AUSTIN ROUNDUP

Austin cityscapeHats off to the folks at Coastal Shows for making the Austin event – officially the CFGE Crowdfund Real Estate Summit – the best Crowdfunding event ever.

The event featured the leading players in the industry:

Title III of the JOBS Act may be flawed, and the final rules for Regulation A+ may be long overdue, but the speakers and panelists agree that Crowdfunding is here to stay, with Title II leading the way. Two days before the conference began, Fundrise raised $31 million of capital in a Series A round of financing. That served as a very useful background, illuminating the potential of a market that promises to transform the U.S. capital formation industry.

Over coffee during the day and beer in the evening, I spoke with dozens of real estate developers and entrepreneurs. Their message came through loud and clear: We’re tired of dealing exclusively with our traditional sources of capital and are eager to raise money through Crowdfunding channels.

Developers are eager for new sources of capital, and individual investors are eager to participate in a market that, until now, has been reserved for institutions and the very wealthy. That’s Crowdfunding, in a nutshell.

What happens in Vegas might stay in Vegas, but what happened in Austin is going to spread across the country. Thanks for a great event, Coastal Shows.

A SOLUTION FOR TITLE III?

Lots of smart people attended the CFGE Crowdfund Real Estate Summit in Austin last week. On Thursday, there was a wonderful and heated discussion about Title III of the JOBS Act.

Some thought that regular, non-accredited investors should be allowed to invest in whatever they want, whenever they want, without the protection of the government. Some of the more opinionated think that the word “protection” in the preceding sentence should be in quotation marks, or even preceded by the phrase “so-called.”

Title III tries to balance two competing interests: on one hand, giving ordinary people the chance to invest in private deals; and on the other hand trying to protect ordinary people from the risks inherent in private deals.

It does so using the tools of traditional securities laws – namely, disclosure, transparency, reporting, and regulation. These were the tools introduced back in the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression. The Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 cleaned up the cesspool that Wall Street and become, and that approach has served the country extremely well over the last 80 years.

But we’re finding that it doesn’t quite work in Title III. Those traditional tools, which have worked so well for so long, are too expensive, so expensive that they defeat the purpose of the JOBS Act. Specifically, the traditional tools make capital so expensive that entrepreneurs can’t afford it.

Over lunch I thought of a different approach, one that is more attuned to the times.

Suppose a deal sponsor is raising capital for Project X. I propose that regular, non-accredited investors should be allowed to invest under the following conditions:

  • Accredited investors unrelated to the sponsor invest at least 25% of the capital for the project.
  • Each non-accredited investor is limited to 10% of income or net worth.

That’s it. No cumbersome reporting or regulation.

Why does this work? The whole point of Title II is that accredited investors are smart and sophisticated enough to protect themselves. If accredited investors are taking 25% of the deal, it means that smart, sophisticated investors have decided that it’s an investable deal. Or to put it in modern terms, the Crowd, through accredited investors, have validated the deal. And by limiting the amount of the investment to 10% – borrowing a rule from proposed Regulation A+ – we ensure that regular investors don’t over-invest.

This is a modern solution to a modern problem. It balances investor participation with investor protection through a mechanism that relies on the Crowd, not the government.

I’m interested to hear what others think.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

 

 

PPM OR NO PPM: THAT IS THE QUESTION

Crowdfunding Image - XXXL - iStock_000037694192XXXLargeSome Title II Crowdfunding portals use a full-blown Private Placement Memorandum for each offering, while others do not. What’s the deal?

For readers unfamiliar with the term, a Private Placement Memorandum, or PPM, is usually a long document, often half an inch thick or more printed, that is given to prospective investors and used partly to describe the deal but mostly to explain the risks.

The PPM finds its origins in the lengthy prospectus required of companies selling securities to the public in a registered offering. Following suit, Rule 502(b)(2) of Regulation D requires an issuer to provide specified information to prospective investors in some offerings and in some situations – for example, where securities are offered to non-accredited investors in an offering under Rule 506(b).

But where securities are sold only to accredited investors under Rule 506(b) or 506(c), the issuer is not required to provide the information described in Rule 506(b)2) – or any other information, for that matter. The idea is that accredited investors are smart enough to ask for the important information and otherwise watch out for themselves.

Companies like Fundrise that offer securities under Regulation A or Regulation A+ are required to provide specific information to investors. But Crowdfunding under Title II of the JOBS Act involves selling only to accredited investors in transaction described in Rule 506. Therefore, the law leaves to the issuer and the portal what information to provide and in what form.

