June was a bit of a crazy month, with three conferences in a row (Orlando-London-DC) including two presentations at IRM’s BPM conference in London: a half-day workshop on the Future of Work, and a breakout session on Knowledge Work Incentives, which was a deep dive into one of the themes in the workshop. I put the slides for the breakout session up on the day of the presentation, but then went off for a couple of days of holidays in Brighton and completely forgot to post a link here:
The recent TEW post had me think about the opportunities that I’ve had to present at conferences all over the world, and I decided to take them up on their challenge and post some of the pictures and videos from me presenting in the past. First, a few videos in a variety of speaking styles:
I speak primarily about technology and the impact that it has on business, and I’m recognized as an expert in my field, so I have to say that the common excuses for having no (paid) women speakers summarized here – no qualified women speakers; woman only speak about “women stuff” [wtf?]; women are more likely to say no to speaking; women are more likely to cancel – are patently untrue in my case, and likely in the case of most women speakers.
There are some shining examples of companies that put a lot of women – internal and external – on the stage at their conferences, and we need to see more of this in the future. Otherwise, you’re just ignoring half of the IQ available as speakers, and starting to alienate the attendees.
Brian Solis from Altimeter Group was the starting keynote, talking about disruptive technology and how businesses can undergo digital transformation. One of the issues with companies and change is that executives don’t live the way the rest of us do, and have to think of the shareholders first, but may not have sufficient insight into how changing customer attitudes and the supporting technology will impact their profitability, or even their ability to survive. “A Kodak moment” is now about how you go bankrupt when you ignore disruptive technology: not something that you want to capture for posterity.
Customer experience can just happen by accident, or it can be something that we design in order to achieve a “higher purpose” of being customer centric. That doesn’t mean that we have complete control over that customer experience any more, since our brands are made up of what we put out there, and what other people say about us. Customer experience is not about what we say, but about what we do, since that’s what will be examined under the social media microscope. Altimeter’s research shows that almost all companies undergoing their digital transformation specifically because of customer experience, but that few of them really understand what the problem is. 67% of buyers’ customer journey is now done online, consulting 11 different sources for information even if they purchase IRL, and your online customer experience is the difference between surviving or not. Part of this is omni-channel presence, since almost none of those pre-buying search journeys happen on a single device. You can’t force customers to do business your way: you have to do it their way. And in order to do it their way, you have to understand what that is (that sounds kind of obvious, but may companies don’t get that). You have to think through the eyes of your customers: as Solis said, “Think like a customer. Act like a startup.”
Solis’ message, in short: if you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else will do it for you. Innovate or die.
Nicholas Doyle of DST gave a presentation on crowdfunding: an interesting topic to cover at a conference attended primarily by old-school financial services companies, who are the ones most likely to be radically disrupted by crowdfunding, but likely don’t see it coming. He started with a video from CraftFund — crowdsourced capital investment focused on the craft beer and food industry — then talked about the state of the market, the different business models, and the US securities regulations that apply to private securities that include crowdfunding. He also included a good timeline of crowdfunding from the 1983 startup of Grameen Bank‘s microfinancing operations, plus some of the regulations that govern microlending and microequity in the US:
I covered a bit about crowdfunding at the 2012 Technicity event, including the UK crowdfunding platform CrowdCube and a discussion on the legality of equity crowdfunding in Ontario (where I live). Equity crowdfunding really only started in the US in 2011 with MicroVentures, and the recently passed JOBS Act includes a number of regulations that apply to crowdfunding and other small-scale equity investments, including who can participate and how it can be promoted and sold. In particular, Title III of the JOBS Act applies to crowdfunding; it’s not finalized yet but Doyle was able to give us a review of what is expected there, as well as some of the state regulations that will impact crowdfunding.
