Monday, August 14, 2017

Steve Bradford on Online Dispute Resolution for Crowdfunding Fraud

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 . . . .

August 14, 2017 in ADR, C. Steven Bradford, Crowdfunding, Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Social Media: Costs and Benefits

A few weeks ago, Stephen Bainbridge asked about the benefits of the social media site LinkedIN. His question caused me to revisit the costs/benefits of social media. Below I reflect on the social media websites I use.

With so many professors getting in trouble on social media - see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here - it may make sense to ask if any of the websites are worth the risk. As long as you are wise when you post, and assume a post will be seen in the worst possible light, I think social media can be worth using. 

Facebook. 

  • Benefits. Facebook has a broader network of people than any of the other social media sites I use. My parents are on Facebook, as is my wife's grandmother and great aunt, as are my peers, as are my much younger cousins. Facebook also has a wide range of user generated content -- photos, links, short & long posts, groups, etc. The "Friends in ___ City" feature has allowed me to catch up with old acquaintances when traveling for conferences or family trips. Just a few weeks ago, I visited with two of my old coaches for the first time since high school. Neither of their e-mails were online, and I have only kept up with them via Facebook. 
  • Costs. For me, Facebook is the biggest time waster among the various social media sites. Recently, I deactivated my Facebook account for the time being. I will probably be back at some point. The benefits of Facebook could probably be achieved in about 30 minutes a week, but until I learn to limit my use to around that amount of time, I will likely continue to deactivate for periods of time to cut back usage.
  • Use for Work. I don’t allow current students to “friend” me, given the more personal nature of Facebook, but I have allowed alums to connect, which has been rewarding. I follow my university and my alma maters on Facebook. I am Facebook friends with a handful of professional contacts.

Twitter.

  • Benefits. I have kept Twitter almost entirely professional; I rarely tweet about my family or my personal hobbies. As such, for me, the benefits of Twitter are captured in the "Use for Work" section below.
  • Costs. Twitter can also eat time, though unlike Facebook,  I am rarely tempted to spend long amounts of time on Twitter. Twitter doesn't allow for very nuanced debate and your posts can be taken the wrong way. Professor Eric Posner recently posted some harsh comments about Twitter; his comments have a kernel of truth. That said, I do think he is overly negative. For example, I think Twitter can actually be better than newspapers for some information. With Twitter you get the news directly from the source, and the news reaches you more quickly and with fewer words. Also, newspapers are unlikely to cover niche topics, like the latest happenings in social enterprise law. 
  • Use for Work. I maintain two hashtags - #MGT2410 and #MGT6940 – for news tweets related to my two primary courses. I allow current students to follow me, though I do not require it nor do I post anything necessary for my classes. I follow mostly professional contacts and professional organizations on Twitter. Given the accounts that I follow, Twitter can be a relatively good place to get quick news. Finally, I have found that a number of C-level executives, lawyers, and well-known academics are easier to engage via Twitter than any other medium.

LinkedIN.

  • Benefits. In thinking about Steven Bainbridge’s question about LinkedIN, I had a difficult time thinking of many significant benefits. I see LinkedIN as a place to connect with professional contacts that you want to share less information than you share on Facebook. I rarely log into LinkedIN, but I haven’t deleted my account either, as the costs of being on the website are incredibly low. 
  • Costs. LinkedIN takes the least amount of my time among the various social media sites. I spend 0 to 30 minutes on LinkedIN most months. There does appear to be a fair bit of spam in the various work groups I have joined, but it is pretty easy to ignore by unsubscribing to group e-mail updates. 
  • Use for Work. LinkedIN seems to be my MBA students' preferred method of connecting, and the site is worthwhile just to stay connected to them. I belong to a number of work related LinkedIN groups, but, as mentioned, most have been overtaken by spammers, so I almost never read the shared content. 

Strava.

  • Benefits. Strava is a social media website for runners, cyclists, and swimmers. For me, Strava’s main purpose is as an online place to log my runs without annoying my friends on other social media websites. On Strava, I only have about 30 friends, all of whom are committed to fitness. The website is an incredibly good accountability tool, as those friends can see if you have been slacking for a few days, and some of them will even call you out. It is also nice to have a few people notice when you have a good race or workout. You can also borrow workout ideas from posts. 
  • Costs. I don't love that people can tell when you are out of town, based on the location of your runs, but with only 30 friends and the privacy settings set tight as to other users, this isn't a huge issue. Strava doesn't take much time. The routes automatically upload from my Garmin and the newsfeed isn't designed to keep you engaged with it. 
  • Use for Work. I don't really use Strava for work other than staying in touch with a couple attorney runner friends. 

