07/30/2014

Running a social media contest? Our top five tips.

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By Susan Linning

SusanLinning_001 rt2So you want to run a contest on social media??  Isn’t that interesting.  Everyone else wants to do the same thing.  And they want their contest to be way more successful than yours – producing more likes, higher engagement, increased brand recognition and awareness and more…well…sales.

What’s the value of running a Facebook contest? How will a contest help a business market itself? How do I make my contest different?  How do I make it stand out in a sea of rhetoric? 

We hear it over and over. Business owners know the importance of having a solid social media presence, but many are still trying to understand the benefits of running contests.

Review our top five tips, below, and get your brand’s contest to the top of the list, with the highest engagement, traffic and likes/new fans/followers. 

 1.      Choose the Type of Contest that Meets Your Goals

What kind of contest best suits your goals, objectives and target market?

 Sweepstakes  - Anyone can enter by simply by liking your page and/or supplying their email address.  These contests quickly build likes and your email distribution list (marketing’s holy grail). They also provide a huge boost to brand awareness. Prize is critical.

Vote Contests - Get consumer feedback. Let your fans/followers choose your next product tag line, product offering, logo, t-shirt design or just enjoy the increased engagement with fans voting on a fun idea. 

Photo Caption Contests - Ask entrants to caption an image you choose. This is a simple, engaging way to get people talking and sharing your photo and it also increases brand awareness and page likes. 

Essay Contests - Get specific feedback on your products and/or services.  Require entrants to write a few words on a topic you choose (i.e. Why would your mother love spending Mother’s Day at “Her Favorite Beauty Bar”?).  This provides a better understanding of why clients come to your spa/salon, what they value, etc.  Prize is critical, as the entry method is more complicated and time consuming. 

Photo Contests – Increase user generated content by asking entrants to submit a photo of themselves using/wearing/trying your product, or before/after images of the use of your product/service.  The entries to this contest can later be used for blog material, website information, etc.

 2.     Contest Prize is Often Key

The contest prize often determines the contest’s success.  Most people will first determine if the prize merits the time and energy required for entry.  If you have a high-value prize (over about $300), the more you can require from contest participants.  If your prize is lower-value ($50 - $300), the contest requirements must be simple and entry must be easy.

If your prize is on the less expensive end, it is wise to have the contest run over the short-term (no more than two weeks).  For a high-value prize, your contest can run for weeks and even months.  

It’s beneficial to your business and brand to make your prize brand-related.  That means giving away gift cards for your products or services.  And while the retail value of the prize might be $500, the cost to you is obviously far less. This isn’t true for those contest prizes that are third party purchases (iPad, AMEX gift card, air travel, etc.).

3.     Make Contest Entry Simple

Complicated entry process = guaranteed fewer participants.  Make your contest stupid-proof.  Advice you can take to the bank:  most people are impatient and don’t want to spend much time thinking about your contest.  Dumb down the contest entry to make it achievable for a kindergartner.  ;)

 4.     Promote the Contest

Spread the word about your contest. Use Facebook promoted posts, FB ads and ask fans/followers to share the contest on their personal pages.  Add a contest promo banner/cover image on FB, TW and G+ pages.  Cross promote the contest on all social media platforms, websites and through dedicated email blasts.  Create a unique hashtag for your contest (critical for Instagram contests):   #JumpingJackFlashContest  #BoiseGreatGiveaway

 5.     Post Contest Follow Up

Send an email that includes all entries to those who participate in the contest.  Later, post and email an image of the winning entry or a photo of the prize.  Follow up with posts on all social media platforms showing winner receiving prize or the gift certificate being mailed, etc.  Post teasers for future contests to keep momentum going and fans/followers engaged. 

 Why run a contest anyway, you might ask?  Here, we give you the skinny:

1. Get more fans, followers

2. Increase brand awareness

3. Generate new emails and leads

4. Develop user-generated content (UGC)

5. Crowdsource your product development

6. Impact sales

7. Launch a new product or promote an event

8. Obtain greater insight into your fans’ and followers’ preferences, opinions

9. Drive more traffic to your ecommerce store

10.  Exposure.  Exposure.  Exposure.

Susan Linning is president of ECHO SOCIAL MEDIA + MARKETING of Miami, which develops and executes social media and integrated marketing strategies, creating custom content and maintaining pages on social media platforms. ECHO also provides blogging and copy-writing services.

Search this blog for past columns by Susan Linning.

