Monday, October 16, 2017
Blockchain-Based Token Sales, Initial Coin Offerings, and the Democratization of Public Capital Markets. Oh, My!
My UT Law colleague Jonathan Rohr has coauthored (with Aaron Wright) an important piece of scholarship on an of-the-moment topic--financial instrument offerings using distributed ledger technology. Even more fun? He and his co-author are interested in aspects of this topic at its intersection with the regulation of securities offerings. Totally cool.
Here is the extended abstract. I cannot wait to dig into this one. Can you? As of the time I authored this post, the article already had almost 700 downloads . . . . Join the crowd!
Blockchain-Based Token Sales, Initial Coin Offerings, and the Democratization of Public Capital Markets
Jonathan Rohr & Aaron Wright
Best known for their role in the creation of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, blockchains are revolutionizing the way tech entrepreneurs are financing their business enterprises. In 2017 alone, over $2.2 billion has been raised through the sale of blockchain-based digital tokens in what some are calling initial coin offerings or “ICOs,” with some sales lasting mere seconds. In a token sale, organizers of a project sell digital tokens to members of the public to finance the development of future technology. An active secondary market for tokens has emerged, with tokens being bought and sold on cryptocurrency exchanges scattered across the globe, with often wild price fluctuations.
The recent explosion of token sales could mark the beginning of a broader shift in public capital markets—one similar to the shift in media distribution that started several decades ago. Blockchains drastically reduce the cost of exchanging value and enable anyone to transmit digitized assets around the globe in a highly trusted manner, stoking dreams of truly global capital markets that leverage the power of a blockchain and the Internet to facilitate capital formation.
The spectacular growth of tokens sales has caused some to argue that these sales simply serve as new tools for hucksters and unscrupulous charlatans to fleece consumers, raising the attention of regulators across the globe. A more careful analysis, however, reveals that blockchain-based tokens represent a wide variety of assets that take a variety of forms. Some are obvious investment vehicles and entitle their holders to economic rights like a share of any profits generated by the project. Others carry with them the right to use and govern the technology that is being developed with funds generated by the token sale and may represent the beginning of a new way to build and fund powerful technological platforms.
Lacking homogeneity, the status of tokens under U.S. securities laws is anything but clear. The test under which security status is assessed—the Howey test—has uncertain application to blockchain-based tokens, particularly those that entitle the holder to use a particular technological service, because they also present the possibility of making a profit by selling the token on a secondary market. Although the SEC recently issued a Report of Investigation in which it found that one type of token qualified as a security, confusion surrounds the boundaries between the types of tokens that will be deemed securities and those that will not.
Blockchain-based tokens exhibit disparate features and have characteristics that make current registration exemptions a poor fit for token sales. In addition to including requirements that do not fit squarely with blockchain-based systems, the transfer restrictions that apply to the most popular exemptions would have the perverse effect of restricting the ability of U.S. consumers to access a new generation of digital technology. The result is an uncertain regulatory environment in which token sellers do not have a sensible path to compliance.
In this Article, we argue that the SEC and Congress should provide token sellers and the exchanges that facilitate token sales with additional certainty. Specifically, we propose that the SEC provide guidance on how it will apply the Howey test to digital tokens, particularly those that mix aspects of consumption and use with the potential for a profit. We also propose that lawmakers adopt both a compliance-driven safe harbor for online exchanges that list tokens with a reasonable belief that the public sale of such tokens is not a violation of Section 5 as well as an exemption to the Section 5 registration requirement that has been tailored to digital tokens.
Friday, October 6, 2017
I assume most readers are familiar with Stonyfield Yogurt, and perhaps a bit of its story, but I think the podcast goes far beyond what is generally known.
