Tag Archives: Equity Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding & Fintech for Real Estate Podcast

CF and Fintech for Real Estate Podcast

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Technology has made it easier to raise capital for real estate deals. Since Crowdfunding has grown exponentially, John Casmon, host of the popular Target Market Insights podcast, invited me on his show to learn more about crowdfunding and fintech (financial technology).  On this episode, I talk about different ways to use the internet to raise money and the impact new technologies will have on the way we buy real estate.

Key Market Insights

  • Crowdfunding is raising money on the internet

  • Two versions – donation based (think Kickstarter) and equity based

  • Crowdfunding is online syndication with 3 flavors: title 2, title 3 and title 4

  • All crowdfunding falls under the JobsAct

  • Title 2 is very similar to 506c for accredited investors

  • Title 3 is very different, can only raise $1MM annually

  • Title 4 can raise $50 million

  • FinTech – any technology disrupting the financial services industry

  • Many believe banks should be a disintermediary

  • Roboadvisor apps are apart of FinTech

  • Online syndication is not more risky than traditional syndication

  • Anytime you take money, you can be sued

  • When done properly, you should not be exposed to any actual liability – even if they lose money

  • Blockchain technology could disrupt the real estate industry

  • Blockchain is a database or ledger that cannot be changed and has no central authority – everyone must consent

  • Title companies and other “middle men” could be pushed away through blockchain

Questions? Let me know.

Crowdfunding Demystified Podcast on Equity Crowdfunding

CF Demystified

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Interested in equity crowdfunding? What about understanding how to raise money from the crowd? In this podcast, I do a complete brain dump on all of the regulations impacting raising funds online.

You’ll discover how crowdfunding regulations differ, how to do an online securities offering, and what makes a successful campaign.

The goal of this episode is to bring you accurate and quality information so that you can go out there and raise money from the crowd, be it for real estate or a new business venture.

Questions? Let me know.

Tokenization: The Legal Take on Jobs Act Equity Crowdfunding and Security Token Offerings

Podcast: Regulation A+ Crowdfunding

Tokenization podcast MSR

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If you’re a entrepreneur, you’re probably looking for some way to raise capital. You probably have heard of crowdfunding, but you may not have heard of the Jobs Act of 2012 and how it relates to crowdfunding – which is significant because its potential is enormous. Besides Regulation A+, Reg. CF, and Title II crowdfunding options to name a few, now investors and issuers can take advantage of the “tokenization” of assets via Security Token Offerings based on blockchain technology. However, there are complicated rules associated with all aspects of crowdfunding, which is why it’s so important to have legal representation throughout all phases of the process.

In this podcast episode, we interviewed crowdfunding attorney Mark Roderick from Flaster Greenberg PC who gave us many insights on crowdfunding in general, plus his take on tokenization and what security tokens can actually do for issuers and investors alike. Forget what everyone says about raising money. As stated on the podcast, crowdfunding is a marketing business, but it’s smart to have legal counsel at all times too – which is why anyone thinking of getting involved with crowdfunding on any level would be wise to contact Mr. Roderick and read his crowdfunding blog where you can find hundreds of posts with excellent information dedicated to legal crowdfunding success. See that? Sometimes lawyers can be your friend!

And speaking of crowdfunding, according to Mark, about 90% of the Reg.A+ crowdfunding deals he’s seen is regarding real estate. You know what most of the Reg.CF deals are? (here’s a hint).

Questions? Let me know.

CROWDFUNDING AND CRYPTOCURRENCIES

bitcoin-1813503_1920

Cryptocurrencies are hot. And often the sale of cryptocurrencies is referred to as Crowdfunding. Unfortunately, the use of “cryptocurrencies” and “Crowdfunding” together creates confusion about both, along with some pretty serious legal risks.

We use “Crowdfunding” to mean raising money for a business or other venture online. We say “donation-based Crowdfunding” when we’re talking about Kickstarter, where people ask for donations. We say “equity-based Crowdfunding” when we’re talking about raising money from investors, who receive a stock certificate or some other security.

A cryptocurrency is, well, hard to pin down. It’s a transaction registered in a distributed, secure database. Because it exists in limited quantities and is secure, it has value. Like anything of value, it can be used as a currency. For purposes of this post, the key feature of a true cryptocurrency is that is has value of itself, like a nugget of gold.

