The Truth about Crowdfunding
I’ve done some terrifying things in my life but none of them compares with crowdfunding.
I was Dame Esther Rantzen’s boss when I was Editor of ‘That’s Life!” on BBC One and faced some very aggressive conmen; I was Editor-in-Chief of BBC Online when the BBC started its website; I started a business for the first time in my life, at the age of 60 and put in all my life savings and mortgaged our home, which was pretty nerve racking but when it comes to being challenged, crowdfunding takes the biscuit.
So, what is crowdfunding?
Officially it is a new way to raise money for a business. There are two kinds of crowdfunding, ‘equity’ when you give away a part of your business for an investment and ‘reward’ when, in exchange for pledges of small amounts of money, anything from £10 upwards, you reward your supporters.
But to me it is kind of torture. It has revealed who I can trust and who I can’t; who my real friends are, and those who just pretend. And it has forced me way out of my comfort zone.
My business, which is called autodotbiography, is an online system that means that anyone, no matter how good or bad at writing, can create a beautifully written, lavishly illustrated, hardback book of their life story for their family. We know that our customers love the experience because they tell us, people like Chris Haddock who recently emailed to say:
“Just a quick note to say that my book has now arrived and I love it, it is beautiful.
“I have completed the survey and given it all good feedback, again Bryher many thanks for all your help in getting my book to look the way it does, it is absolutely fantastic.”
Having launched the business and used up all my savings I now need to move the business to the next level and to do that I need to raise some money. Hence crowdfunding. I am using the ‘Crowdfunder’ platform which is the leading UK crowdfunding operation.
I have discovered that crowdfunding is a full time job in itself. First you need to make a video explaining your business and why you need the funds and what you are offering as rewards. In order to tempt people who have no connection with the business you need to have some fantastic rewards to suit all pockets - and I do.
Thanks to some loyal friends I have a number of genuine once-in-a-lifetime rewards. For instance, tea with Dame Esther Rantzen at an exclusive media club in central London, or an evening in the Lost Gardens of Heligan with the inspirational entrepreneur Sir Tim Smit, who not only re-established the Heligan gardens but is Chief Executive of the world famous Eden Project in Cornwall. He has only offered to open the gardens for a private evening twice before in the whole history of the Lost Gardens. Or, a fabulous weekend in a beautifully restored VW camper van in Cornwall; or a personal training session with trainer to the stars, Ali Golding. And I had to come up with a lot more rewards to fit all pockets, and so I became a t-shirt designer among other things!
Then, once you have sorted out the rewards, Crowdfunder advises you to get on to your friends and relatives to get them to support you. Writing that email was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to tackle. I knew that the rewards were special but I felt excruciatingly awkward asking for their support. I am proud to say that I have always been self-sufficient and so – as one Facebook message put it – ‘this is just a form of begging’. Of course it isn’t because you are giving rewards in exchange for pledges, nevertheless, because it is so personal, each rejection goes straight to your heart.
This was when I learned who is a real friend. So far, some have been astonishingly generous. People who were really just acquaintances have pledged hundreds of pounds and some of those who I thought of as close friends have been silent. Then there are the messages from those who are having a hard time and don’t have any spare cash but who have bothered to sent me a supportive email – I know they count as real friends because they have taken the trouble to contact me.
So, would I recommend crowdfunding?
Yes I would, because in my opinion this is a far better way to raise capital than going to a bank. But, it is hard work and much more emotional than I expected.
In my experience it is far more challenging than tackling the Dragons’ Den on BBC Two because it is so personal, at least it has been for me, but if I don’t raise the cash I might have to brave the Den!
If you fancy finding out more, or would like to make a pledge, this is the place to go.