The main thing that stuck out in the podcast was how many struggles Stonyfield faced. Most of the companies featured on How I Built This struggle for a few months or even a few years, but Stonyfield seemed to face more than its share of challenges for well over a decade. The yogurt seemed pretty popular early on, but production, distribution, and cash flow problems haunted them. Stonyfield also had a tough time sticking with their organic commitment, abandoning organic for a few years when they outsourced production and couldn't convince the farmers to follow their practices. With friends and family members' patient investing (including Gary's mother and mother-in-law), Stonyfield finally found financial success after raising money for its own production facility, readopting organic, and finding broader distribution.
After about 20 years, Stonyfield sold the vast majority of the company to large multinational Group Danone. Gary explained that some investors were looking for liquidity and that he felt it was time to pay them back for their commitment. Gary was able to negotiate some control rights for himself (unspecified in the podcast) and stayed on as chairman. While this sale was a big payday for investors, it is unclear how much of the original commitment to the environment and community remained. Also, the podcast did not mention that Danone announced, a few months ago, that it would sell Stonyfield.
Personally, I am a fan of Stonyfield's yogurt and it will be interesting to follow their story under new ownership. I also think students and faculty members could benefit from listening to stories like this to remind us that success is rarely easy and quick.
Friday, September 29, 2017
I recently finished Elizabeth Pollman and Jordan Barry's article entitled Regulatory Entrepreneurship. The article is thoughtfully written and timely. I highly recommend it.
This Article examines what we term “regulatory entrepreneurship” — pursuing a line of business in which changing the law is a significant part of the business plan. Regulatory entrepreneurship is not new, but it has become increasingly salient in recent years as companies from Airbnb to Tesla, and from DraftKings to Uber, have become agents of legal change. We document the tactics that companies have employed, including operating in legal gray areas, growing “too big to ban,” and mobilizing users for political support. Further, we theorize the business and law-related factors that foster regulatory entrepreneurship. Well-funded, scalable, and highly connected startup businesses with mass appeal have advantages, especially when they target state and local laws and litigate them in the political sphere instead of in court.
Finally, we predict that regulatory entrepreneurship will increase, driven by significant state and local policy issues, strong institutional support for startup companies, and continued technological progress that facilitates political mobilization. We explore how this could catalyze new coalitions, lower the cost of political participation, and improve policymaking. However, it could also lead to negative consequences when companies’ interests diverge from the public interest.
Thursday, September 7, 2017
As previously mentioned, I am always looking for good podcasts. I listen to podcasts while mowing our lawn and on road trips.
StartUp is the latest podcast series that I have uncovered, thanks to a recommendation from my sister Anna who works for a media/marketing start up herself.
From what I have uncovered so far, StartUp seems to be quite like NPR's How I Built This, which I mentioned in a previous post. Hosts of both podcasts interview entrepreneurs about the founding of their businesses and the ups and downs thereafter. The biggest difference I see is that StartUp seems to focus on smaller companies (a number that I had never heard of), while How I Built This seems to focus on companies that are now quite large and successful. In early seasons of StartUp there appear to be a number of the podcasts that depart from the entrepreneur-interview model, but I haven't dug into the early seasons yet. I am mainly focused on the recent podcasts.
Perhaps most interestingly, I recently listened to a podcast on StartUp about Mokhtar Alkhanshali and his specialty coffee. Mokhtar sources his coffee beans from war-torn Yemen and a cup of his coffee sells for $16 a cup. At first, this seemed like a ridiculous price for a cup of coffee, but after hearing how Mokhtar risked his life for his business in Yemen (bombings, escaping on a tiny boat, being captured, etc.) and listening to the specialty coffee to wine comparison, the pricing does make more sense. I might pay $16 once, just for the story, but I couldn't see a $16 cup of coffee becoming even a semi-regular purchase for me. That said, I know people who are getting increasingly serious about their coffee and perhaps it can be sustained in some cities.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Last year, I was asked to contribute to a symposium on law and entrepreneurship hosted at the University of North Carolina. Although I had to Skype in for my presentation from Little Rock, Arkansas (where I had just given a separate, unrelated CLE presentation), the panel to which I was assigned was fabulous. Great scholars, with great ideas.
