How I proved my startup so I could quit my job and feed my passion

Anyone can come up with a “brilliant business idea” but it is quite another thing to put your money where your mouth is, take the plunge, give up your job and commit to making your idea a reality. For many founders of startups, taking the decision to leave your job – and a predictable salary – to commit to building your startup full-time can be terrifying. But it doesn’t have to be. There are steps you can take to prove you have a viable startup which reduces the risk, builds your confidence and makes it easier to attract funding.

David Toscano of Cin Cin Italian Bar & Kitchen did just that and Hatty Fawcett of Focused For Business asked him to share the steps he took to build his successful restaurant business – and what gave him the confidence to give up his profession as a lawyer to follow his passion for Italian food.

Hatty: How long had you been thinking about your business idea before you decided to take the first steps in getting your business off the ground?

David: About 10 years. I qualified as a lawyer back in 2001 but was bored of that career about two years in so I started to look for a way out. I spent a lot of time thinking I was not capable of doing anything else.

“I had always had a passion for food and when a friend left law to go into wine, it gave me that little bit of confidence that maybe I could have a second career in something completely different.”

Hatty: Who or what pushed you to take action in creating your business?

David:

“I just did not want to spend the next 20+ years of my life in a job I did not enjoy or care about. I needed to be putting my time and effort into something I had a real passion for”

Having grown up in an Italian family, food was always central to my childhood and something I had always felt comfortable with.

Hatty: What initial steps did you take and why did you choose these steps?

David: The very initial steps were saying yes to catering parties and dinners for family and friends in 2010, even though I had no chef training or experience.

“I did a lot of research about opening a restaurant and quickly discovered it was an enterprise with a high set up cost and high risk of early failure. Given I had never even worked in a restaurant before, this made the jump to restauranteur feel even more precarious.”

So in 2012, I bought a vintage Fiat van and converted it into a street food van which in 2013 I launched as Cin Cin, an Italian street food and event catering business. I started trading at festivals and fairs, as well as taking private bookings to cater weddings, parties, celebrations; all while still working as a lawyer in London.

“Testing my offering in this way was very low risk because I was not reliant on income from the new business to pay my bills and I had set up the business with my own funds.”

I was also aware that I was moving into a completely new sector that I had no experience in so I had no idea whether I would even enjoy working in food & drink. Thankfully, I immediately loved it!

“I spent 2013 testing the business in various street food and private catering events, doing all the cooking myself and calling on family and friends as staff.”

 I was enjoying event catering and starting to pick up bigger events which meant I was turning some good profit but by 2014, I was sure that I wanted to open a restaurant so started to look for a chef to work with to put on supper club/pop up restaurant events. This was because I wanted to take the food beyond the limitations of the van and make the Cin Cin offering more refined. That summer I met Jamie Halsall, who is now my head chef in the business, and we started putting on supper clubs in Brighton, London and Kent. This step helped bridge the gap between the van business I had started and the restaurant business I wanted it to become.

Hatty: What did you learn by taking these initial steps?

David: These initial steps allowed me to test the development of the offering in low risk scenarios – I was still working as a lawyer so was not reliant on the income from the fledgling business to fund my lifestyle.

“I still approached each event with the aim of making a profit, but at that stage it was more about getting feedback on what customers wanted and expected from a new restaurant and more importantly, their feedback showed me that there was a gap in the market that we could fill.”

Hatty: Was there a specific event or turning point that gave you the confidence to commit working full-time in your business?

David: In Spring 2015, the business had grown to the point where I no longer had enough leave days from my job as a lawyer to cater all of the events I was being offered.

“I was turning down work and was extremely tired given I was using all my leave for events. So I made a plan to quit law at the end of 2015 and chase my restaurant dream full time. I have never looked back.”

Hatty: What influenced your decision to raise investment?

David: I opened my first restaurant in November 2016 with my own funds. It was a small 20 seat restaurant, all housed in one room which meant the set up costs were relatively low. By Spring 2017, we were constantly full so I began looking for a second larger restaurant site.

“I needed the investment because I could not grow the business without it. While there was cash in the business given the success of the first restaurant, I did not have enough to build and open the second larger site so I raised finance through a mix of bank finance and asset finance on the new kit we needed to open the new restaurant.”

Hatty: Did the steps you had taken to prove your business model make it easier to raise funding for your business?

David: Absolutely. As above, I used the Enterprise Finance Guarantee [EFG] scheme to access bank finance because the business did not have fixed assets to borrow against. In order to access that finance, I had to submit a business plan with costed financials to show that this step to growth was sustainable.

“All of the testing of my business model and offering went into that business plan and was a key part of the data that convinced the bank and asset finance agency to lend me the money I needed.”

Hatty: Do you have any advice or tips for entrepreneurs thinking about starting their own business?

David: Lean testing – there are a lot of ways to try out what you think you’d like your business to be without risking your personal finances with a loan or spending a lot of your savings. But just as important is that it’s also the best and least risky way to get feedback from potential customers about whether your business model and offering is actually what people want. Be prepared to listen and adjust your offering to suit the market.

Passion – I worked hard to become a lawyer but never had a passion for it. Working on something you do not care about is a recipe for mediocrity or even worse, failure.

