Category Archives: Crowdfunding

Raising Capital Online: An Introduction For Real Estate Developers

If you’re a real estate developer accustomed to raising capital through traditional channels, you’re probably wondering about Crowdfunding. In this post, I’m going to provide some basic information, then try to answer the questions I hear most.

Basics of Crowdfunding

  • It’s Not Kickstarter. On Kickstarter, people make gifts, often to strangers. You’re not going to ask for gifts. Instead, you’re looking for investors, and in exchange for their money you’re going to give them the same kinds of legal instruments you’d give an investor in the offline world: an interest in an LLC, a convertible note, or something else.
  • It’s Just the Internet. For better or worse, a certain mystique has developed around Crowdfunding, if only because it’s so new. But Crowdfunding is just the Internet, finally come to the capital formation industry. We buy airline tickets online, we call a cab online, we search for significant others online, now we can search for capital online. If you’re comfortable buying socks on Amazon, you’ll be comfortable raising money using Crowdfunding.
  • Why Crowdfunding? How many investors do you know? Twelve? Seventy-two? With Crowdfunding, you can put your project in front of every investor in the world. And you’ll probably get better terms.
  • The Market Is Small But Growing Quickly. Title II Crowdfunding became legal in September 2013, Title IV in June 2015, and Title III in May 2016. The amounts being raised are in the billions of dollars per year, small in terms of the overall U.S. capital markets but growing quickly.
  • There Are Three Flavors of Crowdfunding. Crowdfunding was created by the JOBS Act of 2012. The three flavors of Crowdfunding are named for three of the sections, or “Titles,” of the JOBS Act:
    • Title II, which allows only accredited investors (in general, those with $200,000 of income or $1 million of net worth, not counting a principal residence) but is otherwise largely unregulated.
    • Title III, which allows issuers to raise up to $1 million per year, through a highly-regulated online process.
    • Title IV, which allows issuers to raise up to $50 million per year in what amounts to a mini-public offering.

For more information, take a look at this chart. But first, read the next bullet point.

  • You Don’t Have to Learn the Legal Rules. You’re a real estate developer, not a lawyer. You don’t have to become a lawyer to raise money using Crowdfunding, and in terms of lifestyle I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • You Don’t Have to Write Computer Code. You’re a real estate developer, not an IT professional. You don’t have to know or learn anything about technology to raise money through Crowdfunding.
  • Crowdfunding is About Marketing. It’s not a technology business, it’s not even a real estate business. Crowdfunding is all about marketing. You create a product that investors will want, and you market both the product and your track record. Just as you rely on your lawyer for legal advice and your IT folks for technology, you rely on marketing professionals to sell yourself and the product.

