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January 13, 2023 | 21 Min Read

What Founders Are Saying: An Interview with Four StartEngine Alums

What Founders Are Saying: An Interview with Four StartEngine Alums

It’s no secret that we think StartEngine is pretty great. But we can understand if you’d like to hear it from someone else too. That’s why we sat down with four fellow entrepreneurs to talk through the good, the bad, and the ugly of their experiences raising capital on StartEngine. And well, here’s what they had to say…

*These testimonials may not be representative of the experience of other issuers and is not a guarantee of future performance or success. 

Interview 1: Boxabl Co-Founder Galiano Tiramani

This instant-house manufacturer, experienced with equity crowdfunding, raised an oversubscribed $5 million Reg CF. round, followed by a $24 million Reg. A+ round in 2022. He then worked closely with the StartEngine team to launch and max out a subsequent Reg. CF round in under 12 hours, raising close to $35 million on our platform to date.

Q: In a sentence, tell us what Boxabl does.

A: Boxabl is a house manufacturer that is mass producing a new type of house [that] actually folds up, and that means that we can now ship it at the lowest possible cost.

Q: Why did you decide to raise with equity crowdfunding versus traditional VC?

A: Back when we started raising money, we were looking at all the different possibilities and we took a look at crowdfunding, and just didn’t really see any downside to it…We’re setting the terms, not the investor, which means we can keep control of the company and leverage our interested parties, whether it’s a fan or a customer. So we gave it a try and it just started working. Then we kept doubling down on it and one thing we noticed was that the effort put into finding investors paid off in other areas. So from the general awareness, you get investors, you get customers, you get employees, suppliers. We’ve also built up this army of supporters in all these investors and others. It’s totally amazing. 

Q: How many times have you raised through the crowd?

A: So all the money we’ve raised for the company has been through crowdfunding. We started out originally with a $1 million Reg. CF on Wefunder – back when the limit for Reg. CF was $1 million. Sold that, said, “All right, let’s keep going.” We submitted for qualification for the Reg. A+ [and] during that time, the SEC bumped the limit up to 5 million for Reg. CF. So we launched another one of those and were able to sell that out in just a few weeks. Eventually we got the Reg. A+ qualified, launched that, sold that out in probably less than six months or so. So we’ve done a few of those CFs and the Reg. A+ on StartEngine.

Q: You mentioned you’ve raised money through Reg. CF and Reg. A+. Can you tell us about your experience with both?

A: I think starting with Reg. CF is great because that’s a situation where you basically tell the SEC you’re doing it…and you can get up and running pretty quickly. And if it works, then you can move forward into a Reg. A+. That’s where you’re going to need the SEC to qualify you, so you’re going to be waiting for them to give you the green light. There’s not a really big barrier to entry, some lawyers’ fees and audits to get it going, but it definitely pays off.

Q: Where are you today compared to when you started your first raise? How has your momentum changed?

A: When we started with crowdfunding, basically we had just a little garage and a few prototype houses that we built by hand early on. After we started [our first] raise, we ended up getting an order from the Department of Defense to buy the houses – so then we started running full speed ahead. We went out, set up the first factory, brought in all the equipment, hired several hundred people, got manufacturing…and managed to deliver in full on that order to the federal government. It was for 156 houses, so about nine-and-a-half million dollars.

Q: How has having 30,000+ investors impacted your business? 

A: We have now over 30,000 investors, and the actual wait list for the product has over 150,000 names on it now. So we basically can just sit here and pick from our list whoever we think the best customers are. It’s really kind of a great position for the company to be in with all these opportunities. 

Q: What was it like working with the StartEngine team?

A: I highly recommend StartEngine to everyone that I talk to about crowdfunding. I’ve experienced Wefunder and Republic doing campaigns on their websites, and I’ve spoken to all the others pretty much – and StartEngine is just really leagues above the rest. Really competent team, really responsive. I know that [I’m] going to get high quality work done from them – aggressive marketing techniques. Just on every front, my experience with StartEngine has been great and I can’t say that about the other platforms.

Q: We know that a lot of partners feel hesitant to share their financials. How did you get comfortable sharing yours?

A: Well, everything we’re doing, we put out there in the public – whether it’s filming constant updates and putting them on social media, or allowing factory tours for the general public, or putting out audited financials. People really shouldn’t have anything to hide. I think if you’re that worried about someone else seeing this stuff – I wonder why?

