We raised a $2.4M crowdfunding round in 30 days from 767 investors. Here’s the full scoop.
During a whirlwind 30 days from August 31st until September 30th, Offline raised the largest crowdfunding round in North Carolina history—in record time.
The speed and scale of our round (in the midst of a challenging macro environment) caught a lot of attention, and I’ve had quite a few conversations with other founders who are considering crowdfunding.
The vast majority of what I learned about the crowdfunding process came from founders who had been through it themselves and later took the time to share what they learned. I’m hoping to be able to return the favor.
So, here’s the scoop on what led me to crowdfunding, the playbook we ran, and some parting advice to founders considering a crowdfunding round themselves.
First, here are the five “unlocks” that led me to do a crowdfunding round in the first place.
This wasn’t the first time I’d considered raising money through equity crowdfunding. I’d come close several times before but always stopped short due to one objection or another. Here’s why I finally pulled the trigger.
#1 you can now aggregate all of your crowd investors into one SPV.
This is a pretty new development that has knocked down the single biggest objection to crowdfunding. Now, instead of raising money from hundreds of investors and adding hundreds of new lines to your CAP table, you can aggregate all of those investors into a single SPV and add one line.
#2 top-tier VCs are participating in deals alongside crowdfunding.
Wefunder has an incredible page making the case that, for B2C companies in particular, a “sidecar” crowdfunding round is going to be a staple in the funding playbook alongside VC. Now that crowdfunding doesn’t have the “smell” that it used to, more and more companies are jumping in and it’s being normalized for VCs.
#3 you can raise crowdfunding (Reg CF) and traditional (Reg D) rounds at the same time and funnel both through a crowdfunding portal.
This was a big deal to me. This means that if you have an accredited investor who doesn’t want to be lumped into the crowd SPV (i.e. they want their own line on the CAP table, easier management of their equity in Carta, etc.), they can invest in a sidecar Reg D instrument but still funnel their money through Wefunder as the investment front-end. This allows you to to raise under both SEC instruments using one front-end portal. More on that later.
#4 investments >$25k that you bring to Wefunder have $0 platform fees.
Wefunder’s standard fee is 7.5%, but if you dig deeper you’ll find an easter egg: any investor that you invite directly to the platform who invests $25k+ has no fees. Zero. This makes funneling larger investments through Wefunder “free.”
In addition, Wefunder has a concierge closing team that will help you collect wires and execute signature docs at no cost, saving you from hourly legal fees spent chasing wires and sending e-sign docs.
#5 Wefunder allows you to turn customers into investors
This is the obvious one and the entire value prop of crowdfunding.
Now, here’s the playbook that we ran to raise $2.4M in 45 days
Step 1: prep, prep, and more prep
The actual public funding window for our campaign may have been 30 days, but the work started about 2 months beforehand. I wanted to make sure we had a beautiful and compelling campaign page that could accept investment as soon as we launched. That meant:
- a compelling video that needed to be storyboarded, shot, and edited
- a beautiful pitch deck with a compelling narrative
- financials that had reviewed and signed off on by a CPA
- a completed Form C (Wefunder helps a little here)
This is a lot of work, but virtually any fundraising is going to be time intensive, and most of the work overlays with the prep you’d undergo to raise money from angels.
It was also highly motivating to know that the assets we were creating would be used to market ourselves to our existing customers instead of being locked up in a pitch deck and data room that only a handful of people would ever see. Here’s a link to our page.
Step 2: raise 33%-50% of your target amount before you launch
My goal on the day we launched was to already have a fundraising bar that was 1/3–1/2 full. Like any form of fundraising, crowdfunding has a strong psychological component: the more momentum you have, the more investors you’ll get, which in turn creates more momentum.
Here’s how we solved the chicken-or-egg momentum problem:
- We teamed up with a lead investor in Bill Spruill, who committed a sizable check to the round and then rallied the investment support of the GDC Mafia.
- We rallied enthusiastic pro-rata support from most of our existing investors.
- We funneled all of that “Reg D” money through the Wefunder platform. Because those checks exceeded $25k each and we brought them to the platform, we paid $0 in fees to use Wefunder for those transactions (see #3 and #4 above).
- In parallel, we emailed our Offline subscribers before launching and encouraged them to help us kick-start things:
These tactics helped us launch with a raise bar that was ~1/2 full, and from there we were off to the races. On Day 1, Offline was the most popular deal on Wefunder, and we remained there for most of our raise:
Step 3: ride the wave
Once our deal had momentum, we started to broadcast it more widely. We opened it up in concentric circles: our anchor/lead Reg D investors were at the center, followed by our paying subscribers as the next layer, and finally the general public + Wefunder community at the end.