“So if you are going to start a business, make sure there is something within it you are passionate about. That passion will drive you through fatigue, disappointment, and little failures while also making success all the more sweet as you’ll have created something you can be proud of. And isn’t that why we become entrepreneurs in the first place?!”

Do it now – you can come up with a million reasons why you should not to take a chance on starting your own business or pushing it forward. I spent the best part of 10 years telling myself I could not do it. But rather than saying ‘I wish I’d done it earlier’, I have always just tried to grow the business day by day and make decisions for growth as promptly as I can.

“There is no point waiting around wondering whether you could be great at something. Do it now.” 

Read more interviews with Founders

**** Book a free Funding Clinic with Hatty Fawcett and gain practical, tailored advice on the funding options open to your business. BOOK A FUNDING CLINIC****

Does your Startup or Small Business need a Non-Exec Board?

When you first start a business there can be little need for a formal Board. Small teams – indeed the team may just be the Founder – usually develop their own informal ways of reviewing options, discussing issues, making decisions and reporting progress. However, as the business grows, and particularly if you take external investment, formalising these processes and introducing impartial, independent advisers into the business in the form of non-executive directors can be very helpful.

Why would you want a Non-exec Board?

Introducing external directors to a startup or small business brings outside experience and fresh perspectives into the business. External directors – often call Non-executive Directors, Non-execs or just NEDs – are usually experienced, senior business people who have worked in a range of businesses or who may have run and successfully sold their own business. They help founders and business owners by sharing their knowledge, skills and experience of a specific sector or discipline, all to the benefit of the startup or small business.

The benefits of working with Non-execs are well documented and include:

  • Fresh perspectives on strategy and tackling business challenges
  • Acting as a sounding board
  • Objectivity, for example in exploring strategic options or managing teams
  • Bringing specific expertise which allows the business to learn and grow faster
  • Making new connections for the business by proving access to their address book
  • Commitment to keeping the team “on track”
  • “Real life” understanding that can be beneficial in reacting to and solving problems

For founders and business owners – who often work on their own and can feel lonely – such benefits are a god-send.

Is a Non-exec Board always the best option?

Bringing together a Non-exec Board isn’t, however, without cost. It can take time to find the right person with the appropriate mix of skills and experience – and may involve search and recruitment fees if you seek external help with this. Once you have found your ideal candidate they may require a retainer fee for their services. Having a board also has hidden costs in terms of the time required each month to prepare reports, arrange meetings and keep Board members informed of developments.

Are there other alternatives?

If your startup or small business is not yet ready to incur these costs then there are alternatives. Peer Boards which bring together business owners (usually on a monthly basis) to support each other with impartial business advice offer many of the benefits of a Non-exec Board but without the costs and hassle.

Focused for Business – in partnership with The Boardroom – runs specialist Entrepreneur Boards, bringing together Founders and Business Owners of innovative, fast-growth businesses to share challenges and experiences in their own dedicated peer forum. There are a number of separate Entrepreneur Boards – some focusing on pre-revenue startups and others on funded, growing businesses – and there is a particular emphasis on:

  • Launching new products and business models
  • Aiming for scale and growth
  • Accessing or working with external funding and investor interests.

Importantly, the Entrepreneur Boards hold you to account in setting and reporting on actions and deliverables. Joining an Entrepreneur Board keeps you on track and gives you an access to a wealth of experience – just like having a Non-exec Board.

To find out more, book a free online, live and interactive taster session to see a live Entrepreneur Board in action. See what taster dates are available

Holidays: A waste of time for founders and business owners?

So the kids have broken up from school and the sunshine has put everyone in holiday mode. Perhaps it even feels like you are the only person left at your desk working!

Let’s face it, founders and entrepreneurs are hard workers. Running businesses isn’t easy and we get used to thriving on problem solving and stress. This probably also means we are a group of individuals that most need a holiday. But, perhaps like me, you are thinking “can I really spare the time?”

I asked three founders whether they thought holidays were worth it and what they do to “switch off” when on holiday. All three had a different approach to holidays and offered interesting tips and advice on how to relax. I hope these will give you the break you deserve.

Holidays: A waste of time for founders?

Laura Meehan, Founder of Squijit recognises how hard it can be to take time off, but she also knows it is important. Speaking about holidays, she said

“They give definition to time. When you work for yourself time ‘merges’ into one – by having a ‘holiday’ it forces you to ‘allocate time’ to not working! Or at least trying to not work!”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ildiko Scurr Founder of Life Retuning thinks holidays are vital.

“It is important to give our systems a chance to de-stress from the busy, ‘doing’ lives that many of us lead. Getting away from the overload of information and outside stimuli gives your mind a chance to clear down, which has a direct impact on re-balancing the stress hormones which are likely to be flooding your body in your day-to-day life.”

Ildiko also believes holidays offer you a fresh perspective

“Being in a different environment can give you a chance to reassess what is really important. Getting away from it all, allows you to regenerate, review and relax”

Robert Smallwood, founder of of Job N Part recognises this too but goes further. He believes holidays provide important benefits for your business – as well as for you. Holidays offer

“The chance to recover and think. Often the best ideas come during time off. When you are in the midst of everything, typically you get too close to the nitty gritty – getting a bit of distance creates perspective and opens your eyes to new ideas and provides insight into what previously appeared to be insurmountable problems.”

