Having completed two successful rounds via crowdfunding in the past, CEO OF 1854 Media shares his insights to help PPA members who may wish to consider this type of funding opportunity.
1854 Media, a long-standing member of the PPA, owns award-winning platforms from the oldest photography publication to some of the world’s most viewed exhibitions. They have built a community of 2+ million creatives, connecting global brands with top talent, and their overarching mission is to empower the most talented photographers all over the world to realise their creative potential. In December 2019 they opened up an equity crowdfunding campaign to their community and are close to reaching their target just a few days after going live.
See 1854 Media's live campaign here.
Why shouldn't you do it?
Crowdfunding is a terrific way of raising capital, but it’s not for everyone.
You have to be prepared to be open. When I started 1854 and did our seed round, I didn’t show our full business plan to anyone – just a three-page extract and then you got the plan if you signed an NDA, even my father-in-law...especially my father-in-law. If you’d said at that time that I would be putting our plans on the internet a few years later, I’d have said you were mad. But you have to let that go. You have to put your strategy, thoughts, and your forecasts for the next five years in the public domain. It seems very counter intuitive but that’s what you have to be prepared to do.
For us the risk, aside from a huge distraction, was reputational damage and embarrassment from a very public failure. BJP is an institution and has hundreds of thousands of social media followers so whilst there was always a commercial risk of sharing all our plans, the bigger risk was reputational.
Assuming you have decided it is for you, more so than with any other form of raise I have been involved with, planning is absolutely key to executing a successful crowdfunding campaign, because it is so ‘out there’.
There are effectively two pitch processes to plan for - a 'warming up' phase which is all the marketing outreach planning, business plan and video creation, and we have found that creating our own private space to pre-register people has been an important element so that the live campaign starts with momentum. In the second phase, Crowdcube will ask you to justify every number and every claim on your pitch, and not all businesses will get through this diligence phase. Until you have properly warmed up your audience and achieved some cornerstone investment commitments, you will not be able to go live. So, planning is key.
Make a beautiful plan and make sure it tells a story and has an executive summary upfront as it may be the only bit that someone reads. I am very fortunate in that I have excellent wordsmiths and designers who work for 1854 but, if you do not have these skills in-house, it’s an investment you need to make. Our plan can be seen here.
You need to make a great video. Storyboard it and practice until it looks like you didn’t storyboard it. Don’t underestimate that it takes a really really long time to create a 3-4 minute video which tells your story and has the right pace to keep a viewer engaged...people are extraordinarily impatient. Get it properly filmed with good audio from someone who knows what they are doing, and I think that talking heads are important - as an investor myself I always want to see the whites of the eyes of the entrepreneur I am considering backing.
Don’t go [equity] crowdfunding without a crowd: If you’ve got a large following, people will invest because they love the brand and are loyal to it. When people buy shares in a football club it’s not because it’s going to make them a huge profit. If you do not have an obvious crowd, you kind of still do - your crowd can be your own network, Linkedin groups, social media, customers, even suppliers.
We market our magazine and our awards every month, and we help our clients market their products. Taking all of that experience and implementing was vital - these campaigns are among the most comprehensive and well executed marketing campaigns we have ever prepared.
Create a sense of urgency
We used a countdown timer on our pre-launch page which rapidly counted down nano-seconds until the campaign went live, inviting people to pre-register for advance access ahead of the crowd. Then we reset it for just 72 hours during which the pitch was only open to pre-registered people and existing shareholders, and again to the end date of the campaign. It was a huge relief and buzz when we hit 50% our initial target within 90 minutes of launching - we had played on people’s FOMO to encourage them to stake their claim early and then could do it again when it opened to the public, as we were close to our target within a few days.
Momentum is absolutely crucial to a successful crowdfunding campaign. We used the pre-launch page on our website which gave people most of the information and which we started pre-marketing around 2-3 weeks before we were due to go live. There was a form to register your interest and that was invaluable because it gave us a host of people who we could email as soon as the campaign went live. The form is then replaced with a direct call to action to invest via the live campaign page.
Throughout the campaign you need to plan regular updates, many of which can appear timely but in reality, can be written well in advance. Updates and momentum get you on the radar of the Crowdcube marketing folk and if you are working together then every piece of activity generating even a micro-investment helps to drive your pitch forwards.
Expect the same amount of work as a more traditional fundraising campaign, just squished into a much shorter time frame - the best thing about these campaigns for me (apart from having funds to deploy at the end of them) - is the ability to control and influence the time-frame.
Hope for support from your team but be prepared to demand it from the cynics (and there will probably be some cynics). It’s really important for everyone to be fully engaged.
Set a realistic target - the sooner you are over funding the sooner the wider crowd engages with you.
Set a valuation you would be happy for friends and family to buy in at - because they might. Mine did.
Post-raise, communicate with your new investors - they are your best advocates and will help you market your products.
Final piece of advice: strap yourself in, it will be a hell of a ride. So try to enjoy it!
See 1854 Media's live campaign here.