What to look for when investing in a business

What to Look for When Investing in a Business

Especially for first-time investors, it can be a scary plunge to start investing your money in other business endeavors. It could pay off big for you, but there is also always the risk of losing your everything you put in. While it’s never a guarantee, the more research into the company before investing can help mitigate your risks. Here are five critical areas to investigate when you are considering investing your money in a company.

Management Team

Having a solid and experienced management team in place can make or break a company. Especially look at the CEO or President. Most growth funders want to see a management team that is cohesive with a strong (not arrogant) CEO at the helm. Look for a team that has worked together on other projects or has been together for a long time. Keep a wary eye out for backbiting or strife between team members. You’re looking for a team that can put aside their egos and work together to achieve the common goal of making the company successful.

This may sound cheesy but look for a CEO that you can connect with. This usually means at least a phone or teleconference with the CEO or perhaps an in-person meeting. Generally speaking, investing in a company means you are becoming a business partner (if you are getting stock in exchange for your investment) so it is essential that you know you can communicate and have some of the same values and vision.

Market Opportunities

No matter how fantastic the idea, if the market isn’t big enough you probably won’t get a significant return on your investment. The market for the product or service needs to be big enough for the company to have substantial room to grow. Usually, this means the company has national or even international potential. Ask questions and research the opportunity for market growth. Understand who the competitors are in the current market and what it is going to take to increase market share.

Growth and Risk

Alongside considering where a company can grow in the future, it is also vital to make sure the infrastructure is there for the future growth. It can be very risky to grow too quickly without the right foundation in place. Ask questions to understand how well the management team has considered the growth potential and the steps needed to mitigate the risk of growing too quickly. Look to make sure the team has thought through and set the right pieces in place to support rapid growth.

Exit Strategy

It is critical to know what the management team sees as the exit strategy for the company. Will it go public? Or is the goal to be acquired? You want to know what the time frame is going to be and decide if that is going to work for you. Some industries are more prone to certain types of exit strategies. For example, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are more common in the consumer industries as opposed to tech industries where going public is more the norm.

Financial Performance

Of course, no list would be complete without the financial piece. It is essential to take a look at the following components of any company you are considering investing in.

Of course, no list would be complete without the financial piece. It is essential to take a look at the following components of any company you are considering investing in.

  • Revenue: Look for a revenue line that is trending upward over the last few years or at least holding steady.
  • Net Income: Growth in net income from year to year is important. It shows how to make adjustments as needed to keep their bottom line growing.
  • Profit Margins: Again, look for steady growth, which indicates that a company can manage its operating costs and reward shareholders with returns.

These are not an exhaustive list of what an investor should be watching for when investing in a company, but we hope it is enough to get you thinking. Investing is an exciting yet high-risk endeavor so the more prepared and knowledgeable you are the better your chance of investing in a company could pay off.

Top Questions Investors Ask Part 4

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Top Questions Investors Ask Part 4

“People who ask confidently get more than those who are hesitant and uncertain. When you've figured out what you want to ask for, do it with certainty, boldness and confidence. Don't be shy or feel intimidated by the experience. You may face some unexpected criticism, but be prepared for it with confidence.” Jack Canfield

Being prepared can help you answer investors’ questions with confidence and certainty. This is the last in our four-part series of common questions investors can ask. While this is not an exhaustive list, we hope that it will help you be better prepared to ask for what you want with confidence. Today we will cover intellectual property, financials, and your financing round.

Your Intellectual Property, Patents or Trademarks

The intellectual property (IP) of your business can include trademarks, patents, copyrighted designs, and confidential information. Your company’s IP is extremely valuable; they can set your business apart from competitors, be used as security for loans, provide a revenue stream if sold or licensed, and can be an essential part of your branding and marketing. Here are some of the questions you may get about your company’s IP.
• What are the key IP does your company have?
• How was your company’s IP developed?
• Can the IP be liquidated?
• Are you looking at infringing on the IP of another company?
• Would acquiring IP from another company add value to your company?
• What proof or confidence you have that your company’s IP does not violate the rates of a third party?
• Is it possible that any prior employers of a team member have a potential claim your IP?

