Monday, August 14, 2017
Former BLPB editor Steve Bradford has posted a new paper adding to his wonderful series of articles on crowdfunding (on which I and so many others rely in our crowdfunding work). This article, entitled "Online Arbitration as a Remedy for Crowdfunding Fraud" (and forthcoming in the Florida State University Law Review), focuses on a hot topic in many areas of lawyering--online dispute resolution, or ODR. Steve brings the discussion to bear on his crowdfunding work. Specifically, he suggests online arbitration as an efficacious way of resolving allegations of fraud in crowdfunding. Here's the abstract:
It is now legal to see securities to the general public in unregistered, crowdfunded offerings. But offerings pursuant to the new federal crowdfunding exemption pose a serious risk of fraud. The buyers will be mostly small, unsophisticated investors, the issuers will be mostly small startups about whom little is known, and crowdfunded offerings lack some of the protections available in registered offerings. Some of the requirements of the exemption may reduce the incidence of fraud, but there will undoubtedly be fraudulent offerings.
An effective antifraud remedy is needed to compensate investors and help deter wrongdoers. But, because of the small dollar amounts involved, neither individual litigation nor class actions will usually be feasible; the cost of suing will usually exceed the expected recovery. Federal and state securities regulators are also unlikely to focus their limited enforcement resources on small crowdfunding offerings. A more effective remedy is needed.
Arbitration is cheaper, but even ordinary arbitration will often be too expensive for the small amounts invested in crowdfunding. In this article, I attempt to design a simplified, cost-effective arbitration remedy to deal with crowdfunding fraud. The arbitration remedy should be unilateral; crowdfunding issuers should be obligated to arbitrate, but not investors. Crowdfunding arbitration should be online, with the parties limited to written submissions. But it should be public, and arbitrators should be required to publish their findings. The arbitrators should be experts on both crowdfunding and securities law, and they should take an active, inquisitorial role in developing the evidence. Finally, all of the investors in an offering should be able to consolidate their claims into an arbitration class action.
Although I haven't yet read the paper (which was just posted this morning, it seems), Steve's idea totally makes sense to me on so many levels. Among other things, ODR has a history in e-commerce and social media, two front-runners and foundations of crowdfunding. Also, the dispute resolution expense issue that Steve alludes to in the abstract is real. It has been raised by a number of us, including by me in this draft paper, in which I assert, among other things:
Prosecutors and regulators may not be willing or able to devote financial and human resources to enforcement efforts absent statutory or regulatory incentives or extraordinary policy reasons for doing so . . . . Individual funders also are unlikely to bring private actions or even engage alternative dispute resolution since the cost of vindicating their rights easily could exceed their invested money and time, although the availability of treble damages (often a statutory right for willful violations of consumer protection statutes) or other extraordinary remedies may change the calculus somewhat.
. . . [C]lass actions tend to be procedurally complex—difficult to get in front of a court—and may not be available in some jurisdictions. Moreover, the prospects for recovery are unknown and, based on recent information from U.S. securities class action litigation, financial compensation to individual members of the plaintiff class is likely to be relatively insignificant in dollar value and in relationship to losses suffered, even if the aggregate amount of damages paid by the defendant is relatively high . . . . Accordingly, class action litigation also may be of limited utility in bringing successful legal claims in the crowdfunding context.
This will be an area for much further thought as the crowdfunding adventure continues . . . .
Monday, May 8, 2017
Call for Papers
Financial Inclusion: A Sustainable Mission from Microfinance to Alternative Finance
Social and Technological Paradigms
December 7-8, 2017
CEREN, EA 7477, Burgundy School of Business - Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté
Microfinance has sought to include individuals that financial institutions exclude. The mission has been progressively widening to alternative finance, which has thrived outside of conventional financial instruments and channels.
Alternative finance takes different forms, such as angel investment, asset funding, cash flow funding, crowdfunding, crypto-currencies (Bitcoin), fair investment, fintech, slow money, pension fund investments, social impact bonds, etc. All the types have resulted from social and/or technological innovations or a mix of both. They provide significant values to customers and investors. Some of the benefits include absence of lengthy applications, low documentation, almost no collateral, minimum or no credit score requirements, high approval rates, and fast funding.
Alternative finance has also widened the base of customers. While microfinance mainly aimed at making financial services available to people at the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’, alternative finance has gone beyond to target not only the poor, but also small enterprises, young and innovative ventures, women, minorities, individuals with no credit history, and any other audience excluded by the conventional institutions. While microfinance’s target is mainly the poor, alternative finance’s finance is the excluded.
The Burgundy School of Business will organize the 8th edition of its annual conference “Institutional and Technological Environments of Microfinance” (ITEM) on "financial inclusion" in Dijon, France on 7th and 8th December 2017.
The conference welcomes research papers, monographies, case studies, PhD research-in-progress and experiential insights on different topics and experiments of alternative finance. ITEM encourages in particular reflections on the social and technological innovations, which broaden and deepen the range of alternative finance.
The leading topic is "Financial Inclusion: A Sustainable Mission from Microfinance to Alternative Finance--Social and Technological Paradigms". However, the conference welcomes other related topics that scope out the perspective and discussion on financial inclusion.
As the preceding editions, the ITEM conference provides a forum for both academic researchers and practitioners to discuss and exchange.
Proposals: All contributions require a proposal in the first instance. A proposal is a short abstract between 300 and 500 words, containing the research objectives, methodology, findings, recommendations and up to five keywords, the full names (first name and surname, not initials), email addresses of all authors, and a postal address and telephone number for at least one contact author.
Submission period for the proposals: Up to September 15, 2017.
Acceptance of proposals: By September 30, 2017. Notifications will be sent out to relevant authors. Please indicate clearly the contact author(s) and their email address(es).