The financials are the least of the concern because that’s just a bunch of numbers. We have people in our factory with our cutting-edge new technology, taking pictures of it and posting that online. [But] we’re confident that we’re very far ahead of the competitors. If someone was to copy what we’re doing right now, they’d be copying the wrong thing because we’re already looking forward to updates and [the] next generation and all that. 

I think a lot of times, people get paranoid about sharing stuff. If you’re not willing to share what you’re doing with other people, you’re not going to get anywhere. If you’re scared to sell your product because you think people are going to see it and copy it, then you’re kind of stuck.

Q: Any advice for first timers to equity crowdfunding?

A: I would definitely recommend it to anyone, and most of the reasons why you shouldn’t do it that someone might tell you are probably not true. I couldn’t really find any downside to it. I think it works better for companies with a wider audience where you can get a general understanding of what you’re doing, or if you have access to a community for a more niche product. As long as you have access to a community of people that are going to understand your business model, you’re going to find some takers.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to good marketing. You have to have a good product and a good company as well, but that’s not going to get you anywhere if you don’t get the word out. What we did was we generated interest through social media…and then re-marketed to those leads. And that’s something you can scale up with any product. Selling shares is a way to [market your business] as well, and that’s paid off big time for us.

Interview 2: Copperworks Distilling CEO Jason Parker

The downtown Seattle based distillery has completed multiple successful Reg. CF rounds, raising close to $2 million on StartEngine in 2021.

Q: In a sentence, tell us what Copperworks Distilling does.

A: We’re a craft distillery and we make vodka, gin and American single malt whiskey.

Q: Why did you decide to raise with equity crowdfunding versus traditional VC?

A: Quite a few reasons. One of the great things about equity [crowd]funding is that you end up with brand ambassadors instead of people wanting to control your business. So they trust you, they believe in you, and they’re investing in your vision and they work hard. So you don’t only get the money that you need to continue growing your business, but you also get folks out there willing to do some of the hard work of telling your story and sharing your products with their friends and getting the word out. Brand ambassadors are what we think of…But with normal venture capital, I’d think of that as investors looking for a pretty fast return on investment, which whiskey is not famous for.

Q: How many times have you raised through the crowd? And did you raise under Reg. CF or Reg. A+?

A: [We raised] twice. We had folks who were interested in Reg A+, but I really wanted to keep the investment playing field equal. So I wanted people who were investing in Copperworks to have all the same privileges and rights as anybody else and not have a stratified group of investors that we paid more or less attention to. So by having everything go through [Reg. CF], it made that simple. It kept our cap tables cleaner and a little bit easier to manage.

Q: Where are you today compared to when you started your first raise?

A: So when we launched…our first [equity crowdfunding] raise, we were of course unaware…that there was going to be a pandemic coming. A lot of people were thinking the stock market is not going to be the best place for me to invest my money – I’d like to invest my money in some organization [where] I’ve met the people. And so that was an amazing, perfect storm of things that happened that allowed us to raise a lot of money [from] people really committed to the brand.

Our stated goal was to increase production…so buying grain, buying steam, buying barrels, hiring labor and making that product happen. We went from the most we had ever done [being] 64 barrels in a year. After raising money, we did 115 barrels…so we knew that we were onto something.

The next year we had much bigger, interesting plans to build more capacity. We had now reached the capacity limit based on our ability to brew, and so we were going to build…a warehouse and tasting room, a restaurant and a bigger brewery. The second raise we did on StartEngine, we raised enough money there to get all three of those projects started. 

Now we’re on track to do 300 barrels a year of whiskey. We went from five staff, now to 11, and we’re hiring two more so we will be at 13 employees – and that’s all in two years. So things have gone from being a small player to a significantly interesting whiskey maker in America. And that’s due to the crowd funding and all the folks that we have supporting us.

Q: How has having 1,500+ investors impacted your business?

A: So before, a customer would normally buy one or two bottles a year…the average customer value per year was around $150. [Now] not only have they invested money into the business…we’ve also noticed that they’re ordering two to three times the amount of product. So they’ve gone from $150 to almost $450 a year on average. And those numbers are based not only on them buying product, but also sending in their friends – so our mailing list is growing. 

We actually were forced to raise our price on whiskey just due to – you’ve heard it – supply chain [and] the cost of freight in particular. And that was absorbed very easily…through our customer base. As a matter of fact, they supported the reasoning behind it.

Q: Any super fans among all those new investors?