Your Company’s Financials

When you get to this stage, be prepared to walk an investor through your financials including your profit & loss statement, balance sheet, and financial model. It isn’t uncommon for an investor to request a special session for the financials and bring an analyst with them. Here are some questions you might get asked.

When you get to this stage, be prepared to walk an investor through your financials including your profit & loss statement, balance sheet, and financial model. It isn’t uncommon for an investor to request a special session for the financials and bring an analyst with them. Here are some questions you might get asked.

  • Which key metrics does your leadership or management team focus on?
  • Are there factors that have been or will limit faster growth?
  • How much burn do you expect to happen until the company achieves profitability?
  • Are you setting aside a stock option pool for employees?
  • What is the capitalization structure? How much equity and debt has the company raised?
  • What are the company’s three and five-year projections?
  • What key assumptions lead you to your projections?
  • When do you expect the company to be profitable?

Your Financing Round

This group of questions helps the investors get a better idea of who the other players are. They want to know how much money has already been raised (if any) and where it came from. Knowing what the equity structure looks like is usually a key component.

  • What will the proceeds from this round go to?
  • Are there existing investors and will they participate in this round?
  • Which round of funding is this?
  • How much funding are you looking to raise in this round?
  • Who holds equity and how much do they hold?
  • Have you done crowdfunding before?
  • Has anyone else invested in this round?
  • Has an accelerator or incubator already committed funds?
  • Does your company have any convertible loan notes?
  • What is your company’s desired pre-money valuation?

While it’s natural to be a bit nervous when pitching new investors, the best thing you can do is to be as prepared as possible. While our series is not an exhaustive list of possible questions, it can be an effective tool. Making sure you have answers to the questions in our series is a great place to start. We even recommend you take some time and practice answering the questions. As Jack Canfield says so well; prepare, prepare, prepare so you can ask for what you want with boldness and confidence.

Top Questions Investors Ask Part 3

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“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” –Bobby Unser

Preparing to pitch investors can be intimidating but understanding the questions most likely to be asked can help you overcome your nerves. This is the third article in our series about questions investors commonly ask. Today we will cover traction and early adoption, any downsides or risks, and your exit strategy. These questions don’t represent an exhaustive list but can give you an idea of where you might need to spend some more time preparing.

Does Your Company Have Traction?

Traction can take many forms that can vary based on your business type. Having early traction of some kind can put you in a more favorable position with investors.

  • How many users or customers do you have?
  • What is your average churn rate?
  • What do you attribute the early traction to?
  • Do you have plans for accelerating or building on your current traction?
  • How many downloads, subscriptions, likes, shares, or sign-ups do you have?
  • Do you have any celebrity endorsements?
  • What is your social impact?
  • What is your engagement on social media?

What are the Downsides, Risks, or Threats?

Starting or growing a business of any kind is inherently risky, and there are always threats of some kind to consider. Investors are usually asking the following questions to test your tolerance for risk and your sense of where your business and the marketplace really is.

  • In Your Opinion, what are the principal risks in this business?
  • Do you have any legal risks?
  • Are there product liability risks?
  • Are there regulatory risks in your industry or specifically with your product or service?
  • Is there the capacity to distribute risk across your team?

Is there an Exit Strategy?

Investors are looking to make some money as well as being part of something they believe in. Therefore, they will want to get a feel for how and when they will be able to exit and earn the return on their investment.

  • Do you anticipate going public with an IPO or going the merger and acquisitions (M&A) route?
  • If you got the M&A route, who will be the likely acquirers?
  • Considering the given market comparables, how will valuation of an exit be determined?
  • Do you have any similar examples?
  • Financially, where do you see your company in five years? Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • When do you see this exit transition happening?

Some of these questions may really make you stop and pause. That can be a good thing. It’s important to think through some of these tougher questions you may not have considered before and know where you stand. For more preparation questions you can check out part 1 and part 2 of our series of articles. Next week we will be looking at the final three areas of questions: financing round, financials, and intellectual property.

Top Questions Investors Ask Part 2

Top Questions Investors Ask Part 2

“Be prepared, work hard, and hope for a little luck. Recognize that the harder you work and the better prepared you are, the more luck you might have.” –Ed Bradley

Searching out, pitching to, and bringing on investors can be a lengthy and involved process. You can make it smoother by being as prepared as possible. This article is the second in our series covering questions you can expect to hear from investors. We will include queries about your products or services, the competition, and customer acquisition. It is not a complete list, but we hope that it helps you prepare and have the smoothest process possible.