Full paper: Upon acceptance of proposal, full papers are required. The paper includes abstract, keywords, references and a text of less than 5000 words.
Due date for the full papers: Up to November 30, 2017.
Publication opportunity: Papers presented at the conference will also be considered for publication in collaborating journals.
Fees for registration:
- 300 Euros for academic and professional participants and presenters
- 250 Euros for early-bird (before October 31)
- 100 Euros for students
- 70 euros for early bird students (before October 31)
All are invited to complete registration and payment by November 30, 2017.
Details are also available on the ITEM 8 website.
Web site: http://item-8.blogspot.com
Special attraction: The flying club of Darois is willing to take you for an aerial trip over the historical wine region in a ULM (ultra-léger motorisé--ultra-light aircraft) for a modest fee. Depending on the number of people interested, they will fix the price.
Monday, February 27, 2017
Later this week, I will head to Indiana to present at and attend a social enterprise law conference at The Law School at the University of Notre Dame. The conference includes presentations by participating authors in the forthcoming Cambridge Handbook of Social Enterprise Law, edited by Ben Means and Joe Yockey. The range of presentations/chapters is impressive. Fellow BLPB editors Haskell Murray and Anne Tucker also are conference presenters and book contributors.
Interestingly (at least for me), my chapter relates to Haskell's post from last Friday. The title of my chapter is "Financing Social Enterprise: Is the Crowd the Answer?" Set forth below is the précis I submitted for distribution to the conference participants.
Crowdfunding is an open call for financial backing: the solicitation of funding from, and the provision of funding by, an undifferentiated, unrestricted mass of individuals (the “crowd”), commonly over the Internet. Crowdfunding in its various forms (e.g., donative, reward, presale, and securities crowdfunding) may implicate many different areas of law and intersects in the business setting with choice of entity as well as business finance (comprising funding, restructuring, and investment exit considerations, including mergers and acquisitions). In operation, crowdfunding uses technology to transform traditional fundraising processes by, among other things, increasing the base of potential funders for a business or project. The crowdfunding movement—if we can label it as such—has principally been a populist adventure in which the public at large has clamored for participation rights in markets from which they had been largely excluded.
Similarly, the current popularity of social enterprise, including the movement toward benefit corporations and the legislative adoption of other social enterprise business entities, also stems from populist roots. By focusing on a double or triple bottom line—serving social or environmental objectives as well as shareholder financial wealth—social enterprises represent a distinct approach to organizing and conducting business operations. Reacting to a perceived gap in the markets for business forms, charters, and tax benefits, social enterprise (and, in particular, benefit corporations) offer venturers business formation and operation alternatives not available in a market environment oriented narrowly around the maximization or absence of the private inurement of financial value to business owners, principals, or employees.
Perhaps it is unsurprising then, that social enterprise has been relatively quick to engage crowdfunding as a means of financing new and ongoing ventures. In addition, early data in the United States for offerings conducted under Regulation CF (promulgated under the CROWDFUND Act, Title III of the JOBS Act) indicates a relatively high incidence of securities crowdfunding by social enterprise firms. The common account of crowdfunding and social enterprise as grassroots movements striking out against structures deemed to be elitist or exclusive may underlie the use of crowdfunding by social enterprise firms in funding their operations.
Yet, social enterprise’s early-adopter status and general significance in the crowdfunding realm is understudied and undertheorized to date. This chapter offers information that aims to address in part that deficit in the literature by illuminating and commenting on the history, present experience, and future prospects of financing social enterprise through crowdfunding—especially securities crowdfunding. The chapter has a modest objective: to make salient observations about crowdfunding social enterprise initiatives the based on doctrine, policy, theory, and practice.
Specifically, to achieve this objective, the chapter begins by briefly tracing the populist-oriented foundations of the current manifestations of crowdfunding and social enterprise. Next, the chapter addresses the financing of social enterprise through crowdfunding, focusing on the relatively recent advent of securities crowdfunding (including specifically the May 2016 introduction of offerings under Regulation CF in the United States). The remainder of the chapter reflects on these foundational matters by contextualizing crowdfunded social enterprise as a part of the overall market for social enterprise finance and making related observations about litigation risk and possible impacts of securities crowdfunding on social enterprise (and vice versa).
Please let me know if you have thoughts on any of the matters I am covering in my chapter or resources to recommend in finishing writing the chapter that I may not have found. I seem to find new articles that touch on the subject of the chapter every week. I will have more to say on my chapter and the other chapters of the Handbook after the conference and as the book proceeds toward publication.
Monday, October 31, 2016
My October included some signifiant tricks and a bunch of parallel treats. I will highlight but a few of each here. They illustrate, in my view, the busy mid-semester lives that law professors may have.
It was a real trick for me to give three distinct presentations in three cities (two in person and one virtually) in a two-day period early in the month. On the morning of October 6, I participated in a panel discussion at The Crowdfunding Conference in New York City (New York). That afternoon, I jumped on a plane for Little Rock (Arkansas), where I gave a continuing legal education presentation on crowdfunding for the Arkansas Bar Association as part of a program on "Capital Raising Today and Securities Law Issues." Finally, later that day, I was Skyped into a the North Carolina Law Review 2016 annual symposium in Chapel Hill (North Carolina) on "The Role of Law in Entrepreneurship," at which I presented a draft paper, forthcoming in the North Carolina Law Review, on the important role of business finance lawyers in entrepreneurial enterprise.
It then was a trick to refocus my energy on faculty hiring a few days later. That next week, I jetted off to Washington (DC) with my fellow Appointments Committee members and our Dean and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for a UT Law alumni reception and the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) 2016 Faculty Recruitment Conference. We were successful in interviewing a variety of folks for our two business law openings--one in the clinic and one in the doctrinal faculty.
