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By Nathan Rose, Assemble Advisory
“Who wants to ask their friends for money? It is not an easy thing to do”, muses Tom Hodgkinson of Idler Academy.
Nonetheless, friends and family are a source of capital that you can try to get on board. “Using your own network is essential, but I found it difficult from a personal point of view” says Thomas Adner of Caliente, “Of course you want to tell them you are doing crowdfunding, but you don’t want people to think you are begging them for money”.
The best balance is to make friends and family aware of your campaign, but do not make them feel pressured to contribute just because they are your family and friends. Just making them aware of your campaing gets your equity crowdfunding marketing off to a great start.
In their failed campaign, Winner Take All Gaming relied on their family and friend networks too much. “I had been asking my friends and family for help consistently for 2-and-a-half years – to invest, to post stuff online, to share things on social media. At some point, people get tired of it. The first or second time, they are excited that you are starting something new, and they are happy to help – but the longer it goes on, their enthusiasm wanes, ‘Oh, here’s the latest email from Jasper, and he’s asking for something to do with crowdfunding again!’ There is a maximum amount of help you can draw out of your network before you need to go beyond that”, advises Jasper Versteege.
Especially if you are a consumer-facing business, it will be far more effective, and far less costly, to reach your existing list than anyone else. The size of your email list matters for your ability to use a list effectively for your equity crowdfunding marketing campaign. Many of the companies I spoke to already had email lists in the tens-of-thousands at the time they launched.
The tone of your messages is important. You could send a message with a link to the offer page and ask them to invest. However, this is a rather blunt way of doing things – just think of your instinctive reaction when somebody on the street asks you for money. Most people instinctively recoil when you ask them for charity.
goHenry is an app-based technology that lets parents control the spending of their children. They completed a £3.99 million raise, which is the highest amount a company is authorised to raise under European Union laws without doing a prospectus. At the time of writing, this is believed to be the largest non-syndicated equity crowdfunding raise in the world.
“We didn’t do any traditional public relations – we didn’t have the money to spend. Instead, we relied on all the free channels we had to hand, i.e. meetings and phone calls with existing and prospective high net worth investors, but also direct messaging to our customer base.” says goHenry CEO Alex Zivoder.
“In this respect, one of the really important things we did was to send an email to our customers, a few days before opening the crowdfunding campaign to ask them if they would be interested in investing, and if so, how much. At that stage, we did not give them any more information: we just wanted to test the possible intent. There was no obligation at all for them to follow through, but because we did this, we had at least some idea of what we could expect from our crowd.”
Another smart equity crowdfunding marketing strategy is running a pre-registration period before an offer officially opens. Prior to Mondo launching, they played up to the fact that they expected the offer to close very quickly. This wasn’t an empty boast, by the way – Mondo had 75,000 people on a waiting list, and had secured significant venture capital backing.
To give themselves more of a chance, people could sign up for priority access through a pre-registration period. Not only did this build a tide of momentum in their crowdfunding offer, but it drove additional users and customer sign-ups thanks to the buzz generated.
Once people signed up to priority access, Mondo gave the date the offer was going to open, and crucially also the time of day. By providing the time of day of the offer opening, people were given the message that if they wanted shares, then they’d better be in front of their screens at the moment the offer launched, of they would miss out. This generated the hysteria of tickets going on sale for an exclusive rock concert. People were literally counting down to the Mondo launch.
“We did well in leveraging human psychology. We knew the offer was going to be popular, and we definitely played up to that in our promotion material.” said Mondo CEO Tom Blomfield.
Mondo went on to finish their £1 million offer in just 96 seconds.
Just because you are offering equity does not mean you can’t also offer other incentives alongside it. Your equity crowdfunding marketing efforts might get more interest if you also offer your backers a sweetener. EkoRent gave all of their backers two free hours of driving time for their electric vehicles, while backers who bought more than 200 shares received five free hours of driving time.
The great part about providing rewards in your campaign is that it can introduce new people to your company. Perhaps the people who used the free hours of EkoRent driving time also told their friends about the experience, and became more frequent customers themselves.
This should go without saying, but make sure you budget the costs of the rewards into the amount you are raising – if you need €500,000 for business development, and the rewards are going to cost €20,000, then you really need to raise €520,000, after fees.
If you have not been able to convince people that your offer is going to be like Mondo and disappear in a matter of seconds, then you need to find another way to convince people to back you earlier. Early momentum is the most crucial thing equity crowdfunding marketing needs to build.
A recent UK study by Saul Estrin and Susanna Khavul estimated that every £1 of investment begets a further 76 pence of investment, from signalling to other investors. Therefore, so much depends on early backers. Early backers signal to others that your offer is worth looking at – therefore, the earlier they commit, the more beneficial it is for your offer.