For my contribution to the symposium, I chose to reflect on the unfulfilled promise of the potentially mutually beneficial relationship between an entrepreneur and a business finance lawyer. I recently posted the published work memorializing my thoughts on the topic, featured this spring with several other articles from the symposium in a dedicated edition of the North Carolina Law Review. The brief abstract for my article follows:
Entrepreneurs have the capacity to add value to the economy and the community. Business lawyers—including business finance lawyers—want to help entrepreneurs achieve their objectives. Despite incentives to a symbiotic relationship, however, entrepreneurs and business finance lawyers are not always the best of friends. This Article offers several approaches to bridging this gap between entrepreneurs and business finance lawyers.
My hope in writing this article was to infuse some energy into conversations about the role of business finance and business finance lawyers in the start-up and small business environment. Too many principals of emergent businesses with whom I interact think that business entity choice and formation are divorced--wholly or in major part--from finance. Of course, governance and tax matters (as well as, e.g., intellectual property and employment law concerns) are key. But my personal view is that entrepreneurs and promoters of new businesses should map out their plan for financing firms from the start and take that plan into account in choosing the form of legal entity for those businesses. I may be fighting an uphill battle on this (for a variety of reasons, mostly relating to the limited resource environment in which start-ups and small businesses exist), but I hope the article gives both clients and lawyers in this space something to consider, at the very least.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
On June 8, I will answer this and other questions during an interactive session for a group of social entrepreneurs at Venture Cafe in Miami. Fortunately, I will have an accountant with me to talk through some of the tax issues. I was invited by the director of Radical Partners, a social impact accelerator. We estimate that 75% of the audience members will work for a nonprofit and the rest will work in traditional for profit entities with a social mission.
Many entrepreneurs in South Florida have an interest in benefit corporations, but don't really know much about them. Our job is to provide some guidance on entity selection and demystify these relatively new entities. Some of the issues I plan to address in my 20 minutes are:
1) the differences between nonprofits, for profits, and benefit corporations
2) the differences between benefit and social purpose corporations (focusing on Florida law)
3) the biggest myths about benefit corporations (such as perceived tax benefits)
4) tax issues (for the accountant)
5) director duties
6) funding- changing funding model from donors to investors; going public
7) reporting, auditing, and certification requirements
8) benefit enforcement proceedings
9) the role of B Lab and the difference between a B Corp and a benefit corporation (currently 15 Florida companies are certified through B Lab)
10) transparency and accountability issues
We plan to leave about 45 minutes for questions. Not many lawyers in Florida have experience with benefit or social purpose corporations, so I am seeking guidance from our readers. If you are a practitioner and have dealt with these entities in your states, I'm interested in your thoughts. Are a lot of your clients asking about these entities? Have they converted? How do you help them decide whether this change is good for them? I'm also fortunate to have colleagues on this blog who are real thought leaders in the area, and am looking forward to their comments. Personally, I believe that for many business owners, benefit corporations may provide a perceived marketing edge, but not much more, Author Tina Ho has raised concerns about greenwashing. If I'm wrong, let me know below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, May 19, 2017
In last week’s post, I mentioned Dr. Steven Garber. Recently, I finished his 2014 book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. This book is among a handful of books in the faith & work area that I have read over the past few months.
Visions of Vocation is beautifully written, lyrical and rich. Garber’s weaves philosophy, literature, and personal stories throughout the book’s 255 pages.
Garber’s thesis in this talk, which echoes in much of his work, is that “vocation is integral, not incidental to the Missio Dei (mission of God)." Garber says the book Visions of Vocation grew out of these questions: Can you know the world and still love the world? & What will you do with what you know? The first question hits home, as the flaws of jobs and people often become more vivid over time. After the second question, Garber shows how stoicism and cynicism are unsatisfying responses.