After only a few nights home in my own bed, it was (again) a trick to haul my body into the car to drive to Lexington (Virginia) to participate in and attend the Washington and Lee Law Review's 2016 Lara D. Gass Annual Symposium, an event focusing on "Corporate Law, Governance, and Purpose: A Tribute to the Scholarship of Lyman Johnson and David Millon." At that symposium, my presentation addressed shareholder wealth maximization as a function of firm-level corporate governance. My essay on that topic will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Washington and Lee Law Review.
Before the next week was out, I accomplished yet another trick. I drove up to Louisville (Kentucky) to offer my thoughts on current securities litigation issues for the Kentucky Bar Association 2016 Securities Law Conference. I was asked to cover insider trading and liability under federal and state securities laws. In fulfillment of this charge, I delivered a presentation entitled "Where There’s a Securities Market, There’s Fraud (and Other Misconduct): Hot Topics in Federal Securities Litigation."
My final October trick? Fitting in my Business Associations oral midterm examinations and my Monday and Wednesday class meetings for Business Associations and Corporate Finance with all these trips.
All of that effort was an investment, however. The trips, presentations, and other interactions all yielded multiple benefits. Most of them may be obvious, but I will list a few in any case.
- I met lots of new and interesting folks from the crowdfunding industry, local bar associations, the AALS applicant pool, and the law academy (from the United States and abroad).
- I got great feedback on my current work and new ideas, research avenues, and citation sources for my ongoing work.
- I was able to honor two amazing colleagues, Lyman Johnson and David Millon.
- I participated meaningfully in the important task of recruiting new faculty to UT Law.
- I squeezed in some important family and personal time around the edges, including in attending the Knoxville Brewers Jam with my hubby (the tickets having been part of my anniversary gift to him back in August).
I am grateful for safe travels throughout the month. Having said that, I admit that I am relieved all that travel and activity is over and done. I look forward to a more calm November and a fun holiday season to follow. In the mean time, however, I will continue to enjoy the fall, with pumpkins being among my favorite hallmarks of the season.
Monday, September 19, 2016
This Friday, I will co-present on a continuing legal education panel on "The New Crowdfunding Laws for Private Investors & Other Ways to Legally Raise Money For Your Project" at the Americanafest--the Americana Music Festival and Conference. The program description is set forth below.
There have been significant changes in federal and state laws related to soliciting investors through crowdfunding and other types of investment activities. These new changes are designed to make certain types of investments easier and more accessible to people and businesses who seek investors for their projects. This panel will discuss those new laws and strategies of how to seek small to moderate size investments under today’s federal and state law. The panel will also discuss “dos” and “don’ts” for those seeking out investors and what to look for when offered an investment opportunity.
I love cultivating this ground, even if I have done much of it in the past with different audiences. I will prepare some specialized information relating to financing music and other creative projects, for example, for this program. I also plan to discuss important traps for the unwary.
What I really want to know is: what else might folks working with and in the music industry (or with other artistic and creative business venturers) want to know? I have some ideas based on my research on crowdfunding to date. But send me your ideas . . . . No doubt, a whole new discussion may be generated from audience questions. But I would love to be as prepared as possible.
Monday, August 22, 2016
We are now more than three months into the Title III crowdfunding experiment. I have been wanting to get back to posting on Title III crowdfunding since my "LIVE" post back in May, but so much other fun stuff has been going on! So, to make me feel a bit better on that point, I will share some current crowdfunding data with you all in this post based on publicly available information obtained from a Westlaw search performed yesterday (Sunday, August 21, 2016). [Note to the powers that be at the SEC: EDGAR makes it hard to find the aggregated set of Form C filings unless you are collecting data on an ongoing basis. I hope that changes as EDGAR continues to improve . . . .]
At the outset, I will note that others have offered their own reports on Title III crowdfunding since I last posted (including here, here, and here). These reports offer some nice summaries. This post offers a less comprehensive data dump focusing in on completed offerings and withdrawn offerings. At the end, I offer some limited observations from the information provided here about crowdfunding as a small-business capital-raising alternative, the need for EDGAR adjustments, inferences about the success of Title III crowdfunded offerings, and platform disclosure about withdrawn offerings.
First, however, the top-level Westlaw-based summary:
Total Form C filings: 85 (275 filings show on Westlaw, but only 85 are non-exhibit filings representing distinct offerings)
Total Form C/A filings (amendments, including exhibit filings): 153
Total Form C-U filings (updates): 4
Total Form C-W filings (withdrawals): 2
The remainder of this post takes a shallow dive into the updates and withdrawals. Filings in each case are presented in reverse chronological order by filing date. All referenced dates are in 2016. Issuer names are copied from filings and may not be the actual legal names of the entities.
Monday, August 1, 2016
I was recently invited to write a short piece on crowdfunding and investor protection for a special issue of one of the publications of the CESifo Group Munich, the CESifo DICE Report--"a quarterly, English-language journal featuring articles on institutional regulations and economic policy measures that offer country comparative analyses." The group of authors for this publication (present company excluded) was truly impressive, and I have enjoyed reading their submissions. My contribution is published here on the CESifo website and here on SSRN, for those who care to look it over.
I did not hesitate to accept the CESifo Group's invitation to publish this paper, even though it is not primary scholarship and the deadline was tight for me given other professional obligations. (The editors did allow me to negotiate a bit on the timing, however.) The purpose of my post today is to explain why I decided to take this opportunity. With the limited time that we all have to produce research papers, why would I invest in this kind of an "extra" publication--one that is not likely to get me full scholarly credit (whatever that may mean) in a critical assessment of my body of work? Here are four reasons why I value this kind of project (if I can fit it in with my primary professional obligations).
- A publication with an interdisciplinary international research group puts a scholar's name and pre-existing scholarship (some of which typically is cited in the piece) in front of a new audience.
