Tag Archives: Crowdfunding platform

Think Twice About a Low Target Amount in Title III Crowdfunding

Target amount in Title III Crowdfunding

Many Title III issuers are setting “target amounts” as low as $10,000. I understand the motivation, but I’d urge issuers and the platforms to think twice.

Background

In Title III Crowdfunding (also known as “Regulation Crowdfunding” or “Regulation CF” or “Reg CF”), the issuer establishes a “target amount” for the offering. Once the offering achieves the target amount, the issuer can start spending the money raised from investors, even while continuing to raise more money. That gives issuers a strong incentive to set a low target amount.

EXAMPLE:  A brewery needs to raise $400,000 for equipment, fit-out, marketing, and salaries. If the brewery establishes $400,000 as the target amount, it can’t start spending the money from investors until it raises the entire $400,000. If it establishes $10,000 as the target amount, on the other hand, it can start spending investor money as soon as it raises the first $10,000 — even if the business will fail without the full $400,000.

The platform benefits, also, in two ways:

  • If the brewery establishes a target amount of $10,000 and raises at least that much, the platform can include the brewery in its “Reached Target Amount” list, even if overall the brewery raised only $12,000 and failed.
  • The platform receives a commission only on funds released to the issuer. The sooner money is released to the issuer, the sooner the platform earns a commission.

Minimum Offering Amounts

Target amounts were around long before Title III Crowdfunding, in the form of “minimum offering amounts.” A company raising capital would establish a “minimum offering” equal to the lowest amount of money that would make the business viable. If a brewery absolutely needs $400,000 to be viable, then the minimum offering would be $400,000. If it could plausibly scrape by with $315,000 — maybe by deferring the purchase of an $85,000 piece of equipment — then the minimum offering would be $315,000.

Issuers don’t establish minimum offerings because they want to, but because experienced investors won’t invest otherwise. If $315,000 is the minimum that will make the brewery successful, an experienced investor writing the first check will demand that her money be held in escrow until the offering raises $315,000. If the offering doesn’t raise $315,000, she gets her money back. Investing is hard enough:  why invest in a company that’s guaranteed to fail?

That’s also why we have traditionally seen “minimum/maximum” offerings. The brewery that needs at least $315,000 to be viable might be able to make great use of up to $475,000, with both numbers anchored to a believable business plan.

The Decision in Title III

Cash is king for most entrepreneurs, the sooner the better, so a Title III issuer will be tempted to establish a low target amount. And to the extent an issuer can rely on inexperienced investors, it might be successful, at least in the short term.

But the issuer should also be aware of the downside:  by establishing a low target amount, the issuer is driving away experienced investors. How many experienced investors are driven away, and the amount they might have invested, can’t be captured.

On the positive side, an issuer that establishes a realistic target amount can and should advertise that fact in its Form C, perhaps drawing a favorable contrast vis-à-vis other Title III issuers, whose target amounts were picked from the air. That’s the kind of information an experienced investor will like to see.

An issuer that weighs the pros and cons and nevertheless decides on an artificially low target amount should include a prominent risk factor in its Form C:

“The ‘target amount’ we established for this offering is substantially lower than the amount of money we really need to execute our business plan. If we raise only the target amount and are unable to raise other funds, our business will probably fail and you will lose your entire investment.”

Artificially low target amounts carry a long-term downside for the platform, too. I would argue that as long as issuers are establishing $10,000 minimums, Title III won’t be taken seriously as an asset class, and the industry won’t grow.

Questions? Let me know.

Podcast: The Business Credit & Financing Show Focusing on How to Avoid Crowdfunding Legal Pitfalls with Mark Roderick

MSR Podcast OCt 2018

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN | Also available on iTunes & Spotify

During This Show We Discuss…

  • Your potential legal liability using crowdfunding platforms
  • When a potential investor can sue the project creator
  • The “3 flavors” of crowdfunding you should know about
  • Legal issues with flex versus fixed funding
  • How the new tax law affects crowdfunding
  • 20% tax deduction in crowdfunding transactions
  • Getting crowd funding for real estate investing
  • What you should know about peer-to-peer lending
  • Issues with bonuses you may offer to donors
  • What to know about the SEC’s role in crowdfunding
  • What an opportunity zone fund is and how they work
  • Why trusts invest in crowdfunding projects
  • Other big investors who are investing in crowdfunding campaigns
  • Potential legal pitfalls in peer-to-peer lending?
  • And much more

Mark Roderick is one of the leading Crowdfunding and Fintech lawyers in the United States. Expanding on his in-depth knowledge of capital-raising and securities law, Mark represents many portals and other players in the Crowdfunding field. He writes a widely read blog, crowdfundattny.com, which provides readers with a wealth of legal and practical information for portals, issuers and investors. He also speaks at Crowdfunding events across the country and represents industry participants across the country and around the world.

Cryptocurrencies: There’s Nothing New Under The Sun

Blockchain technology is revolutionary, promising to disrupt many of today’s industries. In contrast, the cryptocurrencies that live on the blockchain – to avoid confusion, I’m going to refer to cryptocurrencies as “tokens” – are really just high-tech manifestations of traditional ideas.

Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of tokens today:

  • Tokens like Bitcoin that are intended to function as currencies
  • Tokens that represent economic interests in businesses, e., securities
  • Tokens that give the holder some kind of contract right in the business conducted by the issuer, g., a distributed storage network

Tokens that are intended to function as currencies are like, well, they’re like currencies. They’re secure, they’re anonymous (maybe), they’re decentralized, but fundamentally they’re like paper money. The idea of paper money was revolutionary, rendering the barter economy obsolete. A digital representation of paper money is incrementally better, but not revolutionary.