The landscape positions the crowdfunding platforms between issuers and investors; that platform needs to include compliance, distribution, reporting and enabling technologies. Crowdfunding is only 0.6% of the world’s capital markets, but that’s still $1.6B and the industry has grown 1000% in the last five years, and will undoubtedly continue to grow. Debt financing is growing at a much higher rate than equity investing, in part due to the limits placed by the applicable titles of the JOBS Act. Donation models are also growing, and the biggest growth is in reward models, which are typical on sites such as Kickstarter. There are obvious challenges to work out with crowdfunding, such as secondary market liquidity and investor accreditation, but it’s safe to say that it’s here to stay and will continue to grow.
DST does not currently offer any products in this area, but it’s interesting to see that they are keeping a close eye on it to see how they can fit in the market, whether as a recordkeeper, clearinghouse or other role.
The sun is high and I’m all done with my presentation and videography commitments, so this will be the end of my blogging from DST ADVANCE 2015 as I head out to enjoy a bit of the Phoenix weather.
My fellow Enterprise Irregular Susan Scrupski posted last month on the split between enterprise initiatives in social media (external-facing marketing) and social collaboration (mostly internal work production and knowledge sharing) – apparently the number of organizations actually integrating these efforts is near-zero. I don’t find this particular surprising, since the people involved and the purposes of the initiatives are quite different, but it doesn’t bode well for efforts to directly connect internal business processes to customers via social media. I started to incorporate themes of linking external social presence into core business processes (recorded screencast here) a couple of years ago in my presentations and writing, based on my own experiences as well as those of my clients. However, when I talk about that Zipcar/Twitter example today, I still get a lot of “wow” reactions in the audience: for most organizations, the idea that social media can be directly integrated as a near-real-time customer interaction channel seems like science fiction. And even for those that do see social media as a customer engagement channel, it often has serious limitations: as soon as you actually need to do a “transaction”, the social media team has to hand off to an operations team, usually requiring that the customer restart their interaction over again through a different channel.
Many organizations are still struggling with the idea of internal social collaboration. Although the software functionality for the social enterprise is robust, and has become integrated with line-of-business functionality such as in BPM and ERP systems, I’m still working with many traditional industries, where managers still want to know exactly how how long people spend on break, and certainly don’t trust them enough to enable on-demand collaboration features in their systems. Although, of course, the workers do collaborate: they just do it outside the systems, creating hidden business processes that provide the collaborative and dynamic aspects using (primarily) email.
This is more than just an outside-in realignment, although that’s a necessary starting point: there’s a combination of technology and corporate culture that needs to allow for the direct connection of external social media and internal social collaboration.
This week, I started in Vegas with huge SAP TechEd conference, then moved on to Houston for the much more intimate APQC Process Conference, attended by 150 of so quality practitioners who are focused on process. I arrived too late for the first day’s sessions, but caught up with people at the reception, then gave the keynote this morning on how we need to change incentives for knowledge workers within the social enterprise:
This is an area that I’ve been pondering over for quite a while, but the first presentation that I’ve done explicitly on this topic. I’m going to do a separate post on this including all of the research pointers to open it up for more discussion; for a technology geek like me, looking at HR issues such as employee incentives makes me feel a bit out of my depth, but it’s been tapping away at my hindbrain since I first started talking about social BPM more than seven years ago, and I’m intensely interested in some of the research that can start to make its way into enterprise process software.
We had a full 25-30 minutes of Q&A after the keynote; there is a huge amount of interest amongst this audience, and a lot of related experiences to share.
I had the huge pleasure of hearing Jack Grayson, founder of APQC and productivity guru, speak about his ongoing work as well as his skydiving experience at the age of 90 (!), and he graciously gave me a tour of the Houstontonian conference center and the adjacent APQC offices that he has helped to build over the years. Impressive and inspirational, although a bit intimidating to follow onto stage.