 

07/28/2014

SportsManias secures $3.5 million in Series A funding


Sportsmanias

About a year after securing $1 million in seed funding, Miami startup SportsManias said it has closed on an additional  $3.5 million in Series A financing to help it scale. SportsManias.com aims to be the diehard sports fan’s source for personalized real-time team news.

SportsMania’s mother-son co-founding team of advertising executive Aymara Del Aguila and Vicente J. Fernandez said  $3 million is from Jorge Mas of Mas Equity Partners, its original backer,  and $500,000 is from a new undisclosed Miami-based private investor.

Fernandez said funding will be used three ways, first to continue to make product improvements, refining the curation to make it even easier for the sports fan to find team news in one place. SportsManias also plans to build partnerships with newspapers across the country and grow its fan base beyond that through various marketing techniques, he said.

SportsManias has an existing partnership with the Miami Herald and is in conversations with other news organizations, Del Aguila said. SportsManias attended the recent Associated Press Sports Editors conference and spoke with sports editors across the country. “Several of the publications have expressed interested and in the next couple of months there should be three or four if not more collaborations with us,” she said. “Our focus this year is to be a digital gateway for the newspapers.”

The startup recently rolled out a revamped version of its free application with a new look and feel, as well as new features including rumor push notifications. “So when the Miami Heat free agency was going on, anytime anyone across all the publications would tweet about where Lebron James may be going, we pushed out a notification to all the users,” said Fernandez. The company also added “head to head feeds,” so if the Marlins are playing the Atlanta Braves, SportsManias offers fans a feed with the Marlins and Braves sources in one place and as well as the box score following the game. “If you are not at the game, you are living that game,” added Del Aguila. “If you are at the game, it is an interesting experience as a second screen because you are getting this professional journalistic analysis as the game is going on.”

SportsManias’ team has grown to a dozen people from four last summer. It has also quadrupled its traffic: The site currently receives 2 million unique visitors monthly, Del Aguila said, and the company expects rapid growth through additional media partnerships. SportsManias launched in October 2012.

This is the second investment Mas Equity Partners has made in SportsManias. Last summer it invested $1 million in the then-bootstrapped company, Mas Equity Partners’ first tech-startup investment.    At the time, Jorge Mas, who is also chairman of the board of the Coral Gables-based infrastructure engineering and construction firm MasTec, said he liked the growth profile of SportsManias and believes Mas Equity Partners can help the team with strategic planning, organizational management and access to capital markets to help take the company to a much larger level.

 

07/27/2014

Startup Spotlight: PWRstation

PWRstationPWRstation

Headquarters: Miami, with offices in Bienne, Switzerland.

Concept: PWRstation develops pre-assembled “plug and play” retractable solar energy delivery systems engineered in Switzerland; built in the United States by Schletter, a global mounting manufacturer headquartered in Germany; and sold primarily through distribution partners to residential, business, military, mobile and off-grid end user sectors in North and Latin America as well as Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Story: Co-founders Robert Albertella and Ludovic Roche saw an opportunity to “mass manufacture” pre-assembled, fully-integrated solar power delivery systems in a global sector characterized by costly custom installations. For the clean-tech startup, “our vision is to bring simplicity, accessibility and price competitiveness to residential and non-residential solar customers around the world,” said Roche, who has 15 years’ experience in business development and marketing, including as a senior vice president at Blumberg Capital Partners.

Launched: December 2013

Photo (11)Management team: Robert Albertella, co-founder and CEO, EMEA (pictured at left); Ludovic Roche, co-founder and CEO Americas (pictured above); Gianfranco Albertella, head of operations, EMEA; William Berenson, chief marketing officer (pictured above).

No. of employees: 7

Website: pwrstation.com

Financing: PWRstation completed an initial round of financing last year and currently seeking a second round for $2 million to fund operations and growth.

Image002Recent milestones reached: PWRStation has recently finalized a production agreement and finalizing a distribution agreement with Schletter, a leading global solar manufacturer. Recently joined by William Berenson, a highly experienced global marketing and communications professional. PWRstation 3.3 kWp about to complete UL2703 Issue Two Standard certification for U.S. market. Recently featured at the Intersolar Conference in Munich, where PWRStation received accolades and requests for distribution rights in Europe, the Middle East and South Africa. Also exhibited at this month’s Intersolar North America Conference. PWRstations will be available within the next three months in South Africa and surrounding countries, Roche said.

