Bret Conkin, CEO/Founder of CrowdfundSuite

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Michael Ibberson - You’ve been involved in crowdfunding since 2007. Kickstarter was founded in 2009. Over that time, via FundRazr and CrowdfundSuite, you’ve made significant grounds not just by helping projects raise money, but also by assisting platforms and brokers devise and implement strategies. What inspired you to apply technology to fundraising and venture capital?

Bret Conkin - CrowdfundSuite was launched in 2014 but I’ve been involved in crowdfunding since my first start-up Fundfindr launched in 2008. Fundfindr was a network for thousands of investors and entrepreneurs featuring pitches and expert content that pivoted to provide educational and content services for leading business orgs like Angel Forum, New Ventures BC, Community Futures and many others. We were too early for equity crowdfunding but we created a strong network and validation of the coming market.

As an executive with FundRazr, I helped raise over $40M for projects in 20 countries mostly for personal and charitable causes. I left to return to my business financing roots and launched CrowdfundSuite as a hub that provides one-stop platform access across crowdfunding models and expert consulting geared to helping intermediaries – platforms, dealers, financial advisors – navigate and profit from the crowd economy. Our clients include innovators like US peer-to-business lending platform InvestNextDoor.

Michael Ibberson - FundRazr became one of the world’s top crowdfunding portals under your reign. Having now been through the development process, is there anything you wish you knew before launching the portal? What can other portal creators learn from your experience?

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Bret Conkin - FundRazr launched as a Facebook app for member management and fee collection back in 2009. Customers used it for medical expense and humane crowdfunding. So, market acceptance and Facebook platform challenges led to a re-launch as a stand-alone platform focused on personal and charitable crowdfunding in 2010. We were able to raise $40M for customers during my time there and the platform has now raised over $55M.

I was not part of the launch but got involved in 2012, as their CEO Daryl Hatton had been an advisor to my startup Fundfindr. So, I don’t view it as wishing we’d known something beforehand but rather that pivots are likely and you need to be agile enough to adapt to the changing market needs. The critical factor of success for FundRazr has been their social media engineering, which makes the crowdfunding stories, get seen by and engaged with by more people.

My advice for other portals is not to get caught up in the front end user interface and think that money will fall from the sky for their customers. The heavy lifting is to engineer the systems that will ensure visibility; campaign coaching, customer service, conversion optimization, QA and marketing are in place. If you are under capitalized, then you will not create a toolset that will provide the customer proof that your platform is a valid option. A transaction based business model requires scale. Create a network of supporters from day one ideally ones that can help you raise capital when the time comes.

In terms of other learning, we got legal advice for Fundfindr that we could not legally do equity crowdfunding in BC. Fast forward to now and BCSC has said crowdfunding via the OM has been legal for years! We were just ahead of our time. The learning is that there is no roadmap to success as a platform. You are part of an industry that is breaking new ground and you need to experiment, learn and adjust to succeed on a weekly basis. Embrace the crowd economy, as alternative finance is still in the early stages.

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Michael Ibberson - As a NCFA (National Crowdfunding Association of Canada) ambassador, you organize events and publish information. Do you find that event engagement has increased in recent years or that crowdfunders now crave more information? Generally speaking, do enough projects explore the available resources before launching?

Bret Conkin – a) Interest and engagement is definitely on the upswing.

Back in the early days (pre-2011 as it were), it was all about education, as people really hadn’t heard much about crowdfunding so there were few specific events. This past year there was huge interest on The Funding Roadshow crowdfunding workshop events that we conducted for FundRazr and Fundica and at the NCFAC events on the new crowdfunding exemptions, including the Igniting Entrepreneurship and Capital Flow in BC event we organized in Vancouver. The focus now has shifted to how-to and the changing regulatory environments. Entrepreneurs, industry players and investors have all embraced the benefits of the crowd economy. It has been an amazing shift in a relatively short time. Even Enterprise has entered the equation now.

b) More projects need to do their homework before launching.

Entrepreneurs are time impoverished given their many hats. So the temptation is to take shortcuts. The formula for success is public and well covered on sites like CrowdClan, ncfacanada.org, FundRazr.com, InvestNextDoor.com, Seedups.ca and others. Find model campaigns in a relevant sector and do what they do. Talk to as many people as you can with your pitch and be open to their feedback. Consider a crowdfunding campaign as community building. The primary goal is to create a following, the secondary goal was funding.

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The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada crowdfunding hub providing education, advocacy and networking opportunities in the rapidly evolving crowdfunding industry. NCFA Canada is a community-based, membership-driven entity that was formed at the grass roots level to fill a national need in the market place.  Join our growing network of industry stakeholders, fundraisers and investors. Learn more About Us | Support Canadian Crowdfunding.

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