Becoming an Influential Leader

There’s a lot to consider when running a crowdfunding campaign so it’s a good idea to build a team and share the workload. Delegating tasks can free up your time to focus on other elements of the project, however what makes a strong leader and how do you get your team to fully support you?

Victoria Masso graduated with a Masters in International Business at Aston University in 2014. Victoria is an Engineer who has trained in Human Behaviour and became the Founder and Director of the international consultancy Behaviour Hackers®. She is also trained on delivering tools to build ICT-centric innovation driven ecosystems, created by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU, specialized agency of the United Nations).

Victoria created Behaviour Hackers® to fill the gap between technology and human interactions, to optimise their resources and boost human talent. Victoria’s background in engineering makes her approach unique.

Always motivated by a commitment to the digital technology sector being accessible and rewarding to all, she participates in several initiatives specially to help women and BAME such as being a Women in Tech Ambassador for the Silicon Canal, BSEEN mentor and a Member of TEDx Aston University’s advisory board. She has inspired many of our students giving talks in different University events.

Read her top three tips on how to become an Influential Leader and get set to lead your crowdfunding campaign to success!

Key elements of a successful campaign

People love great ideas, and great people.  In the investment space, they will try to find ideas which they can relate to, and where they can appreciate the need, even if they do not have that need themselves​.  For example, people might invest in the current trend for vegan food.  They don’t have to be vegan, but they can see that there is money to be made.  For a GO! project, they may not be a potential consumer, but they might see that the idea would help a lot of people, and therefore be happy to support it. 

Originality is key – in a commercial setting, it can be your competitive advantage, and if not for profit, people don’t want to feel that they are funding something that has been tried before.

Meet Will

Will studied BSc. (Hons) IT for Business at Aston, graduating in 2001.  His course included a placement in IT at Goldman Sachs in London, and after graduating, he went on to spend five years in IT at Credit Suisse, before returning to Aston for a full-time MBA in 2006. 

In 2007, Will joined BP in their IT department, and has worked in a number of roles in performance management, project management, IT strategy, and now mergers and acquisitions, where Will leads the IT separation or integration for large corporate transactions.  He has been active in equity crowdfunding since 2013, investing in over fifteen startups in a number of sectors, from food and beverage to electric vehicle charging and even banking. 

Will is currently a mentor on the Aston MBA programme, and also a Business Mentor for Virgin Startup.

It’s Personal

In terms of people, it’s good to be personal – explain who you are, why this is important to you, and why it should be important to them.  Explain what you have done so far, what you need to do, and what else you’ve ever done that might give you the experience to pull it off. 

If there is nothing directly relevant you’ve done before, focus on your achievements in the soft skills, like communication, presenting, influencing, negotiating and selling.  These are things you’ll need as you market the pitch anyway!  Draw on your team if you have one – introduce them and what they each bring.

Say it in a video

Make a great video – engaging, perhaps funny, clear and concise, well-structured, and with a clear message.  Make sure the viewer gets to know you, understand the idea, and is left with a clear call to action. 

You want their money – imagine if someone wanted yours. 

Take inspiration from the best adverts, influencers and negotiators you know.  That thing on Facebook that went viral…how/why do you think that happened? 

The video has the potential to be seen by many, many more people, so make sure it leaves a great impression.

David and David (Aston Christian Union 18/19) successfully crowdfunded for a new projector using GO! Here’s their ‘How-to’ video!

…Who you know

Asking friends and family for money is (sometimes!) easy, but if you are asking for large amounts, you will need to really work (or build) your network.  Make sure you mention your campaign to everyone you meet, from fellow students to lecturers, friends at home, even shopkeepers! 

Think far and wide about all the groups of people you interact with – or could interact with, given the context of your product or service. 

Who could it benefit, and how could you get to know them?  Could you offer them a demo?  Is it an app that you could help them set up?  Is it a product that could be sold in shops or pubs?  Everyone you meet is a potential ambassador for your campaign – you just need to make it relevant for them or their network, and leave a great impression. 

