Category Archives: Startups

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is about to be approved by Congress and signed into law by the President. For those unfamiliar with the concept, you can read Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdfunding) or simply put it is raising money for startups, typically via the Internet, in small chunks from people who may never meet with or diligence the company. Crowdfunding has been used in some non-profits for years and has been successful in Europe for the last two or so years as well.

Most existing investors in this early-stage asset class hear of crowd funding and have the immediate reaction: “Won’t this lead to massive fraud?” Today, investments in unregistered securities require that all investors be “accredited” so that they are assumed to understand the risks in these investments and ensure that sophisticated investors carefully vet deals to ensure that there isn’t fraud.

But, times change. Some VCs and Angels have become fabulously wealthy and famous by investing in early-stage companies, and the media has made a big deal about this. Think Google, Facebook, and even Microsoft. And, in our current economic malaise, creating high-growth, innovative startups is seen as a way out of the mess. But many innovative startups fail in trying to raise money. Angels do their part (see many of my previous posts). But many believe that the need is greater than sophisticated (“accredited”) Angels can finance.

So.. the idea of Crowdfunding has gained great momentum. The current vehicle, H.R. 2930, the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act, as amended and approved by the House Financial Services Committee on October 26, 2011, (see http://financialservices.house.gov/UploadedFiles/hr2930ai.pdf for the original). The amendments are important, since they lower the size of the amount raised. While the situation is still fluid (the House reportedly just passed its bill and the Senate is in draft), it appears that there will be a $1M annual cap on raising money through Crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is exempt from current broker-dealer rules. Other issues, like how companies handle scores or hundreds of investors or allowable fees that Crowdfunding platforms can charge, remain up in the air.

I have heard rumors about this being done in Europe for the last several years, but cannot substantiate that startup companies have been funded this way. Wikipedia reports that “One of the pioneers of crowd funding in the music industry have been the British rock group Marillion. In 1997 American fans underwrote an entire U.S. tour
to the tune of $60,000, with donations following an internet campaign…” And movies have been known to use Crowdfunding. Any readers with more data?

This is a brave new path for the US. While many (myself included) think that our current SEC regulations that limit investments in startups to “accredited investors” are too narrow and should allow other knowledgeable investors to participate, there is established law and precedent for the investment market. I worry that we might be opening Pandora’s box. Many startups fail and investors that are not willing or able to do due diligence should not be investing in them. It is one thing for sophisticated, accredited investors, like me, to invest in a company and loose their investment. We understand the risk going in. We did our due diligence on the management team, the market, and the technology and reached a positive conclusion. It is quite another thing for someone to “advertise” a deal to the Crowd and have people send them money based solely on the company’s information without any substantiation.

I believe that broadening the participation in the early-stage asset class is a good idea and Crowdfunding is one way to achieve this. I just don’t want some bad actors who use the Crowdfunding mechanism for fraudulent transactions to poison the entire asset class. I think it would behoove both the entrepreneurs that raise money with Crowdfunding and the investment community to find a way to have a trusted platform that verifies that the company is who they say they are and that some investment professional has done due diligence appropriate to the investment.

I also worry that Crowdfunding could lead to some very high priced deals. Investment professionals (including “Professional Angels) have a great deal of experience setting the price for early stage deals. This experience comes from many years of investing, forecasting companies’ success and capital needs, and understanding how exits are likely to occur. Without this discipline, prices might not reflect true value. For example, if an entrepreneur is told by the investment professionals in their community that an appropriate valuation for their company is $2M, but they go to the Crowd with a $10M valuation and raise $500k, what happens when they need to do their next round? After they have spent the $500k, they might approach either Angels or VCs who will then set the price well below $10M. The Crowd will then find that their investment is worth very little. If the Crowd understands that risk, I have no problem with Crowdfunding, but if this isn’t transparent or well-disclosed, I think we could have many disgruntled investors.

I really want Crowdfunding to work. I don’t want a bunch of “mom and pop” unsophisticated investors ripped off.

Should Entrepreneurs Pay Angels?

Should entrepreneurs be asked to pay angels and angel groups for the opportunity to present their business?

