Ari Zoldan recently wrote an article on Inc. that in my opinion must be one of the most misguided FUD pieces on crowd funding I’ve ever read.
It seems to me that he doesn’t know how crowd funding without selling equity (e.g. Kickstarter and IndieGoGo) works – or deliberately wants to discredit the incredibly powerful new tool available to entrepreneurs for validating ideas and product – or perhaps more likely he just lost track of the evolution of entrepreneurial methodologies since graduating.
(Kudos to him on the polemic page impressions link bait material, though.)
These are my highly opinionated thoughts on his three outrageous claims in the Inc. article.
Claim 1. “It [Crowd Funding] makes it too easy to kid yourself”
– In which he argues for the writing of a business plan (!) instead.
1. Crowd Funding without selling equity is bootstrapping.
There’s nothing more sobering and honest feedback than direct contact with the market. Crowd funding WITHOUT selling equity can be used as a valid MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that will help you validate your thesis that if you build it, they will indeed come – AND buy.
Just don’t build and produce anything until you’ve received pre-orders that will cover the production at cost or better. Obviously. Crowd Funding without equity IS a valid bootstrapping strategy. Make no mistake about it.
Who cares about business plans? No business plan ever survives first contact with a customer anyways. Business plans can only work if you are executing a known and validated business model. That’s the polar opposite of a startup which sole purpose it is to search for a scalable and repeatable business model. No magical business plan is ever going to help you find it. Validating your product in the market will.
I do personally recommend writing a very basic business plan as an educational exercise to arrive at an back of the envelope estimate of how much money is going to come in and go out and where – and then burn it! It’s not an operational guide nor a road map. It’s a work of fiction, a fantasy, a guess.
Isn’t it a no-brainer that as long as you can sell your shizzle, you should try to make as many pre-orders as you can before production and shipping, at least enough to make it cover your cost and perhaps contain some profit to channel into marketing of the second batch? Isn’t crowd funding a perfect viable channel for facilitating such pre-orders?
If you can’t sell enough to just break even, isn’t that a clear sign that maybe you’re not solving a problem that the market cares enough about to pay you? Or that you are doing a crappy job at describing the problem you’re solving and the solution you’re offering? That you should probably be doing something differently?
Isn’t crowd funding an awesome low-risk, low-cost channel to test the viability of your business idea, to help the market find you and fail or succeed faster?
And so frigging what if you don’t make your funding goals? At least you failed before you committed significant amounts of your or other friends, fools or family’s money – let alone an investor’s – bet the barn and lost your life partner.
At least with crowdfunding, you had the sense to save all of that money and maybe even invest some of it into mutual funds or stocks (more here on that if you’re still stock hunting). By now you probably have a pretty diverse portfolio that gives you decent if not great returns and can use that money to fuel the business this time around!
And hopefully you learned more about what you should be selling instead by getting invaluable feedback directly from the market. Consider your time spent raising crowd funding a considerable investment in your personal entrepreneurial education.
And consider this: Every time you fail at crowd funding, you get to play again and again and again ad nauseam, ad infinitum – without going bankrupt or having to beg private equity funds for the privilege to play.
Claim 2: “It [Crowd Funding] isolates you from people who can actually help you”
– In wich he argues you need feedback, permission and validation from investors, not the actual market and your actual potential customers.
2. An investor is a commodity, an outstanding entrepreneur is the prize.
If you as an entrepreneur can show a VC or an angel how you already validated your business and how you’re already making money, you can pretty much shop around for the investor you want to a price advantageous to you.
Basically, you’ll have the best bargaining chip available to any entrepreneur in your pocket. In fact, you might even find out that you don’t need an investor at all to scale your business, that you can build on actual pre-orders and sales yourself.
I call hot steaming bullshit on the ridiculous assumption that savvy VCs and Angels would be less interested in you if you crowd fund (read: bootstrap) your startup at an early stage.
In fact I’ll claim the polar opposite: Crowd funding provides you with a new channel to get found. If you’re able to show traction and sales – they’ll come knocking, or at least it will help get you through most doors.
As an anecdotal proof, I myself have been approached by tier one Silicon Valley investors as a direct consequence of crowd funding projects.
And I guess he’s oblivious to why Customer Development, Business Model Generation and the Lean Startup changes everything.
Claim 3: “I’d never recommend investing in a crowdfunded company. What does that tell you?”
– In which he is trying to distract you from your own logical reasoning by “Argument from Authority” when possessing seemingly none.
3. One swallow doesn’t make a summer.
That Ari Zoldan won’t invest in crowd funded startups means only that Ari Zoldan won’t invest in crowd funded startups.
What you see is all there is – WYSIATI.
I’d never heard about Ari Zoldan before I read this article. He’s not to be found on Angel List, not listed as an investor on CrunchBase, not listed as an investor on LinkedIn nor on his Wikipedia page.
I think that speaks for itself how qualified Ari Zoldan is to give startup entrepreneurs advice on how to get funded – or not.
DISCLAIMER: 1. Here’s my past crowd funding failure. 2. I’m an instructor with NEXT and I
preach teach Customer Discovery, Business Model Generation, Lean, MVP-ing, Metrics and Innovation Accounting.