Raising Capital during a Pandemic

We’ve seen considerable changes in the world this week, from markets crashing, oil prices falling, schools closing and borders locking up tight. We’re moving into a different way of life and trends show this isn’t for a week or two. So how can your business stay healthy and grow during these tumultuous times?

Your company needs to prepare for this new reality. This is your opportunity to stand back and think about the future more than ever before. Firstly, look at spending. Have you considered how you can reduce your burn rate? Analyze your revenues. What impact will this ever-changing world have on them? How can you reposition your company to access new revenue streams if some taps are turned off? Government stimulus funding may help you to access the new revenue streams or pivot from the plan.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The 2008-2009 recession founded Uber, AirBnB and Slack—disruptive businesses that made crazy market conditions work in their favour. Many other companies grew through acquisition and benefited from cheaper assets.

How can you raise the capital to grow and grab the opportunities during COVID-19?

Most outside money, such as that acquired through Angel Investors or VCs, requires the kissing of many frogs. You have to meet a large number of people (typically face to face) to build understanding, trust and to secure funding. An obvious no-no in the age of social distancing. 

Last week our company was scheduled to host three big investor events. The first one on Tuesday was attended by fifty people in Vancouver, the second on Wednesday with twenty in Calgary. Then the third back in Vancouver had to be cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. At the rate this virus is going, traditional fundraising needs to be turned on its head for businesses to get funding and thrive.

Crowdfunding may be the perfect solution to raise capital from a large number of investors across the whole country without meeting them face-to-face. The whole fundraising process takes place online—from reviewing the offering documents, signing the contracts and paying the fees. It can all take place at a virtual level. This provides social distance for the investor and well as the company’s employees and lawyers.

Crowdfunding works best when you can tell a story that people believe in. This is certainly the case for retail investors who want to support what they agree with and love. For larger investors, they are often looking for deal flow. A crowdfunding platform can provide both. Providing a video alongside a campaign is a great way to showcase a passionate team and to understand their why statement. The “why” is vital because it motivates companies through bad times as well as the good.

It is important to tell your story and make it relevant to the current reality, but you need to be authentic too. Next week we are launching an equity crowdfunding campaign for a pain-free needle. The device is pre-dosed and has an enclosed sharp; therefore, it doesn’t require sharps disposal. In the not-too-distant future, there will be a need to vaccinate a large global population quickly. Pain, mis-dosing or sharps disposal in developing countries will be taken out of the equation and the product will be sold at a similar price to a syringe and vial of the drug. PKA SoftTouch, who developed the device, has a story that is natural and resonates in the current landscape.

Breaking through the noise

It is noisy out there. Social media feeds are full of COVID-19 advice and emails acknowledging that every company you have ever dealt with has a COVID-19 policy. This too will pass. Advertising spend is already decreasing. With potential drops in revenue, this does make sense, but the companies that responded best after 2008 were the companies that remained in the market and continued to tell their stories. If you are crowdfunding, it will be easier to get your story out, as you will be competing with fewer companies and lower overall marketing spend. 

We are social creatures and working from home, we may look to other ways to stay connected. Business channels such as Slack, LinkedIn and Zoom and social channels such as Instagram and Facebook will be our source of connection. These are the main outreach channels for crowdfunding. The increase in working from home means potential investors could have more time without the daily commute and spend more of it online.

A webinar will replace the in-person events we had to cancel. Potential investors will have the opportunity to ask questions and gain trust and understanding so that they can move forward to invest. A face-to-face launch event scheduled the following week will be live-streamed. This will allow a small group from the company to be present and the larger group of interested investors to meet the team virtually and hear the key information.

Working with the Regulations

Trieste Reading, FrontFundr’s Campaign Coach, raised a good point last week. In Canada, if you crowdfund using the equity crowdfunding exemptions, you can run your campaign for up to 90 days. If your story doesn’t resonate or there are concerns regarding the market conditions, it is tough to pull your campaign out of market. An Offering Memorandum is more expensive to set up, but has a longer time frame, and may allow you to react to this ever-changing market.