- A short, summary research paper of this kind offers the opportunity to synthesize or re-synthesize ideas from prior research and writing--a skill that (in my experience) improves with practice and is useful in other writing as well as in teaching.
- The reductive, focused writing process may reveal fresh insights, and these may lead to new research, writing, or teaching.
- Leveraging prior research by using it for multiple, distinct projects is efficient--and smart.
You may or may not agree with these reasons. You may have other reasons for publishing this kind of work--or reasons for not doing so. I invite you to add them in the comments. And if you are untenured, not yet fully promoted, or otherwise subject to adverse employment action relating to scholarship activity, you'll likely want to check with your dean and trusted senior members of your faculty (including any associate dean for faculty development) before accepting a publication invitation of this kind. Each institution honors these "extra" publications differently . . . .
Friday, July 22, 2016
While the Olympics is sure to be heavily watched, the Games are not that lucrative for many of the participants. The average Olympian supposedly only makes around $20,000 a year from sponsorships and has significant travel, medical, and coaching costs.
For those who will be attending the SEALS Conference and are interested in crowdfunding, my co-blogger Joan Heminway is moderating a discussion group on "The Legal Aspects of Small Business Finance in the Crowdfunding Era" on Tuesday, August 9 from 9am-12pm, which promises to be interesting. Most of the Olympic athletes appear to be using gift-based crowdfunding, but in the SEALS discussion group, I will present on a proposal for firms to use equity crowdfunding in connection with building athletic communities that could include Olympic athletes.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Robert Esposito (Drinker Biddle) passed along his firm's interesting report on early crowdfunding offerings. The report is available here. Be sure to download the firm level detail spreadsheet available via the data download on the top right of the page.
The report shows that social enterprise and breweries/distilleries account for outsized portions of the early offerings. A group of us (including co-blogger Joan Heminway) predicted, at the University of Colorado's business school in July 2013, that social entrepreneurs would gravitate to equity crowdfunding. Separately, in my social enterprise law seminar, I was surprised by how many students presented on breweries that were social enterprises, and looking at this list it appears that there is at least one company (Hawaiian Ola Brewing Corporation - a Certified B Corporation) that falls into both the social enterprise and brewery categories highlighted below. It may be that both areas appeal to younger entrepreneurs who may also be eager to try this new form of capital raising.
Go read the entire report, but I provide a teaser quote below the dotted line with some emphasis added.
In general. As of June 30, 2016, 50 companies have filed a Form C with the SEC to offer securities under the Regulation Crowdfunding exemption. Minimum target offering amounts range from $20,000 to $500,000 per offering, with a median of $55,000. All but one of these issuers, however, have disclosed that they will accept offers in excess of the target amount, including 27 issuers that say they will accept investments at or near the maximum permitted offering amount of $1,000,000. In contrast, 18 of the first 50 issuers elected to cap their offering at just $100,000, with the remainder setting an offering cap of between $200,000 and $500,000. In the aggregate, if this first wave of retail crowdfundings is successful, 50 small companies will raise an aggregate of $6 to $30 million in new capital to fund their businesses.
While announced offering durations range from 21 days to one year, the median period that issuers say they will keep their offerings open is just under six months, with about half electing an offering duration between 166 and 182 days.
Eighteen different jurisdictions of incorporation are represented among the first 50 issuers; however, nearly half of the initial filers (24) are Delaware entities. Early data shows that issuers tend to be early-stage startups, with a median issuer age of just 354 days. Nevertheless, nine of the issuers were more than five years old, and the oldest was incorporated in 2003. . . .
While a total of 12 funding portals have registered with FINRA to date, the early mover Wefunder portal hosts more than half (26) of the first 50 offerings. The StartEngine portal has secured eight offerings, with the remainder split among other portals, including SeedInvest, Next Seed, Flashfunders, and Venture.co.
- Social Enterprises. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s Special Topic Report on Social Entrepreneurship, social enterprises account for only 5.7 percent of entrepreneurial activity in the United States. However, early crowdfunding data shows that social enterprises are strongly represented among crowdfunding issuers. Seven issuers, representing 14 percent of the first 50 offerings, are either registered as benefit corporations or benefit LLCs, or are certified by B Lab as B Corps, and at least an additional nine issuers operate within traditional corporate forms with strong social and/or environmental missions. Combined, these issuers represent 32 percent of the first 50 offerings.
- Raise a Glass. Craft breweries, distilleries, and licensed establishments are also disproportionately represented among the first 50 issuers. Eight issuers, representing 16 percent of the first 50 offerings, fall into this category, including 2 distilleries, 2 craft breweries, 2 bars, as well as a frozen alcohol producer and a producer of ginger liqueur.
Saturday, June 11, 2016
A colleague sent me a link to a White House blog post focusing on Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act), known as the Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and Unethical Non-Disclosure Act (CROWDFUND Act). The main theme of the blog post, entitled The Promise of Crowdfunding and American Innovation, is stated in its summary: ''Crowdfunding' rule makes it possible for entrepreneurs across the country to raise small-dollar investments from ordinary Americans." This much is true. And the post accurately notes that "previous forms of crowdfunding" also already did this.
But the post goes on to extol the virtues of the CROWDFUND Act, which offers (among other things) a registration exemption for investment (or securities) crowdfunding--a very special type of crowdfunding involving the offer or sale of debt, equity, investment contracts, or other securities. Or at least the blog post tries to extol the virtues of the CROWDFUND Act. I am not buying it. In fact, the post doesn't come up with much of substance to praise . . . .
The coauthors focus a key paragraph on explaining why the CROWDFUND Act is heavy on investor protection provisions. But they do not talk about the costs of the legislation in relation to its potential benefits, except in the most superficial way--mentioning "risks" without classifying them and outlining the "multiple layers of investor protections." Although it was written before the final Securities and Exchange Commission rules were adopted under the CROWDFUND Act, my article for the Kentucky Law Journal offers a more detailed picture of benefits and costs and shares my view that the costs are likely to outweigh the benefits for many market participants.