Garber offers no easy answers, which is, perhaps, on purpose. These are difficult questions in a difficult area, and easy answers may not exist. I finished the book still hoping for some clear principles for integrating faith and work, but maybe the stirring questions were the point. The stories of folks at International Justice Mission and Elevation Burger, among others, do help in thinking about how faith and work fit together, as do the references to Walker Percy and Wendell Berry.
Again, this is not a book that provides a few simple steps or quick takeaways, but for a number of days after finishing it, I am still pondering its contents. For that reason, I think the book was well worth reading.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
I try to watch at least one Ted Talk a day. I learn new substantive topics and I also learn from listening to the speakers break down complex topics in an engaging way--a key skill for the classroom. I don’t know that any of the videos in a recent article written for business people really transformed my thinking about business, but I did find some parts interesting and inspiring.
Here they are for your viewing pleasure:
- Myths of Entrepreneurship
- Why Work Doesn't Happen at Work
- 10 Things to Know Before You Pitch to a Venture Capitalist
- What Consumers Want
- What Makes us Feel Good about Our Work
- The Power of Time Off
- Build a Tower, Build a Team
Monday, May 15, 2017
Today, I am spending my birthday attending and presenting at the Fifth Annual Midwest Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship in Kansas City, Missouri. I owe my presence here to my entrepreneurship colleagues and friends Tony Luppino (UMKC Law) and John Tyler (Kauffman Foundation). Thanks for the awesome birthday present, guys.
There's so much I have to say about just the first day of this event. (I also will be here and presenting tomorrow.) The proceedings so far have been incredibly thought-provoking and instructive. Most intriguing has been the focus around creating an ecosystem for social entrepreneurship. Of course, law and lawyers have roles in that. Hence, this blog post . . . .
Specifically, I want to devote today's post to the four essential action-elements necessary to generate a successful, sustained future for social entrepreneurship as posited and described by Mark Beam, Maverick in Residence at the Kauffman Foundation, in his kick-off keynote presentation this morning. (As an aside, I will note that Mark started his talk with a brief recounting of the origin of the word "maverick," which was independently fascinating.) Here are Mark's four elements, as I captured them in my notes (likely imperfectly), together with a bit of summary definitional commentary. He contended that, to build a sustainable ecosystem for social entrepreneurship, we must:
- Redefine work (recognizing entrepreneurship as work; taking into account the power and effects of technology, but knowing it needs to serve us and the human potential)
- Nurture entrepreneurial ecosystems that mimic and integrate natural systems (e.g., helping people to help themselves; moving resources from the “haves” to the “have-nots”)
- Evolve our capacity to serve more of the entrepreneurial community through ecosystem design (referring to three megatrends outlined by Kauffman Foundation CEO Wendy Guillies--demography, geography, and technology; opening up entrepreneurship to all to increase business, start-ups employment, productivity)
- Tell new stories (relating anecdotes that connect us; “we create the future through the stories we tell ourselves”—visioning the future through stories)
That may not sound like much, but trust me. The talk (beautifully delivered with amazing graphics, photography, and media content) was much better than my quick summary of the outtakes.
What Mark said made a lot of sense to me based on my related experience and work. But I found myself thinking about the role of the lawyer in these action items. How can lawyers--especially business lawyers--who support social enterprise help social entrepreneurship to productively move forward?
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
COLLECTIVE BOOK ON LEGAL INNOVATION
Call for submissions
The program « Law & Management » developed by the European Center of Law and Economics (known as CEDE in French) of ESSEC Business School, is an innovative and pioneering research program which aims to study the use of law as a competitive factor.
