In March 2020, Gone West set out to raise £100K to fund their vision of regenerating landscapes across the world by shifting the value of trees from their timber and biomass to ecosystem services. Gone West smashed their target, raising over £146K from 364 investors. 

After their successful round with Seedrs, we sat down with James Hughes, co-founder of Gone West, to discuss his experience with crowdfunding and his top tips for a successful raise. 

Tell us about the story of how Gone West started? Where has your vision taken you so far?

I started as a single tree planter, working for the commercial forestry sector from the age of 20. I quickly learned the extent to which industrial forestry companies ignored the extensive, negative environmental and social impact they inflict in their endeavours to maximise profits. After learning the ins and outs of the sector, I founded Gone West in 2013 with the ambition to change the industry from within. Through conscious timber production and rewilding, we seek to replace the traditional forestry systems with regenerative ones, using the power of nature to create biodiversity and solve the environmental and social problems that we face today.

Tell us about your fundraising journey before Seedrs?

We grew the company from the forestry services contracting, using that profit to improve our product development and Plant and Protect projects. We completed a Kickstarter campaign in 2017, raising over £16K, and ran market stalls in Camden and Brick Lane where we sold certificates of reforestation so that people could purchase and plant a tree without needing a garden or a piece of land to do so. We simply asked customers the following three questions: “Do you love the planet? Do you love the people? What do you think it’s worth?” Once we realised that people were really excited about this concept, we moved online, catering to both B2B and B2C audiences.

Why did you choose crowdfunding and Seedrs? 

We’ve always been a company powered by community, from our tree planters and office workers to all of the individuals in our supply chain. We are all driven by the greater cause to generate ethical, green jobs and establish and restore natural habitats. I wanted to reward everyone in our community that has helped to grow Gone West by offering them the chance to own shares in the company and upscale the business at the same time by turning to the crowd to raise funds. 

We chose to crowdfund with Seedrs for three reasons. 

  1. The Seedrs nominee structure. We thought the structure was very well executed and very efficient, and it meant less work for both our shareholders and us as a business.
  2. We had a great experience meeting the Seedrs team, especially Dave, who made us feel incredibly valued and welcome, and we ended up developing an excellent working relationship with the team members. 
  3. Gone West has always been a community-focused company, and we consider all of our team, planters, customers, and suppliers part of that community. For us, crowdfunding was an obvious route as it allowed us to become a properly community-owned business.

What was your experience of raising with Seedrs?
If I’m honest, we didn’t have many expectations going into crowdfunding as it was completely new to us, but the results were amazing. For example, one of our investors introduced us to The Prince’s Trust and invited us to the award ceremony where we met the CEO of The Prince’s Trust and have since developed a working relationship with them by supporting young unemployed people through the pandemic and giving them the opportunity to access the forestry industry. We also started working with another Seedrs investor on a ‘treehabilitiation’ project, in which ex-prisoners would be hired to plant trees. Simply put, the engagement from our community of investors was terrific, and we received such a variety of requests for future collaborations that we truly didn’t expect.

I loved working with the Seedrs team, and I’m thankful for their level of support. Both Dave and Tom, who managed our raise, were excellent to work with, and we had a great connection. Particularly during the Bitesize Pitch event, where the team’s support really shone through as I pitched Gone West for the first time. 

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs for a successful round? 

  1. Make sure that you have your private investors lined up ahead of your campaign launch. 
  2. Ensure that your company can balance the business’ day-to-day work whilst giving the crowdfunding campaign the attention it needs. So, find your focus and allocate your resources to the right departments. Our Gone West team all stayed in a farmhouse in Portugal throughout the process, to truly focus on the campaign, pitch and communications. 
  3. Be prepared for investors questions. They were the most emotional part of the campaign; there might be questions that will upset or challenge you, while other investor questions will be so supportive that it makes you feel like the happiest person on the Earth. 
  4. Listen to any constructive feedback. Our feedback was crucial, and we learnt where to focus our attention moving forward. For example, it helped us identify the demographic that is the most interested in investing in us.

What does life after crowdfunding look like? How has your community become engaged and helped you?

As detailed in our pitch deck, the proceeds have since helped improve our forestry services as we build our business and look to expand into mainland Europe. Because of the campaign, we’ve met so many people, we received so many great investments, and we’ve completely revolutionised the way we work. We’ve hired new staff across the board, implemented new processes, and significantly increased our brand recognition. Everyone takes us more seriously after crowdfunding; the campaign has validated our brand and business whilst giving us more accountability. 

Aside from the funds, what are the long-term benefits of your crowdfunding campaign?

There are four key benefits that we’ve seen following our campaign:

  1. Our management team, tree planters and clients all have shares in the business, and they all feel like they’re part of the company. We’re delighted that we could reward our community in this way – we can proudly say that Gone West is on the way now to become a truly community-owned business.
  2. Our partnership with The Prince’s Trust has helped us gain greater traction, recognition and awareness. 
  3. On the back of our first crowdfunding round, we are planning to run a (bigger) campaign in 2021.
  4. We are now a part of the Seedrs Alumni Club, which has opened doors to establish relationships and partnerships with other alumni. For example, since our campaign, we have struck up a partnership with Goodbox.

To find out more about Gone West, visit their business page.