You use Crowdfunding to sell shares of stock. Obviously, the paper certificates representing the shares of stock have no value by themselves, they have value only to evidence ownership in the business that issued the certificates or, more exactly, in the cash flow the business is expected to generate. So it wouldn’t make sense to say “I’m selling nuggets of gold using Crowdfunding.” The nuggets of gold have an intrinsic value without reference to the cash flow of anything else, or at least you hope they do. I can go shopping with a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ethereum, just as I can shop with US dollars or, historically, with gold.

This is where things get tricky and words matter. The blockchain – the technology underlying all cryptocurrencies – can be used for a lot of things other than cryptocurrencies. As it happens, one of the things the blockchain can be used for is to keep track of stock certificates. In fact, the blockchain works so well keeping track of stock certificates that it will undoubtedly be used by (or replace) all public stock transfer agents within the next five years.

What’s happening today is that companies are selling what they call “cryptocurrencies” that are really just interests in the future operations of a business, i.e., really just hi-tech stock certificates. Cool, they’re using blockchain technology to keep track of who owns the company! But that doesn’t mean what you’re buying is really a cryptocurrency and that you’re going to get rich like the early buyers of Ethereum.

Words are powerful, and the confusion around cryptocurrencies is deepened by the nomenclature. Sales of cryptocurrencies are often referred to as “initial coin offerings,” or ICOs, which implies a similarity to “initial public offerings,” or IPOs. Yet if we’re being careful, the two have nothing in common. In an IPO a company sells its own securities, which have value only based on the success of the company. In an ICO somebody sells a product that has intrinsic value of itself.

Ignoring the difference is going to land someone in hot water, probably sooner rather than later. A company that sells something it calls a cryptocurrency but is really just a share of stock is selling a security, even if that company has an address near Palo Alto. And a company that sells a security is subject to all those pesky laws from the 1930s. If you sell a cryptocurrency that is really just a hi-tech stock certificate, then not only do you risk penalties from the SEC and state securities regulators, you’ll also face lawsuits from your investors if things don’t go as planned.

How to know whether you’re selling a true cryptocurrency or a hi-tech stock certificate? Here are some tips:

  • If the value of the cryptocurrency depends on the success of the business, it’s a security.
  • If the value of the cryptocurrency depends on, or is backed by, real estate or other property, it’s a security.
  • If the cryptocurrency is marketed as an investment, it’s probably a security.
  • If the value of the cryptocurrency depends what the buyer does with it, rather than the success of the business, it’s probably not a security.
  • If the cryptocurrency merely gives the holder the right to participate in a group effort (g., the development of software), it’s probably not a security.
  • If you’re selling the cryptocurrency in lieu of issuing stock, it’s probably a security.

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.

 

 

Will Someone Please Offer Investment Advice For Crowdfunding?

business handshake

Very few retail investors have the skill to pick a great deal from a mediocre deal. I know I don’t, and I’ve been representing real estate developers and entrepreneurs my whole career.

Taking a cue from the public stock market, one way to address the retail market is to create the equivalent of a mutual fund for Crowdfunding investments. You would create a limited liability company to act as the fund, raise money from investors using Crowdfunding, and the manager would select investments from Crowdfunding portals.

Great idea conceptually, but it doesn’t work legally:

  • The LLC would, by definition, be an “investment company” under the Investment Company Act of 1940. As such, you would be prohibited from using Title III or Title IV to raise money for the fund.
  • You could use Title II to raise money for the fund, but as an investment company the fund would be subject to extremely onerous and costly regulation, e., the same regulation that applies to mutual funds. To avoid the regulation, you would have to limit the fund to either (1) no more than 100 accredited investors, or (2) only investors with at least $5 million of investments. In either case, you defeat the purpose.

But there is another way! A licensed investment adviser could offer investment advice with respect to investments in Crowdfunding projects and, for that matter, make the investments on behalf of his or her retail customers, charging an annual fee based on the amount invested. The adviser would allow each retail investor to effectively create his or her own “mutual fund” of projects based on individual preferences.

Not only would the investment adviser make money, the availability of unbiased advice would draw retail investors into the space – a win for the industry.

To quote Pink Floyd, is there anybody out there?

Questions? Let me know.

SEC Provides Guidance On Advertising By Title III Issuers

sec guidance

The SEC just provided guidance for Title III issuers in the form of Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations. You can read the CD&I’s themselves here.