In this regard, the members of the research program « Law & Management » have decided to publish a collective book focusing on legal innovation. This book, co-edited by A. Masson (ESSEC) and D. Orozco (Florida State University), will analyze, by crossing the points of view of lawyers and creative specialists, the concept and life cycle of legal innovations, techniques and services, whether they are related to legislation, legal engineering, legal services, legal strategies…, as well as the role of law as a source of creativity and interdisciplinary teamwork. All the techniques that could facilitate legal innovations from the perspective of design thinking to predictive design, through the customer experience will be analyzed.
The program Board is now opening the call for proposals. Papers proposals (consisting in a brief summary in English) of a maximum length of 1000 words, should be sent to A. Masson (email@example.com) by May 8th, 2017. A least one practical example of legal innovations on which the papers will rely on must be mentioned in the proposals.
The proposals will be reviewed and selected by a scientific committee. Authors will receive a definitive answer by June 6th, 2017. The final manuscripts will be expected by October 9th, 2017.
A conference, following the publication of the book, will be organized in Paris in 2018.
With the support of the Paris Île-de-France Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the French Corporate Counsel Association (AFJE).
Friday, March 10, 2017
On of the many interesting things discussed during the social enterprise law workshop at Notre Dame Law School was the "FairShares Model." Nina Boeger (University of Bristol-UK) brought the model to the group's attention, and the model was new news to me.
The FairShares Model was "created during a research programme on democratising charities, co-operatives and social enterprises involving academics at Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK."
The FairShares Model cites the "Social Enterprise Europe Ltd" when noting that social enterprises "aim to generate sustainable sources of income, but measure their success through:
Specifying their purpose(s) and evaluating the impact(s) of their trading activities;
Conducting ethical reviews of their product/service choices and production/consumption practices;
- Promoting socialized and democratic ownership, governance and management."
To address theses aims, the FairShares Model offers social audits and suggests the issuing some combination of (1) founder shares, (2) labour shares, (3) investor shares, (4) user shares.
While I agree that significant corporate governance changes should be considered, at first glance this model seems a bit unwieldy if all four types of shares are issued. Still, I am interested in learning more.
Friday, February 24, 2017
One of the many questions surrounding benefit corporations is whether their choice of legal entity form will scare away investors.
As previously reported, we now have our first publicly traded benefit corporation. And in this week's news certified B corp and benefit corporation Data.world announced a 18.7 million dollar raise. This raise ranks in the top-ten largest raises by a benefit corporation, according to the information I have seen on benefit corporations. I compiled the publicly available information I was able to uncover on social enterprise raises (including by benefit corporations) in a forthcoming symposium article for the Seattle University Law Review. It is quite possible that there are raises that have been kept quiet and that I have not seen. This Data.world news was announced days after final edits and will not be in my article.
As is often the case in social enterprise news, this news could be seen as encouraging or discouraging for supporters of the benefit corporation form.
On one hand, this is a fairly sizeable raise and a bit of evidence that not all serious investors are scared away by a legal form that mandates a general public benefit purpose.
On the other hand, the mere fact that a raise of under $20 million dollars is big news in the benefit corporation world (commanding its own announcement e-mail from benefit corporation proponent organization B Lab) shows that the benefit corporation form has yet to go mainstream. A raise under $20 million dollars hardly qualifies as news in the traditional financial world. And, as mentioned, to date, there have only been a handful of raises of this size for companies using the social enterprise forms.
Still, I think it is fair to say that benefit corporations have already come further than harsh critics originally thought was possible. The benefit corporation form still needs to evolve significantly, in my opinion, but the form is still growing and the positive news for the form has not yet stopped.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
On Monday President Trump signed an Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs. The Order uses budgeting powers to constrict agencies and the regulatory process requiring that for each new regulation, two must be eliminated and that all future regulations must have a net zero budgeting effect (or less). The Order states:
"Unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency (agency) publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed."
Two points to note here. First, the Executive Order does not cover independent agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, agencies that crafted many of the rules required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law--an act that President Trump describes as a "disaster" and promised to do "a big number on". The SEC, the CFTC and Dodd-Frank are not safe, they will just have to be dealt with through even more sweeping means. Stay tuned. The 2-for-1 regulatory special proposed on Monday is a part of President Trump's promise to cut regulation by 75%.