Biggest startup challenge: “As a solar company that has chosen to make its headquarters in Miami, our biggest challenge to date has been to gain the same traction in our state as we have experienced elsewhere, simply because Florida is a state unfriendly to solar,” Roche said.

Next step: Revamping/re-launching brand; Completing second round of financing to ramp up operations and distribution alliances in the U.S. and EMEA.

Strategy for next step: Complete and execute a global promotion with one of the world’s largest NGOs based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Mentor’s view: Kim Perry, an investment banker who works in London and lives in Switzerland, was attracted to PWRstation’s business model and social mission: “In the developed world, there is need for portable devices that can be transported and deployed (and folded up) easily as is the case with PWRStation. Examples include the military, emergency services and situations where severe weather conditions, such as heavy snowfall. Additionally, even for more static environments, the PWRstation device has merit because the installation costs are minimal.

“There are approximately 1.5 billion people in world who are off-grid (not connected to the electric grid). The World Bank has estimated that 70 percent of Africans are off grid and Africa spends about $10.5 billion per year on low-quality fuel based lighting such as kerosene. A PWRstation in every village would provide clean low cost electricity to the neediest and allow, for example, children to read at night and hence progress far more than they otherwise could do,” Perry said. “And PWRstation’s business model is one that allows the company to scale up quickly on a global basis.”

See all past Startup Spotlights under the Startup Spotlight category of this blog. 

Entrepreneurship Datebook

DATEBOOK

Tech eggCIVIC HACK NIGHT: Join the weekly civic hack sessions in Wynwood, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, July 28, The LAB Miami, 400 NW 26th St. More info: thelabmiami.com (click on events).

1 MILLION CUPS: South Florida startups make a pitch, present their biggest challenges and gain feedback, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 30, Venture Hive, 1010 NE Second St., Miami. More info or to sign up to present: 1millioncups.com/Miami.

LAW WORKSHOP: Free seminar on “Which Corporate Entity is Right for your Startup Business?” by Venture Law Project and RKE Law Group, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 30, Miami Entrepreneurship Center (MEC261), 261 NE First St., Miami. More info: www.dadelegalaid.org/venture-law-project

JUSTICEHACK: Many groups may feel left out of the wave of innovation surging through Miami. Join a 1 1/2-day creative workshop to generate solutions to challenges facing Miami’s diverse communities in order to make Miami’s future more inclusive, 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, The LAB Miami. Info: thelabmiami.com

STARTING GATE

Macy’s is bringing the long-awaited fashion incubator to Miami, a goal in the Beacon Council’s One Community One Goal Program. Find out more about this project, a new craft brewer startup joining the emerging Wynwood brewery scene, a community conversation about diversity and inclusion and a report from West Palm Beach’s Entrepreneurship Week and more startup news and community views on the Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com.

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

Posted July 27, 2014

07/26/2014

From Startup Weekend to DemoDay -- all in a week!

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Kate Nematollahi came to Startup Weekend West Palm Beach last weekend with an idea -- no team members, no tech experience, no startup cred. There Nematollahi, who works for a nonprofit youth sports organization doing marketing, teamed up with some web developers who were sitting next to her the first night, and several others joined the team when she made her pitch for a site that makes it easier for community and youth sports leagues to bring on the all-important sponsors. She said that during the Startup Weekend, as part of the idea validation, they called dozens of community sports leagues who said I need this now, how soon can you have it ready?

Long story short, her TeamSponsor won the StartUp Weekend, and just five days later she and her team members were presenting at Startup Palm Beach's DemoDay (pictured above), one of several activities that took place this past week. She said the team is definitely planning to carry the concept forward, and is looking for web designers, funding and mentorship. You can read more on her blog post about the Startup Weekend experience here.

Photo 1 (2)Perhaps fittingly, kicking off the DemoDay, held Friday night at the West Palm Beach Pavilion in the downtown waterfront area, was last year's inaugural Startup Weekend West Palm Beach winner, FunScout. Austin Pantaleo said the idea stemmed from his own frustration finding fun things to do nearby at the times he wanted to do them. He says FunScout does that and will be launching later this summer.

Other teams presented included: TextDial, a content sharing widget that allows users to share articles via sms, Surfr, a surf journal and travel resource featuring more than 8,000 spots around the world; and Pit, a mobile game coming soon to an app store near you. The founder hopes casual gamers will find it refreshingly different -- indeed the turnout at his demo table suggested they do.

