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The New Crowdfunding Law: What Does it Mean?

March 24, 2012 · Leave a Comment

March 23, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

  3 Entrepreneurs, 579 days, 1 Crowdfunding Law

Now, What Does it All Mean?

(Washington, DC) – The Jumpstart Our Business Startup Act (JOBS Act), H.R. 3606, passed the U.S. Senate on March 22, with overwhelming support (73-26). So what will the impact be, particularly as it relates to the CrowdFund Investing measure, for America’s entrepreneurs and small businesses?  According to the three entrepreneurs who developed the crowdfunding framework, which was the basis for the legislation, it means a new source of funding, more jobs and a greater chance of success for small businesses.

The U.S. House passed the Jobs Act on March 8 (390-23), and the U.S. Senate amended the legislation before its passage on March 22.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said he plans to schedule a vote on the amended package early next week. This means the legislation could be signed by President Barack Obama next week, if the House passes the Senate amended bill (which it is expected to do).   

More small businesses will get funded

“With the passage of this legislation, entrepreneurs will be able to post their businesses on SEC-registered CrowdFund Investing (CFI) websites and the community will step in to fund only those ideas they have fully evaluated and made an informed decision about,” says Jason Best co-author of the CrowdFund Investing Legislation that passed both chambers.   Entrepreneurs will use Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools to reach out to their customers and say, “If you like our business so much, why not become an investor?”

Investors (who must first take a short quiz to make sure they understand that investing in a business is a highly risky endeavor with no guarantees) will pick apart the entrepreneur, the idea, the business model and the investment opportunity in an open manner with other members of the community.  Until 100% of a funding target is met, no money will be transferred, but once it is, an entrepreneur will have not only cash, but also a loyal customer/investor base.

With the collapse of the markets in 2008, the traditional means of financing for startups and small businesses – credit cards, home equity lines, bank loans and venture capital – disappeared.  Interest rates increased, home equity lines disappeared, and banks stopped lending to Main Street.  Venture capital shifted to larger, more secure deals.  A funding void ensued ($0 to $250,000 in financing) that no one has yet filled.  According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), this is the most critical seed and early-stage growth capital necessary for success and the number one reason why startups fail in the first five years. 

More startups and successful businesses means more jobs

More jobs will be created once startups and entrepreneurs have access to capital. According to the Kauffman Foundation, the majority of new jobs in the U.S. over the past 30 years have come from small businesses that are less than five years old.  Sherwood Neiss who co-authored the crowdfunding framework with Best observed: “We are entrepreneurs who prior to the 2008 financial collapse were able to access capital to launch Inc500 businesses that created over 150 direct and countless more indirect jobs.”

According to Neiss, “cash is king” and following the 2008 collapse it became exceedingly scarce.  “We were left trying to figure out how to launch new businesses and create jobs without access to capital. So we merged the principles of seed financing and crowdfunding together to develop a framework.”

The framework will allow friends and family to invest up to $1 million into an entrepreneurial enterprise, but individual investments are capped below $10,000.  The capital will either go directly into hiring people or into the purchase of products or services. 

More successful enterprises, and a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem

The crowdfunding platforms will lead to more community investing and more successful local businesses because people will have a vested interest in the success of these entrepreneurs.

“Five years from now we are going to look back on the impact CrowdFund Investing has had on the world,” remarks Zak Cassady-Dorion Co-Founder of Startup Exemption. “We are going to see more vibrant communities where the residents aren’t just consumers but are also owners helping to drive the success of their local entrepreneurs and communities.” 

And why is this important?  “Because a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem depends on access to capital.  Freeing up new sources of capital – as the JOBS Act will do through crowdfund investing – will strengthen our nation’s small business sector, and add to their job creating capacity. Being accountable to community investors will enhance success,” says Karen Kerrigan, president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council).

As for investor protection, says Neiss, “Under the CrowdFund Investing model, we believe it is going to be easier to expose fraud with social networking and the real-time Web.  At the community level the people investing will be investing in people and businesses they know or have carefully evaluated.  With the transparency of the social Web, fraud can be exposed before it can take place.  We have seen this work on donation-based sites to great effect.”  

About  STARTUP EXEMPTION: 

Startup Exemption is the name Sherwood Neiss, Jason Best and Zak Cassady-Dorion created to describe their CrowdFund Investing (CFI) framework.  The framework is an exemption under Regulation D Securities Offerings that would allow startups and small businesses to raise a limited amount of seed and growth capital from their social networks using SEC-registered websites.  Their framework was the basis for the three Crowdfunding bills considered by Congress and was endorsed by the President.  It passed the US House in November, 2011, 407-17 and the US Senate on March 22, 2012 as part of the JOBS Act 73-26. The path from idea to law in 579 days can be found at: http://www.startupexemption.com/.

Contact Information:

Sherwood Neiss                                       Jason Best

(202) 247-7182                                 (415) 999-2271

Available  7am to 7pm M-F (ET)           Available  7am to 7pm M-F (PT)

sherwood@startupexemption.com   Jason@startupexemption.com

Other Links:

About The Small Business & Entrepreneurship CouncilSBE Council is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization dedicated to protecting small business and promoting entrepreneurship. For more information, please visit: http://www.sbecouncil.org/.

