Now is the best time there has ever been to be an entrepreneur starting or growing a business. Technology has made it easier than ever to reach audiences and there are fantastic ways to get funding now that weren’t around when we started the Virgin brand.
Crowdfunding has helped so many businesses find the cash and support they need. Many of these entrepreneurs would have ended up trying to persuade a bank manager to loan them the cash, and I know from experience how difficult that can be. We spent many hours at Virgin pleading with banks to extend our overdraft and to loan us more cash to continue to grow companies like Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic.
Had crowdfunding been around when we were launching Virgin businesses in the early days, we definitely would have made use of it. In fact, the first ever (unofficial) Virgin Atlantic flight was actually crowdfunded. It wasn’t a slick operation like the crowdfunding platforms around today, but it did the trick. I was on my way to the British Virgin Islands and was stuck in Puerto Rico due to my flight being cancelled. I had a special someone (now my wife!) waiting for me in the BVI so I borrowed a blackboard and wrote “Virgin Airlines” on top and “$39 one way to BVI” underneath. I went round all the passengers who were on the cancelled flight and managed to club enough together to hire my first plane. So Virgin Atlantic was born.
Crowdfunding is so much more than just raising money. It helps you to create a tribe of customers, ambassadors and super fans. It brings market validation, access to new investors, promotion and real time feedback. However, publicly showcasing your business and calling for people you’ve never met to invest is still a challenge. A crowdfunding campaign isn’t as simple as creating a video, putting it on a website and watching the money roll in. As with any fundraising, you have to convince people to part with their cash and take a calculated bet on you.
It’s wonderful to see Virgin StartUp, our not-for-profit entrepreneurial hub, help businesses tackle this issue. The team has helped more than 3,300 entrepreneurs launch and grow businesses since 2013 and have distributed almost £45m worth of Start Up Loans in the process. They’re seeing many of these businesses who they helped to start need more funding in order to scale – with many turning to crowdfunding.
To give these start-ups the best possible chance of being successful they’ve launched CrowdBoost – a five week accelerator for start-ups looking to scale through equity crowdfunding. This programme brings together experts to work with the companies on every element of their campaign; from understanding what investors are looking for in a pitch, to shooting the campaign video and how best to set the company valuation.
To date, 25 companies have raised a combined £10 million after participating in Crowdboost.
I’m so proud to see the Virgin StartUp team supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs to scale their businesses and thrive.