“Switching off”

If you are anything like me, in the weeks running up to going on holiday you work twice as hard to clear your “To do” list so you can leave things with a clear conscience. The trouble is this can mean you start the holiday exhausted and find it hard to relax and “switch off”. By the time you have finally relaxed it’s time to go back to work!

Laura recognised this behaviour and admitted she found it very hard to “switch off” but was trying to

“Be more ‘mindful’ of the here and now – especially with regards to time with the kids. They’re not kids for very long!”

Robert also finds it hard to do nothing.

“The idea of sitting on a beach is an anathema to my slightly hyper active nature!”

Instead, he looks for displacement activities such as

“site seeing, taking part in some reckless sport or simply spending time with family and doing what they want to do…anything so long as the activity is all consuming.”

Ildiko is strict with herself

“I leave my Mac behind and only look at my phone at designated times that I set for myself. I also make sure that I do not open any emails, files or projects on my phone while I am on holiday and that I focus fully on the people I am with. A great way to make this easier, is to learn how to listen intentionally. That means intending to make any conversation you have with someone, or anything you are reading or watching, the sole focus of your attention. This in itself is a holiday for your mind, which helps your body to relax and switch off too.”

How to make time for  holidays

If you are still wondering whether you can spare the time for a holiday this summer, take heed!

If, like Laura, you find it difficult to take a proper break then, at least, plan is some downtime

“If you really need to, you can plan what work is do-able on holiday. Be careful to select work that won’t affect your enjoyment of the holiday too much.”

Ildiko also recognises how important it is to plan a holiday into your schedule, she recommends

“Book out ‘me time’ for a holiday in your diary and recognise that it is vitally important for your personal maintenance. It is not a luxury. It is a necessity for your well-being in the long term. Most of us consider it important to book our car in for a service, so isn’t it even more important for the driver to be in top shape too?”

Robert is more adamant still

“Nothing is really more important than your health – relaxation and stress relief is key to maintaining your health. A holiday can be a day, a weekend or longer. A successful business is not much use if you are dead or too sick to enjoy it.”

If you are still believe a holiday is not worth having because you won’t be able to switch off, then you could always find out more about Ildiko’s Re-Minding process, and book a “Beyond MindFULLness” masterclass which teaches how to put your thoughts into silence so that you really can “switch off”.

How to find investors for your startup or small business – three founders share what works

You’ve got a great start-up, the businesses is getting traction or – better still – its showing strong growth but you need to find investors to make the most of the opportunity. You’ve written the business plan, you’ve perfected the financial forecast and you are ready to pitch but who are you going to pitch too? Where are you going to find investors and “business angels” to back your investment opportunity? It’s a question almost every founder and entrepreneur will have asked themselves at some stage.

I interviewed three founders who have either recently raised investment or who are currently raising investment for their advice and tips. Jason Kirk of Kirk and Kirk, Dominic Wong of BoRo Experiences  and Shon Alam of Bidweg were generous in sharing their thoughts.

Finding investors is a numbers game
When I was raising investment for my own start-up (Seek & Adore), I remember the best piece of advice I was given was “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince (or princess)”. This phrase stuck in my mind as I fixed meetings, grabbed a quick cup of coffee or attended pitch meetings with investors.  It certainly helps if you enjoy meeting people and it can sometimes help to think of it as a game – “how many new potential investors did I meet this week?”.

Start with people who know you
All three founders agree that the best place to find investors is to start with people you know.

Shon Alam of BidWeg whose crowdfunding campaign for the community-based currency exchange will launch imminently is clear that it is worth talking to almost everyone you know

“The personal route is very much the first route. People that you know will often give you time and even if they do not invest, you are using the time to get your message in the correct order so others can understand it.”

Jason Kirk of Kirk and Kirk who raised £150,000 for his eyewear design company was a bit more selective in his approach

“We approached people who knew our history and background and had previously expressed an interest in our company.”

Whilst for Dominic Wong of BoRo Experiences who raised £100,000 for his eco-tourism business, an informal meeting with a former colleague he knew well bore unexpected results

“Finding an investor was pure luck. I arranged a meeting with a contact who I have an existing, long-term relationship with. I went into the meeting hoping he would be my mentor, and he believed in the business idea so much he offered the money to me. I was overwhelmed and flabbergasted with the way the meeting turned out!”

Relationships matter
Whilst you will talk to many people whilst raising investment, for those conversations to result in investment they need to be anything but superficial. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date. Generally, you want to get to know someone, find out what you have in common – and what you don’t – and reach a point where you trust and respect each other before making any lasting commitment. So it is with investors.

Dominic expanded on where the “luck” of finding his investor, seemingly by chance, came from

“I truly believe in long-term relationships. In fact my mentor once told me that the Hindu way of doing things is people first, business second. In other words develop deep relationships and business will sprout from it. It is about being constantly genuine over a long period to gain trust, which in turn makes people know you deeper than what’s on the outside.”

Be open to feedback – and benefit from others experience and knowledge
True relationships are two-sided. You have to give and receive – another useful premise to have in mind as you start finding investors.

Dominic used this as one of his goals when speaking to investors and sought feedback on his business when talking to investors

“Bounce ideas and thoughts off other people. It is really isolating and lonely when you are working on your [business] idea on your own. I found it really useful to take sounding from other ‘can-do’ people to get different perspectives. This helped shape my ideas and crafted the words I used to explain my business”

Shon recognises this too

“People you know will often give you time and, even if they do not invest, you are using the time to get your message in the correct order so others can understand it.”