Keeping focus long enough to blog right after doing a presentation can be a bit challenging, but I sat in on the joint APQC/ASQ breakout session that I attended just after the keynote, discussing their research linking quality practices to quality performance and presented by Travis Colton. Quality measurement systems tend to be related pretty strongly to process improvement and BPM initiatives, and this was a much more detailed view of the process of quality management (as opposed to quality within the enterprise processes) than I usually see, and some interesting points. He finished up, quite by coincidence, with a bit on employee incentives for quality; interesting how much my message from earlier seemed to resonate with a lot of people who I talked to as well as showing up in other presentations. You can see more about their research and results here.
The final session of the day (and the conference) was a wrap-up led by Elisabeth Swan, a process improvement consultant. She applied her background in improvisational comedy to tease out the main themes from the breakout sessions based on post-it notes that people had created during each session, and give an opportunity for people who attended the sessions to speak up about what they heard there. Good interactive wrap-up, and an opportunity to hear about all of the sessions that I missed.
APQC holds a knowledge management conference each year as well as this process conference, plus a number of webinars related to productivity and quality improvement.
My blogging has been pretty sparse lately, in part because I’ve been busier than usual for the summer and in part because I have an intimidating backlog of product reviews to get through. Tonight, however, I’m at a meetup of Knowledge Workers Toronto to hear Lisa Vanderlip of the Canadian Cancer Society (a charitable fund-raising organization) talk about how they are using Yammer in their workplace. Interestingly, her first words were that she is joining Microsoft in September to work with Yammer from the inside, although tonight she was here to talk about its use at the Cancer Society, and enterprise social in general.
I’ve been starting some independent research lately looking at worker incentives for enterprise social, so I was interested to hear about how they encouraged adoption within their organization. As a 75-year-old organization, a lot of their internal communication was unidirectional, and different offices across the country had their own local intranets using SharePoint servers and the like. This led to a lot of confusion about where to find information or locate internal skills and resources, and a lot of inefficiencies in getting work done. They started implementing Yammer as a social tool in January 2012 with a full production rollout in February 2013, and have seen significant improvements in their internal communications since then. Selection of Yammer was based on recommendations from other organizations, but also because of their strong Microsoft usage internally, especially SharePoint, which integrates well with Yammer.
Their driver for internal enterprise social (as opposed to customer/outward-facing social) was to achieve business goals through engaging staff, sharing goals, increasing productivity, improving collaboration, creating a positive culture and recognizing performance. They wanted to consolidate their intranet into a single cohesive resource available across the organization, and see Yammer as providing a combination of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for internal users (authenticated with Active Directory).
A key part of the roll-out was getting buy-in from management (to get the budget and approvals) as well as from the teams who would be using it. They’ve gone through three (!) CEOs during the course of the project, which added some challenges due to the shifting political landscape and the views of the executive team towards enterprise social at any given time. They worked at buy-in by having an internal advocate team (Yambassadors) that communicated and educated about enterprise social and Yammer, so that by the time they rolled out, everyone knew what Yammer was and what the organization would be doing with it: namely, solving business problems, not sharing what people had for lunch.
They established multiple levels of goals: at the national office level, there were the wider-ranging goals of engaging staff in the organizational mission and vision, increasing communication and collaboration, and increasing efficiency; at the departmental/regional level, they had a template for establishing project-specific goals. For training, there were some basics about social media and Yammer, but also some examples of Yammer success stories and guidance on adding social aspects to current processes and methods.
I asked about incentives that help to motivate users to use enterprise social, and although they’re just starting to look at some of those issues (and are going through some HR restructuring), one key part is in non-financial recognition as an incentive: using Yammer for giving someone a “thumbs up” for a job well done, or recognizing someone as an expert in a particular area. Indirectly, of course, this can translate to financial incentives since peer recognition will (or at least, it should) feed into performance reviews, and is a good indicator for employee satisfaction and therefore reduced turnover. Since they rolled out in production in February of this year, they’ve had over 100 “thumbs up” given on their national network, and have seen 80% of their staff engaged (that is, took specific deliberate actions) on the system; all departments have been using Yammer to achieve their goals.