As the seed stage/angel asset class becomes more prominent and popular, this becomes an ever more frequent question. There was a blow up about a year ago when Jason Calacanis took on the Keiretsu Forum and the amount they charged early stage companies. Not much has changed, but the number of people trying to part the entrepreneurs from their money has done nothing but increase.

Let me start with my emotional answer. It is hard for me to understand why an entrepreneur who has quit their job, mortgaged their home, and gone “all in” on their startup should pay a bunch of rich people for the privilege of pitching their deal. It just seems wrong. And, from my point of view, not something I would do.

But, if I take an entrepreneur’s point of view, I need to raise money. It’s such a daunting task and many entrepreneurs really neither have the time nor resources to pull it off. So, unless I see an alternative, if someone offers me a path to raise money, I take it. If I have to pay $10-25k to raise my needed $500k, I probably take it. I don’t ask questions like:

  • “Are the investors coming in aligned with our strategy?”
  • “How many investors are in my deal?”
  • “What impact do they have on my structure?”
  • “Do the deal terms mesh with raising more money later?”
  • And perhaps most importantly, “If I take this money, does it eliminate other sources, especially if I pay a fee to a broker?”

Experienced, professional angels have been through this lots. Groups like the Alliance of Angels don’t charge a fee for raising money for entrepreneurs. We help get deal terms that are fair to both entrepreneurs and investors, and allow for the necessary future financings (even when the plan says there won’t be any other financings).

It is hard to clean up the mess from a poorly constructed and overpriced financing. Most investors won’t do the clean up and instead will just pass on the deal.

Carve Outs for Management in an Acquisition

Carve outs for management is a tool that is often overlooked by boards in angel-backed companies. It is a tool that can be a critical in making an acquisition occur, but is difficult to get right. First of all, both management and the board are often too close and emotionally involved to make a clear decision.

For those that aren’t familiar with the concept of a carve out, it is a payment to management, from the proceeds of a transaction, that is paid out before investors are paid the amount they would otherwise be due from the sale of the company.

Having served on more than my share of boards, and often on the comp committee, I am often asked about the following situation, which is typical of one where a carve out occurs:

  • A company has taken quite a bit of investment, usually from institutions and angels.
  • The deal that was struck has a liquidation preference (if you don’t know what this means, you should educate yourself). Good terms for companies meeting their goals are 1x participating preferred (sometimes capped); bad terms are 2x to 3x and usually granted when a company is in trouble and needs to raise money.
  • Acquisition seems like the best alternative, but the offers are for less than the liquidation preference (or not much more than the preference).

In this case, the common stock and options are essentially worthless. The founders, employees, and others who bet on the upside find themselves in the position of having worked for little-to-no upside (or in the case of board members or consultants who took options – nothing!).

What is the board to do?

Here is my perspective from serving on dozens of boards and many comp committees:

  • It was management’s sweat that got the company to exit. This needs to be rewarded.
  • On the other hand, the board needs to recognize that management did not deliver the value that was promised when the money was taken. (Nor did the board.) It is not fair to give management a great return, while investors lose money.
  • The board should try, as a first priority, to ensure that management gets a good deal from the acquiring company. This is good for the acquirer and allows more of the proceeds to go to investors.
  • One often hears that management is unwilling to allow a deal to proceed if they don’t make enough money. And therefore they would rather the company stay in operation, even if it means a greatly reduced valuation. If the original deal terms don’t either carry enough voting shares, or the rights to force the sale, then the investors might be screwed. This is why alignment with the entrepreneur and deal terms can matter.
  • Finding a fair solution is often difficult. Hiring an experienced person/consultant might be a good idea, if the board and management are willing to follow their dispassionate advice.
  • If a carve out is necessary, I believe that it should be graduated (like a graduated income tax). In that way, as the investors do better, management increasingly does better. This aligns incentives. For example, if the liquidation preference is $10M and the acquisition will be in the range of $5-15M, the carve out might look like this:
    • 5% of proceeds for the first $5M (which is $250k at $5M)
    • Between 5-10M, $250k plus 7.5% of the amount over $5M, which is $375k at 10M
    • $875k plus 10% (plus the value of their stock, which is now in the money) for any amount over $10M
  • This seems to give both aligned incentives and balance the reward for management with the need to get investors their money back.