A: Yes! We have some individuals who – every time we release a product – buy a case, if not two cases. And I have to say that’s coming up on a $600 [purchase] each time we release. I don’t actually know how big their house must be to store all of that product, but I’m incredibly appreciative of it. We also have investors that invested significantly in the first round and then came back in the second round and invested even more.

Q: What was it like working with the StartEngine team?

A: There’s of course a lot of different roles and a lot of different people have a lot of different touch points. Getting a financial audit is a big lift [and] doing a good job of putting together marketing communications is a big lift. But I really appreciated being given a cell phone number of one of your team members. And if we ever had a problem, we could call that. It was like calling the bat line. We’d call the bat line and we’d get an answer.

Sometimes things are moving very quickly…we ran into a problem where the balance sheet was incorrectly posted and we had already gone live and we had to get that fixed. So that needed instant communications, and we were able to get that done very quickly. So I felt good about it…it really helped having the various different team members contribute their expertise.

Q: We know that a lot of partners feel hesitant to share their financials. How did you get comfortable sharing yours?

A: One of the tenants of our business is transparency. So we not only tell anybody who is interested our recipe, we tell them what products cost…We tell them what our balance sheet is. As far as I’m concerned, it isn’t anything that a competitor’s going to use against us. And in fact, if a competing brewery, winery or distillery can learn something from us and be more successful, then we’re going to raise the tides that we’re all floating our boats on.

Q: Any advice for first timers to equity crowdfunding?

A: Sign up for a bunch of work and expect a bunch of results. The mailing list is also critical. Having access to people who already know you really feels important to me.

One more thing is that we spent a significant amount of money on social media. [To raise] $2.75 million, we probably spent about $200,000 on social media, which seems like a lot of money to me. I think in terms of what you would recommend, that’s not even enough. But I’ll say it’s a lot more money than most small businesses spend.

Here’s the secret. Not only do you get investors from [social media] with a 5-10X increase in return on those investments, but you also get sales. You also get customers. I can’t tell you how many times a week people tell me that they know about our plans, even though I’ve never met them – they saw it on social media. They know what we’re doing. And that work we did last year is still paying off in brand equity. People care about it. So I would say, spend a lot of money on social media and make sure that you have a really good, clear message out there. It’s going to pay off.

Join Galiano, Jason, and over 750 fellow founders – apply to raise your own round of capital today. Apply now.

Interview 3: Solar Roadways Co-Founder Julie Brusaw

The manufacturer of solar panel-embedded roads and surfaces has raised through both rewards-based crowdfunding and Reg. CF. They maxed out their first $1 million offering on StartEngine in under a day.

Q: In a sentence, tell us what Solar Roadways does.

A: We are creating intelligent infrastructure with solar panels that can be driven upon, which includes LED lights and heating elements for walking and driving surfaces.

Q: Why did you take the leap with equity crowdfunding versus traditional VC?

A: So many of our Solar Roadies (supporters) had been asking to become shareholders and we wanted to make that possible.

Q: Why did you choose Reg. CF vs. Reg. A+?

It was the best fit for us at the time.

Q: How many times have you raised through the crowd? Can you tell us about the transition from rewards-based to equity crowdfunding?

A: Once on Indiegogo and twice on StartEngine…Both experiences involved spending a lot of time creating our page, deciding on perks to offer and keeping up with answering comments.

Q: Where are you today compared to when you started your first raise? How has your momentum changed?

A: Well we broke two records on Indiegogo when we did our raise there. In the end we had over 50,000 donors from 165 countries. That showed us how much world wide support we had. We also broke a record on StartEngine, closing our first campaign in less than a day. This year, we received our 6th government grant and we have world wide interest.

Q: Any super fans or new brand ambassadors in all those new investors that stand out?

A: They are all special to us and so many of them send us encouraging messages. Many of them came over from our Indiegogo campaign.

Q: What was it like working with the StartEngine team?

A: We’ve had some wonderful, helpful people on our team. Very responsive, even on weekends. We certainly couldn’t have gotten through the process without them.

Q: We know that a lot of partners feel hesitant to share their financials. How did you get comfortable sharing yours?

A: It wasn’t something we struggled with.

Q: Any advice for first-timers to ECF?

A: Make sure to grow your social media to a significant degree before attempting to raise funds. You need to know that a large group of people is excited to invest before embarking on a campaign.

Interview 4: Flower Turbines CEO Dan Farbman

The small wind turbine manufacturer maxed out two Reg. CF offerings, prior to its Reg. A+ campaign which raised over $9 million in 2021.

Q: In a sentence, tell us what Flower Turbines does.

