Tim Harvey, Software & Biotechnology Consultant

Joni Gale Kripal’s idea for a Kickstarter project began with just her and a friend, looking for something they wanted and couldn’t find on the market – an iPad attachment with practical organization and the elegant design they were looking for. Joni says simply, “I made it for myself because I wanted it,” and they saw the potential in the market as well as talent within themselves to build a business. Although her project wasn’t fully funded, she considers it a positive experience and has some thoughts for anyone considering crowdfunding.

Kickstarter (funded by Index Ventures and Union Square Ventures, among others) is a way for anyone in the world to fund creative projects and is open to creators from the US and UK. Kickstarter specifically requires that all projects be creative in nature, although other platforms focus on different areas. These types of crowdfunding platforms rely on “backers” not investors, people who find these campaigns online, believe in the idea, and agree to put in cash for the project at certain levels. Based on their level of support, backers get rewards, such as the products they’re funding, or a one-of-a-kind experience. There is technically no “investment,” so the creator(s) keep 100% of their equity. This also means an entrepreneur is not likely to find mentorship or guidance going through crowdfunding.

So far, Joni and her partner had just invested sweat equity and personal money, and as they were looking to scale the business they realized they needed more cash to do so. They chose Kickstarter over other services primarily because of the “all or nothing” premise. Other platforms, like Indiegogo or RocketHub have a “keep-it-all” scenario, where an entrepreneur keeps all of the money raised, even if the campaign hasn’t met its fundraising goals. With an all-or-nothing premise, if the goal isn’t reached by the deadline (as in Joni’s situation), no money is collected from the backers. In this case, they won’t expect anything else from you, which limits your risk and sets their expectations upfront. In addition, backers may recruit others before the deadline just because they want to see the idea succeed. For these reasons, ideas tend to be either popular and hit their goal, or don’t get very far – there is little middle ground on Kickstarter. Joni’s biggest take away from her experience was market research insight and real world feedback, and she also had some more specific recommendations as well.

If you’re considering crowdfunding, the first thing to do is to back a few projects that you find interesting to get a feel for how it works. It’s a good idea to have a solid website and a multi-channel social media campaign running prior to launching your project. Keep in mind that having established users liking, tweeting, and blogging about you prior to the project can create credibility for new people finding your idea. Twitter can certainly be useful, and Pinterest could be even more important, especially if your idea is visual in nature and/or is more targeted toward females, as they are 80% of Pinterest’s user base (TechCrunch on Pinterest). Be thoughtful with the rewards that you give backers, and structure the package levels simply. Rewards that are close to the heart of your idea are likely to do well, because backers resonated with them in the first place. Decisions made on social media tend to be fast, making first impressions ever more important, so if you use video (which is a good idea) don’t be afraid to spend some money on video production. It can also be helpful to overestimate your funding needs, as fees and unexpected challenges always come up.

There are things to be careful with as well. As always, read the fine print and keep up on any changes in your business environment. A platform’s rules may change during your experience with them, as Joni’s did, so pay attention to the ones that affect your project. When the JOBS act is implemented (Forbes infographic here), it will change some things in the industry, so be aware of that as well. Fees will cut into your margins, 10-15% in Joni’s case, since Kickstarter takes 5%, Amazon Payments 3-5%, and shipping for backer’s rewards are usually included. “You have to discount to get on Kickstarter,” she says. Competitors can see your ideas out in the open, so if necessary look into filing patents or other IP protection. As always, be careful in hiring any outside professionals, as there are shady “consultants” who cold-email to offer marketing, design, or other little services than are little more than a scam. Do your diligence if you hire someone, and if the offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Joni sees her Kickstarter project experience and education as a good thing and something she would do again. She doesn’t consider it a failure, but a learning experience that is part of her entrepreneurial process. It gave her a new level of market insight as well as a chance for market exposure and feedback from potential customers. In the end, Joni’s positive attitude and learning from her project means that her experience is a valuable stepping stone in building her business.

About the author:

Tim is pursuing a Master’s from CU-Boulder in Engineering Management, after a few years working with entrepreneurs following an undergrad in Cognitive Neuroscience at U. of Denver. He started his first business at age 19 and currently consults for startup companies, primarily in software and biotechnology.

 

 

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Here we look at crowdfunding as a quick fix.

Myth #6:

Once the SEC releases its guidelines, funding will become easy and freely available.