Contact Information:  Karen Kerrigan, (703) 242-5840, kkerrigan@sbecouncil.org

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Crowdfunding isn’t Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll

March 19, 2012 · 1 Comment

Leave it to the Crowdfunding opposition to turn ‘entrepreneurship, innovation and jobs’ into ‘fear, fraud and apocalypse.’  Now that the JOBS Act is on the verge of passing, the media is running wild with stories that re-regulating the markets (yes Crowdfund Investing (aka equity-based crowdfunding) is re-regulating not deregulating) will lead to mass fraud, hysteria, a loss in investor confidence and a collapse of the general markets.  Most importantly there’s a general misperception among the opponents to Crowdfund Investing that access to capital will NOT lead to innovation and jobs.  How wrong they are.

Over a year ago, 3 successful entrepreneurs sat down with a goal to craft a framework to allow a limited amount of seed and growth capital to flow into the hands of entrepreneurs using the tenants of crowdfunding.  These entrepreneurs had the experience of taking ideas, raising money, growing businesses and hiring over 150 employees.  That’s walking the walk.  These MBA grads understand what it means to be an entrepreneur, what information investors need to make informed decisions, what the laws regarding raising capital formation are and the benefits of a symbiotic relationship to a functioning, transparent marketplace.

The missing component post the 2008 financial meltdown was the disappearance of capital. Along with the collapse of the financial markets went home equity lines used to launch ideas, credit cards with large credit lines and low interest rates used to finance growth, and private money used to expand businesses.  Business 101 – Cash is KING.  Without access to capital, you cannot grow or hire!

So rather than come up with “a mechanism to undermine market transparency, roll back important investor protections, and, drive up the cost of capital for small companies” as Barbara Roper Director of Investor Protection, Consumer Federation of America said, these Entrepreneurs crafted a framework that if implemented along its original extent would have addressed all the concerns, misperceptions and drama floating around today.

The framework was carefully crafted.  It carved out a rule under which fraud-free entrepreneurs and small businesses with revenues of less than $5M that weren’t foreign corps, public or investment companies could raise up to $1M either selling Common Stock or revenue based financing on SEC-registered websites.  Where, investors would have to agree using current standard verification technology that they understand there is no guarantee of return, that they could lose their entire investment and that their liquidity/return is limited to any dividends, sale, public offering or a merger of the company.  And once they agreed to that, would be limited as to how much they could risk to the lower of $10,000 or 10% of their AGI. Where standardized forms (generic term sheets & subscription agreements) based on industry best practices would be used to maintain transparency and reduce time and expense for all parties.   Post funding standardized and automated reporting for use of proceeds would be required on a quarterly basis by entrepreneurs.  Platforms would provide the SEC monthly offering reports that include information on: deals funded, entrepreneurs’ names, social security numbers, addresses, date of births, amount of capital raised, list of investors and individual dollar amount contributed.  And most importantly social media would control the process.  Entrepreneurs would only be allowed to solicit people in their social network using Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.  Platforms would use social media tools to create a deal room for each idea where interested investors can publicly pick apart the entrepreneur, the idea, the business model and the investment opportunity.  And most importantly, NO MONEY would be exchanged until the ENTIRE crowd decided to fund the entrepreneur and the entrepreneur’s funding target was 100% met.  Not so easy, right?

If implemented as designed it would allay all concerns including entrepreneurs who need capital, investors who need proper disclosures to make informed decisions, regulators who want to know what is happening in the capital markets and intermediaries who will provide the social media tools to allow for solicitation and vetting before the crowd collectively and in an open dialog, decides which of their community entrepreneurs they wish to fund and with how much money as well as the conduit for the transaction to happen.

Crowdfund Investing will be a great financing tool for our nation’s entrepreneurs.  The opponents, well they are academic and regulators.  We are entrepreneurs , investors and most importantly JOB CREATORS. We created 150 jobs before when capital was available.  But you know what?  We can’t do it today, without Capital!  The time is now to Legalize Crowdfunding!!

Sherwood Neiss, Jason Best & Zak Cassasdy-Dorion are the developers of the framework for Crowdfund Investing which is the basis for all the CF Bills before Congress.  For more information about us go to www.startupexemption.com/about-us

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The Startup Exemption Headlines Crowdfunding Conference on March 13, 2012 in Los Angeles

February 25, 2012 · 1 Comment

The SoHo Loft Capital Creation Event Series Announces the Agenda for the Capital Creation and Crowdfunding Conference

in Los Angeles

 

BriefingWire.com, 2/24/2012 Roswell, GA, Feb. 24, 2012 — Today the SoHo Loft announced the agenda for its upcoming Capital Creation and Crowdfunding Conference, the definitive forum for learning about the rapidly evolving marketplace for private company stock. The two-day event will be held in Los Angeles, CA on Tuesday, March 13th and Wednesday, March 14th.