If this is the one skill you develop from the whole exercise, you’ll be set up for success in whatever you do, and don’t be disheartened if a few people aren’t interested.  Try the next person, and see what you learn.  Are you in a sports team?  What else do your team do with their spare time?  Who else do they know?  Might they be interested in your campaign?  Might they know someone who can help? 

Keep asking, keep learning.

Incentives

Is there anything you can offer in return, or are you just asking for donations?  Either is fine, but it needs to be clear, and if you can offer anything in return, then that should really help boost the coffers. 

You don’t have to spend money on this – it doesn’t have to be a t-shirt, mug or prize draw.  It might just be free access to your idea, for example a free lesson or session, or even just a discount.

Timing is Key

Finally, as you can see from the above, there is a lot to think about, and a lot to do!  Make sure you allow plenty of time to do it, and don’t underestimate the time it takes to get it out in front of people, keep momentum, and answer questions.  All this is valuable to your cause, and will increase your chances of success – so plan how it will fit around your studies.

Will Perrin, IT M&A Manager

Brand your Start-up

If you’re working on a business idea as part of your placement or your idea is something which can benefit students then you can use GO! not only to raise funds but as a tool to build brand awareness.

Meet Mike

We asked Aston alum Mike Stevens who graduated with a 1st in Logistics (1998) to share his thoughts on branding.

Mike sold the Peppersmith company in 2018 and now helps start-up business and challenger brands, which is why we had to pick his brains!

Mike joined the start-up team at Innocent drinks in 2001 heading up their supply chain function for 6 years then spent 2 years managing the launch of the brand into Scandinavia.

In 2009 he co-founded, Peppersmith, the UK’s first healthy confectionery gum and mint brand.  Peppersmith products can now be found across the country in major supermarkets and stores.

Why is it important to have a brand?

Whether you are a product or service, your brand is your most important asset. Your brand is the embodiment of who you are, what you do and how that connects with the world.

You must have a brand else it will be impossible for your customers to understand if your company and products are right for them. Needing a brand applies whether you make consumer products or sell business to business. For example, you don’t have to see an advert or visit the website for Ferrari or Poundland to understand what you are likely to get from those businesses.

The reason you know what to expect from those companies without thinking too hard is their brand at work.

What does your brand represent?

A brand is much more than a fancy logo and a nice website. It represents what the customer will think and feel when they consider your business. The reactions you brand evokes could be represented by descriptions like “good value”, “environmentally-conscious”, “great service”, “high specification”, “innovative”, “safe” etc.

These are all strategic choices your business will make along the way; however, it is your brand which will tell the customer what sort of company you are.

Honesty is the best policy

If there is a brand mismatch, you have a problem. If your brand has high prices, looks chic, and promises high quality yet your products are poorly made and the market has a glut of cheaper alternatives, then you have a problem. Your customers will feel misled, your reputation will suffer, and demand will dry up. If however, you sell the same products, but with promises you can keep, like convenience and quick service, you may be okay even without changing the price. In this instance, you are marketing to people who value convenience and service over durability and a high spec.

The best brand advice is to be brutally honest about who you are and what you stand for. Then find people who most value those things. If you are lucky, there will be enough of them to justify your existence, if not you will have to change something about your offer and then, in turn, communicate this change through your branding.

Branding is not a marketing tactic; it is the totality of how your business communicates how it is different from the rest of the market.

Communication is Key

The good news is if you are happy to tell the truth about your products, your business and what you stand for it is relatively easy to build a brand. You need to consistently tell your story again and again and in a level of detail that is proportionate to the level of interest.

You should not feel the need to tell everyone everything about your business, start with your most important messages, the things you care most about and the biggest difference you can make. You can then expand your messaging and drill down into the detail but only once you have gained the right level of interest with someone who wants to know more.

This thoughtful communication is brand building. Once you have established your brand, then you build trust. Without trust, it is unlikely you will get many customers.

Tell you story via your brand

In summary, a brand is your story and a short-cut to help people understand what gets you out of bed in the morning. If enough people want that thing, then your job is to tell your story via your brand and then make sure it gets discovered by those people who will value it the most.

Mike Stevens (Writer | Freelance consultant for start-ups and challenger brands | Advisor | Mentor at Stevens.Earth)