7billionideas, one of Crowdcube’s first raises, is a portal through which people can share their ideas. The company raised £30,000 from 7 investors back in 2012, so we were especially excited to hear from CEO David Harkin about how the company has developed since its raise, and where they are now.
Could you tell us about 7billionideas?
7billionideas is a company which exists to connect the 7billion people on the planet with their own ideas. We do this via our social media platform and through our two core businesses: 7billcorporate and 7billeducation.
It’s been 3 years since you raised £30,000 on Crowdcube, what has happened at 7billionideas since then?
Our business has evolved in a direction that, if we are honest, we didn’t see coming. Our investment allowed us to build our initial social media platform, where users share everyday fun, thoughtful and creative ideas, which would otherwise be forgotten. Since April 2012, over 25,000 ideas have been posted and we’ve gained tens of thousands of followers on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Along with the growth of our social media arm came the growth of our revenue streams. We focused on trying to build our brand in schools and created a ‘Think Big, Dream Big’ assembly to inspire students to connect with their own ideas. Every school we engaged with was so impressed with what we did that they asked for more. Out of this demand, we built a portfolio of school services. Since our Crowdcube investment, we’ve worked with over 100 schools and 25,000 students in the UK, and built partnerships with major UK education bodies.
On one occasion, a parent who watched an assembly asked if we replicated what we did in schools in business. We worked on a number of different offerings, which received outstanding feedback, and then decided to launch 7billCORPORATE to help businesses of all sizes generate a culture of innovation in their workplaces. We now deliver iSeven Training Programmes and built iSeven Platforms for businesses looking to take innovation to the next level. We now proudly work with some of the biggest companies in the world, and just completed a project with a major FTSE100 company, which helped them save over £4 million in 12 months due to employee led ideas. So all in all, it’s been a very busy 3 years!
How would you describe the time since funding compared to your projections and plans?
Crazy, non-stop, surprising, rewarding, exciting…to name a few words that spring to mind! When we look at our Crowdcube presentation from April 2012, our predictions and plans have changed dramatically. In fact, I’m not entirely sure which part of the plan has stayed the same!
At that time, our focus was more on generating momentum on our social media platform, but as we grew, we realised our deep passion for connecting people with their own ideas could be achieved beyond not only giving people a platform to share and develop ideas but also by inspiring students in schools and working with employees to make their ideas a reality. It took us time to see this and learn these lessons, which of course we couldn’t predict before we had even built the basis of our social media platform.
Our Crowdcube shareholders knew their investment at the beginning was made at a stage when our idea needed to be developed and go through this maturing phase, and not one of them has held us against our original plans. However, they all knew we were passionate, hard working individuals who were on to something, so they gave us the room to breathe, move away from our initial plans, and drive the business in a direction, which became clearer as we grew and learnt lessons in a number of different areas.
You had no employees when you raised finance, has this changed?
When we went on Crowdcube, we had 0 employees. The directors all had full-time professional jobs in the city, and we were working late at night, weekends and using our holidays to get the business going. Three years on and we’ve now got a small team of 15 at our headquarters, made up of full-time staff, part-time employees, flexibility facilitators and a couple of interns. We’ve got a superb team and I predict in the coming years this number will grow quickly as we fulfil the demand we’re creating for ourselves within the industries in which we work.
What challenges have you faced, or are perhaps still facing?
Every single day new challenges jump up at you, but this is something I personally relish and enjoy as part of my life as an entrepreneur – I wouldn’t change it for the world! For me though, the two constant challenges are managing our cash flow and recruiting outstanding people who can represent our brand.
The first is one that every business faces daily, but it can have a major impact on smaller businesses. One delayed payment could suddenly have a knock-on effect, which makes the whole process of paying employee’s wages at the end of the month a challenge. We’ve put a better structure in place to address this, and thankfully it’s becoming less of an issue, one week with your eyes off the ball can have big consequences.
The second is ‘People’. We’ve effectively become a services business, delivering a portfolio of offerings in the education and corporate industry. These services need to be delivered by outstanding facilitators or consultants, and hence my ongoing challenge is to find these people to bring into 7billionideas – it’s a challenge I enjoy though!
Could you give a brief overview of the company’s financial performance?
Since our investment in 2012, in our first year of trading we turned over £11,000, in the second year £75,000, this year we shall pass £150,000, and next year we predict £300,000.
What’s next for 7billionideas?
Our growing team is focused on getting our message out there to new schools in the UK and Europe, and we shall continue to build our footprint and references in the corporate space. My intention is to grow the business at the correct pace, because I’m a believer that a good idea can become a bad idea if it doesn’t grow at the right speed, with a constant focus on delivering outstanding customer service (something we shall never lose sight of!). Our plan is to build a very stable business within 5 years (so we’ve got 2 years to go on that mission!), and give the business the platform for hyper growth from there.
Why did you choose to raise finance from the crowd over more traditional routes to finance?
I was attracted to crowdfunding for a number of different reasons. One was because our idea was so unusual, it would have been near to impossible to get a loan or finance through an alternative route. We needed a platform where we could get our idea heard and be connected with shareholders who thought big like we did. We were lucky enough to have a platform like Crowdcube available to us at the time, and hence we put all our energy into creating a great pitch to go live on the site. We also felt that if we had a crowd of investors backing our business, that would be a crowd of people talking about us and that crowd would help us indirectly build demand for our services.
Other than the financial backing, have there been any additional benefits of being backed by a crowd of investors?
Our shareholders have been superb. They’ve supported us from Day 1, given us time to breathe and run the business, and only ever offer a supporting hand. They’ve made great introductions to potential exciting leads and offered advice from time to time. We regularly keep them up to speed with how the business is going and I enjoy my ad-hoc coffee/lunch meetings with the shareholders discussing the future of the business and sharing ideas.
Do you have any offers, promotions, events, product launches you’d like to tell our crowd about?
If the crowd out there have connections in the education industry who might like to hear about what we do in schools to encourage students to think big and dream bigger about the possibility of their ideas, please do reach out to us (we do competitions, activity days, PHSE programmes, etc). Additionally, if you work in a corporate environment and are looking for ways to create new business changing ideas, it’s definitely worth having a conversation with us!
You can visit the 7billionideas website and sign up to share your ideas here.