Frazer Thompson, chief executive of winemaker Chapel Down, explains what it’s like following a successful fundraise
We started a journey, 13 years ago now, to transform people’s opinions about English wine. It’s been a long, tough and sometimes frustrating journey. Most people thought we were mad. But some brave folk thought we were not. Over the years, we’ve seen the hardest of times – like sitting outside a supermarket head office, waiting for a cheque to pay the wages.
But now, much of the hard work has been done. Via crowdfunding platform Seedrs, in September 2014, we raised £4m from 1,400 private investors. Our intention was to raise £1m, but our campaign ended up being one of the largest fund raises of its kind in the UK to date.
As the largest winemaker in Britain, we had already convinced people that we make a great product – consumers want Chapel Down wines and our Curious beers. What we needed to do was make a great deal more of it to satisfy their demand. That’s when we looked to the crowd for help.
Now, after a successful fundraise, the journey is really exciting. For example, we have just been able to complete a further two long-term land leases, increasing our total land for planting by 181 acres, taking it to 326 acres. That’s enough to make another 1m bottles a year! The sites we’ve now got on the North Downs offer the finest natural environment in England for sparkling varieties.
We know consumers have thousands of choices when choosing a wine or a beer. So when we asked them for their cash to help us grow faster, we were humbled: we realised that our investors were more than just number crunchers, and our customers more than just buyers of our wines and beers. They were often one and the same person. And we want more of them.
However you are raising cash, the numbers need to stack up, and the performance, history and quality of your people need to make business sense to an investor.
And we believe that our crowdfund investors add extra value you just couldn’t get from a bank. Like us, they have passion, and they believe in the business. That’s creating a real bond that goes beyond just the delivery of a return on investment.
Now, every day, I get a new investor asking how they can help sell or promote our brand. It helps that our wines and beers are good value, distinctive and made in England by a company that invests in its people, its land and its community.
Our investors are buying a brand – not just another bottle of wine or beer. Like me, they have an added desire to see our company flourish and grow. Every time they see a bottle of our wine or beer in The Royal Opera House, a Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver restaurant, or on the shelves of a Majestic or Waitrose, they can share a sense of pride. It’s a great feeling.
Crowdfunding has changed the way we think about customers and investors. It’s about all of us – and people can still join us on our mission by investing and becoming a Chapel Down shareholder.