Second, the Order is intended to remove regulatory obstacles to Americans starting new businesses. President Trump asserted that it is "almost impossible now to start a small business and it's virtually impossible to expand your existing business because of regulations." Facts add nuance to this claim, if not paint an all-together different story. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics documents a steady increase in the number of new American businesses formed since 2010. The U.S. small business economy grew while regulations were in place. President Trump asks us to believe that they will grow more without regulation. Some already do. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce "applauded" the approach decrying the "regulatory juggernaut that is limiting economic growth, choking small business, and putting people out of work."
Yet, as shocking as this feels (to me), the U.K. and Canada both have experience with a similar framework. The U.K.'s two for one regulation rule has been touted as saving businesses £885 million from May 5, 2015 to May 26, 2016 and there is now a variance requiring three regulations to be removed for each one. Canada takes a more modest one in- one out approach. No information is available yet on any externalities that may be caused by decreased regulations. For some, and I count myself in this camp, the concern is that the total cost of failed environmental protection, wage fairness, safety standards, etc. may outweigh individual gains by small business owners.
The 2-for-1 special evokes some odd memories for me (Midwestern, of modest means) of a K-Mart blue-light special. The Trump Administration is flashing a big, blue light with the promise to cut regulation by 75% without reference to the content of those regulations. The first tool, a "two for one approach" strikes me as a gimmick where the emphasis is on marketing the message of deregulation through quantity, not quality. Not to mention the arbitrariness of the numerical cut off (why not 1 or 13?). It is the type of solution, that if offered in answer to a law school hypo, would quickly be refuted by all of the unanswered questions. Can it be any two regulations? Can the new regulation just be longer and achieve the work of several? Should there be a nexus between the proposed regulation and the eliminated ones? What is the administrative process and burden of proof for identifying the ones to be removed? The Executive Order, targeted at business regulation, but in doing so has created the most "significant administrative action in the world of regulatory reform since President Reagan created the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in 1981." Hold on folks, this is going to be a bumpy ride.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own. We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure. Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well.
It is certainly true that we "have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America." It has brought some wealth and prosperity to the nation, and low oil prices because the country "embrace[d] the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans." However, low oil and gas prices (which largely remain) have slowed that growth and expansion because shale oil and gas exploration and production was wildly successful.
The President says, "We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own." But it's not clear how that's helpful. That is, selling our (the American people's) assets when the market is at or near record lows doesn't seem like very good asset management.
The plan is to "use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure." I am very fond of all of these things, though I am skeptical that the federal government should take a leading role in all of them. I am open to the discussion. But, if we're selling our assets at pennies on the dollar of historic value, I am particularly skeptical of the benefits.
"Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well." Low energy costs do help agriculture. That is certainly true. But notice that making energy even less expensive means we get less for our assets, and we're dumping more cheap energy into a market where private businesses in the oil and gas sector are already having a hard time.
Facilitating a boom from cheap energy means investing in new jobs to use the energy, not just getting more of the energy. Plants that use our cheaper fuels to make and build new products could help, but it's never easy. High energy prices can stifle an economy, but low ones rarely spur growth. About a year ago, an Economist article from January 2016 remains accurate, as it explained that sudden and major price increases can slow an economy rapidly, as we saw in Arab oil embargo of 1973. However, "when the price slumps because of a glut, as in 1986, it has done the world a power of good. The rule of thumb is that a 10% fall in oil prices boosts growth by 0.1-0.5 percentage points."