They are measuring staff engagement and effectiveness of Yammer, allowing each department and team to set metrics to determine if they are achieving their goals. They are actively trying to reduce (internal) email and replacing it with Yammer and other more appropriate communication channels: this has improved efficiencies in several of their team that collaborate on content creation, as would be expected. In the next fiscal year, as they move forward with their approved projects on Yammer, they will be implementing guidelines for limiting staff emails, which will also drive adoption. I think (and please feel free to chime in if you know more about this) that Yammer has some gaps in terms of records management from a regulatory/compliance standpoint, but there are no real technical barriers why enterprise social content can’t be managed in the same way that we managed email, documents and other content required for specific industry governance. In fact, without this level of governance, enterprise social systems will falter as they attempt to push into line-of-business applications.
The challenge for those of us in the BPM world is that enterprise social is something that’s (currently) done in the context of a BPMS, where the organizational goals, user motivators and methods of engagement can be quite different. However, some good lessons here on rolling out social capabilities within an organization, regardless of the platform.
Great presentation and discussion, especially hearing the views and questions of those who work in enterprise knowledge management but appear to have little exposure to social media, both consumer and enterprise: these are probably representative of the views of many people within organizations who are struggling with a justification for enterprise social. The presentation slides will be added to the Meetup group; you probably need to be a group member to see them.
A couple of weeks ago, IBM had two analyst calls about the announcements this week at IBM Connect 2013; since I’m not at the conference, I wrote most of this at that time but only published today due to embargo restrictions. It’s the 20th anniversary of Lotusphere, although the conference is no longer branded as Lotusphere since the “smarter workforce” and “smarter commerce” streams are beyond just products with a Lotus heritage or brand.
The first briefing featured Jeff Schick, who heads up social software at IBM. He discussed new software and cloud services to put social business capabilities in the hands of C-level executives in HR and marketing, covering the dual goals of managing corporate intranets and talent, and managing external marketing campaigns. The catchphrases are “Activate the Workforce” and “Delight Customers”, enabled by IBM social business solutions for Smarter Workforce and Smarter Commerce, built on the social integration capabilities of IBM WebSphere Portal.
Specific product releases coming up in the next several weeks:
IBM Connections v4.5, with FileNet ECM now available as a native service: documents and their processes (processes within FileNet, I assume, not within IBM BPM) can be integrated into a Connections community, exposing FileNet functionality such as metadata and foldering through Connections, and providing fully integrated social capabilities such as tagging, commenting and liking, making content a first-class social citizen. This is hot. It will not include records management or Case Manager: it appears that these functions would be available on the FileNet side, but not exposed (at this time) through Connections. Quickr customers are being offered a migration path to IBM Connections Content Manager, which is a bundled FileNet repository that can be upgraded to the full ECM suite if you wanted to use it outside the Connections context. Connections can also integrate with SharePoint and Outlook, so is an option even if you’re a Microsoft customer in those areas.
IBM Notes 9 Social Edition, competing against Outlook 2013 with social-enabled email, activity Streams and other social capabilities.
IBM Docs for web-based collaboration, now available on-premise as well as in the cloud. This competes against Office 365 and Google Docs, but offers better collaboration than O365 (which requires passing control of a document between collaborators) and better rendering/conversion of Office documents than GDocs. IBM Docs is integrated with Connections for social features and sharing, in the same sort of way as Content Manager.
IBM Sametime replaces their existing meeting service in the cloud, including iOS and Android support. It uses the Polycom framework for video and audio support.
Deployment of all of this can be public cloud, private cloud, on-premise (not really sure of the distinction there) or a hybrid of these. Their SmartCloud for Social Business provides for the cloud deployment and adds wiki, blogs and other social authoring functionality. SmartCloud has Safe Harbor certification, making it a bit mire immune to government snooping, and can be private-labeled, with two telelcom companies already using this to provide these capabilities to their customers.
