Mark Suster and Clayton Christensen on equity crowdfunding

In 2013 Mark Suster a leading VC investor and Clayton Christensen a leading business author sat down at Startup Grind to talk about disruptive innovation and startup investment. Their conversation touched briefly on the subject of equity crowdfunding. Both Mark and Clayton are extremely cynical about equity crowdfunding. Some of their concerns are sensible questions about an emerging industry. But what they were secretly doing was arguing for the old model. I’m a big fan of Mark’s blog and Clayton’s books but they’re wrong about the disruptive potential of equity crowdfunding.

VC investor Mark Suster and business author Clayton Chistensen at Startup Grind.
VC investor Mark Suster and business author Clayton Chistensen at Startup Grind.

By betting against against equity crowdfunding, Mark Suster is betting against the internet. I believe the internet will do the same thing to early stage finance that it does to all industries. Namely, make them more competitive, connected and democratic.

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Equity crowdfunding at Seedrs

Seedrs provides a tool that startups can use to raise capital from their friends, family, customers and the crowd. This process is often called “equity crowdfunding” because it’s like Kiva or Kickstarter, except that the investors get equity in the company instead of a product or a loan. In January 2014, I joined Seedrs as part of the marketing team.

Seedrs Team Wired Magazine
The Seedrs team have been featured in Wired, TechCrunch, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

At the end of last year, Seedrs raised 2.58 million pounds from over 900 investors using their own platform. That means that in my new marketing role, I now have over 900 bosses. I feel very accountable for the success and growth of the business. In this blog post, I want to share two main things about my new role, the expanded view of marketing that we’re taking at Seedrs, and the way that we’re incorporating lean manufacturing habits and processes into our team culture.

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Digital transformation

This year I had coffee with fifty strategists working in innovation, design, public relations and advertising. My work this year focused on technology startups and research for my book on B2B social media, so the coffees were a great way for me to keep my eye on agency land. All that caffeine also helped me to spot four new services that I think clients will be asking their agencies for in 2014.

Fifty Coffees with Strategists
To spot these agency trends I had coffee with fifty strategists from London, New York and New Zealand.

Clients will still want campaigns made, websites built and apps created but these services are becoming increasingly commoditised. Some agencies will focus on making things faster and cheaper but the best agencies will make money helping clients build their own capability.

I hate seeing good products that aren’t succeeding because they aren’t being noticed. I love working with people who have a great product but aren’t so great at communicating. I have done some of my best work with software developers, engineers, and scientists. These people are great at thinking (and building) but not so great at articulating their product to customers and investors. I’ve gradually become one of the go-to people in the London tech scene for how to market very complex technology products like big data, commercialisation of military technology, financial services and enterprise technology systems.

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Helping startups with equity crowdfunding

Equity crowdfunding is a new way of raising capital for startups. Kickstarter has proven a successful model for crowdfunding an idea (by pre-selling the product). Equity crowdfunding takes this further by allowing the crowd to buy shares in the company itself. The volume of alternative finance for startups, entrepreneurship and innovation is growing rapidly.

Value Proposition Canvas Hackathon
During the HackHumanity hackathon I realised that startups need help with equity crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding is a delicate balance of describing the product, the team, the business and the investment opportunity. Each of these need to be communicated in a clear, compelling and persuasive way. Often the teams with the best technical skill are not the best communicators.

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Startup as a service

If you were the CEO of a large company, who would you turn to for help to recapture your lost mojo? How would you create, test and build new products? Big companies have been steadily getting worse at innovation, whereas startups have begun to eat the world. Small companies can move fast, take risks and attract talent.

Jon Gold at Makeshift
Startups an bring together designers (like Jon Gold, pictured) and developers in much more creative and agile ways. (Photo: Paul Clarke and Makeshift)

The brightest minds of the next generation are spending their weekends building software in hackathons, quitting their jobs to build interesting startups and being investing in by incubators and accelerators. It’s a brave new world, but large companies are still looking for ways to become more agile.

A new trend is emerging where hot studios (that combine design, business and technology skills) are building startups from scratch for large companies. This new approach is reviving the patronage model from Renaissance Florence.

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Startup investing through a managed fund

Lance Wiggs is raising a fund to invest in high-growth tech startups. He’s ex McKinsey and has been working on the Better By Design programme for a few years so he’s a super smart guy. I’m excited about his journey but he’s made some mistakes along the way that we can all learn from. There are lessons in this story for all of us who are involved in capital raising for early stage companies.

Lance Wiggs
Lance Wiggs is an consultant & investor who is raising a fund to invest in high-growth startups.

It’s useful to compare a few of the new ways that early stage investing is happening around the world. Angel syndicates, follow funds and accelerator funds are some of the most interesting ways of investing in startups today. They all put a layer between you and the startup that you’re investing in. But for lots of investors that’s a good thing.

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Lessons from crowdfunding a bookstore

This is a guest post from my friend Tim Gouw who is a co-founder of the Dutch innovation agency Goweekly. Tim and Maarten have been working with clients on innovation, service design, business design and recently they’ve been helping clients with crowdfunding campaigns.

Dutch crowdfunding

They got started in crowdfunding when they raised 250,000 Euros to help save a a group of local bookstores. I’ve invited Tim to share the things that he learned from the campaign as they’re relevant to equity crowdfunding and also to general community building.

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