Photo 3  Also presenting were Glip, modern business messaging already with 1,000 customers; Jist, which helps users easily create online resumes that businesses can efficiently review and share; Urban Canvas, a concept born at West Palm's first hackathon that allows users to locate and interact with urban art; Baru, a social advertising platform; and YouRoam (pictured here), which allows users to make and receive calls without paying roaming fees over wifi or 3G. YouRoam's Marcos Cunha also presented at the recent GeekTank2 in Fort Lauderdale and exhibited at eMerge Americas Techweek.

Startup Palm Beach's Entrepreneur Week also included a BarCamp and a community forum on building an entrepreneurial ecosystem. "West Palm Beach is in its infancy in the startup space, but we're all here," said Chris Callahan, co-founder of Startup Palm Beach, entrepreneurial resource center, as he pointed to the  standing-room-only crowd inside the Pavilion. "Its amazing. As  community, we are starting to gel, and that will continue."

Photo 4

Callahan said the next Entrepreneur Week will be in November, again kicking off with a Startup Weekend and ending with a DemoDay. It will be interesting to  see what evolves.

Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg. Photos by Steve Viti. Posted July 26, 2014

 

07/25/2014

Goal: a diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial community

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Felecia Hatcher, co-founder of Feverish Pops and Code Fever, said she was inspired to hold a community conversation about diversity and inclusion after Google released its numbers showing just 2 percent of its workforce is black, and the numbers of other big Silicon Valley tech companies showed a similar trend. That's one characteristic of Silicon Valley that Miami does NOT want to emulate as the  South Florida works to develop as a tech hub and strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.

So this week, she convened a panel of entrepreneurial startup leaders and invited the public to the Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center at Miami Dade College to discuss "Creating an Inclusive Technology Ecosystem in Miami." "I think this is the first time we've had this kind of topic in South Florida," Hatcher said. "That's good and bad, considering what's been happening for the last couple of years in Miami. We're definitely going to continue this conversation." 

Panelists included Malik Benjamin,  director of program Innovation at FIU School of Architecture and on the  board of   Awesome Foundation Miami; Andrew Quarrie, founder of Jurnid,  a publishing platform and content marketplace for powering freelance journalism; Derick Pearson, co-founder of Feverish Pops and Code Fever; H. Leigh Toney, executive director of the Carrie P. Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center at Miami Dade College North Campus; and Pandwe Gibson, founder of EcoTech, a new incubator program for green companies in light manufacturing.

Some of those alarming numbers at Google can be explained by the places that these companies do their recruiting -- Stanford and the Ivy Leagues and perhaps awareness is growing to widen the net, particularly to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. "We're entitled to a fair chance," said Pearson.

Yet,  the conversation also circled around improving education in technology here, not only for secondary school kids but for adults as well. Toney pointed out that the Creative Entrepreneurship Studio at the Meek Center offers certificate programs in entrepreneurship, engineering and graphic design. There is also an incubator opening for MDC students on the Wolfson campus. Others pointed out that there are a wealth of free online course available from Code Academy, as well as MIT, Stanford and others that people can take advantage of. Hatcher said Code Fever, which offers coding programming for middle and high school students, may launch  some programming for adults.

Another theme was mentorship and the need for shining a light role models in the black community. Andrew McNeil has started a series on YouTube to try to do just that. Still, there is a gap between people who want to mentor and people who need it that needs to be filled, the panelists said, and it's also critical to combat the region-wide problem of brain drain in South Florida.   "Be a mentor, it's like going to church or visiting your grandma -- we have to build this into our culture," said Benjamin.

Resources are growing every day but a lot of people don't know about them.  The Miami Dade Economic Advocacy Trust recently  funded 10 entrepreneurs to be members of The LAB Miami and also helped bring Black Girls Code to Miami, Toney said. Gibson said her company, Ecotech, is opening an incubator and is already helping eco-friendly product companies develop. But it's also about taking the initiative:  "You have to get out of your comfort zone," said Quarrie.

A few resources that were mentioned:

Awesome Foundation awards $1,000 grants for good ideas that help the community. For instance a program to teach rasperry pi to adults was one of the recent grant recipients. Find out more here and apply.

Refresh Miami, South Florida's largest tech entrepreneurship meetup group, holds events every month, and this summer is holding a series geared to startup issues. Refreshmiami.com also has a community events calendar as well as a jobs board on its site.