Of course, all of this looks much better when the company sells for a lot more than was invested!

The Economic Crisis

A while ago, I blogged on the decline of Microsoft (http://blog.drosenassoc.com/?p=42). Lately, many people have asked me about the current debt crisis, followed by the S&P downgrade of US credit. There are striking similarities.

Until about 20 years ago, for over 200 years, the US has been in a building mode. We have created the economic engine that fueled world growth, established an education system that was the envy of the world, a climate and legal structure that allowed great entrepreneurs to create companies that were the envy of the world. Even when faced with extraordinary challenges, like the great depression or the world wars, we were able to overcome these challenges.

Just as with businesses, in times of plenty, it is incumbent upon a business (or society) to put aside for the lean times. (I won’t cite Biblical references here, but they are obvious.) Since WWII, we have had numerous times of plenty. In the late 40s and early 50s, as a county we hugely increased our infrastructure (think the Interstate highways), invested heavily in universities (which have been the envy of the world and fueled much of our entrepreneurial growth), and through the concomitant consumer spending, created a surge in our standard of living. Many of these improvements allowed us to weather some of the storms that followed. With confidence, we strode into space – landing on the moon, created the Internet and countless other platforms that fuel global innovation.

But, our generation seems to have lost sight of what is really important. We have spent with reckless abandon. We have made poor strategic decisions. We, as a society and management team (the political leaders we elected) made bad strategic decisions. If we were a company, our stock would be trading at record lows and our investors would be clamoring for a change of leadership. But we have lacked the will and foresight, not to mention the systemic governance issues that prevent truly innovative leadership from coming to power. We need to make changes in the way we are run.

We are negligent for not having done this in the US. And, despite politicians’ desire for reelection demanding that they give us a silver bullet, there is no silver bullet! It took 20 years to make this problem – 20 years of lack of political will to curb spending and live within our means. But, just as I suggested with Microsoft, there are reasonable long-term solutions.

From my point of view, the solution is to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that is embodied in the startups. This is where the economic growth, job creation, and invigoration of our society can come from. In a very specific sense, legislation before congress, like Senate Bill S256 “American Opportunity Act of 2011” (http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s256/text), sponsored by Senators Mark Pryor and Scott Brown that gives a 25% tax credit to angel investors; when similar legislation was enacted in other places, dramatic increases in angel investing and increased tax revenues have resulted. Another example are the proposed changes to IRS Section 1202, exemption for gains on qualified small business gains, which will give 100% exclusion of capital gains for angel investment.

These actions will spur angel investing in those high-growth startups that will ultimately move the economy. While modest in cost, they could be large in impact.

AoA Results – why are they so good?

In my previous post, I noted that the AoA had a great year in 2010. (http://blog.drosenassoc.com/?p=61 or the full release http://drosenassoc.com/AoA%20results%202-23-11.pdf)

Typically, most angel groups or VCs see about 25-40% of their deals die in the first 4 years. (This is called the J curve, since the portfolio value goes negative for the first 3-5 years and gets positive when you begin to get exits in year 5 – this valuation curve looks like a J.) The AoA has what appears to be unprecedented results – almost all of our investments in the last 5 years are still alive! Many people have asked my why we did so well in a crappy market. I’ve certainly spent a great deal of time thinking about this. I believe that there are four principal reasons that caused the great year.

