A new design for investor updates
Over the last couple weeks, I've worked non-stop on a major upgrade to our news feed. Today, we released a major upgrade - this page you are reading is part of it!
Our primary design goal is to encourage super-busy founders to give better and more frequent updates to their investors.
We founded Wefunder to help investors get "behind the curtain", to feel a sense of belonging as part of an exclusive club, to see the impact their dollars made. I think of every startup as a social movement to change the world in one particular way - our goal is to help investors feel in their hearts that they've made a meaningful contribution to that movement.
We'll know we've succeeded if startups fail and their investors are still happy. Would you rather spend $150 on a steak dinner, or lose $150 investing in a cause you care about... as long as you got a front-row seat to watching them fight the good fight over the years? Startups are hard; most fail. It's the fight that matters.
We'll also know if we've succeeded when high-quality startups (with other funding options) want to crowdfund because we've proven that having your most passionate supporters invest adds concrete business value - more sales, more word of mouth, recruiting a star engineer, you name it. But relationships are a two-way street: investors are much more likely to help if they know *how* they can help, feel part of a group, and receive regular updates.
We've failed to reach this ideal
When I looked back over the last year, I was sad that we made almost no progress on our vision. We lost sight of the big picture. We lost sight of why we founded this company. Our sense of meaning decayed.
I've learned it is very easy to always rationalize a focus only on the short term. It's a trap. One that ultimately sucks the life-force out of you.
What goals always seem most important? Get more companies to launch. Get more investors to invest. Scale up ops to handle that growth. Do it again. Those are all easy answers - that's how we make money and grow!
And yet, if every now and then we don't take a step back and improve our core experience, our 'short-termism' will kill us in the long-term. Guaranteed. Trying to win every tactical struggle in the short-term will lose us the ultimate war.
And that's how I justified spending two weeks on this project, in the midst of all our other seemingly much more urgent priorities.
The Challenge: Why do founders not update their investors?
Here's the dirty secret: I have not updated our Wefunder investors in 11 months.
Wefunder was funded on Wefunder; we have over 400 investors who have entrusted us with over $6 million dollars. It's insane that I have not updated them.
So, before trying to design a solution, I first had to ask myself, why do I not do it? I'm the prototypical user. If I don't, why would anyone else?
The superficial answer is that I'm simply really, really busy. Like all founders, I spend almost every waking hour doing my best to make my company a success. I prioritize my time to do the things that I believe will maximize our odds.
But, if we move beyond the superficial, the brutal honest truth is that I did not find enough value in updating our investors to prioritize it. I saw it as an obligation, not as something that gave me either personal fulfillment or increased the odds of Wefunder's success... at least, compared to other priorities.
So, the real design challenge is: how can we make it more valuable for founders to update their investors? Can it help their business, or make them feel fulfilled?
The Low Hanging Fruit: Fixing the Black Hole
Whenever I wrote an investor update in the past, it felt like a black hole. I wrote a bunch of updates in 2016, and no one responded. Why waste my time writing when there is no clear indication anyone reads it? So I stopped.
The root problem is that our prior investor update system simply sent a mass email from Wefunder (not the founder), and included the entire text of the update in the email (but no videos or photos). There was no reason to log into Wefunder, nor a way or the investor to reply to the email. And who responds to a mass email generated by a system? Not many.
So, the first thing we did was change this email. We wanted to encourage people to log into Wefunder. This is the new email:
As a result, click-through rates on update emails shot way up:
Views, Likes, & Discussion
Once investors read the updates on Wefunder instead of via email, we could do a few things:
- Include more visually compelling HTML updates that included videos, images, and better typography
- Record the number of times the update was read
- Allow investors to like updates
- And, most importantly, allow founders and investors to talk in a forum
Here's an update that was read 622 times and liked by 19 investors
Here's an update from the Speakeasy with some discussion:
More engagement = not a waste of time
After we deployed these changes, we immediately saw an increase in engagement. It was no longer a black hole! People read these things! They liked them! They commented on them! Yay!
I now find myself looking forward to writing Wefunder's next investor update - I'll get more personal fulfillment if people actually read them and respond. I also noticed that Jiwon got more excited about the updates she was writing.