Jason felt that the best advice came from those he had been talking to for a while, those with whom he had built a strong relationship

“Those with whom we had a relationship of trust gave us honest, open feedback from a potential investment point of view.”

It was a result of asking for feedback that Jason found his investor

“Our investor came quite by chance. I had asked somebody well-placed in finance to read our investment proposal to advise us and he ended up asking to be involved.”

Contact potential investors in a way that is consistent with wanting to build a long term relationship
We’ve all been on the receiving end of “spam” – communications from people who know nothing about us, offering something that we’re not even sure we want to know about. How well do you react to such approaches? Investors feel the same.

Shon was rigorous in trying lots of different routes to find investors and he knows which he would use again

“If I was to do it again, I would be talking to more potential investors, rather than just connecting with them via LinkedIn.”

Jason agrees

“Personal contact by mail or phone is far more effective than blanket, impersonal approaches.”

I’ve written before about the importance of making a good first impression when finding investors, Jason went on to talk about this too. He stressed the importance of standing out – but also of keeping it brief

“We created attractive literature that reflected our brand and our intentions. This helped identify our company and its unique aspects in a sea of companies seeking finance. It is rare that a potential investor will have more than a cursory look at the headlines of your opportunity. Make it simple. If they are interested they will delve deeper.”

Closing a deal requires mutual trust and a fair exchange…
The aim of all your conversations with investors is to create a shared strategic vision, trust and mutual respect. Ideally this should be founded on a sense of equal worth, reciprocal value being offered by the founder and the investor – and yet so often people talk about an imbalance of power between investors and founders. The founders I interviewed certainly felt this.

Jason is very clear on this point

“Finding the right partners and striking the right balance in the relationship from the first meeting is imperative. You are bringing an opportunity and investors are bringing money/strategy so the relationship needs to be balanced or it will not work. Investors try to assume a position of strength from day one to strengthen their negotiation position.”

Shon too is clear that the objectives of both founder and investor need to align

“I set out wanting to put together a team that could give me clear advise as and when I needed it, without holding my hand. Therefore, the people I wanted to work with also had to understand the philosophy behind Bidweg project. That having been said, I also wanted them to have a vested interest – but it was not money at any cost!”

Dominic recognises that reaching a deal with investors is not just about the money

“It wasn’t just the money which would help me, but experience and knowledge in the field. Essentially, I was also identifying strategic and tactical options which would propel the business after the initial capital.”

…and a clear route to exciting financial return
Investors are not altruistic. They expect a commercial return in exchange for their investment. The founders I interviewed felt this was expressed in a range of ways

Jason was clear it boiled down to

““How much money am I going to make from this?” in various forms.”

Shon felt investors were focused on intellectual property (IP) as the basis of value

“Investors wanted to know what IP does it have – but not all opportunities can be protected through IP. It doesn’t mean it’s not a sound business”

Jason felt the best way to close the deal with an investor is to

“Ask the right questions [of investors] and LISTEN to the answers. People invest for all sorts of varied reasons and you need to understand the motivation of the person you are sitting opposite if you are to make your opportunity appeal to them.”

Tips for maintaining your motivation
Raising investment is time-consuming and it can – at times – be soul-destroying. All three founders recognised the need to manage your motivation and energy levels so that you stay positive throughout the process.

Dominic stressed the need to look for positives in every meeting – even if it doesn’t result in an investment

“Hear the positivity in their voice or see their smile when they ‘get it’.”

Jason emphasised the need for focus

“Try to pick and choose where you direct your energies. Make it genuine prospects or people from whom you can learn. Seeking independent help to find finance can be very useful, especially if you are a small business with limited resources.”

And Shon urged resilience

“When you get rejected – and remember investors will find hundreds of reasons to reject – do not take it personally. Move on – if your business is investable someone will invest.”


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Book a place on the online masterclass “How to find and win investors”

A focused, methodical approach to finding, warming up and closing deals with business angels and crowdfunding investors.
Find out more and book a place

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How to find and win investors

A no-nonsense, practical online masterclass which provides inspiration on where to find investors, how to get their attention and outlines a proven process for building relationships with investors that deliver investment commitments.

You will:

  • Identify investors within your existing network and beyond
  • Learn what to say to investors so they have the information they need to back you
  • Develop two different types of pitch that you can use to quickly get the attention of investors
  • Discover how to build relationships with investors focused on delivering investment commitments
  • Receive a proven system for managing relationships with investors
  • Practise different techniques for moving investors to an investment decision

The masterclass is live and interactive so that you can ask specific questions and try out different approaches during practical exercises. You will receive focused and practical feedback which is instrumental in improving your communication approach and in building your confidence in front of investors. Places are limited to ensure a good interactive experience.

What people say about the masterclass
“I have felt quite lost in knowing how and what to pitch to investors, and I now feel far more informed. It’s been so valuable to have the content reflected back for me to see what I am not communicating.”

“It was useful to have a complete overview and specific tips about the crowd fundraising process. It’s helped me create some actionable points along with a good overview for the approach.”

Preparation
In advance of the workshop, you will be asked to prepare a 60 second elevator pitch and come ready to present this. Ideally your pitch should:

  • introduce your business by describing the problem you solve for customer
  • outline who your customers are
  • explain what your business has achieved to date
  • detail how much money you are looking to raise and at what valuation
  • and how you will use this investment to grow your business

Duration: 2.5 hours
Location: Online, using Zoom video conferencing
Presented by: Hatty Fawcett, Focused For Business
Fee: £250
Next masterclass: 12th December, 10-12.30pm

Book your place on the next masterclass Book here

About Hatty
Hatty Fawcett is the founder of Focused For Business. She raised two rounds of investment for her own business venture and now supports others in raising investment, predominately through business angels and crowdfunding. She runs a series of online masterclasses, a Fast Track To Funding coaching programme and Crowdfunding Accelerator all of which are designed to make it quicker and easier to raise investment. Hatty also offers  a range of free webinars and Funding Clinics. Hatty regularly speaks on the topic of raising investment and is an active blogger on the subject.

What people say about working with Hatty
“Hatty is a great teacher! The rich content of the course kept me interested and helped me. This course has given me confidence.” Sue Frost, Co-founder Curamicus

“The webinars from Hatty are great but the best bit is the interaction with the other participants and hearing how they are approaching their journey to investment.” David Toscano, Cin Cin Italian Canteen

“Hatty was a fantastic coach helping us create a short pitch, ensuring the delivery of key investor information in a simple but effective way” Gill Hayward, Co-Founder, YUU World

“Hatty’s content was excellent and I learnt far more than I had imagined. We had a good laugh whilst getting some serious work done.” Sharon Maddy-Patel, Maddy Lou Shoes

“Hatty made the daunting process of accelerating my business a simple, outlined and structured process. As a company we have gained direction, professionalism and valuable information through her insights.” Arun Thangavel, Co-Founder, Hollabox

You can read more recommendations on Hatty’s LinkedIn profile.

Book your place on the next masterclass – Book here

See the full range of Preparing for Investment: Online masterclasses

3 things drove our successful crowdfunding campaign – planning, pump-priming and PR” says Matt Dyson, Co-founder and CEO of Rockit

Matt Dyson Co-founder and CEO of Rockit knows what successful crowdfunding takes. He and his team beat their crowdfunding target and overfunded to raise £253,000 in May 2018. It’s been quite a ride. Rockit only launched in October 2017 and to beat their investment target within eight months of trading is testament to the efforts of the team.

Hatty Fawcett of Crowdfunding Accelerator asked Matt what he thinks made the difference to Rockit’s successful crowdfunding campaign.

Hatty: What attracted you to crowdfunding for your investment raise?

“Crowdfunding is a fantastic opportunity to increase exposure at the same time as raising investment.”

Matt: Ever since we launched Rockit, the portable baby rocker, in October 2017, its been creating a real buzz. As we started thinking about raising investment, we had already built up quite a following amongst parents both in the UK and abroad. Crowdfunding seemed a perfect match as we could access a large pool of potential investors whilst simultaneously building a group of Rockit brand advocates. It was a fantastic opportunity to increase our exposure at the same time as raising the investment.

Hatty: Many early-stage businesses with a strong product start with reward-based crowdfunding, why did you choose to do equity crowdfunding?

“Our investors will benefit from the success of the business as a whole, not just a single product.”

Matt: We had already launched Rockit and it was gaining traction in the market. The team were working on a range of follow-up products to solve various child sleep issues. We chose to focus on equity crowdfunding to raise capital to bring these new products to market as quickly as possible, but also to increase marketing spend both in the UK and overseas. Our investors will benefit from the success of the business as a whole, not just a single product.

Hatty: What do you attribute your successful crowdfunding campaign to?

Matt: The appeal of our product has to be a factor. Rockit itself certainly caught the eye of investors as there is nothing quite like it on the market.

Thorough preparation for the campaign was another key attribute.

“We spent several months planning and preparing the video, pitch deck and financial forecasts. Several serial investors commented on the attention to detail and the fact that we supported our assumptions with detailed explanations.”

Hatty: A lot of crowdfunding platforms won’t accept you on to their platform until you have secured some of your investment target. Did you have a “lead investor”?

“We managed to reach 40% of our funding target prior to going live…that pump-priming meant the campaign got off to a flying start.”

Matt: I agree that securing some of your investment prior to putting your campaign live is important for successful crowdfunding. We managed to reach 40% of our funding target prior to going live on Crowdcube so we had primed the pump but we didn’t have a single lead investor. Instead we were backed by a number of smaller investors who had followed our progress over the previous months. This, coupled with the fact that we still had some SEIS allowance for the early investors, meant that the campaign got off to a flying start.

Hatty: What promotional activities did you undertake to bring “the crowd” – those you didn’t know prior to crowdfunding – to your pitch?

“Our PR drive was probably the most effective way of engaging with the crowd as it snowballed organically and drove lots of potential investors to our campaign page.”

Matt: We promoted the raise on all our social media platforms, posting regular updates about the campaign but also about key successes within the business generally.

Whilst we were live we signed several distribution deals including one in the US. We also won several design and consumer awards. These successes were very timely and we certainly found it encouraged investment during the campaign.

We were also lucky to be featured on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ and that generated additional press interest. This PR drive was probably the most effective way of engaging with the crowd as it snowballed organically and drove lots of potential investors to our campaign page.