  1. World-class, innovative deal screening process. The AoA sees great deal flow, largely because we have a reputation of being savvy investors, who bring lots of value, and do “write checks.” One of the true core competencies we have developed over the last 15 years is our ability to take all the deals that are submitted and invest in the very best. This takes a lot of work, starting with our selection of our staff (both full-time managing director and 2 part time program managers) who have the right skills and knowledge to help startups be ready to enter our process, continues with preliminary screening by the staff, through the selection by our screening committee (the 10-15 most experienced angels in our group), and finally the presentation to our members who invest in good deals. This process is both efficient and respectful for both angels and entrepreneurs. And, it is complemented by a rather extensive knowledge base of market terms, deals and conditions. All of this leads to great companies, presenting well to our members, and being prepared for due diligence and investment.
  2. Get the deal terms right. We work with entrepreneurs to set terms and valuation that are deal and market appropriate, which allows companies to endure. In the past, too often investors didn’t understand the impact of setting a price too high, raising too much or too little money, and/or having either investor or entrepreneur-unfriendly terms. While they can often be seductive at the outset, bad terms lead to long-term problems at companies. The AoA has taken a lead role in the Pacific Northwest in bringing forward deals that make sense for both investors and entrepreneurs. By setting terms correctly, companies can survive and thrive even after market or strategic problems push the company off track.
  3. Active, engaged investors. The AoA members not only write checks, but often get actively involved in the companies in which they invest and often take board seats. As a group, we bring a ton of knowledge and experience – the kind of experience that many startups couldn’t afford or acquire any other way. This knowledge often helps our portfolio companies avoid mistakes, see them earlier, or find more innovative solutions to fix them. We are also a source for follow on rounds, especially at this time when VC financing is either not forthcoming or inappropriate. This pool of active, engaged investors helps companies survive and thrive.
  4. The right strategy, done early enough to make a difference. About 4 years ago, we realized that our investment results then were mostly dependent on a few of our most active members investing in a lot of companies, but this wasn’t sustainable. We realized that we needed to increase the “capital capacity” of the group, if we were going to remain relevant. We were fortunate to ride the trend of the “professionalization of angel capital,” where individual angels realized that working together led to better results. Over the last four years, we have succeeded in (a) reformulating our strategy, vision, and mission, with a rebranding of the AoA; (b) recruiting a continuing stream of new members; (b) putting in place education programs that help our new and existing members know how to do good deal; (c) putting in place an angel term sheet (http://drosenassoc.com/Draft%20Term%20Sheet%20for%20Alliance%20of%20Angels.pdf) that helps angels get deals done quickly and at low cost; (d) train our angels to be good deal leads, board members, and investors; and (e) be an advocate for better communication from startups to their investors.

While the ultimate measure of success is a positive return through lucrative exits, we also know that for these early-stage startups have a long period to exit – typically 7-10 years. Since our data prior to 5 years ago isn’t very good, our surrogate measure is the “J Curve.” The fact that the AoA has succeeded in dramatically changing the J Curve implies that the strategy is working.

Comments welcome.

Angel Investing is Vibrant and Getting More So

Not much surprises me these days, particularly during this mud-slinging political campaign season.

However, Marcelo Calbucci’s Tech Flash post (http://www.techflash.com/seattle/2010/10/have_we_killed_the_angel_investor.html) did. How my posts could be so misunderstood by someone I respect baffles me, especially when that misunderstanding is posted to a widely read blog.

My previous post on Angels forming LLCs for their investments IS entrepreneur friendly, and based on national best practices. Any entrepreneur who has a successful venture with 50 angel investors knows the pain (including excessive legal fees) for getting signatures on every shareholder issue. If a large number of these angel investors are in an LLC, you only need one signature – much more efficient and much less costly. This is the practice in many places, including some of the largest angel groups in the Bay Area and East Coast. It is not widely done in Seattle. And it is not a way to get better terms in seed and A round investments; there really is no relationship between the two.

It is a way for Angels to preserve their rights in the face of a VC round that follows. VC’s typically don’t like to have to get 50 signatures, so they reserve certain rights to “major investors” in their term sheets. This typically either washes away or severely limits the investor rights of Angels, once VCs have entered the deal. It is definitely in the interest of the entrepreneurs, Angels, and the company to make sure that a broader base of investors has a say in the future of the company; the trust from shareholders (the owners of the company) that they will be treated in an open and democratic way is the basis of our entire equity system.

