Hi, I’m CBM. The co-founder and CEO of AKUA, a mission driven food company creating meat-alt products from sustainable seagreens. From early November 2020 to late April 2021, we raised over $1,000,000 on a CROWD SAFE note via the equity crowdfunding platform Republic (in fact, we hit the cap at $1.07M with 3 days left) and we learned a lot along the way about how to rock a Republic campaign.
Since we started working on the campaign, hundreds of strangers and friends of friends have reached out to me personally for advice about how to create and scale their own equity crowdfunding campaigns. Being busy AF, I thought I’d proactively put an article together for all of you and tell you everything I learned about how to rock your own Republic campaign from my experience. If you read this whole piece and still have questions, write them in the comments section below and I’ll respond!
First, it’s important to know a little about me. A lot of my natural qualities lend themselves quite well to rocking a Republic campaign. I’m an intrepid community builder. I have a huge global network. The vast majority of my friends are entrepreneurs who enjoy supporting other entrepreneurs. I was a journalist for 10 years and am very good at storytelling and creating communities on the internet. I do not have kids but I do have a husband and I work almost all the time. I am also radically transparent. I operate from a place of abundance. I absolutely love our customers and I love customer service.
Kickstarter to Republic
AKUA’s crowdfunding history began in 2018 when we raised over $80,000 between Kickstarter and Indiegogo to launch Kelp Jerky. (Read: When the World Kelped Out — And What I Learned about Crowdfunding) At the time, I had already invested in 10+ Kickstarter projects and considered myself an active part of the community. So when we were evaluating and planning for our Republic campaign, the first thing I did was to invest $100-$250 in about 3–4 different projects to start learning how it all worked. I highly recommend you do the same.
Today, several of our earliest Kickstarter backers, who turned into customers, are now investors in AKUA. I couldn’t be more grateful to this subset of our community.
Republic over all the other platforms out there
We chose Republic for three main reasons
- First, their team was not sales-y/pushy at all while the staff at StartEngine were incredibly spammy and continue to spam me to this day. The Republic team reached out to see if we were interested in early 2020, and checked in a couple more times throughout the year just as a friend would. The team is freaking awesome. Matt, Katie, & Brooke were a joy to work with and made team AKUA feel supported from day one.
- Second, Republic’s UI is just better than all the others out there (like how Kickstarter is a nicer look and feel than Indiegogo) and I could immediately visualize our AKUA campaign on their platform.
- And lastly, Republic is an investor in The Fund, a community-run fund that I am also a small LP in so I felt connected to the company.
How to Rock a Republic Campaign
Start with a strong mission
If you are going to rock a Republic campaign, you have to give people something to rally behind that goes beyond a solid business model. If someone wants to invest in a strong business model, they should put $1k into $GOOGL. But they aren’t going to tell their friends at a dinner party that they invested in Google like they will probably tell their friends that they just invested in the world’s first Kelp Burger. Word of mouth and social proof matters. They’ll ask their friends if they’ve even heard of kelp! And would they eat such a thing!? And then that would spark a conversation about plant-based eating and likely more investments!
AKUA has an incredibly strong mission that’s also multi-pronged so different parts of it resonate with different people. A lot of people relate to AKUA because they are fed up with big food corporations shoving unhealthy ingredients down our throats and they just want to feed their families healthy, locally sourced foods. AKUA also resonates with eco-warriors and it resonates with people who care about our local coastal economies. And finally, it resonates with people who believe the world is definitely going plant-based and they want to hop on a rocket ship and not miss out on the next Beyond Meat or OATLY pre-IPO.
Build your email list from day one
We emailed our 30,000 person mailing list once at the beginning and once at the end of our campaign. We built this email list over the years from personal contacts, product waitlists, customer sales, Kickstarter, and Dojo Mojo campaigns. Having a strong customer base, community, and personal network (aka a crowd!) is an extremely valuable asset in running any crowdfunding campaign.
Your investors are your customers and your customers are your investors
Our sales doubled during our first few months running the campaign from the extra eyeballs and we saw that Republic quickly became one of the biggest traffic drivers to our Shopify store. Now, as the campaign wraps up, we are leaving Republic with a 2,000+ email list of investors (who are also our top customers and now evangelists). The part that I love the most is that we now have 2,000 more people in the world fighting for us to succeed. Win x 3!
We celebrated our investors throughout the campaign, pulling content from our Reviews Section and hosting Clubhouse talks with big name investors like Courtney Nichols Gould. Check out all the posts posts we created titled “Why Invest in AKUA” on our Instagram. We also used the hashtag #putyourmoneywhereyourmouthis which should work for any food brand raising! 😊
Creating a new product
It’s awesome to be selling a product when you’re running a Republic campaign. It’s even more awesome to be creating a new product with your Republic investors. It gives them something to feel excited about, and allows them to feel like they are a part of the creative process. Our most engaged update was when we asked our investors and followers whether they preferred our Blue or Green Kelp Burger packaging.
Be more human
In a time when we’re all re-establishing human connection, I got extra open-hearted with all of our Republic investors. Out of all the Republic campaigns I invested in, very few had customized messages to their investors. I thought, “What a lost opportunity!” So I customized our messages in a way that spurred further conversation. Here’s what I wrote:
Radical transparency in the discussion section
The discussion section is going to eat up a lot of your time. For me, it was about 1 hour a day at the busiest times. But I LOVE CUSTOMER SERVICE. I love talking to our customers. I get so excited when people ask me questions about our business. I totally understand that not everyone feels this way. So if you are a founder who hates customer service, then appoint someone on your team who loves it to run this part of the campaign.
We got a lot of tough comments and I answered them as transparently as I could. I am not an all-knowing Kelp Queen who is going to turn your $1,000 into $100,000. I hope I become that, but at the moment, I am a startup founder learning and trying my very best to succeed. I saw how my honesty, responsiveness, and compassion translated into commenters becoming investors. Be a (good) human!
We certainly had a few obnoxious comments — like one guy who slammed us for devastating kelp forests to make our product. It irked me because he clearly hadn’t read our campaign or watched our video! The whole reason we started the company is because we only source from regenerative ocean farms. I wrote him a very long comment to which he didn’t respond. 😑
We had another guy who was just a curmudgeon and didn’t like our Kelp Jerky or Burgers and told everyone this sentiment. In response to this, I shared our secret Kelp Burger link publicly to all of our investors and followers so they could try it for themselves before the campaign ended. One negative comment turned into our biggest sales day! Upon trying The Kelp Burger no one cancelled their investment and most people upped their dollar amount!
Second in importance to staying on top of the discussion section is to provide frequent Campaign Updates. I noticed pretty early on that the more updates I posted, the more momentum our campaign had. I posted every couple weeks at first and then ramped up to weekly towards the end of the campaign. Republic emails these updates out to all of your investors and/or followers. Scroll through our Republic campaign to see the cadence and content of our updates for ideas.
Traffic, Trending & other Republic Boosts ⚡️
As you can see from our campaign timeline, the start of a campaign brings in a huge amount of money and then the momentum really picks up towards the end. One of the biggest waterfall of investments came through our Republic launch email, which brought in somewhere close to $100K in investments on my actual birthday!
We didn’t even get a Republic closing campaign email because by the time our campaign was coming to an end we had already hit the $1.07M investment cap. That said, we were at the top of the home page trending for our last week, which definitely contributed to us crushing the cap.
To appear as “Trending” on the Republic site, you need to raise $25,000 in 3 days from 100+ investors. This is harder than it sounds! For us, the $25,000 happened a lot but usually from less than 100 investors. We were trending a handful of times throughout the campaign and this was huge for bringing in new investors as it put us on the top of Republic’s homepage.
The great thing about a platform like Republic is the fact that the more companies who raise on it, the better it is for subsequent companies. So MOKU started raising before us, and I am sure we benefited from some of the investors they brought into the platform, just like I am sure LUPII is benefitting from some of AKUA’s investors and so on.
One of the biggest drivers of traffic to our page was from the company Cere Network that raised $26,300,000 on Republic from 4,902 investors. Republic said the analytics are slightly off but it shows that the funders from Cere’s campaign brought in $420,000 in investment funds to AKUA. Woah — who knew decentralized data and finance cloud for enterprise investors were so into Kelp Burgers?!
Speaking of the analytics, I lived in the “Manage” section on a daily basis. Constantly refreshing our investor tab to see who was putting in money and where they were coming from. This informed a lot of our strategy throughout the campaign. As an example, we highlighted the campaign on our home page for weeks, which drove over $20,000 in investments.
We had one press article in the beginning of our campaign in Fast Company, which drove approximately $5,000 in Kelp Burger sales but very little in immediate campaign funding. Eventually though, our Kelp Burger customer list ended up driving a lot of campaign funding!
During our campaign, we also won a Travel & Leisure award and did quite a few podcasts. You can check out the dates of our media hits here in our media section. I am sure press helped a little bit but it never showed up in our analytics. So I would not recommend hiring a PR firm to boost your campaign.
We only had a couple influencers, investors, and friends share our campaign on social media so I would not say this was a big driver either. The majority of our campaign promotion on social media came from the AKUA team.
Show me the money
Over my three years fundraising for AKUA, about 10 or 12 people said “I’m in! For $3k!” (Or $2k or $5k, etc.) And while it’s not a great look to take $3k checks into a private fundraise, it’s perfect for a CROWD SAFE note! If you’ve had a lot of these smaller offers, then a Republic campaign is the perfect way to get these “investors” involved.
In the first 24 hours of the campaign, I hit up a lot of my friends who had promised to invest $3k, $2k, etc. as well as people in my life who were close to me and supportive of my career (who I knew had a lot of disposable income from their own entrepreneurial endeavors). But unlike Kickstarter, where my friends/network threw in an accumulated $25,000 in the first 24 hours (a common Kickstarter hack), I got crickets… and I remember going to bed my first night of the campaign in tears. Cause let’s be honest, launching on Republic is a very raw and vulnerable way to raise money and I knew that if it didn’t go well, it would be a massive bummer.
