Inspirational Woman Interview: Nicole Denholder
Nicole Denholder is the founder and CEO of Next Chapter. Next Chapter launched in early 2016, and is a funding portal especially for female entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses in Asia, to improve their access to funding. It’s first service is a rewards-based crowdfunding platform that supports entrepreneurs wanting to raise funds, create market buzz and validate their business ideas. Nicole previously worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in London and Hong Kong in PwC’s US IPO and Advisory practices working on large scale projects across Europe and Asia. Nicole is a regular speaker on crowdfunding with events such as FinnovAsia, HKU’s Future City Summit, StartupNext, Australian Chamber of Commerce as well as running crowdfunding training at co-working spaces Paperclip and Tuspark. Nicole is also on the Australian Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Network’s Executive Committee and a Mentor for The Women’s Foundation’s 2016/17 Program.
You are the Founder of Next Chapter, a rewards based crowdfunding platform that finances business founded and led by women. What inspired you to found Next Chapter?
Nicole Denholder: Next Chapter launched in early 2016, and is a funding portal especially for female entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses in Asia, to improve their access to funding. It’s first service is a rewards-based crowdfunding platform that supports entrepreneurs wanting to raise funds, create market buzz and validate their business ideas.
I had previously worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in London and Hong Kong in PwC’s US IPO and Advisory practices working on large scale projects across Europe and Asia. I had some amazing experiences working with that team in terms of opportunity to travel and work with people from different backgrounds and countries.
However once I had two young children, I decided the time was right to make a change in terms of the direction I took. I spent a few years not working while my children were young and during this time I very “non-organically” thought about what I would like to do next i.e my “next chapter”.
At the same time during this time period, I was meeting a lot of women who were inspired to start businesses but weren’t sure how to make the leap into entrepreneurship. Plus I had read a large number of statistics showing the dismal state of women accessing capital throughout their business and funding journey.
Knowing a little bit about crowdfunding, I did some detailed research and realized that this is a great tool in terms of removing the middle person (i.e. removing the gender lens) and for women to go straight to the consumer to not only fund their business, but to also find and validate their idea with their target audience. This is our first step as a business in identifying where we can work with women to access the funding they need.
What has Next Chapter’s impact been so far?
Nicole Denholder: We have run 8 campaigns to date, with 100% success rate and what has been amazing has been the immediate impact we have seen on a personal level. For one of our campaigns, by Sharon Vipond at Knots & Strokes, they not only used crowdfunding to expand their business profile in HK but to also raised funds to build a building for the female artisans in Sri Lanka so that they had a dry, safe place to work and store their products. This allows them to have a more sustainable production model which then more consistently supports their community. This is a win-win situation for both the campaign owner, Sharon Vipond, and the Sri Lankan community of female artisans.
For other campaigners, we have seen them go from a business idea to using crowdfunding to get their products into retail stores and start growing their business. We also saw Laura Ho use crowdfunding as a catalyst to change her career from finance into hand drawn-illustration, in a manner that is positive, supportive and allows her to grow her new business idea and her personal skills.
There are so many ways that crowdfunding can make a positive impact!
From your experience, what factors ensure that a crowdfunding campaign is successfully funded on time?
Nicole Denholder: There are a number of factors that are critical to running a successful campaign. However the most important factor is spending time on preparation before you launch, especially in terms of preparing your marketing and outreach to your target audience. Crowdfunding is difficult because you are asking people to believe in your story and product and then ultimately fund you. Therefore these are some factors to consider to maximize your campaign’s success:
- Research other campaigns to get a sense of what worked / didn’t work in terms of price points, images, rewards
- Get pre-pledges: 20-30% of funding goal as early as possible as people love to support a campaign that is proving to be popular
- Develop and test your story and video as early as possible so you can modify it if necessary
- Spend time on social media and email outreach as these are the most successful ways to reach your audience
- Develop and test your rewards so that they appeal to your target audience
- Prepare your team and plan for the entire campaign including items such as press releases, social media images etc.
What were the biggest challenges you faced starting and Next Chapter, and how did you overcome them?
Nicole Denholder: A big challenge I experienced was the transition from a well-established corporate environment, where the brand spoke for itself and where I was well supported in so many ways, to entrepreneurship. This was a real shock as you are the brand and no one knows you, plus you are responsible for everything. However I think this is also exciting in many ways as you have complete ownership of the business and also get to drive your future – again my next chapter.
Also the one element I have learned through this experience is the importance of outreach and marketing. The reality is that until people know and trust you then they are not likely to fund or support you. This is where marketing and making personal connections both for Next Chapter and our campaigns is so critical in terms of driving our success stories. We work hard to also explain this to our campaigners that yes, the product is important, but the way you build your community to support you is also important. I believe this applies to all organisations – profit and non-profit.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing women entrepreneurs in Asia?
Nicole Denholder: There has recently been a change in behaviors in terms of rising unemployment, trends away from large corporates to small businesses, and growth in social media and use of technology. This is providing a unique opportunity for women in Asia to use the increasing connectivity of technology to make a positive impact in their lives. I believe that crowdfunding can be part of this positive change by providing access to funds for women entrepreneurs in ways they have never experienced before.
On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Nicole Denholder: On a personal level, I have always been interested in working with people to make a difference in terms of the next step in their story. I feel that through Next Chapter, I have the opportunity to contribute to women being empowered financially through funding. To me this means being able to own your future decisions and define your life the way you would like it to go. However I also recognize this is no easy feat to achieve.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Nicole Denholder: Interestingly to date I have been impacted and influenced by both men and women. Each day I am thankful for my parents who really believed in myself and my brothers and said to us equally that you can each go out and achieve if you try hard enough – whatever that field might be. This was due to a lot of sacrifice on their behalf and I am always thankful to both of them for enabling us all equally.
I have also been fortunate to be mentored professionally by men and women who looked for talent and hard work rather than focused on gender or ethnicity. My mentors spent time sharing with me their own experiences which was an amazing way to learn. I have worked in Japan, Korea, China, UK, Switzerland, Germany, USA, South America and I recognize that in many situations and businesses there are not enough role models to show that women can take the lead in various walks of life. Therefore I admire the women I meet who act as role models and show both men and women, that women can achieve and lead. Also through my business, I meet amazing female entrepreneurs every day who literally glow with excitement about the potential opportunities before them. It’s absolutely brilliant and I really hope that we, as a business, can work with them to keep the excitement and enthusiasm alive as their business grows.
What are your favorite books, films, websites and resources about business, entrepreneurship and/or women’s issues?
Nicole Denholder: One of my passions is reading about women from history and learning about their stories. There are so many remarkable women out there who really, through circumstance and sheer force of nature, were able to live unique lives for their times. From a business perspective,one of my recent favorite books is War Paint by Lindy Woodhead, about Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein. It depicts their stories, but it also shows how these two women established and defined many of the consumer behaviors and experiences we have today. They were truly avant-garde in that. I am a big fan of Geri Stengel (Forbes, Ventureneer) as she writes about the success factors of women entrepreneurs. I also read Women’s Agenda, a daily news roundup out of Australia, that gives a great female perspective on current affairs.