Hatty: What advice, tips or successful tactics would you offer to anyone preparing for crowdfunding?

“Start planning 3 or 4 months prior to the launch of a campaign. That may seem like a long lead time but preparation is key!”

Matt: This gives you time to identify all the potential investors in your various networks and start conversations with them.

Another tip is to get feedback on all your campaign materials – video, deck and pitch page before finalising them. This is something we did repeatedly with both the Crowdcube team but also via feedback from experienced investors within our personal networks.

Hatty: Many founders who successfully crowdfund tell me it is very time-consuming. What do you recommend for maintaining your motivation and commitment when crowdfunding?

Matt: It’s certainly challenging running a crowdfunding campaign whilst also maintaining the day to day running of the business! Our days were long and we often found ourselves emailing responses to potential investors late into the night.

“There were times when the investments were slower to arrive than we would have liked and it was really useful having a plan to promote the campaign using different channels to increase engagement on these quieter days.”

Hatty: Have there been any surprising outcomes from your successful crowdfunding?

Matt: Yes! Crowdfunding has certainly raised the profile of our business, not just in the UK but overseas too. We are following up some leads from potential international distributors who became aware of Rockit through the Crowdcube campaign. We have also had some investors offer expertise and advice on a voluntary basis as we move forward. All in all it’s been a very rewarding experience.

Read more interviews with Founders

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Crowdfunding is booming – but it’s changing too

Back in 2016 there was a slight dip in the number of crowdfunding deals causing speculation as to whether crowdfunding was plateauing as a route to investment. However, according to recent research from Beauhurst, the sector has “bounced back” in 2017 – particularly in the final quarter of 2017.

Source: Beauhurst “The Deal”, Feb 2018

Looking at the investment sector as a whole, in terms of the number of deals done, crowdfunding remains a strong source of funding in UK. Indeed, crowdfunding offers one of the strongest routes to funding, second only to Venture Capital/Private Equity funding based on the number of deals funded. Crowdfunding accounts for more completed funding rounds than those funded by business angels, although business angel investment remains stable. It seems crowdfunding is here to stay and, as Beauhurst point out, “diversity of investment sources means startups have a better chance of finding a partner that suits their needs.”

Crowdfunding is raising larger investment rounds than before

Source: Beauhurst “The Deal”, Feb 2018

Crowdfunding is moving its focus onto larger deals and the number of crowdfunding deals under £499,000 is beginning to decline. This is in contract to angel investment which remains relatively stable at both a higher and lower level.

Source: Beauhurst “The Deal”, Feb 2018

Different crowdfunding platforms are adopting different approaches

As the equity crowdfunding market matures distinctions are becoming clearer in terms of approach. Crowdcube and Seedrs are working to a volume model and encourage a broad mix of investors. Syndicate Room and Venture Founders, on the other hand, seem focused on doing few deals but with a higher average amount invested. Both Syndicate Room and Venture Founders attract a particular type of investor – mainly High Net Worth (HNW)or sophisticated investor who, arguably, have the ability to invest more.

Source: Beauhurst “The Deal”, Feb 2018

New players entering the market

This month (March 2018), OurCrowd, a global equity crowdfunding platform have announced they are opening an office in the UK. Their approach is similar to that of Syndicate Room and Venture Founders and focuses on attracting HNW and sophisticated investors.

What are the implications for startups, business owners and founders?

Crowdfunding remains a strong route to funding but it does take hard work and a lot of preparation behind the scenes to run a successful crowdfunding campaign. As the crowdfunding platforms focus their efforts on larger deals, businesses looking to raise relatively small amounts of seed investment (less than £250,000) may find they receive less help and support on a one-to-one basis from their chosen crowdfunding platform. Businesses are advised to look to alternative, independent programmes and advisors to gain this support instead. There are a number of such programmes. Good ones include Crowdfunding Accelerator, TribeFirst and IdeaSquares.

Angel investment remains an important plank in any seed investment round – for two reasons. Angels are still actively investing in smaller rounds, as the Beauhurst data shows, but also a lead angel investor can provide access to crowdfunding platforms like Syndicate Room who won’t accept any business unless they have secured a lead investor.

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Changes to SEIS Advanced Assurance Scheme

In January HMRC announced changes to the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and will no longer provide advanced assurance that a company qualifies for either scheme on a speculative basis. It is now necessary for any company applying for advance assurance to name at least one investor or fund manager who wants to make an investment.

This has created a chicken and egg situation. SEIS funds, crowdfunding platforms and business angels like to know whether a company has advanced assurance from either or both of these government-backed schemes before they will commit to an investment and yet founders and business owners are unable to seek advanced assurance unless they have an interested investor.

There is no doubt that having advance assurance for SEIS or EIS is an important stepping stone in the process of attracting investment, so what is a founder or business owner supposed to do?

Having spoken to a number of funds and crowdfunding platforms, it seems the advice for now is to provide a named individual when you apply for advance assurance but – as there is no requirement for that specific individual to complete their investment – you can provide the name of anyone considering investment provided you have their permission.  They do not actually have to complete the investment – but they pave the way for others to do so.

Read HMRC’s full advice on SEIS and EIS

When is the right time to raise investment for your startup?

