Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

Crowd-Funding Success Usually Brings New Challenges

Pebble watch crowd-funding via Wikipedia

Pebble watch crowd-funding via Wikipedia

Many entrepreneurs seems to be convinced that the “crowd” of regular people using the Internet will somehow solve their startup funding needs, when they sense a lack of interest from accredited investors. Professionals maintain that there is plenty of money and equity for qualified startups, and funding marginal startups via any source will only make more people unhappy.

Well-known crowd-funding platforms on the Internet, led by Kickstarter and Indiegogo, have worked for years to provide non-equity “funding” for many startups, as outlined in my previous article Don’t Be Fooled By All The Hype For Crowd Funding. But safely seeking equity investments from the crowd via the Jobs Act of 2012 is problematic and has still not been defined.

A lesser variation, called crowd-pitching, by organizations like Funding Universe, is an offline event, which give several candidates an opportunity to pitch to a crowd of interested people for a couple of minutes, after which the crowd “votes” with some play-money to pick the best candidate, who then wins introductions and guidance in getting loan approvals or equity funding.

Certainly both of these crowd-sourcing approaches provide the entrepreneur with an opportunity to hone their pitch, get some free consumer feedback on the idea, and maybe some introductions to funding sources. But from my perspective in really helping entrepreneurs, both fall short on several counts:

  1. Focus too much on the product, not enough on the business model. When pitching to consumers, online or offline, the feedback will likely be on features and design. The key success factors of the business model (how a business survives and grows), management expertise, and financial projections will likely get overlooked.
  2. Amount of funding provided is usually not enough. The amount of time and money required for publicity and promotion of any crowd-funding activities may be more than the return. In reality, a few thousand dollars to a few winners, is tantalizing but probably not a return on the investment. Many fail spectacularly after exceeding their funding objectives.
  3. Multiple micro-investments are not manageable. Investors know how tough it is to get a set of terms accepted by even two investors, much less hundreds. The administration of legal conditions, signatures, disclosures, and distributions is a nightmare. In my opinion, that’s why micro-finance has rarely worked, even for loans.
  4. Proposal content is too short to be meaningful. In all cases, to keep non-professionals attention, the content of the offer online, or pitch presented, is very limited. No one contemplates including a business plan, investor presentation, or even the equivalent of an executive summary.
  5. Crowd sample size and makeup not representative of market. If the pitch is offline, the audience is likely to small and mostly budding entrepreneurs. Even online, the type of people who may respond to social media requests may bear very little relationship to the intended market.
  6. Investors are not prepared for the high risk of startups. Crowd-funding investors are not constrained to be accredited professional investors. They may not understand that nine out of ten startup investments provide minimal to no return, and the risk of securities law violations is very high.
  7. Intellectual property is jeopardized. Non-disclosure agreements can’t be done in these environments. In an environment populated by entrepreneurs rather than investors, when you are new to the game, you are exposing your plan to your biggest potential competitors.

Crowd-pitching groups are making an effort to mitigate these problems by pre-screening the candidates, and providing an experienced panel of investors to do the judging. This helps by making sure the feedback is realistic, and the presenters have a rational business opportunity to present. I’m already working with a couple of organizations along these lines.

Overall, there is no question that crowd-funding makes sense for non-profits soliciting donations, artists seeking support from fans, and many small entrepreneurial efforts. But in the competitive world of “the next big thing,” with millions of dollars at stake to be lost, counting on these mechanisms when professional investors decline is usually ignoring the real problem.

Written by Martin Zwilling

user Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO,
Startup Professionals

Martin is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. He is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners.

prev next

You might also be interested in

The Startup Failure Rate Among Angel-Funded Companies

With all the news about hundred-million-dollar rounds and billion-dollar valuations, it can be hard not to look at the world of entrepreneurship and angel investing as a thrilling ride that only has one stop: success. But to be a successful entrepreneur or serious angel investor, you must have a realistic understanding of the startup failure rate and internalize that, in

Read more >

How to Build a Unicorn From Scratch – and Walk Away with Nothing.

This is a grim fairy tale about a mythical company and its mythical founder. While I concocted this story, I did so by drawing upon my sixteen years of experience as a venture capitalist, plus the fourteen years I spent before that as an entrepreneur.  I’m going to use some pretty simple math and some pretty basic terms to create

Read more >

What is the worst startup pitch ever?

Take your choice (these are both real, honest-to-God pitches, and I’ve got the originals in my possession):

Contestant A CluelessCo is an internet startup company seeking $2 million of equity financing to fund our company for at least one year. CluelessCo will become the main consumer outlet for the internet, digital cable and satellite TV, and cell phones and PDAs.

10 Ways To Kill A Growing Business With Bad Hires

Every startup with any traction quickly reaches a point where they need to hire employees to grow the business. Unfortunately, this always happens when pressures are the highest, and business processes are ill-defined. At this point you need superstars and versatile future executives, yet your in-house hiring processes and focus are at their weakest.

The result is a host of

Read more >

What does it feel like to invest in a failed startup as an angel investor?

It’s not great…but it IS part of the business.

If you are an angel investor, the only way to do it is to take things very seriously. If you take angel investing seriously, you should aim to develop a portfolio of at least 30-40 investments over 5-10 years of active investing. If you invest in 40 startups, 20 of them (absolute minimum!)

Read more >