But most offers give investors no advantage to committing earlier than the last possible moment. In fact, there is even a negative incentive for subscribing early. If an investor subscribes early they lose the option to change their mind if something better comes along. Also, some payment systems used by platforms take the money out of the investors account at the time they invest, rather than at the end of the offer, meaning they forego interest their bank would otherwise be giving them on their savings.
You should find take a lesson from conferences, who frequently offer special “early bird” rates to encourage people to subscribe as early as possible. Perhaps you offer one tier of reward to people who back you on the first day, a slightly lower tier for people who back you in the first week, and a third tier beyond that.
Another recent innovation is an outright discount on the share price for early backers. Not all platforms are currently offering this, but a recent offer on Eureeca (Middle East-headquartered platform) offered four tranches of shares: the earliest investors would get a 15% discount on their shares, followed by a 10% discount, followed by 5%, and the final tranche would have no discount. This means early investors would get more shares for the same amount of money than late investors. While this novel structure certainly encourages early investors, this needs to be weighed up against discouraging late investors who feel like they have missed out on the best valuation.
There have been campaigns, such as Tutora, who have run successful equity crowdfunding marketing efforts without a video. So it can be done, but most platforms will now insist that your campaign page does one. Even if a platform does not require it, it is still generally a very good idea.
Your video is the first thing backers will watch. You need to capture their attention within a few seconds, so that they will be interested in investing the further time to read about the rest of your offer and do not click away from your page, never to return. If the video is too short, too long, unprofessionally done or leaves viewers feeling bored or confused, they will bounce from your offer page almost immediately.
“For us, the video was extremely important” says Nebu CEO Eric van Velzen, “Especially today, people go for videos and pictures, rather than words. People don’t like to read too much. I feel like a lot of people didn’t really read the written offer information – and that made the video more important, in my eyes. A professionally-produced video presents a professional image of an established company.”
Look at videos from past equity crowdfunding offers, and try and jot down the common factors about what made them stand out. “We studied several pitches in both Europe and the United States”, says Alicja Chlebna of Naturalbox. “We analysed different pitches and also decided early on what is most important for us to communicate. Our plan was to be authentic, honest, and explain what we do in a short, simple way. I think it is very important to show who you really are, show your personality and the spirit of your company.”
A professional videographer should be used if you have the budget for it.
A tip – videographers are fairly expensive if you just ask them to do one video, because they have fixed costs in travelling and equipment setup. But often the cost is not very much more if you get them to do multiple videos. You might consider hiring them to handle your campaign video at the same time as other videos that you can release as updates later in your campaign. That way, each video will end up cheaper on a per-unit basis.
You should come up with a storyboard and a script for the video. Start the video with an emotional “hook”: a statement of the problem that your company solves, and how your company does it. Make it easy to understand! The later parts of the video can go more into details, but make sure people understand the fundamentals of what your business does and how it makes money, in 30 seconds or less.
The content of the video should be consistent with your information memorandum. It can feature imagery of your premises and product, but most importantly, you – the founder – needs to appear in the video, to build trust and show the passion that you have for your business. Investors want to back people, not just companies.
Finally, if you insert a musical backing or any images into the video, make sure that you have the rights to use these, so that you don’t fall foul of any copyright or fair usage restrictions.
Lacking a large existing crowd, some campaigns have tried to make up for it by throwing money at expensive public relations agencies, to get their offer “out there” to as many people as possible. The campaigns I spoke to were unanimous - this doesn’t work, and you have got to be more targeted.
Getting your offer featured in the mainstream press will be a matter of figuring out an angle that you can go to journalists with. A simple press release, just stating you are doing a crowdfunding raise isn’t going to cut it. “Everyone by now has heard of crowdfunding” says Charlie Thuillier, Founder of Oppo Ice Cream “To get journalists interested, you need to find your own unique take on it. Create the story. Ask yourself why should readers care about yours?”
“Just saying you are doing crowdfunding is not news anymore.” said Laurence Cook of Pavegen, “You have to find something else that makes it relevant. For us - we are doing something no-one else has done. We have a vision to change the way cities operate in a way no other company does. We can really lay claim to trying to change the world. So we have an incredibly compelling story.“
“At the time of our raise, we created a significant ‘media moment’ around our raise, which drove hundreds of thousands of people to our site. It was key for why were able to finish our raise in just three days.” It should also be noted that Pavegen did all this without spending anything on public relations firms.
Media can extend beyond the mainstream press. Look to more specialised audiences as well, such as podcasts, bloggers and webinars. The closer the match their audience is with the sort of person likely to be most interested in your company, the better.
Just because it is done over the internet doesn’t mean you should try to conduct the whole equity crowdfunding marketing effort from in front of your computer screen. You will need to convince the “crowd” through electronic forms of outreach, because you don’t have time to talk to them individually, but larger investors can merit facetime.