Before Filing

Before filing Form C (the disclosure document used in Title III) and being listed on a Funding Portal, a Title III issuer may not take any action that would “condition the public mind or arouse public interest in the issuer or in its securities.” That means:

  • No Demo Days
  • No email blasts or social media posts about the offering
  • No meetings with possible investors

After Filing

Once a Title III issuer has filed Form C and been listed on a Funding Portal, any advertising that includes the “terms of the offering” is subject to the “tombstone” limits of Rule 204. The “terms of the offering” include the amount of securities offered, the nature of the securities, the price of the securities, and the closing date of the offering period.

Advertising that does not include the “terms of the offering” is not subject to Rule 204. Theoretically, for example, an issuer could attend a Demo Day after filing its Form C, as long as it didn’t mention (1) how much money it’s trying to raise, (2) what kind of securities it’s offering, (3) the price of the securities, or (4) the closing date of its offering.

Three caveats:

  • Have you ever been to a Demo Day? It’s hard to imagine someone wouldn’t ask “How much money are you trying to raise?” or that the company representative wouldn’t answer. Theoretically possible, yes, but in practice highly unlikely.
  • Even the statements “We’re selling stock” or “We’re issuing debt” are “terms of the offering” and therefore cross the line.
  • There’s an interesting difference between the regulations themselves and the CD&Is. The regulations say “terms of the offering” means the items mentioned. The CD&Is, on the other hand, say “terms of the offering” include the items mentioned. Thus, if you take the CD&Is literally, maybe “terms of the offering” also include other things, like the start date of the offering.

Video

After filing, a Title III issuer can use video to advertise the “terms of the offering,” as long as the video otherwise complies with Rule 204.

Media Advertisements

After filing, if a Title III issuer is “directly or indirectly involved in the preparation” of a media article that mentions the “terms of the offering,” then the issuer is responsible if the article violates Rule 204.

EXAMPLE:  You attend a Demo Day, and the organizer announces how much money you’re trying to raise. You violated Rule 204.

EXAMPLE:  A reporter from your local paper calls. Eager for the free press, you tell her you’re raising $200,000 for a new microbrewery in town, which she repeats in her article. You violated Rule 204.

EXAMPLE:  A reporter from your local paper calls. Eager for the free press, but very savvy legally, you tell her about your plans for the microbrewery but carefully avoid telling her how much money you’re raising or any other “terms of the offering.” She goes to the Funding Portal and finds out herself, and reports that you’re raising $200,000. You violated Rule 204.

To be safe, you just can’t be involved, directly or indirectly, with anyone from the press who doesn’t understand Title III and promise, cross her heart and hope to die, not to disclose any “terms of the offering.”

Advertisements on the Funding Portal

Advertising a Title III offering outside the Funding Portal is a minefield. But inside the Funding Portal is a completely different story. Inside the Funding Portal is where everything is supposed to happen in Title III. Focus your attention there, where the minefields are few and far between.

Questions? Let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

Another Law Affecting Crowdfunding Portals: The Americans With Disabilities Act

By Adam E. Gersh, Guest Contributor

You probably already know that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to “places of public accommodation,” like hotels and restaurants. What you might not know is that the ADA probably applies to your Crowdfunding website, or will soon.

Courts have held the ADA applies to websites that supply products or services, reasoning that websites, like buildings, can be “places of public accommodation.” For example, Netflix.com and Peapod reportedly settled cases with the Department of Justice, while Home Depot and Target have faced claims relating to website accessibility.  On the other hand, websites that are merely informational, like Mark’s blog, are less likely to be required to comply with accessibility standards.

If you’re operating a Crowdfunding portal then everything you do is online, making you a lot more like Netflix than like a blog. That’s particularly true of Title III Funding Portals, where everything has to happen online by law, but it’s probably true for Title II and Title IV portals as well. Therefore, while there have been no rulings or cases, and the law around the ADA and websites remains unsettled, we can feel pretty confident that the ADA or its state-law equivalents will apply.

How can you get on the right side of the law? The industry has developed a set of standards known as WCAG 2.0 – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which include a set of recommendations to make website coding changes with accessibility in mind. WCAG2.0 is an industry standard for non-governmental entities and, most importantly, it is the standard the Department of Justice has used as a measuring stick in the cases brought to date. WCAG2.0 actually has three tiers of accessibility standards but, until the Department of Justice issues new rules or the courts produce clearer rulings, it’s not clear which tier will apply to Crowdfunding portals.

Stay tuned.

 

Adam E. Gersh, Esq. is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC and a member of our Employment Practices Group. He can be reached at adam.gersh@flastergreenberg.com or (856) 382-2246.

No Demo Days For Title III Issuers

Crowdfunding is a marketing business. But when it comes to marketing an offering of securities by a Title III issuer, things get complicated. That’s why this is three times longer than any blog post should be.

Why It Matters

No Demo Days For YouSection 5(c) of the Securities Act provides that an issuer may not make an “offer” of securities unless a full-blown registration statement is in effect, of the kind you would prepare for a public offering.

There are lots of exceptions to the general rule and Title III is one of them: you can make “offers” of securities without having a full-blown registration in effect, if you comply with the requirements of Title III.

On one hand that’s good, because if you market your offering as allowed by Title III, you’re in the clear. On the other hand, if you make “offer” of securities without meaning to, or without complying with the intricacies of Title III, you could be in trouble in two ways:

  • You might have violated section 5(c), putting yourself in jeopardy of enforcement action by the SEC and other liability.
  • By making an illegal offer, you might have jeopardized your ability to use Title III at all.

What is an “Offer” of Securities?

Section 2(a)(3) of the Securities Act defines “offer” very broadly, to include “every attempt or offer to dispose of, or solicitation of an offer to buy, a security or interest in a security, for value.” And the SEC has defined “offer” even more broadly than those words suggest. Going back to 1957, the SEC said that any publicity that could “contribute to conditioning the public mind or arousing public interest” could be treated as an “offer.”

These examples illustrate the spectrum:

  • A company continues to advertise its services as usual, keeping its plans for an offering under wraps, then files an S-1 registration statement.
  • A company steps up its public relations efforts before a new product announcement, which happens to coincide with a new public offering.
  • For six months before it files a registration statement, a company triples its advertising budget, trying to build brand recognition specifically with the investing public.
  • A company puts up a website announcing “Please buy our common stock!”

The SEC has adopted a number of rules describing behavior that will not be treated as an “offer” for purposes of section 5(c). For example, Rule 135 allows so-called “tombstone” advertisements of registered offerings, Rule 135c allows notices of private offerings by publicly-reporting companies, and Rule 169 allows factual business information released by an issuer that has filed or intends to file a registration statement. But all these rules apply only to companies that are or intend to become public or publicly-reporting. There are no equivalent rules dealing with the behavior of small companies.

A Different Definition for Small Companies?

With that background, advice given by the SEC in 2015 catches your attention:

Question: Does a demo day or venture fair necessarily constitute a general solicitation for purposes of Rule 502(c)?

SEC Answer: No. Whether a demo day or venture fair constitutes a general solicitation for purposes of Rule 502(c) is a facts and circumstances determination. Of course, if a presentation by the issuer does not involve an offer of a security, then the requirements of the Securities Act are not implicated.

The italicized statement is true, by definition. If there is no “offer,” the securities laws don’t apply. Even so, it’s hard to reconcile with the SEC guidance for public companies. A “demo day” iDemo Day Presentations, by any definition, an event where companies make presentations to investors. Not to customers, to investors. If merely “conditioning the public mind” can be an offer, it is very hard to understand how presenting to a roomful of investors could not be an offer.

Trying to reconcile the two, you might conclude that the SEC is, in effect, using different definitions of “offer” depending on the circumstances. During the period surrounding a public offering of securities a stringent definition applies (the 1957 ruling involved the period immediately following the filing of a registration statement) while outside that period a more lenient definition applies. If that were true, those of us trying to advise Title III issuers would sleep better.

There are two glitches with the theory, however:

  • Maybe the SEC will view the period surrounding a Title III listing in the same way it views the period surrounding a public registration statement.
  • The preamble to the final Title III regulations actually cites Rule 169 and cautions that “The Commission has interpreted the term ‘offer” broadly. . . .and has explained that ‘the publication of information and publicity efforts, made in advance of a proposed financing which have the effect of conditioning the public mind or arousing public interest in the issuer or in its securities constitutes an offer. . . .’” That sure doesn’t sound like a more lenient rule for Title III.

The Title III Rule for Advertising

Title III is about Crowdfunding, right? Doesn’t that mean Title III issuers are allowed to advertise anywhere and say anything, just like Title II issuers?

Not exactly.

A core principle of Title III is that everything happens on the portal, where everyone can see it, so nobody has better access to information than anyone else. A corollary is that that Title III issuers aren’t allowed to advertise freely. If a Title III issuer put information about its offering in the New York Times, for example, maybe readers of the New York Post (are there any?) wouldn’t see it.