While the public markets are seeing bear-like losses, the private markets remain strong. Private companies are the economic growth engines. They must be supported to offset the recession we are either in or soon to enter. Governments and regulators could provide support for private companies in three ways; 

  • accelerating the proposed changes to increase the amount that can be raised via crowdfunding,
  • increasing the amount a retail investor can invest 
  • and extending the duration for a crowdfunding campaign.

Typical equity crowdfunding investors are in it for the long haul—often 6-10 years. Keep them informed and they will be understanding of the current climate. In the real world, it isn’t always straight-line growth and any given year is likely to have a number of ups and downs.

Now is the time to look closely at your business, to pivot if needed, to preserve cash and to ensure your balance sheet as healthy as possible and ready for raising capital.

Is crowdfunding right for me? Five questions to answer.

By Victoria Bennett, Strategic Marketer, Crowdfunding Ambassador

In the five years since I ran my first successful crowdfunding campaign, I’ve learned a lot about which products and organizations are right for this model. Currently, I take a few meetings a week from companies and individuals who are considering their first crowdfunding campaign. What they usually want to know is, will crowdfunding work for us? These are the questions I ask them:

1. Do you have a product or service that meets a need?

We’ve all seen that person on Dragon’s Den who has spent their life savings and mortgaged their house developing something that they are passionate about. The only problem is, no one else wants it. Don’t be that person. Remember: something you love that doesn’t make money is called a hobby.

If your product or service meets a measurable need, you can define a meaningful addressable market that you can reach, and you can clearly differentiate yourself from the competition, you have the potential for a backable business.

2. Can you deliver?

I’m not talking about UberEATS here, more do you have a believable business plan that details how you will execute? Backers need to see you have the right partners and a fully-costed plan to deliver. Additionally, when you apply for equity or debt crowdfunding, your business plan will be reviewed by the platform’s due diligence team, and you may also need to provide audited accounts.

3. Do you have a team?

So, you have a plan. Great! But do you have a team that can deliver the plan? Throughout a crowdfunding campaign, you are looking to build trust with potential backers. Those backers want to be able to trust that you know what you are doing and that you can deliver. You’ll need to show that your team has the skills and experience to follow through on your promise.

4. Do you have a story?

Venture capitalists and bankers focus primarily on the numbers – they want to know if you’re financial feasible and likely to make multiples return. Your crowdfunding backers want more. They need a story they can believe in – something worth sharing (which is how you build the crowd). If you haven’t developed a story yet, start thinking about the following: How did you discover the need for your product or service? How did you invent the product? What impact has your product or service had or will it have in the future (once you’ve raised funds).

5. Do you have a crowd?

I often say there is a clue in the name, crowdfunding. You need to have a crowd of people willing to back you, willing to share, willing to support your campaign. This typically comes from your personal network of friends, family and business connections (and those of your team). You should plan to achieve between 10 and 33 per cent of your goal from your personal contacts and advocates on the first day of your crowdfunding campaign. This provides social proof to those who don’t know you personally.

Another thing to remember is that you’re not just asking your network for money. You need your network to help you get the word out about your campaign, talking about it over coffee, at the water cooler, over a beer on a Friday night, and also online.

Your job is to articulate your story, find passionate advocates who believe in your story, and provide them with the right tools to share it. Once you’ve established social proof, you can continue to build your crowd through social media, bloggers, influencers, the press, events, and paid advertising. That’s how you build your crowd.

If you have answered yes to these five questions, then I’m going to sneak one final question in. Are you willing to invest significant time, effort, and money into your campaign? Crowdfunding is not a quick and easy fix to your funding gap. However, if you’re committed to doing it right and want to raise funds while building a group of advocates who are committed to you and your product, crowdfunding may just be for you.

