Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Jason Crystal, co-founder of Miventure. My partner Luiggi Pera and I founded Miventure because we believe anyone should be able to invest in early-stage startups to support the people and ideas they believe in.
Our main product is our equity crowdfunding mobile app, which’s available on IOS and Android by visiting. At a marketplace place, our customers are both founders and investors. We have 7 campaigns active on the platform right now with over $500,000 in funding capacity since launching about a month ago and there are over 2,000 potential investors that have signed up so far.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We’ve both been working in and on startups and love the startup ecosystem. There’s something special about founders setting off a journey that’s statistically doomed because they are passionate about the problem they’re trying to solve. One passion we both share is the democratization of investing. This led to exploring the world of investment crowdfunding as law changes began shifting in 2016 to allow retail investors to get involved in investing in companies before they go public.
Understanding your core demographic is absolutely key. Even if you don’t know exactly, start with an assumption and then test. Your marketing messages won’t resonate if you are not targeting the right audience.
Initially, we focused on small business debt because we believed there was a strong market to help business owners, especially those with subprime credit, who were being victimized by predatory lenders. Although we still think there’s an important market there waiting to be served, we weren't able to find the right types of businesses to put on the platform at interest rates that potential investors found attractive.
During the months of outreach to various small business owners, we were frequently contacted by startups and investors looking to invest in startups, although we weren’t targeting these customers. The common thread between all the outreach was most of it was centered around the friends and family round. Although at this stage companies tend to be much riskier, they have more attractive valuations for investors.
There’s definitely been a lot of support and excitement since the relaunch and we were recently in the top 5 on Product Hunt. We’re currently focused on getting the word out about the platform to more potential investors who don’t know these types of investment opportunities exist as investment crowdfunding is still relatively new.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I did a stint of startup consulting helping growing companies scale. During that time I worked with a development team called Carbonteq on several projects and we formed a great relationship around our shared commitment to building quality products and delivering value to end-users. When we began working on our own product, it really made sense to continue working together because we had a refined development process and shared trust already in place.
We use Figma and Trello predominantly for our development process. Luiggi Pera is an incredible product and UX designer and takes meticulous care to put himself in the shoes of the users before putting together high-resolution wireframes. We break the frames down into tickets and prioritize the backlog on a daily / go over blockers, much like I’d imagine most dev teams.
Here are some designs of our tutorial panels before they went into development.
You can get a lot of feedback from people to validate your ideas before you launch, and you absolutely should. That being said, the ultimate arbiter for product-market fit is revenue when people are actually willing to pay. It’s hard to know the answer to that particular question for some types of products that can’t be pre-sold until you launch. We’re strong believers that one day in the market is worth 10 in development, so getting to the market as fast as possible was definitely a priority for our team.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We were fortunate that one of the former clients from consulting became our anchor investor for our pre-seed round. They loved the idea that anyone, regardless of their income bracket, could invest in a company and become an equity owner with just $25. We share a passion for the belief that while building a startup is hard, investing in one shouldn’t be. We leveraged that investment to raise more of what we thought we’d need to surmount the regulatory licensing and build the MVP.
Validate early and cheaply.
From there we raised a seed round once we were in the market and we’re currently raising what we call a Seed B to support the go-to-market efforts to get the word out about our existence. Raising money can sometimes feel like a full-time job, so we always advise other founders, depending on the nature of what they’re building, to consider taking on co-founders or raising more than they think they’ll need to have extra capacity to hire some people to help. Building a scalable startup is rarely a solo project.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
This is my first startup that has a B2C component, the second for Luiggi. It’s definitely been an adjustment to learn the B2C ropes on the marketing side. We’ve done a lot of low-cost experiments where we spend a little to learn a lot.
So far we’ve done Adwords, Facebook/IG, in-app search and dabbled with some affiliate and PR services. We know what it costs to get someone to download the app plus or minus about 50 cents and now we’re trying to get our attribution analytics fine-tuned to understand the cost to generate an actual investment and not just a download/sign up.
We recently decided to stop all paid marketing efforts in order to re-establish a baseline to gauge how our organic social media and podcast efforts were working. You can see below the drop in active users when we paused marketing. It started picking up again when we recently launched on Product Hunt and has been steadily growing. Product Hunt was a great experience for us, we got a ton of useful feedback, but as our product is only currently available to investors with a US tax ID, we weren’t able to convert and retain as many of the users as we’d initially hoped.
A few things we’ve learned in no particular order. Understanding your core demographic is absolutely key. Even if you don’t know exactly, start with an assumption and then test. Your marketing messages won’t resonate if you are not targeting the right audience.
Make sure your attribution is set up correctly before doing any paid advertising. Even if something starts working, you won’t know why and you won’t be able to pile on that strategy.
It’s cheaper to build an audience organically in the long run, but it takes time. You need to be patient and deliver content consistently that’s not salsey. We have a podcast called Startups and Dragons that people are starting to find that’s about 15 minutes almost weekly that’s relevant to both founders and investors.
While we’ve learned/are learning about B2C marketing, we still have a long way to go. Mass marketing seems to evolve very quickly and what works one month may stop working the next as platforms' tastes and consumer behavior continues to change. I don’t think anyone can truly ever master marketing over a long period of time if they stop learning.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Miventure is evolving extremely fast. We are post-revenue and in the market and listening intently to feedback from our users about what types of startups they want to see on the platform and more importantly what factors make them investable for investors. Of the 7 campaigns on the platform currently, one has reached its minimum funding goal already and all of them have roughly 3 months remaining before they are either funded or become inactive.
Like most platforms, our main hurdle is overcoming the chicken and egg problem. Great startups tend to want to see an established investor community and investors want to see great investment opportunities before they want to sign up and get involved. Early adopters and people taking a chance on us have been really key to our early success to even get off the ground.
If you’ve ever supported an early founder by either advocating or being a user of their business, you may not have any idea how much it means to them, but it’s really everything in that moment when you’re first getting going. What’s interesting is that really the story of the startups on our platform as well. We’re all in it together in a sense and it takes a village. When people join our village by becoming users, either as founders or investors, we become stronger and better able to meet everyone's needs.
That’s where we’re at now, we’re growing our village so everyone can potentially thrive.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Timing is everything. We started building Miventure initially before the pandemic started and when it hit we thought our value proposition would be even stronger for small business owners. As we spoke to more of them, many either had their short-term financial needs met by the PPP program or were too risky for investors to lend to at reasonable interest rates. Fortunately, we found a market that with relatively minor changes we could service that needed us desperately and we’re forging ahead on this path.
It may sound cliche, but the team is really everything. Building a startup gets dark at times even when conditions are ideal. If everyone on the team is united behind a common vision, it really makes a difference. Pick carefully who you invite on the boat. You’ll have enough pressure from outside forces without having to worry about internal conflicts as well. Here we’re really lucky to have an amazing team and that’s really what keeps me most motivated everyday.
Lastly, competitors can potentially be partners. Every industry is different, but in our investment crowdfunding is relatively new and people are still learning about it. Whether we educate a potential investor about these types of opportunities or a competitor does, we’re both growing the pool of people who could be interested in diversifying their portfolios with alternative investments.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your problems with people, even if they’re competitors. I’m not saying that’s true in every industry, but in ours, the funding portal community has been really supportive and helpful to new players in the ecosystem. I think Samson Williams, president of the Crowdfunding Portal Association, really has a lot to do with setting a collaborative tone there.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I mentioned the dev tools we use for communication there previously. On the ops side, we use freshdesk for support, monday.com for non tech-related projects and Gusto for HR. QB for accounting and some other stuff. Here I’m a big believer in less is more. Google sheets will get you pretty far. If we add something new I try to see if we can remove something.
Sometimes the tools and platforms designed to make life easy become a lot of work to manage. Make sure you get buy-in from your team as well before adding another tool, especially on communications tools that can get cumbersome really fast.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
TK Kader’s youtube channel is fantastic for early-stage founders. I’m also a big fan of some of the classics like The Lean Startup, Rework, Ultimate Sales Machine, and Zero to One. I’ve just started the Platform Revolution recently and I’m enjoying that so far. I wish I had more time to read and my partner Luiggi also reads voraciously and we share book recommendations frequently.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Validate early and cheaply. Don’t validate with your friends and family. It sounds obvious, but they won’t want to discourage you and will give you the thumbs up regardless of the merits of your idea. There’s a company called Venture Validator I’d highly recommend led by Eric Espinosa that does independent market research. He’ll give you a product-market fit score before you start building to make sure you’re getting started off on the right foot.
The previous question about books/podcasts is also a good way to get started. If you read too much though, you’ll always find reasons (often good ones) why not to get started. You should be aware of the risks, but also have such overwhelming passion for what you're doing that you think the journey is worth embarking on.
Most importantly, being a founder isn’t for everyone and it’s not binary. You can be a founder for some time, then decide to work for someone you really believe in. You can work for someone and have a side hustle nights and weekends. This is a common myth where people seem to think that you’re either a founder or a worker bee that’s just simply not backed up by the facts. Be honest with yourself about what makes me happy and do that and be okay with the fact it might change over time. Also, be aware that no matter what you choose to do, you won’t be happy all the time.
A good friend told me that if building a startup you’re miserable 30% of the time super happy 30% of the time and somewhere in between the remainder, you’re doing pretty good. When you start to be miserable frequently, maybe it’s time to reexamine.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes! We’re currently on the hunt for a growth marketing director to help us master and optimize our B2C marketing efforts. We’re looking to compensate with a hybrid of compensation and significance, so if this all sounds interesting to you and have previous experience, especially with a platform-related business, definitely reach out to me on Linkedin.
Where can we go to learn more?
Visit Miventure to check out the marketplace. If you can afford to invest in a founder that resonates with you, please do so. These are definitely risky investments and they’re not very liquid, but they have the potential for high returns and they can make a major impact on that founder and maybe even the world.
We’re committed to making this marketplace awesome for founders and investors! If you have time to use the app, please send us your feedback.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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