Maybe sensing this (and the possible lack of success of the CROWDFUND Act that may result from this imbalance), the coauthors of the White House blog post offer the following:
One encouraging recent sign is not only the launch of many new regulated crowdfunding platforms, but also the growing ecosystem of “startups helping startups” to provide services for this new marketplace—making it easier for entrepreneurs to fulfill disclosure requirements, verify investor credentials, educate investors, and more. Over time, these new tools may increase transparency and provide strong accountability not only for “the crowd,” but also for the “family and friends” that have long served as entrepreneurs’ first source of seed capital.
This is a super effect of crowdfunding generally and of securities crowdfunding under the CROWDFUND Act specifically--the emergence of new services and market participants to support crowdfunding and small capital raising more generally. I predicted this in my first article on crowdfunding (co-authored with one of my former students) : "Because '[c]rowdfunding is a market of and for the participants,' some traditional financial intermediaries may be shut out of this sector of the capital formation process. No doubt, however, new support roles for crowdfunding will develop as the industry matures." [(p. 930, n.263) (citations omitted)] But these market innovations would be more pronounced, imv, if the CROWDFUND Act provided participants with a more balanced set of costs for the benefits provided. As the blog post notes, "it’s still a fact that not every entrepreneur has access to needed capital." More can be done to solve this problem with a registration exemption that allows for small capital raising--funding at well less than the $1 million level set under the CROWDFUND Act--at less cost.
The blog post concludes with more platitudes. ("America’s entrepreneurs are our engines of economic growth, innovation, and job creation . . . .") Really, this blog post is a bit of a puff piece--manifesting both good marketing (for those who read and believe it) and overoptimism.
But then again, what did I expect from a blog post put out by White House staff? I suppose, given the President's support for the CROWDFUND Act (and the JOBS Act overall--which the coauthors also praise more generally in a paragraph of the post), I should expect the White House to promote the use of the CROWDFUND Act through these kinds of public relations messages. OK. I get that. Nevertheless, I admit to being disappointed that more is not being done in the Executive Branch and elsewhere to point out the shortcomings of the CROWDFUND Act and fine tune the regulation of securities crowdfunding so that it can have its maximum positive impact on business and project innovators and investors alike. Instead, I fear that well intending proponents are over-promoting the CROWDFUND Act, which may ultimately sour folks on securities crowdfunding as a capital raising alternative if few are able to take advantage of the current regulatory exemptions. We'll see. I hope I am wrong in worrying about this. Time will tell.
Monday, May 16, 2016
OK. I count 17 Form C filings (not including a few amended filings, two of which are noted below) on "Day 1" of U.S securities crowdfunding. Not a bad showing for the first day out, in my view.
First in line? Bloomery Investment Holdings, LLC with an offering of LLC interests on StartEngine Capital LLC. The firm filed its Form C a bit after 6:30 AM. Early risers! Eager beavers! (Maybe too eager, since an amendment was filed less than two hours later--apparently because the attendant Form C .pdf was rejected in the initial filing.) The firm's subsidiary is a moonshine-based liqueur producer. At this writing, $11,700 of the target threshold funding of $300,000 (1000 units at $300 per unit) has been committed--$288,300 to go! ($600 came in while I was typing this post.) And it looks like the base of operations is in West Virginia, Josh! Do you know these folks? (Slogan: "Take a Shot on Us.")
StarEngine also is hosting another crowdfunded offering filed today. The issuer on this offering, GameTree PBC (yes, Haskell, a public benefit corporation!), a social network for gamers based in Solana Beach, California. GameTree is selling common stock at $2 per share and has set a threshold funding target of $100,000. As of this writing, the firm had raised $8,360--$91,640 to go. The Form C filing for this offering also was amended. The reason? "Needed to re-upload campaign screen shots. First upload did not work." So, it seems there may be some glitches--or at least propensities for operator error.
This is pure spectator sport for me right now. I am interested to see that issuers are actually fling and that offerings are attracting some financing commitments. But some of what I am reading is pretty funny stuff. I don't have time to do a play-by-play on any of these filings (too busy a week this week). I must admit that I am especially amused by this "financial risk factor" in the GameTree materials:
Management has no experience managing companies with publicly traded securities.
The legal issues related to public securities are Byzantine and myriad. While it is our intention to follow the law as we understand it and seek the advice necessary to follow best practices, we recognize that mistakes with negative financial results to investors can occur. Crowdfunding is a new method for raising capital and laws are quickly changing and evolving. Changes in securities law may void and/or alter equity arrangements with shareholders.
I just had to quote that one here . . . . I nearly fell off my chair laughing. And here is the GameTree risk factor on benefit corporation status, so Haskell can have something to look at and consider:
GameTree is a public benefit corporation and thus may engage in activities in pursuit of its public benefit at the expense of financial gain.
Unlike traditional corporations in which operations and business goals are tied exclusively to the pursuit of profit, GameTree may also take actions in alignment with its stated public benefit at the expense of profit maximization. It is still a forprofit corporation in distinction from a charitable nonprofit which has a benefit as its sole purpose.
These disclosures are not what I would've drafted in either case. But neither disclosure is inaccurate, in my view. And each is relatively simple.
It will be interesting to continue to look at some of the SEC filings and related online disclosures as time passes. I hope to be able to devote additional time to that after I have finished grading exams and papers. In the mean time, I would enjoy reading your reactions here.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
What factors generate a healthy secondary market in securities? That is my question for this week. I have found myself struggling with this question since I was first called by a reporter writing a story for The Wall Street Journal about a work-in-process written by one of our colleagues, Seth Oranburg (a Visiting Assistant Professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law). The article came out yesterday (and I was quoted in it--glory be!), but the puzzle remains . . . .
