Before unceremoniously kicking 2020 to the curb, as an industry watcher, I have to make the yearly mental trek backwards to revisit the predictions I made for this year.
This, wretched, wretched year.
Going into 2020, my big two bets were on equity crowdfunding and semi-permanent pop-up retail experiences. Seeing how it all panned out, I’d say I batted .500 this year. Equity crowdfunding caught on (especially with food robots), but those pop-ups? Not so much-ups.
Equity crowdfunding, or eschewing institutional venture capital money in favor of opening investment up to just about anyone, did seem to catch on this year. Small Robot Company, Winc, Miso Robotics, Mellow, Piestro, Kiwibot, Renewal Mill, Bobacino and Blendid all launched or announced equity crowdfunding campaigns this year.
Why did these companies turn to the crowd? Part of the reason is that skipping VC money means there’s less pressure to scale your business so dramatically. But there are other reasons as well as some Founders told us.
Sam Watson Jones, Co-founder, Small Robot Company told me earlier this year that “VCs are a bit different in the UK. There are very few early stage VCs to fund stuff that requires more development. We knew we had a load of farmers who were excited about what we could develop.” Crowdfunding, Watson said “allowed us to get angels and people who would put ten quid in. It’s been a good forum for us to capitalize on the branding and PR.”
Then just this month, Blendid Founder and CEO, Vipin Jain explained to us why his company decided to equity crowdfund, saying, “Since Blendid has recently expanded into retail establishments with national partners – giving us a much broader audience – it made sense to do crowdfunding. Crowdfunding not only allows you to raise money, but also drives consumer brand awareness and advocacy, by enabling fans of Blendid to individually invest as well as enjoy our delicious blends.”
So did the campaigns work? That’s kind of hard tell without speaking directly with each company, but here’s what we know:
- Small Robot Company raised £2,003,880 ($2,596,000 USD), surpassing its goal of £700,000 target
- Winc raised $5.3 million
- Miso Robotics raised $16.7 million, or a little more than half of the $30 million it sought
- Mellow‘s equity crowdfunding was a bust and the company failed to reach its funding goal
- Piestro‘s first go-round with equity crowdfunding went so well it launched a second campaign
- Kiwibot has raised $576,034 of the $1 million it wanted
- Renewal Mill raised $116,777 of its $1 million goal
Bobacino’s campaign won’t launch until next year, and it’s still early in Blendid’s campaign, so we’ll have to check back in on both of those.
I’m curious to see if the food robot world continues to go the equity crowdfunding route in 2021. While it does allow startups to skip the VC death march, so far, it doesn’t seem like a way to raise the large amounts of money a robot company needs to scale. But equity crowdfunding is still a pretty nascent concept. Like so manythings, if someone makes money on it, potential investors will flock to it.
What people weren’t being driven to in 2020 was semi-permanent retail environments. At the start of the year, I thought brands would take to the mini cashierless retail environments created by AiFi with its NanoStore and Zippin with its pre-fab Cubes.
These small, plug-and-play retail environments are easy to set up inside office buildings (or just about anywhere, really). They could, for instance, allow a grocer like Safeway to build a small, unattended Safeway-branded store in a lobby, or a hospital or train station. This is a lot cheaper than building out or retrofitting an existing space. And since there’s no cashier, they can be more economical to run.
But the pandemic forced people to avoid offices and other high-traffic areas, and subsequently pushed them into record amounts of online grocery shopping from home. As such, retailers needed to focus less on creating new retail spaces and more on their own logistics and fulfillment to accommodate all those new e-commerce orders.
I still think cashierless checkout technology will pave the way for a boom in pop-up stores over the next couple of years (AiFi aims to build 330 such stores by the end of 2021). Retailers will want to create more contactless ways of shopping that are fast and get people in and out of stores quickly, and setting up a small, cashierless stores is one way to do that.
Hmmm. Maybe I’ll put pop-ups on my prediction list for 2021….