By prepping well and launching with a half-full raise bar, we put ourselves in a great position to capitalize on the visibility and momentum.
As we passed certain fundraising milestones, Wefunder’s platform marketing kicked in. Each time Wefunder would send out an email about us, we would see more investment roll in. Each subsequent wave of investment brought us closer to a full raise bar, which usually triggered another marketing milestone from Wefunder.
By the time our raise closed on September 30th, we had raised $2,465,088 from 767 investors.
Some lessons learned and parting thoughts
Lesson #1: combine traditional Reg D fundraising with Reg CF crowdfunding to make a bigger splash
I’m convinced that this was the most important thing that we did. By funneling all of our fundraising through a single platform, we created a much bigger footprint for our deal that we wouldn’t have had if we had separated our deal into two distinct rounds.
Lesson #2: most of the money you raise will come from your crowd, not “the crowd”
In my experience (which I have since validated with other founders who have raised crowdfunding rounds), 80–100% of the money that you raise via crowdfunding is going to come from the crowd that you bring to the platform.
There’s this romantic notion that there are thousands of random people floating through the internet just waiting to invest in your deal, but that’s just not true. If you doubt me, visit any crowdfunding platform as a consumer and consider how many of the deals you’d actually pull your wallet out and invest in on the spot.
The reality is that the vast majority of people who would make a crowdfunding investment will invest in people they know and products they use.
Lesson #3: crowdfunding has hidden costs
If you’re raising through a traditional Reg D, your only cost of capital will probably be legal fees. When you raise on the platform like Wefunder, you have to consider additional costs:
- reviewed financials cost us $3.5k.
- Wefunder charges a 7.5% success fee (with the exception of any >$25k check that you bring to the platform yourself)
You’ll need to consider whether these additional costs are worth it. Here’s how I did the math for myself.
Lesson #4: beware the SEC
They have some pretty tricky rules about what you can and can’t say, how you can say, and where you can say it.
Think you’ll be able to get on social media and say things like “we’re raising $1M and we’re already at $900k!”? Think again.
Think you’ll be able to do PR and get the media to pick up and amplify your crowdfunding round? Think again.
Lesson #5: help is out there
Wefunder’s incentives are pretty much 1:1 aligned with yours, and this goes for any of the crowdfunding platforms. If you don’t raise anything, they can’t make anything, so you’d better believe they’re rooting for your success and will hold your hand throughout the process.
Wefunder has a pitch coach, a dedicated account manager for your deal, and a concierge closing team who will help you execute any Reg D docs. I found their team to be responsive, helpful, and clever.
In addition to the platform, you can also work with a “Campaign QB” — a firm or an individual who makes a living helping founders raise money through crowdfunding. Will McGuire from Incolo helped advise me during our raise.
Last but not least: please don’t set different valuation terms for the crowd
In talking to Campaign QBs, platforms, and other founders, I came across a frequently-used tactic that I absolutely hate: setting a higher valuation for your crowd investors than you set for your Reg D investors.
For example, you could elect to raise $500k on a $20M pre-money valuation from the crowd, and also simultaneously raise $5M on a $15M pre-money valuation from Reg D investors, giving them a much better deal. Justification for this ranges from “crowd investors won’t know any better” to “a higher valuation makes up for the higher cost of capital on the crowdfunding platform.”
I call BS.
If you’re raising money from your friends, family, and customers, you should give them the best deal possible.
Ok, that’s it. If you’re a founder considering crowdfunding, here’s the framework I’d work through:
- Do you have a large and passionate audience that you can drive to the platform yourself?
- Do you believe that bringing your customers on as investors is worth the higher cost of capital?
- Do you have the internal capability to produce, edit, and ship a strong crowdfunding page (video included), or will you need to add those services to the overall cost of capital?
- Do you have larger investors that you could bring to the platform to help accelerate your raise and generate the momentum necessary to truly get “crowd” investment?
If the answer to most or all of these questions is yes, then I wholeheartedly recommend crowdfunding. It has brought us closer to our customers than ever before and was incredibly motivating for our team.
If the answer to most of them is no, then I highly recommend avoiding it. The costs and the work involved are no joke.
If you still have any lingering questions after reading this, please ping me and I’ll do my best to help.
Now back to growing the business.