When I retired from IBM at the end of 2001, I joined a number of boards, some for profit, some not-for-profit. I also got involved in a number of startup companies. Some of the startups were just an investment, and in others I took an active role.
Startups are exciting. Most of them don’t make it, but some change the world and provide great returns to the investors. Startups get their initial funding in a number of ways. In some cases, it is a founder and friends who had a successful exit from another startup and put their gains to work in another one. Such founders are often called “serial entrepreneurs”. In other cases, the startup is funded by a venture capital firm. Some VCs are small, but some invest billions of dollars in a portfolio of startups. Other startups are funded by Angel investors. A small number of “angels” make a significant investment and then make a profit when a VC comes along and invests after the startup has shown good progress.
I have been an angel investor in a number of startup companies, and I would like to tell you more about one of them and how you might participate. About four years ago, I was looking for some assistance on a technical question. I visited an online freelancer website and posed my question. I got many responses from people who said they could help, but one, Bilal Athar in Lahore, Pakistan, impressed me with his technical knowledge and his outstanding communications skills. He solved my problem, and then he asked if I would be his mentor. I agreed and later became an investor in his company, Wifigen. Bilal’s idea was to make WiFi service more reliable and manageable. He proved the technology in Pakistan and more than three million people used the publicly available service.
I was not sure where the investment would lead, but I could tell Bilal’s expert knowledge of WiFi and networking would lead to something. Over the three years which followed, I funded a development team Bilal had recruited, and the technology became more refined. A friend in Connecticut joined me as an investor and Wifigen refined its strategy. We established Wifigen as a U.S. company based in Delaware, Wifigen LLC.
Millions of small U.S. retailers such as coffee shops, gyms, hotels, pubs, etc. offer free WiFi to their customers. However, the proprietors are blind to how many of their customers use it and who uses it. Wifigen solves that problem by collecting an email address in return for the free WiFi. A pilot installation in Northeast Pennsylvania has had more than 16,000 customers login in through Wifigen. New users are automatically entered into the retailer’s marketing communications database so the proprietor can reach out to them, thank them for stopping by, offer a free cup of coffee to come back, etc.
It has become clear through the PA test that Wifigen has a solid value proposition for small retailers. Bilal plus the other investor and I have decided to raise $250,000 to fund the company well into next year to build out the product offering and put a U.S. effort in place to acquire and support customers. To raise the money, Wifigen will be using a new crowdfunding platform called Wefunder. Instead of a few angel investors making large investments, Wefunder enables a large number of investors to make smaller investments.
The crowdfunding approach was introduced as part of the Jobs Act 3.0 which the House passed 406 to 4 in 2018. Wifigen filed the Form C (C for crowdfunding) documentation with the SEC on Wednesday night and the official fund raising has begun. Anyone can participate. Take a look at https://wefunder.com/wifigen and you can see a video of Bilal and the board explaining the strategy, plus a lot of information about what Wifigen is and how it works, why it can be a good investment, what are the risks, and how to invest as little as $250 or thousands. Please share this with any friends you think might be interested.