So you have a great business. A business, which you want the world to know of and which will propel you to a track of soaring growth. Good, you found crowdfunding, a revolutionary new way to finance a company’s growth and R&D. This proves that you are aware of current developments and opportunities offered by the networked world. That is a good basis from which you can take your next steps towards creating a successful equity crowdfunding campaign.
Keep in mind, though, that although crowdfunding can provide you with an opportunity for amazing success, it also requires work and commitment to the project.
What companies is crowdfunding for?
Crowdfunding can work in many kinds of situations in different phases of a company’s life cycle. This text focuses on the phases of a crowdfunding round from the perspective of an early-stage company looking for strong growth. Proper planning, campaigning, and execution can multiply the chances of success for a crowdfunding round.
Proper planning, campaigning, and execution can multiply the chances of success for a crowdfunding round.
Crowdfunding best suits companies that are looking to grow their businesses significantly. Additionally, it is a good fit for companies that contribute positively to the society and the environment. It is generally easier for a project that is seen as making a contribution to the common good to create buzz and a spiral of good, moving the masses and finding investors. The simpler a company’s business model is and the easier it is to capture the business idea, the easier it is for investors to grasp.
In addition to campaigns that are targeted to the general populace, a successful crowdfunding campaign can also be aimed at a specific professional target group or a group of passionate enthusiasts. Once potential interest groups have been identified beforehand, communicating the crowdfunding campaign becomes efficient and effective.
Especially if a company’s business idea or product is very specialized and difficult to communicate, it is particularly important to look for investors from the company’s own stakeholder groups, professional circles and professional investors, i.e. people who understand the excellence and competitive advantage of the company’s product/service. In these cases, a crowdfunding platform is a good hub for controlling the investment process.
The probability of a round ending in success increases when the founders and key people of the company can demonstrate strong expertise in their fields. Another factor contributing to the success chances is the state of advancement of the company and its product development. The less experienced the entrepreneur is the further a product/service and the business should be in order to evoke confidence.
It is generally not sensible to begin an equity crowdfunding round based on just one person or just a business idea. The world is filled with good ideas, but far less ability to refine these ideas into functioning products and services. Ultimately the only thing that matters is a functioning execution that is of interest to customers and provides value.
Oftentimes it is a good idea to start building the team on at least three footings, especially in projects focused on technology and product development. The different sections can be one or more persons’ responsibilities:
- management/business development/customer acquisition
Not everything has to be done and ready, of course. A growth company is never “done”. However, a company is much more credible and its communication more effective when it has something to show, i.e. when the product/service is at least in beta or test phase and has been tested with customers. Keep in mind that potential failed prototypes aren’t a weakness, but instead more of a strength and a display of actual commitment to the matter and to customers’ needs. It can sometimes be good to communicate failures; it shows determination.
Still, equity crowdfunding best fits companies that already have an existing product/service. The product/service has been tested and it has its own committed group – whether big or small – of users. The company is ready to scale up its business and to grow user numbers. A company that is in this phase is a credible and intriguing opportunity for investors due to its growth potential. Additionally, the existing user base can be leveraged for communicating and recommending the crowdfunding round. A friend’s recommendation is the best kind of marketing.
Oftentimes a product/service is finished or at least developed far with the founders’ own resources or with help from friends and relatives. The real challenge is faced when the company needs to grow user numbers or launch the product into the market. Marketing is expensive if you aren’t successful in creating sufficient hype through the grapevine. The grapevine may work, but nowadays relying solely on it is challenging.
Sometimes it can be wise to fund the early phases of product development with your own and potentially external capital, and then look to crowdfunding for scaling purposes. Crowdfunding and angel investments can also work side-by-side. There are many options in utilizing crowdfunding.
Keep in mind that a successful crowdfunding round will not happen automatically even if things may sometimes appear otherwise to the outside. A successful round takes work, activity and commitment before starting a round, during the round, but also afterwards. However, do it well and you will reap the rewards on the way to realizing your dream.
Steps to securing the dream
Now we will be moving on to giving pieces of concrete step-by-step advice that will help you make your crowdfunding round a glorious success. It’s a long list, but it’s all solid advice, so hang in there!
Prior to your funding round
Organizing and communicating the funding round should be the number one priority of the company, not just something to do on the side. Keep in mind that a crowdfunding round is also a marketing campaign for your company and its product/service.
- Building a network
Build your network both in the real world and on social media. If you are not already active on social media services, immediately get started on building a reputation and getting followers in the social media channels that you deem relevant to your business. Examples of these services are Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumbler, and WordPress.