For them, what are the pros and cons of a full-blown PPM?

The cons are obvious. Nobody but a lawyer could love a PPM. A full-blown PPM is bulky and unattractive, repetitive and filled with legalese. Ostensibly written to provide information to prospective investors, PPMs have, through time and custom, become so daunting that prospective investors rarely even read them. From a business perspective, a PPM creates friction in the transaction.

However, the pros are also obvious. Although Regulation D does not require an issuer or portal to provide any information, an issuer that fails to provide information, or provides incomplete or inaccurate information, may be liable to disgruntled investors under 17 CFR 240.10b-5, the general anti-fraud rule of Federal securities law, or various state statutory and common law rules.

That’s why the PPM exists: to provide so much information to prospective investors (albeit in an unreadable format), and to describe the risks of the investment in such repetitive detail, that no investor can claim after the fact “I didn’t know.”

The question is whether the issuer and the portal can get the same benefit without all the disadvantages. And the answer, in my opinion, is a resounding Yes!

In fact, the trend in private placements over the last two decades has been away from the full-blown PPM and toward a simpler disclosure document. I have been representing issuers in private placements of securities for more than 25 years and never prepare a PPM except where required by law (e.g., with non-accredited investors). None of the issuers I have represented during those 25+ years has been sued for securities law violations – much less successfully – and in my anecdotal experience, claims arising from alleged failures to disclose material information rarely if ever hinge on the presence or absence of a full-blown PPM.

Not only are portals not required to provide a full-blown PPM, in my opinion the question presents portals with a great business opportunity. Given that information must be provided, the manner in which it is provided, in what format, with what visual effects, how clearly and with what explanation, could well distinguish a portal in the minds of prospective investors. With the technology inherent in the platform, not to mention the creative minds in the industry, I expect that the manner of providing information will become one of the key ways that individual Title II portals distinguish themselves from one another and that the Crowdfunding industry in general improves the process of capital formation. Someday we will look back on the thick PPM and ask “Can you believe we once did it that way?”

A portal that gets it right – and there will be more than one way to get it right – will also create some protectable intellectual property interests and the accompanying breathing space vis-à-vis its competitors and additional valuation on exit.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

 

MARC ANDREESSEN ON THE FUTURE OF TITLE II CROWDFUNDING PORTALS (SORT OF)

On the Technology page of yesterday’s New York Times, Nick Bilton reports on an interview with famed tech guru Marc Andreessen.

Mr. Bilton asks Mr. Andreesen, can other cities compete with Silicon Valley?

“In Mr. Andreessen’s view, there shouldn’t be 50 Silicon Valleys. Instead, there should be 50 different kinds of Silicon Valley. For example, there could be Biotech Valley, a Stem Cell Valley, a   3-D Printing Valley or a Drone Valley.”

A different “Valley,” each specializing in a different vertical, with its own ecosystem of entrepreneurs, favorite tweetinvestors, and experts. I believe Title II Crowdfunding portals, now in their infancy, will develop in exactly the same way.

Carve out a niche vertical. Attract investors looking to place bets on the top companies in that vertical. Find the companies. Create the ecosystem.

Mr. Andreessen was talking about real cities, not virtual cities. But in my opinion the point is exactly the same.

 

CROWDFUNDING AND THE LIFE SCIENCES: AN EVENING WITH THE EXPERTS

Last night I had the honor of moderating an all-star panel hosted by Pharmaceutical Consulting Consortium International (PCCI) in Philadelphia, focused on Crowdfunding in the life science space.

Our panelists:

  • Don Skerrett, the President of PCCI and a serial entrepreneur, who spoke from the perspective of an early-stage life science CEO
  • Barbara Schilberg, an experienced life science investor, the CEO of BioAdvance, a leading life science fund that has invested in almost 60 companies – leading to $1.7 billion of additional financing – and a senior executive in four active life science businesses
  • Darrick Mix, a shareholder at Duane Morris and an expert in Federal and State securities laws
  • Samuel Wertheimer, the Chief Investment Officer at Poliwogg, a Title II portal devoted to the health care industry and one of the most exciting and innovative portals of any kind in the world

Among the issues discussed:

  • The advantages and disadvantages of Crowdfunding from the perspective of a life science company
  • The nuts-and-bolts mechanics of Crowdfunding
  • The role of portals
  • The due diligence process for life science companies
  • The legal liability of life science companies and portals
  • The effect of Crowdfunding on the life science market specifically and the capital formation industry generally

The panel agreed that while Crowdfunding in the real estate market is very active, with more than 100 real estate portals already in operation, Crowdfunding in the life science market is at a very early stage. How the market will develop, how much capital it will provide to life science companies, how existing capital sources like BioAdvance will coordinate with new capital sources like Poliwogg, whether the life science market will divide into sectors as the real estate market is doing – these questions are all unanswered. But the panel also agreed that Crowdfunding holds great opportunities for the life science sector even if the details have yet to be worked out.

Thanks to those who attended, to PCCI for making the event possible, and especially to our excellent panelists for making the event so informative and worthwhile.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

SEC RULES 506(B) AND 506(C): CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION

Some Crowdfunding portals offer Rules 506(b) transactions in addition to, and sometimes even in lieu crowd funding word cloudof, Rule 506(c) transactions. Let’s clear up the confusion.

In the beginning. . . .

Long before the JOBS Act, section 4(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 provided that an issuer of securities did not have to go through the time and expense of a registered public offering in a transaction “not involving any public offering.” Recognizing the putting-the-rabbit-in-the-hat nature of that language and wishing to provide more clarity to the public, the SEC issued Regulation D in 1982, which provides a series of Rules guiding issuers through the shoals of private – as opposed to public – offerings.

One of the Rules in Regulation D, Rule 506(b), describes a kind of private offering that has been the favorite of issuers and their lawyers for many years:

  • An unlimited amount of money raised
  • An unlimited number of accredited investors plus 35 non-accredited investors
  • Exemption from state Blue Sky registration

Rule 506(b) provides great flexibility to issuers. However, consistent with the distinction inherent in Regulation D between private and public offerings, Rule 506(b) prohibited the use of “general solicitation and advertising” to find investors. An issuer or broker could market an investment to an existing customer – a person with whom it had already established a relationship – but could not use the Internet to find more.

2013 No-Action Letters

In the beginning of 2013, the SEC issued no-action letters to FundersClub and AngelList under Rule 506(b). These no-action letter provided that if an online portal merely “registered” a user with a name and email address, the portal could immediately show investments to the user. To many familiar with the history of Rule 506(b) that sounded a lot like general solicitation and advertising, but the SEC concluded that it was not.

With the two no-action letters, the SEC effectively launched the Crowdfunding industry even before the JOBS Act officially came into effect.

The JOBS Act

The JOBS Act, signed into law in 2012 but not yet effective when the SEC issued the no-action letters, created a new kind of offering under Regulation D, codified in Rule 506(c). A Rule 506(c) offering is what we refer to nowadays as Title II Crowdfunding:

  • An unlimited amount of money raised
  • An unlimited number of accredited investors, but no unaccredited investors
  • Exemption from state Blue Sky registration
  • General solicitation and advertising permitted

If Rule 506(c) sounds a lot like Rule 506(b), that’s because it is. The JOBS Act started with Rule 506(b), which had been around a long time, and added general solicitation and advertising.

Why Both?

Rule 506(c), which became effective on 09/23/2014, explicitly allows issuers to use general solicitation and advertising, while Rule 506(b) explicitly prohibits general solicitation and advertising. Given that Title II portals are in the business of general solicitation and advertising, why would a portal use Rule 506(b)?

There are a few reasons.

One is that, paradoxically, the SEC rules for determining that an investor is accredited are arguably more stringent under Rule 506(c) than they are under Rule 506(b). Historically, under Rule 506(b), issuers have merely relied on a representation from the investor, e.g., “I promise I am accredited.” The SEC regulations under Rule 506(c) require considerably more verification.

Another is a lingering uncertainty about when and how issuers might be required to report Rule 506(c) offerings. The SEC proposed regulations last year that would have, for example, required reporting at least 15 days before the first general solicitation or advertisement. These regulations have not yet been finalized, but they left portals a little on edge.

More broadly, with the two no-action letters in hand, portals may feel they have a clear road map to legal Rule 506(b) offerings, while they remain hesitant about Rule 506(c) pending more advice from the SEC. My own view is that portals are probably more comfortable with the no-action letters than they should be, but that is a story for another day.