“Before our offer, I was flying around to meetings. I even flew down to Dubai.” recalls Thomas Adner of Caliente. “We were out there, presenting our case, so that when the offer went live publicly, there would be a good core of people who had already seen it and had the time to think through it“.
If you can get one person to contribute $10,000, then it is just as beneficial to your campaign as getting 100 people to contribute $100 each.
Make sure you are spending time with the right people! One founder I spoke to drove to meet an investor, and spent an hour with them one-on-one, provided product samples, and went through the market and the business plan in great depth… and at the end of it all, this investor contributed the princely sum of… £10.
It is difficult to know what people are capable of investing (and it is a bit brusque to ask outright), but if you are employing a one-on-one outreach strategy, put yourself in environment where wealthier investors hang out. Look for angel investment get-togethers and try get invited to speak in front of an audience if possible. Even if you go there without a speaking slot, at least you will be among the right crowd.
Giving people the chance to meet you, look you in the eye and shake your hand can be key. Meeting someone in person always leads to more trust than a picture of them.
You can organise your own event, but you might have more success from appearing at the ones that the crowdfunding platform holds. There will be more of an audience, and it is less organisation on your part.
Be opportunistic. Andre Moll from Mycouchbox relates how they were able to give their campaign a shot in the arm: “We were at an event at WHU, Vallender where Oliver Samwer, Founder of Rocket Internet gave a speech. They invited some startups on the stage to speak, and by chance, we were one of them. So we got to tell a huge room full of people that we had an offer live right at that very moment, and that we had already raised €100,000 during the last 72 hours.”
“That would have been good publicity by itself, but then we also made the comment that ‘unlike Rocket Internet, Mycouchbox are actually profitable!’. The whole audience roared with laughter… well, all except the people from Rocket Internet – you should have seen the look on their faces. It was a pretty cheeky thing to do, but that use of humour made us memorable, alright.”
Social media is less important in equity crowdfunding marketing than in the world of Kickstarter / Indiegogo. We have all heard of the rewards crowdfunding campaigns that have gone viral because the product is cool enough to generate a cascade of social media momentum, leading to big money being generated from shares, likes and re-tweets.
That ‘viral’ effect doesn’t happen to nearly the same extent in equity crowdfunding. For one thing, people are much less likely to want to share what they are investing in – for many people, investing is a very private matter. It is also much less likely for people to invest in a company based on a social media share, especially if your campaign has a high minimum pledge amount. Just think, would you really invest €1,000 into a company you had never heard of before, because it appeared in your facebook feed?
Social media will be more effective if your company has a strong “social good” element to it, as these projects are naturally more sharable. One reason that people share things through social media is to elevate their own status in the eyes of their peers, and sharing a campaign which is seen as a good cause is an excellent way to do that.
“Because we do electric vehicles, I believe social media was more effective for us. We offer an ecological alternative, and people are more willing to share that” says EkoRent CEO Juha Suojanen “People don’t boast about the stocks they have invested in as a general rule, but unless it is a company that they really love, like EkoRent, then people will talk about it to their friends and peers. Being able to say they own part of an electric vehicle company is a cool thing to be able to say.”
If you are going to use social media extensively, focus less on the fact you are raising money, and more on the mission you’re trying to accomplish. Heimo deliberately asked people to share the campaign with their friends and colleagues who were interested, rather than asking for an investment outright. Of course, they were ultimately hoping that people would invest, but by asking for a small thing (a share), some percentage would also pledge an investment.
“We combined two messages in our campaign – our mission, which is to help people with mental health issues, and our business case as a good investment.” explained CEO Jarno Alastalo, “One in three people suffer from mental health problems, so almost everyone has relatives and friends who is touched by the problem we’re trying to solve. That made our campaign especially sharable.”
“We were really, really active in social media. In two months, we sent 500 tweets, and were really active in facebook. We also scraped emails from LinkedIn and sent 4,000 emails to people. Some people didn’t like that, but it worked! Every day, we were everywhere in Finland. It made us feel and look bigger than we actually were.”
Even so, Heimo were quick to point out that social media was not their only strategy. “We also contacted several potential investors before launch. It was crucial to have some money already, so that when the people were directed to our campaign page through our social media, they wouldn’t be directed to a campaign with nothing yet committed. Investors saw that we had 50% of our minimum done on day one.”
The lesson from Heimo is that social media supports momentum that you have hopefully already built in the pre-launch phase. It is not a tactic to generate momentum in the first place.
As you can see, there are a lot of equity crowdfunding marketing methods, to make your offer known to the world. Which should you use?
The electronic channels such as email and social media are more effective if your aim is to raise small amounts from lots of investors; the local businesses with a crowd.
In-person channels like events and meetings will support businesses which can command large amounts from angel investors; the potential unicorns.
Let me emphasise again, though, that you should really be trying to do as much as you can to use every channel at your disposal. The different methods will re-enforce each other, and make each of them more powerful than if used in isolation.
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