Category Archives: Guest Blog

WHY FINANCIAL FIRMS ARE JOINING THE CROWD, BY JOY SCHOFFLER, PRINCIPAL OF LEVERAGE PR

Crowdfunding is a marketing vehicle. Sure, it’s a great way for entrepreneurs to raise money and a great way for investors to find institutional-quality deals. But above all Crowdfunding is about marketing. And that’s why financial firms – venture capital firms, investment banks, private equity firms, and others – are moving into the space.

When I was the director of a private equity firm, we spent our time doing what all investment firms do, working to broaden the firm’s investor base and find more and better deals. Because of the legal constraints that have been in place since the early 1930s, we (and everyone else) had to rely on private networks. While we developed a large private network, the process of manual network development is slow by design.

With the passage of the JOBS Act, everything has changed. Now, investment firms can take what was essentially a marketing function and move it online, using tools and marketing best practices to build their networks.

Today I run a public relations firm, Leverage PR, which works at the intersection of technology and finance. With my background Fin-Tech I’ve naturally gravitated to Crowdfunding and serve in leadership roles in the industry, including serving on the board of CFIRA, the leading trade association. From that vantage point I can see the trends in both technology and finance. Without doubt, one of the most pronounced trends is that financial firms are moving into Crowdfunding, with established players launching their own portals or partnering with others.

Here are the six leading factors encouraging financial firms to join the Crowd:

Reason #1: Adding to the Capital Stack – Raising money is hard. Even established firms with a base of institutional money need smaller investors to augment the capital stack or fill holes. If done properly, with the right public relations, launching a Crowdfunding platform is a wonderful way to get in front of new bases of potential investors and prove expertise in an industry.

Reason #2: Marketing Automation – Private equity has, by and large, stayed in the marketing Stone Age. Some of the biggest firms still use spreadsheets to track current investors and monitor prospective investors. In contrast, the best Crowdfunding platforms have embraced the power of marketing automation. They set up investors on drip marketing campaigns from the minute they sign up. They learn what each investor likes and doesn’t like using data from the site. They convert small investors into larger investors. They use technology to create the economies of scale that make dealing with smaller investors possible and profitable.

Reason #3: Improve and Automate Investor Relations – When many of us in private equity first heard of Crowdfunding we imagined a nightmare of dealing with hundreds of investors. The opposite is true. A Crowdfunding platform provides a better customer platform. In fact, we’re seeing established private equity firms launch portals solely for investor relations post close.

Reason #4: More and Better Deals – Early entrants into the space who are marketing their Crowdfunding portal are not only seeing a deeper and wider investor pool but are also seeing increased deal flow. Even if firms are launching only to do their own deals they are generating interest and traffic from other in their space who are bringing them deals.

Reason #5: Partnerships – Innovative companies are partnering with Crowdfunding platforms across a number of sectors to identify potential acquisition targets, effectively using the platforms as quasi-outsourced R&D. We believe this trend, already begun by firms like Healthios Exchange and CircleUp, will continue and intensify. R&D is expensive and risky. Crowdfunding offers a better and cheaper alternative. View More: http://votiveimage.pass.us/leveragepr

Reason #6: Get Ahead of the Curve – Technology is changing everything and private equity is no exception. While we don’t know what private equity will look like in 10 years, we’re sure it will be online.

As we look forward to 2015, I’m excited about what lies ahead. While it’s true that the JOBS Act opened a world of opportunities for new, innovative players, it also gives established financial firms the tools to expand market reach, lower minimum investments, and bring technology to manual processes.

Joy Schoffler, principal of Leverage PR, is a nationally recognized author and speaker on financial services communications. An active member of the Crowdfunding community Joy sits on the board of CFIRA.org a leading Crowdfunding advocacy association. Before launching Leverage, Joy served as director of acquisitions for the Inc. award-winning private equity firm The PPA Group. Joy has written for a number of publications including Entrepreneur.com, Social Media Monthly and MarketingProfs. She is also a contributing author for the Wiley-published Bloomberg Media book “Crowdfunding: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Capital on the Internet.”

