The co-founder of a Bristol startup has lifted the lid on his experience of trying to raise £300,000 – and admitted not all investors are like the Dragons on Dragons’ Den.

Andy Francksen and Guy Thurlow founded Target Student, which is behind the UK’s first digital advertising network within student accommodation.

The duo recognised that university accommodation was still relying on flyers, noticeboards and emails to communicate with students and came up with a digital solution.

By using digital out-of-home (OOH) advertising, both their accommodation partners and advertisers can better target their audience.

Target Student only launched in September 2021 but is already in over 80 sites, which access to another 200 properties.

In order to accelerate their growth, the pair have embarked on raising £300,000 for 14% of their business  from angel investors and are currently at £185,000.

Francksen said: “The first thing to say is not all investors are likes the Dragons on Dragons’ Den. There are a lot of nice investors out there. They’re real people.”

The co-founders have so far done around 20 investor pitches, with presentations lasting between five and 90 minutes, with a mix of online and in-person.

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“Our business is simple and scalable,” said Francksen. “We went down the angel route because the amount we are initially raising is too small for VCs.

“Guy and myself produced an investor pitch and devised a ‘three strike rule’ for any feedback. What we meant by that was if three different people said the same thing we would change it. It’s important not to be too rigid as it is an evolving document.

“In my experience if you get in a room of 20 investors and ask one question you can find yourself in a position where you get 20 different responses.

“We sort of threw the kitchen sink at it to be honest and just pitched at any opportunity that we could. We also received brilliant feedback from some of the people at the NatWest accelerator programme in Bristol that we are enrolled on.

“I’ve enjoyed it at times. I think we pitched at the top of a law firm building in Milton Keynes recently, which was a unique experience.”

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Francksen said it’s vital companies seeking investment don’t take their eye off the core business, growing it and taking care of the day-to-day.

“Guy and I divided our day so that we allocated time to raising investment but it’s more difficult than you’d think,” he said. “Investors don’t operate to your timetable so you have to be flexible.

“One thing that we did was start using a piece of software called Calendly so people could book time with us.”

Target Student has raised £185,000 towards its target of £300,000.

“We’re already growing rapidly but the investment will accelerate it,” he said. “Fortunately, we’re not dependent on funding to deliver what we have sold this year but we wanted to invest heavily in the equipment to grow our network and build our team. My advice to anyone raising investment would be to have patience and a ‘not right now’ can be just as good as a ‘yes’.”

Francksen and Thurlow came up with the idea for the business while managing a network of students distributing promotional material underneath the flat doors in student halls and busy city centre locations across the UK and Ireland.

“There were these beautiful student accommodation buildings all over the country,” recalled Francksen. “They had swimming pools, but they were still using public notice boards which became wallpaper.

“If you go into a typical students’ union, the advertising tends to be a bit more sophisticated but we realised that no-one had explored student accommodation commercially.”

The pair were working with brands like Pizza Hut, the ridesharing app Ola cabs and Boardmasters, when they decided they could offer their clients something more engaging.

When the pandemic struck the pair took Target Student digital by offering out-of-home (OOH) advertising to help companies connect with consumers to drive engagement.

They did a successful proof of concept of 33 screens across 16 cities before rolling it to accommodation blocks across the country.

It is a free service to the accommodation providers with many also opting in for Target Student to manage and schedule their messaging too.

“Since launching in September we’ve done about £180,000 turnover and that’s with very limited resources including no internal sales team, which we need to build next to grow,” said Francksen.