Everything is focused on mobile: mobile meetings, chat, Connections including Content Manager access, Docs and more.
Jonathan Ferrar, who heads up strategy for the Smarter Workforce business area, gave us an update on what they’re providing to support attracting, empowering and motivating employees. They have just completed their acquisition of Kenexa, and offer a portfolio of HR and workforce management products that includes behavioral sciences plus the entire platform for social business that Schick talked about, including analytics, collaboration and content management.
There are three main functional areas related to workforce management: attract (including recruitment, hiring, onboarding), empower (including learning and intranet content such as benefits and procedures), and motivate (including surveys, assessments and talent management). An integrated employee and HR portal uses existing IBM portal technology to expose Kennexa functionality and social features. There are also workforce analytics to monitor, provide insight and predict based on demographic, qualitative and social data, using both Cognos for dashboards and SPSS for analysis. There’s also some features related to outsourcing but not a lot of details; I was left with the impression that this was a strong capability of Kennexa prior to the acquisition.
I don’t know a lot about HR systems, although I’m seeing a huge potential to integrate this with operational systems such as BPM to drive analytics from the operational systems to the HR systems (e.g., employee performance measures), and even some from HR to the operational systems (e.g., learning management to push training to people at the point in their work when they need the training).
In the second briefing, we heard from Larry Bowden, VP of Web Experience software at IBM, covering the website building and user experience sides of Smarter Commerce and Social Business. He started out the the same “smarter workforce/exceptional customer experience” catchphrases as we heard on the earlier call, then went on to highlight some of their customers recognized for exceptional web experience awards in 2012. Web experience includes the smarter workforce (employee engagement, workplace social portal) and smarter commerce (web presence and brand marketing, buy, sell, market) areas, but also can include direct business uses (e.g., online banking, claims), engaging a broad variety of constituents (e.g., e-government), and customer self-service. The core of the IBM customer experience suite, however, is on the buy, market, sell and service capabilities under their Smarter Commerce umbrella. They are working at putting the web marketing/commerce capabilities directly into the hands of business users (although if this is anything similar to how most vendors put BPMS capabilities directly into the hands of business users, I wouldn’t be too worried if I were a web developer), including both web content management/analytics and campaign management.
The Smarter Workforce and Smarter Commerce solutions are built on the IBM Social Business Platform, as we heard from Schick earlier, which includes WebSphere Portal, Web Content Manager, Connections, Notes & Domino Social Edition, Sametime, Social Analytics Suite, ECM, Web Experience Factory and Forms. That’s nine products just in the platform, then the Customer Experience Suite and Employee Experience Suite solutions built on top of that. Whew. There are other products that come in at the higher level, such as Worklight for mobile enablement.
There’s been a refresh on all of their web experience capabilities, resulting in a new IBM Web Experience “Next”, providing for faster content creation, social content rendering and multi-channel publishing. This is not so much a product as the list of everything across their product base that is being updated, and a more consistent user interface.
There’s a new digital asset management system for rich media management (part of a WCM Rich Media Edition?), although that’s currently in tech preview rather than released.
They’ve also done some PureSystems updates that make it faster to deploy and optimized complex configurations of the multiple IBM products required to support these capabilities – arguably, they should have spent some time on refactoring and reducing the number of products, rather than working out how to make bigger and better hardware to support these patterns.
As always after an IBM briefing, I’m left with a sense of almost overwhelming complexity in the number — and possible combinations — of products that make up these integrated solutions. Powerful: yes. But expect some rough edges in the integration.
Appian’s V7 is available for customer download this week, having been used by some initial customers as early as last month, and internally at Appian since October, but they don’t plan a big marketing push until the new year. However, I was able to listen in on a webinar for their customers yesterday that described the main new features. Given Appian’s forward-thinking Tempo collaboration interface as well as their recent push on the “worksocial” (a.k.a. enterprise social) theme, it’s no surprise that this release is focused on new social features in the product.