That said, after 24 hours, 36 hours, 48 hours, the money started coming in. What I learned is that my founder and “investor” friends really needed to sit with the Republic campaign — read it, absorb it, and understand it, because equity crowdfunding is a new concept to most. This is changing rapidly though as more and more companies raise money on platforms like Republic.
Investors as Investors
Only two of our 20+ existing private investors re-invested into our Republic campaign. I got the vibe throughout the campaign that a lot of traditional private investors in the U.S. don’t feel special enough investing through equity crowdfunding. Most funds scoffed at the idea of investing through Republic stating that it was against the rules set with their LPs.
There used to be a sentiment that if a company does equity crowdfunding that it will be hard to ever raise privately after that. I know first hand that this idea is totally changing. The only group of investors that I met with who still feel this way are Goldenseeds. And so I think this way of thinking is swiftly becoming outdated. Today, every investor that I have been speaking to for our priced SEED round absolutely loves that we rocked our Republic campaign.
One of the elements I found most interesting was the amount of international investors who put $10K+ checks into AKUA on Republic (Asia, India, and Europe mostly). I imagine that Republic is an incredible deal flow tool for people who live outside walking range of Erewhon, Sand Hill, or Union Square.
Setting Your Own Valuation
With Republic, you get to set your own valuation, which is a nice lever for a founder when it comes to signaling for future rounds. We set a $7M valuation cap and 2,000 people+ agreed to it. For context, we closed a convertible debt note round with a $5.5M cap just before launching our Republic campaign. So $7M was a nice step up but it wasn’t too aggressive. (Republic does weigh in on this decision but ultimately the decision is up to you.)
We immediately created a private round to capture big check overflow (checks over $20k) from the campaign and closed an additional $280k on a SAFE note with the exact same terms in the week that followed the close of our Republic campaign.
Raising a Round on the Momentum
We are now raising a private round — a $3M round at a $10M valuation — our first priced round. We have a great product, great team, and we’re nailing marketing timing, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that the momentum and signaling from the Republic campaign has allowed us to already secure a total of $1M+ in commits just weeks after the campaign ended.
I would not recommend running a public and private fundraise at the same time especially not at different terms. Bandwidth aside, it’s unclear to me if this is even allowed within SEC rules. The biggest risk you run is if a Republic investor finds out about the other round (assuming it has different terms), gets upset, posts one comment, and sparks a Republic investor revolt. Nightmare! I am really happy with how it all played out for us in terms of wrapping up private rounds on either side of the campaign and would strongly recommend this route for other founders.
The Fine Print
If you are going to go through all the work of creating a Republic campaign, I would advise you have the campaign run for as long as possible. Ours ran for just under 6 months. Originally, it was meant to run for only 5 months. We were invited to pitch on the show Meet the Drapers — a Shark Tank like show (but nicer) created in partnership with Republic — and we made it to the Finals so we decided to extend our campaign another month so that our air time coincided with the campaign being live. It’s hard to judge how much being on the show helped our campaign. The Republic team predicted about $10K in investments would result from the show, and I think that’s about right.
The extension process is annoying, so I would recommend avoiding it. We had to get over 50% of people to commit to the extension. In that process, we had a few minor cancellations, but again more people upped their investment than cancelled. Still, we had a few people who wanted to invest and ended up getting locked out because they didn’t confirm their investment and by the time they noticed the email buried in their inbox, we had sold out.
There is a handy messaging tool that allows you to batch message your investors by investment amount (including those who have not confirmed).
There are some substantial legal/tax fees associated with running the campaign just like there are when you do a private fundraise. As a female founder, I was fortunate to get a grant from SheWorx, which covered about $2,500 worth of these costs. One of our only negative experiences with Republic was using one of their recommended lawyers to file our Form C. He was so lazy he left another company’s name on the Form C. Our own lawyer wouldn’t have done that. If your own legal/accounting team has experience with equity crowdfunding, I would recommend keeping this part in-house.
Yes, we did try to negotiate this but it was a quick no and we were fine with it. When I look at the total number of investors in AKUA’s campaign, my guess is that 80% of them came through the Republic network. So Republic definitely earned their commission and more.
One thing that you really can’t plan for and I would attribute as a major factor to AKUA’s success is market timing. Just as the allure of Beyond and Impossible started to wane for its early adopters, movies like Seaspiracy shoved AKUA into the spotlight. And of course the slow creep of seaweed mania is starting to sink in! We are in the right place at the right time but that’s only because we started working on this idea 5 years ago and finally found product market fit.
Would I recommend Republic? F* YES. We had an amazing experience! Is Republic for everyone? No. We rocked our Republic campaign for all the reasons I’ve listed above and more.
If you’ve got a great product, a strong mission, and you love the idea of building a community-centric company then I would love to introduce you to the Republic team as a next step. I even get a referral fee! So email me firstname.lastname@example.org for an introduction to the Republic team.
Thanks for reading, and please leave all your comments and questions below!