Column: How To Raise Working Capital Without Selling a Part of Your Company
You've started your company and it seems like the only way to raise the necessary operating capital and get this damn thing going faster is to sell a stake in your company as equity. You'd rather not sell more of the company than you absolutely have to.
There's always the very popular, but least appetizing, option of pooling all your personal credit cards into an ocean of debt (see every episode of "How I Built This" ever). But before you throw the Hail Mary, take a look at some other options. There are actually a number of alternative financing options. And thankfully, the market is responding to interest in non-dilutive capital of this kind and thus is rushing to meet the demand of this particular customer type (ie. you, my fellow entrepreneurs).
Trust me, at Fernish we know just how costly it can be to finance a new venture, what with engineers, warehouses, advertising, and furniture inventory. So, how can you finance your company other than selling a large portion of it off to investors?
Quick caveat: for the most part, raising a small equity round—with friends, family or smaller institutions and strategic angels—will make it easier for you to get access to the other capital sources listed below. Having cash on your balance sheet and/or a reputation with the institutions familiar to these financiers will make it significantly easier for you to get access to them, and with better terms.
Let's dive into a few of the options.
Market leader Clearbanc defines this option succinctly: "No dilution. No board seats. No warrants. No personal guarantee. No personal credit checks. No fixed payment timelines. No bullshit!"
But what does that exactly mean? The company extends anywhere between $10k to $10MM in the form of marketing capital in exchange for a percentage of your generated revenue. Put simply: they'll give you X dollars for marketing purposes, and in exchange you'll pay back that principle, plus interest (6-12%) depending on a number of factors, including your historical ad spend to validate you've achieved a positive return on your ad dollar investment—the ad world jargon is Return On Ad Spend (ROAS). If you're running an ecommerce or marketplace, direct-to-consumer (DTC) business or consumer software-as-a-service (SaaS) business, this is likely a good candidate for you. The capital they provide can be used on most popular ad platforms including Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Amazon, Twitter and more.
Given the density of DTC goods companies, gaming startups, ecommerce platforms and marketplace businesses in L.A., this is certainly an option that most readers here should look into.
Good for: Marketplace or DTC businesses already successfully using performance channels from Facebook, Google, et al, to sell inventory.
Traditional Credit from New Lenders
Many legacy corporate credit card companies expect personal guarantees and a lengthy company credit history. That poses a bit of a catch-22 for companies just getting off the ground.
A new class of credit companies like Brex promise credit limits "10-20x" higher than traditional business cards.They also promise not to charge you interest or fees on your balance — which is materially better than those personal cards you've been using. (And you might want to consider Brex's Cash offering as well if you're tired of being nickel-and-dimed with outrageous ACH and wire transfer fees to pay your various vendors. Oh, and their payout on sales hitting your account are available net-zero—which is definitely helpful in the early days when you're managing your cash flow so closely.)
Good for: Pretty much anyone and everyone. You will inherently need access to "traditional" credit and cash transfer/vendor payment options. Find the one that offers you the most value for the lowest cost — it's that simple!
If your business requires that you procure inventory that you'll in turn sell—or lease, like Fernish or Fair—to your customers over time, you're going to need cash to cover your purchase orders. Better not to use equity dollars you'd rather allocate towards headcount and R&D to pay for this inventory.
Welcome to inventory financing! It's all about covering your upfront outlay, knowing you'll recoup the underlying costs of goods sold as you retail or rent out your wares. The inventory itself serves as the collateral for the loan here, as the lender knows the goods—which have clearly identifiable value—can always be liquidated if need be.
Inventory financing is used by small startups and Amazon alike (though the heavy-hitters will use financial instruments that differ in name, the idea is the same). Why spend cash from your balance sheet when you can always borrow what you know you'll be paying back imminently? A newer L.A. entrant, Captec, plays in this wheelhouse, but definitely look at the array of players out there (NerdWallet has a pretty timely writeup here).
Good for: Consumer brands selling wholesale or DTC The more predictable your sales cycle is with other retailers or with consumers directly, the more likely the lender will be comfortable offering you terms. Beware of warrants, covenants and other legal commitments you may not be comfortable making as part of the exchange. A variant here is equipment financing, which is great for companies manufacturing their own goods, particularly when their supply is being vastly outpaced by demand.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; there's also venture debt, asset-backed lending, receivables-based lending, and other securitization options, but those tend to come into play once your business has matured, established a pretty solid credit history and can justify other forms of capital at better rates through its (hopefully) higher revenue or valuation.
