Crowd Funding

Crowd Funding: There’s strength in numbers, so the saying goes.

Since the recession capital investment hasn’t come easily to entrepreneurs or SME’s, finical institutions have continued to disappoint the small to medium enterprise across Ireland and the UK. Recent figures from the Bank of England show that net lending to SME’s has decreased for the fourth year in a row, leading to the growing opinion that it is just not economical for high street banks to lend less than £50k. With an estimated 5.2 million SME’s in the UK, employing more than 24.3 million people, and totalling 99% of all business; without doubt the current financial lending system is in dire need of disruption.

Broken banking system       Que outside bank in the recession

In order to grow, many businesses are being forced to look elsewhere for investment and one source rising in popularity is Crowdfunding. Crowd funding involves a number of people each investing, lending or contributing small amounts of money to a business or idea, in exchange for rewards, recognition or ROI. Individual donations and investments are then pooled to reach the funding target needed to start the business or project. Crowd funding is a great alternative for starts-ups and SME’s to gain capital for new ventures without accumulating high interest debts, in a relatively quick time frame. It also can help raise the awareness of your new business idea among other like-minded individuals.

Crowd Funding guide

Crowd funding lending has doubled in size over the last 6 months and is predicted to break the 1 Billion mark by the end of the year. With global Crowd funding sites such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter receiving thousands of new ideas on a daily basis it can be difficult for genuine businesses to get noticed, and gain investment. CoFunder has been developed in Northern Ireland by the same people who brought us SpeedUp, and is the first Financial Conduct Authority approved lending platform. CoFunder aims to close the gap for established companies in the region looking to expand and create new jobs, but who do not have the working capital to do so; by matching businesses with lenders or individuals who can invest anything from £100 to £2,500. The main advantages of peer to peer lending through CoFunder are that it removes the barriers and restrictive lending practices of banks thereby supporting innovation. Borrowers also know they are responsible to individual people and not faceless intuitions and are therefore much less likely to default on payments. Lenders are likely to be more invested interest in the business or project and take more ownership of its success, using Cofunders social media tools.

CoFunder is a great means for Northern Irish companies to generate fast and flexible investment in order to prosper and develop a stronger economy for us all. Two Northern Ireland based companies already on the path to success via crowd funding are Brewbot and See Sense. Brewbot took advantage of the concept of combing a smartphone app with the traditional skill of brewing, to raise over £114,000 in 1 month via Kickstarter. While Newtonards’s based See Sense have developed environment sensing bike lights, that detect situations when you might not be seen by other road users, gaining over £33,000 to launch their product. Not to mention Belfast based Bitnet that netted $14.5 million in a series od crowd funding activities to launch a Bitcoin processor that aims to persuade the largest merchants in the world to adopt this new currency.

Let me know if you’ve heard of any other interesting projects seeking investment through crowd funding?



Social Media for SME’s

Don’t have a huge advertising or promotion budget? Get some real bang for your buck and invest in Social Media.

The growth in online retailing has led to increased competition for SME’s, with the increased level of choice available to customer it is not easy or cheap to keep exiting consumers loyal. The battleground for attracting new customers has also gone global, social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be a cost effective tool for SME’s to engage and communicate with consumers on a larger scale. The ability to deliver quality content in real time is now an important factor in maintaining loyal consumer relationships. Social Networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pintrest can be a cost effective route for SME’s to interact and communicate directly with consumers on a large scale. As with all marketing activity it is vital to be clear on your social media objectives; what is it you want to achieve through this channel? What platforms are most appropriate to your organisation? Planning your social media strategy from the outset allows you to successfully segment your target audience, and focus limited resources for maximum return on investment. With limited skilled resources and a lack of time, social media management is often out sourced by many SME’s. In most cases this can be very detrimental, social media is all about authenticity, building up a personal relationship between consumer and business. Remember nobody will sell and understand your business like your staff.  Applications like ‘Social Insights’ allow SME’s to benchmark their social media activity against other businesses in the same sector and region. Alternatively ‘Hootsuite’ enables small businesses to manage all their social media interactions through one system, saving time and resources.

Social Insights by O2           Hootsuite social media platform

Consumer engagement is the key to success with social media; knowing your audience is central to creating relevant content to be shared, tone of voice to use, and the frequency of posts. It is essential to remember that social media should be used to give consumers added value to your core product, so as tempting as it is to continually post updates about your product or service, it is important to remember the ‘70:20:10‘ rule. 70% interesting added value content relevant to your audience, 20% to promote and sell your brand, and 10% responding to conversations. It is also beneficial to think of Social Media as the customer’s services department of your business, by responding quickly to customers on a personal level about problems or enquires you can build a strong relationship that makes them more likely to engage with your business in the future, while gaining vital feedback can play a huge role in improving services, developing new products and improving your brand identity.

Social Media guide for SME's

On the reverse, social media can also be used as a very effective listening tool for an organisation, SME’s need to be aware of discussions being had on social media about their brand and their competition. Tactics such as keyword searches will allow you to identify relevant discussions being had in order to formulate appropriate responses, initiate insightful debate, and capture relevant knowledge. All of this user generated content is of high value to SME’s in measuring the success of their social media campaigns and more importantly helping adjust and develop strategies in response to what customers want to hear. These are just two examples of the practical benefits of social media for SME’s. With Technology developing at such an exponential rate, business no longer have a choice, they must engage and interact with consumers how they want, when they want, in order to achieve a competitive edge. SMEs need to be aware of this and to take appropriate action. If they fail to do so, they risk being left behind by their rivals in this increasingly dynamic new world of online engagement.

The internet in real-time GIF

Let me know what local companies you think really make the best use of social media? Want to find out more on how local companies are using digital technology to communicate with their consumers check out my last blog on mobile marketing. Sources:

Local Company Building Global Website

Chain Reaction Cycles: Building the world’s best e-commerce site.

Pedal Power… What it takes to transform a family run business that started out with one small shop into the world’s fastest growing online bike retailer. When George and Janice Watson opened their first bike shop, there was no such thing as the internet, they were just enthusiastic cyclists, who seen an opportunity to build a good business by giving the customer what they were looking for.

Chain reaction cycles first shop and website

With this marketing orientation and a deep insight into their customer’s needs, Chain Reaction Cycles saw their revenue increase through expanding mail order demand for specialist bike parts and successful magazine advertising. By providing customers with products they wanted, adding value through specialist knowledge and being seen as a trustworthy brand CRC built up a strong base of loyal customers. Then at the turn of the century they found themselves facing an unknown challenge of how to compete online? With the knowledge that the Macro-environment was shifting radically, in 2000 Chain Reaction Cycles launched its own website base on the same core values that had built them their success – delivery for customers. Following the principles of product performance, price performance, transactional and relationship excellence, they focused on the site’s content, navigation and product layout to create an effective customer experience. Through a focused effort on optimising the website to improve conversion rates, Chain Reaction Cycles achieved 15% month on month growth in their first year of online retailing.  

Chain reaction cycles new e-commerce website

Taking the lead… In support of this success, the continued to invest and developed in their online offer, with improvements to their database, functionality and scalability. As Porter, (2001) pointed out the dynamic nature of the internet enables new services to be launched and elements of the marketing mix to be changed more frequently. To date its website currently lists more than 90,000 products and, on average, attracts 2.9 million unique visitors from across the world every month. Now with nearly 99 per cent of its revenue coming from online sales, Chain Reaction Cycles utilises the same technology used by the biggest retailers in the world, the Oracle ATG Commerce platform. The platform enabled them to build a website that was unique to their needs and focused on what was important to the customers, creating a great browsing and shopping experience that “enabled oneness with the activity“. By not being complacent and spotting gaps in the market CRC has be able to react quickly to the external environmental factors. Understanding the threat of other retailers entering its market place, they were able to produce a superior offering by building on its own internal strength of customer insights.

chain reactions cycles content marketing application page of e-commerce website

Going global … Realising the key benefits of SEO as being a significant traffic driver, highly targeted and potentially low-cost, CRC set out a clear strategy to leverage this by creating a translation engine to bid on a wide range of keywords across multiple languages. This was their next step in how traffic could be generated for international expansion, enabling them to use PPC campaigns and SEO to reach an untapped international market. Chain Reaction Cycles have now been trading for 30 years and have constantly adapted their strategies as defined in the SOSTAC planning framework by Chaffey and Smith, (2008) rather than relying on methods that had worked previously.

In conjunction with their website development CRC have also formed a new software development team “Chain Reaction Technology” with the intent of creating a Centre of Excellence and growing local talent into the next generation of e-commerce experts.

chain reaction cycles software academy chain reactions technology

What do you think about the CRC website? Can Northern Ireland lead the way in world-class Website site development?


Mobile Marketing

‘Nomophobia’ is the growing phenomena in the fear of being without your phone. The rate of smartphones and tablets adoption has been astounding, and has fundamentally changed how we access the internet and interact with brands and products. We now spend a disproportionate amount of time immersed in multi-screen behaviour and it has radically altered the way in which we make buying decisions. As a result of this our expectations of mobile engagement experience couldn’t be higher.

Today’s Millennials expect the majority of organisations to provide a mobile responsive website or app. In the online environment the window to engage and meet your target audience’s needs is getting smaller and smaller. A competitive edge can be gained in ‘real time marketing’ through mobile application, by bring your business closer to consumer.  With this in mind an institution that has stood for years based on quality face to face customer interactions has embraced the advantages of technology, and invested in developing a mobile concierge app to meet its customer’s changing needs. Northern Ireland’s exclusive Galgorm Resort and Spa is the first hotel in the province to take their personal service into the digital age with the launch of the Galgorm Concierge App.

Galgorm mobile app

Available now for both Android and Apple the app allows guests to access information on what they can do inside and outside the resort by date and more creatively by mood, at the touch of a button. The app also offers guests a wide range of entertainment and food and drink options suitable for the time of day; in addition guest can book a dining venue and reserve a table online. With integrated links to its social media sites, Facebook and Instagram the Galgorm Concierge App gives users an even greater insight into the unique advantages and benefits they can expect to receive at the resort. While also allowing customers to create user generated content via feedback posts and reviews they can inform other potential customers ‘zero moments of truth’, Unlimitedly strengthening their own and others relationship with the brand and leaving a positive impression for future interactions and purchases.

Galgorm mobile app settings

In exchange for downloading the App and providing valuable personal data to the organisation the customer receives a financial benefit, through being the first to know about any offers and special hotel details as soon as they are realised. This two way benefit in communication reveals that the Galgorm is set on building long lasting relationships with their customers via digital technology, and not just short-term gains. By adapting its services to changing customer needs the Galgorm is showing traits of an organisation that is fully market orientated.

Do you have a ‘digital business idea’ on how to solve a problem? If so InvestNI and Enterprise Ireland have launched The Entrepreneurship Awards. Last year’s winner from University of Ulster, Alexandra Milne developed ‘Little Deli’. An app that lets customers pre-order and pay for their lunch from local delis, using a smartphone. By ordering through the App customers can skip the queue and save valuable time, the app also benefits the delis by enabling them to prepare orders earlier, making their rush hour more productive.

little deli logo     Little Deli mobile app     Little Deli mobile app

In only 10 months, Little Deli has gone from being just an idea to a fully launched mobile app. Following on from last year’s success applications are requested to submit a video that captures how their idea shows commercial potential. Other features of the competition include a website, Facebook page, twitter account and pod casts, find out more here.

What do you think of mobile apps? Know of any good ones? Share them here.

If you want to find out more on new apps being developed check out my post on the Web Summit Dublin 2014.


Technology start-ups at Web Summit

Round up of Web Summit 2014 Pre Web Summit 2014, 150 of Northern Ireland’s technology start-ups gathered in Belfast at T13, the show kicked off with an energetic display of BMX riders to set the scene for a host of guest speakers including James Whelton, the founder of CoderDojo. This year 13 companies from Northern Ireland took part in the Web Summit including DisplayNOTE, Glistrr and AirPOS. An event that attracted over 20,000 visitors and over 60% of the Fortune 500.

Web Summit Dublin 2014 logo page

The event set up by Paddy Cosgrave in 2010 gives companies access to pitch ideas or products to potential investors and an amazing opportunity to network with key industry figure, while sound boarding ideas of the future. Not only is the event a great way to gain investment but it also provides start-up companies with the opportunity to better understand the future direction of their sector and emerging trends in technology. This is insider knowledge from the ‘big hitters’ that no blog, text-book or social media site could offer, its money couldn’t buy data for a start-up entering a competitive technological market.

The Web Summit Dublin 2014 stage photo     Paddy Cosgrave at The Web Summit Dublin 2014


The opportunity to network with peers and the hope of developing international partnerships and customers is what brought entrepreneur Paul Stewart to launch his new app at the summit. Uni Baggage is the leading courier service for students and has transported more than 1,000 tons of luggage to destinations such as Hong Kong, Australia and USA. Paul is working on a same day delivery app FETCH where users can order anything locally and have it delivered within 1 hour, tapping into the growing need for technology to save us time. Another local Richard Graham show cased his new nightlife app PulsateDate at Dublin’s Web Summit. PulsateDate enables people to connect to each other in public venues. The app matches two people based on personality and looks andcan also be used on college campuses, at concerts or at sports events.

Stalls at The Web Summit Dublin 2014     Nasdaq opening at The Web Summit 2014

With Technology growing at such an exponential rate, the level of noise and disruption in the sector makes it even more important for start-ups to stand out and do something unique to attract positive attention. So what does the future hold for 2015 and beyond? Well one things for sure The Web Summit will be held in Dublin again with 2 for 1 tickets going on pre-sale here, and hopefully they will get the Wi-Fi issue sorted out in the RDS. As for Digital technology Adam Singolda, and Ian Whitebelieve brand content will become increasing important in a noisy environment as a signal of quality’. While Clara Shih stated “Social is normal for people in their personal lives, it will become the standard operating procedure for companies.” With the development of Facebook for Work this reality doesn’t seem far off.

Pitch Box at The Web Summit Dublin 2014          U2's Bono on review pannel at The Web Summit Dublin 2014

For Keith Weed, Unilever CMO, future issues lay ahead in data privacy legislation. ‘Technology is so far ahead of regulations, there are things being developed at such a pace that governments and consumers struggle to understand the impactions’. Could the solution to this be an opportunity for large corporations to solve the problem themselves, by giving customers something in return for their data and building long-term trust? And finally with all this big data companies are collecting will we see a shift towards the hyper targeted ‘segment of one’? With big brands such as Coca-Cola already engaged in real-time marketing, will companies of the future be an always present personal connection or invasion of personal space?

Let me know what you think is the next big thing in digital technology?

If you want to find out more on how Northern Irish’s companies are building a digital future check out my last post on Chain Reaction Cycles.