Your Products and Services
Your product or service is the core of what you are trying to get funding for, so now is your time to answer questions about what you created and are passionate about! Investors are looking to back something with a unique selling proposition (USP) that solves a particular customer problem.

  • Why should people care about your product or service?
  • What is different about your product or service?
  • Are you first to market?
  • Won’t a large corporation just build something like this?
  • If you are first to market, why hasn’t it been done before?
  • Were there earlier versions? If so, what did you learn from them?
  • Do you have patents secured or pending?
  • How do you plan on improving or adding on to your product or service in the future?

The Competition
You will always have competition, even if you are first to market. If you cannot identify your direct and indirect competitors, you are likely to have credibility problems with potential investors. A good rule of thumb is to be knowledgeable about your top 5 direct and indirect competitors.

  • Who is your company’s competition?
  • Are there barriers to market entry?
  • What competitive advantage do you have over your competition?
  • Does your competition have advantages over you?
  • Compared with other businesses in your market, how do you compete on price, features, and performance?

Marketing and Customer Acquisition
You may have the most amazing, unique, and desirable product or service, but if you have no way to market and acquire new customers, you are dead in the water. So investors are going to be very interested in how much research you have done on your target market and your strategies for making money through sales. If you haven’t released to the market yet, you will need to research similar companies and project based on the data.

  • How much does it cost to acquire new customers?
  • What is the lifetime value of a customer?
  • Have you done focus groups? What did you learn from them?
  • What are your social media and PR strategies?
  • What is your marketing plan?
  • Describe the typical sales cycle from initial customer contact through closing the sale?
  • What is the client’s cycle? Are there opportunities for up-sales or repeat business?

The more you know which questions you will need to answer, the more prepared you can be for a successful round of fundraising. In our first article “Top Questions Investors Ask Part 1” we covered questions about the big picture of your company, the founder(s) and team, as well as your market. In our next installment, we will look at your company’s traction, the risks and threats, and your exit strategy.

Top Questions Investors Ask Part 1

Top Questions Investors Ask Part 1

“To be prepared is half the victory” –Miguel de Cervantes

Whether you are putting together your pitch deck or prepping for an interview with an investor, the more prepared you are, the better. Especially if this is your first time through the process of investors and fundraising, it is easy to get overwhelmed and even a bit intimidated by the questions. So here are some top questions you need to be prepared to answer. Remember questions are good, it usually means you have piqued the investor’s interest. You can practice responding to these questions with your team until you feel comfortable.

Today, in part one of our series on investor’s questions, we’re going to cover general questions, founders, and available market. While this list is not exhaustive, we hope it gives you a place to start preparing.

General Questions
If you are using a fundraising platform like Crowdfunder, then these questions should be part of your pitch deck so when you get to talk to an interested investor, they may or may not revisit them. Investors want to know what your company does and why they should be interested. These are essentially your icebreaker or big-picture questions.

  • What does your company do and what makes it unique?
  • What big problem does your company solve for your customers?
  • How big is the market for your product or service?
  • How big can the company get?
  • What is your end game?

Company’s Founder & Key Team Members
For many investors, particularly in the seed or round one level, they are looking for the dynamic, dedicated leader with vision and a solid, experienced team. The types of investors you want to work with are the ones who are investing in a vision, a dream, a team, and not just in it for the money.

  • Who are the founders or founder and the key team members?
  • What motivates and drives the founder or founders?
  • What experience does the team have?
  • Do you plan to scale the team over the next 12 months?
  • Why is this the team to take this company to the next level?
  • Are there gaps in the key team that need to be filled?

Available Market
Investors are looking for enough growth potential to make it worth their investment. You will need to demonstrate that the market for your product or service is large and growing. Do your research! Be familiar with historical as well as upcoming trends in your market. Be prepared to be able to cite sources for your claims.

  • What percentage of the market do you currently hold (if any)?
  • What percentage of the market do you intend to take and what is your timeline for doing so?
  • What is the actual size of the addressable market?
  • Why does your company have the potential to increase market penetration?