Instagram, Pinterest, Etc. I never got into Instagram, Pinterest, or any other social media websites. Instagram does seem to be quite popular among my somewhat younger friends and students, but it also appears to be a giant time waster, so I am glad I never got hooked.

Feel free to share any comments or additional thoughts. 

July 7, 2017 in Business School, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Call for Papers - Alternative Finance and Financial Inclusion - Burgundy School of Business

Call for Papers

Financial Inclusion: A Sustainable Mission from Microfinance to Alternative Finance

Social and Technological Paradigms

ITEM 8

Dijon, France

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.

Submission procedure:

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.

Contacts:

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.

May 8, 2017 in Call for Papers, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Crowdfunding, Joan Heminway, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Business Law on Valentine's Day

I hope this Valentine's Day is a good one for you, dear readers.  Mine started with a random (minor) dog bite on my morning run, followed by some time with some very nice health care professionals and quite a few less pleasant needles. 

A friend alerted me to the law-related Twitter hashtag #AppellateValentines. Some of them are quite funny.  See, e.g.,

There is also a #BusinessValentines hashtag, which is less creative, but has its moments.  Of course, there was no #BusinessLawValentines, but there should be and there is now. I went first. Join in, if you're so inclined.  

And, of course, I could not resist:

February 14, 2017 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Got Tax Literacy?

News on TaxJazz: The Tax Literacy Project from Tulane Law colleague Marjorie Kornhauser:

TaxJazz provides individuals with non-partisan, non-technical, accessible tax information to help people participate in discussions about tax policy and problems facing the nation. TaxJazz already addresses basic tax questions, such as: Why do we have taxes? Are there any legal constraints on taxation? What can be taxed? How do we decide what is a fair tax? It plans to add material on particular tax issues and provisions.

The readings, worksheets, dialogues and other materials are suitable for use by individuals or by groups in a variety of situations. They have already been used 7 times in different settings including high schools, a city recreation department’s after-school program, and a community senior center. They have already been used by over 350 people between the ages of 12 and 80.

For more information, please Contact Us.

Looks like I may need to spend some time over there at TaxJazz.  I certainly do not consider myself tax literate! Maybe this will help.  A quick pass over the materials on the site reveals catchy graphics and coverage of salient issues about taxing authority and tax policy.  I know a few legislators who need to better understand the tradeoffs as among different types of taxation . . . .  Maybe I can convince them that learning about taxation can be fun?!

In addition, I wonder if we "firm governance folks" could increase literacy in our field with a project like this.  Hmm.  Food for thought.

February 13, 2017 in Joan Heminway, Teaching, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 16, 2016

New Favorite Podcast Series - How I Built This

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. 

December 16, 2016 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Management, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 23, 2016

"Distraction Sickness"

In January 2015, I wrote about a resolution to take a break from e-mails on Saturdays.

That resolution failed, quickly.

Since then, I have been thinking a lot about my relationship with e-mail.

On one hand, I get a lot of positive feedback from students and colleagues about my responsiveness. On the other hand, constantly checking and responding to e-mails seems to cut against productivity on other (often more important) tasks.

Five or six weeks ago, I started drafting this post, hoping to share it after at least one week of only checking my e-mail two times a day (11am and 4pm). Then I changed the goal to three times a day (11am, 4pm, and 9pm and then 5am, 11am, 4pm). Efforts to limit e-mail in that rigid way failed, even though very little of what I do requires a response in less than 24 hours. On the positive side, I have been relatively good, recently, at not checking my e-mail when I am at home and my children are awake. 