Reality:

Even if Crowdfunding portals do become popular, it will likely take years before people begin investing with them regularly. There are several factors that may slow the adoption:

Many “accredited investors” today do not even think of themselves as Angel Investors.  It is unlikely that the existence of a portal will change this perception. Accredited investors are individuals with a net worth of $1 million or more, not including their primary residence, nor an income of $200,000 or more a year with a reasonable expectation that it would continue. These investors are typically working with wealth advisers who are not motivated to move money to angel investments where there can be significant work in doing due diligence and risks with unknown investments. So, even though these people are qualified to make angel investments, few actually will engage in angel investing. It’s reasonable to assume that the same resistance to angel investing may exist among the non-accredited investors as well. While one upside of the JOBS act is that those who want to have the opportunity to experience the significant returns that angel investing can provide, it may take time for these individuals to get used to the idea of investing through a funding portal.

Platforms like E-Bay took years before people became used to the idea to bidding for things in an auction format.  People were simply not used to bidding for things and had concerns about whether they would actually receive the items they had won in an auction. It took E-Bay years to develop their buyer’s insurance program and for word to spread of the deals that could be had on their platform.

Even if Crowdfunding becomes as popular as E-Bay, it will take some time before it catches on in the mainstream. They will likely need to develop their own version of buyers’ insurance in order to gain investors trust.

 

 

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Let’s look at many of them to find what’s truth and what to debunk. Here we look at how existing offering exemptions already allow for public offering to non-accredited investors. We’ll examine one more myth, so look for our final blog post in a few days.

Myth #5:

In Colorado, many of the crowdfunding opportunities created by the JOBS act are already available to entrepreneurs.

Reality:

The Colorado Division of Securities already offers SCOR and RL limited registrations for public offerings to non-accredited investors for in-state deals. These registrations are rarely used, even though in some cases they represent less work for the entrepreneur than filing with a crowdfunding portal.  Entrepreneurs can pay $50 and fill out a few forms and in a few weeks of regulatory review they may be legally entitled to publicly market their securities to accredited and non-accredited investors alike.

Many people confuse the two things that must occur for successful securities sales.  The first is that it must be legal. There has been much excitement about the SEC releasing the details the JOBS act, but since many of these opportunities for lightweight registration have already existed for years, there must be something else missing.

That second thing missing is the marketing effort that must be expended to raise capital.  Most companies seeking capital are not prepared for the process. They are promoting their companies without having put together a working team of people, without having done the detailed financial projections and analysis needed, and without having done the market research to gauge market demand and competition for their product.  Even those who have gone through these steps to prepare for raising capital are often not ready for the extraordinarily difficult process of marketing their securities.

Funding portals will help companies to some extent in that there will be a place where investors can look at a good amount of deal flow in one place.  Entrepreneurs will likely find that it takes more than a portal listing to sell securities and they will need to develop significant social networks and spend significant dollars and time in putting together presentations, traveling to meet investors, advertising and more.

 

Stay tuned for the next crowdfunding myth busting blog post on quick fixes

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Let’s look at many of them to find what’s truth and what to debunk. Here we examine the importance of due diligence. We’ll examine a few more myths over the next week, so look for subsequent blog posts in the coming days.

Myth #4:

Due diligence is a critical part of the early stage investment process. Most professionally prepared due diligence packages are no more than a collection of hundreds of documents, which is too much for someone to go through for a $500 investment.

Reality:

Unless crowdfunding sites find a way to crowdsource the due diligence process, it will not make sense for any one person to do all the research on a company, and many companies may be funded without receiving the scrutiny that they should. Even for Angel groups, Due Diligence is a time consuming and expensive process that sometimes threatens to eclipse the value of the investment in terms of the time it takes to do the research.  Groups have the opportunity to work together and split up the work so that no one person bears all of the burden. Crowdfunded Due Diligence will always be suspect when we don’t know who the other investors are and do not have a means to get to know them individually and develop trust relationships that face-to-face angel investors have.

 

Stay tuned for the next crowdfunding myth busting blog post on public offerings to non-accredited investors

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Let’s look at many of them to find what’s truth and what to debunk. Here we consider whether or not negotiation is needed. We’ll examine several more myths over the next week or two, so look for subsequent blog posts in the coming days.

Myth #3:

Private placements and Angel groups have typically involved a back-and-forth negotiation that allowed deals to get done through discussion and creative deal making.