In this remarkable moment in history, the U.S. regulatory environment, its capital markets and the innovation that drives those markets are simultaneously on the threshold of dramatic change. We are currently witnessing the embryonic period of a cutting-edge stock market just as we usher in a new era of mass media. At the same time, new legislation aimed at facilitating capital formation is being introduced to support this modern infrastructure. There has never been a more opportunistic time to capitalize on change.

TSL’s Capital Creation and Crowdfunding Conference provides attendees with key insight into the direction of the U.S. capital markets during this period of regulatory transformation and the rapid progression of the developing ecosystem. Attendees will get a fresh look at how capital formation is changing as well as learn where new growth opportunities exist, how social media is transforming Wall Street and most importantly, how to capitalize in this changing paradigm.

Attendees will also get to know the players who are shaping the Private Company Marketplace (PCM) including the private shares desks and exchange platforms, crowdfunding experts, secondary private share buyers and angels, private stock analysts, legislators and seasoned entrepreneurs. There will also be ample networking sessions to exchange ideas, discourse and opportunities.

THE AGENDA:

DAY ONE: CROWDFUNDING – TUESDAY, MARCH 13TH

· 1pm – Registration, pre-networking, Demos
· 130pm – Opening Remarks and Introduction

· Employing Crowdfunding to Enhance Capital Formation and Create Jobs
· Rep. Patrick McHenry to discuss his bill, HR 2930 also known as the “Crowdfunding bill”

· “How you can make a difference and be heard” by Jason Best, Co-Founder and partner of Startup Exemption
· 3 to 330pm – Coffee Break: Snacks and Networking Under the Buttonwood Tree

· The Capital Markets of Tomorrow – Meet The Pioneers of Crowdfunding

· 330 to 415pm Panel: “Legalize it” – The transforming regulatory landscape to introduce a new asset class

· Panelists include:
1. Jason Best, Co-Founder of Startup Exemption
2. Jouko Ahvenainen, Co-founder of Grow VC
3. Richard Salute, Capital Markets and SEC Practice Director with J.H. Cohn
4. Mitchell Littman, Esq., founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP
· 415pm to 445pm Panel: The relationship between Angels and Crowdfunding

· Panelists include:
1. Julia Dilts, Co-Founder and CEO of Maverick Angels
2. Charles Sidman, Managing Partner of ECS Capital Partners and Angels
3. Wil Schroter, Serial Entrepreneur & CEO of Virtucon Ventures
4. Candace Klein, Founder and CEO of Bad Girl Ventures and SoMoLend
5. Connie Koch, President of the Southern California Region of Keiretsu Forum
· 445pm to 515pm Panel: Establishing the Infrastructure to enhance Crowdfunding:

· Panelists include:
1. Gene Massey, CEO of MediaShares
2. William Davis, President of Gate Impact
3. Alon Hillel-Tuch, Co-Founder of RocketHub
4. Steven A. Cinelli, Founder, CEO, PRIMARQ Inc.
· 515 to 545pm – Coffee Break: Snacks and Networking Under the Buttonwood Tree
· 545pm to 7pm – Presentations:
· 545pm: Case Study: One start-up’s experience utilizing Crowdfunding
· 605pm: “Models and approach to building the new sustainable finance sector” by Jouko Ahvenainen, Co-founder of Grow VC
· 625pm: “Transforming an Idea into a Business” by Julia Dilts, Co-founder and CEO of Maverick Angels
· 645pm – Closing Remarks, Meet our Sponsors
· 7pm – Cocktail Party, Extensive Networking

To register for tickets, please visit http://tslccla.eventbrite.com/. Only ticket holders will be permitted into the event. Press Passes will be provided to qualified members of the media at no charge. To receive Press Passes, please contact dsa@thesoholoft.com. To view detailed bios of our distinguished speakers, please visit http://www.thesoholoft.com/our-network/speakers-2/

ABOUT THE SOHO LOFT CAPITAL CREATION EVENTS:

The Soho Loft Capital Creation (TSLCC) Event Series is the only global event platform where accredited investors; accomplished angels; microfinancing groups; CIOs of investors; select merchant and investment bankers; VCs; family offices; incubators; private equity firms; pre-IPO mutual funds; secondary stock buyers, sellers and equity analysts from across the world assemble in order to exchange ideas, discourse and opportunities that will help reshape the capital markets and stimulate economic growth. Our mission is to bring awareness and drive capital to the private company marketplace (PCM) as well as to help develop its infrastructure so that it can mature into a viable and functional institutional marketplace that facilitates capital formation, innovation, expansion and job creation. For additional information please visit us at http://thesoholoft.com and www.facebook.com/TheSohoLoftevents.

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Categories: crowdfund investing · crowdfunding · Jason Best · Sherwood Neiss
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Obama Pressures Congress for Crowdfund Investing!

January 25, 2012 · Leave a Comment

In tonight’s State of the Union Address the President said the following to a loud round of applause: “It means we should support everyone who wants to work and every risk taker and entrepreneur who espires to become the next Steve Jobs.  After all innovation is what America has always been about.  Most new jobs are created in startups and small businesses.  So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed.  Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow.  Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs.  Both parties agree on these ideas.  So put them in a bill and get it on my desk this year!”