Add up all of the options above, and your capital management might look a little more complex than you might have hoped. But the cost of managing this financial cognitive overhead is negligible when you weigh it against the potential upside when a liquidity event (hopefully!) hits down the road. And, frankly, as your business grows, this financial complexity is something you'll have to face anyway; as your initial investors look to protect their own stake in your company, they'll encourage you to identify non-dilutive funding options like those mentioned above. They, too, want to protect their stake in the company, while also looking for capital to accelerate the pace of your company's growth. Might as well get ahead of the curve early.
Building a business is expensive, but just know you don't necessarily have to sell the proverbial shirt off your back. Take advantage of the opportunity to borrow someone else's shirt instead — for a small fee, of course.
(Quick note: Fernish doesn't endorse any of the specific financiers above, but we have used one or two of them.)
Have a question about getting your startup off the ground? Let us know, and we'll consider it for our next column..
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The age of the creator is upon us.
After years of gaining momentum, the creator economy has gone mainstream. Payment processing platform Stripe estimates the number of individuals who now see themselves as full-time “creators”—those who use online tools to sell digital content—grew 48% in 2021, while earnings across the industry are expected to soon eclipse $10 billion.
Major brands have taken notice, as influencers can garner loyal social media followings that outpace those of many Hollywood celebrities. Meanwhile, some top-tier influencers now make more than S&P 500 CEOs. As more Gen Z creators enter the workforce—looking for opportunities beyond traditional models—the industry is poised to grow at a breakneck pace. We talked with Famous Birthdays founder Evan Britton, whose platform tracks and measures the industry, as well as several emerging influencers about what to watch for over the coming year.
1. Gaming Influencers Grow
There is more gaming content now than ever. According to TwitchTracker, which catalogs streamers, 2021 was the most popular year ever for Twitch, which averaged more than 3.1 million daily viewers at its peak in May 2021. January 2022's numbers (2.9 million) are not far behind.
“Twitch streamers have highly engaged fans,” said Britton. He pointed to Twitter as an example of a platform where many brands and personalities find it “hard to get engagement,” yet where many streamers routinely manage to draw “thousands of likes and comments.”
“Their fans are so engaged with them because they’re watching them for hours on end,” he added. “They just want more content.”
Even though demand for gaming content is up, expect gaming creators to become more strategic about repurposing content in 2022.
“As a streamer, one of the biggest things right now is finding ways to continue to grow while being efficient,” said gamer and Twitch streamer Nick Bartels. In the past, influencers in the gaming world would commit many hours to livestreaming their adventures—but when the game was over, traditionally, so was the stream, and few did anything with the resulting content.
Expect to see creators looking for ways to funnel growth into platforms even when they aren’t streaming. Bartels said he’s looking to work with an editor who can repurpose much of the live content he creates.
“One of the bigger concerns is burnout over air time,” said Bartels. “It’s part of the grind initially, but the last thing you’re going to want to do after you stream is edit. You want to have some life balance.”
TinaKitten/ Famous Birthdays
2. The Blockchain Provides a New Source of Income and Experimentation
In years past, influencers relied largely on advertising dollars to monetize their massive audiences and provide them with an income. More recently, however, the blockchain—including cryptocurrency and NFTs— have stepped in, providing a new way to create community while growing revenue.
“The growth of cryptocurrency followed by the explosion of NFTs was a big trend in 2021 that will continue into 2022,” said Britton. “Last year, creators sold digital art and communities sold limited edition collectables offering unique access and clout. This year, offerings will become even more creative.”
Britton said one driver of this trend is entertainment and engagement. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, provide a way for influencers to reward their most engaged users, as well as a way for audiences to literally invest in the creators they love. “I think it’s a fun way for people to get involved and be part of a community,” he noted. As creators build engaged communities of their own, NFTs could provide additional methods for them to monetize.
But there has been a dark side to influencers’ interest in crypto. Earlier this month, Kim Kardashian and Floyd Mayweather were among a number of influencers accused of taking part in an online pump-and-dump crypto scam. TikTok has since banned promotional content related to financial services, including cryptocurrency, by adding them to its list of “globally prohibited industries.”
While it remains to be seen just how effective NFTs will be as an investment tool, expect interest in the space to continue to grow.