Secondary securities markets have been hot topics for a while now. I followed with interest Usha Rodrigues's work on this paper, for example, which came out in 2013. Yet, that project focused on markets involving only accredited investors.
Seth's idea, however, is intended to prime a different kind of secondary market in securities: a trading platform for securities bought by the average Joe (or Joan!) non-accredited investor in a crowdfunded offering (specifically, an offering conducted under the CROWDFUND Act, Title III of the JOBS Act). [Note: I will not bother to unpack the statutory acronyms used in that last parenthetical expression, since I know most of our readers understand them well. But please comment below or message me if you need help on that.] Leaving aside one's view of the need for or desirability of a secondary market for securities acquired through crowdfunding (which depends, at least to some extent, on the type of issuer, investment instrument, and investor involved in the crowdfunding), the idea of fostering a secondary securities market is intriguing. What, other than willing buyers and sellers and a facilitating (or at least non-hostile) regulatory environment, makes a trading market in securities?
Monday, April 4, 2016
A Constructive Resolution to [What Otherwise Would Have Been] Another Ugly Law Review Experience . . .
Imagine this: You open an email message late in the evening from a law review managing editor. The message includes as an attachment the edited version of an article being published by the law review--or, more precisely--reprinted by the law review. So far, so good.
But also imagine your surprise when you open the attachment and find that the edits are extensive--more extensive than you had expected. So, you dig right in to see what's amiss. The first three modifications are changes to footnote citations. They are incorrect edits. As you review the edited draft, you find that most of the suggested changes are erroneous or unnecessary. Some are even undesirable or undesired (e.g., edits to the text of quoted passages that deviate from the source quoted). In frustration, you wonder whether you should complete your review of the edits or just, based on what you've read to date, throw in the towel and ask the law review to start all over, reminding the law review managing editor that the article already has been published and, in the process, edited by you and the other journal's editors and staff.
I experienced a version of this law scholar nightmare recently. What did I do? I completed my review of the edits (which took six solid hours) and sent the law review managing editor my responses under cover of an email message that explained (1) my likely-to-be-interpreted-as-curt tone and (2) the nature of the changes or reversals of changes I made. I tried to educate through these materials. But I was worried that the managing editor (with whom I had exchanged productive emails on other subjects, including the reprint permission and the publication agreement) might be angered by or otherwise negatively predisposed against my comments.
What happened next was absolutely super, however. Later that day, I received a message from the managing editor reading as follows, in relevant part:
Hello Professor Heminway,
Thank you so much for such a detailed and quick response! I understand your concerns, and we will work through the comments and suggestions that you have made. . . .
Your explanations and feedback throughout this process have been both educational and humbling. I appreciate your attention to detail as well as your willingness to ensure that you thoroughly explain your basis of thought behind certain suggestions and concerns. There's no doubt that your students have a lot to learn from you. Thank you for everything.
I was blown away.
I offer this correspondence and this entire story not to toot my own horn for having made the right decision to "stick it out" and offer explanations for my dissatisfaction with the draft that was returned to me by the law review. Rather, having earlier vented here about the law review editorial process and read similar blog critiques written by others (like this one or this one), I want to offer, as Haskell recently did here, a net positive view of the law review editorial experience with a student-edited publication. Bloggers here and elsewhere have made many suggestions on how the student editorial process may be able to be improved (see, e.g., here, here, and here). In the mean time, however, I continue to believe that a bit of patience and good communication can extend the learning experience for student editors in meaningful ways.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Jet lag prevented me from posting this yesterday. (Yes, I am scheduled to be the BLPB every-Monday blogger going forward.) But at least I am awake enough now to post a bit more on the 7th International Conference on Innovative Trends Emerging in Microfinance (ITEM 7 Conference) I attended last week in Shanghai, China. My initial post on Wednesday provided some information on Chinese microfinance and the initial day of the conference. This week, my post focuses on definitional questions that I have been pondering relating to my participation in this series of conferences. Specifically, I have been sorting through the relationship between microfinance and crowdfunding. My understanding continues to evolve as I become more familiar with the literature on and practice of microfinance internationally.
At the conference, one of the participants noted that while microfinance and crowdfunding appear to be mutually reinforcing, they still do not enjoy comfortable relations in scholarship and practice. After weighing that statement for a moment, I had to agree. I actually have been personally struggling with the nature of the relationship between the two for a few years now. (I often wonder whether folks like co-blogger Haskell Murray who commonly work in the social enterprise space have this issue in talking about the relationship between social enterprise and corporate social responsibility . . . .)
Two years ago at the ITEM 5 Conference, I posited that crowdfunding could be a vehicle for microfinance. The establishment of this point required defining both microfinance and crowdfunding--in each case, no small task. To enable the audience to understand my observation, I used a broad definition of microfinance that focuses on financial inclusion (like the one found here). I believed after my presentation that I had made the point well enough.
Yet, something still niggled at me after the presentation and conference were long gone. I kept feeling as if I had inserted a square peg into a round hole. Something was just a bit off. Part of the issue is, no doubt, the fact that my observation was incomplete. Microfinance is bigger than crowdfunding, and not all crowdfunding is microfinance, even under a broad definition. So, picture a venn diagram like the one below.
The red point of intersection illustrates crowdfunding's place as a means of conducting microfinance. This leaves part of microfinance to be handled through other types of financing (e.g., microcredit). It also leaves part of crowdfunding to other capital-raising uses. This conception of the relatonship between microfinance and crowdfunding is undoubtedly more complete.
