By Josef Holm,
Editor’s Note: Each week I put a crowdfunding industry thought leader in the spotlight and ask them ten questions to inspire and educate. This week it’s my pleasure to interview my friend and crowdfunding PR expert Joy Schoffler, Founder & Principal of Leverage PR.
Joy Schoffler is the award-winning founder and principal of Leverage PR, a strategic communications firm specializing in the finance and technology industries.
She is a nationally recognized author and speaker on the topics of investor relations, marketing and public relations strategies and investment crowdfunding.
Prior to launching Leverage PR, Joy consulted and worked with a number of growth-phase firms, including serving as director of acquisitions for The PPA Group, an award-winning investment firm.
Q: How did you get into crowdfunding and what was it that attracted you to this industry?
I started my career in the private equity world, raising capital for commercial real estate and growth-stage firms. During that time, I realized the process of capital-raising for private offerings was very inefficient; there was a lack of visibility on both the issuer and investor side. People looking for high-quality private offerings had to “know a guy” to get access to deal flow, while companies looking for capital often spent more time on dead-end leads then actually talking to investors. Excel spreadsheets were the “technology” many used to track the process—it was a mess.
When I interviewed Jason Best for an article I was writing for Entrepreneur Magazine April 5, 2012 I knew I had found an answer to so many problems I had seen throughout my career. Crowdfunding was incredibly attractive to me, as it allowed companies to utilize technology in a way that increased efficiency and created transparency—something the markets desperately needed.
Q: What’s the most common question people ask you about your job and how do you respond?
People often ask me how to raise their profiles in their industries, and my response is typically the same no matter the field—you need to be seen as a thought leader. The fastest way to accomplish this is through media mentions, speaking engagements and content creation.
Perception is reality: Improve your digital footprint, and your business will often follow suit. In today’s digital world, you are who Google says you are, in the eyes of most people. The great news is that this can be easily altered by some high-quality press mentions as long as you know your stuff.
Q: Did you have a mentor or is there someone who inspires you as a leader? How did/do they impact on your career and life?
I have several amazing mentors, from Army officers like Todd Emoto, friends like Michael Orbino – who helped spark my passion in finance, family like John, Sandy and Mary Livermore and bosses like Monte Lee-Wen – who showed me first-hand how to build an amazing business from the ground up.
My mentors are still a very big part of my life. I go to them for advice, guidance and – most of all – a foundation for what really matters in life. Every man is the sum of those he surrounds himself with—finding people who have blazed the trail you wish to walk who are willing to share their map is priceless.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing crowdfunding as an industry today and what solutions would you suggest?
I think the biggest challenge to the industry is platforms not speaking to the markets in a language they understand. Many people still do not know what crowdfunding is. As an industry, the conversation and language needs to be adjusted, based upon the audience. If your platform is geared towards sports enthusiasts, speak about the “team” coming together to fund cool products that improve athletic performance; a soccer player may not care about a crowdfunding campaign launching, but he sure might care if another athlete has created a shin guard that is three times as strong and half the weight. This is the same for the financial community—a good investment is a good investment, and we need to speak to people in their own terms, to make them care enough to learn ours.
Q: What advice would you give someone trying to get into crowdfunding right now?
There are a lot of amazing players in the space looking for talent. If you really want to join the crowd, see if there is a fit for you, and network with companies that are forming. If you are looking to launch your own venture, go for an industry vertical that has a natural affinity for groups (people that LOVE that industry) – fashion, music, animal products – a segment that you can own and go deep in. If you want to be in a vertical that has a lot of players in the space; have a good team, move quickly and be aggressive—in competitive markets, only the strong will survive.
Q: What resources and events (blogs, books, conferences, podcasts, videos, etc) would you recommend to someone looking to become a crowdfunding expert and why?
There are a number of great sites, like Crowdfunding.biz for example! Some other ones to stay in tune with are Crowdfund Beat, Crowdfund Insider, Crowsourcing.org, CfIRA.org and CFPA.org. As for conferences, I’d say the Crowdfund Global Expo – with conferences throughout the US, theCrowdfunding Bootcamp in Las Vegas, and Crowdfund USA in San Francisco are the three biggest and best ones. For books—“Crowdfunding: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Capital on the Internet.
This industry is constantly growing and changing. In addition to learning all you can and staying current, you have to be seen as a leader. Own your topic and make sure others see you as a leader on that topic if you want to excel.
Q: What are you doing to make sure you continue to grow and develop as an industry leader?
I am part of a number of trade groups, sit on the board of CfIRA and Cf50, read dozens of articles a week, am constantly traveling to conferences and events and speak with dozens of people a week to ensure that I am always staying on top of new developments. I also surround myself with staff who are experts in traditional finance and technology, taking the best of old practices and combining it with the new.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how social networking and Web 2.0 have affected your organization or you personally?
I have met some of the most amazing business connections through social networking; it is a very succinct communication channel that can have powerful business results. My firm, Leverage PR, has tripled in size over the last year, partly due to the demand from businesses looking to grow and expand their digital footprint.
Q: What do you think the crowdfunding space will look like five years from now?
I believe in five years, crowdfunding will be a household name. Everyone from local and national banks to enterprise-level firms, startups and everyone in between will be using technology to bring new inventions, causes and ideas to market. While this may seem ambitious, look at the trends:
Bank of Alberta launched a donation reward site through Invested.in to send denied loans, create another revenue opportunity for successful campaigns, identify good risks on the backend and increase overall customer satisfaction.
Coca-Cola launched a donation site in Mexico as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives, and other large companies are market testing this way. UC Berkeley is launching a whole executive education program geared towards training enterprises on using crowdfunding as it is such a booming topic.
The examples go on and on. Crowdfunding, at its core, solves market inefficiencies, making it a tool that is here to stay!
Q: What ultimate goal are you working towards?
My ultimate goal is to help develop the crowdfunding ecosystem. I am working on this through my board positions – to ensure that regulations are implemented in a way that helps form the industry, atLeverage PR – by helping numerous crowdfunding companies educate the market and be successful, and with our newly launched technology platform, CrowdBuilder, which gets crowdfunders attention and influencers in their industries.