Spencers/ Famous Birthdays
3. More Fun with Food
Food has emerged as a growing subset of the influencer economy, and several new platforms launched in 2021 looking to seize on that growing interest. Restaurants large and small have taken notice.
“One huge tailwind on TikTok has been creators offering up their unique recipes and fun takes on food,” said Britton, who expects this trend to build throughout 2022. “TikTok is about fun, short videos. Everybody loves food and a lot of people like making food. It just has a lot of natural product-market fit with TikTok.”
Videos showing food can be instrumental in convincing consumers to try new restaurants or menu items. In a survey by restaurant marketing firm MGH, 36% of TikTok users said they have visited or ordered food from a restaurant after seeing a TikTok video featuring that establishment.
Influencer Cassie Sharp found success in 2021 by creating bite-sized content around food challenges, like her popular “five random ingredients” challenge.
“I’m trying to find new challenges that garner similar engagement, and take short-form videos and turn them into long-form content so that I can take some of those views on my shorts and apply them on my long-form videos,” she said, highlighting a trend common among creators in all verticals: repurposing content.
“The greatest thing about short-form content is you can throw it out there and see what catches,” Sharp added. “If I get an audience for a specific short-form video, when I start making long-form videos people are already comfortable with it.”
Her biggest takeaway so far: Clear bowls are essential for creating engaging food videos. “It’s just more interesting to watch the butter and brown sugar melt together,” she said.
Lisa Nguyen/ Famous Birthdays
4. Social Shopping Upends Ecommerce
The pandemic helped cement ecommerce’s rapidly growing advantage over brick-and-mortar shopping. As more influencers take to livestreaming platforms, expect the nature of online shopping to change.
“Facebook, Instagram and TikTok each facilitate live-shopping and YouTube launched livestreams to promote shopping ahead of the 2021 holiday season,” noted Britton, who added that he expects live-shopping to become increasingly popular in 2022. “It took a while to get here, but it’s growing.”
Gen Z is certainly keen to buy in real time. Survey results from the 2022 Instagram Trend Report show 27% of users aged 13 to 24 shop directly on social media.
Instagram’s native affiliate tool is just one example of this trend in action. The platform began testing the tool in 2021, incentivizing creators to include shoppable content not just in their feeds but also in their Instagram Stories and livestreams.
Nathaly Cuevas/ Famous Birthdays
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Nick Bartels' last name.
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While you can’t drink an NFT, that isn’t stopping some beverage startups from looking to capitalize on the blockchain-enabled craze.
Non-fungible tokens have gained traction in the art world, where artists and creators are using the digital assets to create closer connections with fans and collectors.
The idea of building a creative community around a product is not unfamiliar to beverage brands. After all, generations of beverage aficionados gave us the concepts of the bar, the tea house and the coffee joint.
As brands increasingly take to the digital world to increase their exposure, many beverage companies are now experimenting with NFT technology to build interest around their products. Budweiser, for instance, recently signed a deal to mint collectible tokens, as have Bacardi, Fountain Hard Seltzer and the Robert Mondavi Winery.
Three new L.A.-based beverage brands–Bored Breakfast Club, Yerb and Leisure Project–are also using the blockchain to build their companies and engage with customers in different ways. Each is using NFTs to kickstart their direct-to-consumer businesses and build interest in their brands.
The goal is to use the transparency and equity inherent in blockchain technology to attract early adopters—giving them an opportunity to test ideas and products before they’re finalized—and encourage them to invest in a community built around their drinks.
Time will tell if each brand can deliver on that promise.
Bored Breakfast Club's NFT tokens feature the Bored Ape characters and serve as a subscription membership.
Bored Breakfast Club
One L.A.-based effort, Bored Breakfast Club, has looked to leverage the popularity of Bored Ape collectible NFTs to help jump start a new coffee subscription service.
Frogtown-based marketing agency Kley is leading the effort to use Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) and Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) intellectual property to build direct-to-consumer coffee subscription memberships that are sold as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. The tokens themselves feature a breakfast scene that include BAYC and MAYC characters, and each functions as a coffee subscription membership.
BAYC and MAYC are considered two of the most popular and expensive NFT collections, according to OpenSea, a secondary NFT marketplace that also tracks their value. BYAC NFTs are valued at approximately 74.69 ETH ($244,041) on the platform.
