Building a brand yields many callous lessons. Entrepreneurs learn, early on, that a dream can only take you so far. Your idea may be compelling, visionary, and certain to earn millions, but at some point, without sufficient financing, could land amongst millions of unfunded comrades. This hypothesis is no surprise, but so often goes overlooked by the determined entrepreneurs and change-makers in the natural products industry.
Equity crowdfunding, the product of the 2012 JOBS Act, is a tool that can change the fait accompli faced by underfinanced and bootstrapped startups. The new exemption from registration, called regulation crowdfunding, allows startups to raise up to $1 million from the whole “crowd”—meaning both accredited and non-accredited investors—in exchange for an ownership stake in their businesses.
Want to build a successful equity crowdfunding campaign? Follow these 6 steps:
1. Hire a crowdfunding lawyer
Serious crowdfunding, without legal help, is doomed from the beginning. Detailed rules made up of cryptic language are not absent from the new laws around crowdfunding. In fact, they are the substance of the legislation. If you want to succeed, hire a lawyer.
2. Choose your portal carefully
When raising capital with regulation crowdfunding, you (the “issuer”) are required to list the deal on a registered funding portal’s website. These portals vary in their operating histories. It is important to do your research.
Many Regulation D platforms have transitioned to regulation crowdfunding offerings or added regulation crowdfunding to their menu of services, after the final rules went into effect last June. In the New York City area, a few accessible portals include Republic, SeedInvest and Growthfountain. A complete list of funding portals is available here.
3. Get your accountant on board
The final rules on regulation crowdfunding outline your disclosure requirements, with respect to producing and filing financial statements. This means that your financials will be filed with the SEC through the Edgar database and will become a matter of public record at such time.
So, what are your financial statement requirements? Under regulation crowdfunding, your requirements depend on the dollar amount offered and sold in reliance on the regulation crowdfunding exemption within the preceding 12-month period. To summarize one key takeaway, for first-time issuers, whether you are seeking to raise $107,000-$535,000 or more than $535,000, CPA-reviewed financials are required. For a detailed explanation of your financial disclosure requirements, visit the SEC compliance guide here.
4. Build your campaign (and add some perks!)
Building your campaign begins by creating a brand that your company and its customers can get behind. Your brand should embody your mission and style, and, when put into play, connect you with followers to build your audience. Developing your “crowd” prior to launching your crowdfunding campaign is essential.
The heart of a crowdfunding campaign is its video. It is the beating pulse of the campaign page. In its succinct two-minute appeal, it serves to communicate your brand, inspire the viewer, and take your prospects to “yes.”
Perks help build the bridge from customer to investor. VIP access, private events and credits for services/products can go a long way in achieving conversion.
5. Launch your campaign
It’s getting closer to go-time, but are your ducks in a row? Building momentum for lift-off should be your focus in the days and weeks preceding your launch. Hosting a launch party with real time incentives to invest or implementing a digital marketing campaign to blast the news are a few tactics that can help you build momentum in that crucial 24- to 48-hour post-launch period.
6. Show your investors some love—and keep it up
Many of your investors may be retail investors with little or no experience investing in the private market. They likely invested in you because they think you’re a good bet and because you’ve established some degree of trust.
Honor the bond and show your investors some love by going above and beyond the reporting requirements of regulation crowdfunding. Be transparent and communicate often. Newsletters are an obvious and easy way to keep your investors engaged. Share updates on what’s working and perhaps what changes you're making to overcome hurdles along the way.
Your investors are also your natural brand ambassadors. Give them the tools they need to share your good news with the world. Help them help you to promote the business by providing links to social media and opportunities for them to spread the good word.
Robin Sosnow, Esq., is principal of the Law Office of Robin Sosnow, PLLC, offering legal services in the areas of corporate, securities and real estate law, as well as compliance and risk management services.