Part 3 –The (really) Ugly
In Part 1 I covered all of the good things that we have seen as crowdfunding continuously gathers momentum across the world. The future looks bright indeed!
In Part 2 I wrote of changes within the industry, especially within rewards based crowdfunding – the competition which makes it so much harder for the small guys and the Indiegogo platform now giving preferential treatment to corporates, allowing them “…to pay for special placement on Indiegogo’s site, making them more discoverable than other campaigns”. I also explained that although campaign creators are often labelled as scammers when they fail to deliver on their promises, in many cases this is not true at all.
Here in Part 3, we delve into the dark world of extortion, blackmail and a whole host of other not so nice behavior. I’ll cover some real scams where the campaign creator’s intention from the very beginning was to steal people’s money, in some cases, with the crowdfunding platforms help too!
Part 3-The (REALLY) UGLY
Extortion and Blackmail
Ethan Hunt – Micro Phone
During our very early days of offering crowdfunding campaign marketing services, we were engaged by a Mr. Ethan Hunt who had just launched his Micro Phone campaign on the Indiegogo platform. Ethan and I shared a few phone calls as his campaign began to gather momentum and I specifically remember being on a call with him one day, while the money was rolling in, and each refresh of his campaign page showed more and more backers claiming the rewards on offer. Times were good and there was an element of excitement in his voice (and mine too). Who wouldn’t be excited to see such fantastic traction?
Around 4 weeks later, with almost $50,000 raised, Ethan reached out to me to say he’d been contacted by a guy named Michael Gabrill who claimed that he had some negative information about Ethan and that if he did not pay him $10,000 he would release this information to the public through various media channels. Ethan forwarded me the email communications so I could see for myself.
Low and behold, there it was in black and white.
My advice to Ethan at the time was to just ignore this guy, as I was sure that Gabrill was just a typical opportunist money grabber and was probably seeking attention too. Ethan wrote back to him, refusing to pay a single cent but what happened next surprised us both – Garbrill began contacting various media including Pando and even went so far as to create a webpage slandering Ethan and his Micro Phone project.
The story continued and in Ethan’s own words at the time:
“Did Michael Gabrill attempt to extort money from us? Yes, he did, this is fact he has admitted to doing it here and on one of the many webpages he has set up in an attempt to cover his actions and his motives, claiming it was a test to see if we would incriminate ourselves. Incriminate us for what? Running a successful and legitimate campaign? Or refusing to pay him money not to do what he has done, something he threaten(ed) to do if we did not pay him.
What did Michael Gabrill do exactly? Well, he approached me the day after our campaign reached 100% funding which means in laymans terms when our campaign had received enough contributions for our campaign to be successful and for us to receive payment of the funds at the end of the campaign.
It took more than 30 days to reach our goal and our campaign to be fully funded. During this time, Michael Gabrill sat back and waited until there was enough motivation for us as campaign owners to if he could build enough fear of loss by the thought of him getting our campaign closed down to pay him money for his silence.
Why if Michael Gabrill if he really believed the campaign was fraudulent did he not immediately report it? Simple up until the campaign is 100% there would be no motivation for campaign owners to pay him a penny. This was never about him believing there was an issue with the campaign it was about his motivation to gain financially from a successful campaign. Something, we are sure he has done many times before.
Why do we think he has done this before? He waited until we were 100% funded, he claimed he could shut us down, he claimed that we had no intention of delivering anything to contributors and were going to steal their money and he wanted his cut or he was going to have us arrested for fraud.
Michael Gabrill’s only motivation was money, he sent me a link to his first webpage and told me if we paid him it would not go up. That webpage included photos of myself, details Michael Gabrill had obtained from my eBay account (which could only have been accessed by an eBay employee) and he claimed I was a creep or in Australian terms a sex offender. When I refused to pay him and reported him, he had the webpage active in less than 10 minutes. Only an extortionist would have a pre built webpage ready to go to force his victims into paying him to remove it.
Is our campaign is legitimate? Yes it is, we have registered businesses in Hong Kong and Australia, neither Mike or I have ever been investigated for fraud and we have both been successfully running business in Australia, Hong Kong and China for more than 25 years.”
To end the story, Ethan initiated legal action and managed to have all the slandering webpages created by Gabrill removed and received a public apology from the man himself too. In turn, Indiegogo went on to ban Gabrill completely from their platform.
This turned into a very time consuming and costly endeavor for Ethan but unfortunately, there are many Gabrills lurking in the shadows and waiting to pounce.
Bob Rohner – RG Energy
Bob signed up with us a few months after Ethan but his story is a different one in that his crowdfunding campaign didn’t really do too well at all. We tried our best but the ‘crowd’ seemed to think that what Bob was attempting to do was nigh impossible.
However, during the third week of his campaign. Bob received an email from someone claiming to be the owner of RG Energy, a company based in Ohio. Bob’s business was registered in Iowa. They emailed Bob stating that because they were using their RG Energy’s company name, he would have to pay $10,000 (yes, coincidently the same amount as Ethan was asked for) in license or royalty fees. What??
After a little research, it turned out that this goon had registered a company by the same name in Ohio AFTER Bob had launched his crowdfunding campaign thinking he could get money out of him by playing this little game. This led Bob to get his legal team involved and the problem swiftly went away.
The Scammers – Very few real ones but they are out there!
Intentional scams are very rare. During my time in the industry I have seen no more than 3 or 4 which were clearly scams from the very beginning.
Many labelled as scams today are situations whereby the people involved set out with good intentions, only to find out that what they are attempting to do is either impossible or far costlier than they expected. Crowdfunding campaign first, homework afterwards rarely works.
Julien (Courteville) Buschor – Launching Multiple campaigns helped him steal almost $400,000
During July 2015, a campaign on the Indiegogo platform called Smart Tracker 2 (ST2) caught my attention for the simple reason that it had raised over $20,000 within the first 24 hours. Normally, campaigns that gain this kind of traction so quickly have done their homework and are fully prepared with social media assets before launch. In most cases, they have a substantial number of social media followers. However, when I looked at the Smart Tracker accounts I saw that they barely had any followers at all. In fact, at the time, their Facebook page showed only 149 ‘likes’ and their Twitter account a measly 19 followers. Maybe they’d done a fantastic job of building a targeted email database before launch, was a thought at the time. My suspicions were aroused though which lead me to delve a little deeper.
