Meet the CEO and Chief Crowdfunding Officer of CrowdfundNC, Will McGuire. If you love the startup scene as much as Will, then you have probably met him, or soon will. Since moving back to the Triangle Will has immersed himself in the entrepreneurial community that includes organizations like CED, Carolina Fintech Hub, and anything in between. Will is on a mission to provide the education and services needed to enable North Carolina startups and existing businesses to get funded using a variety of online private and public offering strategies, including Investment Crowdfunding.
That’s where CrowdfundNC comes in. Due to the national JOBS Act changes that occurred in 2016, anyone can now invest in private startups and small businesses through a process called Investment Crowdfunding. Says Will, “Now everyone has the opportunity to invest, but most are not aware of what this means or how it works.”
Will is a Wilmington, N.C., native and graduated from NC State with a major in Aerospace/Aeronautical Engineering and a minor in Entrepreneurship. His passion to provide a holistic impact for communities goes deep. He has helped Haitians with reforestation projects and co-founded Legacy Event Planners, an events creator to raise money for charity. “We are here for one reason: to love and care for each other,” says Will. “I believe business can be used as a force for good. It’s the primary reason I worked with the management and IT consulting firm Impact Makers prior to my role now.”
Will connected with Mark Easley and decided to make the Investment Crowdfunding educational platform he had been using into an actual business: “My wife and realized we could not live authentically and represent who we stood for to our 2-year old girl and 6-year old boy if we didn’t take on the risk.” Will believes access to capital starts from a broader community of people beyond just the traditional means. Collectively those hundreds to thousands to eventually millions of people would take their returns on any investment where they were successful and invest it back in their family’s needs and wants, other entrepreneurs, and their community. In Will’s view, “By opening or democratizing access to capital for entrepreneurs, you can also democratize the resources to help the greatest needs in society that are often overlooked or underfunded.”
I sat down with this WolfPack alumni and learned about a few of his “Aha” moments. His earliest one occurred during his youth. Will got his first cardiac pacemaker when he was 14.
Q. You have an amazing job at an amazing organization. Tell us how that came about?
While working at the consulting firm, my wife and I learned it was possible for anyone to invest in private startups and small businesses due to the JOBS Act changes that occurred starting in 2016. This was particularly attractive to us because even though we knew these were early-stage, high-risk, high-reward companies with a high failure rate, having the opportunity to potentially invest $100, $500, $1000, etc. in the next ‘Uber’ of the world before they ever hit the stock market, could pay for our children’s college education four times over or help a charity or someone in need in ways we never could before should just one of those be wildly successful.
After investing in four or five companies we found out that it wasn’t just high-risk, high-reward companies. There were also some amazing founders of smaller businesses already generating revenue who offered to pay 1.5x or 2x. For example, there was a niche ice cream shop that offered a 1.5x return on a revenue share. Invest $100, get $150 back, or invest $500 and get $750 back, over X years.
This triggered a light bulb for me. There are a slew of companies across almost every industry out there that may never be public. All along the spectrum of risk, we could invest with hundreds to thousands of others, alongside wealthy investors called angels and non-wealthy investors, all at the same time. We could diversify a small portion of our savings and/or IRA. However, the moment of epiphany occurred at the same time with two different circumstances.
My dad has pancreatic cancer and has been battling it for years. My mom and he were making the trip from Wilmington to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore every three weeks during the time I was looking for a job in NC. Our house in Richmond, Va., was a midway stopping point for them during the 6+ hour trip. During the same time, I had been visiting NC looking for a new job without any luck. In reflection, I don’t think my heart was really in it.
Then I attended the Innovate Raleigh Summit and heard the recurring theme of a ‘lack of access to capital.’ All I could think of was… “Thousands of companies across almost every industry have used Investment Crowdfunding to raise billions of dollars since 2012. There are 500+ people in this room and probably over 100K in the NC entrepreneurial ecosystem. Why are no NC companies using Investment Crowdfunding to raise the funding they need from anyone, perhaps starting with those right here in the room?” Then it hit me. Almost nobody in NC’s ecosystem knew that this was a viable option for funding any type of business.
Shortly after, a mutual acquaintance introduced me to Mark Easley, “Mr. Crowdfund.” Mark and I shared our vision for CrowdfundNC and Localstake (our partner investment platform). That was my Aha moment. I wasn’t supposed to get a job. I was supposed to start a company to solve a major pain point in our ecosystem. So I left my position with a Founding B-Corp Management & IT Consulting firm in Richmond in March to help solve the ‘lack of access to capital’ problem in NC.
Q. As the Chief Crowdfunding Officer, what do you hope to accomplish your first year and what do you feel is going to be your most valuable contribution going forward?