This might seem an odd question. You go for investment when you need money, right? Wrong! Not only does it take time to raise investment – so you want to start raising investment at least 6 months before you need the money – but there are stages in every business’ life-cycle when it will be easier to raise external investment. Going for investment just because you need the money could mean you’ll waste time and energy. Worse still, the distraction of raising investment may mean your business suffers – making it harder still to raise investment. So, when is the right time to raise investment for your startup?

Hatty Fawcett, Founder of Focused For Business, interviewed two founders who have successfully raised investment in the last year and asked them whether there is a “right” time to raise investment.

Adam Beveridge, Co-founder of Hollabox, started his startup in 2016 and raised investment the same year and went on to raise a second seed round a year later. Hollabox is a social media that makes it easy to see inside the best venues, restaurants and places in real time so you can decide where to go for a great night out.

Sue Frost, Founder and CEO of Curamicus started her startup in 2015 with founder investment and a startup loan. She went on to raise seed investment in 2017. Curamicus provides wearable assistive technology for elders and vulnerable people that detects and reduces the risks of falls.

Hatty: Let’s start with the big question, is there a “right time” for a startup to raise investment?

Adam: This is a tough question to answer, as each business case is subjective and each investor has their own investment criteria. From my experience, I would say the most sought after criteria investors want is revenue from a proven business model.

“The earlier a start-up can prove it will make money, the more this de-risks the investment for the investor.”

The next “expected” criteria, would be a dedicated, full time founding team and a strong vision. A team breaths confidence, a strong vision helps form a path that people want to join you on. It’s a minimum starting point for any venture, I would say.

Sue: I think from a startup point of view it’s best to raise investment when you have a developed true business concept to the point that you’re able to prepare a detailed business plan. Preparing a business plan takes you through the process of self-examination as to the viability of the business for yourself and also clarifies what you’re offering in return for investment.

Hatty: Do you think a startup can go for investment too soon – or leave it too late?

Adam: A start-up can certainly try and raise too early.

“Raising money is so time consuming, to the point that founders can often neglect the core operations of their startup.”

Because of this, you want to make sure when you’ve finally got in front of the right people, and it will take a lot of intros and knocking on doors to get there, you have the right things to say. Otherwise you’ll get a “no” and realise you’ve wasted months of your precious runway.

To avoid wasting time, build credibility with an industry relevant advisory board, make powerful connections and partnerships, (with brands, accelerators and entrepreneurs) and focus on proving your market and concept as cheaply and efficiently as possible before you go for investment. But be wary of leaving it too late or investors may question your startup’s speed to market and scalability.

“The sweet spot is when you think you gathered enough data and evidence on a small scale, to prove there’s potential and a bigger picture.”

Sue: There are different stages to business investment applicable as a business grows.

“Recognise the right stage or type of investment applicable to your business when planning to approach investors.”

Hatty: Thinking about all the times you have raised investment, have you ever found it easier or more difficult to raise investment and what do you attribute that to?

Sue:
“To secure a first investment is challenging. However, once we secured the first investor it made it easier for subsequent investors to consider us.”

From the subsequent investors viewpoint, we had already been through the due diligence process with the first investor and this provided some level of confidence to subsequent investors.

Adam: It’s a lot easier when you already have capital committed, and brands or credible investors on board. Investors take notice of what you’re doing. It was much easier for us to raise when Just Eat invested in Hollabox – it’s a name everyone knows.

“The earlier you try and raise in your businesses life-cycle, the more you risk showing naivety, inexperience and have less proof of concept.”

We tried to raise 3-4 months into the start of our journey. It was too soon. Twelve months later, we had developed, learnt best practices and understood the investor landscape. Our pitches were better, we had a more mature product and a better understanding of our users. That, and a clear road map, meant we successfully raised.

Hatty: As you prepared to raise investment, what were you excited about and what concerns did you have?

Sue: I was excited about the prospect of being able to realise our business dream and bring our product to market so that we could make a difference in people’s lives.

I was concerned at the length of time the financing took as we had to deal with two organisations (three if you include the grant we took) and individual angels. However, I understood the need for due diligence on both sides of each transaction.

“Bringing in third party investors is a big step for any startup. We had to be sure we had the right fit for us as a team”

I needn’t have worried. We’re very happy with the group of seed investors we are working with now. Collectively and individually they are all very willing to help us with our business goals without becoming too involved in the business which is a good balance.

Adam: I was excited about meeting successful entrepreneurs and people who had a vast knowledge of start-ups and business. People who could open doors and give advice. Getting their time was precious, even if it didn’t lead to investment. I found people are willing to help and offer advice, even if they don’t invest.

I was understandably concerned about getting rejected by investors. We received many “nos”. It’s very common for startups on an investment journey but, naturally, the first few always hurt.

“The key with rejections is to quickly use each as a learning curve. Accept that raising capital takes time and keep working smartly to get in front of the right people.”

There’s a book I’d recommend – “Rejection Proof” by Jia Jiang. It helped me develop my investment armour and mindset.

Hatty: Did you have a “lead investor”? Did that make the process of raising investment any harder or easier?

Sue: We did have a lead investor and it was very helpful in the seed round as this provided additional confidence to other investors.

Adam: At first, no we didn’t. We secured a place on a couple of accelerators, including Just Eat. Through this we found a lead investor, the founder and CEO of Tossed.