It's like that Instagram rush when someone hearts your photo. Everyone likes knowing that something they contributed was appreciated.
But that was just the low hanging fruit. There's so much more we can do.
Here's a quick summary of other improvements we made.
Better writing experience
Founders can now visit wefunder.com/write to get a full-page editor.
When we wrote our news feed in 2012, we had Facebook as an analogy of what to expect - very frequent, but very short updates. Instead, it turns our that Medium is a more appropriate model - less frequent, but more in-depth multimedia updates.
A full-page editor that allows unlimited text, videos, and images better suits our needs.
Request for Help
We now have two different templates for posts: writing an update and requesting help from investors. We want to encourage founders to make simple asks from their investors.
Home Page & Automatic Reminders
One reason I did not update our Wefunder investors for 11 months... is because I had no idea it had been 11 months! Time does funny things in a startup. I felt like I had done it just a few months ago. It wasn't until I changed the home page for founders to include an "overdue warning" did I realize how long it had been:
In addition, we now send out automatic emails every three months to founders to remind them.
Contractual obligation for quarterly updates
We changed our agreements with startups to require them to provide quarterly updates if they wish to raise money on Wefunder. No, it's not like we are going to sue anyone if they don't - that would be even worse for investors! But it's good to set expectations up-front.
Easier annual reports
When founders update their investors quarterly, we'll make it trivial - about 10 minutes of work - to post their legally required annual report to SEC.
Better Administrative Tracking
We built some tools so we can easily see who is (or is not) providing updates to their investors. Jiwon's full-time job is now reaching out to founders and helping them do their updates!
Our goal in 2017 is that for every company who raises via Regulation Crowdfunding, a Wefunder team member will do at least one comprehensive update with a video. Hopefully we can continue to do this as we scale up.
Other Goals: Exposure & Build Community
While our primary goal is to help founders update investors, it's not our only one.
Our secondary goal is to help startups get more exposure and accumulate more followers who want to join their community. This is particularly important for startups who are very early stage, who are not even fundraising yet.
We envision a time when a startup will list on Wefunder well before they are ready to even start thinking about raising money. Maybe it's just two founders in the mythical garage, a year before they are ready to crowdfund. They should be able to use Wefunder to help build a community of fans and supporters interested in helping them succeed.
News Page & More Visual Browsing
We added a News section to our top navigation, and made browsing it much more visually interesting.
Company Updates Page
We added a link to each companies profile showing the number of updates and followers.
Each company now has an /updates url, which they can share.
Founders can choose to make their updates investor-only or public. If they make them public, we've added in better sharing tools, and added the meta tags to help with SEO, Twitter cards, and Facebook shares.
The saddest part of a project is cutting it off. There's so much more to do! I feel like I only did the easy stuff! The hard stuff is where it gets special. But alas, I only gave myself two weeks to design, code, and deploy the first release.
Here's some other ideas we'll explore over the coming year:
- iPhone/Android Founder App. It'll be nice to be able to record a short update video with your phone and immediately post to your news feed.
- Polls and Other Widgets. We'll flesh out the full-page editor with other embeds behind just videos and images. For instance, it'll be fun to have a poll feature that'll let you ask a question and get feedback from investors. Or a PDF or slide deck viewer.
- Bounties & Badges. The Request for Help feature is a shadow of what it will become. What if we can add bounties, badges, and a leaderboard?
- Social Connections. Need an intro at a company? It'll be great to search through your thousands of investors and figure out who has a connection.
- Personalized Emails & Replies. Founders should have the option of sending personalized mail merged emails to all of their investors, with responses going directly to them. I always respond to personal requests; rarely to mass blasts.
- Investor Update Templates. We'll add in popular templates on how to best update your investors to choose from.
- Live Ask Me Anythings. We'd like to make it easy to schedule real-time question and answer sessions between investors and founders.
- Forum for investors to talk to each other. Each founder should have the option of enabling an open-ended forum where investors can talk to each other.
- Subdomain Support for Investor Updates Page. Every startup should be able to have investors.their-domain.com, hosted and powered by Wefunder.
Any other ideas? Want me to prioritize something? Please tell leave a comment and tellme!