Angels who work together to learn best practices make for a much stronger ecosystem. That is why I spend so much of my personal time trying to learn from other angel groups, both locally and nationally, about what works and doesn’t work. My colleague Angels do likewise. We run a bunch of educational events locally to share our knowledge and insights and encourage other Angels to strike deals that are balanced between return and being entrepreneur friendly. It is why I spent so much time crafting a “Series A Angel Term Sheet,” (http://drosenassoc.com/Draft%20Term%20Sheet%20for%20Alliance%20of%20Angels.pdf) that is now being widely used, not just in Seattle, but around the world. It simplifies the process of bringing in early money for startups, while lowering the costs. All of these activities lower the barrier for entrepreneurs raising money, not as you assert, making it more difficult.

Angel groups are a fabulous way for an entrepreneur to raise money. It is much more efficient to present once to 60 active angels than to set up 60 individual meetings. I don’t know one entrepreneur who would argue with that proposition. And, through the Angel Capital Association (a Kauffman Foundation spinout), we are now sharing best practices, participating in educational events, making sure that public policy encourages early-stage investment (e.g. http://blog.drosenassoc.com/?p=41), making sure that as many Angels as possible enter the ecosystem, and encouraging each other in bleak economic times.

As part of this socialization, it is evident that Seattle IS progressive. We have funded as many or more early stage deals at a slightly higher price than our peers in the Bay Area and Boston. Your assertion that entrepreneurs in the Bay Area are getting their deals funded without a financial projection or a solid plan is an urban myth that is not supported by fact; it encourages behavior that neither helps entrepreneurs or investors. We do help the “the next great idea from two guys who are just finishing their computer science degree at The University of Washington” in part by helping them understand what it means to create a great business. In my 25 years of experience, I have not seen a success where throwing money at people without a great business concept created a great business. It is the marriage of great technology, great people, and a great plan that makes the breakout companies. Yes, this takes some discipline and hard work. Saying that the best model is angels willing to throw money at entrepreneurs who are not committed to a disciplined approach is not only wrong, it does a great disservice to the entrepreneurs willing to quit a high-paying job to risk everything to build a great company.

And during the last year, I’ve spoken at events throughout North America without reimbursement. Like you, Marcello, for me this is a passion, not a business. But most Angels need a return on their investment, if they are going to continue to invest. We need more maturity in the process, not less.

We all want to see more intelligent, high-net-worth individuals in Seattle become Angel investors. They way to do this is NOT by telling them that they should “invest and pray”. It is by showing them how to be successful angel investors, how to lead deals without as much pain as in the current process, and by making it easy to pull the trigger on their first few investments. One way that other communities (e.g. Bellingham) have used is the deal-specific LLC that started this conversation.

Success will come by finding more ways for entrepreneurs and Angels to communicate and understand common goals and then achieve extraordinary results. And success will build more success.

Investor Relations for Private Companies

One of the questions I am asked by first-time startup CEOs: what is an appropriate level of communication with my investors?

This is both a difficult and profound question. It is simple to say that more is better than less. It is also simple to say that any good investor would rather have you spend your time executing your plan than spend your time chatting with investors.

So.. my simple rule of thumb is that you should treat your investors (and the money that they have invested in your company) with respect. And you should recognize that their support, encouragement, and trust that came with that money are incredibly valuable commodities that will continue to pay dividends over time. Let me give rules of thumb for great investor relations by private companies and some issues that need to be considered.

Ten Simple rules for great IR for private companies:

  1. Get the bad news out fast and first. Even if the news in embarrassing (like we are running out of cash sooner than we anticipated, or our customers found a flaw in our product), share it first and fast. Be very candid about the failings as well as the successes.
  2. Don’t bury bad news at the end of a report.
  3. Don’t wait to issue the report until you have good news to share.
  4. Don’t forget to share your passion for your business – that’s generally what made your investors invest!
  5. But don’t allow your passion to obscure the operational facts, like the numbers are not what we anticipated.
  6. Communicate frequently, but not too frequently. These communications should never be less than once a quarter. But remember that your investors are not your employees, so you don’t need to send daily/weekly updates with operational trivia. This just defeats the purpose of making sure that your investors know the state of the business by burying them in the minutia.
  7. Communications can written or in person or a combination. Face-to-face quarterly meetings are a great idea for a company that is growing and needs support and help from its investors. They are especially good for a company that needs to show its product. But they take some time to prepare.
  8. Communications can be short, but never skipped. For example, a simple note to all of your investors that “we have had to revamp our product plans and details will follow within 30 days” is an OK message. As is, “we have received an acquisition offer, but the terms require us to keep the details confidential, so we will let you know as soon as the deal is consummated.” Don’t surprise them!
  9. Your investors are smart, so treat them accordingly. Be very realistic and forthright about the impact of any misses/changes. Early stage investors know the risks. Tell them if the board insisted you take a salary cut or that you have had to lay off key people. These things happen. Sometimes the impact will be that their investment will never realize the potential you had hoped for, but that you will work for the best possible outcome.
  10. And, lastly, NEVER have the communication of the change of your company status come via a package of documents from your lawyers! Even in the case of good news (which is rare), you owe it to your investors to be the one who communicates FIRST. Even if it’s an email (or cover letter in the legal package) that says, “we have had to do X, because of Y, and the result is that your shares have to be changed in the following way. You will be receiving a package by FedEx to implement that change. I will be holding an emergency investor meeting tomorrow at 9am to explain these changes. Those who can’t be there can phone in.”

Even with these simple rules in hand, there are a number of issues that you need to consider.

  • Can I share proprietary information with my investors? This is a tough question. Seek counsel from your lawyer. In general, most startups do share proprietary information, but make sure your investors know it is proprietary. Make sure that they know they can’t redistribute or share it further. Only give info in writing that is less sensitive.
  • Know your investors. Ask them if they have investments in competitive companies. If they do, it doesn’t disqualify them from investing in your company, but make sure that they know they can’t share the info you give them.

Simply put.. if you treat your investors well, they will be there to support you when you need them. Not just in this company but in future ones.

“Save Angel Investing” Amendment to Senator Dodd’s Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010

(With thanks to Bill Carleton and Joe Wallin)

High-growth startups are a cornerstone of our economy. Studies have shown that these startups account for much of the job growth in the US and are critical for America’s competitiveness. Angels who finance these companies often become actively involved and help the companies thrive. Angel investment in startups provides the primary and the best source of early-stage capital needed for startup tech companies and other innovative new businesses in America. Such investment is encouraged in many states and other countries.

Section 926

Section 926 of the Dodd bill would impose new, unwarranted and devastating restrictions on the “Reg D” process by which Angels (and Angel Groups) support America’s startup innovation economy. Moreover, as we explain below, these restrictions are wholly unnecessary: more-effective, more precisely-tailored reforms are available to fix the abuses of Regulation D that occur outside the Angel investing arena.

We do not believe that it is the intent of Sen. Dodd or Section 926 of his bill to do so, but a consequence of the current language in the bill would be to seriously impede angel investments.

Today’s process (Reg D) requires that startup companies funded by “accredited investors” (sophisticated business Angels who understand the risks in such investments) can invest without undergoing the expense, complexity and delay of a registration process. Instead, within a few days after the first sale, startup that has received the investment files a simple “Form D” notice filing with the SEC and with each state in which an investing Angel resides. This system has worked well for over 15 years, as shown by the growth of early-stage companies. Remarkably, there are virtually no examples of fraud or abuse in such angel investments.

On reflection, it makes sense that Reg D should work so well for startups and Angel investing. First and foremost, the startups in which Angels invest are not in the business of selling or trading securities. They do not engage broker dealers to do so, and they do not sell to the general public. Instead, these startups are placing securities directly in the hands of sophisticated Angels in order to obtain needed capital to get a new business off the ground. If the startups and the Angels are successful in what they set out to do, they will create jobs in the process and possibly returns on investment. Angels know the risks, going in.

In this vital process, the way that innovation in America is financed at the grass roots, no one is making a living or taking a profit from the process of selling securities. Startups are “incidental” issuers only, and all participants in startup “grass roots financing” (including entrepreneurs, Angel investors, and lawyers) have every reason to self-police. In the rare instances of securities fraud, the Reg D exemption notice filings serve a critical record-making function, just as they should: investors who feel cheated can sue to show how a Reg D exemption was claimed and filed falsely. If there was fraud, those investors are going to have recourse, personally, from the officers, directors and others associated with the rare problem startup. And you can bet the persons in those rare, fraudulent startups will not be supported again by the Angel community, nor should they be.