In this article, “Top Questions Investors Ask” we’ve covered what kind of general company questions are common. We also touched on what you need to be prepared to answer about your team and the market. In our next article, “Top Questions Investors Ask Part 3″ we will cover questions about your products and services, your competition, and customer acquisition.

Who Does Equity Crowdfunding Work Best for?

Who Does Equity Crowdfunding Work Best for?

Do you have a great business idea you want to get off the ground? Is your company ready to jump to the next stage of growth? Do you want to launch a new product or service line? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, congratulations!

These are all stages when it’s common for business owners to realize they will need an influx of cash to make their dream possible. Equity crowdfunding is one of the fastest growing methods for raising capital but is it a good fit for your company or business idea? Answer the questions below and see for yourself.

Do you have a plan?
The importance of having a solid business model or plan cannot be overstated. There are different types of business plans and methods for developing them. Regardless of which direction you go, the plan should include the items below:

  • Company description
  • Market analysis
  • Organization and management
  • Service or product line
  • Marketing and sales
  • Target market(s)
  • Funding request
  • Financial projections

Are you prepared to not own 100% of your company?
Equity crowdfunding is not like “traditional” crowdfunding where investors are donating an amount of money for a prize or a discounted rate for the product. With equity crowdfunding, investors get to own a percentage of your company in exchange for the money they are putting into your business. As the business owner, you can determine the amount of equity you are willing to give away to investors. For example, you can choose to allow investors to own 15% of your company and you retain 85% ownership. Understand though that there is a direct correlation between the amount of money invested and the percentage of ownership. Usually, the more money you are asking for, the more of your company you will have to let go to shareholders.

Are you ready for the accountability?
As we mentioned before, you will have shareholders. These are the investors who have given you their money and now own a percentage of your company. This means you could have a group of people you need to communicate with on various topics including how the company is performing. If you want complete autonomy and the idea of being answerable to a group of shareholders is not appealing to you, then equity crowdfunding may not be a good fit for you.

Are you ready to participate?
Companies like Crowdfunder provide a platform for you to connect with investors, but this is not a “build it and they will come” scenario. To have a successful, public, equity crowdfunding campaign, you must be willing to be an active participant in the process of building and maintaining momentum. A plan for marketing your campaign and getting it in front of investors is a must. An effective campaign includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Create a dynamic company profile on the platform
  • Fill out the investment profile
  • Tell your story! Investors often want more than just numbers to invest in they want to invest in you. Connect with them by sharing your story
  • Leverage social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., to raise awareness of your public fundraising campaign
  • Actively follow up with interested investors

Equity crowdfunding is not a good fit for every company, but if you answered yes to the questions above then come check out or platform! We’re excited to get hear your story and work with you to get your dream funded.

What Does it Take to Become an Angel Investor?

How do you become an Angel Investor

The term “angel investor” has grown in popularity in recent years, even to the point of becoming trendy. But what does it mean to be an angel investor and is that what you really want to do?

Definition of an Angel Investor
An angel investor invests his or her own money in a business, usually in exchange for an ownership percentage (i.e., equity) of the company. Contrast this with venture capitalists who invest other people’s money. Interestingly enough, the term comes from the world of Broadway theater when an “angel” would donate money to specific productions. The term we use today was coined by William Wetzel, founder of the Center for Ventrue Research at the University of New Hampshire.

In recent years a combination of factors has to lead to a rise in the number of angel investors. First, many individuals are looking for alternative and more lucrative avenues for investment than the traditional stock market. Second, as banks continue to be tight on giving business loans, the need has increased for alternative business funding. Third, technology gives individuals the opportunity to connect across distances on a level that has never been seen before. Fourth, equity investment and angel groups allow people with smaller amounts of funds to invest to be a part of funding companies.

Do I have to be a Billionaire to be an Angel Investor?
It is a common misconception that you need to be a millionaire or billionaire to invest. If you are a family member or friend and you invest $60,000, for example, in a start-up, you are an angel investor. Typically, an angel investor is someone who has “extra” cash they can invest that if lost, it would not affect their day to day standard of life.

