For those who know me, forgive me for the repetition. For those who don’t, here’s a brief backstory…
I remember the day back in April 2012 when I watched an online livestream of Barrack Obama signing the JOBS ACT. I was intrigued. The President had put forward a series of specific proposals to ease regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from accessing the capital they need to grow and create jobs. For the first time, Americans would be able to go online and invest in small businesses and entrepreneurs, which would allow small and young firms to expand and hire more quickly. As the President said “this bill is a potential gamechanger”
By May 2012, I had discovered the crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I looked at many campaigns, contributed to a few, and when a cry for help from South Africa came around, I suggested we give it a go. You can read more about this and our company’s background HERE
During late 2013, I took a much deeper plunge into crowdfunding with an attempt to bring a new micro tracking device to market. I had, in my earlier years, spent 7 years as a electronics technician, so had a fairly good grasp on technology. I’d repaired everything from old radios, VHS and BETAMAX video recorders and TVs to Fax machines, Photocopiers, Switchboards and even Cellphones.
We managed to raise $88k through that crowdfunding campaign, probably netting around $75k at the time, but failed in our attempts (so far), to bring the actual device to market. We’ve faced the wrath of pissed-off customers who had “pre-ordered” this new concept stage product and were becoming demanding in all ways.
The experience gave me the opportunity to see the real challenges faced from the entrepreneur’s perspective. The emotional highs, the sometimes devastating lows, with some things they experience, are extremely difficult to teach in a classroom.
You can read more about this journey and a whole lot more in my upcoming book “Crowdfunding – From The Inside Out”
Against The Tide
There are some of us who swim against the tide. In reality, many of us are in the “protect the investor” camp. Without investors, we have nothing.
In some cases, we’re seen as the enemy because we call out the bad guy, scams, or truths which are interpreted as staining the industry or unprofessional by others. You know, the same ones who are F’ing and blinding all day but have the audacity to call out someone sharing reality as “unprofessional”.
In some cases it has cost us $’s in lost clients for being truthful, probably seen as troublemakers, arrogant or in some cases, just plain crazy. We’re not, it’s more like honesty, reality and things people really need to know and hear about.
As crowdfunding has progressed from its grassroots days, it was, and is quite understandable that those who saw opportunity and entered the industry during those early days became somewhat one-dimensional with positivity over time. After all, it’s always in their interest to be this way. Ever seen an entire industry spring up through the promotion of only negativity? I doubt it.
However, it’s probably best to tell it how it is and not sugarcoat the bad or pretend it doesn’t exist at all, as we’ve seen from many in the industry since day one.
Is being honest and giving a balanced view a sin?
Let me show you how honesty, dishonesty and straight-down-the-line-talk, helped me on my own journey back in 1994…
I began selling Panasonic office equipment that year.
I’d taken the plunge from a stable $5k (appx. 2021) a month job as a field service technician – which included a company car, gas, and all the normal benefits you would expect working in a thriving industry – to a commission only sales job! I’d learned the technical side of the business by sweeping workshop floors as a junior during the early ‘80s, to becoming a product specialist by 1990.
Some thought I was crazy.
My very first month in sales resulted in coming third in total sales revenue brought in for the company that month, only lagging behind the Managing Director and Sales Director (they were real SDs in those days, unlike today where the business card says so, so it must be true). I soon learned that having such titles was a great advantage when selling anything, but had a few of my own secret weapons in my toolbox too, and great selling continued for quite a long while. Almost three years in fact.
I loved that period in my life and all the good things that came my way. I thrived in the atmosphere which buzzed at the time. My life was upgraded. I worked hard and was remunerated accordingly.
I focused only on the money and in some cases said whatever it took to close a sale. A little fake it here, and a little fake it there thrown in too!
By early 1997, then as a self-employed independent regional Panasonic Business Systems agent , I hit a brick wall with sales and learned a very important lesson or two.
In my earlier days of sales as an employee, I had been a “Hit and Run” – close the sale and move on – kind of salesman. My eyes were always on the prize and not the customer. Although I sold mostly with honesty with the added benefit of having a technical angle to sell from too, I cared little for any follow up or after-sales attention. Besides bouncing them to the relevant departments they needed, I really had no interest in them at all.
Over that three year period, I’d sold 95% of my customers office equipment on rental agreements (structured as a form of off-balance sheet finance), and the time had come to “upgrade” their equipment to the latest and greatest technology.
I think you can work out the rest of the story yourselves. All I can add, is that learning the hard way often gives us the best lessons. I was fortunate soon thereafter, but this taught me a valuable lesson (as it should any one reading this), and I changed my ways immediately.
My very next client, a Mr Alan Feely of Magneti Marelli in Turin, Italy, I treated with respect and dignity. Alan was actually British, but had worked in Turin for almost a decade and had moved to South Africa to set up Magneti Marelli’s manufacturing facility in South Africa. He was a great guy, a below average golfer, but an above average pint drinker. He loved his Guinness!
The respect was mutual.
But, it was the straight-down the line approach that won me the day when it came to business. He preferred to hear it all, good or bad, rather than some polished sales presentation full of fluff from some of the bigger dicks on his list seeing his ass as a target.
At the time, there were around 25 other companies pitching for the business, including big names of the likes of Canon, Ricoh, Toshiba, and a few of the other big boys too.
Long story, short…. I eventually won the initial business of around $30k plus a whole lot more thereafter with our revenue going up from $50k a month to a huge $6M by the end of the following year!
Since then, laying out the good and the bad in anything a client is embarking upon is a staple in my conversation.
I do believe that a dose of reality through education, will be one of the secret ingredients to a thriving and sustainable future for all operating within the crowdfunding space. It’s a necessity that many try to hide, or pretend doesn’t exist, and brush under the carpet hoping no one’s watching.
Let’s keep it real!
You’ll be able to read a lot more about my experiences within crowdfunding, the industry, the people, the campaigns, the issuers the investors, the scammers and more, all in my upcoming book, Crowdfunding – From The Inside Out due for release later this year. If you join the list, you’ll even be able to follow the journey from manuscript to publish.
Your Crowdfundologist @ Smart Crowdfunding