What's on the MENU? is a new series for entrepreneurship education and networking. Some sessions are held at the Miami Dade College North Campus and some at the Meek Center; some are held in the evening, some in the morning to fit lots of schedules. Call lead coordinator Daniela Pierre at 237-1522 or find information on Twitter @MDCMENU. The next meetup is Aug. 14 at 6:30 p.m.

The Knight Foundation's Miami program director, Matt Haggman, holds a monthly breakfast. It's a good opportunity to not only hear about what the Knight Foundation is up to but also to share information on your own projects and challenges.

Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg. Posted: July 25, 2014

 

07/23/2014

Another craft beer business joins Wynwood scene

Boxelder Craft Beer Market, a new craft beer market, bottleshop and taproom will open this fall in Wynwood, adding to the area’s burgeoning craft beer scene.

The business, owned by Adam and Nicole Darnell, has leased 1,100 square feet at the Wynwood Gateway Complex, according to the landlord’s broker, Metro 1.

Boxelder, an independent retailer, promises to provide a cultural center for craft beer in Miami, with tap takeovers by local brewers and a wide variety of bottles to buy for carry-out or to drink on the premises.

Ina Cordle

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/07/23/4250744/new-craft-beer-market-to-open.html#storylink=cpy

Macy's to bring fashion incubator to Miam-Dade

As part of the One Community One Goal update by the Beacon Council on Wednesday, Macy’s announced it will bring a fashion incubator to Miami, adding to incubators it already supports in Philadephia, San Francisco and Chicago.

“We see Miami as a true 21st century city,” said Ed Goldberg, senior vice president of Macy’s in New York. “This is a public program designed to take talented young people and put them into a program for a year to train them, teaching them the business and creative aspects of fashion.”

Art Torno, co-chair of the One Community One Goal effort and an American Airlines executive, said the fashion incubator idea started nearly two years ago by a small group that met at Miami International University. "Today, fruition, we are going to do it, a fashion incubator in Miami, it’s the place."

And it’s a natural, said Joseph Roisman of Perry Ellis, who heads the One Community One Goal creative industries task force. He said the incubator will also help young designers showcase and sell their collections. “Miami is the epicenter of the creative industries. … What we need to do is create enough jobs so our students will stay in Miami.”

Combating brain drain was a theme throughout the One Community One Goal update at Miami Dade College. One Community One Goal’s proposed Talent Development Network, a project in partnership with the Miami Foundation, got a lift with a $100,000 grant from Helios Education Foundation announced Wednesday, adding to funding from the Miami Foundation, the Peacock Foundation and others.

The Talent Development Network will offer a platform for connecting potential employers with local students for paid internships in the targeted industries, said Mark Rosenberg, president of Florida International University. He heads the One Community One Goal’s Academic Leaders Council, which includes leaders from most of the universities and colleges in Miami-Dade County and has been meeting regularly to discuss common curriculum challenges.

A development leader for the platform has been hired, and the Talent Development Network is slated to begin next summer. In the meantime, Rosenberg urged attendees to hire an intern or two this year. “We are going to grow this together,” he said.

JPMorgan Chase announced a $250,000 investment that will go toward programs over the next two years to close the skills gap, including the Talent Development Network. This is the first local partnership under JPMorgan’s New Skills at Work program that will invest $5 million in Miami, Market Manager Guillermo Castillo said at the event Wednesday.

The JPMorgan funds will also be used to help One Community One Goal with workforce readiness gap reports. That data will help find ways to address the gaps, including through student internship opportunities, industry-specific training for teachers and students, employer training, and career and leadership development opportunities for youth.

In addition, the Academic Leaders Council is working on a master plan to create the leading academic cluster in the United States for trade and logistics, said Rosenberg.

“We must work to be the place that creates the jobs of tomorrow,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a One Community One Goal co-chair.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/07/23/4251249/beacon-councils-one-community.html#storylink=cpy

07/21/2014

Q&A with EarlyShares CEO on future of crowdfunding

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

JoannaJoanna Schwartz is in typical startup mode, her days (and many nights) filled with calls and meetings with investors and entrepreneurs and strategy sessions with her team of 12 as they prepare fund-raising campaigns for growth companies and real estate ventures. She is the CEO of EarlyShares, a portal for equity “crowdfunding” with more than a dozen active campaigns in progress and more in the pipeline.

“There is so much going on, our heads are spinning every day, but it is all in such a good way,” said Schwartz, who has founded and/or led companies in a variety of industries.