REBUILDING AMERICA, BY JASON FRITTON, FOUNDER & CEO OF PATCH OF LAND

Statue of Lib CF_PurchasedBy: Jason Fritton, Founder & CEO of Patch of Land

Our headquarters is in Los Angeles, but Patch of Land was really born in Chicago.

Like all American cities, Chicago is a tale of two cities: one where the streets are lined with mansions, tidy row homes, and plush high-rises; and the other where most houses, if you can call them that, have boarded up windows, loose bricks, and rotting wood.

You can’t see those neighborhoods without wanting to help, and if you’re a real estate entrepreneur, as I am, you think there must be a lot of money to be made from all those vacant and abandoned buildings.

I went to foreclosure auctions but found that the market was broken. On one hand, the same handful of ultra-wealthy individuals or companies bid on $10 million properties. On the other hand, nobody bid on the smaller properties in blighted neighborhoods even though they could be had for a pittance, $10,000 or $20,000 apiece. The problem was (and is) that banks wouldn’t touch them, even if the developer had a proven track record. So the properties stayed vacant and abandoned, basically worthless, eyesores in the community.

I had a great idea – Crowdfunding! I’d ask for money from everyone. Not just as charity, although revitalizing neighborhoods would be the goal, but also as good investments for the donors/investors. We would start in Chicago and then move across the country, helping communities along the way.

We had our motto – Building Wealth & Growing Communities – before we knew how we were going to do it.

As it turned out I was a little early. I wanted to advertise my investments to everyone but in securities law terms that would have been “general solicitation,” which was still illegal. To keep my idea alive I found myself in Washington, D.C. lobbying for the JOBS Act, where I learned how political compromise can work. Republicans liked the economic freedom the bill gave to entrepreneurs and individual investors, while Democrats liked the potential for improving neighborhoods and the boost for small business.

Both sides came together and President Obama signed the bill into law on April 5, 2012. Now, without going to jail, I could start improving those neighborhoods.

There is an old African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.” I started building my team piece by piece, knowing a lot of other smart people were getting into the market at the same time. And I’m proud of the team I built, the best in the business as far as I’m concerned. We did our first deal on October 15, 2013 and within six were the leading platform in the country dedicated to real estate debt.

We pre-fund all our deals, meaning we invest our own money before asking for money from anyone else. Unlike some other platforms, we also start paying interest as soon as we take an investor’s money. We are completely transparent. We charge no fees to investors. We offer very fast turnarounds to borrowers and very competitive returns to investors. We do a great job evaluating loans, based on our credit experience to date. We’ve taken big steps toward bridging the gap between the old world of behind-closed-doors capital formation, and the new world of online transparent capital structures.

But they’re just first steps. We and the industry have a long way to go. More than anything, we need a workable Title III or its equivalent. Accredited investors, all eight and a half million of them, make up only a small fraction of American adults. To truly democratize the formation of capital, we need to let everyone into the game.

Less than a year after Title II came into effect the market is exploding, with some very large real estate players getting into the business. To me, that’s just vindication of our business model, proof that the Crowdfunding business is being taken seriously.

I don’t worry much about the competition from those companies because small, nimble companies like Patch of Land enjoy a bunch of advantages:

  • Crowdfunding is a new business. Those of us who have been here from the start know the business inside out.
  • There’s a reason Walmart can’t seriously challenge Amazon. Amazon’s business was built online from the ground up, while Walmart’s entire model, entire way of thinking, is based on bricks and mortar. For more on that, click here.
  • Our business runs on technology, and our technology is second to none. In one seamless, integrated process, we control a project from application to interest-paying loan.
  • Our cost structure is far lower, allowing us to share the savings with both borrowers and investors.
  • There are wide swaths of the American real estate market the big players have never touched and will never touch. We call that market “under-served” or “most of America.” That’s the market Crowdfunding was created to address.

Among the many transactions we’ve complete, our loan to Deborah Smith in Georgia shows what we’re about. Deborah developed a rent-to-own program where veterans with poor credit could qualify for financing from the Veterans’ Administration. Using financing from Patch of Land, she was able to get those veterans in homes they couldn’t afford otherwise. And our investors made money in the propatch of landcess. That’s a long way from solving every problem in the real estate market, but it’s a start.

