By Nancy Dahlberg
Equity crowdfunding could help change the dismal investment landscape for female and minority founders. Miami-based Caribu's campaign is a case study to watch.
Is equity crowdfunding a viable early-stage investing avenue with far fewer roadblocks than traditional venture capital for female founders? It’s early, but some of the research and anecdotal evidence points to … maybe so.
We have a case study brewing right here in Miami: Caribu.
Listen to Maxeme Tuchman, CEO and co-founder of the ed-tech startup, on one of the reasons Caribu is raising capital on equity crowdfunding platform Wefunder now:
“For most women who are first-time investors, minimum check size and due diligence are the biggest barriers to making their first investment. By going through Wefunder, we eliminated those barriers because the minimum check size is $500 vs $10K for most angel groups and the due diligence is done by Wefunder, which only accepts around 2% of companies that apply. We believe this is a big reason that so far almost 40% of Caribu's newest investors are women and almost 35% are people of color.”
Caribu, an interactive video-calling platform that helps parents and grandparents read and draw with children when they can't be with them in person, aims to raise $500,000 through its campaign on Wefunder, the leading equity crowdfunding platform, to hire a VP of marketing and ramp up sales efforts. In the campaign’s first nine days, the startup raised more than $140,000 from 55 investors, including the NFL’s Ricardo Allen of the Atlanta Falcons.
Count Michelle Abbs, director of Babson WIN Lab Miami, an accelerator program for women founders, in that group.
“The proximity to so many great companies has made me hungry for the opportunity to get in on the action. I don’t have the means yet, being the director of a nonprofit, to write $100K or even $25K checks, though I’ve seen deals that I wish I could be a part of all around me. Using Wefunder, Caribu gave me the opportunity to enter in as an investor with check sizes that aren’t out of my range,” she said.
Caribu, which has customers in 164 countries and an array of high-quality publishing partners, has already raised $1.3 million in investments (Tuchman is the 59th Latina to raise over $1 million) including from investors including AT&T, Toyota, Rise of the Rest, Halestreet and Miami Angels.
For the startup, the timing was right to tap equity crowdfunding now, Tuchman said.
“We found product market fit with "Glammas" (glamorous grandmas) in January and started optimizing Caribu for this core customer. Given the timing, we knew we'd have to raise over the summer, which is when most investors aren't meeting or looking at deals. We had heard about equity crowdfunding and knew some big names like Zenefits and Ginkgo Bioworks had raised on Wefunder and ECF also has the benefits of creating a marketing buzz for your company while you're fundraising, which is something you don't usually get from traditional fundraising.”
To be sure, consumer-centric companies like Caribu traditionally do best on crowdfunding platforms. And as a B2C startup in ed-tech, Caribu already had made deep connections with its network of customers and supporters, and some of them wanted to invest, Tuchman added.
Supporters like Abbs.
“I truly believe in Max and Alvaro [Sabido, Caribu co-founder and CTO],” said Abbs. “They are clear on their vision of wanting to grow Caribu, they are excellent at testing and listening to data from the market and their customers and very resilient - willing to do what is necessary to enable Caribu to grow. When Max told me the story of how they solidified product market fit and landed on Glamma and how this clarity on target market would allow them to convert at a higher rate what was already a strong funnel - that was the last piece of the puzzle and I was sold.”
Equity crowdfunding is extremely high risk and for unaccredited investors there are strict limits to the amounts people can invest. Still, equity crowdfunding is beginning to gain traction, since it became legal in 2016. South Florida media startup Whereby.Us, publisher of Miami's popular The New Tropic and four other community-centric newsletters around the U.S., was a very early adopter, having raised more than $500,000 by crowdfunding in 2017 on its road to to expansion and raising more than $2.5 million.
Nationally, a recent report by Crowdfund Capital Advisors showed that proceeds for campaigns that closed in 2018 increased from $71.2 million in 2017 to $109.3 million in 2018. The number of successful offerings nearly doubled, going from 221 in 2017 to 417 in 2018, and the total number of investors in those offerings also soared, from 77,558 in 2017 to 147,448 in 2018. The average raise was $271,000, the report found.
It’s still the early days for equity crowdfunding for all, but with so little traditional venture capital going to women-led companies – just over 2% - and even less than that to minority-led companies, crowdfunding may be a more accessible option for getting through the “Valley of Death” that kills so many startups. Indeed, in the donation-based crowdfunding arena (Kickstarter, et al), campaigns led by women outperform those by men. A recent report noted that on crowdfunding platform Republic, 44% of campaigns were by women-led companies and a third of the investors were women.
“I think equity crowdfunding is an option for female founders who can feel out of place, unwelcome or met with higher levels of doubt and skepticism than their male peers,” said Abbs. “I look forward to supporting other female-led companies by investing through equity crowdfunding as they embrace this as a way around the bias and barriers in the VC funding world.”
Adds Tuchman: “This is probably the by-product I'm most excited about and proud of. It's my goal to make more women into investors through this campaign.”
TIPS FOR CROWDFUNDING
Sherwood Neiss and Jason Best, pioneering advocates of equity crowdfunding who run Crowdfund Capital Advisors, shared some best practices with me in 2016 and they are worth repeating:
- Look for successful campaigns that were similar to yours. What platforms were they using? How did they tell their story successfully? Also look at a few that failed. Understand where they fell short and what you can do to not repeat their mistakes. Call up the founders; you will be surprised how open they can be.
- Your campaign video is your front door to your offering. Watch a lot of videos to see what has been successful and what has not. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it has to look good. Write a script; take your time to get it right.
- Before your campaign starts, begin establishing media contacts. You want to have a big first couple of days. Share your campaign before it is live; that is the way you get PR. Also line up some initial investors, so your campaign pops at the start.
- You need to bring your own crowd to your crowdfund. Most of your investors will likely be LinkedIn connections, people you already have a relationship with. Connect with them emotionally so they understand what you are trying to achieve. Spend time answering their questions, listening to their suggestions, etc. Plan to devote a lot of time to your campaign, both on and off social media.
- Crowds can contain investors with experience or connections that may be able to help you. Always communicate early and often with your crowd.
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