Crowdfund Investing is the zero-cost government initiative he is discussing that can create millions of jobs!  The President gets it.  The House of Representatives gets it!  Now we have 2 bills in the Senate.  Let’s get this on the desk of the President NOW so that we can get back to innovating and creating jobs!

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You Can Crowdfund a Politician but you Can’t Crowdfund an Entrepreneur

January 25, 2012 · 2 Comments

On Tuesday January 24, 2012 President Obama delivered the State of the Union Address.  He highlighted the challenges our economy faces and the direction in which we need to take the country.   One of our nation’s biggest challenges he focused on is unemployment.  Crowdfund Investing (CFI) also known as equity-based crowdfunding, is a solution to the jobs crisis.  We originally pitched this idea to Washington a year ago. CFI allows the community to fund their local entrepreneurs to spur innovation, launch businesses and create jobs.  And it is one of the solutions the President supports.   Our framework is the basis for all the bills before Congress (HR.2930, S.1791 & S.1970).  And until we legalize it, we can’t help fund our nation’s net new job creators.

Politicians use crowdfunding daily.  It is how they fund their campaigns.  They go out to thousands of supporters and say, “Hey give me as much money as you can afford (capped, of course).  Collectively it will add up to something substantive so that I can talk about my goals, build my team, market my message and get elected (or re-elected).”  Entrepreneurs do the same thing (take an idea, make a proof of concept, build a company, and hire employees to market and grow) but only with accredited investors.  Here’s the ironic part.  It is legal for politicians to go to the masses but illegal for entrepreneurs to do the same thing.

When it comes to crowdfunding, entrepreneurs are held to a different standard than politicians. Yet politicians constantly look to them as the solution to our economic woes.  Why are there rules on how much money one has to make in order to give to an entrepreneur but there are none when it comes to politicians?  Do you know that 100% of Americans can give to politicians of their choice but only 5% of Americans can invest in entrepreneurs that can create jobs?   In full disclosure, the rationale (according to the opponents to Crowdfund Investing) is that Americans aren’t sophisticated enough to understand the risks inherent in investing in startups.  They don’t understand that there are bad actors in the marketplace.  They are gullible and believe the first thing anyone says.

If they don’t think people are sophisticated enough to decide how to invest a few thousand dollars in a venture, why do they think they are smart enough to choose the right candidates?   Why do we allow people the freedom to use their money as they wish when it comes to crowdfunding politicians but we don’t give them the same freedom to use their money as they wish when it comes to investing in startups and entrepreneurs?  Are we to assume that there’s no fraud in politics?  Should the supporters of Representative Weiner or Presidential Candidate Herman Cain get refunds?

This election season half a billion dollars will go to fund the campaigns of many a politician.  Imagine the impact we could have on our economy if those same dollars went into starting new business ventures?  Businesses create jobs; jobs provide income, which consumers spend in order to live.  Increased consumer spending stimulates the economy. This will get us out of the recession.

Our conclusion is simple.  If people are deemed smart enough to invest in the right politician, shouldn’t they be able to do the same, freely, in a business?   The time is now to change the security laws that were written 80 years ago.  The Internet can allow us to identify those ideas we deem worthy and fund them with the same dollars we spend on political campaigns. Crowdfund Investing is the mechanism to allow it all to happen.  Join our cause to make Crowdfund Investing legal in 2012!

Ps – Our statisticians performed some analysis on entrepreneurship based on data from the Census, the SBA and the Kauffman Institute.  If we legalize Crowdfund Investing over the next 5 years we can launch over 500,000 jobs that have the potential to create 1.5M jobs!

 

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Categories: crowdfund investing · crowdfunding · Sherwood Neiss · Woodie Neiss
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Investor Protection in Crowdfunding – Why for 5 Years There Has Been No Fraud

January 11, 2012 · 2 Comments

When discussing the current crowdfunding taking place, the question is raised: “why are people doing this?” If only 43% of projects on Kickstarter succeed, why aren’t people crying foul but instead pledging more than ever before? ($9M in December, 2011 on Kickstarter compared to $4m in January, 2011). The answer is simple. They want to help someone they know. They want to support an idea. They want to be part of a community and they want some recognition for it. People are drawn to crowdfunding because they are capitalists. They admire entrepreneurs, and they know that sooner or later they may be entrepreneurs as well.

What are they basing it on? It comes down to trust and transparency. AirBnB is one of the nation’s fastest growing crowd sourcing startups focuses on renting other people’s floors, rooms, homes, yachts – even igloos. It is growing at a staggering 45% per year because people trust the system, vet the offerings and rate them as well. On the Internet, when your “wares are out there,” it is on the line for everyone to see. By being transparent, you build trust. Users check out the reviews, read what other people are writing and make careful and informed decisions. All of this is recorded and becomes part of a larger “self-­policing community” of profiles for both parties and a greater community rating system. These reputations today are carrying across the web from eBay to Tripadvisor to Rate-­a‐VC.

