audience asking questions by raising hands

The Series LLC And Crowdfunding Vehicle: A Legal Explanation And A Funding Portal WSP

Lots of people have asked for a legal explanation in response to my previous post about crowdfunding vehicles and the series LLC. Plus, many funding portals will want a Written Supervisory Procedure (WSP) addressing the issue.

Here’s the legal reason why a “series” of a limited liability company can’t serve as a crowdfunding vehicle.

Rule 3a-9(b)(1) (17 CFR §270.3a-9(b)(2)) defines “crowdfunding vehicle” as follows:

Crowdfunding vehicle means an issuer formed by or on behalf of a crowdfunding issuer for the purpose of conducting an offering under section 4(a)(6) of the Securities Act as a co-issuer with the crowdfunding issuer, which offering is controlled by the crowdfunding issuer.

You see the reference to the crowdfunding vehicle as an “issuer” and a “co-issuer.”

Now here’s a C&DI (Compliance & Disclosure Interpretation) issued by the SEC in 2009:

Question 104.01

Question: When a statutory trust registers the offer and sale of beneficial units in multiple series, or a limited partnership registers the offer and sale of limited partnership interests in multiple series, on a single registration statement, should each series be treated as a separate registrant?

Answer: No. Even though a series of beneficial units or limited partnership interests may represent interests in a separate or discrete set of assets – and not in the statutory trust or limited partnership as a whole – unless the series is a separate legal entity, it cannot be a co-registrant for Securities Act or Exchange Act purposes.

Note the conclusion:  “. . . .unless the series is a separate legal entity, it cannot be a co-registrant for Securities Act or Exchange Act purposes.”

A “series” of a limited liability company is not a separate legal entity. Under section 218 of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act and corresponding provisions of the LLC laws of other states, if you keep accurate records then the assets of one series aren’t subject to the liabilities of another series. That makes a series like a separate entity, at least in one respect, but it doesn’t make the series a separate legal entity. A motorcycle is like a car in some respects but it’s not a car.

That’s the beginning and end of the story:  a crowdfunding vehicle must be an “issuer”; a series of a limited liability company can’t be an “issuer” because it’s not a separate legal entity; therefore a series of a limited liability company can’t be a crowdfunding vehicle.

Maybe someone will challenge the application of the C&DI in court. Until that happens the result is pretty clear.

A couple more things.

First, this same C&DI is the basis of many successful offerings under Regulation A. Suppose, for example, that you’d like to use Regulation A to raise money for real estate projects (or racehorses, or vintage cars, or anything else), but you don’t want to spend the time and money to conduct a Regulation A offering for each project. This same C&DI allows sponsors to treat the “parent” limited liability company as the only “issuer” in the Regulation A offering even while allowing investors to choose which project they’d like to invest in and segregating the projects in separate “series” for liability purposes. If each series were a separate issuer that wouldn’t work.

Second, suppose a funding portal creates a new series for each offering and has conducted 25 offerings (that is, 25 series for 25 crowdfunding vehicles), each with a different type of security (one for each offering). Because we know that only the “parent” can be an issuer:

  • They’ve violated Rule 3a-9(a)(3) because the parent has issued more than one class of securities; and
  • They’ve violated Rule 3a-9(a)(6) because there is no one-to-one correspondence between the securities of the parent and the securities of the crowdfunding issuer.

To quote Simon & Garfunkel, any way you look at this you lose.

If you’re a funding portal, you’ll probably be asked by FINRA to add a WSP dealing with crowdfunding vehicles. Here’s an example.

Questions? Let me know

Don't Use Lead Investors and Proxies in Crowdfunding Vehicles

Don’t Use Lead Investors And Proxies In Crowdfunding Vehicles

Some high-volume portals use a crowdfunding vehicle for every offering, and in each crowdfunding vehicle have a “lead investor” with a proxy to vote on behalf of everyone else. This is a very bad idea.

Lead investors are a transplant from the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Having proven herself through  successful investments, Jasmine attracts a following of other investors. Where she leads they follow, and founders therefore try to get her on board first, often with a promise of compensation in the form of a carried interest.

A lead investor makes sense in the close-knit Silicon Valley ecosystem, where everyone knows and follows everyone else. But like other Silicon Valley concepts, lead investors don’t transplant well to Reg CF – like transplanting an orange tree from Florida to Buffalo.

For one thing, Reg CF today is about raising money from lots of people who don’t know one another and very likely are making their first investment in a private company. Nobody is “leading” anyone else.

But even more important, giving anyone, lead investor or otherwise, the right to vote on behalf of all Reg CF investors (a proxy) might violate the law. 

A crowdfunding vehicle isn’t just any old SPV. It’s a very special kind of entity, created and by governed by 17 CFR § 270.3a-9. Among other things, a crowdfunding vehicle must:

Seek instructions from the holders of its securities with regard to:

  • The voting of the crowdfunding issuer securities it holds and votes the crowdfunding issuer securities only in accordance with such instructions; and
  • Participating in tender or exchange offers or similar transactions conducted by the crowdfunding issuer and participates in such transactions only in accordance with such instructions.

So let’s think of two scenarios.

In one scenario, the crowdfunding vehicle holds 100 shares of the underlying issuer. There are 100 investors in the crowdfunding vehicle, each owning one of its shares. A question comes up calling for a vote. Seventy investors vote Yes and 30 vote No. The crowdfunding vehicle votes 70 of its shares Yes and 30 No.

Same facts in the second scenario except the issuer has appointed Jasmine as the lead investor of the crowdfunding vehicle, with a proxy to vote for all the investors. The vote comes up, Jasmine doesn’t consult with the investors and votes all 100 shares No.

The first scenario clearly complies with Rule 3a-9. Does the second?

To appreciate the stakes, suppose the deal goes south and an unhappy investor sues the issuer and its founder, Jared. The investor claims that because the crowdfunding vehicle didn’t “seek instructions from the holders of its securities,” it wasn’t a valid crowdfunding vehicle, but an ordinary investment company, ineligible to use Reg CF. If that’s true, Jared is personally liable to return all funds to investors.

Jared argues that because Jasmine held a proxy from investors, asking Jasmine was the same as seeking instructions from investors. He argues that even without a crowdfunding vehicle – if everyone had invested directly – Jasmine could have held a proxy from the other Reg CF investors and nobody would have blinked an eye.

When the SEC issues a C&DI or a no-action letter approving that structure, terrific. Until then I’d recommend caution.

Questions? Let me know