Section 926 wants to toss out this process that has worked so well and start over with a 120 day review period for all Reg D filings. For most early-stage startups, time equates to life or death and the regulatory review process proposed in Section 926 will kill many promising companies. For those of us willing to spend the time, expertise, and money to start potential high-growth companies, the changes that would be imposed by Section 926 seem unnecessary and counter-intuitive.

Section 926 also wants the SEC to define by rule a class of securities that are too small in size and scope to merit eligibility for the uniform, federal Reg D notice exemption system. But it is exactly the small, “seed” (getting a startup off the ground) financing that most needs the benefit of Reg D!

From discussions with Joe Borg (Director, Alabama Securities Commission, and Member, NASAA Board of Directors) and others, we have come to understand that the States, as a part of financial system reform, have been plagued with certain disreputable promoters, brokers, dealers and investment advisors (“bad actors”) defrauding investors by abusing Reg D filings. The State regulators have the authority to prosecute, but feel they are hamstrung by being able to do so only after the fact when the money is already gone. The primary intent of Section 926 is to give the States the ability to regulate these “bad actors” before they are allowed to take in funds under fraudulent terms. Angel investors and groups share this concern and would like to suggest a solution to the State Regulators’ problem that does not restrain Angel investors (or Angel groups) from creating high-growth startups.

There is a valid need to regulate promoters, brokers, dealers, and investment professionals that raise money for others. Attached you will find a suggested amendment to Section 926 that achieves the following:

Address the concerns of State Securities Administrators by:

  • Eliminating federal preemption of state authority with respect to exempt offerings that that involve brokers, dealers, or investment advisers.
  • Instructing the SEC to amend Rule 506 of Regulation D, to incorporate by reference the disqualifications already in Regulation D that pertain to Rule 505, so that “bad actors” can’t abuse Regulation D.
  • Clarifying that existing state jurisdiction to investigate and bring enforcement actions with respect to fraud or deceit, or unlawful conduct, applies not only to broker-dealers, but also to investment advisers.
  • Disallowing the use of Rule 506 for offerings that are not “all accredited investor” offerings (current rules allow 506 offering with up to 35 non-accredited investors if certain information requirements are met).

Address the concerns of startups and angel investors by:

  • Eliminating the 120 day SEC wait/review period in the current version of the bill.
  • Eliminating the authority given to the SEC under the current proposed bill to establish, by rule making, a class of securities offering that would be too small to merit federal exemption, leaving in place the current, national, uniform notice-filing system for startups.
  • Clarifying that a security is a covered security with respect to a transaction that is exempt from registration under Rule 506, including with respect to groups of purchasers comprised solely of accredited investors.

We believe that this meets the needs of the State Regulators to clean up the industry without the chilling effect that an elimination of Reg D would impose on funding startups by accredited angel investor.

Furthermore, by eliminating the “bad actors,” we will enhance the ability to get new startups going – investors will feel more secure in knowing that they are not investing in scams. This is a true win-win.

Section 412

Also of concern in Senator Dodd’s bill is Section 412, which would change the definition of an “accredited investor.” It is hard to argue that an individual with a net worth of greater than $1,000,000 is not a sophisticated investor. Section 412 would index that $1M back to 1982 and make the new definition $2.25M, eliminating 77% of the potential accredited investors (see Shane’s article in Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/mar2010/sb20100318_367600.htm).

Section 412, in our view, is nothing more than a poorly conceived tool to limit the scope of broker dealers and investment advisers abusing regulation D. The tool is poorly conceived, because it is so indirect. In the process of eliminating three quarters of the population from which the fraudulent broker-dealers might operate, it also would devastate the single most important source for start up financing in America. And it would also prevent knowledgeable and sophisticated angel investors with high net worth (but not high enough) from receiving the returns that their richer brethren receive; this is neither fair nor democratic and, once again, not in the spirit of the Dodd bill.