Other companies like TrustCloud aim to become a portable reputation system where their algorithm collects your online “data exhaust” – the trail you leave as you engage with others on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, commentary-­‐filled sites like TripAdvisor and beyond – and calculate your reliability, consistency and responsiveness. The result is a contextual badge you carry to any website, a trust rating similar to the credit rating you have in the offline world. These are tools that can and will be incorporated into any online crowdfunding platform to help foster transparency and accountability.

We think any of you would find it hard to disagree with this statement, “the internet today has made the world a more transparent place. Your actions are followed and the opinions flow freely.”

According to the Sustainable Economies Law Center, “The success of crowdfunding sites demonstrates the desire of the public to support projects that they believe in. Enabling the additional motivation of possible financial return would only reinforce this economically healthy impulse.”

But crowdfunding goes beyond money, experience or trust. Michael Shuman, author of The Small Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition, states “Crowdfunding has the potential to deliver the jobs Americans have been longing for. We know that small businesses, especially locally owned ones, are key for expanding the nation’s employment, and these businesses comprise (by output and jobs) more than half the private economy. And yet almost none of the $30 trillion we have in our long-­term investments (stocks, bonds, pension funds, mutual funds, insurance funds) touches these businesses. This is a colossal market failure, driven by obsolete securities laws. Moving even a few percentage points of our capital into local, small business could effect a stimulus home run.”

So let’s address all the naysayers. What if we carve out an exemption and it all comes tumbling down? What if we open the doors to defrauding thousands of people out of $80? Are these protectionists right? Will crowdfunding bring down the entire economy? To them we say, recall what happened in the Ireland Banking crisis of the late 70’s when the bankers went on strike and warned the public that the economy would collapse without a banking system. What happened instead was a peer-­to-­peer banking system where the local pubs became de facto banks, lending money to their customers. It worked so well that some people even joked that there is no better judge of character than a bartender.

Opening the doors to a limited exemption will not cause the fraud that Worldcom and Enron did to their employees and investors, or that Wall Street and Bernie Madoff perpetrated on the American people. It will create a peer-to-­peer system where communities become the de facto seed and early stage funders to entrepreneurs. And if you think about it, there is no better judge of character in the United States than your neighbor, friends, and family.

But there are more reasons to trust the crowd. First, they are massively diverse. Fundamentally the collective IQ of the crowd works like this. Every time a new member joins who has one or more superior facets of IQ, the collective IQ is raised by those unique facets. Second, the values that VC’s claim to provide will be disrupted by the crowd. A VC’s Rolodex is easily replaced by social networks (i.e.: LinkedIn). And the Rolodex of a few thousand crowd investors is much stronger than that of a few VCs. Third, expertise – it is disputable that the people who manage money bring more operational experience to the table than an interconnected crowd of people, many of whom are investing in you because they understand your business. And finally, valuation sophistication – the crowd has been putting their value on things since the beginning of time. Price anything too high and no one will buy it.

These naysayers act as if crowdfund investing were made legal, then every American will dump their savings into this. So either that makes us think they REALLY think we have the solution to kick starting our economy and are afraid of money not being invested traditionally OR they think that everyone for some reason will see crowdfund investing as lower risk than any other choice they make in their daily lives when in fact we all know this isn’t true.

Crowdfund investing is more than just money – it is facilitation, diligence, team building, and valuation. Most importantly, it is jobs.

That being said, we shouldn’t assume that “everyone” will bring expertise. Some will be a marketing engine for the entrepreneur and others will just bring a few dollars. Collectively, they will gather behind entrepreneurs they believe in, they will fund only those they are willing to risk their investment in and they will invest only if they think what they are being offered is fair. Trying to circumvent the crowd to bilk them out of a lot of little dollars isn’t going to be worth the time or energy of a shyster.

There seems to be a general understanding in Washington that government spending stimulates the economy, but that when it comes to letting the average American decide how he or she wants to spend and/or invest his or her own money, then we need government oversight.

We stand at a moment in time when we can use crowdfund investing to start an education process. Where the average American who wants to be part of the process (mind you there’s no forcing here) can be taught to think like an investor and ask questions of entrepreneurs like, “How does your idea generate cash? Do you offer a product or service I would buy? What skills/experience do you have to be accountable with my money and why should I trust you?”

In doing so, Entrepreneurs will learn how to communicate, be accountable and transparent, and investors will provide critical seed and early stage capital. Jobs will be created, innovation will be spurred and our economy will continue to grow.

We do not believe it is the role of government to limit how we can spend our money. Nonetheless, we appreciate their desire to protect our savings and so let’s have the discussion, “if you believe that $10,000 is too much for an American to risk, what is the smallest amount you believe I should be able to invest in my entrepreneurial friend without SEC scrutiny? If you are fine with $1, at what point are you uncomfortable?” That is the point whereby we should set the limit. I wouldn’t be surprised though, if we put it to a vote, the crowd would tell you “I’m an adult, I can make my own financial decisions.”

If the dollar amount isn’t what concerns you but the potential for fraud, even at $1, then we need to have a frank discussion about that.

