Crowdfunding is a broad and noisy church, but Jude Cook reckons ShareIn has found its calling within this clamourous congregation. From March of last year, the firm has grown from Cook and her chief technology officer, Andrew Pickett, to employing ten people at its office in Edinburgh’s CodeBase technology incubator.
The switch in strategy behind this growth is expected to continue driving revenues in the coming months, with new projects on the horizon and as many as five more staff likely to join by the end of the year.
The seminal shift came when ShareIn eased away from match-making between start-ups and financial backers, opting instead to focus on providing technology to organisations that already have their own “crowds”. Examples include property platforms that allow investors to take a stake in a portfolio of residential plots, or the launch earlier this year of a share issue for Hibs in which the Championship club hopes to sell 51 per cent of its equity to supporters. “We have got an enormous amount of growth within the business,” says Cook, whose firm will help launch three new property websites within the next month. “We are also in the very lucky position that people are coming to us – we’re not having to go out and recruit new clients.
“Before our change in direction, our revenues were very low. We have found our niche, and we don’t yet have a lot of competition.”
Cook founded ShareIn in 2011 following a varied path spanning engineering, accountancy and full-time parenting, and hooked up with Pickett before the platform launched in 2013. Originally aimed at helping technology and healthcare businesses meet their funding goals, ShareIn has successfully assisted 3D display specialist Holoxica and Parkure, which is seeking a cure of Parkinson’s disease.
But though ShareIn reached about 2,000 registered investors, its founders soon realised they would struggle to compete with the likes of Seedrs or Crowdcube, whose bigger marketing budgets have allowed them to enrol tens of thousands of investors.
The change in strategy was backed by a $1 million (£646,000) investment in ShareIn from ESM, the Stirling-based investment syndicate. It was ESM’s David McIntosh, now a non-executive at ShareIn, who first raised the possibility of providing the firm’s technology to the growing crowdfunding market.
Shifting gears was fairly easy for Cook, whose life has taken a number of turns since her childhood in the Wirral when she dreamed of being an astronaut.
Her interest in outer space and most things scientific led her to study engineering at Durham University, where she specialised in fluid mechanics. But upon graduation she felt her career options to be limited, so then chose to train and qualify as an accountant with Deloitte in London. From there she moved into industry, spending six years in various roles with BT.
She met her husband Caspar, who works in the financial sector, while at university and after several years of living in London the couple eventually agreed with both of their employers arrangements whereby they could do their jobs based out of Caspar’s home town in Edinburgh. This continued until the first of their three children arrived in 2004, when Cook gave up work to become a full-time mother.
“When my youngest was about one year old, I wanted to start doing something other than kids again,” Cook explains. “So I started – very amateurishly – helping people to write business plans.”
She put an ad on Gumtree that led to “lots of interesting people” making contact, the first of whom was a man from London looking to set up a fast food franchise. The twist was that he wanted to sell halal fried chicken in Iraq.
“He wasn’t crazy,” Cook hastens to add. “Part of the reason he needed help was because English wasn’t his first language, but it was a very interesting project.”
Her work eventually earned her recommendations from Business Gateway, which in turn led to projects with a couple of Edinburgh businesses looking to raise equity from local business angels. From there came the germ of the idea for ShareIn, which first occurred to Cook a few months before the UK launch of Crowdcube.
With ShareIn, organisations can run their own funding platforms, or crowdfund directly from their website. The firm also handles private placements such as the one-year bond offering to clients of investment manager Downing launched earlier this year.
Technology tools such as these account for the majority of ShareIn’s turnover, which is projected to reach £300,000 in the current year.
Born: The Wirral, 1973
Education: Durham University
Ambition at school: I wanted to be an astronaut
First job: I worked in a local fruit and veg shop
Can’t live without: My family
Kindle or book: An actual book. Looking at a screen feels like working – a book feels more like fun
Favourite city: Edinburgh
Preferred mode of transport: Bike
What car do you drive: I don’t drive much, but when I do, we have a Ford Galaxy
What makes you angry: Prejudice, pomposity and any sort of pretence
What inspires you: People that are passionate and care about things
Best thing about your job: Hearing about all these amazing plans and aspirations that people have