The importance to microfinance of the non-microfinance part of crowdfunding was confirmed at our microfinance site visit last week in Shanghai. Our host for the visit explained, in response to my question about the relationship of microfinance to crowdfunding in China, that crowdfunding typically is seen as an alternative to, rather than a means of, microfinance in China. He noted that equity crowdfunding is uncommon (although growing) in Chinese small business finance overall because the number of shareholders of Chinese limited liability companies is statutorily capped. Specifically, Article 20 of the Companies Law of the People's Republic of China provides that "[a] limited liability company shall be jointly invested in and incorporated by not less than two and not more than fifty shareholders." I made a mental "note to files" that crowdfunding might get crowded out of microfinance or other types of financing--intentionally or unintentionally--by positive regulation.
I invite any readers who are more familiar with world-wide microfinance than I to comment further on its relationship to crowdfunding. Do I have the principal story right, in your view, based on your experience? Can you provide examples from your work or life that help me to see new aspects of the relationship between the two? I invite any related thoughts.
Monday, December 28, 2015
Andrew Schwartz, a professor at the University of Colorado, has recently published an interesting article discussing how crowdfunding deals with the fundamental problems of startup finance: uncertainty, information asymmetry, and agency costs. His article, The Digital Shareholder, 100 MINN. L. REV. 609 (2015), is available here.
Here’s the abstract:
Crowdfunding, a new Internet-based securities market, was recently authorized by federal and state law in order to create a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive system of entrepreneurial finance. But will people really send their money to strangers on the Internet in exchange for unregistered securities in speculative startups? Many are doubtful, but this Article looks to first principles and finds reason for optimism.
Well-established theory teaches that all forms of startup finance must confront and overcome three fundamental challenges: uncertainty, information asymmetry, and agency costs. This Article systematically examines this “trio of problems” and potential solutions in the context of crowdfunding. It begins by considering whether known solutions used in traditional forms of entrepreneurial finance—venture capital, angel investing, and public companies—can be borrowed by crowdfunding. Unfortunately, these methods, especially the most powerful among them, will not translate well to crowdfunding.
Finding traditional solutions inert, this Article presents five novel solutions that respond directly to crowdfunding’s distinctive digital context: (1) wisdom of the crowd; (2) crowdsourced investment analysis; (3) online reputation; (4) securities-based compensation; and (5) digital monitoring. Collectively, these solutions provide a sound basis for crowdfunding to overcome the three fundamental challenges and fulfill its compelling vision.
Andrew was kind enough to share a draft of this article with me earlier this year, and I’ve been waiting for him to make it publicly available so I could bring it to your attention. I’m not quite as optimistic as Andrew that crowdfunding will solve the problems he identifies, but it’s a good piece and worth reading.
Monday, December 21, 2015
I mentioned back in October that I spoke in Munich on Regulating Investment Crowdfunding: Small Business Capital Formation and Investor Protection. I discussed how crowdfunding should be regulated, using the U.S. and German regulations as examples.
If you’re interested, that talk is now available here. I expect this to be the top-rated Christmas video on iTunes.
If you want to know more about how Germany regulates crowdfunding, I strongly suggest this article: Lars Klöhn, Lars Hornuf, and Tobias Schilling, The Regulation of Crowdfunding in the German Small Investor Protection Act: Content, Consequences, Critique, Suggestions (June 2, 2015).
Friday, December 4, 2015
Earlier this week, my co-blogger Josh Fershee authored an interesting post about the surprising crowdfunding success of the PicoBrew "Keurig for Beer.” After reading Josh’s post and the embedded links, I have to agree with him; I have no idea how they raised $1.4M for a product that I don’t see being that useful. The product appears to be both overly expensive and overly time-consuming.
I think many venture capitalists would join Josh and me in questioning the wisdom of PicoBrew, at least before it raised $1.4M. But as I wrote in an earlier post, crowdfunding may help overcome biases of venture capitalists. In the days since Josh’s posts, I have heard a few people talk about how excited they were about PicoBrew. These people were all at least 10 years younger than Josh, me, and most venture capitalists. While us “older folks” may not see a use for the product, judging from the crowdfunding results and a little anecdotal evidence here in Nashville, there appears to be significant market demand for PicoBrew. Similarly, on the show Shark Tank, the female “sharks” have accused their male counterparts of largely avoiding companies with products aimed at women; and while I have not run the numbers, it does seem like the sharks' investments skew toward products that they (or maybe their family members) would use. Very few venture capitalists are under 30 years old, so perhaps products aimed at younger people got passed on more often than they should have before online crowdfunding became popular. Of course, crowdfunding can have a dark side as well; crowdfunding may be used not only to uncover good products that were passed over, but could also be used to lure more gullible funders.
Somewhat related, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article entitled “When Recruiting Teenagers, Don't Forget to Question Your Assumptions.” The article is focused on undergraduate recruiting practices and challenges readers to question conventional wisdom. The article notes a disconnect between what universities think applicants want and what applicants say they want. For example, “[a]lthough 30 percent of admissions officials said social media was the most effective way for a college to engage students who had never heard of it, just 4 percent of students said the same. . . . And while 64 percent of admissions officials said a college’s official social-media accounts were important to prospective students after applying, only 18 percent of teenagers said the same.” The article’s main directive appears to be, don’t assume what prospective students want, ask them and use evidence to craft your recruitment programs. Using evidence rather than hunches to make decisions may be obvious to professors, but I wonder how many schools use sophisticated studies in designing their recruiting programs.
Like all of us, venture capitalists and university recruiting staff members have blind spots. Perhaps evidence, from crowdfunding and student surveys, can help these respective groups shrink those blind spots.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
No, I am not really going too deep into the crowdfunding legal world. I am mostly venting. My co-bloggers, especially Steve Bradford, Joan Heminway, and Haskell Murray, are far more knowledgable than I am on the actual legal regime.