As Kevin Lawton, author of The Crowdfunding Revolution says, “Fraud isn’t really the issue, ‘Failure’ occurs much more frequently in startups.” According to a Kauffman Foundation survey, approximately half the time you will lose all or some of your investment. Just as you diversify in the publics markets to reduce exposure, having a portfolio of varied investments solves failure in the crowd funding space. As we have seen from over $500 million donated to projects and ideas through crowdfunding already, while people are concerned about losing their money, they are more interested in helping someone bridge the gap, bring an idea to fruition, succeed, and in the end being able to tell their friends and family they had a part in the creative and entrepreneurial essence of what it is to be American. It’s like paying for a brick in a new park or baseball stadium to be engraved with your name.

“Fraud is just some noisy component of failure,” As Lawton says, “and at that, it’s going to be pretty hard to get away with much of it when there are millions of eyeballs worth of visibility and mechanisms which social networking enables to further vet entrepreneurs.”

And thus, the biggest problem we need to solve is education. Running a portfolio and understanding the risk-­vs.-­reward dynamics of investing in early phase companies is essentially an education problem. One way to solve the problem of unaccredited investors making investments, if you think of it as a “problem,” could be to make people ‘educationally accredited’. This can be done with a simple document, which explains the basics of the risk-­vs.-­reward curve of risk startups and the basic principles of a portfolio. It can be done in a few pages and can be sent out in paper form, transmitted via email as a pdf, or done online in a more scalable way via a platform. Before being allowed to invest, people would have to answer a series of questions that test their comprehension of the document.

Instead of pushing people down with a relentless assault on their intelligence, perhaps we should contemplate that people are adults and will make their own decisions. Our job should be to educate: education helps to create prosperity.

Education will teach the participants about analyzing and understanding risk. Nearly every company has a level of opacity. Even a brick-­and-­mortar restaurant business probably doesn’t give you their recipes. Tech startups don’t give you their ‘IP’, often not even to VCs. That’s how it is. Lack of complete transparency creates a level of risk, which is why we have varied portfolios. And within an open market, if an investor has access to two similar deals, one of which is more transparent, which do you think he’ll invest in? Concerns should be focused on the basics of investing, such as disclosures of the principal people in the company, details of the business model, use of funds and the securities offered.

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Categories: Crowd Fund Investing · crowdfunding · Kevin Lawton · Sherwood Neiss
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Answers to the Arguments Against Making Crowdfund Investing Legal – Part 1

January 5, 2012 · 3 Comments

There are two sides to every story.  The same can be said for those who support and those who are against Crowdfunding.  The proponents tend to be entrepreneurs, innovators, and America’s jobs engine.  They are the ones advocating in favor of allowing entrepreneurs to raise a limited amount of capital from their friends, family & community.  They are a fragmented group by nature, heads in the sand, focused on their businesses without deep pockets or the backing of special interests.  The major opponents to crowdfunding are the SEC, FINRA and NASAA.  They are government bureaucratic agencies with a vested interest in the current system, widespread oversight and deep pockets.  Their job is to protect and regulate the large, often complex, public markets.  However they tend to do so at the expense of small businesses.  Overly bureaucratic rules, we see time and again, have a trickle-down effect on small businesses that hamper growth.

The following chart summarizes the arguments for and against Crowdfund Investing.

 