A: Flower Turbines is a small wind turbine company that’s seeking to disrupt the small wind power industry.

Q: Why did you decide to raise with equity crowdfunding versus traditional VC?

A: Generally [VCs] are looking for [companies] that can provide them a quick, short term return. When you’re making things, you may have a great long term return, but they want to see high returns within three years, four years, something like that. So it’s very short term thinking versus the kind of long term thinking that you need when you are in clean tech or when you are actually building things. So I knew that VC wasn’t for me…but I was really thrilled to find out about equity crowdfunding.

Q: How many times have you raised through the crowd?

A: We’ve now finished three rounds with StartEngine. First, we did one for 1 million, another round for 1 million and our latest, which is Reg. A+ for 9 million.

The reason that I picked Reg. A+ [last time] is that it has higher limits than Reg CF. When we were starting out, Reg. CF had a limit of only around $1 million…now it’s up to 5 million. So at that time, all I needed to get started was 1 million then another million. And now that we’re in expansion mode, I went for Reg A, and we raised 9 million. So that’s the most important thing is the amount available…[but] Reg. CF is very easy, relatively speaking, to get everything arranged on the platform.

Q: Where are you today compared to when you started your first raise?

A: I can say [raising capital] made all the difference in the world to me. Today we’re a growing company with around, I’d say, over 10 people working for us, closer to 15. We’re expanding in the US and Europe and just getting started. Hopefully we’ll expand a lot more. And it was really this crowdfunding that gave me the opportunity to move things up piece by piece. And it’s really made a complete difference in the momentum.

Q: How has having 7,000+ investors impacted your business?

A: Well, it’s interesting. I’m sitting here today actually in our office with several investors who have kept in touch…I really like the fact that people feel not only an alliance with our cause of clean energy and making it clean our planet, but that they also feel that they want to enhance the value of their own investment. And I really enjoy it. I don’t think I could take it if all 7,000 did that, but there’s a substantial number who have really tried to help the company. And I think that’s great.

If you’re on the New York Stock Exchange and your Coca-Cola, you want all of your 20 million or so people who’ve invested in you to drink Coca-Cola instead of Pepsi, right? Because that’s their company. So I feel that [with equity crowdfunding] a lot of people feel like they’re part of the company, and they want to be part of it in terms of helping it grow as well.

Q: Did launching an equity crowdfunding campaign raise any eyebrows with any of the incubators or early backers who’ve supported you?

A: No, it was fine…some people have raised the question whether or not you can still do venture capital if you’ve also done equity crowdfunding. But no [you still can] because it appears as one line in our cap table – everybody [from the online raise] is grouped together. Of course, we keep a list and our lawyers keep a list and StartEngine keeps a list of all the people who’ve invested. So you’re secure in that sense, but I haven’t found it hard to manage.

Q: What was it like working with the StartEngine team?

One of the things I did before I started with StartEngine is that I compared the different platforms that were available. And I found that StartEngine was the most entrepreneur friendly. They did things like not make you wait until the end of the raise to take out your money. A lot of the things that they did helped make it easy for us to have a successful raise. And I really appreciated it – they’ve been really good.

Q: We know that a lot of partners feel hesitant to share their financials. How did you get comfortable sharing yours?

A: Look, most startups are losing money. There’s nothing to be ashamed of with that. That’s part of what [happens] when you invest in the development of technology or invest in patents. You invest in manufacturing or your presence on the web. You invest in the people that are working for you. You’re doing all of these things. And of course you’re going to lose money at the beginning, and anybody who’s an investor expects that.

Q: Thinking back to your first raise, any concerns fundraising through the crowd as a B2B company?

A: Not really. I think that people come to the platform because they want to find good investments. And I think it wouldn’t matter to me if something is B2B or B2C. What counts is, is it a good investment? Is it also an investment that I’m happy to be a part of as well?

Q: Any advice for first timers to equity crowdfunding?

A: Yes. I’ve done my research and I’m very happy with StartEngine, and that’s one thing. And the other is that it does take a lot of work. You really do have to have a lawyer. You have to have an accountant, you have to go through due diligence. So don’t think that it’s going to be easy just to raise money and get by. You really have to go through these things and really have to show people why you’re a good investment. So I think if you do that and pick a good platform and you have a good product, I think you’ll have a good experience.

Want to raise your own round on StartEngine? Or, even if you’re still on the fence – apply today to talk to one of our funding specialists about how we can help you achieve your goals.

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