“The support and connections received from our lead investor where amazing, but also, mentioning the lead investor to other stakeholders and investors, opened doors and made raising from other investors easier.”

Securing a lead investor meant we had terms sheets in place, a committed valuation and share price and a high percentage of investment target committed. That certainly makes raising investment easier.

Hatty: What practical advice or tips would you offer to anyone preparing their business for investment?

Sue: Have a clear idea of how you’re going to make money and what the projected return on investment will be for the investor.

“As an entrepreneur when you have a business idea it becomes very personal to you. Sometimes it’s easy to forget you’re in business to make money.”

Investors are somewhat comforted to see your passion and vision but you also need to know where you want the business to be in 3 – 5 years’ time.

Adam: I would say introductions are key. Investors get hundreds of investment opportunities a week. The way to make sure your start-up stands out is to be introduced by someone the investor trusts. To make sure this happens, build out your network. Become part of networks, accelerators, communities and attend meet-ups. Use your network to ask for introductions.

Don’t just go straight in for “the ask” either. Warm up your contacts with regular progress updates, offer help where you can and show an interest in their own ventures or activity. Reaching out cold is harder and comes across selfish. Help your community, and, when the time is right, it will help and reward you.

Hatty: Do you have any advice or tips on how to maintain your energy, motivation and commitment when raising investment?

Adam: Believe in what you’re doing. You started your start-up because you saw an opportunity and you’re one of the few people that got up and decided to do something about it. Believe that others will see that opportunity too and want to help you. It is draining emotionally and time wise, and the sucker punch is that it doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Sue: In my experience to raise investment requires a lot of energy and it can be exhausting physically. If you’re into exercise then obviously this will help with the stress.

“Keep in mind that this is a phase to your business that is necessary to achieve your longer term goals but it is a temporary period which when achieved will enable you to succeed.”

I’ve met some great people along the way who have encouraged me when I needed it the most for which I’m most thankful.

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Three questions to answer to ensure your business is ready for investment

So you want to raise investment? Rather than leaping straight into action writing a pitch or talking to investors, take a moment and ask yourself three questions.

How much money do you need?
What will you do with the money you raise?
How will your business change and grow as a result?

If you can answer these questions properly – not just in an off the cuff manner – but by providing real detail, facts and figures, then you probably are ready to raise investment.

But the devil is in the detail.

Investors don’t back ideas, hunches or broad-brush thinking. They want proven products (or services), thoughtful plans and evidence to support your approach. These things aren’t just conjured up by brainstorming, desk research and theoretical plans. They are created through action, hard work, persistence and a lot of iteration.

I touted my theoretical business plan around VCs and angels before the penny dropped that I needed to get the business going before anyone would back me.

I learnt that the hard way. I touted my theoretical business plan around VCs and angels before the penny dropped that I needed to get the business going before anyone would back me. The next time I tried to raise investment, (just six months later – but six incredibly busy months) I had not just a web platform but paying customers and a detailed marketing strategy. I raised £150K in one week – from pitching to money in the bank.

The proof was in the pudding. Investors call this “traction” and it speaks lounder than words.

Traction speaks louder than words

Be honest, ask yourself what stage your business is at:

If you have a business idea but nothing tangible yet, don’t waste your time talking to investors. Instead invest your time into creating your product/service/app. It doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles but it needs to deliver the essence of what customers are looking for. This is often called an MVP or minimum viable product. It allows customers to trial your product, give feedback and for you to understand what needs to change to meet your customers’ needs better.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to develop an MVP. In fact, it’s better if you don’t

How do you fund this? Invest your own money (if you can), talk to family and friends to see if they will lend/invest money or explore a start up loan (but be aware that you will probably have to start making repayments immediately so be sure you can generate revenue quickly or negotiate a repayment free period). You don’t have to spend a fortune to develop an MVP. In fact, it’s better if you don’t – the chances are your MVP will change when you get customer feedback.

If you have got an MVP, focus on getting your first customers – whether they are paying you or not. Being able to demonstrate you can attract paying customers is best, but honest – hopefully positive – feedback can be just as valuable. Work on really understanding your customers – who they are, why they like the product and how you could find and sell to similar customers. This information is gold dust for your marketing strategy. Tried and tested marketing strategies do attract investment.

Work on really understanding your customers…Tried and tested marketing strategies do attract investment.

And then? Well, it’s back to the three questions we started with. To gain investment, you will need to explain in detail how much money you need, what you will do with it and how that will grow your business.

Growth is the key here. Investors don’t want you to stand still. They want you to create value by finding better ways to work, developing new products, attracting more customers. Investment isn’t philanthropy. Investors want a financial gain and that is created when the business grows – fast.

Investment isn’t philanthropy. Investors want a financial gain and that is created when the business grows – fast.

If you’d like to speed up the process of getting investment, it’s worth talking to a professional. Someone who understands the process, someone who has “been there, done that”. Investors are looking for specific information when deciding whether to invest and it pays to get the inside track on what you’ll need to provide – as well as having someone to help you prepare, to challenge you and give practical advice on how to improve your pitch.

If your business is ready for investment, sign up to Fast Track to Funding – designed to save you time and make it quicker to attract investment.

If you’re not sure if your business is ready to raise investment and you want to learn more about your funding options, reserve a free place on the live and interactive webinar “Everything you need to know to raise funding – quickly”