Lobbyists Against CFI

Advocates for CFI

1) CFI will undermine important investor protections and prevent State Securities Regulators from enforcing meaningful parts of state investor protection laws. 1) CFI provides the same enforcement at the community level with hundreds of people, that the highly bureaucratic and costly process of only a few eyes does at the state level. Both State Regulators and users of CFI will actively be regulating the CFI industry: making sure the entrepreneur is real and making sure the investment opportunity is sound. Unless hundreds of people agree together no business will be able to raise their funding round. In addition, CFI users will provide something that State regulators can’t: the ability to decide pre-funding if an idea is worthy through an open dialog between and among the investors and the entrepreneur. Regulators can determine if enough information is disclosed but they cannot control the conversation that will either foster or deter investments. This conversation among the participants is the key element of investor protection that will be handled better by the participants, who have a vested interest in finding the truth, rather than the State Security Regulators.
2) Provisions of the Crowdfunding Bills would preempt the states’ authority to review offerings of “crowdfunded” securities 2) Current State-based regulations do not fit into the way business is done in the internet age.  The SEC will have strong regulatory power over all Crowdfund Investing Websites and only SEC-regulated sites will be able to conduct CFI.  This will limit who can crowdfund and provide a filter of crowdfunded securities.  If startups and small businesses are forced to file with all states, they would spend all of their time and the majority of the funds they raised in filing fees and regulatory process.  Streamlining the process with SEC oversight, while preserving the enforcement powers of states to pursue bad actors is what CFI proposes.  This will lead to more organization and structure for those companies that go on to larger, more traditional rounds of financing that require state review.
3) It is crucial that the states retain full authority to review securities offerings in this area, given the significant fraud in this segment of the market. 3) Before any entrepreneur can use any CFI platform they will have to submit to a fraud/background check.  No other form of current capital raising makes this mandatory.  Unless an entrepreneur’s fraud/background check comes out clean (we also advocate for having a minimum credit score), he won’t be able to raise capital on CFI platforms. The opponent’s argument misses the transparency and speed that the social Web provides in investor protection. If you are confused about transparency think of all the data we emit on the internet on a daily basis.  Any false moves can and will be uncovered and disclosed.  For easy examples think of what happened with Representative Weiner and actor Alec Baldwin – their actions were immediately discussed on the internet: this is the nature and power of Social Media.  Our framework also proposes a “one-touch” filing mechanism so that states can receive a “unified dataset” on a regular basis. This is the same data that they would seek in their review, and much of the same data found on a SCOR filing form. State Regulators fighting to be the ones to control this process will only make the process longer, more bureaucratic, and end up costing more for the same effect.
4) Protections provided by state review are even more essential because companies offering exempt securities under the Crowdfunding Bills will not issue ongoing reports like true public reporting companies. 4) We agree, there is nothing more transparent than communication. The reporting and communication that takes place for public companies is required because of the complexity of their organizations and broad spectrum on their investors.  Public companies need to file public reports so investors can see what they are doing. (Albeit we’d love to see a report of how many investors are reading a corporate’s 10k’s). Because CFI is based on community financing, the social interactivity between the entrepreneur and investors will provide the communication and transparency about what is happening with the company and money invested.  All this information will take place on CFI platforms, which will be open to the community investors as well.  Again, a degree of transparency much more acute than that of public companies. Because of the open nature of the SEC regulated CFI platforms that we are proposing, when one investor has a question, all investors will be able to see the question and the answer. Today, if an investor has a question about a public company chances are it will go unanswered or only addressed at an annual meeting.  CFI will provide immediate and continual reporting.
5) Further, as crowdfunding centers on community investment, the oversight should be vested in the regulator with the most direct interest in protecting that community. 5) Agreed, regulators need to provide the oversight for complex organization for which there is no other advocate for the investor.  In CFI platforms those most directly connected to the community are the entrepreneur and those investing in them.  The difference is now the community has a ‘role’ to play in Crowdfund Investing.  And that role is oversight.  Today more than ever, people aren’t haphazardly throwing money away.  They have seen too much fraud taken place in the “regulated” markets to make them overly optimistic and confident about what someone says they are going to do, nonetheless someone they aren’t directly related.  The oversight is going to be better regulated by individuals that know the entrepreneur and expect him or her to live up to what they say than a 3rd party regulator who is not related to the entrepreneur at all.  Community banks tend to have lower default rates because of the relationship between the banker and the lendee.  The same will be said for crowdfunding.
6) Strongly oppose provisions of the Crowdfunding Bills that would expand the registration exemption under Rule 506 of Regulation D by requiring the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to remove the long-standing prohibition against the general solicitation of these offerings 6) Prohibiting general solicitation had a time and place prior to the advent of the Internet and advances in Technology.  Before these advances it was easier for one-to-one fraud (the majority of fraud) to take place.  By restricting the communication channel down to two people it is easier to take advantage of unsuspecting individuals.  By opening up the field of communication to regulated CFI platforms where general solicitation can only take place we still maintain how people are solicited and restrict it to these platforms.  Controlling who and how general solicitation takes place this way will provide the investor protection that the ban on general solicitation was put in place to protect.

 

 

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Categories: Sherwood Neiss
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Startup Exemption & SBE Council to Hold Crowdfunding Briefing for Senate Staffers

December 10, 2011 · Leave a Comment

Crowdfunding Briefing, December 15, 10:00 a.m.
December 7, 2011

Please Join SBE Council for this Briefing Event

Crowdfund Investing: A Modern and Transparent Platform to Help Entrepreneurs Access Capital

December 13th
10:00 a.m. -11:00 a.m.

 Featuring

Woodie Neiss, Co-FounderStartup Exemption

Freeman White, CEO & Founder, Launcht.com

Karen Kerrigan, President & CEO, SBE Council (Moderator)

Crowdfund investing legislation passed the U.S. House 407-17. Now, the U.S. Senate is considering similar legislation that would modernize SEC regulations and allow entrepreneurs to raise and identify new sources of capital through crowdfunding platforms. How will these platforms work to help entrepreneurs raise capital while protecting investors?  How do startups use crowdfunding currently?  How would startups and startup investors like to use crowdfunding in the future?  What about fraud? Experts on crowdfunding and advocates for reform legislation will answer questions about this transformative approach for raising capital.

Briefing will take place at:

 Jones Day
• 51 Louisiana Avenue, N.W.     • 
Washington, D.C. 20001-2113

  

Rsvp: (703)-242-5840, or mvaught@sbecouncil.org

  

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Categories: crowdfunding · Sherwood Neiss
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Frustrating Day for Crowdfunding at the Senate

December 1, 2011 · Leave a Comment

Today was a frustrating day for Crowdfunding.  The Senate Banking Committee, one of the most powerful committees on Capitol Hill held a hearing called, ‘Spurring Job Growth Through Capital Formation While Protecting Investors.’  It should have been called, ‘Why We Need to Stop Americans From Investing $1,000 into their Community Entrepreneurs.’