Common Questions

  • Will I Have More Liability? Here’s a long and technical blog post, listing all the ways that an issuer of securities in Crowdfunding can be liable. By all means share this with your regular lawyer and ask for his or her opinion. But the bottom line is that if you do it right, raising money through Crowdfunding creates no more liability than raising money through traditional channels. It’s just the Internet.
  • Will Banks Lend Money for Crowdfunded Deals? In the earliest stages of Crowdfunding, some lenders balked at deals that involved a bunch of passive investors. But we crossed that bridge long ago. Today, banks and other institutional lenders routinely finance Crowdfunding deals.
  • Isn’t It a Hassle Dealing with All Those Investors? It can be, but doesn’t have to be. For one thing, investors in the Crowdfunding world get no voting or management rights. If you’re used to the private equity guys looking over your shoulder, you’ll be thrilled with Crowdfunding. For another thing, if you use one of the existing Crowdfunding portals (see below), you can outsource a large part of the initial investor relations.
  • I’ve Heard That Investors Must Be Verified – How Does That Work? In Title II Crowdfunding, the issuer – you – must verify that every investor is accredited. In theoretical terms that could mean asking for tax returns, brokerage statements, and other confidential information. But in practical terms it just means engaging a third party like VerifyInvestor. Most verification is done with a simple letter from the investor’s lawyer or accountant.
  • How Much Money Can I Raise? In a typical Title II offering, developers typically raise $1M to $3M of equity.
  • If Crowdfunding is Still Small, Why Start Now? One, you can raise capital for smaller deals. Two, it’s about building a brand in the online market. In a few years, when developers are raising $30M rather than $3M, the developer who built his brand early is more likely to be funded.
  • Is Crowdfunding All or Nothing? No, not at all. You can raise part of the capital stack through Crowdfunding and the balance through traditional channels.
  • Will I Need a PPM? You’ll generally provide the same information to prospective investors in the online world as you’re accustomed to providing in the offline world.
  • Why Am I Seeing All These REITs in Crowdfunding? Three reasons:
    • Most retail investors have neither the skill nor the desire to select individual real estate projects. Just as retail investors prefer mutual funds to picking individual stocks, retail investors will prefer to invest in pools of assets that have been chosen by a professional.
    • Theoretically, thousands of retail investors could invest in a traditional limited liability company. But when you own equity in an LLC you receive a K-1 each year. For someone who’s invested $1,000, the cost of adding a K-1 to her tax return at H&R Block could be prohibitive. In a REIT you receive a 1099, not a K-1.
    • Privately-traded REITs have a very bad reputation, plagued by high fees and sales commissions. But if light is the best disinfectant, the Internet is like a spotlight, relentlessly driving down costs and providing investors with instantly-accessible information.
  • What Kind of Yields Do Investors Expect? That’s a tough question, obviously. But here are two data points. For an equity investment in a high-quality, cash-flowing garden apartment complex, investors might expect a 7% preferred return and 70% on the back end (e., a 30% promote for you). For a debt investment in a single-family fix-and-flip, with a 65% LTV, they might expect a 9% interest rate on a one-year investment.
  • Should I Use Rule 506(b) or Rule 506(c)? If you’re asking that question, you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog post. Try this one.
  • Do I Need a Broker-Dealer? Two answers:
    • As a general rule, you are not legally required to be registered as a broker-dealer, or to be affiliated with a broker-dealer, if you’re offering your own deals. For a more technical legal answer, you can read this blog post.
    • To sell your deal, you might want to use a broker-dealer, or a broker-dealer network.
  • How Can I Get Started? You have two choices:
    • You can establish your own website and list your own deals. But there are millions of websites in the world, many featuring photographs of naked people. Against that competition you might find it difficult to attract eyeballs.
    • You can get your feet wet by listing projects on an existing real estate Crowdfunding portal, one with a good reputation and a large pool of registered investors. If that goes well, you can think about establishing your own website later. The portal will take the mystery out of the online process, making it look and feel like any other offering from your perspective.

Questions? Let me know.

If I Raise Money Using Crowdfunding, Will I Be Able To Raise More Money Later?

 

I have rarely attended a Crowdfunding conference where this question wasn’t asked. Maybe those of us in the industry haven’t done a good enough job answering it.

Before getting into details, I’ll note that it is no longer a hypothetical question, as it was when the JOBS Act was signed into law in 2012. Today, many companies have indeed graduated from Crowdfunding to venture rounds, to angel rounds, to Regulation A offerings, and even to IPOs.

But judging from the look on the faces of the audience, that answer never seems completely satisfying. Isn’t there something about Crowdfunding that sophisticated investors don’t like?

The answer is “Only if the Crowdfunding round is done wrong!” So:

  • Institutional investors don’t want anyone else participating in their round. If you give your Crowdfunding investors preemptive rights, or the equivalent of preemptive rights, the institutional investors won’t like it. That’s why you don’t give your Crowdfunding investors preemptive rights.
  • Institutional investors don’t want anyone but you managing the company. That’s why you keep your Crowdfunding investors (and friends & family investors) out of management. Ideally, you issue non-voting stock (or its equivalent) to the Crowdfunding investors, and don’t permit representation on your Board.
  • Institutional investors want to know what they’re getting into. If you conduct your Crowdfunding round carefully, with clear legal documents, that’s not a problem.
  • Institutional investors don’t like surprises. They don’t want to learn afterward that your Crowdfunding investors, or anyone else, have rights they didn’t know about. That’s why you form your entity in Delaware, which gives the parties to a business transaction more or less unlimited freedom of contract.
  • Institutional investors don’t like a messy cap table. There’s no reason to have a messy cap table in Crowdfunding. Often, we bring in Crowdfunding investors through a special-purpose vehicle, or SPV. We can also issue to Crowdfunding investors a separate class of stock. One way or another, we keep the cap table clean.
  • Institutional investors worry about legal claims brought by Crowdfunding investors. Of course they do! That’s why we conduct the Crowdfunding offering correctly, just as we conduct the institutional round.
  • Institutional investors don’t like sharing information with all those investors. With today’s technology tools, communicating with investors isn’t difficult, and Delaware law allows us to limit who gets what. But it’s certainly true that the more investors you have, the more people get the information.
  • Institutional investors just don’t like hanging out with the riffraff. That’s never stated outright, but implied. If we address all the real issues, I have never found it to be true.

As Crowdfunding gains traction, I expect institutional investors to embrace it fully, as another facet of their own business models. In the meantime, be assured that if done right, raising money through Crowdfunding today will not keep you from raising more money in the future.

Questions? Let me know.

Targeted IRRs in Crowdfunding

Targeted internal rate of return, or IRR, is used widely to advertise deals on Crowdfunding sites, real estate and otherwise. While target IRR means something to sophisticated sponsors and investors, its widespread and uncritical use makes me a little uneasy, for the following reasons:

  • If pressed, many people don’t know what IRR really means. Investors assume that a higher IRR is better than a lower IRR, but many couldn’t explain exactly why or how.
  • IRR can be misleading. For example, a bond purchased for $100 that pays interest of $10 at the end of each of the first four years and $110 at the end of the fifth year has an IRR of 10%. A bond purchased for $68.30 that pays nothing for four years and $110 at the end of the fifth year also has an IRR of 10%. But those two investments are very different. The IRR calculation assumes that the $10 interest payments on the first bond can be reinvested at 10%, which is probably not true.
  • The IRR of a real estate deal (or any deal) increases when the asset is refinanced and the proceeds distributed to investors. But refinancing the asset doesn’t necessarily make for a better investment.
  • There being no such thing as a free lunch in capitalism, a higher IRR generally coincides with higher risk. For example, I can usually increase my IRR by borrowing more money. That relationship is not typically highlighted.
  • For a typical startup outside the real estate industry, IRR has no meaning. Or to put it differently, a 28% target IRR for a startup plus $2.75 gets you on the New York subway.
  • The term “target IRR” tends to mask what’s really important:  the factual assumptions concerning sales and asset appreciation. To say “We expect a target IRR of 18%” is somehow easier to sell than “We expect the property to appreciate at 6% per year.”
  • Under FINRA Rule 2210, offerings conducted through a broker-dealer may not advertise target IRRs. FINRA also prohibits Title III Funding Portals from advertising target IRRs, and the SEC prohibits new issuers from advertising a target IRR in Regulation A offerings, even for sponsors with extensive track records. Hence, target IRR cannot be used to compare offerings across all platforms and all deal types.

What can we do better as an industry? Here are a few ideas:

  • We can explain internal rate of return better, maybe with examples and a standardized presentation and graphics.
  • We can develop other apples-to-apples metrics for comparing deals.
  • We can make clear that higher IRRs generally come with higher risks.
  • In Regulation A offerings, and even in Rule 506(b) offerings where non-accredited investors are involved, the issuer is required to provide extensive information about the sponsor’s track record. Some version of that concept, applied consistently and allowing for side-by-side comparison, might be the most valuable information for investors.

Questions? Let me know.

Assembling the Team for a Regulation A Offering (and how much it costs)

The two most frequently asked questions about Regulation A are: How long does it take? and How much does it cost?

I tried to answer the first question with this Regulation A Timeline.

To answer the second question, I’ve created a chart called Assembling the Regulation A Team. The chart identifies the services required for a successful Regulation A offering (legal, accounting, etc.) and estimates how much each service will cost. At the end, I’ve included a pro forma chart for issuers to estimate the cost of their own offerings.