First, a bit of history: Incorporated in 2011 in Miami, EarlyShares was built to be a crowdfunding company. In April of 2012, the JOBS Act was signed that legalized the concept of crowdfunding although the regulations would still need to be put in place. The company went full force into education, brand-building and putting the building blocks in place for what the company was to be.

Schwartz joined the company in early 2013. At that point, the Securities and Exchange Commission still had not released the final regulations, known as Title III, that would allow companies to offer equity stakes in their companies to lots of ordinary investors. But in September of 2013, the SEC released a set of regulations, referred to as Title II, that allowed the advertising of deals, opening the door to crowdfunding for sophisticated, so-called “accredited” investors.

By year’s end, EarlyShares opened its platform to accredited investors and began offering them direct access to private opportunities.

Here’s how it works: EarlyShares first puts the company raising money through due diligence. Once vetted, EarlyShares helps the company set up the campaign and handles the administration and documentation, and assists with marketing. Companies get a dashboard to monitor and manage the campaign, saving time and eliminating back-and-forth emails with potential investors.

Visitors to EarlyShares.com see minimal information about the deals, such as how much the company wants to raise, minimum investment and some basic facts about the company and management team. Accredited investors interested in a deal must request an invitation to see the full deal details, including the business plan and financials. Investors also are vetted, and the companies seeking funding decide whether to grant access; they can also turn down an accredited investor at any point in the process.

As for the status of equity crowdfunding for non-accredited investors, the proposed Title III rules were published and the comment period ended earlier this year. Many entrepreneurs and startup companies said the restrictions, as written, would actually deter smaller companies from crowdfunding. The New York Times called the new rules “a joke.” EarlyShares, for its part, submitted a seven-page response to the SEC. These came as regulators tried to make it easier for small, privately held firms to raise capital from the public while ensuring investors are protected against fraud and other risks.

Crowdfunding analysts and market watchers have speculated that regulators could release the rules by the end of this year. In the meantime, more than a dozen states have passed laws allowing equity intrastate crowdfunding, where both the project and the investors are in the same state. A proposed bill was floated in Florida this past session, but it did not advance.

Schwartz said the platform is fully ready for Title III deals but if EarlyShares is not happy with the final rules when issued, the company will remain a platform for accredited investors.

“We’re good. We like to say we are Title III agnostic. This is too good of an opportunity we are sitting on, we are really early in the growth cycle of this,” Schwartz said. “We’re in the first hit of the first inning of the first game of the season. If you think about it, 80 years of regulation has been undone only two quarters ago. Granted we are in an age of super fast adoption, but private capital raising is a $2 trillion industry.”

The first seven months as a fully functioning platform have been a learning experience for the young company. Said Schwartz: “We’re changing the old ways of doing things, and taking root and growing is going to take a little while.”

The Miami Herald talked to Schwartz recently at EarlyShares’ Brickell offices about the company, crowdfunding and the status of the regulations.

Q. You've had a diverse career, with leadership roles in companies ranging from commercial mortgage firms to steel products. What attracted you to EarlyShares?

A. When EarlyShares Chairman Steve Temes approached me in early 2013, I was at the perfect place in my career to lead and grow a company that I was passionate about. I had already learned about the JOBS Act and knew it would fundamentally change the way private companies raise money. I was compelled by EarlyShares’ mission to help entrepreneurs and investors to capitalize on the changing regulations and I felt that my experiences, particularly at Silver Hill, were well suited to take on the challenge. I’m excited every day about growing this company to make a positive impact on the business community and our economy.

Q. What stage is EarlyShares in now?

A. We are all about scaling and growing the business because all the building blocks are in place. ... Our vision is to be a one stop shop for private opportunities of very high quality that are vetted and supported by project sponsors of the highest caliber. We are committed to this market and we are here to stay.

Q. You’ve recently started to post real estate deals on EarlyShares? Why real estate?

A. There are almost 9 million accredited investors in the United States. Up until recently, less than 3 percent had ever invested in a private investment opportunity. It’s not that they didn’t want to, they didn’t have access to them unless they knew someone, and this is especially true in real estate. It really is about giving direct access to investors in ways they never have before. What were your options before? You could buy shares in a REIT. While that is interesting intellectually, it’s not that fun. This is much more fun and more direct. ... Where else can investors go with a few clicks and get a potentially 7 or 9 percent return on a project that they understand? We’re not saying it’s riskless, nothing is riskless, but they get it because real estate is intuitively understood in a much different way than startup companies are. Investors are chasing yield.