Principal joins the NCFA Ambassador Program

CALGARY, Mar 21, 2018 – The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) today announced that Victoria Bennett, Strategic Marketing Principal, Bennett Milner Williams Consulting Ltd., has joined the Association’s Ambassadors Program.

NCFA Canada Ambassadors

NCFA Canada Ambassadors are leaders, educators, supporters and advocates of an inclusive and broad-based alternative finance crowdfunding industry in communities across Canada. They are circles of influence and ‘go to resources’ for small businesses, organizations and investors to connect with, share and learn about crowdfunding via locally hosted events and initiatives. Ambassadors are specialists and plugged into an international network of shared resources, thought leadership, and industry professionals striving to cultivate and shape the future of finance in Canada and beyond.

Victoria Bennett ran her first successful crowdfund campaign over four years ago, a long time in crowdfunding years. A strategic marketer by training, she has worked on many major brands including Tide, Pampers, ENMAX and TD. She has used her skills as a marketer, to identify the solution the product or service provides, the target market, the so-what, and to communicate clearly, effectively and consistently to the crowd; all skills vital to crowdfunding. She has run successful campaigns in Canada and in Europe and her team is currently consulting for a number of Canadian equity and rewards crowdfund campaigns.

“Entrepreneurs are not well served by the current, closed networks, if you don’t have a good network of friends and family, any great idea will fail. The Canadian government opened up equity crowdfunding in 2015 and we have seen companies in both the start-up and growth stage benefit. The benefits, whether it be rewards or investment crowdfunding are much more than just the capital, a community of advocates, who believe in the company. The pace of adoption has not been at the same rate as in the US and particularly the UK where government policy has strongly encouraged investment crowdfunding to finance companies. I am pleased to see NCFA lobbying the government for further support and policy change for crowdfunding, and hope to see the benefits across all crowdfunding platforms,” said Victoria Bennett, NCFA Ambassador

“The fintech and crowdfunding sectors in Canada need more experienced advocates who truly understand the capital and growth benefits for small businesses launching ventures or products to market inherent in crowdfinancing, along with the wider economic benefits and job creation for the country and welcome Victoria’s sustained expertise and industry support,” said Craig Asano, CEO, NCFA Canada.

# # #

The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada non-profit actively engaged with both social and investment crowdfunding, alternative finance, fintech, P2P, ICO, and online investing stakeholders across the country. NCFA Canada provides education, research, industry stewardship, and networking opportunities to over 1600+ members and works closely with industry, government, academia, community and eco-system partners and affiliates to create a strong and vibrant crowdfunding and fintech industry in Canada. For more information, please visit: www.ncfacanada.org

Source: NCFA Canada

For more information please contact:

Media Contacts:

Craig Asano
NCFA Canada
Founder and CEO
p. (416) 618-0254
e. casano@ncfacanada.org

See the press release

Make sure it’s integrated

When I came to Canada nine years ago I can remember finding either raw ingredients in the shops, or highly processed foods.  In the UK, I was used to getting part-made or ready-made meals made with real ingredients which allowed us to eat healthily in little time and relatively low cost.  I discovered Sobeys as it was, and really still is, the only grocery store that had prepared in store meals without all the preservatives and six-month shelf life.

It came as no surprise to me to hear in August that Sobeys had teamed up with Jamie Oliver, the champion of real food.  His eleven-year alliance with Sainsburys, a UK supermarket with a similar product rather than price positioning like Sobeys, was very successful for Sainsburys.  He championed real food and the ability for everyone to eat well.

Last week the first TV and radio ads came out and the cheeky chappy Mr Oliver was running around Canada telling everyone how you can eat well and affordably by shopping at Sobeys.  So imagine my surprise when I got an email in my inbox from Sobeys that very morning, with no mention of Jamie.  On Saturday I popped into the local Sobeys and again, no in-store branding.  There was one hairy picture in the meat department advising me to take my meat out of the fridge one hour before cooking, with Jamie’s face, but that was it.