The article further explains:
Cheap oil also hurts demand in more important ways. When crude was over $100 a barrel it made sense to spend on exploration in out-of-the-way provinces, such as the Arctic, west Africa and deep below the saline rock off the coast of Brazil. As prices have tumbled, so has investment. Projects worth $380 billion have been put on hold. In America spending on fixed assets in the oil industry has fallen by half from its peak. The poison has spread: the purchasing managers’ index for December, of 48.2, registered an accelerating contraction across the whole of American manufacturing. In Brazil the harm to Petrobras, the national oil company, from the oil price has been exacerbated by a corruption scandal that has paralysed the highest echelons of government.
I am all for a new energy plan to help the economy grow, and I support continued energy exploration and production as long as it is done wisely, which I firmly believe can be done. But adding new competitors (by allowing more exploration on federal lands) simply won't help (and it really won't help increase coal jobs). More supply is not the answer in an already oversupplied market. And the current proposal is just giving away assets we will want down the road.
Friday, January 6, 2017
I recently finished my first consistent year of running since high school. To celebrate, I bought and read Once a Runner. Yes, that is how nerds like me celebrate - buy and read a book. I was asleep by 10pm on New Year's Eve.
Once a Runner is a cult classic published in 1978 and authored by a former University of Florida runner (and fellow lawyer), John Parker Jr. The novel was originally self-published, sold at running stores and out of the back of the author's car. It eventually became a New York Times Bestseller. The story follows the fictional Quenton Cassidy as he moves from a successful (but still somewhat distracted) college runner to a laser-focused, woods-dwelling hermit who increases his training to beat the best runners in the world. He does, eventually, beat one of the very best milers (in a small track meet), and then goes on to win silver in the Olympic Games.
Among the passages that struck me was the following from Quenton's time at a cocktail party, after spending months (in relative solitude) training and logging 100+ mile weeks:
What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared, to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heartrending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes, The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.
Along those same lines, I recently listened to the How I Built This podcast on Angie Hicks of Angie's List. Angie stated that she was an unlikely entrepreneur - introverted, risk-adverse, and not a "big idea" person. But she credited her success to one main thing, perseverance. I am still working on how to best teach my students to persevere, and in this instant access society, more and more students are looking for The Secret to allow them to master the material (or at least get an A) with as little effort as possible. While it can be good to look for more efficient ways to do things, I also think we need to teach our students that some things of great value are only acquired through old fashioned hard work.
Friday, December 30, 2016
At the end of every semester I resolve to give less work to my students so that I don't have so much to grade. This upcoming semester I may actually keep that resolution, but I do plan to keep my blogging assignment. In each class, I provide an extra credit or required post or series of posts of between 200-500 words so that students can learn a fundamental legal skill—communicating clearly, correctly, and concisely.
If you are reading this post, then you are already a fan of legal blogs. Academics blog to get their ideas out quickly rather than waiting for the lengthy law review cycle to publicize their thoughts. Academics can also refine ideas they are incubating by blogging and receiving real time feedback from readers. Practicing lawyers blog (or should) for a slightly different reason. Blogging can enhance a lawyer’s reputation and visibility and ultimately lead to more business.
Yesterday, I met with an attorney who will speak to the students in my new course on Legal Issues for Startups, Entrepreneurs, and Small Businesses. I mentioned to him that I found his blog posts enlightening and that they filled a gap in my knowledge base. Although I practiced for almost twenty years before entering academia and had a wide range of responsibility as a deputy general counsel, I delegated a number of areas to my colleagues or outside counsel. That attorney is now part of a growing trend. In 2011, when I left practice, lawyers rarely blogged and few utilized social media. Now, many recognize that lawyers must read legal blogs to keep up on breaking developments relevant to their practice. However, most lawyers understandably complain that they do not have the time to get new clients, retain their existing clients, do the actual legal work, and also blog.