Entrepreneurs and team members should have comprehensive LinkedIn profiles, where their prior actions and references can be seen. Key individuals behind the company should also be introduced on the actual pitch page, which is what you will be using to sell yourself and your story to the investors. Transparency and credibility are very important factors in an equity crowdfunding campaign.
- Story and vision
Write out your company’s story in an intriguing way that manages to capture the interest of its reader. Also explain the motives, experience, and goals of the key people. Make sure the story is based on facts, too!
Every company should also have their vision, mission, and values written out, because they help the company itself to picture and structure its operations. Remember that in a growth company plans are not set in stone, but the direction and frames of the company’s business should be clearly defined very early on in the company’s life. You can always hone these along the way.
A vision tells potential investors and members of the company itself what the company’s long-term goal is. “A vision is something that an individual wants to accomplish and that inspires them. For most people it is, at its core, an effort to create something greater and more meaningful than financial profit.”
The mission, then, answers the question of why the company exists. Values, commonly 3–5 of them, define that which the company holds most important and what it sees as the most important things in its operations.
Keep it brief. Try and stick to a single paragraph when explaining your product or service idea or the value it brings. It is vital for your campaign’s success that a visitor on your pitch page immediately understands what your company is about.
- Valuation and basic information
Set your company’s valuation and the goal of the funding round at realistic levels and run the calculations on the company’s financial outlook. A market review is also important to do, as is a detailed account of what the funding would be used on.
- Design and usability
Make sure that the design of your product/service is a magnet for positive attention, and that the usability is top-notch.
- Marketing and sales strategy for the round
Make a sales and marketing strategy for how and when you will approach investors. Also make a plan for how you will utilize your media space (website, newsletters, events, etc.), how you will try and get press attention (news, press releases, etc.), and where and how you will be visible in potential paid medias (keyword advertising, Google’s ad network, Facebook, LinkedIn, and advertising in carefully chosen medias).
Anything goes as long as you are honest and transparent in your behavior. So think creatively or seek external help. Carefully think through your opportunities to spread your message virally, but do not put all your eggs in one basket.
- Marketing materials
Create material that emphasizes the competitive advantage or exceptional and strong characteristics of your product/service. The higher the quality and illustrativeness of the material, the more credible and approachable your company will be. Marketing material can be used to demonstrate and make up for gaps in the development of the product/service, but never lie or unrealistically exaggerate what can be done. Future scenarios are still a-ok to present.
The company should have a website, in which the service or products are presented along with key messages. The better the introduction on your website is, the better the odds of success for the round will also be. Do remember, however, to also include all important elements on your pitch page, because not all potential investors will be looking through your website.
Particularly put effort in potential pictures of the product, because these will also be of use on your pitch page. A couple of good pictures are always better than a dozen bad ones. Also consider using infographics for illustrating your product/service and its advantages. With infographics, you can present a considerable amount of information in a small space coupled an attention-grabbing visuals. As an added plus, infographics are also easily shareable, and they can be utilized in video form as well.
- Media attention and user feedback
While creating your pitch, make use of any and all media attention you may have received. Also use lots of quotes of positive user feedback in your pitch.
- Make a video
Video, video, video. A crowdfunding campaign without a video is like a castrated bull. Video is the first thing a potential investor will see. With your video you will either pique or kill the interest of a potential investor. Projects with videos are about twice as likely to succeed and collect up to two times the amount of funds as ones without videos.
With a video you can in only a few minutes say everything of importance about your product/service and you do it better than with any other medium. In addition, a video is easy to share on social media.
If the product/service is a designer or entrepreneur-lead or the company’s journey is just beginning, it is particularly important to bring out the personality of the entrepreneur and his or her motives and story on the video.
Strive to get investors and viewers excited and committed to your project and encourage them to make an investment. Utilizing professionals while making the video and its script is recommended if at all possible, as expertise is crucial to portraying a video message in a credible fashion. The recommended length of the video is 2–3 minutes.
You should try and get creative when planning your video! Even something that sounds boring can be made dazzling and interesting, as demonstrated by this example by Virgin Atlantic.
Making a video need not be expensive. With proper planning you will be able to also get future use out of material made for a crowdfunding campaign.
- Base funding
Your crowdfunding round’s odds of success are greatly upped by investments made prior to the round going public. Remember the 30% rule when looking for funding: your chances of success multiply if you take your campaign public with 30% already invested. Success rates of up to 90% has been reported in such cases.