I find that many would-be Regulation A issuers find the process opaque and somewhat intimidating. I hope these two tools – the Regulation A Timeline and Assembling the Regulation A Team – can make it simpler, more transparent, and more predictable.

Questions? Let me know.

Regulation A Webinar Follow-Up Q&A

A couple weeks ago, Howard Marks of StartEngine and I presented a webinar about Regulation A. Listeners asked far more questions than we were able to answer in the time given, and I promised to post their questions and answers on the blog. Here goes.

First, a few links:

What’s the difference between Regulation A and Regulation A+?

There is no difference. Regulation A has been around for a long time, but was rarely used primarily because issuers could raise only $5 million and were required to register with every state where they offered securities. Title IV of the JOBS Act required the SEC to create a new and improved version of Regulation A, and the new and improved version is sometimes referred to colloquially as Regulation A+. But it’s the same thing legally as Regulation A.

Can I use Regulation A to raise money from non-U.S. investors?

Definitely. Non-U.S. investors may participate in all three flavors of Crowdfunding: Title II, Title III, and Title IV (Regulation A).

But don’t forget, the U.S. isn’t the only country with securities laws. If you raise money from a German citizen, Germany wants you to comply with its laws.

Can non-U.S. companies use Regulation A?

Only companies organized in the U.S. or Canada and having their principal place of business in the U.S. or Canada may use Regulation A.

What about a company with headquarters in the U.S. but manufacturing facilities elsewhere?

That’s fine. What matters is that the issuer’s officers, partners, or managers primarily direct, control and coordinate the issuer’s activities from the U.S (or Canada).

Is Regulation A applicable to use for equity or debt for a real estate development project?

I believe that real estate will play the same dominant role in Regulation A that it plays in Title II. I also believe that real estate development will be more difficult to sell than stable, cash-flowing projects simply because of the different risk profile.

Is there any limit on the amount an accredited investor can invest?

No. An accredited investor may invest an unlimited amount in both Tier 1 and Tier 2 offerings under Regulation A. A non-accredited investor may invest an unlimited amount in Tier 1 offerings, but may invest no more than 10% of her income or 10% of her net worth, whichever is greater, in each Tier 2 offering.

What kinds of securities can be sold using Regulation A?

All kinds: equity, debt, convertible debt, common stock, preferred stock, etc.

But you cannot sell “asset-backed securities” using Regulation A, as that term is defined in SEC Regulation AB. The classic “asset-backed security” is where a hedge fund purchases $1 billion of credit card debt from the credit card issuer, breaks the debt into “tranches” based on credit rating and other factors, and securitizes the tranches to investors. However, the SEC views the term more broadly.

Can I combine a Regulation A offering with other offerings?

In general yes. For example, there’s no problem if an issuer raises money using Rule 506 (Rule 506(b) or Rule 506(c)) while it prepares its Regulation A offering. The legal issues become more cloudy if an issuer wants to combine multiple types of offerings simultaneously. Theoretically just about anything is possible.

Can the same platform list securities under both Regulation A and Title II?

Yes. In fact, the same platform can list securities under all three flavors of Crowdfunding:  Title II, Title III, and Title IV. But on that platform, only licensed “Funding Portals” can offer Title III securities.

Does a platform offering securing under Regulation A have to be a broker-dealer?

The simple answer is No. But a platform that crosses the line into acting like a broker-dealer, or is compensated with commissions or other “transaction based compensation,” would have to register as a broker-dealer or become affiliated with a broker-dealer.

Can a non-profit organization use Regulation A?

Regulation A is one exception to the general rule that all offerings of securities must be registered with the SEC under section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933. Non-profit organizations are allowed to sell securities without registration under a different exception. So the answer is that non-profits don’t have to use Regulation A.

With that said, I represent non-profit organizations that have created for-profit subsidiaries that plan to engage in Regulation A offerings. For example, a non-profit in the business of urban development might create a subsidiary to develop an urban in-fill project, raising money partly from grants and partly from Regulation A.

Can I use Regulation A to create a fund?

If by “fund” you mean a pool of assets, like a pool of 30 multi-family apartment communities, then Yes. You can either buy the apartment communities first and then raise the money, or raise the money first and then deploy it in your discretion. If you want to own each apartment community in a separate limited liability company subsidiary, that’s okay also.

If by “fund” you mean a pool of investments, like a pool of 30 minority interests in limited liability companies that themselves own multi-family apartment communities, then No. Your “fund” would be treated as an “investment company” under the Investment Company Act of 1940, and Regulation A may not be used to raise money for investment companies.

Can a fund be established for craft beverages?

Same idea. You could use Regulation A to raise money for a brewery that will develop multiple craft beverages. You cannot use Regulation A to buy minority interests in multiple craft beverage companies.

For a brand new company, can the audited financial statements required by Tier 2 be dated as of the date of formation, and just show zeroes?

Yes, as long as the date of formation is within nine months before the date of filing or qualification and the date of filing or qualification is not more than three months after the entity reached its first annual balance sheet date.

How does the $50 million annual limit apply if I have more than one project?

The $20 million annual limit under Tier 1, and the $50 million limit under Tier 2, are per-issuer limits. A developer with, say, three office building projects, each requiring $50 million of equity, can use Regulation A for all three at the same time.

NOTE:  This is different than Title III, where the $1 million annual limit applies to all issuers under common control.

What does “testing the waters” mean?

It means that before your Regulation A offering is approved (“qualified”) by the SEC, and even before you start preparing all the legal documents, you can advertise the offering and accept non-binding commitments from prospective investors. If you don’t find enough interest, you can save yourself the trouble and cost of going through with the offering.

NOTE:  Any materials you use for “testing the waters” must be submitted to the SEC, if the offering proceeds.

Where can Regulation A securities be traded?

Theoretically, Regulation A securities could be registered with the SEC under the Exchange Act and traded on a national market. But I’m sure that’s not what the listener meant. Without being registered under the Exchange Act, a Regulation A security may be traded on the over-the-counter market, sponsored by a broker-dealer.

This sounds expensive! Can you give us an estimate?

Stay tuned! A post about cost is on the way.

Questions? Let me know.

 

 

Crowdfunding Is Just Beginning

American Classic

For those of us who work in the Crowdfunding space, it can seem as if we’ve covered a lot of ground since April 5, 2012, the day President Obama signed the JOBS Act into law. At a conference in New York earlier this year, a panelist actually referred to Crowdfunding as a “mature” industry.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Crowdfunding is actually just beginning.

A couple weeks ago I received a promotional email from OurCrowd. Founded by Jon Medved, one of the most successful venture capitalists in the world, OurCrowd has developed into the most successful Crowdfunding portal in the world outside the real estate industry. Unlike most angel investors and venture capitalists, Jon understood that Crowdfunding is nothing more or less than the Internet disrupting the capital formation industry – his industry. Rather than resist the disruption, he built the most successful disrupter.

The email recites the impressive number of successful exits and IPOs of companies financed through OurCrowd (remember when Jon’s fellow VCs were claiming that a Crowdfunded company could never attract more financing?), and boasts that OurCrowd has signed up 15,000 investors. That’s a number many Crowdfunding portals would envy, for sure. On the other hand, it represents a market penetration of less than 0.2% among the roughly 8.5 million accredited investors in the United States, and a market penetration of less than 0.02% among the total population of U.S. investors, accredited and non-accredited. And that’s for the most successful non-real estate site in the market.

That’s not a mature industry, folks. By way of comparison to an industry that really is mature, I would say the Crowdfunding industry is about where the automotive industry was in 1912, when a few early adapters were driving these crazy machines with four wheels while their more respectable neighbors were driving proper horse-drawn carriages.

Today, everything about the automotive industry seems obvious, pre-ordained. But here are some of the things we didn’t know in 1912:

  • Whether consumers would use automobiles
  • How they would use them
  • How much they would pay for them
  • Who would make automobiles and their many parts
  • Who would distribute them
  • How automobiles would be regulated
  • Who would make money, and how
  • How automobiles would work
  • Whether the automobile market would segment
  • How it would segment
  • Who would build the automobile infrastructure
  • That a person with an orange wig would someday run for President

If you’re already in the Crowdfunding industry trying to make a living, realizing how little we know can feel disconcerting, even alarming. But try thinking of it this way:  98% of the innovation is yet come, almost all of the opportunities remain unexplored, the disruption of OurCrowd and others will be multiplied a thousand times.

One of the most influential essays of American history was Frederick Jackson Turner’s The Closing of the American Frontier, written in 1893, shortly after the Western frontier was declared closed by the U.S. census. Turner argued persuasively that the idea of a frontier had been central to the American national identify up until that time, and speculated how the national identify might change with the end of the idea.

In Crowdfunding, we are nowhere near the closing of the frontier.

Questions? Let me know.

 

 

Improving Legal Documents in Crowdfunding: Get Rid of the State Legends!

I see lots of offering documents like this, with pages of state “legends.” The good news is that in Crowdfunding offerings – Title II (Rule 506(c)), Title III (Regulation Crowdfunding), and Title IV (Regulation A) – you can and should get rid of them.

The legal case is pretty simple:

  • Before 1996, states were allowed to regulate private offerings. Every state allowed exemptions, but these exemptions often required legends, differing from state to state.
  • The National Securities Market Improvement Act of 1996 added section 18 to the Securities Act of 1933. Section 18 provides that no state shall “impose any conditions upon the use of. . . .any offering document that is prepared by or on behalf of the issuer. . . .” in connection with the sale of “covered securities.”
  • The securities sold under Title II, Title III, and Title IV are all “covered securities.”
  • Hence, section 18 prohibits states from imposing any conditions regarding the issuer’s offering documents, including a condition that requires the use of a state legend.

If the capitalized legends just take up space, why not include them anyway just to be safe? Take Pennsylvania’s legend as an example:

These securities have not been registered under the Pennsylvania Securities Act of 1972 in reliance upon an exemption therefrom. any sale made pursuant to such exemption is voidable by a Pennsylvania purchaser within two business days from the date of receipt by the issuer of his or her written binding contract of purchase or, in the case of a transaction in which there is not a written binding contract of purchase, within two business days after he or she makes the initial payment for the shares being offered.

If you include the Pennsylvania legend “just to be safe,” you’ve given Pennsylvania investors a right of rescission they wouldn’t have had otherwise!

Two qualifications.

First, the North American Securities Administrators Association –the trade group of state securities regulators – suggests including uniform legend on offering documents. I include this or something similar as a matter of course:

IN MAKING AN INVESTMENT DECISION INVESTORS MUST RELY ON THEIR OWN EXAMINATION OF THE COMPANY AND THE TERMS OF THE OFFERING, INCLUDING THE MERITS AND RISKS INVOLVED. THESE SECURITIES HAVE NOT BEEN RECOMMENDED BY ANY FEDERAL OR STATE SECURITIES COMMISSION OR REGULATORY AUTHORITY. FURTHERMORE, THE FOREGOING AUTHORITIES HAVE NOT CONFIRMED THE ACCURACY OR DETERMINED THE ADEQUACY OF THIS DOCUMENT. ANY REPRESENTATION TO THE CONTRARY IS A CRIMINAL OFFENSE. THESE SECURITIES ARE SUBJECT TO RESTRICTIONS ON TRANSFERABILITY AND RESALE AND MAY NOT BE TRANSFERRED OR RESOLD EXCEPT AS PERMITTED UNDER THE ACT, AND THE APPLICABLE STATE SECURITIES LAWS, PURSUANT TO REGISTRATION OR EXEMPTION THEREFROM. INVESTORS SHOULD BE AWARE THAT THEY WILL BE REQUIRED TO BEAR THE FINANCIAL RISKS OF THIS INVESTMENT FOR AN INDEFINITE PERIOD OF TIME.

Second, some states, including Florida, require a legend to appear on the face of the offering document to avoid broker-dealer registration. Because Section 18 of the Securities Act doesn’t prohibit states from regulating broker-dealers, some lawyers recommend including those legends, while others believe those requirements are an improper “back door” way for states to avoid the Federal rule. I come out in the latter camp, but opinions differ.

Questions? Let me know.

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