sure, and I think that’s where this stuff really gets interesting because that’s where that shift takes place. In many ways, they’re kind of funding in the long-term; the investor pays for these raises, right? Like they ultimately funded, even on those Kickstarter raises, those are usually based on rev share agreements if at least you’re hiring a contractor. If not, they’re half the time funded on credit cards that are then paid back by the funds raised by the raise. And so, a lot of people say, well it’s not the most efficient way to raise funds.
Rule number one that’s actually in most cases always how it’s done, like a venture capitalist loans you seven figures. They immediately turn around and charge you a management fee. And the lower price point is missing in many ways. [It’s] kind of the point that yes, you are getting an investment in dollars and yes, that is important but even at that 10 pound, but yes, even at that really low price point, again, you’re getting a built-in audience, you’re getting a built-in, this is like a loyalty program that they’re voluntarily bringing to you and kind of participating in. It’s actually potentially extremely effective customer acquisition and I think lot of people skip that idea in that point. I mean, here in the United States the pricing tiers, I think the lowest I’ve seen is still $150. But, I wait for the day when it’s $10. I’d love to be at that cashier counter at the local bakery or something else like that, pick up a dozen donuts and while I’m at it have $20 in stock. I love that idea. I think it’s a great idea.
Nathan: That would go well in the U.S. There’s no doubt about it. I think one interesting thing about this though is how when you’re investing 10 dollars or 10 pounds, the small amount, it kind of blurs the line between reward crowdfunding and equity crowdfunding. No one’s really putting such a small amount in and expecting to get rich, right? They’re doing it more because they’re having a pants war or they’re interested in the business or it’s a bit of a laugh, a bit of a gamble. In some ways, people putting in those tiny amounts aren’t really investing arguably. So there is some, there is a movement amongst some platforms to set those limits higher up so that people who are investing are actually investing and they’re actually engaging their brains and the amount at stake is enough that they’re going to read the business plan and understand that before they put their cash in. But if they’re B2C businesses, these really minuscule amounts are as you say a fantastic way of customer acquisition and customer loyalty.
Dan Baird: What about other shifts from the B2B versus the B2C markets? What are the tactics and strategies do you see really need to be ready for and adapt to?
Nathan Rose: Well, for the B2B businesses, again, it’s a case that you should be conducting your raise in a different way. So because it’s called crowdfunding and because people still associate crowdfunding mostly with Kickstarter and Indiegogo they still assume that all the same rules apply and you should try to conduct the whole thing from in front of your laptop.
But in an equity crowdfunding, there are things going on like investor evenings which all the platforms are organizing. There’s like five or ten campaigns going along at a time. You can actually get all of them in one room and bring some investors along to hear them talk and to hear them pitch. Here in the UK, it’s incredibly popular now that there will be rooms packed full of hundreds of people listening to equity crowdfunding pitches and if they are a product then you can see the product, you can meet the founder, and that’s how I think you can get people to invest those larger amounts—when you can actually shake their hand and see their eyes.
Through the book, I go ahead and split the equity crowdfunding universe into two categories. I call them the local businesses with the crowd, which would fit nicely with your corner donut shop, or something like a beer company that’s really understandable. And then there’re the potential big winners. I don’t like to use the word unicorn because it has a number attached to it at a billion dollars, but unicorn-like companies are also suitable to be crowdfunded. But I think the tactics, the marketing tactics and how do you get people through the door, are different in each case.
Dan Baird: I agree. I think lot of the market is beginning to notice from the vendor’s perspective, meaning the platforms in most. A lot of the platforms signed up assuming that they could basically create the technological widget, the Marc Andreessen “software eating the world” where we will turn on the website and we will turn off our sales force. We’ve got a 24/7 engine now and it turns on and it fundraises and it’s all automated and it’s magical. And you’ll have one man shops running multi-billion dollar platforms being the ultimate ideal goal in their opinion that they’re just so highly profitable and minimalist when it comes to the workforce but, there’s this objective take, I think the people that look at the technology as an excuse to get rid of the minutia that doesn’t matter so that they can focus on the tools and the interpersonal relationships that do matter. They’re the ones that are really winning. Like, we’ve got real estate platforms and clients with six-figure minimums and there’s no way that someone is going to transfer hundreds and thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars via the internet without talking to someone in some way. They need to chat, they need some live human warm body that actually really does seal the deal. So I’m actually really glad to see that. It’s in many ways, I think now instead of having the one-on-one pitch where the entrepreneur flies to the venture capitalists office and does a one-on-one pitch.
Now at the very least we’re aggregating groups of individuals to come and see several companies simultaneously, which is, that’s 5x more efficient, at least. And it is still, it’s enabling that human communication and still being more efficient so the founders can simultaneously not consider fundraising their “full-time” job, which I’m sure you’ve heard, right? And in some cases it can take years, but it’s the proper use of what this technology is properly going to deliver—[it’s] actually more meaningful relationships, and as you know, the VCs, and those B2B’s regardless of the scenario, when it all comes down to it, whether it’s the rewards raise or you know the crowdfunding, the real Reg CF, the average Joe raise or even those B2B raises, when it all comes down to it, venture capitalist alike, they invest in the team first. Rather [than] invest in an A team with a B idea, than a B team with an A idea, right? So, I’m actually really glad to see that. We’ve done a couple, even here in the U.S.; we’ve been a part where [we] have the luxury of being kind of one of the judges on those panels, but I’d like, that for me is the proper use of that technology and when they come in thinking that they can disappear and turn off all of the interpersonal relationships, it’s not that simple. Maybe one day [in a] very unique situation, but I don’t think we’re there yet, especially since it’s this new.