Reality:

With hundreds of investors involved, and a national scope where investors and entrepreneurs don’t have the opportunity to meet face to face,  it is nearly impossible to negotiate a deal once it has been offered and one or more investors have jumped on board. Typically all investors in an investment round will invest on the same terms with the same term sheet. The funding portals make an “offer” to sell securities at a particular price and it is up to investors to take it or leave it. The results of this kind of transaction, especially when it is not vetted by a professional investment banking or venture capital firm, is that either the entrepreneur will not receive investment or worse yet, they will receive investment, but they shouldn’t have received it at the terms offered.

The benefit of negotiation is that it gives parties a chance to test the premises upon which the valuation is based.  If the valuation is too low, then the entrepreneur gives up too much equity and they may be challenged in raising further rounds which may be necessary for the survival of the company.  If the valuation is too high, the investors may be pushed down in a “down round” where their equity is significantly diluted. Angel groups with experienced participants have benefited from using that experience to negotiate deals that are good for both investors and entrepreneurs alike.

Unless funding portals can find a way to crowdsource the negotiation process as well as investment, there will be many unhappy investors and entrepreneurs who are not getting what they had hoped for from the crowdfunding experience.  Unfortunately, many people will not realize what has happened until several years later when things go awry.

 

Stay tuned for the next crowdfunding myth busting blog post on due diligence

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Let’s look at many of them to find what’s truth and what to debunk. Here we ask if fraud is as concerning in crowdfunding as many believe. We’ll examine several more myths over the next week or two, so look for subsequent blog posts in the coming days.

Myth #2:

The SEC and others are concerned about the potential for fraud. It is a valid concern.

Reality:

We need to build in systems to prevent or minimize fraud, but fraud is the least of our concerns and will likely be a rarity. There is an even greater threat, however.  With unsophisticated entrepreneurs pitching deals to unsophisticated investors the opportunities for well-intentioned failure are enormous.
Funding Portals do not provide the vetting process that Angel Groups or Broker Dealers do, so unqualified companies will be on-line seeking funding. When unqualified investors invest in these sure-to-fail companies, everyone will be unhappy. There will be charges of fraud made, but in most cases the money will vanish due to poor strategy and mismanagement rather than fraud or intentional deception.

A majority of early stage companies are going to fail and the loss of money may look like fraud when the losses are due to other factors related to the operation of the business such as competitive pressures, regulatory changes, technological shifts, etc.  How are we going to be able to tell the difference when the time comes?

Just because money is lost does not mean that fraud has occurred.  If the company hired staff, developed product, and spent money on marketing, but never really took off, then that’s a simple company failure. If the company raised a first round and was depending on another round twelve months later that never was raised, then the company may have to shut down, even if its prospects were good. That’s not fraud either. There are dozens of scenarios where companies close – and in many cases shutting down sooner rather than later is the best option.

Investors need to be wary to protect themselves from fraud, but before they invest, they should be taking courses and workshops from groups like Rockies Venture Club in order to teach themselves about how companies are valued, how to identify risks, how to evaluate a deal and negotiate a winning term sheet.  Smart investors who invest with angel groups earn up to three times more on their portfolios than those who randomly point and click at crowdfunding offerings.

 

Stay tuned for the next crowdfunding myth busting blog post on negotiation being outdated…

Guest post by Griffin Ignelzi, Thrive LoDo

Art in a Thriving Business

Art: Local Denver artist, Moses “Sonny” Valdez established his artistic roots over the course of 20 years working as a custom automotive painter. During his time as a renowned custom painter he has had more than ten cars featured in high profile national automotive magazines, most notably in Low Rider magazine, where he was honored with the cover and featured centerfold. His experience as an auto painter inspired the, “Contemporary Abstract Art,” he creates today. His work can appropriately be described as the fusion of sleek ‘industrial’ design that encompasses the flare and visual vibrancy seen inside elite showrooms on the custom body work of high-end vehicles. Using sheet metal as his canvas, Sonny creates unique and reflective modern artwork. The surface of each piece is uniquely etched with various grinding patterns that is then accented and finished with the experienced personal touch and masterful usage of a variety of vibrant, “candy coated” paint colors. The aptly named, “iCandy” artwork is currently on display at THRIVE.

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Venue: Rising local business, THRIVE– a premier LoDo Denver Co-working office space, has taken its appreciation for the arts and incorporated it within the daily business culture of its progressive workspace. THRIVE’s goal is to provide a creative and innovative environment that enhances membership and stimulates business growth by showcasing the inspirational works of local artists inside its walls. Thrive is currently displaying the vibrant, “iCandy” wall art by Sonny Valdez- the first of many local talents to be displayed within their within its energetic and rapidly evolving modern workspace.