A Title III issuer can advertise any where it wants – Twitter, newspapers, radio, web, etc. – but it can’t say any thing it wants. All it can do is provide a link to the Funding Portal with an ad that’s limited to:

  • A statement that the issuer is conducting an offering tweet
  • The terms of the offering
  • Brief factual information about the issuer, e.g., name, address, and URL

In the public company world, those are referred to as “tombstone” ads and look just about that appealing. In the online world issuers can do much better. A colorful post on the issuer’s Twitter or Facebook pages saying “We’re raising money! Come join us at www.FundingPortal.com!” is just fine. 

Insignificant Deviations From The Rules

Recognizing that Title III is very complicated and new, section 502 of the Title III regulations provides:

A failure to comply with a term, condition, or requirement. . . .will not result in the loss of the exemption. . . .if the issuer shows. . . .the failure to comply was insignificant with respect to the offering as a whole and the issuer made a good faith and reasonable attempt to comply. . . .”

The language is vague, as it has to be, but it certainly suggests that Title III issuers can make mistakes without losing the exemption. And there’s no reason why mistakes in advertising an offering should be treated more harshly than other mistakes.

The purpose of the advertising rule, as we’ve seen, is to ensure that every investor has access to the same information. If a Title III issuer mistakenly provides more information about its offering in a Facebook post than it should have, the infraction could be cured easily – for example, by ensuring that any information in the Facebook post appeared on the Funding Portal for at least 21 days before the offering goes live, or by correcting the Facebook post and directing Facebook friends to the Funding Portal.

Where Does That Leave Us?

Ideally, a company thinking about raising money using Title III would follow these simple rules:

  • Don’t attend demo days.
  • In fact, don’t mention your plan to raise money to any potential investors until you register with a Title III Funding Portal.
  • The minute you want to talk about raising money, register with a Title III Funding Portal.
  • After registering with a Title III Funding Portal, don’t mention your offering except in “tombstone” advertising.
  • After registering with a Title III Funding Portal, don’t meet, speak, or even exchange emails with investors, except through the chat room on the Funding Portal.

ducks in a row 2A company that follows those rules shouldn’t have problems.

That’s ideal, but what about a company that didn’t speak to a lawyer before attending a demo day? What about a company that posted about its offering on Facebook before registering with a Funding Portal, and included too much information? What about a company that’s spoken with some potential investors already? What about a real company?

Nobody knows for sure, but unless the SEC takes a very different position with regard to Title III than it has taken with regard to Regulation D, I think a company that has engaged in any of those activities, or even all of those activities, can still qualify for a successful Title III offering.

Let’s not forget, the SEC has been very accommodating toward Crowdfunding, from the no-action letters in March 2013 to taking on state securities regulators in Regulation A. With section 502 in its toolbox, it’s hard to believe that the SEC is going to smother Title III in its cradle by imposing on startups the same rules it imposes on public companies.

It’s instructive to look at the way the SEC has treated the concept of “general solicitation and advertising” under Regulation D.

By the letter of the law, any contact with potential investors with whom the issuer does not have a “pre-existing, substantive relationship” is treated “general solicitation,” disqualifying the issuer from an offering under Rule 506(b) (and all of Rule 506, before the JOBS Act). But the SEC has taken a much more pragmatic approach based on what it refers to as “long-standing practice” in the startup industry. In fact, in a 1995 no-action letter the SEC concluded that there had been no “general solicitation” for a demo day event even when investors had been invited through newspaper advertisements.

I think the SEC will recognize “long-standing practice” in interpreting Title III also.

Bearing in mind the language of section 502, I think the key will be that an issuer tried to comply with the rules once it knew about them, i.e., that a company didn’t violate the rules flagrantly or intentionally. If you’re a small company reading this post and start following the rules carefully today, I think you’ll end up with a viable offering. Yes, there might be some legal doubt, at least until the SEC issues clarifications, but entrepreneurs live with all kinds of doubt, legal and otherwise, all the time.

It’s Not Just the Issuer

The issuer isn’t the only party with a stake in the advertising rules. The Funding Portal might have even more on the line.

Here’s the challenge:

  • Before allowing an issuer on its platform, a Funding Portal is required to have a ”reasonable basis” for believing that the issuer has complied with all the requirements of Title III.
  • We’ve seen that one of the requirements of Title III is that all advertising must point back to the Funding Portal.
  • Before the issuer registered with a Funding Portal, advertising by the issuer couldn’t have pointed back to the Funding Portal.
  • Therefore, if a would-be issuer has engaged in advertising before registering with the Funding Portal, including any activity that could be construed as an “offer” for purposes of section 5(c), the Funding Portal might be required legally to turn the issuer away.

