A few years back I was talking to a terrific Fintech Founder and he told me a line I will never forget: “Banks aren’t in the business of giving money to people who need it.”
Put simply, it takes having money to be able to access money. In some ways it makes sense and in other ways it can be a major hindrance to things like building small businesses, where an individuals might not have the collateral, income or necessary assets to get a small business loan.
The modern banking system is fundamentally broken and has hurt local economies for some time. While our forte at KingsCrowd is rating equity deals, where you receive actual equity in a company, we do think it is important to highlight that debt / revenue share deals are also available in this new world of private market investing.
One marketplace that is offering these types of investment while simultaneously providing small businesses better access to capital is Honeycomb Credit.
Check out our discussion with Co-Founder & CEO, George Cook of Honeycomb Credit to learn more about the intriguing investment opportunities he and his team are offering to you the investor!
George, can you give us a little background on yourself and how you came to found Honeycomb Credit?
I’m actually a sixth generation community banker – my family has been running a community bank in rural Appalachia for about 130 years.
Growing up in the family business, I saw the value of relationship banking and local investment. But I also realized that community banks are disappearing at an alarming rate and the data clearly show that this is disproportionately impacting small businesses.
This trend was really nagging me and I kept thinking about it while I was back in school getting my MBA at Dartmouth. That is where I met my co-founder, Ken Martin.
Ken has a successful investment banking career but he also has owned and operated a few small businesses. Despite his strong finance background he was seeing firsthand how difficult it was to get traditional financing for a small business. We put our heads together on how to bring the community banking model back in a scalable, tech-enabled way and Honeycomb Credit was born.
For those that don’t know what Honeycomb Credit is, can you define it in one sentence?
Honeycomb Credit is a debt crowdfinancing platform that connects small businesses looking for expansion loans with community members who want to invest local.
What market gap are you servicing with this platform?
In short – Main Street, Middle America. Banks are retreating from small business loans and the merchant cash advance companies that have taken their place are charging crazy rates (often up to 100% APR).
We are creating a way for business owners to borrow fair expansion loans. At the same time, we’re allowing retail investors to put their hard earned dollars to work in their own community, while supporting businesses they know and love (and earning a competitive rate of return while they’re at it!)
What types of companies are raising on the platform and what do typical investors look like?
Our loan campaigns are generally for locally owned small businesses with an established track record. These businesses are growth-minded and are looking to take a step to expand their business.
We have helped businesses raise money for a wide variety of projects ranging from installing greenhouses to buying a food truck to renovating a new retail space.
Our investors are a diverse group, but they share a common desire to invest in small businesses. Buy Local, Shop Local, Eat Local are all becoming common rallying cries to support local economies – Invest Local is the next logical evolution, and that is where Honeycomb comes in.
How do you think about scaling the business both geographically and from an amount raised?
We are headquartered in beautiful Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and that is where we got our start. Since then we have grown across PA, NY, and OH and we will continue to grow across the Great Lakes and Midwest.
That growth will come through an increased physical presence in core markets across the region and strategic partnerships to reach a diverse set of communities. We are really excited about the energy and momentum in the Industrial Midwest and will continue to focus our energies on being a catalytic tool for the Rust Belt Revival!
All of that said, we recognize that the credit crunch for small businesses is a nationwide phenomenon and we are excited to work with growing small businesses all over the country, even if they are beyond our core markets.
Our typical loan sizes are between $10,000 and $100,000. We will continue to work to expand that range as we grow geographically.
For investors who have never invested in revenue share debt instruments can you help explain how these work?
Our campaigns are actually all traditional loans, not a revenue share product. We find this product is much easier for small business owners and investors to understand. Our loan campaigns are typically for fully amortizing 3-5 year, fixed interest rate loans.
How do you and your team analyze the credit worthiness of companies trying to raise capital on the platform?
Our credit analysis team is evaluating each business based on their operating history, business plan, potential collateral, and the financial health of the business’s owner(s).
One frustration we run into time and again is the SEC’s investment caps on Reg CF. Today, the formulation takes into account an individual’s income and net worth.
We find many retirees with a high net worth but more modest income who are blocked from putting their hard earned dollars to work in their own community.
Likewise, we find many young people with professional degrees who view Reg CF investments as a tool to diversify and build their net worth, but they are blocked from doing so because, despite a strong income, their net worth is small or perhaps even negative given their student debt.
For those that want to sign up, where should they go and what’s your advice to them?
Where do you see the business in 5 years from now?
Honeycomb Credit will be the go-to source for investors – whether individual retail investors or institutional investors – to deploy capital on Main Street.
Honeycomb Credit is a really exciting marketplace to invest in local business and provides investors a great way to get exposure to the backbone of our economy! Thanks George for the terrific discussion.
About: Chris Lustrino
A Boston College Eagle for life, on a mission to democratize startup investing for all people at KingsCrowd, with a passion for Fintech, investing, social impact, doing well and doing good, and an avid runner, cyclist and writer.