A few days ago, I read Andrew Sullivan’s Piece in the New York Magazine on “Distraction Sickness.” His piece is long, but worth reading. A short excerpt is included below:

[The smart phone] went from unknown to indispensable in less than a decade. The handful of spaces where it was once impossible to be connected — the airplane, the subway, the wilderness — are dwindling fast. Even hiker backpacks now come fitted with battery power for smartphones. Perhaps the only “safe space” that still exists is the shower. Am I exaggerating? A small but detailed 2015 study of young adults found that participants were using their phones five hours a day, at 85 separate times. Most of these interactions were for less than 30 seconds, but they add up. Just as revealing: The users weren’t fully aware of how addicted they were. They thought they picked up their phones half as much as they actually did. But whether they were aware of it or not, a new technology had seized control of around one-third of these young adults’ waking hours. . . . this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any. (emphasis added)

Academics seem to vary widely on how often they respond to e-mails, but I’d love to hear about the experience and practices of others. Oddly, in my experience with colleagues, those who are most prompt to respond to e-mails are usually also the most productive with their scholarship. I can’t really explain this, other than maybe these people are sitting at their computers more than others or are just ridiculously efficient. As with most things, I imagine there is an ideal balance to be pursued.

One thing I have learned is that setting expectations can be quite helpful. With students, I make clear on the first day of class and on the syllabus that e-mails will be returned within 24 business hours (though not necessarily more quickly than 24 business hours). I often respond to e-mails much more quickly than this, but this is helpful language to point a student to when he sends a 3am e-mail asking many substantive questions before an 8am exam.

Our students also struggle with "distraction sickness," and most of them know they are much too easily distracted by technology, but they are powerless against it. Ever since I banned laptops in my undergraduate classes, I have received many more thanks than pushback. The vast majority of students say they appreciate the technology break, but some can still be seen giving into the technology urge and (not so) secretly checking their phones.

Interested in how our readers manage their e-mails. Any tricks or rules that work for you? Feel free to e-mail me or leave your thoughts in the comments.

September 23, 2016 in Business School, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Law School, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Future Is.....Here?

Starting 2 weeks ago at Law & Society, I began participating in a series of conversations that can be boiled down to this:  Artificial Intelligence and the Law. Even the ABA is on to this story, which means it has reached a peak saturation point.  Exciting, scary, confusing, skeptical and a variety of other reactions have been thrown into the conversations across the legal studies gamut from algorithms in parole & criminal sentencing  to its use to generate social credit scores (thank you Nizan Packin for opening my eyes to this application).  In another LSA shout out, I want to highlight to forthcoming scholarship of Ben Edwards at Barry College where he criticizes the conflicts of interest in investment advise channels. One possible work around he explores is relying on robo-advisors:    In the few years since I have looked at digital investment advise, the field has changed, matured, grown!   So much so that FINRA has issued a report on digital investment advise, and is unsurprisingly skeptical of the technology application that poses a significant threat to its members (new release synopsis available here).   For the uninitiated, check out this run down of popular robo-advisors and Forbes article.  Skepticism about the sustainability of low-fee model can be found here; and optimism about its ability to change the world can be found here.

A robo-advisor (robo-adviser) is an online wealth management service that provides automated, algorithm-based portfolio management advice without the use of human financial planners. Robo-advisors (or robo-advisers) use the same software as traditional advisors, but usually only offer portfolio management and do not get involved in more personal aspects of wealth management, such as taxes and retirement or estate planning.

-Investopedia

-Anne Tucker

 

June 15, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Financial Markets, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Free Web Seminar: The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Cybersecurity and Data Privacy in Mergers and Acquisitions

One of my two former firms, King & Spalding, is hosting a free interactive web seminar on cybersecurity and M&A on February 25 at 12:30 p.m. Thought the web seminar might be of interest to some of our readers. The description is reproduced below.

----------

An Interactive Web Seminar

The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Cybersecurity and Data Privacy in Mergers and Acquisitions

February 25, 2016

12:30 PM – 1:30 PM

Over the last several years, company after company has been rocked by cybersecurity incidents. Moreover, obligations relating to cybersecurity and data privacy are rapidly evolving, imposing on corporations a complex and challenging legal and regulatory environment. Cybersecurity and data privacy deficiencies, therefore, might pose potentially significant business, legal, and regulatory risks to an acquiring company. For this reason, cybersecurity and data privacy are becoming integral pre-transaction due diligence items.

This e-Learn will analyze the (1) special cybersecurity and data privacy dangers that come with corporate transactions; (2) strategies to mitigate those dangers; and (3) benefits of incorporating cybersecurity and data privacy into due diligence. The panel will zero in on these issues from the vantage point of practitioners in the deal trenches, and from the perspective of a former computer crime prosecutor and a former FBI agent who have dealt with a broad range of cyber risks to public and private corporations.  This e-Learn is for managers and attorneys at all levels who are involved at any stage of the M&A process and at any stage of cyber literacy, from the beginner who is just starting to appreciate the complex nature of cyber risks to the expert who has addressed them for years.  The discussion will leave you with a better understanding of this critical topic and concrete, practical suggestions to bring back to your M&A team.

