Think Twice Before Giving Crowdfunding Investors Voting Rights

I attend church and think of myself as a kind person, yet I discourage issuers from giving investors voting rights. Here are a few reasons:

  • Lack of Ability:  Even if they go to church and are kind people, investors know absolutely nothing about running your business. If you assembled 20 representatives in a room and talked about running your business, you would (1) be amazed, and (2) understand why DAOs are such a bad idea.
  • Lack of Interest:  Investors invest because they want to make money and/or believe in you and your vision. They aren’t investing because they want to help run your business.
  • Irrelevant Motives:  Investors will have motives that have nothing to do with your business. For example, an investor who is very old or very ill might want to postpone a sale of the business to avoid paying tax on the appreciation.
  • Bad Motives:  Investors can even have bad motives. An unhappy investor might consciously try to harm your business or, God forbid, a competitor might accumulate shares in your company.
  • Lack of Information:  Investors will never have as much information about your business as you have. Even if they go to church, are kind to animals, and have your best interests at heart, they are unable to make the same good decisions you would.
  • Drain on Resources:  If you allow investors to vote you’ll have to spend lots of time educating them and trying to convince them to do what you think is best. Any time you spend educating investors is time you’re not spending managing your business.
  • Logistics:  Even in the digital age it’s a pain tabulating votes from thousands of people.
  • Mistakes:  When investors have voting rights you have to follow certain formalities. If you forget to follow them you’re cleaning up a mess.

I anticipate two objections:

  • First Objection:  VCs and other investors writing big checks get voting rights, so why shouldn’t Crowdfunding investors?
  • Second Objection:  Even if they don’t help run the business on a day-to-day basis, shouldn’t investors have the right to vote on big things like mergers or issuing new shares?

As to the first objection, the answer is not that Crowdfunding investors should get voting rights but that VCs and other large investors shouldn’t. The only reason we give large investors voting rights is they ask for them, and our system is called “capitalism.”

Before the International Venture Capital Association withdraws its invitation for next year’s keynote, I’m not saying VCs and other large investors don’t bring anything but money to the table. They can bring broad business experience and, perhaps most important, valuable connections. A non-voting Board of Advisors makes a lot of sense.

The second objection is a closer call. On balance, however, I think that for most companies most of the time it will be better for everyone if the founder retains flexibility.

To resolve disputes between the owners of a closely-held business we typically provide that one owner can buy the others out or even force a sale of the company. Likewise, while we don’t give Crowdfunding investors voting rights we should try to give them liquidity in one form or another, at least the right to sell their shares to someone else.

Give investors a good economic deal. Give them something to believe in. But don’t give them voting rights.

Questions? Let me know.

How to Present Investor Disclosures in Crowdfunding Offerings (And How Not To)

Title II Crowdfunding is often referred to, more or less accurately, as “online private placements.” It’s time the industry turned the online, digital, aspect of the offerings more to its advantage.

Remember when newspapers first came online? Remember how interesting they were visually? I’m being sarcastic. They were nothing more than photographs of the paper version, failing to take advantage of the digital platform and its unique capabilities.

Too many (not all) Crowdfunding portals take the same approach to providing investor disclosures. You click through the process and suddenly see an enormous PDF document that is nothing more or less than a paper private placement memorandum, complete with Schedules and Exhibits. You’reOnline document supposed to scroll down and “sign” at the bottom. On some platforms the investor actually has to click I’m Ready to Invest before he sees the disclosures!

There are at least three things wrong with this approach:

• Investors can’t be happy with it.

• It doesn’t convey information effectively.

• The disclosure might be legally ineffective. I think about a plaintiff’s lawyer cross-examining the portal operator, pointing to a disclosure on page 67 and asking “Did you really expect my client to read all that at the end of the click-through process?”

It doesn’t have to be that way! There are much better ways to provide information online. Take a look at today’s online version of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal to see how far we’ve come.

Crowdfunding portals can do the same thing. The first step is to move the mental image of that paper PPM into Trash or the Recycle Bin (depending on whether you’re Mac or PC) and start from scratch. What are we trying to accomplish here? What are the tools at our disposal? Pose that question to some creative people and you’ll get a whole range of possibilities, all of them better for investor, sponsor, and portal.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.