In addition to enhancing the everyday experience for members and visitors with lively artwork, THRIVE stretches its daily operations past the monotony of the traditional workplace by regularly hosting after hour meet-ups, networking and social events designed to bring people from the professional community together in an appropriate setting to market, pitch, educate and expand their businesses.

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Event: Friday, February 22nd at 7:00pm- THRIVE will be hosting an Open House to promote local arts and bring together local business professionals, community and Denver nightlife. “iCandy” art will be on display, accompanied by a silent auction, music, food and beverages. [THRIVE at LoDo- 1830 Blake St. Denver, CO. 80202)]

Griffin Ignelzi is the Office Manager at THRIVE Workplace Solutions, when he isn’t writing blog posts for Rockies Venture Club, he just stares at the mesmerizing art on the walls. 

I’ll admit to having spent an inordinate number of adult years in academia and I hold two advanced degrees to show for it. I’m no stranger to the teaching part of higher education either; I’ve been in front of many hopeful faces looking for knowledge. But there is something very inaccessible about traditional higher education that I just don’t like.

I took a single graduate class a couple of years ago in a well-known university. The school made me register as a special, non-degree seeking student. The Dean of Students had to OK my registration and it took over a month to actually get the signature. Then I had to take time off work for 15 straight weeks to attend the class. Let’s just say the whole process was a pain in the neck and I don’t wish that hassle on anyone.

Last year I heard comments from conference goers at both the ACS2012 and the CCC2012. People said that they always love the seminar parts of the conferences. The most common complaint was that the seminars were too short and we were only scratching the surface of the topic. This got me thinking.

What if Rockies Venture Club were able to provide continuing education classes taught by industry experts just like the Universities do? Although we thought we might have a couple of modifications to the traditional course plan. RVC Academy classes would be stand-alone, two-hour events so you don’t have to worry about scheduling months in advance. The classes would be focused on issues surrounding private equity since that’s what we do best. Since these issues are important to both entrepreneurs and investors we’d make sure that all classes were open to both types of folks to learn side by side.

Our classes are open to the public. You don’t need to be accepted to the program like TechStars or the Founder institute, just register quickly online and attend. Although we do have to charge tuition for the classes, we are planning to schedule once a month classes that are free to all RVC members. Also, all classes are free to Keystone Members so we do feel good about providing the community with affordable options.

We just started the regular series of classes this month and frankly, we didn’t know how amazing these classes were going to be. Not to toot our own horns but, holy shmoly these classes were a good idea! It turns out that our community is just crawling with expertise.

  • Mid January, Brian Tsuchiya gave an overview of the little known ways to register your investor deal with the state of Colorado. Colorado has form RL and SCOR which allow you some freedom in advertising your deal publicly and legally.
  • January 28th we had Lauren Ivison from Clear Creek Partners and Kelly Matthews from RWO teach a room of investors and entrepreneurs about structuring their investment deal. Lauren occasionally has to turn away folks seeking A Round investment because they’ve so badly botched previous term sheets. Her class will certainly help folks prevent this kind of avoidable flub.

We saw great attendance at both of these classes and people’s wheels were really turning as they scribbled notes furiously. The format is such that we have lots of time for discussion and interaction. Also, we want students to go home with new knowledge, but not so much new information that they can’t process it.

We’re super excited about the pipeline of great classes in the next few months.

In the beginning of February we’ll learn about Market Strategy and Branding from Access Marketing Company.  At the end of the month, we’ll get an in depth view of Due Diligence from Lauren Costantini (CID4). She’ll school us on how much due diligence angels should reasonably be doing, how they should  go about it, and how can entrepreneurs can make the process easier to accomplish.

Even the Angel Capital Summit in March will be affected by our new view on continuing education. The workshops will be longer and get deeper into the nitty gritty of the topics presented.

I’m particularly excited about this spring’s educational lineup. Michael Armstrong from Front Range CFO will hold two classes on accounting. The first will be a basic course to get all of us non-accountants up to speed on accounting basics like quickbooks, debits/credits, balance statements, and statements of cashflow. The second class will be focused on challenging and defending pro formas. Having never taken an accounting class in my whole life, I’m pretty excited to see what Michael can teach me.

RVC Academy is in pilot stage. We are completely open to suggestions for future classes! In the comments, let us know what topics you’d like to see or teach this year.

Nicole Gravagna, MS, PhD, is the Director of Operations for the Rockies Venture Club. After having spent way too many years involved in formal educational programs, she is happy to be guiding the RVC Academy, which can best be described as an “informal educational program”.