Anyone attending today’s hearing could tell it was to listen to special interests and regulators talk about the risks inherent in investing under the current system and why we need to protect consumers.  There was no discussion about protecting people from spending their $1,000 paycheck on a lottery ticket, gambling it on Red in Vegas, nor spending more than that on their credit cards and being locked into interest payments upwards of 36% on the balance.   For some reason, the only area they feel we need to provide prudent consumer protection is when a person is making a decision where they want to invest their money.  Why?  Because the expectation is different.  Yes, we expect to win the lottery.  Oh wait, no we don’t.

What’s the point of having a hearing about small businesses and capital formation if there isn’t one panelist that is an entrepreneur, small business owner or crowdfunding expert?  How do you have a balanced discussion of crowdfunding if there is no one on the panel to discuss how crowdfunding works, the merit of allowing the community to back their local entrepreneurs, how the crowd will only fund those ideas they collectively decide are worth and how the social media connectivity will expose fraud and foster winning ideas.  More importantly, if you don’t have a crowdfunding representative on the panel, how do you expose the blatant misrepresentations from the other panelists about crowdfunding?

One of the most frustrating parts of the hearing was when John Coffee the anti-crowdfunding law professor from Columbia said crowdfunding could lead to a situation where unlicensed, nefarious salesmen “who look like Danny Devito,” could set up shop in a bar or coffeehouse and peddle risky offerings to unsophisticated investors. And “In its current form, [Senator Brown’s] bill could be called the Boiler Room Legalization Act of 2011,” Boy does this drama sell.  His fabrication immediately became the cover story for Investment News.

If you are reading this, you understand that the Crowdfund Investing framework we put together is based on a few main principles:

  1. Social Networking – you are raising capital from your friends, family and community.  Your 1st degree connections.
  2. Communication – you must clearly articulate to your friends, family and community what you are doing, why you need this money, why they should trust you to do what you say and why this is a good investment opportunity for the crowd.
  3. All or nothing financing – using the principles of lean startup, you should set the minimum amount of money that you need to accomplish the milestones that you set out to your investors.  If you don’t hit that funding target, you aren’t funded.

You also know that the very first thing we advocate is a fraud/background check to keep unsavory people from participating.  That Crowdfund Investing platforms will need to be registered with the SEC and that we advocate for communicating who (including name, address, social security number, etc) is raising money on crowdfunding platforms and sending that information to both the SEC and the State Regulators.

What the panelists were discussing today was another form of Reg D offering without the safeguards that we’ve been advocating for 11 months.  Not one of the panelists today acknowledged how crowdfunding works or any of the principles above. Obviously, just looking at them, it is clear that none of them have a Facebook page, have tweeted or blogged to a community that follows them.  No wonder they don’t understand how crowdfund investing would work.

Why is it that the people who are crafting the rules under which entrepreneurs can raise capital are the same people who benefit from the rules not changing or changing in their favor?

At the end of the day, why not focus on what we do know.  Crowdfunding has been around for over 5 years now.  Over half a billion dollars has been given away and while we still expect people to do what they say with their money, no one has complained of fraud.  It’s worked well enough up to now, under our framework it will continue to work well but have the added benefit of spurring entrepreneurialism and JOBS!

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Categories: Crowd Fund Investing · crowdfunding · Sherwood Neiss
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More Proof that Crowdfund Investing is Less Risky than the Special Interest Opponents Say

November 22, 2011 · Leave a Comment

The following is an excerpt from Kevin Lawton, the author of the Crowdfunding Revolution.

I recently re-ran a quick study of the risk-vs-reward profile of penny stocks vs initial angel investments in startups (data from the Kauffman Foundation’s AIPP).  See below.  It’s yet another confirmation that early stage investments are actually less risky and have better returns than “penny stocks” (which the public has access to without limitation).

Fraud has been trotted out as the ad naseum bogeyman, but it’s been nothing but a red herring.  Failure is the issue.  Given any degree of risk, a portfolio is necessary to mitigate against investment failure.  So far, I can not find a person (at least one who has any wealth left) who does not have a portfolio.  And thus, for any high-risk asset class where one can lose 50% of the time, having 1% of fraud is a tiny and noisy component in investment failure.

The issue has always been an education thing (i.e. the portfolio).  Beyond that, if a system suppresses crowdfunding in a futile attempt to fight the 1 unit of fraud, it will not only suppress the 99 units of investment, but often a 3x .. 10x economic multiplier (so up to a 1000 units).  Most of the crowdfunding projects tend to have a geographic locality component.  And as Amy Cortese points out in Locavesting, local businesses have a strong local economic multiplier.

But I’m most curious why we are starving private equity of some serious profits and deal flow.  Please see my brief post about how I applied a black-box hedge fund technique to amp up Venture Capital IRR from 30% to 46%.  Allowing crowdfunding platforms to flourish, opens up the door for some bigger players to access investments in smaller companies, and frankly eat some of the VC pie.

Crowdfunding platforms will include crowdsourced diligence & fraudster detection, which will rival the response time and accuracy of anything that Venture Capital has ever seen. We just need the government to get the heck out of the way…

-Kevin Lawton

Author of The Crowdfunding Revolution and serial entrepreneur

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Categories: Crowd Fund Investing · Jason Best · Kevin Lawton · Sherwood Neiss
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