I returned to the ST2 campaign page and began to scroll through their backer list. As I scrolled down to the very first backer, and began searching through the list of names, low and behold, I began to see some of the same names appear as backer’s multiple times and eventually realized that 7 or more user accounts had contributed to the campaign many times over – a clear sign of self-funding taking place. This raised alarm bells and prompted further investigation.
What I discovered was a first for me. A look at the user account profile that created this this ST2 campaign showed that this was the 4th campaign launched since the beginning of the year by the very same person – Julien Scherer (whose real name turned out to be Julien Buschor) and now it was only July? Ding..ding..ding. The alarm bells grew louder!
Upon further investigation I discovered that Mr Buschor first launched a campaign called Last Crime in January 2015 raising over $7,000 and claiming:
“Last Crime was made with cutting edge technology that can easily analyze data, provide facial recognition, perform phone and email scanning and much more”
A month later yet another campaign had launched by the name of Innovative Swiss Teeth Whitening Machine raising over $ 60,000 and with a tagline of “Swiss White Teeth, the most advanced swiss teeth whitening light with color screen and USB interface”
A few short weeks later the Smart Tracker campaign launched and managed to raise just over $18,000. And finally, the ST2 campaign as initially mentioned above.
The answer to the question – How had the Smart Tracker 2 campaign managed to raise over $20,000 so quickly? – was now fairly obvious as it was clear that Mr Buschor had rolled funds from his other campaigns into this new one.
Armed with this information, we reached out to Mr Buschor using a private email address and began a lengthy exchange of emails over the following few days. Initially he was panicked and changed user names on the campaigns listed above and sometimes became aggressive in his defense, but he did begin to accept that we knew his game. We threatened to report his campaign to Indiegogo and eventually, he did confirm that he had self-funded the ST2 campaign and his defense was made with a claim of “I’ve done nothing wrong as it’s legal so Indiegogo won’t cancel our campaign”
Mr Buschor self-funded his ST2 campaign to the tune of over $20,000, using money collected from previous campaigns to create a sense of popularity in the eyes of the public. No doubt in my mind that we were seeing a real con man in action!
As my marketing agency, Smart Crowdfunding is listed as a ‘Partner’ on Indiegogo itself, I reached out directly to their Trust and Safety division armed with all of the evidence needed to show that Mr Buschor had been scamming the public. I was certain they would listen, or at least reach out to me for more details. Nope. I received a canned email response saying very little except that they would investigate the matter. Did I hear back from them after this? Nope.
Of even more concern was that the ST2 campaign continued and on July 12th was promoted through the Indiegogo newsletter to a huge database of millions of people. Funding continued to ramp up and eventually the campaign raised more than $300,000.
Was it really a scam you may ask? Absolutely! The comments page on the ST2 campaign tells the whole shameful story!
As for Mr Buschor, he was resident in Switzerland and made local news for all of the wrong reasons as seen HERE
BioRing- The Amazing Ring That Made $460,000 Disappear
Now, this one had scam written all over it from the very beginning. However, even some notable Crowdfunding Marketing agencies were taken for a ride in the process too.
During mid-January 2016, we (Smart Crowdfunding) received an email inquiry from a Daniel Johnson asking about our services. After a few back and forth emails with our team, this lead to a Skype call booked for the 20th January. For some reason, they had to reschedule and we rebooked a time for 9am on 27th January, this time with a James Lee.
The call went ahead as planned, and James told me all about BioRing and that they were going to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds to manufacture the product and get it out there into the market. I explained our campaign development and marketing process, and the need to build an audience prior to launching. James asked if we would work on a percentage only basis to which I replied “No” and then went on to explain that without any validation testing we do not know if his product is a good fit for crowdfunding. Upon concluding the call I did say that I would email through our fee structure and the call ended.
My thoughts at the time were that what they were trying to do was nearly impossible, so a few days later I emailed again stating that after careful consideration I could not help them as I felt their product was impossible to develop.
We did not hear from either Daniel or James again.
The BioRing campaign eventually launched in June 2016 and did rack up over $700,000 in funding.
Fortunately, at least some of the backers were refunded, as Indiegogo did not release any of the InDemand money to the campaign owners. The total amount ‘stolen’ is now showing at $424,664 as of today’s date.
Now, that’s a lot of money and has, in effect, added to a community of backers claiming to never back another Indiegogo campaign again as can be clearly seen on the comments section of the BioRing campaign page. There are many other campaigns with such negative comments.
These disgruntled backers have a right to be pissed and there are hundreds of thousands of them who have supported other campaigns that are disgusted with the treatment they receive from Indiegogo themselves.
You can read more about this scam in this excellent investigative article from Sara Morrison here
The ironic thing with BioRing is that the marketing agencies involved – Funded Today (FT), Herscu and Goldsilver (H&G) and Command Partners (CP) – were up in arms when they didn’t get paid after the campaign concluded, having raised over $700,000. It surprises me that none of them thought that this campaign was nothing but a scam from the very beginning, considering FT were taking a 25% cut of funds raised, H&G a 10% cut and I assume CP a minimum 10%….so, a minimum of 45% off the top! Add to this the 5% Indiegogo platform fee and payment processing fees of around 3.5% meaning that BioRing were giving away more than 50% of the backer’s money!
A screenshot of the BioRing campaign team captured prior to the campaign been flagged as fraudulent. Since then all associated team members removed themselves from the campaign, most likely out of embarrassment.
By Anum Yoon, Crowdfund Beat Media Guest post,
Venture capitalists tend to back entrepreneurial firms that reflect their own ideas and match their social and educational experiences. This type of financing has resulted in a concentrated amount of funds for business endeavors in specific locales. Venture capitalists are typically wealthy investors, investment banks and other financial institutions with similar interests.
Silicon Valley and Boston benefit greatly from venture capitalism, while struggling entrepreneurial startups across the country are suffering from a venture capital drought.
However, the industry is changing with the expansion of crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter, helping to level the playing field. A recent study from the University of California at Berkeley states that crowdfunding financing is now accessible outside of the traditional startup and technological landscape, with even the restaurant industry jumping into the crowdfunding action.
Crowdfunding Platform Expansion Leads to Nationwide Innovation
Crowdfunding appeals to entrepreneurs and investors looking for a different tribe. Since many venture capitalists (VCs) finance people and ideas similar to their own, women and minority entrepreneurs can benefit greatly from crowdfunding expansion outside of the normal VC region.
The study from UC Berkeley identified specific regions where the majority of financing from VCs are concentrated. The study analyzed data from 55,0005 Kickstarter campaigns and 17,493 venture capital investments that were similar in activities.
The researchers mapped the successful campaigns and financing from 2009 to 2015. What the researchers found was that the Kickstarter campaigns originated from all across the country and from areas not typically financed through venture capitalism. This includes the cities of Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle.
Venture capitalism was responsible for the financing of entrepreneurial firms in highly concentrated areas. As much as 50 percent of all VC financing concentrates in only four counties within Silicon Valley and Boston.
The study took into account the relative intensity of the crowdfunding platform and venture capital funding in each region. Using this formula, the researchers could account for the differences in population and other factors that might skew the results.
The researchers found that areas with Kickstarter investments were located away from venture capitalist funding. For example, in the Bay area, VC funding is primarily focused in San Francisco and the Peninsula, but Kickstarter funding concentrates in Marin and Napa counties.
According to the researchers, the results could show an inequality in entrepreneurial funding in regions. In areas with Kickstarter technology campaigns, the study found that venture capitalist funding increased as VCs find these new ideas attractive.
Other Crowdfunding Platforms Expanding
The six-year study from UC Berkeley focused on Kickstarter as the crowdfunding platform, but others are expanding their reach across the country in hopes of reviving the entrepreneurial legacy while stimulating the economy and supporting charities.
GoFundMe recently acquired CrowdRise to expand fundraising initiatives for charities. GoFundMe processed the transactions for CrowdRise during 2016, and the platform raised $100 million each month and grew 300 percent year-over-year. The acquisition increases the opportunities for social fundraising and charity fundraising.
Other crowdfunding platforms that small businesses and entrepreneurs are using include Indiegogo, Fundable and RocketHub. Indiegogo launched in 2008 and announced in 2016 that it has added equity crowdfunding to open the door for small investors.
Fundable is an Ohio-based crowdfunding platform that attracts accredited investors for entrepreneurial businesses, such as InstaHealthy USA.
RocketHub offers traditional donation fundraising as well as equity-based crowdfunding through the ELEQUITY Funding platform and Bankroll Ventures.
Now entrepreneurial startups in smaller cities and rural areas have a chance to develop and share their ideas with crowdfunding platforms. Not long ago it was determined that U.S. entrepreneurship was at a 40-year low, but this may soon change.
The American entrepreneurial spirit still exists, it just needs a little financial help from its tribe.
By Jorge Sanchez, Crowdfund Beat Guest Editor,
The Initial Public Offering(IPO) has long been one of the most honored and revered business milestones. For entrepreneurs, early employees and investors IPOs are seen as the ideal liquidation event. But it is also seen by many as more, the IPO represents the ultimate validation of a business: a metamorphosis of a private company into one subjected to the democracy of the public equity market.
As monumental as an IPO is, both for the company and members of the public which support the business, investing in an IPO is anything but public or democratic.
ClickIPO Securities, a FINRA registered broker dealer, is a financial technology startup that is changing the way underwriters allocate shares in public offerings by inviting individual investors into the IPO market with an easy to use app and creating the infrastructure to facilitate the process from the underwriter to the investor.
Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Click IPO Securities is led by finance leaders Scott Coyle and James Farrelly, while development efforts are lead by tech startup veterans Jerrod Bailey and Vann Gutierrez.
To bring individual investors back into the IPO market, ClickIPO has created a technology pipeline that connects the underwriting investment bank to the retail investor. Underwriters are provided with a dashboard that makes the process transparent. The turnkey platform provides syndicate managers a single point of contact through which they can allocate shares through dozens of broker-dealers to thousands of investors with one simple allocation. A broker-dealer dashboard complete with compliance and regulatory automation technology allows online brokerage firms to integrate their clients into the IPO pipeline. To give retail investors access to IPOs and secondary offerings, ClickIPO has created a mobile app with a scoring system that minimizes the risk to issuers and underwriters of IPO flipping. The app allows a user to research available IPO and secondary offerings, choose a company they like, and place an order, all through the app. Once the shares are purchased, they will be placed in the customer’s existing brokerage account.
The significant account minimums at large investment banks that underwrite public offerings have limited the investment in IPOs to institutional investors and the wealthy. The only way for an individual investor to gain access to an IPO is through a broker-dealer or a relationship with the investment bank underwriting the offering, this route is limited, based on connections, and suffers from difficulties that arise due to compliance and technology issues.
There is also another risk inhibiting the entry of individual investors into the IPO market; All too often when a syndicate manager allocates shares of an IPO, some of those shares end up in the hands of an IPO flipper disguised as an individual investor. A flipper is someone who through a broker-dealer is allocated shares of an IPO and quickly sells them (any time in the first 30 days is considered flipping) once the shares start trading on an exchange. With the intent to sell early regardless of the price, the IPO flipper creates downward pressure on the share price. The IPO flipper does not add any value in this process but instead diminishes value for everyone else. Once a syndicate manager allocates the shares of an IPO, they don’t have an effective way to track which investors held shares and which investors flipped(sold) shares . They can only minimize flipper risk by limiting IPO flippers from getting shares in the first place, which has proven to be difficult in the current model for syndicate managers.
The team at ClickIPO has developed a solution to mitigate the risk of IPO flipping. At one end of the ClickIPO pipeline is a mobile app that is incredibly frictionless: the ClickIPO app is connected directly to an investor’s existing brokerage account. This mobile app may likely partner with every major brokerage firm and create a pure network of buy-and-hold IPO and secondary offering investors.
At the core of the mobile app is the ClickIPO Investor Score. Something akin to a credit score for IPO and secondary offering investors, the ClickIPO Investor Score takes into account the investor’s behavior and generates a metric representative of the desirability of that investor to an underwriting firm. The allocation algorithm awards priority to those on the platform who have proven they do not engage in IPO flipping behavior through the development of an attractive ClickIPO Investor Score. While the proprietary algorithm takes into account many factors that make an investor desirable to an underwriting firm, the most highly weighted factor is the average duration that an investor holds shares. Holding shares for more than 30 days will reward the investor with a higher score, the longer an investor holds his shares, the more significant the positive impact will be; Those that exit their position prior to the 30 day mark will receive a negative impact on their score, however, if the price of the offering has a significant increase, the negative impact of selling shares in the first 30 days will be less.
ClickIPO also provides value for broker-dealers offering their customers access to IPOs. The burden and risk associated with regulatory and compliance issues has diminished the broker-dealer benefits of offering IPOs to investors until now. The ClickIPO broker-dealer dashboard comes complete with regulation and compliance automation technology, allowing the broker-dealer to provide access to IPOs to their customers while mitigating the risks associated with regulation and compliance. There is also a monetary incentive for broker-dealers to join the network; When ClickIPO places shares into the accounts of broker-dealers, they receive a commission from the underwriter. ClickIPO allots a portion of this commission to the broker-dealer, often making it a more profitable transaction for the broker-dealer than a traditional marketplace transaction.
The deal flow provided by underwriters (major investment banks) is critical to the ClickIPO business model, ClickIPO has developed a powerfully simple process on top of a sophisticated technology infrastructure to assist underwriters. Where the ClickIPO Investor Score eliminates most of the risk of IPO flippers to an underwriter, ClickIPO delivers additional value with an automated, compliant, and secure process with their syndicate manager platform. Because ClickIPO aggregates thousands of investors onto a single platform, syndicate managers will have a single interface through which they can allocate millions of shares efficiently to these individual investors. After determining how many shares will be allocated to ClickIPO Securities, the ClickIPO allocation algorithm automatically distributes the shares throughout the broker-dealer network and directly into the accounts of the end users based on their priority set by the ClickIPO Investor Score. Additionally, the ClickIPO pipeline generates a great deal of data that is not available today. These data points are presented on the platform and give underwriters insight into the behavior of investors.
The waitlist for the app is live and can be found on ClickIPO’s website where interested investors can sign up to access IPOs and secondary offerings when the app goes live during the second quarter of 2017.
ClickIPO has integrated a series of complementary tools that allows individual investors to access IPOs. With such a deeply integrated and efficient distribution system, it seems ClickIPO may have an infrastructure capable of conducting all non-institutional IPO allocations for any offering and any underwriter. Non-institutional allocations represent approximately 20% of most offerings. I spoke with Scott Coyle, CEO of Click IPO Securities and asked about the ambitions of the company, he said, “we intend to become the premiere retail aggregation pipe by providing access to hundreds of IPO and Secondary offerings every year, to millions of individual investors”.
On 12/31 the SEC published a report on Reg A activity as of Q3 that has some eye-opening bullets. Here are a few of the key metrics, along with my observations and musings.
- 147 offering statements filed, of which 81 were qualified (as of the date of the stats)
- Of the 81 qualified, 49 were Tier 2, 32 were Tier 1
- 121 days avg time from filing to qualification (Tier 2)
- 17% used broker-dealers (Tier 2)
- $18M avg max-raise
- 20% used “test the waters”
- 87% equity/13% debt or other offerings
- $50,000 avg legal costs to file & get qualified
- $15,000 avg accounting audit costs
- 50%+ of all issuers are incorporated in either Delaware or Nevada and located in California, Texas, Florida or DC-area
- Typical issuer had no assets, no revenue, no net income (in other words, they are start-ups)
- Real estate was dominant, accompanied by financial services
Time to qualification, 121 days (Tier 2 avg):
This puts an exclamation mark on the fact that this isn’t a Reg D, which can be launched overnight. If you want to allow non-accredited investors to participate in a large or continuous private offering, and if you want the securities to be free of various restrictions (e.g. Rule 144 on Reg D), then you are going to need to allow for the time it takes to get audited, prepare the offering statement, and go through a 121 day avg SEC qualification process (though I know of several that have been much shorter, it seems to depends upon the experience of the lead attorney).
Broker-Dealer Activity, 17%: This is the most disturbing metric to me. You’d think that every broker-dealer in the country with “private placements” as an approved business line would be jumping on the bandwagon as Reg A is a fantastic Reg D alternative. But they’re not. The reasons, from my experience, are…
- Brokers think Reg A’s are IPO’s. As such they expect the issuers to be mature companies that are ready to trade on OTC or NASDAQ. This is completely misguided, of course, as Reg A is simply an “unrestricted (private) security” and should not be confused with an S-1 filing IPO. The fact that it “can” trade on OTC or NASDAQ doesn’t mean it should. Brokers need to view this as a private placement, not an IPO.
- FINRA treats Reg A’s like IPO’s. As such they are limiting broker compensation to the same caps as an S-1 of a less risky mature company backed by far more detailed disclosures and easy settlement mechanisms. We hear from many brokers that FINRA’s comp-caps make it impossible for them to justify the risk or work involved in handling a Reg A, so they pass on these; which leaves issuers (and investors) to fend for themselves.
- Compliance Education. The internal compliance depts at broker-dealers are not yet up to speed on this type of offering and so are quick to say “no” to deals their investment bankers bring to the table.
- Technology. Conducting an online offering is easy in concept, and challenging in execution. The transaction engine, the compliance requirements, the supervisory issues, and the fact that escrow has to manage potentially tens of thousands of individual investors are daunting issues. (of course this is FundAmerica’s primary business, our software makes all this very easy for brokers and escrow agents)
=> Unintended Consequence: this is a situation where issuers could really use the guidance of a regulated broker-dealer, and the market and investors would be better for it. But regulators and compliance issues have caused issuers to say “no thanks, too much hassle, I’ll do this on my own.” In an age of General Solicitation, brokers are an optional expense/luxury as far as many companies are concerned, and with unclear or oppressive regulations they often (83% of the time) just skip it altogether.
Tier 1 Offerings, 40%. Stunning really, considering people filing under Tier 1 almost always have to get audited financials (as some states require them, e.g. CA), they have to pay filing fees that they could avoid with Tier 2, and they subject themselves to what can be extraordinarily painful “merit review” by some states.
Equity/Debt, 97% to 13%. This is a misleading metric and doesn’t really explain what’s happening or what investors are buying (in successful offerings). For instance, the equity sold in the Reg A’s for Realty Mogul* and American Homeowners Preservation* pay investors a defined income stream and have articulated exit mechanisms; Brewdog* investors feel they are buying into a culture; Elio Motor’s* fans (oh, I mean “investors”) were passionate about the concept and the mission; Fig* investors are excited about the games and projects. So the vast majority of successful Reg A’s have some sort of defined returns and/or benefits for investors that make them more than just equity securities being bought based upon technical merits and potential market gains. It’s critical that issuers, brokers and others in this market grasp this essential point, as we’ve seen several Reg A’s fail that did not do a good job with this.
* note that all of these companies are customers of FundAmerica, I cite them here only to illustrate a general point and am NOT making a recommendation or providing advice as regards their securities.
Test The Waters, 20%. This isn’t surprising, as the current method of testing the waters is clearly broken. This will be fixed with technology and the number will increase.
In summary, it’s apparent that 2016 was a fantastic first year for Reg A+. At FundAmerica our technology was used in over $300M worth of online investment transactions, including tens of thousands of investments and millions of dollars from Reg A buyers. With continued education, with more issuers successfully raising funds, and with the new Reg CF now taking care of the smallest, least-prepared issuers, it seems clear that the use of Reg A will grow exponentially in the coming years.
About the Author: Scott Purcell is the CEO of FundAmerica, a fintech services provider to the emerging equity and debt crowdfunding industry. His firm provides escrow, payment processing, and compliance technology for numerous broker-dealers, investment advisers, portals and others who make a business of online capital formation pursuant to rules now in effect thanks to the JOBS Act. FASTransfer is the only tech-driven SEC registered transfer agent focused on the crowd-industry. He is a founding Board member of the Crowdfunding Intermediary Regulatory Association (CFIRA) and the author of the book “The Definitive Guide to Equity and Debt Crowdfunding” as well as the “Industry Best Practices for Funding Portals”.
These materials are my personal opinions and for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal or tax advice. I am not advocating, advising or recommending anyone purchase any specific or general investment of any type, ever. The issues discussed include complicated areas of law and legal advice should only be obtained and relied upon from a securities attorney about your specific circumstances.
LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–NextGen Crowdfunding®, the leading company that helps people explore new types of crowdfunding, announces the season one premiere of the Crowdfunding Video Awards (CVAs). This new, six-part series of online awards shows will showcase videos from both rewards-based crowdfunding campaigns featured on Indiegogo, Kickstarter and other platforms, as well as equity crowdfunding campaigns.
“The campaign videos we’ll be showing viewers over the course of this season showcase creativity, passion and the entrepreneurial spirit.”
Season one kicks off on Wednesday, January 25 with a live-online show at 3:00pm PT/ 6:00pm ET. Viewers will log on to NextGenCrowdfunding.com to watch and vote on their favorite crowdfunding campaign videos. The first season of the CVAs will include five preliminary awards shows, and will culminate in a final seasonal awards show highlighting the best videos of the season as voted on by the public.
“We received a wide variety of submissions from crowdfunding campaigns — spanning industries from technology to pets to wellness — to participate in the first season of the Crowdfunding Video Awards,” said NextGen founder Aubrey Chernick. “The campaign videos we’ll be showing viewers over the course of this season showcase creativity, passion and the entrepreneurial spirit.”
The contestants that will be showcased during the first round of the Crowdfunding Video Awards include:
- Codeybot by Makeblock: Makeblock is an open-source Arduino robot building platform to turn ideas into success.
- Cowin Ark by Cowin Music: Innovative audio company pioneering revolutionary Bluetooth speaker design.
- Flash Porter by DFiGear: Flash Porter lets you quickly and easily backup your precious digital photos and videos from any device – smartphones and digital cameras.
- FlowMotion by FlowMotion: FlowMotion ONE – Capture smooth cinematic videos with your smartphone. Auto-follow tracking, motion time-lapse, and so much more.
- High-End Theater by XGIMI H1: High-end Theater with 5 minute setup | 1080p LED Projects Up To 300″, Transform 2D Film Into 3D, Android OS.
- Limitless Phone Case by Mous: Whether you drop your iPhone from your pocket or from 45ft, Limitless cases will protect your phone from breaking.
- Modobag by Modobag: Modobag is the World’s First Motorized, Rideable Luggage and is changing the way people travel.
- Piqapoo by Piqapoo: A team of dog lovers that love their dogs but not picking up after them.
- PowerFilm: The revolutionary solar panel with an integrated battery to charge your devices anywhere, anytime.
- ZEEQ Smart Pillow by REM-Fit: REM-Fit is a team of dedicated individuals who believe in a restful night’s sleep. We all know that sleep is often put to the wayside in our busy lives.
Supporters of NextGen’s CVAs include the Crowdfunding Professional Association (CFPA), an organization supporting the growth of the crowdfunding industry, as well as the crowdfunding portals OurCrowd, SeedInvest, StartEngine, Republic and WeFunder and media companies Crowdfund Beat and Crowdfund Insider.
To learn more about the contestants participating in the first CVAs show, please click here.
About NextGen Crowdfunding
NextGen Crowdfunding helps people explore the new era of equity crowdfunding. With unique in-person events and live streaming video content, NextGen enables individuals to discover, research and support specific companies launching crowdfunding campaigns. NextGen’s unique Ignition Events showcase the companies and emerging businesses presenting equity crowdfunding campaigns. NextGen also provides educational content, including online webinars, boot camps and videos, to inform the public about equity crowdfunding. NextGen also provides education to, and visibility for, companies with crowdfunding campaigns. As a purpose-driven company, NextGen aims to encourage entrepreneurship and help spark a new economy. Visit http://www.nextgencrowdfunding.com.
For NextGen Crowdfunding
Jason Feldman, 212-319-3451, ext. 644
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.
Mark Roderick is one of the leading Crowdfunding lawyers in the United States. He represents platforms, portals, issuers, and others throughout the industry. For more information on Crowdfunding, including news, updates and links to important information pertaining to the JOBS Act and how Crowdfunding may affect your business, follow Mark’s blog, or his twitter handle: @CrowdfundAttny. He can also be reached at 856.661.2265 or email@example.com.
Each year, Crowdfund Beat Media Group assesses the landscape of the crowdfunding industry to identify thought leaders and individuals significantly impacting the evolution of digital finance. To culminate this search, the Group selects a Crowdfunding Person of the Year, whom it believes has made an indelible mark to advance adoption and growth of the crowdfunding effort. With Title III of the JOBS ACT, effectively Regulation CF, went live past May, we have identified two individuals that have been working tirelessly and successfully in making crowdfunding a reality, and feel honored to recognize them as 2017 Crowdfunding Persons of the Year.
Jason Best and Sherwood “Woodie” Neiss are Principals at Crowdfund Capital Advisors, where they have advised government agencies, NGOs and global leaders on the merits of crowdfunding and its impact on entrepreneurial activity. Prior to the expanse of their travels and relationships, including with the World Bank and InterAmerican Development Bank, they initiated Startup Exemption, with Zak Cassady-Dorion, which laid the foundation of the legislative framework that evolved into Title III.
It is due to these past and ongoing contributions that Crowdfund Beat Media feels compelled and honored to award Woody and Jason 2017 Crowdfunding Persons of the Year.
By Jorge Sanchez, Crowdfund Beat Guest Editor,
Innovation and entrepreneurial activity is driven by entrepreneurs, their ideas, actions, and the relationships formed in the marketplace. While this has been the case for economic growth, the primary funding mechanism we have had in place is not a natural extension of these business processes. We have had a large proportion of the entrepreneurial class being underserved by the capital needed to fund or grow their ventures. This was because the current legal landscape prohibited it. However, today if a tech startup or business needs capital they have modern technology at their disposal that enables them to leverage their social networks in order to fund their startup or grow their businesses.
As a result of the Great Depression, regulatory actions were taken that imposed limits on where entrepreneurs can seek funding. Fueled by fear and desperation, the risks and power of investing in our nation’s business opportunities were removed from the public and placed in the hands of banks and wealthy investors. Because most people did not have access to these investors, small business, and startup financing became a function of bankers and collateral, not innovation and market demands.
Fortunately, this flaw in our funding landscape has been mended. Through the actions of a few ambitious and determined men, decades-old financial regulation have been amended to reflect modern capabilities and economic reality. Today, markets don’t just function to determine which businesses survive, but also which businesses are born.
Sherwood “Woodie” Neiss, Jason Best, and Zak Cassady-Dorion are not politicians, they are not lobbyist, nor are they D.C. insiders. The men behind, perhaps the most important policy change of our lifetimes, are entrepreneurs. The three Thunderbirds are businessmen with experiences that awarded them with intimate knowledge about the needs of startups and the pains of raising capital. They did not just embark on a political journey, they instead created The Startup Exemption and to tackled head on the problem, making regulatory change. Their historic campaign lasted just 460 days, culminating in the framework that was adopted and signed into law by president Obama in April 2012.
The journey began with a problem that had been widely acknowledged, but was never addressed. The impact the group has and will continue to have is the direct result of their development of a solution with the collaboration of stakeholders and early thought-leaders like Kevin Lawton, Danae Ringelmann, and Steve Cinelli in the form of a framework that would later go on to become a part of the JOBS Act
In the halls of congress, the trio of entrepreneurs were an anomaly and there was doubt and pessimism that the group could accomplish their task at all, especially not with the absence of a large war chest and an army of lawyers. But perhaps that is exactly why the political neophytes were able to accomplish their lofty goal in a year and a half, instead of the five to ten policy experts predicted.
Those on The Hill turned out to be people that understood technology and how to leverage it, not the technological laggards that policy makers are commonly portrayed as. The group also discovered that they had tapped into a problem with universal support. During a time with an alarming unemployment rate, flat GDP growth, and a slowdown in the flow of cash from banks to small businesses, D.C. lawmakers were happy to be met with a solution for the biggest problem facing the nation.
In May 2016, Regulation Crowdfunding of the JOBS Act went live and the startup exemption become law. Over half a year later, we have seen a steady and methodical adaptation of the innovation. Jason and Sherwood are now principals at Crowdfund Capital Advisors (CCA), where they advise governmental leaders and stakeholders, like the SEC and the World Bank, on how to draft and implement crowdfunding in order to ignite job creation from the grassroots level.
When asked about the adoption of the regulation so far, the pair expressed optimism and satisfaction. They see success by how it is being embraced by the industry, thoughtfully and with care to ensure the integrity of the law is upheld and the balance of investor’s and entrepreneur’s needs and concerns are maintained. The crowdfunding community looks to amend the laws to further strengthen the fit between the needs of the entrepreneur and the laws regulating them.
Amendments to the original rules are coming to a boiling point. The Fix Crowdfunding act, proselytized by many within the crowdfunding world, aims to make the exemption more friendly and appealing to issuers by raising the limits on funds that can be raised, enabling the use of special purpose vehicles, and removing liabilities away from portals for the issuers who use their services. While any changes to the regulation are being carefully scrutinized to ensure adequate investor protection, Sherwood believes the regulatory bodies are motivated to support job growth by empowering entrepreneurs with access to capital. They will do so with the data and case studies that have been collected since the first iteration of the law went live in May 2016.
Jason and Sherwood’s outlook crowdfunding is bright, they see a thriving asset class which creates a new path to capital for underserved entrepreneurs who collectively make up the largest non government source of employment.
It is for these efforts and their continued commitment to the progression of Crowdfunding, that Sherwood Neiss and Jason Best are being honored as the 2017 Crowdfunding Person of the Year.
40Billion.com, Crowdfund Beat Guest Post.
With the popularity and success of crowdfunding as a new way to fund new projects, it’s easy for other aspiring entrepreneurs to believe that sites like Kickstarter are their golden ticket to launching a business. But the reality is, crowdfunding isn’t always as simple as it seems.
Whether you’re looking to raise a small amount of startup cash or acquire a larger sum through equity crowdfunding, there are a few challenges you might face during the process that you may not have expected.
Choosing the right platform
The first step is to choose the right platform. Not all of them are created equal. Platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo are great for raising smaller amounts of money, but equity crowdfunding portals are best for entrepreneurs looking for large sums of money. If you’re interested in the latter, it’s important to do your research and find the platform that meets your needs. Also, find an experienced attorney who specializes in equity financing.
Establishing a realistic goal amount and time frame
Many entrepreneurs, especially those new to the crowdfunding scene, tend to think that they will be able to quickly raise all the money they need and then more by the time their campaign ends. It’s important to be realistic about time and money when it comes to planning your campaign.
Consider how much capital you would need to take your business to the next major milestones, and don’t rely solely on crowdfunding sites for your fundraising.
Creating a buzz
Having a great business idea that is supported by friends and family is good, but it does not mean that the donations will come pouring in once you launch your crowdfunding campaign. Doing a lot of prep work before your campaign will help create and maintain interest in your project.
Before starting the project, gauging level of interest for your investment opportunity or project is a critical part of the process. Even though supporters have told you that they would support the campaign, it gets lost in their email inbox. Without specific requests, it’s difficult for people to actually pull the trigger on an investment or funding opportunity. Make sure you have personalized outreach to your first degree networks, and remember to ask for assistance in spreading the word.
When you’re ready to spread the word and create a buzz around your crowdfunding campaign or project, sites like 40Billion.com make this easy. They broadcast and promote your campaign to their large network of several million users across the most popular social networking sites for businesses – including Twitter, LinkedIn, 40Billion, and even Facebook. Innovative services like tweet ads and promoted company listings were created for crowdfunders to tap into a growing, active network online without spending thousands on pay-per-click ads or traditional advertising.
The risk factor
Everyone knows that there’s risk involved in any business venture. What investors want to know is, exactly how much of a risk will they be taking by offering you a large sum of money? Even small venture funds express interest in investing, but ask the entrepreneur to come back to them when they have an investor who is leading the round of funding. Everyone wants to know the amount of risk.
A lot of investors at the early stage simply want to de-risk investing by being the last money in the round once a lot of other sophisticated investors have already committed. This often creates a scenario where founders have a few hundred thousand dollars in “commitments” for months without any way to actually close on anything. Using a reputable equity crowdfunding platform with accredited investors can help solve this problem.
While the “lead investor” issue most commonly affects startups seeking large-scale investors, the same basic principle can apply to a smaller Kickstarter campaign: If potential funders see that no one is backing the project or that people are only contributing a few dollars, what incentive do they have to donate a large amount of money? This is where building interest and spreading the word become critical to raising the funds you need.
Even if you aren’t launching a crowdfunding campaign at this time, it’s important to learn about the industry, as well as what it takes to succeed.
By Cheryl Clements, Crowdfund Beat Guest Post,
Founder + CEO of PieShell – Crowdfunding for food + beverage,
Having a store front or restaurant is expensive, especially when you’re just getting started. Between build-out and equipment costs, starting inventory, licenses, fees, and working capital, starting a brick and mortar business can easily add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s because of this that many people say that rewards-based crowdfunding isn’t a good option for brick and mortar businesses, but we beg to differ.
Crowdfunding is a great option for restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and more (if it’s done in the right way and on the right scale). We’re here to tell you how to make crowdfunding work for brick and mortar operations!
First, A Word of Advice
In previous blogs we’ve cautioned against being overly ambitious when it comes to crowdfunding. Instead, we advise breaking down your grand vision into a series of stepping-stones, picking one and making that the first stepping-stone for your crowdfunding project. Ask yourself, what’s the next step in my business?
We’re doubling down on this advice. If you’re already in business, we recommend using crowdfunding for upgrading or expanding your existing restaurant operation. You may want to invest in new kitchen equipment, renovate your space, or add new offerings to your menu. If you’re still pre-launch, then crowdfunding can be an excellent way to supplement funding from traditional sources like investors and banks. In fact, sometimes crowdfunding can be a precursor to traditional investment, as it shows that there is genuine interest in your venture.
For Existing Restaurants
Crowdfunding, much like running a restaurant, is time consuming and can be hectic. However, we think that brick and mortar businesses actually have a leg up when it comes to crowdfunding.
Unlike online-only businesses or those without a permanent location, owning a restaurant gives you the opportunity to interact with potential supporters in person and on a regular basis. Use this exposure to reach people who love what you’re doing and want to see it continue. Your “regulars” are the perfect people to tap for support, either by asking in person or advertising your crowdfunding project in your space (get ready to make some killer table tents!).
A great example of restaurant crowdfunding comes from Manu Alfau, chef and owner of La Bodega in Seattle, Washington. Manu used his existing customer base to raise $9,000 to build an outdoor patio. For gifts, he offered parties and food from La Bodega — things that he already knew his supporters would love.
If you’re in the pre-launch phase, make sure that you’ve invested in the community where you plan to set up shop. That means doing things like being at local farmers’ markets, building an audience on social media that’s made up of people who are local to the area, and networking with other business owners to tap into their pool of customers.
Like we said earlier, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to raise the full cost of starting a restaurant, so pick a reasonable crowdfunding goal and plan on supplementing it with personal funds, traditional financing, or a combination of both.
For startups, one advantage of crowdfunding is the opportunity to make people feel like they are truly invested in the success of your business. Simply put, crowdfunding is a way to create a sense of community ownership, which is incredibly important when it comes to sustaining a small business.
Gifts that Make Sense
Brick and mortar businesses also have a great opportunity to make a positive impression through gifts. Gifts should get people back into your establishment where they can experience the fruits of their contributions and also become repeat customers!
For example, in 2010 in the small town of Vergennes, Vermont, Julianne Jones and her husband decided to take over a former laundromat and transform it into a French-style bakery. They rewarded their supporters with tokens that could be exchanged for goods once the bakery opened.
Obviously, this strategy is limited to those in the area, so make sure to have a back-up plan for supporters who won’t be able to make it in person.
Meet OUR First Brick and Mortars
Ok, ok, there’s a reason that we chose to focus on crowdfunding for restaurants for this blog. We’re welcoming our first three brick and mortars to the PieShell family!
The first, The Cookie Cups, was live on PieShell at the end of 2016 and successfully reached their first stepping-stone, moving them closer to their bakery cafe dreams!
Second is Bon Chovie, a rock-and-roll seafood restaurant that started life at the “flea food market” Smorgasburg. They will be launching their crowdfunding project on PieShell in the next couple months to help fund the move to a new location in Brooklyn.
And last but not least, LC Farmery. A casual and engaging experience, connecting West Chelsea patrons to passionate craft producers from around the state via a rotating menu of locally sourced ingredients from farmers, fisherman, and purveyors, will be launching a project in the spring.
We’re excited to see them pave the way for many more restaurants to come!
On December 16, 2016, President Barack Obama Signed into Law HR 3784 – SEC Office of Small Business Advocate, creating an independent Office of Small Business Advocate at the SEC, reporting directly to the full Commission and Congress. This legislation was first introduced into Congress in October 2015, where it was originally co-sponsored by former House Representative John Carney (D-Del) (now Governor-Elect of the State of Delaware) and Congressman Sean Duffy (R-Wisc) and was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives in 2016. It was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate on December 9, 2016, as part of a flurry of year-end bills passed by the Senate before it recessed for the year.
The bill had broad industry support upon its introduction in October 2015, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Venture Capital Association, National Small Business Association, Small Business Investor Alliance, SBEC, and the Crowdfunding Professional Association (CfPA), of which I served as its Chair and President at the time.
Remarkably, this Bill passed Congress unanimously without the support of the SEC. In testimony from SEC Chair Mary Jo White before the Senate Banking Committee in June 2016 she was asked by the Senate bill co-sponsor, Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), whether she supported this legislation. Her response:
“We currently have the Office of Small Business Policy within the Division of Corporate Finance. I am an advocate for small business.”
A roundabout way of saying “no” – it seems to me.
In the past I have referred to this bill as the missing title of the JOBS Act of 2012. Though it parallels to a large extent to the SEC Office of Investor Advocate – part of the Dodd Frank Act of 2010 – the need for this legislation goes back decades.
The successful passage of this law was the result of the participation and support of many individual and groups. However, I am proud to have had a major role in initiating this legislation, among other things:
- I was the first person to publicly advocate for this legislation, in Feb 2014, in an article published on Crowdfund Insider.
- I met with former SEC Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher in June 2014 to advocate for this bill.
- I was cited by Commissioner Gallagher in a public address (Note 36) by Commissioner Gallagher given at the Heritage Foundation in September 2014 where he advocated for the need for a permanent Office of Small Business Advocate.
- I worked with the original sponsor, Rep. John Carney (D-Del) (now Governor-elect of Delaware) in drafting this legislation prior to its introduction in Congress.
- I assisted in procuring the initial Republican co-sponsor – Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis).
A special thank you is in order for SEC Commissioner Gallagher. Without his public and vocal support for this legislation it might have taken many more years for this historic legislation to become a reality.
A copy of the Bill can be found here.
For those of you who want to dig deeper on this subject, here is some background material on the Bill and my role in its journey:
ByCrowdfund Beat Guest post,
On November 2, 2016, FINRA terminated the FINRA registration for UFP, LLC (“UFP”), making UFP the first crowdfunding portal to be expelled from FINRA. UFP ran an online funding portal, uFundingPortal.com, where it acted as an intermediary in debt and equity crowdfunding offerings conducted in reliance on SEC Regulation Crowdfunding rules. FINRA’s investigation into UFP alleged that from May through September 2016, UFP violated various SEC Regulation Crowdfunding rules and FINRA Funding Portal Rules. As a result of FINRA’s investigation, UFP pulled its website and submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (the “AWC”) in order to settle these alleged rule violations with FINRA. The AWC is available at: http://disciplinaryactions.finra.org/Search/ViewDocument/67004.
FINRA alleged that UFP violated Rule 301(a) and Rule 301(c)(2) under SEC Regulation Crowdfunding. Rule 301(a) requires funding-portal intermediaries like UFP to have a reasonable basis for believing that issuers using its crowdfunding portal comply with applicable regulatory requirements, and Rule 301(c)(2) requires that access to funding portals be denied to issuers that present the potential for fraud or otherwise raise investor protection concerns. FINRA found UFP to be in violation of Rule 301(a) because 16 of the issuers on UFP’s portal had failed to file certain requisite disclosures with the SEC and, in each case, UFP had reviewed these issuers’ SEC filings and therefore had reason to know that these filings were incomplete.
In addition, FINRA found UFP to be in violation of Rule 301(c)(2) by failing to deny access to its portal when it had a reasonable basis to believe these issuers and/or their offerings presented the potential for fraud. For example, FINRA found that these 16 issuers all had impracticable business models and oversimplified and unrealistic financial forecasts; 13 of these issuers disclosed identical amounts for their funding targets, maximum funding requests, price per share of stock, number of shares to be sold, total number of shares and equity valuation; three of these issuers had identical language in the “Risk Factors” sections of their websites; and two issuers listed identical officers and directors even though they had vastly different business plans. Additionally, UFP had reason to know that four of these issuers either had officers or directors who owed back taxes or had not filed an annual tax return for 2015. FINRA also alleged that UFP violated Funding Portal Rule 200(c)(3), which prohibits funding portals from including any issuer communication on its website that it knows or has reason to know contains any untrue statement of material fact or is otherwise false or misleading.