At a recent forum organised by Startup Victoria, co-founders and advisors discussed alternative ways of funding a startup. Part of Startup Week, the event was hosted by inspire9 and sponsored by BlueChilli and Slush Down Under.
Doug English from CultureAmp talked about the benefits of bootstrapping, especially for B2B startups: “You have fewer clients, but with bigger budgets, and fewer of the hassles associated with a consumer startup.”
Initially, the founders used consulting work as a means of funding themselves, but focussed on specific market segments and customer domains – in short, they got paid to learn about their clients.
Having several co-founders was also helpful in providing “cheaper access to more labour”.
However, they have learned a significant lesson from those early consulting gigs: although they were able to secure upfront lump sum payments for client development work, they are still supporting some of those initial product features and functions, without necessarily getting paid for it. Whereas, if they had aligned product development with their client road map, they would have been able to generate recurring and iterative revenue from new product features. In short, annual payments and subscription fees help with the cash flow!
There was also the opportunity cost of bootstrapping, instead of bringing in external funding. The team realised that pursuing VC funding was always going to be a long haul, so they decided against it; but they then found themselves in the position of receiving an unsolicited approach from a VC source.
Note: CultureAmp recently closed a Series A round of funding for $8.1m.
Alan Crabbe, co-founder at Pozible explained how the team had seen a trend in crowdfunding projects in music (Europe) and film (US), and saw an opportunity in the visual arts. A key strategy was to use story-telling through video to help artists pre-sell their projects. Success can be rapid – one Brisbane project was funded within 3 hours. Globally, $5bn raised has been through crowdfunding – but beware domain name squatters…
Three trends have helped crowdfunding as an alternative funding platform:
- Social Media – to provide critical mass
- Online Video – experiencing exponential growth
- Payment Innovation – e.g., PayPal etc.
Alan had a number of tips for anyone contemplating crowdfunding their startup project:
- Use social media comments, likes and other feedback to validate your idea
- Taking a more hands-on approach means they have a success rate of around 60%
- Find your audience first – typically among the FFF (“family, friends and fools”) and your other networks
As for equity-based crowdfunding, he observed that nothing happens quickly in Australia, but predicted it might be a reality within 6-9 months’ time.
Note: a couple of local platforms that resemble equity-based crowdfunding are already in operation: VentureCrowd and ASSOB – but as with anything of this nature, read the small print, and make sure the model is right for your business or startup idea.
R&D tax breaks
The final speaker was Sean Moynihan from PwC who talked about some of the R&D tax incentives available from the government. A major hurdle for many startups is that these tax breaks are generally only available to companies that have notional R&D deductions of at least $20,000.
Other programs such as the Export Market Development Grant are being phased out, and even incentives for product design must be able to demonstrate research activity and expenses. Since these initiatives can largely be described as “matching” programs, they can be summarised as “no taxable revenue, no grant available”.
PwC have launched their own service to assist companies navigate the R&D claim process.
Although an estimated $1.8bn will be made available in R&D grants this year, less than 10% will go to startups.
Note: the closing date for grant applications for the year ended June 30, 2014 is April 30.
Although there is a noticeable change in VC attitudes, most early-stage funding finds its way to B2C startups, because B2B is just “too hard”. However, even angel investors want to see an established client base, a revenue stream, and a well-defined team of founders.
With lower tech and product development costs in mobile apps and software tools, bootstrapping is a more realistic option for many startups, and the received wisdom appears to be to hold out for as long as you can before bringing in external funding.
Crowdfunding is gaining traction for specific projects or more tangible products (including some apps) – but legal and other restrictions means it’s not really a viable option for raising equity. (Maybe P2P lending for businesses will offer alternatives to a bank overdraft, a personal loan or even secured lending?)
Next week: Taxing the Intangibles – coming soon to a screen near you!