Posted: Wed 20th Jul 2022
Ellen Ryall is co-founder of ReFunk Upcycling, a platform that facilitates the buying, selling and upcycling of second-hand furniture. ReFunk recently received angel investment.
Ellen founded the company with Meredith Davis, Anna Sheehan and Ellie Walters in November 2020.
As part of Enterprise Nation's Access to Finance programme, we asked business founders to tell us about their experiences of getting funding. Here, Ellen kindly shares ReFunk's story, in conversation with Fiona Alston.
We met on a marketing master's programme in Trinity College. There was a hackathon with the theme of sustainable cities, which we took part in.
Before the hackathon, we had actually bonded over our passion for second-hand clothes, charity shopping, flea markets, all that kind of stuff. So the sustainable cities thing just seemed like a no-brainer.
We came up with the idea of ReFunk over the weekend. We loved the idea of a sustainable fashion platform, but we knew that market was already saturated. There are a lot of start-ups already in that space, so we came up with interiors.
We were thinking "okay, maybe this thing actually has legs", so let's start working on it. We have some great advisers, and we asked them how we could create an MVP without any money or a tech person. They suggested we prove market demand via Instagram, so that's exactly what we did.
We used our marketing skills to prove market demand, find customers through Instagram, get furniture through Instagram and connect to upcyclers on Instagram. We literally proved our market demand through social media.
Once we had that proved, we worked with some tech people who we met through LaunchBox, 'sTrinity student accelerator, to create our first platform.
In the last two months, we've actually hired a full-time developer. That's our first hire, which is really exciting. Somehow four marketing girls have pivoted into becoming a tech company.
It was completely bootstrapped at the beginning. We won a couple of competitions around college, which gave us a couple of grand. And that was great in terms of paying for small things like Instagram ads, and different kinds of branding materials.
Our first kind of big bit of funding was the Blackstone LaunchPad programme – it's basically between Irish universities and American universities, and it was obviously held all virtually when we were in college. We got €5,000 from them.
Then we got onto the Trinity LaunchBox accelerator programme, which allowed us to work on the idea full-time for the three months. From that, we also got €10,000.
Between all those kinds of accelerators and programmes, we'd raised about €18,000 to €20,000 by September of last year. It was really helpful but obviously wasn't enough money for any of us to go full-time in the business, as we weren't generating enough revenue.
We started looking at different investing options. We did explore the idea of crowdfunding because our idea appeals to a wide audience, it's very consumer oriented. But in the end, we decided to go down the angel route.
We got our angel investment in March and that's been a complete game-changer. It's allowed us to hire our tech developer full-time, but also really ramp up our marketing and develop the platform. It's also allowed co-founder Ellie to go full-time in the business.
We've found throughout the journey that building a network and connections is essential, especially for girls who are all first-time founders, straight out of college with no business connections.
We went to Web Summit in October of last year and that just completely inspired us and, honestly, lit a fire under us. So, we put together a really impressive pitch deck. We had a lot of market research, and traction which proved what we could do if we got funding.
We got on LinkedIn, messaged loads of our connections and started telling whoever we were speaking to we were looking for investments.
We started looking in late November, only at angel investors. We didn't just want anybody, but someone who was going to be strategic value to us as well.
At the end of the day, there's a lot of money about that founders can access. But it's really important that the investor you bring on also brings strategic elements and adds value in a way other than financial.
Before we even started looking for investment, we already had our founders' agreements and equity put in place. That’s one of the great benefits of LaunchBox, it really emphasises the importance of getting your ducks in a row before looking for investment or bringing anyone else onto the team. Because that kind of stuff gets messy as the company scales and grows.
We were lucky that we had all of those agreements and legal documents in place before the investment.
Our angel investors got equity in the company. It's been brilliant as they are previous founders and they've invested in a lot of other tech companies around Dublin. They've given us access to lots of people with experience that we don't have – that's been hugely beneficial for us.
I've heard that a founder finishes a raise and the day after starts thinking about their next raise. It's something that's always on your mind. I think, realistically, we're going to be looking at raising a seed round towards the beginning of 2023.
When it comes to funding, I think networking and all of those connections that you make, they all mean something. So, you never know where a connection or a conversation is going to lead.
The majority of people will take the time to chat with you. They may not end up being your investor, but they might point you in the direction of somebody else.
Tell us your funding story
If you would like to share your funding story, email Nicola Woods at email@example.com.
Enterprise Nation Ireland has teamed up with a range of finance partners to show you which funding options are available and help you gain access to them.
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