Program Speakers

Robert Leclerc, King & Spalding’s Corporate Practice Group and experienced deal counsel; Nick Oldham, King & Spalding, and Former Counsel for Cyber Investigations, DOJ's National Security Division; John Hauser, Ernst & Young, and former FBI Special Agent specializing in cyber investigations.             

Click Here to Register.

February 22, 2016 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Intellectual Property, M&A, Management, Technology, Web/Tech, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Milkman on Temptation Bundling

I recently listened to a podcast on temptation bundling, featuring the work of Katherine Milkman (Wharton)

Temptation bundling is explained here and here by Katherine Milkman, who (I believe) coined the term.

In short, temptation bundling is putting something you want to do together with something you should do. 

Temptation bundling can make both activities more enjoyable --- you feel better about the want activity because you also accomplished a should activity, and the should activity is less difficult because it is married with a want activity. For example, temptation bundling is what I have been doing with podcast listening; I only listen to podcasts (want) when I workout (should).

Below are a few temptation bundles that might work for professors:

  • Drinking caffeinated drinks only while researching;
  • Listening to your favorite music only while grading; and
  • Eating chocolate only when in faculty meetings.

January 8, 2016 in Behavioral Economics, Haskell Murray, Psychology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Amazon Prime Now and the Rise of Community-Building Retailers

Amazon Prime Now has debuted in Nashville. Amazon Prime Now offers free two-hour delivery on many items for Prime members. The service is amazing and is already changing the way I shop. I really dislike shopping malls, especially during the busy holiday season, but I also dislike waiting weeks (or even days) for shipments to arrive, so Amazon Prime Now is a perfect solution.

With Amazon Prime Now expanding, I imagine even more brick and mortar retailers will be headed to bankruptcy unless they find a way to differentiate their companies and add more value.

Brick and mortar retailers may find differentiation through community building services. I already see some retailers attempting this. Running footwear and apparel stores are offering free group runs starting from their storefronts and/or group training programs for a fee. Grocery stores are offering group cooking classes. Book stores are offering book clubs. The list goes on.

These brick and mortar retailers are finding it more and more difficult to compete with e-retailers on price and convenience. With the rise in technology, however, face to face community seems to be increasingly rare. Brick and mortar retailers that aid in community building may be able to justify higher prices for their goods, and the fee-based training programs may add another solid revenue stream.

Similarly, in my classes, I consistently ask myself: How am I providing value beyond what students could receive from an online course? I have made changes (like more group work, more case method work, more writing-based assessments, and more face to face advising) in response to this question, and I continue to look for ways to improve. Adapt or die.

December 11, 2015 in Bankruptcy/Reorganizations, Business School, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Law School, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Crowdfunding as a Strategy to Attract Venture Capital?

Recently, a number of the sports media outlets, including ESPN, the Pac-12 Network, and Fox Sports featured a company called Oculus that makes virtual reality headsets used by Stanford University quarterback Kevin Hogan, among other players, to prepare for games.

In 2012, Oculus raised about $2.4 million from roughly 9,500 people via crowdfunding website Kickstarter. Following this extremely successful crowdfunding campaign, Oculus attracted over $90 million in venture capital investment. In mid-2014, Facebook acquired Oculus for a cool $2 billion

Oculus is only one example, but it caused me to wonder how many companies are using crowdfunding to attract venture capital, and, if so, whether that strategy is working. This study claims that 9.5% of hardware companies with Kickstarter or Indigogo campaigns that raised over $100,000 went on to attract venture capital. Without a control group, however, it is a bit difficult to tell whether this is a significantly higher percentage than would have been able to attract venture capital money without the big crowdfunding raises. 

If I were a venture capitalist (and I was raised by one, so I have some insight), I would see a big crowdfunding raise as potentially useful evidence regarding public support for the company and/or product demand. Crowdfunding, in some cases, might also be a helpful check on venture capitalist groupthink and biases. 