Leaving blogging to the wayside is a mistake, particularly for small or newer firms. A 2016 Pew Research Center Study revealed that only 20% of people get their news from newspapers yet almost 40% rely on social media, which often provides summaries of the news curated to the consumer’s interests. The potential client base’s changing appetite for instant information in a shorter format makes blogging almost a necessity for some lawyers. Indeed, consumers believe that hiring a new lawyer is so overwhelming that some clients are now crowdsourcing. But when they receive multiple “offers” to represent them, how do/should consumers choose? Perhaps they will pick the firm with a social media presence, including a blog that highlights the firm’s expertise.
I read several blogs a day. Admittedly, I have a much longer attention span than many of our students and the lay public. I also get paid to read. Nonetheless, I consider reading blogs an essential part of my work as an academic. In prepping for my new course, I have found posts on startups and entrepreneurship particularly helpful in providing legal information as well as insight into the mindset of entrepreneurs. If I were a busy founder running a new startup, I would likely try to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible online about certain topics prior to retaining a lawyer. Some lawyers, however, don’t really know how to speak to clients without talking down to them, much less write anything “short” and free of jargon. A lawyer/blogger who wrote in a way that I could understand, without all of the legalese, would be more likely to get my business.
Thus, even though I want to grade fewer papers, I also want my students to leave my class with the critical skill of communicating complex topics to the public in digestible chunks (and in line with state bar rules on social media). Over the years, I have advised students to volunteer to update or start a blog for their internship employers. Many have told me that they enjoyed these projects and that their employers have found value in this work. This blogging practice also puts students in the position to start to blog after graduation.
I’ll end this post with a plug for my blogging colleagues who will attend AALS next week in San Francisco. I encourage you to attend some of the socioeconomic panels highlighted here. Please introduce yourself if you attend the panel next Wednesday morning at 9:50 on whistleblowers with me, Professor Bill Black of UMKC; Professor June Carbone of Minnesota; and Professor Ben Edwards of Barry. If you have an interest in the intersection between ethics and business, please swing by next Friday at 1:30 and see me and co-panelists Christopher Dillon from Gibson Dunn; Mina Kim, GC of Sunrun; Professor Eric Orts of Wharton; Professor Joseph Yockey of Iowa; Professor Brian Quinn of Boston College; Dean Gordon Smith of BYU; Professor Lori Johnson of UNLV; and Professor Anne Choike of Michigan.
If you have legal blogs you want to recommend and/or will be speaking at AALS and want to call attention to your session, feel free to comment below. Happy New Year and happy blogging.
Friday, December 16, 2016
My favorite new (to me) podcast is NPR's How I Built This. They describe the podcast as "about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built. Each episode is a narrative journey marked by triumphs, failures, serendipity and insight — told by the founders of some of the world's best known companies and brands."
So far, I have listened to two of the episodes: one about the Sam Adams founder Jim Koch and one about the Clif Bar co-founder Gary Erickson.
On the Sam Adams episode, I liked Jim Koch's distinction between scary and dangerous -- repelling off a mountain with an expert guide is scary but not not necessarily dangerous; walking on a snow-covered, frozen lake on a sunny day is dangerous but not necessarily scary. Jim said that his comfortable job at Boston Consulting Group was not scary, but it was dangerous in luring him away from his true calling. However, founding his own company (Sam Adams) was scary, but not really as dangerous as working for BCG. Also, it was interesting to find out that Jim Koch is a Harvard JD/MBA.
On the Clif Bar episode, though I have eaten more than my share of Clif Bars, I was surprised to learn that the bars were named for Gary's father, Clif. The Clif Bar episode also gave great insight into the emotions that can come out when deciding whether to sell your business; Gary decided not to sell to Quaker Oats at the last minute and then needed to buy-out his partner. Separately, Gary talked about the need for corporate counsel (and how a "handshake deal" with a distributor almost cost him his business), but he also noted how many attorneys are simply too expensive for small businesses.
Both entrepreneurs drew on lessons they learned during their outdoor adventure experiences. And both entrepreneurs discussed some combination of lawsuits, contracts, and regulatory challenges.
Looking forward to listening to more episodes.
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, 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.
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.