Crowdfunding evangelists Wefunder are getting out of what they call the "Silicon Valley bubble" and hopping an Amtrak train for a cross-country trip aimed at finding and funding small businesses. In 2012, the startup literally helped Congress pass the JOBS Act, a new law that allows businesses to raise up to $1 million online.
News Corp is a network of leading companies in the worlds of diversified media, news, education, and information services. High-growth firms face powerful discentives to use JOBS Act provisions Allowing everyday Americans to invest in today's high-growth startups-picture grandma and grandpa putting a portion of their retirement savings into the next pre-IPO Facebook-has long been the dream of advocates of so-called equity crowdfunding.
So you want to be the next Marc Andreessen? Friday could be the day when you start trying. New federal rules will allow the American public at large to go online and buy shares in startups.
Everyday people will soon be able to invest thousands of dollars in small companies and receive an ownership stake under new rules passed by the Securities and Exchange Commission Friday. The SEC approved a set of long-awaited regulations that will allow companies to "crowdfund" up to $1 million from investors online.
We have all heard of the incredible entrepreneurial ecosystem in San Francisco. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit San Francisco, thanks to Jason Calacanis who was kind enough to invite hundreds of founders for free access to his two-day conference called SCALE, which saw 3,000 investors, founders and potential entrepreneurs attend.
“We got involved to really help them understand how entrepreneurship works, how the Internet works, and how to formulate some legislation that would actually work in practice,” says Norman, who was in the White House when President Obama signed the JOBS Act into law on April 5, 2012.
“It was a pleasant surprise for us,” said Mike Norman, co-founder of online investment company WeFunder, which plans to help businesses seek investment under the new state rules.
Dealflicks, a discount site for movie tickets, based in Los Angeles, used Wefunder this year to raise $173,450 from 64 backers.
In its concurrent fourth round of crowdfunding in two years, Dealflicks has now raised $1.7 Million on Wefunder. Investors in this most DealFlicks gets butts in Movie Theatersrecent round include 500 Startups, Siemer Ventures, Archer Gray, Rubicon VC, Wefunder, Be Great Partners, Rosepaul Investments, Mogility Capital, Sierra Maya Ventures and Warner Brothers Media Camp.
“There are a few things they’ve done which actually are going to make it hard if the proposed rules wind up being finalized as written,” said Mike Norman, president and co-founder of Wefunder, which plans to operate a portal under the new rules.
"For publicly traded companies, individual investors don't have the ability to influence the success and failure of a company," Dietrich said. "But for small start-ups, they absolutely have the ability to influence success and failure. That's exciting and something we haven't seen before."
Terrafugia signed on with Wefunder last month, and it is now the “Startup of the Week.” The website says more than $10 million has been raised, but that’s from the angel investors that have supported the company so far. The Wefunder model is newly legal equity crowdfunding, which means larger amounts invested and bigger payoffs—not just the insider CDs and books that sites such as the wildly successful Kickstarter have been able to offer.
The shift allows retirees, doctors, lawyers and the like to get a piece of investments with a little more razzledazzle than they are used to-- say Terrafugia, the flying car company using Wefunder to find investors, or Rick's Picks, "artisanal pickles crafted with nuance and wit," working with CircleUp. Both Wefunder and CircleUp are among the relatively new sites that put young companies in front of potential investors.
For the first time in 80 years, private companies hunting for capital can now advertise to all-comers. The $22bn that angel, or individual, investors invested in private companies last year – and perhaps even the $27bn put to work by more established venture capitalists – is about to see some competition.
After the SEC changes were put in place Monday, Wefunder’s site immediately began promoting 25 companies seeking investments, including Terrafugia, a Woburn company working on developing a flying car, and RoomHunt, a San Francisco apartment rental start-up.
One such website, WeFunder, is already accepting money from accredited investors. Mike Norman, co-founder of the site, says this new approach to venture funding will eliminate inefficiencies he associates with courting venture capitalists and angel investors through in-person meetings. “A lot of this is about their investor experience,” he says. “We’re going to have the ability for everyone to get involved in helping out a company or a startup that they think is really important to get off the ground and be successful.”
Wefunder was founded last year out of the MIT startup community with the JOBS Act specifically in mind. Since then, it has worked hard to curate a diverse stable of consumer-relevant, high-quality startups, and present them in an appealing magazine-like fashion designed to attract widespread interest. Example offerings launching on the site include Terrafugia, a startup that has prototyped a real-life flying car that’s FAA approved, street legal, and folds its wings up with the touch of a button; and Meta, whose augmented reality glasses render manually manipulable 3D objects like you see in sci-fi movies. Many of Wefunder’s startups come from the alpha Silicon Valley accelerator program Y Combinator, of which Wefunder itself is also an alumnus.
Of the three funding networks, WeFunder is leading the charge, encouraging startups to take advantage of the new rules. AngelList is opening its network to general solicitation, with some cautions. FundersClub isn't opening up to public appeals at all.
