This article was originally published on crowdsourcing.org.
A year ago, Jason Best, Zak Cassady-Dorion and I were deep in the trenches either trying to launch, grow or expand our entrepreneurial endeavors. There was a common thread to all our stories: capital was scarce. The trickle-down effect of the global recession was having a negative impact on our ability to innovate. Without access to capital, how could we grow and hire? If jobs were the economic stimulus needed to lift our nation out of the recession, then someone needed to address the capital crisis facing entrepreneurs and small businesses, our nation’s job creators.
With that, we sat down and crafted a framework to allow an entrepreneur to raise a limited amount of equity capital from his friends, family or community using the tenants of crowdfunding. We then embarked upon changing outdated security laws, which were written for a period in time that did not reflect today’s technology, the internet or the flow of information. We further vetted our framework at a symposium we held in San Francisco attended by security lawyers, academics, investors, crowdfunding platforms and entrepreneurs. Buy-in was building from the community at large.
With the help of Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, Washington started to listen. President Obama came out in favor of our proposal to make equity-based crowdfunding legal, then the House drafted the first bill — H.R. 2930, the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act — and, in a rare burst of bipartisan support, passed it 407-17. Now there are two bills in front of the Senate. All signs are pointing to some version of crowdfunding for entrepreneurs being legal the beginning of 2012.
While we aren’t done yet, our story is one of trial and perseverance, of old vs. new. Many people have asked us what we’ve learned along the way, so here are 13 lessons from our journey to get this legislation passed…
1) Giving up is not an option.
2) When you’re in a recession and you have a solution to the jobs crisis, people listen.
3) There is power in a few voices. Showing up in Washington is more than half the battle. Making your voice heard does resonate and people on Capitol Hill can and have been incredibly gracious with their time, experience and knowledge.
4) The people trying to run the government aren’t bad people. As a matter of fact, the majority of people there work insanely hard for the good of our nation, but the bureaucracy makes it difficult to understand and the media spins public perception of our elected officials.
5) On the Hill, both sides need to feel like they are winning. In order to get to the end goal, you need to present Washington with 100% of something that will be reduced to 25%, whereby each party can add back bits and pieces, bringing it up to 85% or so. We might not get 100% of what we want, but both parties will feel satisfied that they did their job.
6) Fear is the enemy of progress. The special interests have spent countless hours and dollars to derail the discussion from entrepreneurship, opportunity and jobs to focus on fraud. Fraud sells like sex and their message resonates with the media even though it defies logic. We haven’t shut down the markets because of fraud.
7) It is true, money and special interests (lobbies) control Washington in an unhealthy way and eerily so. They don’t try too hard to hide who they represent. You quickly come to understand how the special interests can be nice to your face and stab you in the back. If only you could have been present for some of the nice chats we’ve had with the special interests only to see what they espouse in the media.
8) Believe it or not, there is logic to some of what the opposition has to say. Fraud is an important point. Social media and crowd vetting has shown how we can mitigate this.
9) It is easier for the opposition to focus on the past than craft a working solution for the future. The opposition isn’t focused on helping the American economy and creating jobs. They don’t claim to be. And yet no one asks them, if you see the problems in the capital markets firsthand, why don’t you see the solutions as well?
10) In America, one’s right to use one’s money as he see fit is trumped by the government’s right to tell you how you can invest it. Isn’t there a first amendment case here?
11) Lobbying is exhausting; it takes a lot of patience and you have to get comfortable educating and repeating the same information over and over.
12) Nothing in life is free. This has cost us a lot of personal time, energy and money. We are grateful to people that have supported our struggle and are dismayed by those who stand to benefit the most but not participated materially or financially. It is no wonder why special interests succeed with the endless flow of capital to their coiffeurs. Couch surfing — thank you various D.C. friends — is exhausting and eating up your own financial resources is painful.
13) And once more: giving up is not an option.