Nathan Rose: Platformers who think that are stupid, and are going to go out of business because they’re not selling widgets on their site. Every single company that goes live on an equity crowdfunding platform is unique and has a different team and has a different business and it has to be explained differently, has a different cap table, different issues, so it’s actually a very people-heavy business. It’s really taking venture capital onto the internet so that other people can invest, but the fundamentals are still the same.
You’ve still got to have the right building blocks in place to actually get funded. It’s not the—it’s a very trite thing that’s been said so many times at so many conferences but the internet will not just hand you money, you have to bring that crowd yourself and crowdfunding’s no different. I do think one quite interesting thing though, is how in these markets which have been around for a while, how venture capital is becoming more comfortable with this idea of coexisting alongside equity crowdfunding. I mean, is it like a threat to them? Is it something that’s like flash in a pan and just going to go away? I think they now recognize that it is an alternative for companies and that the fear that a company who funds through equity crowdfunding is going to be somehow less attractive to a VC down the line. I hear that complaint a lot of the time, but at least in London, VCs are becoming more comfortable with the idea that yeah, you can have all these people on a cap table but as long as it’s managed appropriately through a “no money” structure and there are their rights attached to that, they’re still going to be comfortable with follow-on fundraising.
Ultimately, it’s the business performance which will trample—this terrible—all these things you can have as messy a cap table as you like, and you can have them funded through all kinds of weird ways, but if the business itself and the team itself is a winning team, then they’ll be interested.
Dan Baird: Yeah, and it’s a good kind of proxy as well, right? [We] get the same issue in the U.S. as far as seeing that the cap table is always the number one concern for them. Right, it’s how do we maintain voting share rights and not avoid just getting dragged into lawsuits or something else is what their concern is, but it’s such a powerful proxy for market demand. It’s such a powerful like, key performance indicator to have a successful raise built into your fundraiser.
Like your valuation changes, so in some ways it’s like I’ll put up with a little bit because hey you know at least, thus far the research indicates that crowdfunding is pretty smart, you know? It’s a decent key performance indicator in and of itself and especially you know, the same thing back to the conversation on the ten pound investments. It’s nothing to the investor, no, are they expecting a dividend check once a month or anything else? No, probably not. But, from the company’s perspective, that’s a buying signal that says I believe you’ll be here in five years, which I think is a very, very, very powerful tool that can be utilized.
Can you talk about your book, Equity Crowdfunding: The Complete Guide For Startups And Growing Companies?
Nathan Rose: It’s a global look at equity crowdfunding so there’re 12 platforms in there including one in the U.S. I talked to the republic guys who just started out a spinoff of AngelList.
Dan Baird: Was that Ken, he used to be the general counsel for AngelList? He was one of the attorneys that worked on AngelList, I probably got that wrong, so, I’ll fix it in the show notes, but yeah, great platform.
Nathan Rose: Yeah, and they’ve just put through their first million dollar raise as well. So, the cool thing about the U.S. is that we’re actually seeing the regulations being used and we’re seeing money being raised and it’s only five months in, and perhaps people were expecting more but actually the start that the U.S. has had mirrors every crowdfunding market that I’ve seen. That it takes some time for the snowball to build and for momentum to kick in. So, I think you can look at these overseas markets which have been around for longer like the UK, like the Nordic countries, and you can take a peek into your own future. And the book looks at the best campaign strategies by some of the really successful case studies out there. Like there’s Monzo Bank who managed to raise a million pounds in 96 seconds. There’s Pavegen which is an incredible company which generates electricity through the kinetic energy generated by steps on a footpath. And they turned away VC money just because they found that crowdfunding was going to give them better terms and better publicity. So there are these case studies out there now where crowdfunding is not seen as some kind of inferior alternative for companies that can’t get funded any other way. It’s genuinely being seen as something that companies should weigh out the pros and cons of, and that for me is really exciting.
Dan Baird: Yeah, I’m actually quite heartened by the conversations I’m having where people are coming in which some large, you could argue they’re B2B players, and they’re deliberately shunning a lot of those. They’ll actually tell us. We kind of do the hyper-targeting and segmentation method right? So, earlier when you were talking about the variety and the huge spectrum between 10 pounds and 100,000, creates some challenges. At least one of the ways we try to deal with that is starting to sub-segment and often times you can have five different customer types on a single raise and from the average Joe to the institutional player, quite heartened to see that actually we’re getting more and more companies notably from veterans of those institution and institutional players but they’re coming and saying I actually don’t want to take money from a certain small group. I actually want to make sure that this investment is available to everybody. I came from that space and it was one thing that kind of bothered me. People made a ton of money and it was very unfair that we left out so much of the populations. So in this case, I’m requiring that that’s a part of it even if it isn’t necessarily the most efficient way yet. Great, great signal for us. Let’s see and if people want to get the book, it comes out November first, where should they go?
Nathan Rose: Yeah, so they can go to my website which is AssembleAdvisory.com/book. And that’ll be the link to the amazon page. You can get it on kindle or you can get a hard copy. For the first few days, it’ll actually be downloadable for free on kindle so go ahead and take advantage of that. And if you leave a review you can get the audiobook version for free as well. So, go ahead and read a bit about equity crowdfunding and some of the experiences from outside the U.S., because I think it’s a really interesting glimpse into your own future.
Dan Baird: Excellent, well Nathan Rose, thank you for your time, we hugely appreciate it and thanks for coming to correct the crowd.
Nathan Rose: Not at all, thanks again for having me.