The Future

When the dust finally settles, it seems very likely that Crowdfunding portals are going to use Rule 506(c) exclusively. Until then we will have a mix and maybe just a little confusion.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

 

 

 

 

LEGAL FOCUS ON CROWDFUNDING

Lawyer Monthly magazine has been following Crowdfunding developments, along with the
business community and media. The attached interview highlights a couple of hot button points, including the benefits and common legal implications of Crowdfunding. Click here to read more.

legal focus on crowdfunding

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

CROWDFUNDING THROUGH FUNDING PORTALS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

TKCI have been asked by The Knowledge Congress to speak at the Crowdfunding Through Funding Portals: What You Need to Know Live Webcast.

The live webcast will take place on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 from 12:00 – 2:00 PM EST and has been approved for CLE credits. For more information, or to register, click here.

For more information on Crowdfunding, including news, updates and links to important information pertaining to the JOBS Act and how Crowdfunding may affect your business, check back here, or follow me on twitter @CrowdfundAttny.

BEWARE OF FRAUD IN THE CROWDFUNDING MARKET

John Mattera offered a great deal to his investors. Through special-purpose investment vehicles, investors could buy shares in well-known companies like Facebook and Groupon, which were then privately-owned. When the companies went public, investors would reap millions.

Mattera raised more than $13 million from more than 140 investors, some of whom invested their life savings.

The only problem was that Mattera didn’t use the money to buy shares in Facebook or Groupon. Instead, he used the money for the normal trappings of ill-gotten wealth, including a waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale, two Rolls-Royces, and a Lamborghini, according to the government.

Mattera was caught and sentenced to 11 years in prison. But his investors aren’t getting their money back.

Bernie Madoff, John Mattera. . . .there is no shortage of people trying to steal your money through investment scams. Why are thieves attracted to the securities industry? As “Slick Willie” Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, “Because that’s where the money is.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re smart, sophisticated, and have seen it all. Mattera’s investors thought they had seen it all, too.

Be careful out there.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

Proposed Title III Crowdfunding Regulations: Better Late than Never

On October 23, 2013 the SEC proposed regulations to implement Title III Crowdfunding.

There are two extremely important things about the proposed regulations:

  • That they were issued. After a 90 day public comment period, it seems likely that Title III Crowdfunding will finally come into effect in the first quarter of 2014.
  • That they run to almost 600 pages. Given the complexity, there is some question whether, in the end, a company trying to raise money will find Title III Crowdfunding worthwhile.

Recall that the JOBS Act provides for two kinds of Crowdfunding:

  • Title II Crowdfunding allows companies to raise an unlimited amount of money from an unlimited number of accredited investors using general soliciting and advertising. That kind of Crowdfunding came into effect on September 23, 2013 and is now in full swing.
  • Title III Crowdfunding is a different animal. It allows companies to:
    • Raise up to $1 million per year;
    • On an SEC-registered internet portal;
    • From a unlimited number of investors who do not have to be accredited;
    • But with strict limits on the amount each investor can invest.

For a detailed outline of the Title III statute itself, click here.

Despite their length, the proposed regulations do not add much to the statute. There are just a few points worth noting for a company looking to raise money:

  • The company can use only one portal at a time.
  • The company must file information via EDGAR, the SEC’s electronic database.
  • The $1 million-per-year limit applies only to money raised in Title III offerings. Thus, a company could raise $3 million in a traditional private placement (or a Title II offering) while still raising $1 million in a Title III offering.
  • Investors can change their minds up to 48 hours before the investment deadline, in all circumstances, and must also be given the right to terminate in the event of a material change in the investment opportunity.
  • The company must disclose not only its own prior offerings, but the prior offerings in which its directors and other principals were involved.
  • The SEC has created a new Form C to report Title III offerings.
  • The company may advertise, but only to direct potential investors to the portal’s website. The company may not use general solicitation and advertising, as it can in a Title II offering.
  • “Bad actors” are excluded from Title III Crowdfunding, as they are from Title II Crowdfunding.

The proposed regulations are even more important for portals, or would-be portals. The portal is designated as the virtual policeman for ensuring compliance with the law. For example, the proposed regulations provide that the portal must have a reasonable basis for believing that company is complying with the law, and must deny access to the issuer under certain circumstances. In effect, the portal is required to act as an arm of the SEC itself.

Just as a company trying to raise money might decide that Title III is too onerous, an entrepreneur thinking about forming a Title III portal might decide that the fruit are a little too high and a little too green.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.