Wefunder is a US-based crowd funding platform that brings together start-ups with bright ideas and investors looking to make a profit. TB&I talks to co-founder Mike Norman about the business.
What makes you different from other crowd funding platforms?
We believe the investment process is just the start of the relationship that investors have with the companies they support. Individuals are going to invest in companies they are really passionate about and then they want them to succeed. We provide an entire platform on the back end that helps entrepreneurs to activate several hundred investors, to recruit staff, or to launch a new product, or test a new product idea.
This is not just a day trader placing a bet on a horse and hoping it wins—these are people who are passionate about investing in an entrepreneur and helping them succeed. And it’s really an experience as much as it is a financial investment. What we have found when we have talked to financial investors is that they do want to see a financial return—that is important—but what they love about the investment process is the ability to help a company succeed and assist the entrepreneur. Those motivations are such a key part of what we are building towards. We are trying to make an experience for investors, more than just another asset class they can invest in.
How is your business financially beneficial to inventors?
Investing through crowd funding is cheaper in terms of time. When you talk to entrepreneurs you often find that hundreds of people are interested in investing in a company but don’t have enough liquidity to put in, say, $20,000 or $50,000. So from a fundraising perspective you just don’t have the time to have a conversation with everyone who wants to put in the smaller amounts. We make it easier and faster for such entrepreneurs to raise money.
"'Stealth is for fighter jets, not for startups'--you really want to get out there and get your idea in the marketplace as fast as possible."
I don’t think we are espousing that our model is a cheaper option than other investment platforms, giving entrepreneurs better valuations. We’re actually protecting against that: we want to make sure that the valuations are market valuations.
Do you have any intellectual property (IP) around the business?
So would it be easy to imitate your business model?
What we find in the social web is that things change so fast that IP isn’t all that meaningful. You need to innovate, change and keep up with the changing marketplace and the needs and desires of your consumers. That’s the real competitive advantage, ultimately.
Do you have any IP around your brand?
Yes—we have trademarks for the brand.
Do you have any concerns about enforcing your IP rights?
We have had no problems with trademark infringement so far. I think that’s one of those things that you get into further on down the line.
Are there any IP concerns associated with the platform?
We get that question a lot from our entrepreneurs: “How much can we feel comfortable disclosing, especially if there is IP involved that the world is going to be able to see?” I think a lot of the answer for the social web start-ups is that you should be talking to as many people as possible and getting as much feedback as possible on your idea. That is what is really going to help you work out as fast as possible exactly what the need you’re serving is.
The founders of Boston-based HubSpot say: “Stealth is for fighter jets, not for start-ups”. Youreally want to get out there and get your idea in the marketplace as fast as possible. There’s definitely a line between that and where you have some proprietary IP that you’re not ready to publicise and you want to remain a trade secret. So it’s about the importance of not fully disclosing what you might be doing, although the general way of solving a problem and approaching a market should be to disclose.
Are there other branding issues?
For most consumer-facing web start-ups their brand is a lot about ownership and servicing their users. Not only do we serve our consumers from a business perspective, but they are also our investors and they own a part of the company. We are completing the process to trademark the brand.
This article was first published on 01 December 2012 in World IP Review
wefunder, crowd funding, hubspot, investors