I’m super optimistic about the future of Patch of Land. If you had told me five years ago that I could be doing what I’m doing today, I’d have thought you were dreaming. Wait until you see what we’ve built five years from now.

Follow Jason Fritton on Twitter: @JasonFritton

Follow Patch of Land on Twitter: @PatchOfLand

 

OUR EXPERIENCE WITH REGULATION A – BY BEN MILLER, CO-FOUNDER OF FUNDRISE

To improve the user experience, I am inviting guest bloggers. The first is Ben Miller, a Co-Founder of Fundrise, who explains how he and his brother Dan invented Crowdfunding through Regulation A.

Please let me know if you would like to post. I’m looking for content like Ben’s – interesting, informative, educational.

-MARK RODERICK

____________________________________________________________________________________

By: Ben Miller, Co-Founder of Fundrise.

My brother Dan and I were in the real estate business for a long time, developing commercial and residential projects in the Washington, D.C. area, before we thought about crowdfunding. We got some of our capital from the same place many real estate developers get their capital: from investment funds in New York or even outside of the country.

Most of them had little connection to the places we were building and often had never even heard of the neighborhood. On the other hand, our friends and neighbors, people with real connection to the projects, couldn’t invest with us.

fundriseWe started to imagine a world where everyone could invest in high-quality real estate deals, which were then limited to professional investors. We thought about ordinary people investing in their own communities, creating a win-win for the community and business owners. Like every other developer, we’ve had our share of battles with local zoning agencies. We imagined how that process might change if actual investors from the community showed up at council meetings to support the project.

This was before crowdfunding or the JOBS Act were on the table, and every lawyer we spoke to (and we spoke to plenty) told us that our idea was impossible.

Finally we discovered SEC Regulation A. Although Regulation A had been around since 1936, before we came along it had been used very rarely, which probably explains why the lawyers hadn’t heard about it. In all of 2012 fewer than a dozen companies had used Regulation A to raise capital across the whole country, as compared to more than 7,000 Regulation D offerings.

We soon found out why. Although Regulation A allows you to raise money from anybody, including from non-accredited investors, first you have to file a disclosure document with the SEC and with the state securities regulators in any state where you offer the security, and get the regulators to approve your offering. Regulation A is nothing like the new Crowdfunding under SEC Rule 506(c), which is simple and streamlined by comparison.

Once we figured out how to file the disclosure document, which is really like a mini registration statement, we learned that neither the SEC nor the state regulators had ever seen a real estate development project offered under Regulation A. We spent hundreds of hours and way too much in legal fees working through all of the issues. We were literally doing something that had never been done in the history of the U.S. capital markets, and at the same time paving the way for everyone else.

After lots of work, lots of frustration, and lots of conversations with regulators, we succeeded. Our Regulation A filing was approved and we raised $325,000 for the project. I won’t even tell you how much it cost to raise that $325,000, but we were okay with it because we saw the experience then, and still do, as an investment in our future.

We have completed three Regulation A offerings since then. Each time we’ve gotten better and faster, not to mention that the regulators have learned along with us.

Here’s what it took to complete our most recent Regulation A offering:

reg a breakdown

Our most recent filing:

fedex

Fundrise has branched out since those early days. As the leading real estate portal in the world we offer not only Regulation A projects but Rule 506(c) investments under the JOBS Act. And we’re very excited about the new Regulation A+. Regulation A+ improves on Regulation A by allowing us to raise up to $50 million of equity from non-accredited investors (subject to a limitation on how much each person can invest) and further streamline the process by filing only with the SEC, and not with state securities regulators. Fundrise has always been a pioneer, and we expect to pioneer the possibilities of Regulation A+ as well as soon as it becomes available.

Whatever the future holds for Fundrise, and we believe our future is unlimited, we’ll always remember that Regulation A allowed us to open the door into the world of crowdfunding and give unaccredited investors the chance to invest in real estate for the first time in history.

Follow @BenMillerise and @Fundrise on Twitter.

 

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