As a venture capitalist, however, the type of crowdfunding used would matter to me. In most cases, I imagine I would see a large gift-based or rewards-based crowdfunding raise as a significant positive. Gift-based crowdfunding is essentially free money for the company, and reward-based crowdfunding usually comes with minimal costs or is simply pre-ordered product. Gift-based or rewards-based crowdfunders could create some negative press for the company when the company raises outside money, as the crowdfunders did in the Oculus case (see here and here), but that seems like a relatively small problem in most cases.

In contrast, the costs and risks associated with equity crowdfunding, in the states it is currently allowed, would raise at least a yellow flag for me. Equity crowdfunding comes with so many strings attached to various small shareholders that I could see it scaring off venture capitalists. The administrative headache, plus the risk of multiple lawsuits from uninformed investors seems significant. In addition, owners who have engaged in equity crowdfunding have a smaller percentage of equity in their hands and may have raised the crowdfunded money at an unattractive valuation.

At least two of my co-bloggers have written significant articles on crowdfunding (see, e.g., here and here), so perhaps they will weigh in on whether they have seen companies using crowdfunding as a strategy to attract venture capital, whether it is working, and whether the type of crowdfunding really matters.

October 16, 2015 in Business Associations, Crowdfunding, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Venture Capital, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Businesses Buying "Friends"

For many businesses a good online reputation can significantly increase revenue.

Kashmir Hill, who I know from my time in NYC, has done some interesting reporting on businesses buying a good online reputation.

Earlier this week Kashmir posted the results of her undercover investigation into the problem of fake reviews, followers, and friends. When asking questions as a journalist, those selling online reviews insisted they only did real reviews on products they actually tested.

Kashmir then created a make-believe mobile karaoke business, Freakin’ Awesome Karaoke Express (a/k/a F.A.K.E), and found how easy it was to artificially inflate one's online reputation. She writes:

For $5, I could get 200 Facebook fans, or 6,000 Twitter followers, or I could get @SMExpertsBiz to tweet about the truck to the account’s 26,000 Twitter fans. A Lincoln could get me a Facebook review, a Google review, an Amazon review, or, less easily, a Yelp review.

All of this for a fake business that the reviewers had, obviously, never frequented. Some of the purchased fake reviews were surprisingly specific. In a time when many of us rely on online reviews, at least in part, this was a sobering story. It was somewhat encouraging, however, to see Yelp's recent efforts to combat fake reviews, albeit after a 2015 article by professors from Harvard Business School and Boston University showed roughly 16% of the Yelp reviews to be suspicious or fake.

Go read Kashmir's entire article, it will make you even more skeptical of reviews you read online and small businesses with tens of thousands of friends/followers.

September 18, 2015 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Business School Legal Studies Professors on Twitter

Bridget Crawford (Pace Law) has posted an extensive list of law school professors on Twitter that is available here.

Previously, I compiled a list of business law professors, in both business schools and law schools, but to avoid overlapping with Bridget's list, I am only including business school legal studies professors in this updated list.

I will update the list from time to time. 

Perry Binder (Georgia State) – @Perry_Binder

Seletha Butler (Georgia Tech) – @ProfSButler

Kabrina Chang (Boston University) – @ProfessorChang

Peter Conti-Brown (Penn-Wharton) – @PeterContiBrown

Greg Day (Oklahoma State) – @gregrrday

Laura Dove (Troy) – @LauraRDove

Marc Edelman (CUNY-Baruch College) – @MarcEdelman

Jason Gordon (Georgia Gwinnett) – @JMGordonLaw

Nathaniel Grow (Georgia) – @NathanielGrow

Enrique Guerra-Pujol (Central Florida) – @lawscholar

Lori Harris-Ransom (Caldwell) – @HarrisRansom

Laura Pincus Hartman (DePaul) – @LauraHartman

Kathryn Kisska-Schulze (Clemson) - @ KKisska13

Lydie Louis (Miami) – @LydieLouis

Haskell Murray (Belmont) – @HaskellMurray

David Orozco (Florida State) – @ProfessorOrozco

Eric Orts (Penn-Wharton)– @EricOrts

Marisa Pagnattaro (Georgia) – @pagnattaro

Joshua Perry (Indiana) – @ProfJoshPerry

Angie Raymond (Indiana) – @AngRaymond

Susan Samuelson (Boston University) – @bizlawupdate

Tim Samples (Georgia) – @TimRSamples

Inara Scott (Oregon State) – @NewEnergyProf

Mike Schuster (Oklahoma State) – @Patent_Nerd

Adam Sulkowski (UMass-Dartmouth) – @adam_sulkowski

Peter Swire (Georgia Tech) – @peterswire

July 2, 2015 in Business School, Haskell Murray, Service, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 30, 2015

The "Daily Fantasy Sports" Marketplace Is Booming, But Is It Legal?