Kley co-founder Brad Klemmer said the idea was to parlay the success of the Bored Apes brand into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Owners of the NFTs get two free coffee shipments and the possibility of more, if the project is a success.
Klemmer said the idea is to build a regular clientele for his coffee brand by shipping it directly to consumers, rather than relying on them to go to a coffee shop or grocery store. “You need a brand and community that puts their product on [consumers’] doorstep on a weekly basis,” he said.
Bored Breakfast Club launched the project on Jan. 10, offering 5,000 NFTs for .08 ETH (approx. $250) each, and promising token holders they would receive a 12-ounce bag of a different variety of coffee for each of two NFT sales thresholds the company surpassed. The NFTs have since sold out, meaning that the project will ship two bags of coffee to each token holder by the end of the month. The company has also created a “community coffee wallet” that could entitle token holders to still more coffee.
A graphic explains Bored Breakfast Club's "wallet" concept.
That’s because the “wallet“ collects funds from a 5% royalty on its NFTs that are bought and sold on the secondary market. Once it collects enough funds, the company will send additional blends to its 5,000 token holders. (Klemmer said they’re waiting to get data from their initial shipments to determine how much it will cost to ship additional bags). That communal “wallet“ will also pay to produce extra bags of coffee and Bored Breakfast Club merchandise to sell to non-NFT holders.
Klemmer said he sees the NFT offerings as a “fun way to buy coffee.” Also, there were “similarities around NFT communities engaging with each other and what the DTC subscription model is trying to be.”
Bored Breakfast Club works with Yes Plz Coffee, which sources, roasts, packages and delivers the coffee to NFT holders.
Yerb was born out of entrepreneur Brett Fink's habit of drinking yerba mate with friends, many of them creatives who were looking for a coffee alternative. The traditional South American drink is said to provide a calmer caffeine-imbibing experience than coffee.
Like Bored Breakfast Club, Fink is hoping to use NFTs to drum up interest in his business early on. But instead of relying on the popularity of a particular NFT brand, Fink sees an opportunity to use the blockchain to heighten awareness of his own brand and, hopefully, develop buy-in for its first product.
Fink, who has past experience building and growing consumer-packaged good (CPG) brands, including cannabis brands, thinks NFTs can help build a creative community around a product.
“If you believe what we believe, and want to create a product for the creative process, you can benefit from it, as there is a massive untapped opportunity in NFT and CPG projects,” Fink said. “You need to get people to believe what you believe, then have them be involved and take ownership of that product.”
Yerb’s first yerba mate drink will be bottled in 12-ounce cans but sold through NFTs that cost 0.039 ETH (approx. $77 USD). The company started offering the tokens in February of last year; each entitles the holder to six cans of Yerb’s first release, as well as an additional six-pack of cans every year that they hold the NFT. Yerb is hoping that the offer will help it identify early adopters who will buy-in to the brand as repeat customers.
Non-NFT holders will be able to purchase the drinks once token holders receive the first shipment. Yerb is targeting April 2022 for that release after hitting supply chain issues last year.
Venice-based Leisure Project is taking a similar approach to Yerb by targeting creatives with an emphasis on community development.
The startup, which bills itself as “the world’s first co-created beverage brand,” hopes to market a kind of natural Gatorade for entrepreneurs, creators and innovators.
Leisure Project was started by former NCAA Division I athletes and brothers Steve Michaelsen, who works at Nike LA, and Alex Michaelsen, who works at TikTok marketing agency GO Ventures in Beverly Hills. The brothers, who have been bootstrapping the project themselves, have spent almost two years creating the brand’s first three flavors.
In December, the Michaelsens announced plans to experiment with minting NFTs that would provide token holders with the first run of their beverages, cheaper pricing on additional flavors and the opportunity to pitch new products. Leisure Project has been sampling its drinks at local NFT events to drum up publicity.
Down the line, the company hopes to use the blockchain to give token holders access to a yet-to-be-defined “creator database” of potential partners and grants.
Leisure Project is in its early stages, but its founders hope establishing buy-in through NFTs and social platforms like Discord will help build an authentic community for their brand, and give them a potentially vital advantage over more-established competitors. “Big brands can’t go backwards and do something community-orientated after the fact,” Steve Michaelson said.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said Bored Breakfast Club would ship four bags of coffee to early NFT holders as sales thresholds were met. The company has since changed that number to two.
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