In attempts to protect investors from being taken advantage of, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has set up certain restrictions for non-accredited investors and requirements to become an accredited investor. The following are the two most generally used SEC standards of an accredited investor:

  • Outside of your primary residence, you must have a net worth more than $1 million, either alone or together with a spouse; or
  • You must have an annual income that is more than $200,000 or $300,000 if filing jointly with your spouse. You must be able to show that you have maintained the annual income for two years and that there is a reasonable expectation that you will make that money in the current year.

What are the Risks of Being an Angel Investor?

As with any investment, there are risks involved. If the company you invest in does not make it and must close its doors, you will probably lose the money you invested. This is the case for anyone anytime they invest funds. Therefore, it is wise to not invest if you can’t afford to lose 100% of that investment.

Another potential risk has to do with what happens to your shares after you purchase them. If you do not secure preemptive rights (also known as anti-dilution provisions, or subscription rights), the initial buy-in can get diluted so much that your investment may lose its value. When a company needs to do their next level of fundraising, they will generally “dilute” the shares by selling more. This common and completely legal practice means everyone has a smaller slice of the pie and the shares they do own are worth less than they originally were. For example, let’s say you invested in a company and received 1 of the 100 shares. Dilution would happen if the company sold another 100 shares of the company, now your share is worth 0.5%. If you have preemptive rights, before the 100 shares go up for public sale, you have to option to buy enough to maintain your 10% ownership. You are not obligated to buy them, but you do have the option.

While being an angel investor comes with risks, you have more options available to you than ever before. It is easier to connect with entrepreneurs or products you are interested in. Additionally, equity investing groups or angel investment groups make it easier to connect and spread some of the risks.

What are Venture Capitalists and Investors Looking for?

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Whether you are a start-up looking for seed money or a seasoned business wanting to get to the next level, an infusion of money into the company is often the best way to get there. Turning to the investor and venture capital (VC) world is more and more common. If you are wondering what investors and VCs might be looking for, you are not alone. This article is the first in our series on what investors what to see, and we’re going to be focusing on the people side of the equation today.

Investors are varied, and so are the things they look for. While there are some foundational items, know that each investor or VC will likely bring their own twist to the table or put more value on a different area than another. That being said, you can use the list below to take a good look at your company and get it ship shape for investors.

 

It starts with PEOPLE.

The foundation of any company is its people and many investors who look to the CEO or the founder(s) of a company as the primary piece they are investing in. This type of investor usually cares more about the person leading the company than even the product or service. Still, others place a lot of emphasis on the personal at the top but consider it just one of several metrics they look at. Regardless of which side an investor leans toward, they all are consistent about what they look for in people.

Investors want to see a mindset of persistence and passion about the product, the business, and the industry. Growing a business is hard, and as many of us know, it will put us in the place of facing unexpected challenges. Typically investors and VC have already walked this road. They know what it is going to take to make a successful business happen. They look for those qualities in the company leader and their key team members.

While the founder or CEO is always on the hot seat when seeking out investors, having a solid team in place is also pivotal. Common questions VC’s look to answer are:

• Does your team work together well?

• Do they have the same passion for the product or service that you as the founder or CEO have?

• How much experience exists in your the team?

During the period of building relationships with and pitching to investors, remember that they will be watching how quickly you respond to emails, phone calls, text messages, etc. If you take days to get back to them now when you are “courting” them, it can send the message that you either aren’t interested or that you’re not reliable.

Even though not all investors base their entire funding decision on the founder or CEO, just know that it is a vital part of every VC’s decision. So let your passion for the product, the industry, the customers, and your employees come through in your interactions with investors. You got into this business for a reason and so did your team. Be real. Be transparent.

In our next installment in September we will take a look at what VCs and investors are looking for in your product or service.

Meet David Lasorda: Crowdfunder Venture Consultant

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David Lasorda has a background in the financial services industry, with over two years of experience in FX and derivatives trading at Guggenheim Partners. He transitioned into entrepreneurship as founder of Lasorda Family Wines, a role that has prepared him well to join the Crowdfunder team as a Venture Consultant.
David currently works as a Venture Consultant for Crowdfunder. This role consists of scouting interesting and attractive startups that are seeking funding, and then sourcing select deals onto the Crowdfunder platform where they are marketed to prospective investors. Once a company is identified as a good fit for the platform, David works directly with the company founders to build out the fundraise campaign and compose newsletter features to boost investor interest and drive traffic to the deal. In addition to sourcing new companies for the platform, David also assists on the Investor Relations side of the business, corresponding with new platform investors to learn about their investing background and help them get acclimated to the crowdfunding platform.