Over the past few weeks I have posted extensively on how gambling laws treat commercial NCAA Tournament pools.  However, March Madness pools are not the only form of online sports gaming proliferating on the Internet.  Indeed, play-for-cash "daily fantasy sports" contests have recently become big business.  Even the National Basketball Association is now a shareholder in one of these ventures (FanDuel).

With the legal status of "daily fantasy sports" still relatively unsettled, it is my pleasure to announce the online publication of sections 1-4 of my newest law review article "Navigating the Legal Risks of Daily Fantasy Sports: A Detailed Primer in Federal and State Gambling Law."   This article explores the legal status of "daily fantasy sports" in light of both federal and state gambling laws, and explains why the legal status of such contests likely varies based on both contest format and states of operation.

The full version of this article will be published in the January 2016 edition of University of Illinois Law Review.  In the interim, I welcome any thoughts or comments.

March 30, 2015 in Law Reviews, Sports, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Should Law Professors Abstain From Online NCAA Tournament Pools?

This Sunday, the NCAA will announce the 68 basketball teams that are scheduled to participate in this year's men's basketball tournament.  Then, the true "madness" begins.  

At many schools, one or more professors will likely organize an NCAA Tournament pool.  The pool will likely include entry fees and prize money. The pool's rules and standings will often appear on a public website.

All of this may sound like innocuous fun -- especially during the anxiety-ridden days of waiting for ExpressO and Scholastica acceptances to arrive.  However, law professors playing in online, pay-to-enter NCAA Tournament pools technically are acting in violation of several federal laws -- albeit, laws that are rarely enforced,

One federal law that seems to prohibit online, pay-to-enter NCAA Tournament pools is the Interstate Wire Act of 1961.  This act disallows individuals from “engaging in the business of betting or wagering [through the knowing use of] a wire communication for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce.”  According to various recent court decisions, the Wire Act applies to contests hosted via the Internet, as well as those hosted over the phone.  And even though the act was originally passed to crack down on organized crime, even "upstanding" individuals such as law professors, at least in theory, are not immune from prosecution.

A second federal law that seems to prohibit online, pay-to-enter NCAA Tournament pools is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act ("PASPA").  Passed in 1992 at the behest of America’s five premier professional sports leagues (including the NCAA), PAPSA makes it illegal for any private person to operate a wagering scheme based on a competitive game in which “professional or amateur athletes participate."  Of course, PASPA includes a grandfather clause that exempts previously authorized government sponsored sports gambling in four states -- Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana.  But it doesn't include any exception whatsoever for private March Madness pools.

Finally, a third federal law that may disallow online, pay-to-enter NCAA Tournament pools is the Uniform Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.  This act, which was passed most recently in 2006, makes it illegal for those "engaged in the business of betting or wagering" to “knowingly accept” funds in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling.  Although the UIGEA offers a special carve-out provision for “fantasy sports,” this carve-out does not apply to March Madness pools because winning outcomes are based on the final score of actual game results, and not individual player performances

Of course, the likelihood of anyone going to jail for simply participating in an online NCAA Tournament pool may seem next to nil.  But if you are going to play in one of these contests, I have two simple recommendations: (1) let someone else other than you collect the money; and (2) encourage the host to 'grade' the brackets by hand, rather than posting contestant names and picks on an Internet website.

March 12, 2015 in Ethics, Games, Sports, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Entrepreneurship Resources - Startup Stash

Startupstash-icon-90x90

Via an Ethan Mollick (Wharton) tweet, I was recently introduced to Startup Stash.

Startup Stash is a beautifully simple set of curated resources for entrepreneurs. The categories of resources range from Naming to Hosting to Market Research to Marketing to Legal to Human Resources to Finance. And more.

As a law professor, I was obviously most curious about the legal resources. The list has the controversial and well-known Legal Zoom, but also has some relatively unknown resources. For example, UpCounsel ("get high-quality legal services from top business attorneys at reasonable rates") was new to me. You can see the full list of legal resources here.

