A Legal Structure for Crowdfunding

It’s official:  Crowdfunding is now in effect and thousands of companies are about to start raising money under the new SEC regulations. If each company offers different deal terms for investors, it’s going to be that much more difficult for investors to make apples-to-apples investment decisions.

Meanwhile, some in the investment community are still concerned that a company raising money through Crowdfunding will be hobbled in raising more money afterward, e.g., from angel groups or venture capital funds.

The sooner the market adopts a standard investment structure, the better for all.

Here is a legal structure that would standardize the Crowdfunding market, satisfy SEC regulations, and ensure that the Crowdfunding round of financing does not preclude later rounds:

  • New Entity:  Form a new entity for the Crowdfunding investors. We’ll call this entity InvestCo, and we’ll call the operating company itself MyCo. InvestCo will be one owner of MyCo, no matter how many investors buy stock in InvestCo.
  • Structure of InvestCo:  InvestCo will be either a limited liability company or a C corporation, based on tax and state-law considerations. InvestCo will be controlled by the same individuals who control MyCo.
  • Percentage Ownership:  Each investor will own a pro rata share of InvestCo based on his or her investment. InvestCo, in turn, will own a percentage of MyCo stipulated by MyCo in the offering materials, based on the amount of money raised and the value of MyCo. Here is a post with suggestions on establishing this ownership percentage.
  • Voting Rights of Investors:  Investors will not be entitled to vote in InvestCo, and InvestCo will not be entitled to vote in MyCo. That is, the investors in a Crowdfunded offering will have no voting rights, except the right to appoint one member to the Board of Directors of MyCo.
  • Preference on Sale or Liquidation:  If MyCo is sold or liquidated, InvestCo will be entitled to receive a return of its investment before any distributions are made to the other owners of MyCo as they exist today. If MyCo raises more money in the future, the rights of InvestCo could be subordinated to the rights of the new investors.
  • Dividend Right:  InvestCo’s stock in MyCo will bear a dividend rate of 5%.
  • Tag-Along Rights: If the founder of MyCo sells some of his or her stock, InvestCo will have the right to participate in the sale.
  • Anti-Dilution Rights:  InvestCo will be entitled to “weighted average” anti-dilution protection.
  • Right to Information:  Investors will have the right to basic information from MyCo, such as annual financial statements. Of course, state law may give them (and any other owners) the right to additional information.

This structure should be acceptable to all of the constituents of the Crowdfunding market:  the entrepreneurs who started MyCo; the broad investing public that will make Crowdfunding a success; the angel groups that help so many startups succeed and currently anchor the early-stage market; and the venture capital funds that provide additional funds for companies that need and deserve them.

Questions? Let me know.

“General Solicitation” With Accredited Investors: Another Kind of Crowdfunding

In President Obama’s JOBS Act, Crowdfunding means a very specific thing:  raising money from lots of investors through a registered broker-dealer or a “portal.” That kind of Crowdfunding won’t come into effect until January 1, 2013 or such later time as the SEC issues regulations. 

But the JOBS Act made another important change to the way companies can raise money from investors, and in the scheme of things this change might turn out to be even more important.

Background:  When a company raises money from investors it becomes subject to the securities laws, administered by the SEC. Big companies like Facebook are required to go through a long and expensive process of registering their stock with the government, but long ago the SEC adopted a much simpler set of rules for smaller companies, often referred to as Regulation D, or Reg D for short. Reg D provides for three main varieties of raising money legally:  a Rule 504 offering, a Rule 505 offering, and a Rule 506 offering.

Of these the Rule 506 offering is the simplest and most streamlined, in part because it allows the company to avoid state “blue sky” laws. Until now, however, Rule 506 has comes with one key limitation:  the company seeking to raise money could not engage in “general solicitation.” That means the company could look for investors through word of mouth, or from friends and family, or by using brokers, but it could not run a television advertisement or ask for money on the internet.

The JOBS Act changes that rule. As long as a company is willing to limit its investor pool to accredited investors – generally meaning institutional investors or investors with high incomes or high net worth – it may conduct a Rule 506 offering using general solicitation, and thereby reach a much larger audience than it could before.

By definition, accredited investors have more money than non-accredited investors. By definition, startup companies (and other companies) are looking for investors with money. It stands to reason that the market for “crowdfunded Rule 506 offerings” could become much larger than the market for Crowdfunding itself. In a true Crowdfunding offering, for example, the company can raise no more than $1 million and will likely end up dealing with many, many investors. In a crowdfunded Rule 506 offering, on the other hand, a company could raise $10 million from one investor that it found through the internet.

The SEC was required to issue regulations about “general solicitation” within 90 days after enactment of the JOBS Act. The regulations have been delayed, but probably not for too much longer. Within the next month or so we expect the ban on general solicitation to be lifted, allowing at least one form of “crowdfunding” to spring to life.