QuestionnaireWith their legal obligations in mind, dozens of Funding Portals are preparing questionnaires for would-be issuers as I write this, asking questions like “Have you made any offers of securities during the last 90 days? Have you participated in demo days?”

If the Funding Portal denies access to any issuer that answers “I don’t know” or “Yes,” it might end up with very few issuers on its platform. On the other hand, if it doesn’t ask the questions, or ignores the answers, it’s probably not satisfying its legal obligation, risking its SEC license as well as lawsuits from investors.

The Funding Portal will have to make some tough calls. But its answer doesn’t have to be limited to “Yes” or “No.” For one thing, using its own judgment, the Funding Portal might suggest ways for the issuer to “fix” any previous indiscretions. For another, rather than make the call itself, the Funding Portal might ask for an opinion from the issuer’s lawyer to the effect that the issuer is eligible to raise money using Title III.

Advertising Products and Services

We’ve seen that product advertisements by a company that has filed, or is about to file, a public registration statement can be viewed as an “offer” of securities for purposes of section 5(c) if the company uses the product advertisement to “arouse interest” in the offering.  However, I don’t believe this will be a concern with Title III:

  • A company that has registered with a Funding Portal should be free to advertise its products and services however it pleases. There’s no “quiet period” or similar concept with Title III the way there is with a public registration.
  • A company that has not yet registered with a Funding Portal and is not otherwise offering its securities should also be free to advertise its products or services. Just not at a demo day!

Many companies in the Title III world will be looking to their customers as potential investors. For those companies it makes perfect sense to advertise an offering of securities in conjunction with an advertisement of products or services. Sign up with a Funding Portal, follow the rules for advertising, and “joint” advertisements of product and offering should be fine.

Will a Legend Do the Trick?

Suppose a company thinking about raising money using Title III Crowdfunding makes a presentation to a roomful of investors at a demo day, but includes on each slide of its deck the disclaimer: “This is Not An Offering Of Securities.”

The disclaimer doesn’t hurt and might tip the balance in a close case, but don’t rely on it.

An Issuer With A Past:  Using Rule 506(c) to Clean Up

Great Gatsby original ad

Photo Credit: Fast Company editor Jason Feifer

In Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the main character reaches for a new future but, in the end, finds himself rowing “against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” In this final section I’ll suggest a way that an issuer might raise money using Title III notwithstanding a troubled past, succeeding where Jay Gatsby could not.

Suppose an issuer registers with a Funding Portal, raises money using Title III, then fails. Looking for a basis to sue, investors learn that the issuer attended a demo day three weeks before registering with the Funding Portal. An illegal offer! Gotcha!

“No,” says the issuer, calmly. “You’re right that we attended a demo day and made an offer of securities, but that’s when we were thinking about a Rule 506(c) offering. As you know, offers made under Rule 506(c) are perfectly legal. It was only afterward that we started to think about Title III.”

As long as the record – emails, promotional materials, investor decks, and so forth – demonstrates that any “offers” were made in contemplation of Regulation D rather than Title III, I think the issuer wins that case. The case would be even stronger if the issuer actually sold securities using Rule 506(c) and filed a Form D to that effect, before registering with the Funding Portal.

An issuer with a troubled past – one that has attended lots of demo days, posted lots of information on Facebook and met with a bunch of different investors – might go so far as to engage in and complete a Rule 506(c) offering before registering on a Funding Portal. With the copy of the Form D in their files, the issuer and the Funding Portal might feel more comfortable that the troubled past is behind.

Questions? Let me know.

Workshop on Regulation A+

 

On March 4th I had the pleasure of co-presenting a workshop on Regulation A (Title IV Crowdfunding) in Mountain View, California, at an event organized by Crowdfund Beat. My co-presenter, Jillian Sidoti of SyndicationLawyers.com, is a terrific person, an engaging speaker, and one of the country’s leading authorities on Regulation A.

I hope you enjoy our conversation and get a sense of the real-life practicalities of preparing and filing a Regulation A offering.

CrowdFund Beat Media International is an online source of news, information, events and resources for the crowdfunding industry. Currently we cover the USA, Canada, the UK, Italy, Germany, France, and Holland, and soon we’ll be expanding to Spain, Australia, Japan and China. We think of our work as an educational and informative service to the crowdfunding community, and appreciate your suggestions.

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