Q. What do you look for in a potential campaign for EarlyShares?

A. EarlyShares is focused on two verticals right now: growth-stage companies and real estate. The selection criteria for an offering differ depending on the vertical, but we apply stringent vetting and review standards to both types of offerings. Ultimately we’re seeking quality opportunities with clear potential for returns, so we look for deals with traction, existing investors, experienced founders and evidence of past successes.

Q. Tell me about a couple of your campaigns in progress.

A. To name just a few, Steel Wool Entertainment, a talent management and production firm, already has Grammy Award-winning musicians and breakout YouTube artists under management. CEO Kevin Morrow was formerly a senior leader at House of Blues/Live Nation.

PsychSignal, a financial market data provider, counts several prolific hedge funds among its clients. CEO James Crane-Baker is a former Wall Street trader and serial entrepreneur with a major acquisition under his belt.

Kleo is the Miami-based parent company of ClassWallet.com, an e-wallet solution for schools and classrooms. CEO James Rosenberg is the founder of AdoptAClassroom.org, which has raised $25 million for classrooms across the U.S.

And the Beacon Hill real estate project is sponsored by Rivergate Partners, a Miami-based firm with 30 years of executive leadership in the multi-family market.

Q. Crowdfunding has certainly attracted a crowd of competitors. What’s it like working in such a competitive space?

A. There are group of competitors that are really solid that I love because they are helping to build the industry. It’s fantastic. Beyond them, there are a lot that are not doing it to the level that it needs to be done. There will be consolidation in the industry, no question. That’s not our path.

Q. I’m giving you the crystal ball. What do you think is going to happen with the final crowdfunding rules and how will it potentially impact EarlyShares, or not?

A. That’s hard to say right now. I came to EarlyShares with a lot of enthusiasm for Title III, but we’ve shifted our focus entirely to Title II. Title II (which allows general solicitation) not only gives entrepreneurs a valuable new way to raise capital, it poses huge opportunities for accredited investors. Individual investors were largely barred from participating in the private finance market for 80 years under U.S. securities laws. The ability for them to now find and fund private deals is unprecedented and is opening up exciting new avenues for high-potential investments.

Title III could be completely transformative if it’s implemented the right way by the SEC — and EarlyShares would welcome the opportunity to bring more individuals into the private investing community — but the initial rules have too many challenges as proposed. I don’t foresee the SEC implementing Title III within the next few months, but EarlyShares will only offer Title III opportunities if the rules are modified to be more advantageous for investors and issuers.

Q. On the rules that have been published for comments, what was one aspect you liked and one aspect you didn’t?

A. There were several things we liked, including that the rules permitted issuers and platforms like EarlyShares to rely on individual investors’ own representations of their income or net worth, rather than require a costly verification process. Among the things we didn’t like are the proposed financial disclosure and reporting requirements imposed on issuers. Without getting too technical, the requirements would place such staggeringly high costs on issuers that we believe they’d deter the vast majority of issuers from utilizing the Title III exemption at all.

Q. What have you learned so far with EarlyShares?

A. Recognizing that this is an investor-driven business, and that success is driven by finding, sourcing, selecting and vetting the deals investors are looking for. Finding deals is the easier part of the puzzle; we spend a lot of time educating investors and entrepreneurs. We take on that role of guidance. We are not an investment bank, we are not their lawyer, their accountant. We are a platform. We can provide them to the connections if they need them.

Q. What's next for EarlyShares?

A. EarlyShares’ recent expansion into real estate has proven extremely popular with our investors because these deals offer them cash flow, returns and appealing investment horizons. We look forward to growing our roster of active, quality commercial real estate deals and announcing some strong new partnerships in that vertical.

Q. I understand you are also an angel investor. What kinds of companies do you invest in and what do you look for in potential investments?

A. I look for the kinds of early-stage investment opportunities that would meet EarlyShares’ eligibility criteria: companies with strong leadership, unique value propositions, large markets for their products and services, existing contracts, realistic financial projections, and exit strategies. In many cases, the most challenging aspect of angel investing is learning about quality deals and then evaluating them properly — which is why I’m so committed to making EarlyShares a source that simplifies the process for identifying unique and vetted investment opportunities.

Q. What are your thoughts on the emerging local startup ecosystem?

A. Our tech-entrepreneurship community is at such an exciting place in its evolution because we’re all rooting for one another’s success. Every early-stage company that receives investor funding drives more and stronger investor interest in other ventures in the region. As a portal for private investing into early-stage companies, we at EarlyShares are doing our best to play a central role in helping grow and strengthen this community.