Tokens that are securities – digital stock certificates – are helpful and better than paper or Excel spreadsheets but obviously not revolutionary.

The most interesting kind of tokens are the third:  tokens that give the holder the right to participate in a business.

Imagine you’re Henry Ford designing an automobile. You need a lot of capital. Your investment banker suggests you sell stock on Wall Street, but someone else suggests a different approach. You publish design specifications for your new automobile in something you happen to call a “Whitepaper,” and you sell to the public a limited number of licenses giving the holder the right to manufacture tires (or oil filters, or whatever) based on those specifications.

You just sold tokens, even though the blockchain doesn’t exist and you keep track of the sales in a red leather book.

Financially, you’ve pre-sold licensing rights. Some pros and cons versus selling stock:

  • On the plus side, you still own 100% of your company.
  • On the minus side, you have reduced or eliminated a future revenue stream for the company, e., licensing revenue.
  • On the plus side, because the tokens weren’t a security, you didn’t incur all that time and cost.
  • On the minus side, you really, really care about the quality of your cars – the whole future of your business depends on it – but the tokens might not end up in the hands of the highest-quality suppliers. That’s especially true in a market frenzy that reminds you of Tulip Mania in 1637, where many buyers are low-information speculators.
  • On the plus side, if raising money by pre-selling licensing rights happens to be a super-cool thing, the token sale might raise a lot more money than the licensing rights are actually worth.
  • On the minus side, you didn’t get to deal with securities lawyers.

What about the pros and cons to token buyers?

  • On the minus side, you have far less legal protection, as a buyer and owner of the token, than you would as the buyer and owner of securities in a public company.
  • On the plus side, your specialized expertise as a parts designer or manufacturer might give you a unique ability to increase the value of Ford, and therefore the value of your token.
  • On the minus side, while you know a lot about your own abilities, and might know a lot about Henry Ford and his team, you know nothing at all about the other token buyers. If they turn out to be lousy parts designers and manufacturers, you lose.
  • On the plus side, if you think Ford Motor Company is going to be hugely successful and tokens are the only thing they’re selling, you have no choice.
  • On the minus side, the token probably gives you the right to benefit from only one aspect of the company’s business, g., parts for the the Model T. If the company pivots or expands, you might find yourself left behind.
  • On the plus side, if you’re in a Tulip Mania market, maybe you’ll buy the token today and next week you can double your money selling it to someone else.
  • On the minus side, if we look hard at Ford’s Whitepaper we realize it’s very ambiguous. Do I or Ford really know what I’m getting? Or is this going to end up in litigation?

Who knows where the pros and cons come out. Someday economists will explain whether and in what circumstances a token is more economically efficient than a traditional security.

I feel quite sure that tokens that are currencies and tokens that are digital stock certificates are here to stay, because while not revolutionary, each represents an undeniable, if incremental, improvement over today’s technology. I’m not so sure about tokens that represent prepaid products or services. Until we hear from the economists, the jury is still out.

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.

 

 

Trouble In Paradise: Lending Club And Prosper

Lending Club and Prosper are going through a rough patch. Renaud Laplanche, the CEO and founder of Lending Club, just resigned amid allegations of financial irregularities, while Prosper recently laid off more than a quarter of its employees.

But those are only the ripples on the pond’s surface. What’s going on underneath is that Wall Street is losing faith in the business model – that is, losing faith in the quality of the loans made on the Lending Club and Prosper platforms.

Not long ago, Wall Street financial institutions couldn’t get enough of Lending Club and Prosper loans. Now the same institutions are cutting back and the effect is severe.

To me, there are two lessons.

This is a Brand New Business Model, and It’s Going to be a Bumpy Ride

Marketplace lending started with the observation that banks pay much less interest to depositors than they charged to borrowers, and that technology should allow someone to decrease that spread, making a profit in the bargain. Lending Club and Prosper grew by substituting proprietary algorithms for traditional bank due diligence. The algorithms seem to work,and institutional investors rushed in.

But marketplace lending has been around for less than 10 years and nobody knows how the algorithms will perform during a down cycle. It’s not a big surprise that Wall Street money managers, aware that the economy might be due for a downturn, are hedging their bets.

The fickleness of Wall Street money managers doesn’t mean the business model of Lending Club and Prosper is broken. To me, there is little doubt that algorithms and big data will replace traditional bank due diligence – not only in consumer lending, but in other parts of the Crowdfunding ecosystem as well. But the algorithms and business models might well have to be adjusted, and nobody should expect a straight line from A to Z.

The fickleness of Wall Street money managers leads to the second lesson.

Wall Street is Fickle

Soon after launching a Crowdfunding platform, you realize there’s a choice where you look for investment capital. You might have begun with the idea of raising money from the public – that is, from retail investors – but you realize quickly that you can also raise money from institutions.

Raising money from institutions is often much easier because, well, institutions have more money. But there are a couple downsides:

  • You started off hoping to become a household brand, but if most of your money comes from institutions you risk becoming merely a deal originator for institutions, with far less clout and long-term brand value.
  • You started off idealistically hoping to bring high-quality investments to the public, but if most of your money comes from institutions, you aren’t.

The experience of Lending Club and Prosper reveals another downside: Wall Street is fickle. If you build your Crowdfunding business based on large investments from a handful of institutional investors it’s a lot of fun on the way up, but when the institutions pull the plug it’s a hard fall.

Ideally, a Crowdfunding platform can have it both ways, using institutional money to build the business while building its brand with the retail public, to the point where the business can survive and prosper even if institutional tastes change. I don’t know whether that’s possible, but I hope so.

Questions? Let me know.

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