Kickstarter and other sites have done some creative things to help people start their businesses, and I am fine with that. There are travel jackets and luggage, as well as other things like potato salad and gadgets that someone thinks someone else needs. That's all good. But some of the ideas just seem dumb to me. Case in point: the PicoBrew, about which one outlet noted: Seattle company develops 'Keurig for beer.'
So, the deal is that you can make your own beer recipes (or borrow from others), and make beer at home. Fast(ish). KOMO News explained:
Depending on the recipe, users add grain to the main compartment of the step filter and add hops into the appropriate hop cages inside the unit. The entire canister slides into the Zymatic and the brewing begins.
The brewing takes about four hours, leaving the unfermented beer in the keg that originally held the water. Add the yeast, then after a week of fermentation you get beer ready to be carbonated for dispensing from the keg.
So, if I want a (potentially) good craft beer, I can plan a week ahead, and zowie, with a little work I will have a bit more than a 12 pack at the ready. The Keurig was bad enough -- it's wasteful, expensive. And, did I mention it's really wasteful? But it can make pretty good coffee in a way that is more convenient in some circumstances. So there's that.
PicoBrew doesn't seem to have any of those things. I mean, it does let you act like you brewed beer yourself, if you wanted to be that guy or gal. But really, this seems like an expensive gift for people who don't know really understand what it means to make your own beer.
I am all for people coming up with ideas to build creative businesses. And I am all for letting people spend their money on things they like (goofy or not). But that this thing raised $1.4 million still seems wrong to me. I know, some people really like this making stuff at home without really "making" much of it, but even with the recipe delivery services, there you're just over paying for someone else to do most of the work for you. I get that. That allows you to pay someone else to do most of what you don't want to do, while giving you flexibility and fresher food. Maybe it's pricey and not too creative from a cooking perspective, but still sensible for some folks.
The PicoBrew website quotes CNET as saying, "They tasted liked craft beers I would pay money for." After paying $500 to $1000 for the machine, plus ingredients, I am pretty sure you would still be paying money for the beer. And you would be doing the work, waiting for it to ferment, and carbonating it, too. I just don't see the great value. Personally, I'd much rather buy my craft beers straight from the good folks at places like Bell's, Founders, and Chestnut Brew Works, LLC(!). Now if I could just get a distributor in the state to make the first two more accessible. Hey, Kickstarter . . .
Monday, November 16, 2015
One final post on the SEC’s proposed changes to Rule 147 and I promise I’m finished—for now. Today’s topic is the effect the proposed changes will have on state crowdfunding exemptions. If the SEC adopts the proposed changes to Rule 147, many state legislatures will have to (or at least want to) amend their state crowdfunding legislation.
As I explained in my earlier posts here and here, the SEC has proposed amendments to Rule 147, currently a safe harbor for the intrastate offering exemption in section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act. If the proposed amendments are adopted, Rule 147 would become a stand-alone exemption rather than a safe harbor for section 3(a)(11). There would no longer be a safe harbor for intrastate offerings.
That creates some issues for the states. Many states have adopted state registration exemptions for crowdfunded securities offerings that piggyback on the federal intrastate offering exemption. That makes sense, because, if the offering isn’t also exempted at the federal level, the state crowdfunding exemption is practically worthless. (An offering pursuant to the federal crowdfunding exemption is automatically exempted from state registration requirements, but these state crowdfunding exemptions provide an alternative way to sell securities through crowdfunding.)
The SEC’s proposed amendments would actually make it easier for a crowdfunded offering to fit within Rule 147. (In fact, the SEC release says that’s one of the purposes of the amendments.) Most importantly, the SEC proposes to eliminate the requirement that all offerees be residents of the state. That change would facilitate publicly accessible crowdfunding sites which, almost by definition, are making offers to everyone everywhere. The securities would still have to be sold only to state residents, but it’s much easier to screen purchasers than to limit offerees.
Problem No. 1: Dual Compliance Requirements
Unfortunately, many state crowdfunding exemptions require that the crowdfunded offering comply with both section 3(a)(11) and Rule 147 in order to be eligible for the state exemption. Here, for example, is the relevant language in the Nebraska state crowdfunding exemption: “The transaction . . . [must meet] . . . the requirements of the federal exemption for intrastate offerings in section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act of 1933 . . . and Rule 147 under the Securities Act of 1933.” (emphasis added).
Currently, that double requirement doesn’t matter. An offering that complies with the Rule 147 safe harbor by definition complies with section 3(a)(11). That would no longer true if the SEC adopts the proposed changes. Since Rule 147 would no longer be a safe harbor, an issuer that complied with Rule 147 would still have to independently determine if its offering complied with section 3(a)(11). Because of the uncertainty in the case law under 3(a)(11), that determination would be risky. (But see my argument here.) The leniency the SEC proposes to grant in the amendments to Rule 147 would not be helpful unless state legislators amended their crowdfunding exemptions to eliminate the requirement that offerings also comply with section 3(a)(11).
Problem No. 2: State-of-Incorporation/Organization Requirements
There’s another potential issue. Many state crowdfunding exemptions include an independent requirement that the issuer be incorporated or organized in that particular state. That’s inconvenient, and reduces the value of the state crowdfunding exemption, because corporations and LLCs are often incorporated or organized outside their home states. But, until now, that state requirement hasn’t mattered because both section 3(a)(11) and Rule 147 also impose such a requirement.
The SEC proposes to eliminate that requirement from Rule 147, so it now matters whether the state crowdfunding exemption independently imposes such a requirement. Issuers won’t be able to take full advantage of the proposed changes to Rule 147 unless states eliminate the state-of-incorporation/organization requirements from their state crowdfunding exemptions as well.
On to More Important Things
That’s the end of my Rule 147 discussion for now. I promise! Now, we can turn to more important questions, such as why your favorite team belongs in the college football playoff. (I know for sure that my college football team won't be there. I would be happy just to have my college football team in a bowl game.)
Friday, October 30, 2015