+ My new crowdfunding course so you can learn how too!
The global pandemic is fueling micro angel investment like never before. Startups are receiving much-needed capital to grow and scale their companies from non accredited micro angel investors through crowdfunding. All thanks to the JOBS Act.
The JOBS Act allows startups to raise capital from both accredited and non-accredited investors. Essentially anyone can invest and secure equity in an early-stage company. I took advantage of this legislation in 2019 and became the first female founder to raise over $1M in an equity crowdfunding campaign. You can read about my ICO/STO discovery journey here.
That first-round allowed us to reach critical milestones in product and team development. However, $1 million is not enough to grow and scale a company like PopCom. We knew it would be necessary to raise a follow on round. But then the retail landscape took a dramatic turn in 2020 and caused us to rethink our go-to market strategy. COVID hit right before our round was set to open and we were not sure what to expect.
In less than 2 months I raised more than $1,050,000 from over 2,800 micro angel investors in PopCom’s second crowdfunding campaign during a global pandemic. Many people have asked me how I was able to raise capital during times of economic crisis and uncertainty. I credit my crowdfunding success to a combination of timing and critical market need.
The pandemic has caused many businesses to shut their doors. Social distancing now requires retailers to rethink their direct to customer distribution strategy and ways to sell products without human-to-human contact. The interest and demand in the automated retail industry have grown steadily since the beginning of the pandemic.
Automated retail can save lives and businesses by reducing human contact through the use of vending machines and digital kiosks for transactions. When the retail world was scrambling to figure out how to sell direct-to-customer without human contact, PopCom presented a solution.
Smart kiosks and vending machines, powered by PopCom, in my opinion, are the best way for businesses to stay open during the pandemic. Retailers can close the last mile quickly with strategically placed machines while using our software to collect key insights from and about customers. For the shopper, it is convenience and safety that matters most. The introduction of antibacterial and touchless screens makes it safe to buy what they need, where they need it, reducing the risk of contact with the virus.
The timing could not have been better for us to bring our products to market and prove to retailers why what we have built is important. That was the first message we relied on to demonstrate urgency during our crowdfunding campaign. The first customer deliveries of PopCom Kiosks are anticipated to start in the fourth quarter of 2020. Our platform was to raise capital to help more retailers stay in business.
The second, and very timely message of the PopCom crowdfunding campaign, has been consistent since our first round in 2019 — the idea of keeping wealth in the community and maintaining control of the company. Like most founders, I once looked at venture capital and institutional investments as the sole path to raise money to scale a tech company. But the aggressive terms and rapid dilution that founders and founding team members often experience with each fundraising round never appealed to me. Convincing venture capitalists of the massive potential of the self-service retail industry also became exhausting. This was what led me to look beyond traditional means of funding and to explore other ways of raising capital in the first place.
Despite all the things that were aligned in our favor, crowdfunding is not without its unique challenges. I am asking people to trust me with their money. To believe in a product and team that I have built. I had to demonstrate that I would be a good steward of their investment and work hard to give them a return on their investments.
To attract micro angel investors for PopCom for our second round, we knew that we had to reach outside of my network and get the offering in front of thousands of potential investors. It is a numbers game (like a sales funnel), the more people that come to the offering page, the more who will convert to an investor. To do this, we needed a solid strategy.
PopCom Head of Marketing, Jared Korinko, managed both crowdfunding campaigns while I was the face of the company. There is so much work to do behind the scenes so it is important to note that this can’t be accomplished by one person alone.
To start, we launched an extensive media campaign. It included podcasts, blogs, influencer posts and paid advertisements. We did not work with or hire a publicist or agency. This is something I am frequently asked and the truth is that we did it all in-house, and most of the traction was organic. In 2019, my appearance on The Breakfast Club and the Karen Hunter show made our campaign go viral. This time, to reach micro-investors, we relied on many micro-influencers. I interviewed with everyone who requested to speak with me, no platform was too small. I wanted to get in front of as many potential investors as possible. This coverage brought a lot of traction to the campaign. This was my opportunity to let them get to know me and to share my passion for the industry and creating intergenerational wealth. People were intrigued by the story of a Black woman advocating for alternative ways to fund startups and meeting a market demand created by the pandemic. It was easy to get people motivated about what I was doing because they believed they were uplifting themselves by supporting PopCom.
I used various social media platforms daily to reach our target audience. I shared information about myself, the team and the product on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We uploaded product demos, office tours, interviews with myself and team, and ‘behind the scenes’ footage of the process. We shared the good and the bad parts of the journey in order for people to feel comfortable. I have learned that transparency is very important. People appreciate hearing about when things didn’t work out as planned and what we did to overcome those challenges.
I also hosted several ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions on Instagram where people could ask questions in real-time. The questions varied from highly technical to ‘how can I invest’. I patiently gave a breakdown of how I spent the money raised during the previous round to the last detail (multiple times). I made sure never to sugarcoat the journey. I let them know the risks involved in investing and that there are no guarantees that we would succeed. Most importantly I made sure to address all their concerns. When raising capital, and especially when crowdfunding, it is critical to know your product, your market and your competitors inside out, or else people will call you out. If you want to get up in front of investors, be knowledgeable. Show you know what you are doing and they will trust you with their money.
I also want to note how important the platform that you choose is to your campaign success. I have enjoyed working with Start Engine because they have been extremely helpful in generating awareness about PopCom and they have given me every opportunity through their network. There are several platforms to raise capital. They all charge fees and certain requirements and a due diligence process. Make sure to do your research before signing up.
Over 84,000 people visited the PopCom offering page. Close to 20,000 clicked ‘invest’ and 2,800 people completed their investment for a total of $1,391,077 committed (with $370,000 still on the waitlist). We spent $20,000 on Facebook/Instagram ads that we hired an agency to manage for us. The rest we did in-house. Many of our investors had never invested in any company or stock before. People were empowered to change their lives and create new habits.
Crowdfunding has helped me raise money to run my business and still stay in control. After raising two oversubscribed crowdfunding campaigns, I believe that PopCom has created a blueprint for other companies to follow. It’s not rocket science but it is hard work. Any founder can learn from my journey and use the lessons to grow their business.
I was excited to see founders like Angela Benton (raised $1.07M in a week) and Pierre Laguerre (first Black male founder to raise over $1M) using crowdfunding to raise capital and rally the community. Together we are building a pipeline and a community of micro angel investors. I want to see more founders become educated on the process and consider crowdfunding as a viable option to raise capital. I receive countless emails and requests to speak about crowdfunding, to mentor, and coach founders on their fundraising strategy. It is impossible for me to help everyone, even though I want to. Because of this, Jared and I have launched CrowdCoach.
CrowdCoach is the most comprehensive equity crowdfunding course led by highly experienced coaches that have actually raised more than $2,000,000 themselves. The course launches in October 2020 and we are offering a free intro course now. You can register at www.CrowdCoach.co.