Backed by Y Combinator, WeFunder launched earlier this year in response to the new post-JOBS Act investment market. It's a lot like other investor-entrepreneur matchmaking sites, but it already expresses a strategy to add on all investors if Title III of the JOBS Act is passed, which would allow for non-accredited crowdfunded investing. It also looks and feels super user-friendly like Kickstarter.
"If you're a company building something in the legal space, it's super valuable for you to have maybe 50 attorneys that are all coming in at smaller dollar amounts," he says. "They're in your sector, they can help you with sales and connections and get users on your product. It's not just about money. There's a ton of people that can provide tactical, grassroots value that people haven't had the opportunity to access before."
"It’s the first step in a long process," says Nick Tommarello, founder of WeFunder, a company backed by the prestigious Y Combinator incubator that serves as a platform for startups raising money. WeFunder is planning for the future when startups will be allowed to accept funds from anyone, says Tommarello. He’s hoping that non-accredited investors — which would be your average internet user — will see that nifty new startups are fundraising and start to pressure the SEC to hurry up on its rulemaking on equity-based crowdfunding.
WeFunder is a Y Combinator startup that has a platform similar to RockThePost. While the company is not going so far as to host a public event, founder and CEO Nick Tommarello said that WeFunder’s site will look more like Kickstarter, where anyone can browse through the opportunities without signing up. “If you are a founder fundraising, you want to stop fundraising as soon as possible and go back to work,” he said in an interview with VentureBeat.
Wefunder’s website, with a menu of companies and short promotional videos, looks a lot like Kickstarter, the popular site where filmmakers, authors, and technology companies can raise donations for individual projects. That site has already spawned several technology companies, like Pebble, maker of a smart watch (see “A Smart Watch, Created by the Crowd, Debuts in Vegas” and “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013”). With crowd investing, however, people will actually be buying shares in new companies.
It is the mother's milk of Silicon Valley startups – money, often from investors, to get going and keep growing. And next week new federal regulations will give startups and investors more ways to find each other.
With the new rules, a startup could go as far as buying advertising to state it's raising money. "Previously, most of us never had a shot at investing in the rounds of the best companies. The insiders only had that kind of access. That's all about to change," writes WeFunder cofounder Nick Tommarello.
... If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend the WeFunder FAQ section. Also, keep an eye on the Securities and Exchange Commission as its rules, when they are eventually issued, will make huge waves in the startup community.
With General Solicitation it will be much easier for investors to find companies they are passionate about supporting,” writes Mike Norman of crowdfunding website, WeFunder, to us in an email.
The basic premise of WeFunder is that it will allow anyone to make a small crowdinvestment in young companies, meaning that instead of pitching angel investors, start-ups can go directly to early users, fans, friends and family for their early capital rounds.
We are not just giving startups dumb, quick, and easy money," said founder Nick Tommarello on stage at Y Combinator's demo day. "With the power of the crowd, we are giving them an army of evangelists that feel a sense of ownership and are driven to help their startup succeed.
Wefunder allows people to invest in startups with as little as $1000. The startup eliminates the need for some startups to raise an initial round of funding from traditional investors, and creates a group of evangelists for a company in the process.
We’re not replacing their current fundraising efforts," said WeFunder co-founder Nick Tommarello. "If you open up a small part of your round to the crowd, if your users and evangelists can have that feeling of ownership, they’ll be much more inclined to help you.
Wefunder, founded in Cambridge last year as a site aiming to eventually enable crowdfunding of startups, may remain on the West Coast after taking part in this winter's Y Combinator accelerator, CEO Nick Tommarello said in an interview.
The platform, which launches on Tuesday to certain accredited investors (more on that in a minute), ostensibly allows anyone who sees promise in one of the startups featured on WeFunder’s platform to invest in it, pitching in a mandatory minimum amount of cash (currently $1000, but as little as $100 when the site rolls out to all). The idea, according to CEO Tommarello, is to “fill the funding gap between angel investors and that first major round of capital.”
The ultimate goal is to enable anyone to invest in startups that they find promising. To that end, founders Mike Norman, Nick Tommarello, and Greg Belote lobbied hard last year to get the JOBS Act passed. That act should help overturn a few rules which, to date, have held back greater adoption of crowdfunding for startups. And with a new SEC Chairwoman in place, the whole thing could finally move forward.
In his opening remarks, WeFunder’s Mike Norman described the advocacy process they’ve undertaken thus far, grown out of a simple online petition. "Because of its success we were down in D.C. just a few weeks later meeting with the White House," he said. "It was really an affirmation of our belief that the startup communtiy needed to have more of a voice at that table."
Crowd investing startup Wefunder is announcing a $530,000 seed round from just under 60 investors, over half of whom are unaccredited. Nihal Mehta, Jim Pallotta, Dharmesh Shah, and Bill Warner also participated in the round.
With rules about actually investing in companies about to become a bit more lax, the crowdfunding floodgates might open even wider, with new crowdinvesting site WeFunder, based in Cambridge, hoping to join the ranks of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo as a marquee crowdfunding platform. The fundamental difference with this new breed of sites is that, rather than receiving swag, warm feelings, and early products, crowdinvestors actually buy a (very small) piece of the company.