The Appian product vision around social enterprise is to improve communication and collaboration for better knowledge sharing and decision-making, thereby making for less wasted time and resources: not fundamentally different from any social enterprise software vendor, but fairly advanced for a BPM vendor. In order to reduce friction in moving to these social methods, they are focused on creating no/low-training user interfaces on existing applications, with the goal to expand the user base for these applications. That’s possible by mimicking consumer social interfaces and paradigms with which most people are already familiar, such as they see on Twitter and Facebook, but using that to allow people to interact with their daily work. We’re seeing trends in social enterprise software to become more deeply integrated with work: in this case, Appian is building from the other direction, adding social enterprise interfaces to their robust process applications. As they put it, they’re bringing work (context and accountability) and social (participation and speed) together.
All that vision and philosophy aside, here’s the features that you can expect in the new V7 interface; I’ll make analogies to consumer social software to make it a bit easier to visualize. I’ll start with the four types of interactions that you can create, view and collaborate on in V7: posts, messages, tasks and kudos.
Posts. The Tempo UI in V6 has the concept of posting messages, but required targeting specific groups. In V7, you can post messages without a specific recipient, meaning that they are visible to everyone who follows you, as well as in searches. Anyone who can see a post can comment on it, not just the recipients.
That implies, of course, that you can now also follow a person, not just a process feed as in V6.
This is similar to posting messages on Twitter, or (to a more limited extent) on your Facebook timeline: you just throw the comment out there without addressing it to anyone in particular. If someone sees it and wants to add a comment or response, they can. The threaded conversation interface is more like Facebook visually, but allows anyone (not just your followers) to add a response.
Messages. This is more like V6 posting, in that you post to specific users or groups. As long as those messages are not locked, they are visible to (and can be commented on) your followers plus anyone through searching, and will be visible to the recipients even if they do not follow you. If a message is locked, it can be seen only by the sender and recipients.
Unlocked messages are similar to @replies in Twitter, where they will show up in the person’s activity stream even if they don’t follow you, or a Facebook post where you have added a person to the post. Locked messages are private, so similar to Twitter direct messages or Facebook messages. Or email, which is a bit of what you’re trying to get away from.
Tasks. Social tasks is a completely new feature in Appian, and allows any user to create and assign a task to someone else, without any predefined process model. These will appear in the recipient’s task list, and are only visible to the sender and recipient. They can only be direct to a single recipient, not a group or list of users. The sender and recipient can use the task as a mini collaboration, each adding comments, and either can mark the task as closed.
Although not stated in their product vision, I expect that we will see a lot of enhancement to this functionality throughout 2013 as Appian tries to address – somewhat belatedly – the ad hoc/case management market. They need to consider deadlines, assignment to more than one recipient and a few other features to make them useful.
This type of feature isn’t in consumer social software, but is available as standalone functionality in social task platforms such as Asana and do, both of which are focused on reducing email and improving collaboration as well as organizing tasks.
Kudos. A kudos is a way to provide social recognition to individuals. Similar to public posts, kudos are seen by followers of either the sender or receiver, and discoverable through search. Anyone can add a comment to a kudos. There are also analytics in V7 to be able to aggregate kudos information, although I’m not sure of the details on this or their vision for how it might be used. I can imagine that a count of kudos per person or team could provide input to performance reviews in some way, although systems like this could be gamed in larger organizations.
[For those of you who note my treatment of “kudos” as both singular and plural in the last paragraph, it’s grammatically correct, although weird.]
A kudos is similar, although not identical to, a Facebook Like: a kudos is not linked to a specific activity, but a general positive comment about a person.
Also new in the V7 interface are some different views on information: the main tabs are News (where all of the above interaction types are created), Tasks and Actions. The News tab includes a Participating filter, where you can see all of your own posts, posts that you comments on, direct messages to/from you, and kudos to/from you. This could potentially be a lot of information if you’re very active, and I believe (although didn’t see) that it can be filtered by the different interaction types. There might be some lessons to gain from Twitter on this one: Twitter’s web interface provides a Connect tab for all public interactions (follows, retweets, @replies) and a separate Me tab that includes direct (private) messages. Getting this view right is critical to user participation, and I look forward to seeing a more in-depth look at the functionality.
