25-year-old, Liverpool-born Annie O’Toole is the founder of JUXDIT: an exclusive marketplace for successfully crowdfunded products. A business student from Liverpool John Moores University, she has this year been named National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE)’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and is currently expanding the company internationally via a significant seed investment.
I was in university and I wasn’t so sure about what I wanted to do; I’d just dropped out of Law, I’d started a Business Studies degree, and I just felt as though I wanted to create something. I’ve always been very enterprising; I started my first business when I was 12, looking after horses — horse babysitting! — and I felt like I wanted to start my own company again.
I attended the LJMU Centre for Entrepreneurship, and then all of a sudden I came up with the idea of offline crowdfunding, so like community crowdfunding. The Real Life Crowdfunding Company was born. I started helping people with their online campaigns: PR, digital marketing strategy rewards; general crowdfunding help, basically. I worked on successful campaigns and I worked on unsuccessful campaigns. I learnt a lot and I suppose the JUXDIT agency just grew from there.
I wanted to buy a product for a Christmas present and I couldn’t find it online, anywhere. So I started looking for other products that had been successfully crowdfunded — couldn’t find them. And what I couldn’t understand was that the crowd had loved them so much that they had backed them six months before they were going to get their item; they gave these people their money in advance, because they wanted that product so badly. I thought: If it’s got that much of a pull for people, then I don’t understand why they’re not being sold anywhere.
So I started to explore the concept of launching the marketplace. I had no money, so I spoke to quite a few people and the general consensus was if you can build an agency and you can make money through your agency, you can fund the build of your platform. So I started with that, and the past 18 months have just been dedicated to getting the retail off the ground, but also running an agency as well, so I’ve had to wear two hats throughout the company’s growth.
We’re collecting data, and also working with vendors so that when we launch our next platform, it’s a better version of what’s there now. We’ve established brand trust, figured out who are target audience are, what their behaviours are, and where we’re best spending our marketing budget. And we’re currently working with some quite high-profile investors now who are going to be funding my seed round of investments to build the next stage of JUXDIT.com. It’s a step, and we’ll probably have to fund again in a year or two to grow the next stages.
We’re about to launch an equity campaign for Teach Tennis International’s (TTI) app, so they’ll be giving away equity for investment, and it’s a really exciting time for them as a company. Goat Story launched a Kickstarter campaign that just totally took off, people just loved it. A lot of the products that are on crowdfunding platforms solve an everyday problem that people haven’t really realised they even have.
Exactly, there’s a lot of bike-related products. The ones that I champion, that I love, are the products that are based around getting young girls into STEM [science, technology, engineering, maths]. So there’s Goldie Blox, for instance: a children’s engineering toy aimed at girls. The lady who founded it, Debbie Sterling, said she was fed up of boys having building blocks and engineering tools and girls just being given dolls.
Liverpool’s a great city: we’ve got amazing connections, we were born from industry, and there’s something about the people here. That’s what keeps me here.
The majority are international. I think we have one vendor from the UK. Britain is an industry leader in crowdfunding, but the general public aren’t there yet, and that’s the issue we’re currently facing. Our plans in the very near future are to facilitate sales across Europe, and then to export our model into China. I’ll be going to China soon, which is a very daunting task. If we can crack China then I’m good at my job.
Firstly, they can’t produce the quantity of items that they need to produce; they don’t have the money, team or resources to do it. Secondly, they don’t have the marketing budget to even get themselves on high-street stores’ radars; e.g. to get into the purchasing teams to show traction, to show sales reports and how well they’ve done previously. There’s just this huge gap that they have to navigate; so many businesses fall into that pit and can’t get out. So many amazing products are lost and I feel like it’s a huge shame.
We can stop that from happening if we can bridge that space between the end of a crowdfunding campaign and when they manage to get themselves into John Lewis or the Early Learning Centre or Shop Direct — wherever they’re gonna be stocked. JUXDIT want to help accelerate these products and these brands; it’s our business to solve that problem.
It’s where we are, it’s where we’re from, it’s where we were born. Liverpool’s a great city: we’ve got amazing connections, we were born from industry, and there’s something about the people here. That’s what keeps me here. It’s not as expensive as London, but we’re only two hours from London on the train. We’re also in a good position with what’s going on with exporting and importing.