Running your own business is a lonely place, and reaching a point in which your business begins to sink under its own success is both gratifying and terrifying. This is where I found myself about six months ago, as the founder of Homes or Houses, a company that specializes in the sourcing and renting of properties for UK expatriates and foreign buyers investing in UK property: running around like mad, trying to keep my business operating smoothly and struggling to keep up with its unexpectedly rapid growth. I needed to raise capital.
I initially avoided thinking about raising money, with the hopes that my need for it would be satisfied by a sudden surge in revenue or a major shift in our cash flow management, but neither was likely. However, you can’t simply sweep your business’ need for funding under the rug. The reality is you will eventually reach a point in which an injection of external capital is necessary to take your business to the next level.
Around this time, a former colleague, Sam Quawasmi, who is the co-founder and the Managing Director of the Dubai-headquartered equity crowdfunding platform, Eureeca, approached me about the idea of raising funds through his platform. To be frank, I was initially not into the idea crowdfunding my business.
So I took a look at my options. A bank loan? This is pretty much just as unlikely in the UK, where we are based, as it is in the MENA region. Banks simply don’t have the risk appetite to finance startups and SMEs.
Given my industry and the current development stage of my business, securing a venture capital investment seemed equally unlikely. And even were it to be possible, I had no intention of relinquishing the amount of control required by raising VC money.
Sam eventually convinced me that equity crowdfunding was the right option for me. A large portion of our customers live in the UAE, and Eureeca is regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority, so they seemed like a good fit. I decided to give it a go.
After spending time with the Eureeca team getting my campaign ready to go, or “fit for funding,” as they say, in terms of financial documentation and marketing materials, they said I was ready to launch. I was even more apprehensive at this stage. Would people invest? What if the campaign flopped?
27 whirlwind days later, we were fully funded, having raised $413,000. I was relieved.
I then opted to enter “overfunding,” which meant that we could continue receiving investments. A day later, we broke the half million mark. A few days after that, we had raised over $600,000, 150% of our initial target. This included a $200,000 investment from a local UAE institutional investment firm.
Seeing the money come in at such a pace was, frankly, surreal. It really validated my business in my own eyes, and since much of the investment was coming from my clients, it served as confirmation that they were happy with the Homes or Houses service to the point they wanted to financially invest in our future success.
Despite my initial reservations, I can now say that I am sold on the concept of equity crowdfunding. Aside from the very obvious speed and efficiency with which we were able to raise over $600,000, here are my takeaways about equity crowdfunding that I took from campaign:
1. Backend preparation and support
A lot goes into is a successful raise, from fine tuning financial documents and setting an investable valuation, to distilling your value proposition and honing your pitch. Equity crowdfunding platforms such as Eureeca want you to get funded, so they do their best to get “fit for funding.” Their insight, expertise, and hard work are great assets to an entrepreneur raising capital.
2. Customer buy-in
Homes or Houses is a client-facing business and we take great pride in our efforts to create a loyal customer base. We wanted to somehow allow our customers to have an opportunity to literally become co-owners of the business. Equity crowdfunding lent itself as an ideal vehicle for making this happen. Our customers were happy about the opportunity to invest in our business, and I would recommend that entrepreneurs use equity crowdfunding to tap into this extremely valuable source of investors. Don’t be shy.
3. Strategic investors
The prevailing notion about crowdfunding is that it is reserved for what are being dubbed as “armchair” investors, or unsophisticated investors that don’t offer strategic value. We secured a sizable investment from an institutional investment firm, which is certainly on the sophisticated side of the investor spectrum, and they will be aiding us in our establishment of a Dubai-based office in 2016. Additionally, we secured numerous investments of well over $10,000 from knowledgeable and well-connected people in the UAE. We are confident they will provide strategic value as we continue on our journey.
4. International market reach
We are a UK business, but we cater to clients that live outside of the UK. Given the makeup of our client base and our interest in enabling our customers to invest, we wanted to use a platform that offered international reach. In our case, Eureeca’s positioning in Europe and the Middle East was ideally suited for this, as this positioning can be leveraged by entrepreneurs trying to build a customer base in a new market or plant seeds for future market expansion.
5. Marketing and lead generation
Clients are the lifeblood of our business, and we have heretofore relied solely on word of mouth to build our client base. Our campaign greatly multiplied our word-of-mouth capabilities and generated quality PR coverage, which directly resulted in people getting in touch about using our service. We also had the opportunity to pitch to 100 investors at a live Eureeca event. Not only were they potential investors, they were also potential clients who may be interested in buying UK property.
Whatever your pre-conceived notions about equity crowdfunding may be, I recommend that you explore the option the next time you raise. You just might find that it’s well suited for you and your business. I know I did!