Popular campaigns garner more interest and attention making for a positive spiral. It is only natural for investors, particularly non-professional ones, to want to take part in projects that others have already deemed good. So do try and find base investments from your networks even before taking your crowdfunding round public.
- Discounts and customer loyalty programs
Consider whether you could offer investors something extra in addition to the stake in your company. Could you perhaps offer discounts off your products/services, or organize special events for your investors?
People often have a natural tendency to want to be part of privileged or pioneering groups. This can often be the final encouragement that triggers an intention to invest, especially in crowdfunding campaigns aimed at ordinary investors and the general populace. On the other hand, even a more professional investor is at the end of the day human, and the aforementioned matters can motivate them as well.
- Test your pitch
Ask the experts at Invesdor and people who don’t know your business to give feedback on your pitch. Test it, and make sure that your company, product/service, and goals are understood at first glance by anyone and everyone.
Phew, we're done with preparation. Let's move on to what to do when your crowdfunding campaign is in full swing!
During the round
- Be active
Keep tabs on your round at all times and actively respond to questions posed to you through your Investor Forum. Update and add information to your pitch as necessary.
- Share, share, share like there is no tomorrow!
Share information about your funding round and the progress it is making in several social media channels, your newsletters, your website, and everywhere you happen to be. Add a free, Invesdor-provided progress-tracking banner to your website and other channels you own.
Report all round-related milestones (e.g. achieved quarterly goals, noteworthy investors, etc.). Speak up if the company has made big deals or fulfilled various objectives (sales, employees hired, registrations, likes…).
- Blogs and forums
Maintain a blog of your own and write about your own crowdfunding process and current matters. Comment on other blogs and be active on different message boards, particularly any and all forums relevant to your field.
- Track the effects of your marketing
Track the effectiveness of selected marketing actions as well as Google AdWords in different channels. Invest more in actions that you deem to be working well for you. Make changes on the fly to your choices of media or messages if they do not seem to be working.
- The press
Send out press releases as necessary and try to get the news media engaged and writing about your company. Also remember to mention that you have an ongoing crowdfunding round! Try and make particular use of field-specific press.
Electronic publications are great, because you can attach other material such as videos to them, and they are easily linked to in your pitch. They are also easy to share. Media visibility is the best kind of visibility for a growth entrepreneur, because it is credible and unbiased.
- Be at the ready!
If/when something major related to the operating environment of your product/service happens, react immediately – be brave! An unexpected piece of news or phenomenon can make your funding round soar to big success if you play your cards right.
Comment and/or create marketing messages that are favorable to your product/service for instance in your blog, on social media, in the form of an ad or a video reply, a parody, an event… Even negative news can be made beneficial. And if you use some creativity, the current media topics do not even need to relate to you directly for you to be able to make use of it.
- Contact investors and be visible
Always be telling any and all of your stakeholders that you have an ongoing funding round. Identify interested individuals or groups and organize events in which you introduce your project and answer their questions. Your crowdfunding round as well as a call to action should ideally be visible in all your marketing materials.
Alright, so far so good. With these tips and tricks, you should be looking at closing a successful funding round. However, the crowdfunding process doesn't stop there. It is vital that you treat your new shareholders well.
After the round
- Do what you promised
Maintain the trust of your investors and customers by doing at least that which you promised to do during the funding round. In a growth company it may sometimes be necessary to change plans, but remember to openly communicate any big changes to your investors. This way you keep their trust and your “street credibility” and won’t sabotage your chances of raising future funding.
- Stay in contact with your investors
Strive to regularly keep in touch with your investors and report on business developments twice a year.
- Grow your sales and networks
Leverage the expertise and contacts of your investors to develop your business. Your investors can help you grow your network and market you via word-of-mouth. Keep in mind that they now have a stake in your company; they want you to grow and succeed.
- Test your ideas and your product/service
Your investors can also help you out by testing your products and/or services. Don’t forget your right target group, though; always reflect on received feedback from your target group’s point of view. The point of crowdfunding is not necessarily that investors guide your operations; at the end of the day, you may want to have the final say in decisions.
You can go a long way in the crowdfunding process on your own and with the advice we have given you. The internet is also packed with other useful tools for planning and carrying out the various phases of the process. To increase your round’s odds of success, make sure to do your homework and get help from professionals!
Miikka Poutiainen is one the founders of Invesdor. He helps growth companies develop their marketing communications and digital services with his own design agency, PinkAgency. Miikka Poutiainen has worked as a designer and expert in digital marketing communications, branding, and digital services for approximately 15 years. He has worked at several Helsinki-based digital and ICT companies with his customers including popular Finnish brands and large corporations.