Our most successful result will be when one highly vetted company from the several we’re working with is funded successfully from their crowd of supporters of both accredited and non-accredited investors. Most businesses are not prepared to raise capital. The most valuable contribution I can make is shepherding them through the process of becoming investible. This involves connecting them with resources mostly within NC to fill in the gaps in their team, governance, technology, campaign marketing plan, and more. It also involves providing resources that help explain what angel investing means. Most individuals, even accredited households, haven’t heard the term ‘accredited’ or know what an angel investor is. As part of campaign preparation, I help businesses include investor education, both for seasoned and newer investors who may be newer to the Investment Crowdfunding process.
Our aim has been to have a couple of highly vetted companies funded successfully within our first year of operation. We also want those companies that represent the diversity of strengths of NC, from preferred beverages to the Internet of Things (IoT), to military veteran-owned businesses. We are going to be rolling out functionality to pilot on our partner platform where all of the raises will be performed, https://nc.localstake.com, that will aid investment around the diversity of strengths in NC, so we’re pretty excited about that.
Moving forward, we’re working to grow our existing base of strong service providers and resources to pair with founders. From helping to refine their business plan, building a marketing strategy with video, or simply serving as a sounding board, we pair entrepreneurs with people and service providers who can make them a strong company and a viable investment which all becomes part of us positioning them to raise capital. In the six months since starting, we’ve had an amazing response from founders and I expect the community of support will develop into something we can’t even imagine today.
Q. What do you think the greatest challenge(s) is/are for startups in the present Triangle startup environment?
Knowledge of where and how to seek funding. Siloed knowledge of valuable resources across the state. Also, I agree with others you’ve interviewed in the past who said the relatively inexperienced founder base is changing. All of the founders we work with are willing to pivot to make their companies successful, but still struggle to find the various pockets of resources across the state available to help their companies grow.
Access to capital is directly related to the education of the market that they can participate in this process. Therefore, as we educate founders, they can raise capital from those in their community who didn’t even know they could be investors in companies outside of the stock market. As more founders start to look at raising capital as an opportunity to make their businesses stronger, I believe we’ll start to see barriers for access to capital break down.
Also, it’ll take time for us and others to educate the market that the JOBS Act law—such as Regulation Crowdfunding (Reg CF) and Intrastate offerings such as NC PACES—allow them to invest in startups and small businesses in their community that can raise up to $1.07M or $2M, respectively, from their “crowd.”
Investment capital comes when an entrepreneur is ready. That means they not only have a compelling story but also have demonstrated how they listen to advice and pivot by pulling others into their vision to reduce risk in their plan. The rationale behind how they will use that capital and other resources to make them successful has been defined and they have shown how they mobilize their “crowds” (whomever that may be) to make them a viable business to invest in.
Q. Share something we might not know about you – preferably personal.
I’ve had a cardiac pacemaker since I was 14. I’m on my third one now and hang the old ones on our Christmas tree. Having a pacemaker and reflecting on how close I came to death was definitely a spring-board point in my life. Gratitude for life and those I am able to interact with is a large part of why I do what I do. I’ll save the rest of the story for another day.
Q. If you weren’t doing your role now what would you be doing professionally?
I honestly can’t think of another calling that creates a larger impact. Borrowing from the CEO of the previous company I worked with, “Margin = Mission” for our community. Businesses and their investors help create margin (financial and otherwise). I hear from people that they want to be part of their community – to give back. When we talk about the possibility of investing in companies in their community to create impact, it’s a ‘Wait! What?’ moment for most everyone. I want people to own their communities. As more people participate as investors and have the opportunity for returns from companies they never knew they had access to before, they will most likely reinvest them in three places—Family/Friends, other entrepreneurs, and causes they care most about. Since all can participate, the impact is more widely experienced by the community.
Q. If you could change something/anything (pie in the sky) what would you change?
Getting rid of political correctness. NC is great because it is one of the few states left where you can have an authentic conversation between someone on the far right and someone on the far left and they can still walk away friends. I try (though I fail often) to listen to the undergirding context behind people’s rationale and beliefs. It’d be a much different world if we listened not to find agreement or disagreement, but to seek understanding from the context of one another’s beliefs.
Q. What gets you most excited about the future?
Knowing I’m doing something to help create a better world for my children and others I’ll never meet. Like anything new, Investment Crowdfunding will open up new possibilities for value creation, several which we can’t fathom today. It uses technology and new laws to create opportunities for a greater diversity of businesses to be funded. Better yet, they are funded by those who care about them the most and can help them grow—their crowd of supporters (i.e. strategic partners, customers, their community, anyone). If the last seven years are an early sign of what’s to come, I’m excited. When greater participation of individuals starts to invest and reinvest returns locally, we’ll build an even stronger entrepreneurial community.
Q. Fast forward 15 years from now and where do we find Will?
North Carolina, Virginia, Haiti, Peru, Scotland, Ireland and various other places across the globe. Everyone can participate in Investment Crowdfunding, right? 😉 All joking aside, the NC ecosystem is unique in its openness and members’ willingness to help each. I believe God connects us so that we may recognize the unique intrinsic worth of one another and encourage each person’s growth. Fifteen years from now, my plan is the same – help people be more vested in the community where they live and help unlock the value of each individual no matter where I meet them.