At a Glance: Joanna Schwartz

Age: 42

Title: CEO of EarlyShares, a platform that gives accredited investors direct access to private opportunities.

Experience: Has founded, led or held senior positions in companies in the commercial mortgage, ecommerce, telecom and steel industries. Positions included EVP, North America for Corpac Steel Products Corp.; Founder, SOBO Concepts; Managing Director of Silver Hill Financial; VP of Bayview Financial; Associate Director, Digitas; CFO for Latinet Holding Corp. Chaired Miami’s Young President's Organization chapter for two years.

Education: MBA, Harvard Business School; bachelor’s degree, political science, (minor in psychology), University of Vermont

Personal: Born and raised in Locust Valley, New York. Has lived on Miami Beach for 15 years. Husband: Dean; daughters: Jessie, 12, and Lily, 8.

Favorite book: “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, which discusses the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur.

Favorite pastime: Spending time with family, especially on the ski slopes.

Read past story about real estate crowdfunding here. 

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

 

Startup Spotlight: The Clean Team

Cleanteam2Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Book a maid online in under a minute. Schedule the day you want and pay online through a simple booking process. Customer care agents are available before, during and after your scheduled cleaning. You can hire The Clean Team for a one-time cleaning, or choose a discounted weekly or monthly plan. The Clean Team also specializes in vacation-rental cleaning and management.

Story: Co-founders Koby Assaraf and Glenn Weiss have now successfully built and launched three property-rental ventures together, and they created The Clean Team because they recognized firsthand just how difficult it is to find a professional and reliable cleaning provider in South Florida. Assaraf, who began his career working for Oyster.com,<code_dp> takes the lead in The Clean Team’s sales and marketing efforts. Weiss, a licensed CPA, handles the company’s finances. With a keen focus on quality cleaning, technology and world-class customer service, The Clean Team has grown quickly. “Our product is a clean home, and our tool for accomplishing this is a diligent maid. One of the main differentiators between us and our competition is the years of experience our maids have working in the hospitality industry as hotel room attendants,” Assaraf said. The co-founders believe the business model can be replicated in other markets.

Launched: 2013

Management team: Koby Assaraf (co-founder); Glenn Weiss (co-founder); David Raskind (business development).

No. of employees: 25

Financing: Initial $85,000 in self-funding; customer revenue has funded the business since then. Planning to raise $350,000 to propel further growth.

Website and phone: www.wearecleanteam.com and 305-842-3622.

Cleanteam1Recent milestones reached: Achieved sales of $450,000 in year one and are on pace to reach more than $1 million for year two. Launched interactive website and implemented management software, which has enabled the company to service many more clients with better customer service. The Clean Team recently renovated and moved to its new 4,500-<code_dp>square-<code_dp>foot headquarters in Wynwood.

Biggest startup challenge: Staffing and systems. The Clean Team doesn’t subcontract work out to other cleaning companies or independent cleaners as some national competitors do. “We found that managing an in-house staff of maids provides us with better oversight and control over the quality of the cleanings we provide,” Weiss said.

Next step: Building brand exposure because there are still many condos, homes, offices and vacation rental companies that aren’t familiar with The Clean Team. “We are setting out to capture 25 percent of the market in the next 18 months,” Weiss said. Social media marketing and online advertising will be the initial focus, followed by person-to-person sales through meet-and-greet events at residential buildings, he said. “A crucial sales route for us will be creating an affiliate network to help promote a natural flow of referrals. Creating relationships with property managers will be essential in promoting our growth here in Miami,” Assaraf added.

Advisor’s view: “They’re both natural entrepreneurs, always up to something innovative. This concept struck me as a pretty cool way to modernize the way people handle upkeep for their home. I loved that something challenging like cleaning your home could become fun and easy using their online system,” said Jess Alpert-Goldman, a PR and marketing consultant who has been involved with Clean Team since launch.

“Brand development is what will set them apart from the competition. The service industry — especially cleaning — is still pretty primitive … what differentiates them is their technology, that’s the initial hook. Backing their tech with their high-level of customer care will create the brand trust needed to succeed.”

Photos above show The Clean Team co-founders Glenn Weiss and Koby Assaraf (wearing cap)  at their Wynwood offices. Photos by CW Griffin of the Miami Herald.

See all the Startup Spotlights under the Startup Spotlight category on this blog.