In the Appian V7 Tasks tab, you can see and interact with tasks that were created by or assigned to you, but it appears that you can’t create a new task here: that’s done in the News tab, where all interactions are created. You can, however, add comments to any of the existing tasks, or close it while adding a comment. This seems to be a general inbox, not just for social tasks: if you’re a participant in a regular Appian process application, your tasks will appear here, or if you’re following a process, notifications will appear here; since this was a public webinar rather than an individual briefing, I didn’t have time to clarify all of this, so I could be misinterpreting what I saw. There are separate views for tasks assigned to you and those sent to you, and you can filter by status (open/closed). As I mentioned above, I think that tasks are one of the areas where we’ll see a lot of new development coming up from Appian: definitely a bit of work to be done here although it provides basic task functionality.
The last big thing that we saw was the new profiles feature, that can display a pop-up contact card and provide access to full profile information. This is available from wherever that user appears in the News and Tasks activity streams: hover over the user name to see the contact information card pop-up, including a Follow button, or click through to their full profile including posts and kudos.
There are some new features for designers and administrators in this version, although those seem minor in comparison with the new social user interface roll-out: platform support changes, and some configuration changes no longer require a server restart. As I mentioned above, there are new metrics for kudos and social tasks, plus metrics for process models.
As organizations migrate from V6 to V7, the V6 portal interface will remain available, but the V7 social portal will be available as well. They didn’t discuss use cases for the new versus old portal, such as specific features that are not supported in V7 or better viewed in V6, but I assume that having two portal styles on the same applications means that occasional users (who don’t have in-depth training) and power users could participate in the same applications using two different interfaces.
They also mentioned their mobile strategy, which is to provide tools to develop process applications once, but deploy to multiple platforms that are optimized for each device – that means native apps rather than web interfaces on mobile devices.
If you’re using Appian in the cloud, you’ll see an upgrade to V7 with its new features and interface in late January. Other features, as yet unspecified, will be released quarterly for both on-premise and cloud versions throughout 2013.
Blogging panels is always difficult, and I won’t try to attribute comments to specific people, but here are some of the points covered [my comments in brackets]:
Crowdfunding isn’t just for startups; it can also provide significant benefits to small businesses looking to expand or take on new initiatives.
Crowdfunding works well as seed funding to get a startup to the stage where it can be considered for larger funding sources such as venture capital.
The share structure will need to be considered fair to the early crowdfunding investors and to the later venture investors, in terms of control, returns and liquidity. [This is a major issue.]
Social and environmental companies have difficulties with access to capital, and may benefit greatly from crowdfunding. [Many small investors will follow their conscience in crowdfunding investments, as has been seen with Kiva microfinancing.]
Canadians are early adopters of financial technology (ATMs, web banking, internet-only banks) and are likely to accept equity crowdfunding quickly.
Social media, including some aspects of crowdfunding, encourage/reward transparency. [If you’re going to be successful in raising funds through crowdfunding, be prepared to willingly expose the inner workings of your company.]
Crowdfunding would make it feel normal to invest in startups, and tax incentives for small business crowdfunding would support this significantly.
There are some crowdfunding approaches already being tried out in Canada, including debt/bond/co-op structures such as with ZooShare, which provides co-operative investment into a plant that turns Toronto Zoo poo into biogas. ZooShare’s scheme requires that you join the co-op as a member, then can buy community bonds that pay interest over seven years. Obviously, allowing for equity crowdfunding will greatly expand the opportunities for investment, since not everyone want to join a co-op to buy bonds in order to invest in interesting opportunities.