Continue reading…

Meet Katie Talati: Crowdfunder’s Investor Relations Manager

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Katie Talati is the Head of Investor Relations at Crowdfunder, Inc. where she focuses on developing relationships with investors in all aspects of the Crowdfunder business. This includes investors on our platform, limited partners in our venture fund and our investors for Crowdfunder Inc.. During her time at Crowdfunder, she has reviewed hundreds of startup pitches and developed a deep understanding of the crowdfunding industry and its surrounding regulations. She is also the senior analyst for our VC Index Fund and is an associated person with CFI Securities (broker-dealer) as a registered representative.

 

Katie Talati began working at Crowdfunder nearly three years ago at the company’s early stage. She likes the fast-paced nature of the startup space, where she gets to work on different tasks every day. Katie believes:

“Beyond traditional benefits, startups offer the chance to learn far more than working at a large corporation. You’re not given the same thing to work on every day. They also allow employees to have a great work-life balance.”

When Katie started at Crowdfunder, she found herself working on various projects in a few different areas. Management recognized her exceptional leadership skills and within a few months, she was promoted to project manager. When the team introduced Crowdfunder’s portfolio platform, Katie assumed her current role as Investor Relations Manager.

According to Katie, working in Investor Relations at Crowdfunder is different than working the same position at banks and private equity firms. At more traditional financial services firms, Investor Relations is limited to managing relations with a list of investors. At Crowdfunder, Investor Relations focuses on the product side. A big part of her role involves speaking with investors on the platform about their user experience. This involves patience and communication.
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Katie did not originally have a finance background, but she learned quickly.

“I studied Communications and Global Studies at UCLA. Although I didn’t start out in Finance, I was able to use my strengths as a communicator to manage company Investor Relations. I’ve taught myself fundraising and finance terminology, and at the end of the day, my investors are my clients. I go above and beyond for them. I believe you should be personable and dedicated in whatever position you hold. I try my best to connect with investors and find out what each client likes to invest in. Learning why an investor is excited about a specific company helps me create individual relationships. People remember you if you help them.”

Being a female leader at a financial company is rare. Katie remarked that although she is highly qualified, she has experienced others doubting her capabilities due to her gender and age.

“I have had people ask me questions trying to gauge my age. I have also had people turn to my male coworkers instead of me in meetings. That can be frustrating, but I choose to continue to work hard and hope that people will see past those things. On the other hand, I have had many positive experiences with investors who don’t share those biases.”

As a financial tech company with a female-majority team, Crowdfunder breaks the mold in terms of gender equality in the workplace. When our current president Steven McClurg joined the team, he instituted equal and transparent pay. According to Katie:

“Steven refreshed how things are done. He values communication and gave me a lot more responsibility. As a woman early on in my career, that has been invaluable for me. I now manage our VC Index Fund, which includes performing diligence on prospective investments, running financial models and reporting. The work is high level, but it’s been rewarding. I now have important skills that will help me at any future position.”

Due to her success in her current role, Katie was given the opportunity to become a licensed representative of the broker-dealer. This license makes her an invaluable asset to our company’s growth. When asked about the future of her career, Katie said:

“At Crowdfunder, I’m able to see the results of the work I put in with entrepreneurs and investors. Our original mission statements centered upon making a positive economic impact on the U.S.. I believe Crowdfunder has made that impact and will continue to make that impact in the years to come. When our company started, we were only a few years over the market crash, and the job economy was unstable. Several years have passed and conditions have improved, but there’s still more that can be done. I really enjoy the hands-on aspect of working at Crowdfunder and feel like we are working to make a difference.”

We are lucky to have such a strong leader on our team. As Crowdfunder grows, we can’t wait to see what new challenges Katie will take on.

 
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Crowdfunder, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim responsibility for any statement by any of its employees. The views expressed herein are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the company. This post may not be reprinted or disseminated without our written permission.