An Interview with Sonoma West Publishers, a Local Newspaper’s Experience with a Direct Public Offering

An Interview with Sonoma West Publishers, a Local Newspaper’s Experience with a Direct Public Offering

What is Sonoma West’s mission?

Sonoma West Publishers is a small newspaper group devoted to local community news coverage, a mission we have been following for 154 years. Each of our four newspapers is actually older than the incorporated cities they cover.

 

Why did you choose to do a direct public offering (DPO) to raise capital for the fund?

The DPO funding model allows for a broad base of local and smaller community investors. Readers and local businesses gain an extra connection and added sense of pride in the local newspaper. The DPO structure is superior to seeking a commercial bank loan or taking on larger minority partners. The structure also allows for continued independence for our editorial voice.

What were the long-term benefits of a doing a DPO?

New community investors will become better connected to our local journalism efforts via a series of live events, investor-only meetings and periodic reports from the publisher. Long term, we may seek another DPO campaign in the future, depending on the successful growth and sustainability the current investments produce or support.

 

Did any of the outcomes surprise you?

We weren’t too sure what to expect, since we were the first newspaper in the country to launch a DPO. We experienced some slow periods of acquiring investors, but lately as we reach our expire date, we are gaining investors almost daily.

How much are you raising and how long will it take to raise that amount?

Our goal was $400,000 with the 12-month stock offer that expires Jan. 30, 2019. We are currently at 70% of that goal with almost 100 investors.

What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

We are a small corporation, owned by a husband and wife. We did not hire or do any outreach for marketing or other support. We relied on our own website and newspaper announcements and some word-of-mouth from early investors. We never encountered any opposition or criticisms. Quite the opposite, we met with lots of enthusiasm and encouragement, but not everyone who said they would invest has ended up writing a check.

What were your favorite aspects of the DPO process?

We received very personal testimonials in support of our journalism and our journalists. Many investors said we are invaluable in defending democracy. Journalism is hard work, with low pay. The DPO campaign allowed us to explain our roles in the local community and a free society.

Could you share 3 pieces of advice for other groups considering a DPO?

1) Be ready with your marketing plan early. Don’t wait for state approval because the 12 months can go very fast. 2) Enlist marketing and campaign help form your best friends or local associates. Test your messages early and often. 3) Don’t be afraid to ask for money and don’t be afraid to ask multiple times of the same people.

How do you hope to see Sonoma West grow in the next few years?

The DPO community investment has shored up our basic business foundation and will provide for a stable staff. Newspapers must be very innovative right now in this disruptive Digital Age. We seek to grow stronger at our core of publishing local news, and we seek to expand into new journalism ventures like our “reader-powered” newsroom, series of live community events and more enterprise and investigative journalism.

How can people get involved and support you?

Our DPO campaign and new newspaper business model was featured in a New York Times article in August, 2018. We received lots of national and newspaper industry attention. We aim to be a successful trendsetter for our industry and hope we can help other small newspapers stay in business and better serve their own communities through the many new innovations we are putting together. It would be great to attract some foundation or grant support, added to a Lenfest Foundation grant we already have received.

Three Years Ago, PV Grows Launched Their Investment Fund, What Are They Up To Now?

Three Years Ago, PV Grows Launched Their Investment Fund, What Are They Up To Now?

by Sydney Boral | September 14, 2018

The Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts is beautiful during this time of year. The arrival of autumn signifies to the rich agricultural economy that it’s time for harvest. For PVGrows and their partners, it’s also a season of celebrating three years since the launch of their investment fund.

PVGrows is a network of agricultural businesses, consumers and stakeholders that are committed to the “sustainability and vitality of the Pioneer Valley food system.” They are dedicated to the growth of connections within the surrounding community. We worked with PV Grows when they chose a direct public offering (DPO) strategy to set-up an investment fund. We caught up with PVGrows Fund Coordinator, Rebecca Busansky, to reflect on what her team has learned during their DPO and what they are planning next.

What is the mission of Pioneer Valley Grows Investment Fund?

The mission of the PVGrows Investment Fund is to build a food system that supports thriving farms and provides healthy food to all residents.

 

Why did you choose to do a direct public offering (DPO) to raise capital for the fund?

We believe in the importance of democratizing capital. We created a community fund so that the community that cares deeply about sustainable agriculture and local food could invest in their values. We opened it to accredited and non-accredited investors so that a wide audience could participate in mission-driven investing. Our borrowers’ customers are also our investors in many cases.

 

In October 2018 you’re celebrating 3 years since the fund launched. What have been some of the biggest highlights/ successes during that time?

We are very proud that we have raised over a million dollars and invested in 25 local farm and food entrepreneurs over the past three years. Our borrowers represent a wide range of the food system – hard cider made from local apples, a wild mushroom farmer, a port-a-potty company that services farms to meet the Massachusetts GAP standards, and much more. We also have a handful of borrowers coming back for a second or third loan from PVGIF. Our investors are also a range – we even have a church and a private school investing in PVGIF.

 

How much have you raised and how long did it take to raise that amount?

We have raised just over $1 million dollars in the past three years. We are celebrating this accomplishment and ushering in the next phase of PVGIF which is to raise an additional $1.5 million in investments.

 

What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

Developing a strong pipeline of potential entrepreneurs was a challenge we faced when we first opened our doors. We worked hard to outreach and leverage our partnerships to spread the word about the PVGIF. The other challenge is that the majority of potential borrowers are in need assistance with getting finance ready and/or the business side of farming and food. We had strong partnerships, so that was a benefit to being able to provide the technical assistance necessary.

 

We also learned a lesson from taking investments at the beginning. Since it took a while to make loans and disburse funds to entrepreneurs, we ended up paying interest to our investors and losing some money in the process. In retrospect, investors should have pledged their investments at the start.

 

What were your favorite aspects of the DPO process?

The launch!

 

Could you share 3 pieces of advice for other groups considering a DPO?

– Take more pledges especially on the larger investments in the beginning.

– Make strong partnerships, provide lots of business assistance for your borrowers.

– Get good legal advice!

 

How do you hope to see PVGIF grow in the next few years?

We are starting to finance smaller projects and figure out ways to reach further into disadvantaged communities to help all of our communities create a stronger food system.

 

How can people get involved/ support you and the companies in which the fund has invested?

To learn more about the PVGrows Investment Fund, go to pvgrows.net/investment-fund. We have information for potential borrowers and investors available on our website. For questions, email Rebecca Busansky at rebecca@pvgrows.net.

If you’re interested in direct public offerings or transitioning your business into a worker-owned co-operative, fill out our contact form here or email us at info@cuttingedgecapital.com.