If you are one of the thousands of entrepreneurs who need equity funding to get your startup going (no loans to repay), you are probably overwhelmed at the prospect of finding, contacting and pitching to the huge number of qualified angels and investment groups around the country.
I recommend an easier way -- using an investment platform like Gust, EquityNet or SeedInvest.
These are not a substitute for personal contact with investors you know, or your rich uncle. But they can otherwise save you much time and effort, and are also safer and more productive than the old-fashioned approach of broadcast emailing or cold-calling every investor you can find in online directories, or responding to the risky spam offers you get for funding on social media.
Another advantage of online investor and equity crowdfunding platforms is that they will force you to pull together your story and documentation in a more consistent and complete fashion than you might otherwise bother.
In my years of advising startups, and also as an occasional angel investor, I still recommend this set of best practices to prepare you for platform applications:
1. Formalize a business entity immediately.
Startups that have a name but are not incorporated have no credible basis for an equity investment. It's easy and inexpensive to create an LLC, S-Corp, or even a C-Corp online these days, with or without the help of an attorney. The type can always be changed in the future to meet investor requirements.
2. Register internet and social media startup names.
Reserving a consistent website domain name and social media names will not likely be possible once your startup is made public via an investment platform.
The names you select will set the tone for investors, and are a key element in the investor or crowdfunding user decision process.
3. File a provisional patent or other intellectual property.
Having a defensible barrier to entry is a clear advantage to attracting investors, and another element that cannot be added after your design is made public. Intellectual property is also a clear differentiator from your competitors, and indicates a serious commitment rather than testing the water.
4. Recruit a team with complementary skills.
Most solo entrepreneurs can't show the range of experience or skills to build a winning business alone.
You need to be able to highlight the synergy of team members who have the necessary technical, financial, marketing, and operational credentials to move your startup ahead of the crowd.
5. Prepare a slide deck to highlight product and business.
This pitch will be required by every platform, and it needs your effort and focus before the crush of all the other fundraising tasks. I recommend that you start by creating an "elevator pitch," then an executive summary, and begin work on your business plan and financial model.
6. Solidify your passion with a prototype product or solution.
First impressions are key, so maximize your credibility by providing videos of a prototype or minimum viable product (MVP).
Most crowdfunding candidates or investors need pictures as well as words to see the full potential of your proposal, and commit real money for a percentage of your equity.
7. Collect target customer testimonials and advocacy.
Potential investors want to see quotes and names as evidence that someone other than you and your family believes in the solution, and is willing to provide a letter of intent, or at least strong support. Market research from credible third parties, such as Gartner Group, is also critical to success.
8. Pick a platform that fits your business model or industry.
For example, some sites can be easily searched for enterprise startups, such as AngelList, while others, like CrowdFunder, tend to highlight consumer products.
Many crowdfunding platforms are not used for business solutions, or even multi-million dollar requests for consumer startups.
In all cases, getting the funding you need will not happen just because you get listed on a platform. It still requires thorough preparation and intensive promotion to get the attention of the crowd and professional investors.
The overall success rate is still less than ten percent, so do your homework first, and all the right people will see your equity as the key to their legacy as well.