As part of saving angel investing, if we make the protective changes to Section 926, we believe that we no longer need the protections suggested in Section 412 – there should not be an indexing of the definition of accredited.

___________________

Amendment to S. ____
“Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010”
Offered by ____________

Page 816, strike line 3 through page 819 line 4 and insert the following:

 

 SEC. 926. AMENDMENTS OF RULE 506 UNDER REGULATION D ;  AUTHORITY OF STATE REGULATORS OVER REGULATION D 
 OFFERINGS INVOLVING BROKERS, DEALERS, AND 
 INVESTMENT ADVISERS. 

Section 18(b)(4) and Section 18(c)(1) of the Securities Act of 1933 (15 U.S.C. Sections 77r(b)(4) and 77r(c)(1), respectively) are amended —

(1)    by inserting, following subparagraph (D) of said Section 18(b)(4), a new subparagraph (E), as follows:

“(E)    Rule 506 under Regulation D, provided that all purchasers with respect to such transaction are accredited investors, as such term is defined in the rules of the Commission under the Securities Act of 1933, or are persons, entities or groups composed solely of accredited investors purchasing securities solely for the beneficial interest of said accredited investors.”

(2)    by redesignating paragraph (1) of said Section 18(c) , “Fraud Authority,” as subparagraph (1)(A) thereof, and restating it as follows:

“(A)    The securities commission (or any agency or office performing like functions) of any State shall retain jurisdiction under the laws of such State to investigate and bring enforcement actions with respect to fraud or deceit, or unlawful conduct by, a broker, dealer, or person associated with a broker or dealer, or an investment adviser, or persons associated with an investment adviser, in connection with securities or securities transactions.”

(3)    by inserting, following such redesignated and restated subparagraph (A) of said paragraph (1) of Section 18(c), a new subparagraph (B), as follows:

“(B)    A security is not a covered security with respect to a transaction that is exempt from registration under this subchapter if the offering of such security involves the payment of any commission based on funds raised by the issuer in connection with such offering, or otherwise involving a broker, dealer, person associated with a broker or dealer, or involving an investment adviser who has a financial interest, direct or indirect, in the offering of such securities, or a person associated with such an investment adviser.”

(4)    by inserting, following subparagraph (D) of said Section 18(c)(2), a new subparagraph (E), as follows:

“(E)    AVAILABILITY OF PREEMPTION CONTINGENT ON LACK OF DISQUALIFICATIONS. The Commission shall amend, by rule, Rule 506 under Regulation D, to disqualify securities issued in reliance on said rule as covered securities under Section 18(b) of the Securities Act of 1933, for reasons which are comparable to the disqualifications currently set forth at subparagraph (b)(2)(iii) of Rule 505 of Regulation D.”

Dodd Bill to go to the full senate

As those who are following this topic know, the Senate Finance Committee moved Dodd’s Financial Reform bill out of committee without any amendments. This unusual move means that the three sections that might cripple angel financing remain in the bill. It becomes more critical than ever that we notify our senators of our adamant opposition to these sections that could have disastrous effects on early stage companies and financing.

At yesterday’s Alliance of Angels monthly meeting, I presented a few slides on the issue (http://drosenassoc.com/AoA Public Policy Issue.pdf) and we asked our members to sign these letters:

Cantwell Letter

Murray Letter

We then faxed the signed letters to Senators Cantwell and Murray. (If you are in another state and want the word versions to modify, they are at Word version of Murray letter, Word version of Cantwell letter).

I urge you do send them as well.

Startup Finance and Dodd Bill – follow up

On my last post, I referenced Scott Shane’s data. For those that haven’t read his book, The Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By (http://www.amazon.com/Illusions-Entrepreneurship-Costly-Entrepreneurs-Investors/dp/0300158564/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1269045575&sr=8-1) – it’s an important book for angel investors.

He has now published an article in Business Week that gives more detail on his insights and calculations of the impact of Dodd’s unintentional assault on angel investing (http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/mar2010/sb20100318_367600.htm).

Bills of the magnitude and length of Dodd’s financial reform bill achieve many important reforms, but it cannot be allowed to pass in its current form and cripple something that is both vital and working, like angel investing.