We’re going to be doing a table exercise on benefits and concerns of crowdfunding, then the conference wrapup, so this will probably be the last post from this Technicity conference on crowdfunding. I’m not really an entrepreneur any more – I’ve done two startups in the past, but currently just operate as an independent – but I have a lot of friends with Canadian startups that could benefit from crowdfunding, and I’m fascinated by any intersection of social and business.
Toronto is a hotbed of tech startups – ranked 4th best in the world (not sure what “best” really means in this context) – and innovative startups need innovative investment methods. Today’s half-day Technicity conference, sponsored by IT World Canada, is focused on the topic of innovating investment with crowdfunding, specifically looking at legalizing equity crowdfunding in Canada. The room is full of small business owners and entrepreneurs, crowdfunding platform companies, politicians and lawyers. And me. The day was moderated by Cindy Gordon of Helix Commerce International, who also chairs Invest CrowdFund Canada, an industry body helping to support the regulatory changes required to legalize investment crowdfunding.
We started with a brief address by the Ontario minister of economic development and innovation, the Honourable Brad Duguid, who sees equity crowdfunding as an essential measure to remain competitive. In an interesting coincidence (or maybe not), the Globe & Mail published an article this morning on how Ontario is looking to loosen crowdfunding rules, especially around allowing for companies to offer equity in exchange for crowdfunding, as opposed to treating those funds as donations as they must do currently. We also heard from Fawn Annan, president of IT World Canada, on some of the other international efforts on crowdfunding: earlier this year, the US opened up equity crowdfunding via the JOBS Act; Italy (through the Decreto Crescita) and Australia (through the Australian Small Scale Offerings Board) have recently put similar rules in place. In Canada, securities are regulated at the provincial level, not federal, meaning that each province needs to change the rules independently.
We had a keynote from Darren Westlake, CEO of Crowdcube, a UK equity crowdfunding platform. He discussed some examples of crowdfunding, including Kiva (debt-based micro-financing) and Kickstarter (donation-based crowdfunding, usually with some sort of perq offered in exchange if the project is successful). As he pointed out, the UK isn’t short on innovation: it’s short on commercialization due to restrictive securities regulations and lack of innovative funding methodologies. He developed Crowdcube to bring together investors and small businesses looking to raise funds, and they have raised over £4.2M ($C6.7M) in 31 deals, with over 24,000 registered investors since their launch in early 2011. The average investment is £1,800, with the largest single investment of £100,000 and the biggest overall deal at £1M.
Crowdcube vets the businesses that apply (rejecting about 75%), requiring them to have a business plan including financial projections, a video explaining their business and other information that will make them attractive and credible to investors. They do identity, money laundering and other checks, but don’t provide any guarantee that the company is going to do what they say they are: this limits their liability as a crowdfunding platform. They have an all-or- nothing funding model, where all funds are returned to the investors if the target is not met, and Crowdcube takes 5% of successful deals. They’re definitely not restricted to tech startups: their first deal was Bubble & Balm, a fair trade bodycare products company, and escape the city, a network . They’ve even raised money for themselves, raising £300,000 to expand their business.
Westlake went through the advantages of crowdfunding to both entrepreneurs and investors. For entrepreneurs:
New way to raise finance
Wider investor reach
Easier to promote
And for the investors:
“Armchair dragon” for the fun of investing
Support friends and family
Lower/spread risk versus angel investing
Simple to invest
He discussed crowdfunding efforts in other EU countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany; the EU has a number of regulatory challenges to equity crowdfunding including the Prespectus Rule (European Directive), financial promotions (laws regarding what can be said to prospective investors), and public company limitations. He finished with his vision of the ideal environment for crowdfunding success:
Anyone can invest with relatively low barriers (mixture of high net worth and crowd)
Low investment level
Allow wide promotion via online or offline
Low/no imposed minimum document standards
Convenient, secure payment method
Authorization required for crowdfunding platforms
Definitely some guidelines for Ontario, and the rest of Canada, to take to heart as we open up our equity investment landscape.