As previously stated, the Startup Stash list is curated, so there are only 10 legal resources, all of which look interesting, if also potentially dangerous for those without legal training. As I tell my business students, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and consulting with a knowledgeable attorney early in the start-up process can be invaluable. 

February 26, 2015 in Business Associations, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dark Pools

One week after the SEC levied the largest dark pool trading violation fine against USB, a group of nine banks (including Fidelity, JP Morgan, BlackRock, etc.) introduced a new dark pool platform, an independent venture called Luminex Trading & Analytics.  Dark trading pools are linked to the role of high frequency trading and the notion that certain buyers and sellers should not jump the queue and shouldn't be the first to buy or sell in the face of a large order. The financial backers of Luminex were quoted in a Bloomberg article describing it as a platform "where the original purpose of dark pools, letting investors buy and sell shares without showing their hand to others, will go on without interference."

The announcement raises public scrutiny about dark pools, but among financial circles (like those at ZeroHedge, it is being touted as a smart self-regulatory move by the major mutual funds to prevent the money leach to HFT's, which some seeing as the beginning of the end for HFTs. 

If you are looking for more resources on dark pools and HFTs-- there are two brand new SSRN postings on the subject:

-Anne Tucker

January 21, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Financial Markets, Securities Regulation, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 2, 2015

E-mail Fasts

One of my new year's resolutions for 2015 is to fast from e-mail every Saturday. Now that I have posted this, my co-bloggers and readers can keep me accountable. Currently, I probably check my e-mail 20+ times a day, every day -- a habit formed during law firm life.  

I thought about fasting from the internet/electronics entirely on Saturdays, and I am still going to try to avoid the internet/electronics on Saturdays as much as possible, but I wanted to set a realistic goal. 

An acquaintance of mine in New York City, Paul Miller, went without the internet for an entire year (with less promising results than he had hoped). While I remember a time before the internet -- and a time when the internet was so slow it was almost useless -- it is hard for me to imagine going without the internet for a week, much less for a year.  That said, I think it healthy to loosen the electronic leash a bit every once in a while.  

I'd also like to cut back the number of times I check e-mail and the amount of time I spend responding to e-mails in general. If any readers, have suggestions on the appropriate amount of time on e-mail (for a professor), I would be interested. Obviously, it may vary a bit from week to week, but I am thinking about moving to checking e-mail twice a day during the week for 15 minutes each. I think this will allow me to continue being "responsive" to students and colleagues,  but will also free up a great deal of time. Most of the longer e-mails I write could probably be much shorter or would be better as conference calls or in-person meetings. 

What are your 2015 resolutions, or are you among the roughly 55% who do not set new year's resolutions?

Sadly, according to one study, only about 8% of people keep their new year's resolutions. For those of you who have set new year's resolutions, here is Professor Cass Sunstein with advice for keeping resolutions. Also, StickK.com (co-created by Yale University economics professor Dean Karlan) is a website where you can create commitment contracts, appoint a referee, and set the stakes for achieving or failing to reach your goals.    

January 2, 2015 in Business School, Haskell Murray, Law School, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Law Firm Alumni Networks

Over the past few months, I have received a number of e-mails from the alumni associations of each of my two former law firms.  

In theory, I think these alumni networks are good ideas. They could help us keep in touch and could introduce us to people with common ties to those law firms. They could also help the law firms maintain ties with alums who could become clients.  

In practice, however, I rarely use any of the alumni services offered.

One of the main reasons is that my former firms do not have offices where I currently live (in Nashville) and they rarely, if ever, have events here.  If I still lived in Atlanta or New York City, I would probably attend some of the offered alumni CLE events, but I am probably never going to travel for them. 

As to the online alumni networks on the law firms' websites, I think the contact information for alums probably stays relatively out of date (as people choose to update their information on major social networks, but may forget about the ones at the law firms).  LinkedIn law firm alumni groups are probably the most useful thing that the law firms do, but I find the content posted there is generally not that helpful and can be dominated by some desperate group member salesperson.  (I also think LinkedIn is the least user friendly of the major social networks, but that is a topic for another post). 

What law firm alumni network efforts have you seen be successful? Are they worth the effort that major law firms seem to be putting into them?

December 26, 2014 in Haskell Murray, Jobs, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (2)