By Matt Ayres, Fresh Business Thinking
Interview with Luke Lang, Co-Founder and Marketing Director of Funding Circle
Luke Lang got his first taste of what it means to be an entrepreneur while working for his brother’s company, Eclipse Internet. Founded in the 1990s, the technology enterprise was one of the first in the UK to really capitalise on the switch from dial-up to broadband internet connections. “It was an innovative and passionate environment,” says Luke, who joined Eclipse shortly after his post-university travels and became enamoured with the company’s dynamic sense of purpose. “I quickly got a sense of how entrepreneurial you can be within a business.”
When Eclipse was bought by KCOM Group PLC, the young upstart discovered that he was not so passionate about working in a corporate environment. “We tried to foster the Eclipse culture within the new company, but over time it felt forced,” he remembers.
It was during this time when Luke began to speak with one of his colleagues, Darren Westlake, about launching a new business. “He had an idea to do something with crowdfunding, which had never really been done in the UK before,” explains Luke. “It was a new thing, and we didn’t want to be sat on the sidelines missing out while someone else made a success of it. We wanted to be trailblazing. So we went for it.”
The pair founded Crowdcube in March 2010, with Luke taking the role of Marketing Director and Darren becoming CEO. While the early days of the business were tough financially, determination to succeed through hard graft and creative innovation kept the company going. “The hardest thing was the lack of pay”, Luke admits. “I didn’t take anything from the company for 18 months. All my money was made by selling cars and moonlighting as a freelance marketing consultant. It was scary. But when you have a great idea, you have to believe in your aim and your goals. We wanted to disrupt an old industry; we were determined to be a part of something new.”
As a crowdfunding platform, Crowdcube helps companies to secure funding for growth from a large community of investors. Having experienced a situation where his own business relied on family investments and seed capital, it is no surprise that Luke has become fanatical about seeing others flourish through the cash of investors.
“I often say it’s one of the best companies in the UK to work for,” he enthuses. “Helping other companies to fulfil their dreams is pretty inspiring. We’ve got to know the teams behind many of the businesses and really celebrate with them when they achieve the investment they need. It’s an easy business to get passionate about.
“Pre-Crowdcube, investing in startups was limited to the rich and well-connected. Only the top 1% of the population was working in capital finance. I believe that we have changed the financing landscape in the UK for the better, and now companies around the world are copying the Crowdcube model.”
With his role overseeing the marketing activity of Crowdcube, Luke has learned a fair bit about what it takes to create a successful pitch for startup funding. “First and foremost, you need a good, clear idea with a point of differentiation from your competitors,” he says. “It should be a market with some considerable scale so that it’s clear your company can grow into it. Hopefully you’ll also have a strong team, one that can really execute your business plan. But the X factor that people really look for is the entrepreneur, the individual behind the business. They want to see how passionate you are, how committed, how long you’ve been planning for success. It’s that kind of hustle that people like. It’s incredibly important.”
Luke believes that a number of factors have led to the success of Crowdcube and crowdfunding in general, including the rise of social media, people becoming more comfortable with making payments online and the fast pace of modern life making web based platforms appealing. Sites like Crowdcube mean that investing in a business no longer means showing up for a formal meeting in a suit. Anyone can choose to invest at any time of day, with pitches available to be watched and rewatched at the investor’s convenience.
As the UK’s leading crowdfunding site for small businesses, it was ultimately taking the leap to start a business and be innovative early on that has helped Crowdcube to reach the forefront of the market. “We also created it with the best of intentions, to democratise investing, and we have been effective at communicating that message,” says Luke. “We’ve always worked in quite an entrepreneurial way, and that has clearly resonated with our community of businesses and investors.”