I asked at the till about what was going on and got an “I dunno.”  Where is the internal communication, to use your best brand ambassadors, your employees?  So please when investing in a celebrity or any campaign, ensure there is an integrated marketing plan, map every touch point and be consistent with the messaging.  It takes from three to seven times for people to see the message before it is picked up.  If a customer doesn’t see that consistency it may cause confusion and definitely reduce the impact of your activity.

Victoria Bennett is the Principal of Bennett Milner Williams Consulting. With over eighteen years experience in Business to Business and Business to Consumer marketing in Europe and North America; in addition, she has overseen sales, operations, finance and HR, experience to ensure a comprehensive implementable solution.   She is goal-focused with strong commercial success working for major companies including; Procter & Gamble, TD Bank, Mars, Tervita, BP, Gushor (a Schlumberger company), ENMAX and Axia NetMedia. Her proven ability to define the problem, collect and analyse the data and develop an effective plan is supported by her project management abilities to draw on her strong network of trusted, proven consultants to implement the approved plan.

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Increasing Customer Loyalty

Increasing customer loyalty and growing the business by understanding and meeting customer needs

A large utility company offered residential and commercial products and services.  They offered the small to mid-sized commercial companies their residential product.  There was a high churn and negative customer feedback.

Using secondary research and then primary research we were able to identify what were the three core elements the existing products and services offered that met their needs, and what was the root cause of their frustrations.  Fundamentally the core of the services met their needs, but the customer service needed to be better tailored to their requirements.

Working with the customer service team, we were able to address these concerns and deliver the additional customer service with limited impact to the contact centre.  Then we repositioned the products and services to demonstrate we understood the customer and their needs.  We activated an existing sponsorship to host two large launch events, and invited key customers to share the process and the new offering.  Churn reduced and customer satisfaction increased.

Oilfiled Services in a lean market

When prices are good, oil and gas service companies receive plenty of inbound calls and achieve nearly full capacity, it really is a case of make hay whilst the sun shines.  Certainly in the past year, the junior and mid-cap oil companies have struggled to get investment and this has had a knock-on effect for the service companies.  The negative impacts can include reduced business and prices.  How can you ensure you get more than your fair share of the business that is out there, and ensures you are positioned for further growth when the markets rebound and drilling is back to 2011 levels?

This was the challenge that I worked through for a large oil and gas service company that not only maintained but grew market share by 2% and I am happy to share the process we followed.

Identify why your customers use you

Undertake research with your customers to understand the top three reasons they use you.  Keep doing these things, if they make business sense.  Remind your customers what you do well and thank them for their loyalty.

Identify your competitors

As part of the research understand why people use your competitors.  Put an action plan together to reduce any gaps between you and your competitor, or at least neutralize that advantage.  Look at the costs, you probably can’t do everything, but make sure you communicate improvements you have made. Is there something that is keeping the customer awake at night that neither you nor the competitor is solving today? Solve it.

Review your pricing

In tighter markets people often look to reduce their prices to increase business, this can devalue the market and can make it a pure pricing play, not recommended.  Definitely review your prices, but look at them in context of the whole value chain.  In my specific example, the basic cost of services was at a premium, however, the reliability of the service, the speed of delivery, and therefore reduced downtime and reduced additional costs to the customer meant the total cost of the service was lower than the competitor.  Give your sales team the tools to be able to demonstrate the value, such as total cost of service savings, to your customer.

Measure the effect

The key metrics were captured before we put this plan in place, during and continued to be measured over the following sales cycles.  This is probably data that you already capture, but track when you put the next part of the plan in place and the impact it has.  You will be amazed at how running customer research before you even do anything with it, will have an impact because you are demonstrating you value the customer’s business and you are listening.  Once you demonstrate you have listened and then demonstrate you are doing something about it, I am confident you will see a positive impact on your business, that will help you through the lean times and set you up to win more than your market share, when the market returns.