While some investors will be in it for money, the riskiness of investing in startups is likely to mean that equity crowdfunding ends up resembling the donation model, says Nicholas Tommarello... "technologies that are fun or solve social problems are likely to be popular categories. People want to give back, see progress, live vicariously, and learn something.
A slew of these portals is already popping up, including Wefunder, Crowdfunder, and Motaavi. The founders of these companies were pushing hardest for this legislation.
We're not a bunch of finance guys who saw a big number on a spreadsheet and decided to do this," Norman says. "We're focusing on the quality of experience for people who are just like us.
The SEC needs to determine the actual guidelines," said Nick Tommarello, one of the founders of WeFunder, an equity-based crowdfunding platform that decided to launch a preliminary site before the law passed. "Then we apply to the SEC.
There is tremendous value in having your most passionate users be your investors," says Nick Tommarello, founder of the site Wefunder.com. As New Scientist went to press, more than 3000 people had signed a petition on the site, saying they would invest if the law passes.
Big Idea: Wefunder provides a platform that allows startups to hold fundraising with a crowd of investors. Why It’s Working: WeFunder drives innovation by giving startups the ability to go through a formal funding series, and it also takes crowdsourcing to a new level by giving equity to funders.
But Nick Tommarello, a Boston entrepreneur who has become something of a crowdfunding activist, shares the view of many who have real-life crowdfunding experience. He says incentives are already there for intermediaries to regulate themselves. Tommarello believes crowd investing platforms will need to do due diligence on businesses they host in order to attract investors
Crucially, Brown’s bill would require that people invest through an intermediary, an organization that would have to register with the government and would broker the deals, the way eBay brokers auctions. The Boston-based WeFunder hopes to be one of these intermediaries. It is hosting a petition drive in support of the legislation: More than 2,500 people have signed, pledging to invest $6.5 million if the law is changed.
At the least, crowdfunding appeals to Boston-area startups because it would offer a new funding option. Mike Norman is a co-founder of Wefunder, a brand new Cambridge-based company that’s hoping to become a crowdfunding intermediary. “And if you have a way to demonstrate that you have a good idea, that it’s been vetted by someone who’s trustworthy, and that you can raise capital in a much shorter period of time and you can get back to focusing on your business, I mean what entrepreneur is not gonna be excited about having that as an option?" Norman said.
Such supporters of crowdfunding as Nick Tommarello say it will give businesses—from neighborhood restaurants to high-growth tech companies—a fresh source of capital. Tommarello is co-founder of Wefunder, a site he hopes to turn into a crowdfunding platform in the event the law is changed."If this happens, what we can do is fill that funding gap in between angel [investors] and first round venture capital," he says
Brown, sponsor of one of the bills now before Congress that would legalize the funding source, spoke during an event organized by Cambridge startup Wefunder.com. The startup has launched with an online petition asking Congress to legalize crowdfunding, but has also built a crowd-fundraising site in the event that legislation passes.
As an entrepreneur who works with other entrepreneurs, Nicholas Tommarello has seen many great ideas in which he'd like to invest. The problem is that he doesn’t have a lot of money to invest, so he can’t legally do it at all. He is among a growing number of people lobbying for changes to decades-old federal regulations that he says are outdated in the Internet Age.
For now, the WeFunder crowdfunding petition has been a runaway success. Launched with a modest goal of attracting $100,000 in pledges and raising awareness about the democratization of capital, WeFunder has now attracted nearly 2,000 funders who have pledged a total commitment of nearly $5.5 million.
We can gamble in Vegas. We can donate on Kiva or Kickstarter. But it's illegal to purchase $100 of stock in a job-creating business? That makes no sense." That is the tagline to a new project called WeFunder from three TechStars Boston alum who are trying to garner support for the "Democratizing Access to Capital Act" (S.1791) that would allow entrepreneurs to crowdfund startups.
From the makers of Startup Workaway comes WeFunder, a Kickstarter for startups. Trouble is, Congress hasn't yet approved the law that makes amateur investing legal.
Step one: Build a site that lets anyone invest a small amount of money into a startup. Step two: Build support for actually legalizing the site. That's the strategy at new Cambridge startup Wefunder.com, a project of local tech startup veterans Nicholas Tommarello and Nick Plante.
"I'd love to give a small portion of my income to entrepreneurs changing the world, rather than blowing it in Vegas, or investing in GE," Tommerello said. "I want to invest in start-ups, and I'm frustrated that I can't.
Within a couple of hours this morning, this petition quickly passed 1 million in pledges, and if it gets enough signatures, the people behind it have the opportunity to present it to Senate Majority Chair Mary Landrieu on Wednesday.
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1 A special note on calculations: Over $16 million from accredited investors (i.e., the rich) was invested into 110 startups conducting Regulation D offerings on Wefunder since 2013. Regulation Crowdfunding is not legal until May 16th. We'll update these numbers to include those offerings then.
2 Startup investing is super risky. Seriously. The companies you love just might go bankrupt. You may lose all your money. You can't always resell your investments. You may have limited voting rights. Invest because you want to support what you love, not because you think you're going to make oodles of money.
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