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“We teach people to dance like Beyonce,” says Bonnie Lister Parsons, founder and CEO of Seen on Screen.
Not just Beyoncé. Prior to launching Seen on Screen, Lister Parsons was herself a dancer, with a resume that included regular appearances on British television’s X Factor and gigs with major acts such as Florence and the Machine and Kelly Rowland. During her time on X Factor, she saw an opportunity to start a business that would offer instruction in the dance styles popularized by the “great divas” of today’s pop music industry. So if you want to Move like Rhianna, Ariane Grande, Cassie, or indeed, Beyoncé, Seen on Screen may well have a class for you.
As things stand, the business is focused on London, with instructors running around 90 classes a month across a number of dance studios. The next step is to scale up nationally, with the help of a £100,000 angel investment.
But as Parsons acknowledges, raising the necessary capital hasn’t been easy or straightforward. Put bluntly, the majority of angel investors are male. When Parsons began to pitch her business plan, she encountered a considerable degree of resistance to the idea of backing a dance venture that was primarily tailored for millennial women.
“They kept on telling me that it was too early. That went on for about three years “ she recalls. Meanwhile, she was seeing earlier stage businesses, founded by men and operating in broadly the same sector, successfully raising the money they needed.
So Lister Parsons changed tack. Rather than fruitlessly knocking on the doors of traditional angels, she decided to put together an all-female investment round. “It wasn’t something that I planned from day one,” she says. “It was an idea that evolved. And it was a necessity.”
As Seen On Instagram
According to research by the U.K. Business Angels Association (UKBAA), around 20 percent of female angels have invested in companies led by women, while only a very few of their male counterparts have done the same. Clearly then, it makes sense for a female founder to pitch to other women. The problem is, female investors are thin on the ground. The UKBAA estimates that women comprise only 15 percent of the angel community. In that respect, putting together an all-female investment round was going to be challenging.
So Parsons Lister decided to change the rules of the game by targeting potential investors – many of them customers of Seen on Screen – who may not have invested before. And rather than taking the obvious route of launching a campaign on a crowdfunding platform, she announced the offer on Instagram. The call to action was “invest like a woman.”
“We hit our target in two weeks,” says Lister Parsons. “The minimum investment was £1,000 and the majority of people who invested were our customers.”
And a theme emerged. “The majority of those who responded told us they had been looking to invest for some time and they were looking for companies that they really wanted to put money into.”
Or to put it another way. Those that picked up on the Seen on Screen opportunity were already enthused by what the company was doing. Backing it with their own cash was a way of contributing to the company’s mission.
The Commercial Side
That’s not to underplay the commercial side of the deal. The fact that a great many of the investors were also customers clearly helped Seen on Screen’s cause, but as Lister Parson stresses, the company encouraged its new backers to look carefully at the opportunity before committing cash. “We explained the valuation to them and we also explained the risks,” she says. “Even though they were not experienced investors, they were experienced professional women. I wanted to put a good deal to them.”
So what about the male investors who chose not to get on board. Does Parsons Lister feel she was the victim of conscious or unconscious bias? Perhaps, but in retrospect, she acknowledges that Seen on Screen was probably an opportunity that male investors simply didn’t get. “I was talking to male investors who wouldn’t go to classes themselves and they couldn’t imagine their partners signing up either. So they didn’t see the opportunity.”
With the funding now secured Seen on Screen is set to expand into cities such as Brighton and Leeds and the next stage is to train instructors to work under the umbrella of the brand. “Ultimately I would like this to be as big as Zumba,” says Lister Parsons.
According to Lister Parson’s own research, this may be the world’s first all-women investment round. Even if that isn’t the case, her approach to raising capital illustrates that it’s not always necessary to follow traditional routes.
April 16, 2019 at 04:57AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs