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Crowdfunding and Cryptocurrencies

By Mark Roderick CrowdFunding Beat  Sr. contributing editor and crowdfunding attorney with Flaster/Greenberg PC.

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.

2017 Real Estate Crowdfunding: Surveying the Landscape

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“Copyright” By Jonathan B. Wilson CrowdFund Beat Sr. Guest Editor, Partner, Taylor English Duma LLP

The impact of crowdfunding on real estate finance and deal-making has been one of the hottest topics of the past year.[1]  With the advent of crowdfunding, real estate developers and investors have multiple pathways to finance their projects and even to plot their exits.  But in many ways the impact of crowdfunding has not yet arrived.  Crowdfunding for real estate is still in the early stages and may take several detours along the way to its final destination.

What is Crowdfunding?

The idea of “crowdfunding” has been in the news a great deal but investors have only just begun to realize its potential for the industry.  Crowdfunding is the idea that a large number of people, with no particular expertise, can accurately predict the likely success or failure of a venture by combining their own observations and communicating with each other.  James Surowiecki‎, in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds[2], recounts dozens of examples where a large group of people who were able to collect and share information were able to make more accurate guesses about the success of a project than the best guess of any individual expert in the topic.  The Internet, with its ability to collect a large number of people quickly and easily, makes it possible to collect a “crowd” to evaluate an idea better than was ever possible before.

Crowdfunding applies this idea to the process of evaluating investment opportunities, allowing members of the crowd to put money behind their predictions and preferences.  Proponents believe that by allowing a crowd of potential investors to share their opinions about the investment and the information they collect that crowd will be better able to predict the success of the investment than individual investment experts.  Sydney Armani, the publisher of CrowdFundBeat, says, “People get excited when they engage with a new product that arouses their passions.  Those passions take on even greater intensity when they can invest in that new product.” [3]

Crowdfunding can take several forms.  Popular crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo let project sponsors describe their projects to the public and ask for donations.  In an “affinity” campaign, supports of a project pledge funds for a project because they like it and support it.  Their affinity for the project is their only reward.  In a “rewards-based” campaign, project sponsors offer rewards for cash contributions.  Rewards may range from recognition on a website or on a wall, to t-shirts, products samples and more.

Securities-Based Crowdfunding

Securities-based crowdfunding is possible through several recent changes in U.S. securities laws, most of which are derived from the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (or “JOBS Act”).  In particular, the JOBS Act created three types of crowdfunding: (a) crowdfunding to “accredited investors” under Rule 506(c), (b) crowdfunding for up to $50 million each year under new Regulation A+ and (c) crowdfunding to both accredited and non-accredited investors in small offerings under Title III.

Investing Under Rule 506(c)

First, a sponsor could offer debt or equity securities to “accredited investors” under Rule 506(c).  The JOBS Act changed some of the rules affecting private offerings under Rule 506 so that sponsors could publicly-advertise their offerings.  Before this change in the law, public solicitations of private offerings were strictly prohibited.  Under new Rule 506(c) however a promoter that wants to advertise publicly must take various steps to ensure that every investor who participates in the offering is “accredited”, which is defined as having a net worth of over $1 million (excluding the investor’s principal residence) or having an income of more than $200,000 for two consecutive years ($300,000 is the investor is married and files tax returns jointly with a spouse).

Crowdfunding under Rule 506(c) has been feasible for more than a year and several websites, have had some success hosting real estate crowdfunding campaigns that have included securities under Rule 506(c).  Most of the popular real estate crowdfunding sites included in our survey, however, require accredited investors to create a membership on the site before they can view any live offerings.  As a result, the offerings made available to members are intended as a private offering, and not a general solicitation.  Because there is no general solicitation, those websites take the position that their offerings are private offerings under Rule 506(b) rather than publicized general solicitations under Rule 506(c).

Investing Under Regulation A

Another legal change that came from the JOBS Act was a change to Regulation A, an SEC rule that allows a private company to qualify its securities (which may be equity or debt) through filing a formal prospectus with the SEC.  The SEC reviews the prospectus to ensure that it adequately describes all of the risks of the business and the risks to investors.  Once the issuer’s prospectus is approved by the SEC (at which point it is said to be “effective”) the sponsor may sell the securities to both accredited and non-accredited investors.

Before the JOBS Act, offerings under Regulation A were limited to not more than $5 million.  Under the new provisions of Regulation A (sometimes called “Regulation A+”) an issuer of securities may raise up to $50 million in any 12-month period.

One of the advantages of a Regulation A offering is that the company will be able to solicit investments from both accredited and non-accredited investors, thereby widening the scope of interest in the project.  The SEC’s rules, implementing these changes to Regulation A, however, have only been effective since October 2015.  As a result, there have been relatively few offerings that have completed the new process and it is harder to tell how these new offerings will be accepted by investors.

Regulation CF

The third possible route for crowdfunding is often called “Title III” because it arises under Title III of the JOBS Act.  Although the JOBS Act became law in 2012, the SEC only released its rules implementing this new law in October 2015 and those rules didn’t take effect until May 2016.  Under those roles, a promoter may issue securities, in an amount up to $1 million in any 12-month period, to both accredited and non-accredited investors.  But, soliciting for investors may only take place through licensed crowdfunding portals that have received a license from the Financial Institutions Regulation Authority (“FINRA”).

Under Regulation CF (the name used for the SEC’s Title III regulations), issuers do not file a prospectus with the SEC but do need to include certain disclosures about the company in their offering memorandum.  The funding portal will also be liable for making sure that all of the prospective investors receive certain notices about the process and for ensuring that each investor does not invest more than a certain maximum that is derived from the investor’s taxable income.  While a Regulation CF offering can “go national” by accepting investments from people across the country (whether they are accredited or not) the $1 million limit and the requirement that all solicitations take place online through the licensed portal make this approach a challenge for many new ventures.

Because of the $1 million annual cap on fundraising under Regulation CF, however, this approach is usually not a good fit for real estate projects that often require more than this maximum amount.

Surveying the Landscape

The following websites have used one or more of these regulatory pathways to create a marketplace for crowdfunding real estate projects.  By surveying some of the more popular websites I have tried to provide an overview for how industry players are using these now crowdfunding regulations to make deal flow and investment opportunities possible.  This list is not an endorsement of any of these sites and a site’s omission from this list is not intended as a criticism or a suggestion that the site is not worthwhile or valuable.

Peer Street

PeerStreet specializes mostly in residential debt investments (with a smattering of multifamily and commercial). PeerStreet utilizes Rule 506(b) to solicit accredited investors to participate in loans that are secured by real estate.[4]  They have one of the lowest minimums in the top 10 ($1K versus $10K average), and a healthy volume of new transactions.

Virtually every site in the industry claims that they have superior due diligence. PeerStreet, however, supports its claim with concrete proof.  PeerStreet allows investors to review the performance of every past investment. PeerStreet’s site claims that, since 2014, the site has offered more than 200  notes but without any foreclosures or unremedied defaults.

Unlike many other real estate crowdfunding sites, however, PeerStreet does not originate its loans.  Rather, project sponsors introduce opportunities to the site and then earn a fee based on successfully closing the investments.  As a consequence, investors that participate in deals on PeerStreet pay slightly higher total fees than some other sites.  Because of the relatively high performance that PeerStreet’s deals have produced,[5] however, these fees so far have not kept investors away.

Real Crowd

Real Crowd acts as a syndication platform for real estate development companies and real estate funds.  The development companies and funds pay a fee to Real Crowd to have their offerings listed on the site.  Viewing the offerings is possible only for accredited investors who have created a free membership account on the site.  Most of the opportunities on Real Crowd involve commercial real properties or multi-family properties.  Some of the investments are funds in which the fund manager will be investing in the proceeds in a targeted type of property while others are syndicating take-out financing for existing properties.

From the investor’s point of view, Real Crowd has successfully recruited a large number of property developers and fund managers, so there are many investment opportunities to consider.  Most investments, however, require a minimum investment of at least $25 to $50,000, so the platform is not friendly to small retail investors who want to dip their toes in the water.   In addition, most of the investment opportunities are equity securities, so there is a higher risk of principal loss than is generally the case with debt-oriented platforms.

Realty Mogul

Realty Mogul is one of the largest real estate crowdfunding sites and it uses several different approaches based upon the needs of the project sponsor and the class of investor involved.  Accredited investors may invest in either debt or equity securities.  Accredited equity investors invest in syndicated private placements of special purpose limited liability companies that exist to finance equity investments in particular properties.  The equity investment has the higher potential return associated with equity as well as the potential downside risk of loss.

Accredited investors may also invest in debt securities called “Platform Notes”.  Each Platform Note is a debt security issued by a Realty Mogul special purpose vehicle which uses the proceeds of the Platform Notes to make a loan to particular sponsored investment.  By issuing the note from its special purpose vehicle, Realty Mogul is able to take on the management function of managing the underlying loan (reviewing financials, monitoring loan covenants, working out any defaults, and so on) without involving the passive investors who have purchased the Platform Notes.

For non-accredited investors, Realty Mogul has sponsored its own non-traded real estate investment trust.  Although the REIT (called Mogul REIT I) is not traded on any stock exchanges, its shares were qualified with the SEC through a Regulation A prospectus.[6]  According to the prospectus (which went effective in August, 2016) the REIT plans to hold:

“(1) at least 55% of the total value of our assets in commercial mortgage-related instruments that are closely tied to one or more underlying commercial real estate projects, such as mortgage loans, subordinated mortgage loans, mezzanine debt and participations (also referred to as B-Notes) that meet certain criteria set by the staff of the SEC; and (2) at least 80% of the total value of our assets in the types of assets described above plus in “real estate-related assets” that are related to one or more underlying commercial real estate projects, these “real estate-related assets” may include assets such as equity or preferred equity interests in companies whose primary business is to own and operate one or more specified commercial real estate projects, debt securities whose payments are tied to a pool of commercial real estate projects (such as commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBS, and collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs), or interests in publicly traded REITs.  We intend to qualify as a real estate investment trust, or REIT, for U.S. federal income tax purposes beginning with our taxable year ending December 31, 2016.”

Because Realty Mogul facilitates both equity and debt investments for accredited investors as well as equity investments for non-accredited investors through MogulREIT I, Realty Mogul is ideally-situated to generate substantial deal flow and relatively rapid underwriting for projects that apply for funding.  As a platform for providing funding for sponsored-projects as well as a platform for creating investment opportunities, Realty Mogul has one of the best head starts of all the available real estate websites.

Those advantages, however, come at a cost.  Realty Mogul has a large staff operation (which is required for its extensive underwriting duties) and that cost is borne by investors through the 1-2% fees they pay to participate in investments on the site.  While the site has tremendous deal flow, however, a student of the industry might ask, “is this really crowdfunding?”  Because Realty Mogul takes such an active role in performing due diligence on its projects and in structuring the investment opportunities on its site, the overall experience is more structured than most crowdfunding sites and there is less opportunity for the collectively give-and-take than crowdfunding was originally thought to represent.

Realty Shares

Realty Shares facilitates both debt and equity investments into both commercial and residential real estate.  The site claims that it has funded over $300 million to 550 projects that have returned more than $59 million to the site’s more than 92,000 registered accredited investors.[7]   Project sponsors must submit to underwriting through Realty Shares and only projects that have exceeded the site’s standards can be offered to the site’s members.  Fees range from 1 to 2% of the investment amount, but investment minimums are as low as $5,000.

As with most of the other real estate crowdfunding sites, investments are made through private placements under rule 506(b).

Residential Real Property Sites

There are several websites that focus primarily on residential real estate.  Because of the similarity of their focus and approach, they can be surveyed as a group:

LendingHome

Lending Home describes itself as the “largest hard money lender” [providing] “fix and flip loans up to 90% LTC and 80% LTV.”[8]  Unlike many of the other sites that aim their value proposition at investors, Lending Home addresses itself primarily to homeowners how are looking for loans and are willing to pay “hard money” rates of interest to get cash.  Accredited investors can participate in Lending Home in increments as low as $5,000.[9]

Roofstock

Roofstock’s tagline is “Property Investing Like the Pros.”[10]  Like Lending Home, Roofstock focuses only on single family residential properties.  Differently, however, Roofstock allows accredited investors to invest directly through loan participations as well as through small funds that focus on particular regions or particular rates of return.  Roofstock also emphasizes, through its underwriting and its messaging, the underlying quality of the properties and their surrounding communities, school systems and the like.  Browsing through loan opportunities on Roofstock feels more like browsing through listings on Zillow than looking for investments.

Patch of Land

Patch of Land is one of the largest and most heavily-trafficked real estate crowdfunding sites.  The site claims to have originated more than 400 loans for over $245 million in loans, returning over $61 million to investors.[11]  Although Patch of Land has made investments in multi-family and commercial real estate, more than 70% by value of its investments have been made in single family real estate.

Fund That Flip

Fund that Flip is a site that proudly advertises its role in financing single family residential rehab and resale projects.[12]  The site claims that the sponsors underwrite individual deals, requiring borrowers to put at least ten percent in the property’s value in equity.[13]  The site also tries to entice investors, claiming average returns between 10 and 14%.

The Future of Real Estate Crowdfunding

Real estate crowdfunding has definitely arrived.  Through the dozens of existing sites claiming to offer some kind of real estate crowdfunding, investors have invested more than a billion dollars through thousands of investments in just a few short years.  While this method of investing is still very small (in contrast to retail investments in mutual funds and the stock market) it fills a market need that shows no sign of disappearing.

For real estate crowdfunding to achieve a wider degree of acceptance, platform owners will need to continue to facilitate high quality investment opportunities while improving transparency.  Wider acceptance will require a level of information sharing that does not yet exist in the industry.  Even the most popular sites today have varying levels of information available to potential investors.  These inconsistent levels of disclosure can undermine the trust that is necessary to grow crowdfunding as a method of investing.  Real estate crowdfunding sites that facilitate exempt transactions under Rule 506(b) are not regulated, and that is probably a good thing.  But the lack of regulation also permits a wide diversity in style and approach that can make comparing the platforms difficult.

If the leading crowdfunding platforms could collaborate on a standardized “scorecard” that pulled together standard metrics on transactions, investment amounts and rates of return, the result would make it possible for both investors and project sponsors to compare platforms on a level playing field.  The investor confidence that might come from such a development would encourage new investors to come into the market.  Platforms that did not adopt the scorecard at first would experience market pressure to begin reporting results in the scorecard format.  Adopting a standardized scorecard for recording would, in a sense, demonstrate the power that crowdfunding was supposed to represent, by making it possible for the market to adjust itself to the information needs of the investing community.

[1]           http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/the-evolution-of-real-estate-15259/

 

[2]           Surowiecki, James, The Wisdom of Crowds, Anchor Books (2005).

 

[3]           Wilson, Jonathan B., Follow the Crowd: What the Future of Crowdfunding Holds for Startup Restaurant Owners, Restaurant Owner Startup & Growth Magazine, 18 (Feb. 2016).

 

[4]           www.peerstreet.com.

 

[5]           PeerStreet claims that its loans have generally yielded between 6 and 12%.  See PeerStreet FAQs, available at https://info.peerstreet.com/faqs/how-do-peerstreet-returns-compare-to-other-debt-investments/ (last visited January 29, 2017).

 

[6]           MogulREIT I, LLC SEC File, available at https://www.sec.gov/cgi-bin/browse-edgar?action=getcompany&CIK=0001669664&owner=exclude&count=40&hidefilings=0 (last visited January 29, 2017).

 

[7]           Realty Shares website available at https://www.realtyshares.com/  (last visited January 29, 2017)

 

[8]           Lending Home website available at www.lendinghome.com (last visited January 29, 2017).

 

[9]           https://www.lendinghome.com/how-it-works/#individual-investors.

 

[10]          Roofstock website available at www.roofstock.com (last visited January 29, 2017).

 

[11]          Path of Land website available at https://patchofland.com/statistics/ (last visited January 29, 2017).

 

[12]          Fund that Flip website available at www.fundthatflip.com (last visited January 29, 2017).

 

[13]          Fund that Flip website available at https://www.fundthatflip.com/lender (last visited January 29, 2017).

 

Crowdfunding- The Good, The Bad & The (really) Ugly

By Shane Liddell is the CEO and chief Crowdfundologist at Smart Crowdfunding LLC,. Crowdfund Beat Guest post,

Part 3 –The (really) Ugly

Introduction

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. 


Crowdfunding Platforms Expand Financing to Regions That Suffer From Venture Capital Drought

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.

 

SEC Metrics on Reg A+

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

Thoughts on:

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Best Regards,

 Scott Purcell
CEO
FundAmerica, LLC

 

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”.

Legal Disclaimer:
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.

2017 Crowdfunding Persons of the Year

 

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Sherwood Neiss, Jason Best. Principals Crowdfund Capital Advisors, LLC

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.

2017-personoftheyear1

 

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.

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Niess, Zak Cassady, Best

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.

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Sherwood Neiss, Karen Kerrigan , Jason Best, Douglas Ellenoff on May 16th, 2016 Capitol Hill in DC

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.

 

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2017 Who’s Who of CrowdFunding Industry Professionals

Who

2017 who’s who in CrowdFunding World

As you know CrowdfundBeat.com continues to grow as the preeminent  go-to source for all news and trends Crowdfunding related.  Our conferences are expanding  as part of our “World Tour” for 2017.

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Crowdfunding Beat Media Group, Conference & Expo 2017 USA Tour

New York City Jan 24th   –  Silicon Valley Feb 9th & 10th – 

Washington DC May 4th & 5th Denver October 2nd & 3rd.

 

For sponsorship opportunity contact: CFB@CrowdFundBeat.com  or call 1 888 580 6610
Name Last Name Comapany/Title Contact
Jay Abraham Business Growth Strategist
Dara Albright Dara Albright Media & FinTechREVOLUTION.tv @tothestoics
Kendall Almerico Crowdfunding and JOBS Act Expert @FundhubBiz
Antonio Arias CEO and Co-Founder Healthy Crowdfunder Corp -@alamidas – @healthvcfunder
Sydney Armani CEO Crowdfunding USA & Publisher of CrowdFund Beat Media Group armani@crowdfundbeat.com
Nav Athwal Realtyshares.Com nav@realtyshares.com
Douglas Atkin Guggenheim Partners
Joseph Barisonzi Leader Community Turnkey Crowdfunding
Chance Barnett CEO Crowdfunder
James Beshara CEO And Co-Founder Crowdtilt
Jason Best Co-Founder And Principal Crowdfund Capital Advisors @CrowdCapA
Nick Bhargava Co-Founder GROUNDFLOOR
 Bruce  Blankenhorn  COO Realty XE .com Real Estate CrowdFunding
Jim Borzilleri CEO, Crowdengine @crowdengines
Amanda Boyle CEO And Founder Bloom VC – @nowaffle
Salvador Briggman CEO Crowdcrux.Com
Ryan Caldbeck CEO Circleup, A Crowdfunding Platform For Accredited Investors
Patrick Calderon Founder Crowdco.co
Johanna Calderon-Dakin Co-Founder Crowdco.co
Chris Camillo Author Laughing At Wall Street: How I Beat The Prosinvesting @ChrisCamillo
 Aubrey  Chernick  Founder,  NextGen Crowdfunding  @AubreyChernick
Steve Cinelli   Financier, economist, author, artist. @stevecinelli
Dan Ciporin CEO And Venture Capitalist
Susan Cooney Founder & CEO At Givelocity
Trish Costello CEO & Founder Portfolia
Luan Cox CEO Crowdnetic @crowdnetic.com
Christopher.j Crippen Certified Crowd Funding Professional,
Daniel Daboczy CEO Fundedbyme @fundedbymeceo
Brian Dally Co-Founder & CEO, GROUNDFLOOR
Mat Dellorso CEO Of Wealthforge
Kathryn Diamond SVP Boston Private Bank, Wealth Management
Andrew Dix Co-Founder Crowdfund Insider
Tommaso D’Onofrio CEO Assiteca Crowd S.R.L.
David Drake LDJ Capital Soho Loft Capital Creation
Timothy C. Draper Draper Founder Partner Of DFJ
Peter Einstein Crowdfunding4all (CF4ALL) – Search Engine
Douglas Ellenoff  

EGS  Leading CrowdFunidng Firm

http://www.egsllp.com/attorneys/douglas-ellenoff

ellenoff@egsllp.com
Alex Fair Co-Founder And CEO Medstartr.Com @alexbfair
Michael Faulkner CEO Seedups @seedups
Ryan Feit CEO And Co-Founder Seedinvest @ryanfeit
Brad Feld Managing Director Foundry Group
Jonathan Frutkin Co-Founder Cricca Funding , Author Equity Crowdfunding
Samuel Guzik  

the JOBS Act Expert Guzik & Associates,

sguzik@guziklaw.com

Oliver Gajda Co-Founder And Chairman Eurcrowdfunding @olivergajda
Dr. Michael Gebert German Crowdfunding Network
Sandi Gilbert Founder & CEO Crowdcapital &Seedups Canada
Julia Groves UK’s    Http://Www.Ukcfa.Org.Uk/
Alfredo Guilbert COO Of Digital Film Cloud Network
Sara Hanks CEO And Founder Crowd Check @SaraCrowdCheck
Kevin Harrington Chairman Of As Seen On TV
Daphne Habets Crowdfunding Pro @ geldvoorelkaar.nl
Daryl Hatton CEO Fundrazr.Com
Jillian Helman Realty Mogul Jilliene@Realtymogul.Com
Adam Hooper Founder/CEO Of Realcrowd
Jessica Jackley Investor And Advisor, Collaborative Fund Co-Founder, Kiva @jessicajackley
 Barry E.    James  Author of New Router to Funding, Founder/CEO TheCrowdDataCenter/TheCrowdfundingCenter    @BarryEJames
Oscar A Jofre Founder/CEO KoreConX Corp. @oscarjofre
Paul Keating Founder And CEO Of Crowdcando; A Crowdfunding Platform For Events.
Karen Kerrigan President Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council @karenkerrigan
David Khorram Crowdfunding Evangelist Dkhorram@Crowdfundingplanning.Com
Candace Klein Founding Member Of Crowdfund Intermediary Regulatory Advocates (CIFRA)
Ronald Kleverlaan Senior Crowdfunding Strategist & Vice Chairman European Crowdfunding Network
Brian Korn Crowdfunding Attorney @BKorn@manatt.com
Luke Lang o-Founder Crowdcube @lukelang
Mark Lancaster CEO    CrowdKey, Inc. White Label CrowdFunding solution  markl@crowdkey.com @mtlancaster
Sang H. Lee Lee CEO & Founder At Return On Change
Howard Leonhardt Founder, Chairman And CEO Leonhardt Ventures @howardleonhardt
Alessandro M. Lerro Lerro Crowdfunding Italy
Jeff Lynn CEO And Co-Founder Seedrs @jeffseedrs
Peter Mackness UK Crowdfunding, Sponsorship, Brand Activation,
David Manshoory CEO, Assetavenue
Michael Markowski Crowdclassifieds.Com, Inc.
Jonathan May CEO and Founder,Hubbub, Director of UKCA
Matteo Masserdotti Founder@Tip.Ventures
Gene Massey CEO Of Mediashares Gene@Mediashares.Com
Blaine McLaughlin COO- VIA FOLIO mclaughlinb@viafolio.com
Matthew Mcgrath President And CEO Of Optimize Capital Markets
Congressman Patrick Mchenry One Of The Investment Crowdfunding Industry’s Most Resolute Champions
Scott E. McIntyre Secy. Board Of Directors CFPA , Director Phabriq Devp.; @scot_mcintyre
Jonathan Medved CEO At Ourcrowd
Brian Meece Rockethub Rewards Platform
Klaus-Martin Meyer Crowdfunding Blogger In Europe
Eric Migicovsky Founder Pebble Technology @ericmigi
Benjamin Miller Co-Founder, Fundrise Fundrise – Direct Public Offering Platform
Alexander Mittal Co-Founder And CEO Fundersclub@Mittal
Vincent Molinari Founder-CEO Gate Global Impact,Inc
Roy Morejon President Of Digital Marketing Agency Command Partners
Bill Morrow Co-Founder & Director Angels Den
Andrew Moss President Of Booster, LLC
Brock Murray CEO Of Joi Media, Makers Of The Katipult White Label
Paul Niederer Venture Capital & Private  Australian paul@raiseworth.com @paulniederer
Rodrigo Niño Prodigy Network’s Founder And CEO
Perry Niro Montreal, Canada Perry@Groupeavea.Com
Howard Orloff Crowdfunding-Website-Reviews
Jeremiah Owyang Web Strategy Www.Crowdcompanies.Com
DJ Paul Co-Chair CFIRA
Humphrey Polanen Managing Director Of I-Bankers Direct
Darren Powderly Co-Founder Crowdstreet, Inc.
Tanya Prive Founder And COO Rockthepost @tanyapri
Scott Purcell CEO Fund America   scott@fundamerica.com
Sam  Quawasmi  MD Eureeca
Georgia Quinn   CEO @ disclose.com  gquinn@idisclose.com
Mark Roderick mark.roderick@flastergreenberg.com  WWW.CrowdfundAttny.com  @CrowdfundAttny
Naval Ravikant Founder And CEO Angellist
Danae Ringelman Co-Founder And Chief Customer Officer Indiegogo @GoGoDanae
David S. Rose Founder And CEO Of Crowdfunding Site Gust
Slava Rubin CEO Indiegogo @gogoslava
Bishop Rodney Sampson Kingonomics
 Jillian  Sidoti  jillian@syndicationlawyers.com
Joy Schoffler Principal Joy.S@Leverage-Pr.Com
Eric Schreyer Journalist And Editor Crowdfundbeat Germany
Wil Schroter Founder And CEO Fundable @wilschroter
Marlon Schulman Founder & CEO Horror Equity Fund, Inc
Joanna Schwartz CEO Of Earlyshares
Barry Sheerman Member Of Parliament For Huddersfield UK Parliament @BarrySheerman
Barry Silbert Founder And CEO Secondmarket @barrysilbert
Rose Spinelli Coach, Trainer, Pitch Video Creator Thecrowdfundamentals.Com @TCFrose
Paul Spinrad Crowdfunding Advocate Investian
Duncan Stewart Director Of TMT Research Deloitte Canada @dunstewart
Yancey Strickler Co-Founder And CEO Kickstarter @ystrickler
Ron Suber President At Prosper Marketplace
Bryan Smith Co-Founder- Realty Wealth.com
Richard Swart  Chief Strategy Officer NextGen Crowdfunding @richardswart
Kevin Swill COO Of The Carlton Group
William Skelley CEO and founder of iFunding.  @SkelleyWilliam
Chris Thomas CEO Eureeca
Devin D. Thorpe Journalist, Author, Philanthropist @devindthorpe
Nadav Trenter Moser: Http://Www.Mimoona.Com/ Medugam@Gmail.Com
John Trigonis Indiegogo Author Of Crowdfunding For Filmmakers
Chris Tyrrell CEO At Offer Board @christyrrell
Andres Trujillo Founder-CEO Global GroupFund inc.
Katharine Voyles Mobley Chief Marketing Officer Wecarecard
Sam Vogel Co-Founder-Realty Wealth.com
Sonny Vu Misfit Wearables
Kim Wales  founder and CEO of Wales Capital @kimwales1
Mathew Walker Technology Enthusiast | Domain Name Broker | Ebook Author
David Weild Chairman & CEO At Issuworks
Noreen Weiss Adler, A New York–Based Attorney Who Has Written Extensively On Crowdfunding.
Darren Westlake CEO Crowdcube @DazWest
Joanne Wilson Co-Founder Gotham Gal Ventures @thegothamgal
Jonathan Wilson  Attorney Jwilson@Taylorenglish.Com
Sherwood Woodie Neiss Partner, Crowdfund Capital Advisors
Dr. Letitia Wright Wright Place TV Show
Diana Yazidjian Crowdfunding Strategist Canada
Korstiaan Zandvliet Symbid – Global Equity Platform
Anthony   Zeoli  

Professional Problem Solver; Partner at Freeborn & Peters LLP

anthony.zeoli@gmail.com

Bryan Zhang Phd Researcher Bryan Zhang @BryanZhangZ
 Tony  Zerucha
Managing Editor
Bankless Times

Sponsored by 2017 SV CrowdFunding Conference 
tags:

crowdfundbeat, Crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding, indiegogo, Kickstarter, Real Estate, Realty Mogul, SEC, sv crowdfund, UK, Who’s Who, Who’s Who? of CrowdFunding

How 2016 Reshaped Financial Services for Generations to Come

By Dara Albright,CrowdFunding BeatGuest Editor, FinTechREVOLUTION.tv  , Dara Albright Media,
The year began with the renaissance of the retail investor and it ended with a massive crowdfinance conference which centered – for the first time – around the actual crowd (“retail”) investor.2016 will be etched in time as one of the most unpredictable and metamorphic years in our planet’s history. While every fragment of civilization will feel the effects of 2016, the year will leave an indelible imprint on financial services, global political landscapes and mass media for generations to come.

In between was the successful completion of the Elio Motors Reg A+ offering, the first phase of investment product ingenuity through JOBS Act exemptions, the launch of the first retail retirement technology, the “fix Crowdfunding bill”, the introduction of Congressman McHenry’s new FinTech legislation aimed at fostering financial innovation, the implementation of Reg CF, lots of industry turmoil, a surprising Brexit vote, and perhaps the most controversial and suspense-filled U.S. election in history.

2016 was also the year that the Cubs finally won another World Series and I discovered the video selfie.

Before I underscore how all of these events will have monumental economic implications on 2017 and beyond, let me just take a moment to boast about the accuracy of last year’s predictions.

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 Last December I forecasted that:

  1. Robo-advisors will find opportunities in crowdfinance – Just as I predicted, ETF-centric robo-advisors made an entrance into crowdfinance this year. In early 2016, robo adviser, Hedgeable, first entered the crowdfinance space by offering its retail clientele opportunities to venture invest through leading equity crowdfunding platforms such as AngelList and CircleUp. A few months later, Hedgeable announced that it will soon be rolling out a peer-to-peer lending product. Furthermore, based on conversations that I’ve had in recent months with robo-advisory firms as well as with companies that develop technology for robo-advisors, I anticipate many more robo-advisors will soon be joining the party.
  2. Retail Financial Product Ingenuity will Escalate – As discussed last year, GROUNDFLOOR made history in late 2015 with its Reg A+ qualification to offer micro-investors small pieces of real estate debt. In 2016, two more companies broke ground in the Reg A+ arena: StreetShares and American Homeowners Preservation – offering retail investors the ability to capture both monetary and social returns through micro-investments into private businesses as well as individual mortgages, respectively. Companies like these are helping to inspire a new generation of retail alternative products. This type of investment product ingenuity is about to spread well beyond online platforms and marketplaces. I predict that any financial services business involved in the production or sale of alternative securities will soon look to expand distribution by taking advantage of this modern regulatory framework.
  3. Straight Equity Title III Offerings will Fall Flat – Indeed they have. According to NextGen Crowdfunding, a leading provider of crowdfunding deal data, investors have committed to invest slightly more than $15 million into Title III equity crowdfunding campaigns during 2016. $15 million equates to approximately 60 Hillary Clinton speeches or the amount that the U.S. national debt grew since you started reading this article. $15 million won’t even begin to scratch the surface of fixing our economic woes. To put it bluntly, $15 million is not an industry – it’s barely even a house in the Hamptons! Unless and until more creative hybrid financing structures are employed for Reg CF offerings, the market for Title III Offerings will remain insignificant.
  4. Reg A+ “Testing The Waters” will Call Attention to Serious Title II Crowdfunding Flaws – While no one really cared much about this issue in 2016, I do believe that the considerable disparity between total “indications of interest” and the amount of funding actually raised will eventually lead to regulatory amendments. It is completely misleading for a company to “advertise” that it has garnered sizeable funding interest without ever having to notify the public that it failed to raise even a fraction of the amount.
  5. The Crowdfinance Playing Field will Undergo Leadership Change – Wow, was I right about this one! Industry leadership has begun to undergo significant change in 2016 – particularly in marketplace lending. I stand by my statement that, “New leaders will rise. Some unexpected frontrunners will fall. The businesses that will best be able to oblige the retail customer, adapt to regulatory changes, and penetrate retail’s $14+ trillion retirement capital will prevail.”
  6. Hoverboards will Disappear from Toy Store Shelves – Uh, I meant to say Galaxy Note 7’s will disappear from the shelves. Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket. (In the era of “fake news” this totally passé catchphrase deserves to make a comeback).

While some of my last year’s prognostications have yet to fully reach fruition, I’m still standing by all of my 2016 predictions. I’ve come to realize that predictions, much like karma, operate on their own timetable. Even some of the prophecies of the great Nostradamus were a year or two off. And, let’s not forget that Robert Zemeckis was just one year too early in forecasting the Cubs World Series victory.

Speaking of which, you are probably wondering what the Cubbies winning the World Series and video-selfies have to do with the future of personal finance anyway.

A lot. Maybe even everything.

The Cubs World Series win and video selfies are empowering underdogs everywhere. If the most mocked team in the history of professional baseball can win a World Series and amateur videographers can become universally recognized broadcast journalists, then long shots everywhere can achieve astonishing victories. Non-politicians can win presidential elections. Non-lawyers can prevail in litigation. Small businesses can access capital as freely as large corporations. And primarily due to crucial advancements in micro-investing technology, even investing novices will be able to outperform financial experts. At long last, the little guy can have just as much of an opportunity to create wealth as the George Soros and Warren Buffet ilk.

This brings me to my bold 2017 predictions (or as Ron Suber would likely call them “Big Hairy Audacious” predictions).

  1. Underdogs across the land will triumph in 2017 – The Chinese predict that 2017 will be the year of the rooster. I disagree. I believe that 2017 will be the year of the Rudy.
  2. The broader markets will correct – I foresee the broader markets headed for a crash – triggered primarily by manipulators, speculators and years of unsustainable monetary policy. Our public equity markets have been artificially propped up by policy for far too long. America simply can’t keep lowering rates and printing its way to prosperity. Interest rates have nowhere left to go but up, particularly if Trump makes good on his economic plan and we see some real economic growth. I foresee rate hikes leading to a stock market correction. Although it may be a short-lived correction, those who are well-diversified and have allocated some capital to less volatile, less correlated asset classes, will be better able to weather the storm.
  3. The face of financial media will Become Unrecognizable – In 2016 the established media awoke to the revelation that it no longer holds the relevancy that it did in previous generations – something housewives on Facebook have known since about 2008. Although it tried hard not to accept it, traditional media has been hemorrhaging influence for quite some time now. Just like how the video killed the radio star, how Napster crushed the CD, how Netflix annihilated Blockbuster and how Amazon overtook Barnes & Noble, communications technology is on an unstoppable path to demolish mainstream media. While bloggers have been gaining prominence for years at the expense of print media, it will be the video-selfie that delivers mainstream media its final blow. Financial media is no exception. The 2016 U.S. presidential election established social media – not television – as the dominant medium. Clearly, more people tuned into Infowars than to Rachel Maddow. If the video selfie can help influence a U.S. election, its impact on financial services will be colossal. Expect financial content to become edgier as well as more engaging, encompassing and interactive. Expect new financial voices to emerge and gain prominence. Most significantly, expect these new financial media players to forever transform the way people invest, where people invest and how people invest.
  4. FinTech will Expand into Older Demographics – I see countless FinTech business plans. Most of them are loaded with statistics on millennials, ideas for targeting millennials and even pictures of millennials. Yes, many of us industry folks are well-aware that millennials prefer having a root-canal than going to a bank. However, FinTech is not a millennial-centric market. I predict that 2017 will be the year that FinTech crosses demographical thresholds. I expect that older demographics will start incorporating FinTech into their daily routines. As a result, I envision more FinTech innovation being directed towards developing products for other generations, particularly retirees.
  5. The U.S. retirement infrastructure will begin to undergo monumental transformation in 2017 – The $14 trillion retail retirement industry is on the cusp of great transformation. Thanks to the progression of FinTech, RegTech and AltTech, the retirement industry is about to become fairer, simpler and more inclusive. Expect regulatory and technological innovations to be introduced that will unwind a broken and unjust retirement system. Expect retirement plans to become more consumption driven than employment-based. You can also look forward to seeing the mass adoption of game-changing financial products that will give everyone – including present retirees – a fighting chance to prosper throughout their senior years.

The story of financial services is unfolding and it is growing more fascinating by the minute. And I am truly grateful to be alive at this particular moment in time to witness it firsthand.

Anyone who has read my previous year-end articles knows how reflective I tend to get as I approach my Christmas Eve birthday. And this year I am especially pensive given the fact that I am turning 29 (again) and that mercury is in retrograde and that Uranus (pronounced: “Your Ron Issss”) is, well it is somewhere in the universe doing something to affect my mood. Whenever that happens, I tend to seek inspiration in a poem, a lyric or even in just one simple word.

It is for this very reason that I subscribe to dictionary.com’s word of the day. On December 16th, dictionary.com’s word of the day was “hotsy-totsy” and it means, “about as right as can be”. Because I vowed to find a way to incorporate this quirky “makes-you-feel-like-skipping” word into an article, I would like to simply conclude by wishing everyone a joyous holiday season and a very hotsy-totsy 2017!

Originally published on Dara Albright Media.

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Dara Albright – President of Dara Albright Media, Co-founded the FinFair ConferenceFinTechREVOLUTION.tv

Recognized authority, thought provoker and frequent speaker on topics relating to market structure, private secondary transactions and crowdfinance. Welcome to my new personal blog where you can glean unique insight into the rapid transformation of global capital markets.

 

CONNECT ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

www.linkedin.com/in/daraalbright/

 

HR 3784 – SEC Office of Small Business Advocate – Is Now the Law of the Land

By Samuel S. Guzik, CrowdFundBeat special guest editor,  Guzik & Associate

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.

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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:

http://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2016/12/93592-sec-small-business-advocate-moves-closer-reality-senate-passes-bill/

http://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2016/11/92607-unstacking-deck-smes-washington-call-sec-small-business-advocate/

This entry was posted in Capital Raising, Corporate Governance, Corporate Law, Crowdfunding, General, Regulation A+ Resource Center, SEC Developments and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Crowdfunding- The Good, The Bad & The (really) Ugly Part II –The Bad

By Shane Liddell is the CEO and chief Crowdfundologist at Smart Crowdfunding LLC,. Crowdfund Beat Guest post,

Introduction

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!

However, as with any new industry forging ahead and desperate for acceptance, the surrounding hype that comes with it often blurs reality, with any form of negativity simply  ‘brushed under the carpet’ so to speak. Naturally, those fully vested in the industry (including yours truly) have a lot on the line, as everyone charges ahead in full promotion mode. The ‘painted picture’ is a rosy one and for a very good reason, but there is a dark and sometimes sinister side to the industry as well.

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Part 2-The Bad

 The Industry Evolves

 

 

Let’s rewind a little. In an interview with Film Threat back in October 2010, Indiegogo co-founder, Slava Rubin said “… what we are now and what we are for the future is we’re all about allowing anybody to raise money for any idea” Although this may have been true at the time, it’s certainly not applicable today. Reality is that not ‘anybody ’can raise money through crowdfunding unless they are a) extremely lucky, or b) have a substantial amount of money to begin with. Let me explain a little further.

My own entry into the crowdfunding space happened by default during June of 2012 when confronted with a desperate plea for funding from a lady by the name of Louise Joubert of the Sanwild Wildlife Sanctuary. Louise put out a post on the Sanwild Facebook page saying that sponsors had pulled up to 70% of the funding for Sanwild due to the recession, so she was unable to feed the 16 lions she rescued from the ‘canned hunting’ industry, and she was getting to the point of desperation and was seriously considering euthanizing them. Louise saw this as the kind way to put an end to any potential suffering. This sad story really pulled at my heartstrings and after a phone call or two to South Africa, I volunteered to see if I could help by using this new fundraising method called Crowdfunding. To cut a long story short, we did manage to raise over $20,000 through an Indiegogo campaign and in turn bring a happy ending to this story with the 16 lions being saved. It was an exhausting process, especially with little to no budget to market the campaign; but through teamwork, perseverance and leveraging off of our social contacts, we made it. The point here is that with almost no campaign budget (but instead 100’s of hours invested) we were able to do what we set out to achieve – Save Our Lions.

During 2012 we saw on average 30-50 campaigns launching on the Indiegogo platform each week and probably around 60-70 per week on Kickstarter. These low numbers made things much easier for anyone crowdfunding their ideas, as competition for ‘eyeballs’ was almost non-existent, the media was receptive to any crowdfunding news at all, and the public was in a state of confusion as to what they were really doing when contributing to these campaigns, with many thinking they were simply making an online purchase just as they would do on Amazon.

How things have changed.

Fast forward to 2016 and with approximately 300-400 campaigns launching per week on the Indiegogo platform and up to 600 per week launching on Kickstarter, the competition is fierce. Add to this that there are now well over 1000 (and counting) crowdfunding platforms globally and you’ll begin to see the real picture.

The corporate world is now waking up to this new, low cost way of validating and funding projects and products. Big names such as Sony and GE’s entry into crowdfunding gives the small guy very little chance of competing with them.

In a recent article published by The Verge earlier this year titled “Indiegogo wants huge companies to crowdfund their next big products” and a sub heading which reads “Indiegogo wants big brands to start crowdfunding” we see how they have changed for the worse. Their “Enterprise Crowdfunding” clearly showing that they are not in any way ‘democratizing access to funding’ but instead are an entity solely in the business of making a profit at all costs (more on this particular story in Part 3 –The Ugly).

I guess the most disturbing words I read in that article are these:

“Large companies can also pay for special placement on Indiegogo’s site, making them more discoverable than other campaigns.”

So, Indiegogo now earns revenue from advertising placements only available to corporates? Shocking to say the least!

This whole scenario stinks and reminds me of a certain politician, who now as president elect, has already made several ‘about turns’, continuously going against the words he used to gain popularity.

I hope you all now realize why the small guy has little to no chance of success, especially now that the heavyweights enter with the resources to squeeze them out. In fact, a well know marketing agency recommends a campaign budget today of a whopping $40,000. I don’t know too many ‘little guys’ with that kind of cash to spend on an upcoming crowdfunding attempt, do you? Wasn’t the whole point of crowdfunding to raise money and not spend it?

Although crowdfunding was originally pitched as democratizing access to funding for the small guys, this is no longer true. Without a good chunk of capital to start with, their campaigns are doomed before they begin.

 

Equity Crowdfunding – The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission)

Background

On April 5th 2012 president Obama signed the Jump Start Our Business Act (commonly referred to as “The JOBS Act”) giving the SEC 274 days to write up the necessary rules and regulations. The main purpose in the implementation of the JOBS Act was to stimulate the creation of jobs through small business access to capital.

The JOBS Act substantially changed a number of laws and regulations making it easier for companies to both go public and to raise capital privately and stay private longer. Changes include exemptions for crowdfunding, a more useful version of Regulation A, generally solicited Regulation D Rule 506 offerings, and an easier path to registration of an initial public offering (IPO) for emerging growth companies.

The titles of the bill that make equity crowdfunding work are:

  • TITLE II – Access to capital for job creators (REG D)
  • TITLE III – Crowdfunding (REG CF)
  • TITLE IV – Small company capital formation (REG A+ or mini IPO)

What’s with all this jargon you may ask? Good question, and the answer is one which I hope many academics will learn to answer in their writings. Effective communication is always better crafted to suit a broader audience. Within crowdfunding, I feel it is important for all – lawyers, accountants, broker dealers etc. – to understand that in our attempt to educate the market, we need to simplify the language used so as to be better understood by the majority.

Back in the 70’s the KISS acronym and methodology – “Keep It Simple Stupid” was very popular for good reason. The simplicity of this methodology should be more applicable today than it ever has been.

For clarification:
REG D allows the issuer to raise funds from accredited investors only meaning in essence from a select few rich people.

REG CF allows issuers to raise funds from both accredited investors and non-accredited investors (the general public) but is subject to limitations.

REG A+ allows the raising of up to $20M through Tier 1 and up to $50M through Tier 2.

Titles I, V, and VI of the JOBS Act became effective immediately upon enactment. Understanding these within the context of this article is not really important so I won’t bother explaining.

The SEC approved the lifting of the general solicitation ban on July 10, 2013, paving the way for the adoption of REG D which went into effect in September 2013. Following this was REG A+ which went live during June 2014 – 2 years after the signing of the Jobs Act – and finally the long anticipated (and most beneficial to small business) REG CF on May 16th 2016 – more than 4 years since the signing of the Jobs Act!

Yes, you read that right – 4 years later. A whole 4 years of lost opportunity. Why 4 years you may ask? Well, through a series of meetings, mountains of paperwork, a change of chair, commenting periods, rewriting this and rewriting that and a whole heap of other hurdles to jump through in between, a whopping 685 pages of regulations was created. Certainly no KISS methodology involved there!

During this period, how many small businesses have folded because they had no access to much needed capital? How many could have been saved from collapse? How many precious jobs were lost during this lengthy and tedious process? The answers should be fairly obvious to fathom.

Based on current information from successfully funded campaigns, we see that so far around $175M has been raised under REG A+ crowdfunding and about $15M over the past 6 months through REG CF. Imagine what these numbers would look like had the SEC been more efficient in the role they played during the entire rulemaking process.

On the other hand, the United Kingdom took a fairly relaxed approach to rulemaking which has led to the creation of the most dynamic alternative finance market in the world. In real terms they are 5 years ahead in the game and are seen as the leaders in this space. The United States is seen as a failure.

Were the SEC attempting to break records as the slowest crowdfunding rulemakers in the world? Maybe not, but it appears they are well positioned to claim this shameful accolade!

 

The Pretenders – Self –Promoters and the Charlatans

Before I begin, let me just say that there are many among us who have ‘earned their stripes’ in this industry. I hold these people in the highest regard for their dedication and commitment to the cause. Far too many to mention of course, but you know who you are, so thank you for doing what you do! Through the many long days of hard work, dedication, countless hours of research, and in some cases, hands on experience with crowdfunding projects of all shapes and sizes, they stay true to their objectives of making the crowdfunding industry one to admire. These people gain respect naturally through their words and actions alone. They generally keep a fairly low profile too, with little need to go on the self-promotion bandwagon, as people naturally migrate to them anyway.

Let’s briefly return back to 2012, when crowdfunding was really still in its infancy and there were very few players involved. To put things into perspective, at the time of launching my own crowdfunding marketing agency Smart Crowdfunding under the crowdfunders.us domain, there were only four other active crowdfunding marketing agencies globally. The industry was tiny and it was very easy to know who was who.

This leads me to a telephone conversation I had one day during early 2013 with one of the other agency founders who had taken issue with the fact that I was now actively competing with him. After listening to his concerns, I politely brushed them aside and ended the call saying “If you are concerned about competition now, then wait to see what’s coming over the next few years”. He grumped and the call ended. Move on to 2016 and we see a whole load of entrants into this space.

Back to the point:
There are those who clearly try to take shortcuts in an attempt to get to the top, with integrity thrown right out the window in their pursuit of money and stardom. Many of these types have little care for the health of the industry as a whole, but instead their own greed drives them forward. They are quite easy to spot though. Lies are abundant and a little due diligence goes a long way in discovering the truth about them. The wonderful world of the Whois lookup is a great tool to confirm some claims of “we’ve been doing this for the past 5 years” as domain registration dates tell the truth. Some have woken up to hiding these details and hide behind a proxy registration service. In fact, a little while ago I had discovered exactly this with a crowdfunding marketing agency who made such claims (and still do) of having been around for the past 6 years. I did a Whois search many months ago to only find that their domain was registered in 2013 – and not 6 years ago as claimed. Further investigation confirmed this. Today their domain registration information is now hidden via a proxy.

One of the most common things I see today is those with very little industry experience becoming self-proclaimed “Experts”. Let’s elaborate on this for a moment.

During 2014 I attended a crowdfunding industry conference, and as I sat in the audience while the proceeding began, the moderator allowed the panel give a brief introduction of themselves. There were 4 on this particular panel, 3 of whom I knew of. To my amazement, one particular character was introduced as a crowdfunding marketing expert. I listened intently to this persons ‘pitch’ and also the advice they gave to the audience when confronted with questions such as “What’s the single most important tool to use when crowdfunding? Their answer? PPC (Pay per click). Wrong! In disbelief, there were a few shaking heads in the audience, mine included. Had this person’s earlier claim of “I’ve worked on 80 Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns” during their introductory pitch been true, they would clearly know this was incorrect information. Following up from this and after checking out the real facts it turns out that today, this person has run a single Indiegogo campaign of which struggled to get to $10,000 funded. I suspect a fair share of self-funding activity there too. This example is one of many we see as the industry powers forward. Being able to spot these “experts” is fairly easy when you know what to look for.

You see, I have followed Indiegogo campaigns in particular like a hawk. My early career in crowdfunding was built around this platform so it’s rare that even a single campaign that’s raised more than $5,000 gets by me without notice.

The biggest telltale sign of those who attempt to take shortcuts to stardom is the lack of consistency in their pitch. Many appear to have short memories! The character I reference above has since spoken at numerous industry events and their pitch varies from “I have 8 staff and have worked on over 100 Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns” to “I have 25 staff and have worked on 80 Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns” In reality, as of today they’ve worked on a handful at most and only 1 on the Indiegogo platform can be confirmed under deeper investigation.

I have major concerns! Besides ‘the blind leading the blind”, the entire industry is at stake here, and addressing the real issues now can only bode well for a healthy and prosperous industry for all.

As a colleague recently said “….the integrity of the entire industry is on the line, and if the charlatans are allowed to run roughshod it’ll soon turn into a house of cards.” No truer words have ever been spoken.

Scampaigns – Yes and No

Now this section will be fairly short.

Let me start by saying that intentional scams are really 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 ( I’ll elaborate more on this in Part 3 – The Ugly).

What I have seen, however, even from some of my earlier clients may surprise you. They begin the crowdfunding process with good intentions but unrealistic expectations (a common trait among those crowdfunding today).This is their real downfall.

Many are young, inexperienced men and women whose entire focus is on how great their product is. They are emotionally invested and in some cases spend lengthy periods developing their concept or prototype. When the time comes to go crowdfunding, in many cases they lay everything on the line. Some win. Some lose.

Even after running a successful campaign, for many the process of handling large amounts of cash and developing their idea into a real manufactured product, leads to failure due to lack of experience. A weak team adds to their woes and they burn through cash at an alarming rate. In time, they sit in disbelief that they no longer have enough cash to actually finish the product. At other times their concept was flawed from the very beginning but they only discover this when attempting to go to the prototype stage. Facing the inevitable truth is hard for them, and with the angry abuse from their supporters awaiting, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Many come to the conclusion that their only route of escape is a disappearing act.

What do the backers, journalist and millions of other disgruntled people call these people? Scammers. Many of their backers didn’t know at the time they were backing a concept in the first place and shout to the high heavens in disgust when they don’t get what they thought they “ordered’ a year prior.

A very recent case of the scam label being attached to something that was not a crowdfunding scam from the very beginning is Healbe GoBe – “the first and only wearable device that automatically measures the calories you consume and burn, through your skin” which raised over $1M. Despite being slammed by all and sundry – including backers, engineers, scientists, and journalists – they eventually brought their product to market, albeit with many ‘teething problems’ still to be ironed out.

Conclusion

My biggest challenge when writing  part 2 of my article, was in trying to condense as much as possible, but to still get the message(s) across. I hope I have achieved this even though we still ended up with over 3,000 words.  I promise a much shorter part 3. Thank you for reading and I hope this has been helpful.

Look out for Part 3 – The (really) Ugly, where I delve deeper into the real scams of the crowdfunding world, as well as extortion and blackmail attempts and the platforms that seemingly turn a blind eye to it all.

About The Author

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Shane Liddell is the CEO and chief Crowdfundologist at Smart Crowdfunding LLC, the crowdfunding marketing agency. He became active within the crowdfunding industry early in 2012, seizing the opportunity to offer help to crowdfunders from all corners of the world. He has delivered successful campaigns for entrepreneurs, startups, corporations and filmmakers and has assisted over 500 crowdfunders with campaign development, consulting, marketing and promotion services, some of whom have raised millions of dollars in the process. He has attended numerous equity crowdfunding industry events, including the SEC Small Business Forum and the CfPA Summit in Washington DC. Shane holds the position of Executive Director of the Crowdfunding Professional Association (CfPA).

First Crowdfunding portal to be expelled from FINRA

By   Crowdfund 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.

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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.

source http://www.mofojumpstarter.com/2016/12/16/finra-action-against-crowdfunding-platform/

FINRA Action Against Crowdfunding Platform

White Paper Report: Expanding into Cannabis-Related Investing

Crowdfund Beat Media,

VIA Folio, the private securities division of Folio Investments Inc., has decided to support capital formation for certain businesses engaged in the cannabis sector. We reached this decision because we believe it will advance our goal of democratizing the private securities sector and will help fund companies that cannot tap traditional venture capital. We began exploring this idea after broker-dealers contacted us about our willingness to support the fundraising efforts of certain cannabis-related businesses.

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Prior to reaching a decision, we studied and carefully considered the complex legal landscape and public policy issues surrounding the growing legalization movement for cannabis. Any use of cannabis is currently illegal under federal law. However, with November’s election results, medicinal use of cannabis is now permitted under state law in 28 states and the District of Columbia, a region compromising more than 60% of the U.S. population. Adult recreational use of cannabis is now legal in seven states and the District of Columbia, an area comprising more than 20% of the U.S. population. We believe that the effort to decriminalize the use and sale of cannabis will continue and is consistent with public policy reforms seeking to mitigate the harmful impact that cannabis-related arrests and imprisonments have, including on minority communities, where they have had a disproportionate effect.

 
We have decided to begin our work in this area by supporting two categories of companies whose activities are legal under both state and federal law. Those companies are (1) pharmaceutical companies engaged in research under waivers granted by the Drug Enforcement Administration; and (2) companies that do not “touch the plant” but provide products or services to businesses that do.

 

We will actively assess developments in this area as they occur and may decide to expand the categories of companies that we have decided to support. We therefore invite companies in categories not described above, specifically companies involved in sales of cannabis for both medical and recreational uses, to contact us to discuss ways that we might assist them in the future.

Here is the cannabis white paper that Folio recently launched
outlook: