The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act -- aka, the JOBS Act -- went into effect last year, opening up the equity crowdfunding industry.
In this clip from Industry Focus: Tech, Motley Fool tech analyst Dylan Lewis interviews Indiegogo founder Slava Rubin and MicroVentures founder and CEO Bill Clark about the different kinds of businesses and projects that they've seen crowdfunded through their joint First Democracy VC platform. Also, the thought leaders talk about what they've seen in the space so far, and how average investors have reacted to being able to participate in these early-stage investment opportunities.
A full transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on March 17, 2017.
Dylan Lewis: What kind of business is are you seeing in this space? Is there any constant theme? Or is it all over the place?
Slava Rubin: We've actually purposely tried to be across the board. We just launched on Nov. 15. It's very early in the whole industry. For us, it's uncertain where we'll be able to focus and optimize the most. We want to see that different verticals are working or not working. So far, we've been lucky enough to be eight for eight for the deals that we've posted, and we just recently posted a ninth deal, but it really has been on purpose to go across the various verticals. Like Bill mentioned, we've had a hardware project called Plan Possible, we've had an internet company called BeatStars, a movie called Field Guide to Evil, a video game named Crowfall [by] ArtCraft Entertainment. We've had things that are more local, like a restaurant and coffee shop, Texas Zebo, the distillery, and some others. So, I think it's early. We're not even half a year old yet, so we're still really wanting to experiment and see how our audiences are reacting. Overall, it's been very positive. I do think, in time, you'll see more focus, whether it's from the industry or from our partnership, but for now, it's really good to get all this learning.
Lewis: One thing I'm curious about, on the same note: We are still very much in the early innings with equity crowdfunding. We're about to lap a year at this point. Do you have any early indications or interesting data points, what possible deal activity looks like, or what investor appetite looks like?
Bill Clark: I think that from investor appetite, even from our own platform, it's across the board. Like Slava mentioned, with The Field Guide to Evil, our first movie, we wanted to raise $500,000 and we were able to hit that 11 days early. It's still up, but because of regulations, we have to keep it up for the full amount of time, even though it's already hit its deadline. So, on the movie side, we obviously saw the demand there.
On the restaurant side, there's great demand, and they just didn't have that type of access to capital before, so we're excited about that. So it's very early. From MicroVentures' core business on the tech side, that's what we have done mainly. Seeing that expand into other verticals is great. I think from the company side, we're seeing companies from all over. Like Slava mentioned, we'll look at anything, and we'll learn from it and decide if it's a good fit. But really, if it makes sense for investors and there's a potential for them to make money, we'll try it -- and when I say try it, I mean do due diligence on it, and see if we think it's a good opportunity for investors -- and then we'll learn from their comments and feedback.
Rubin: And so far, it's been, like you mentioned, open for nine months, three quarters, and numbers are around 250 deals that have been posted, and just around 40% that have hit their targets. On Indiegogo we're pretty excited so far to still be 100% hitting their targets. And we've seen demand on the investor side for many different states, and it's from a wide range of demographics. So it's pretty interesting to see that it's broad appeal.
Lewis: One thing I've been kind of curious about with this is, with people no longer having to be accredited investors, that definitely lowers the barrier for who can participate. Have you seen a shift in demographics with who's actually interested? Or is it that that hurdle isn't there anymore, but it's still largely high net-worth individuals, people who would be accredited investors anyway?
Clark: It has shifted for Title III. It's across the board. It's people that are considered sophisticated in the terms of the SEC all the way to accredited; it doesn't really matter anymore. The one thing that we learned at MicroVentures was if you allow non-accredited investors to participate, they ask a lot of questions. They ask more questions than an accredited investor. That might be because they have more to lose from a net-worth standpoint. But it's great to see that they will do that due diligence, and go above and beyond to actually do the due diligence on the company. So we are seeing increased activity even on calling in and asking questions specifically about the process, not necessarily the companies. Because unfortunately, we can't talk about the companies due to the rules, but we are educating people on a daily basis. And like you said, this is early innings, and it's all about education and making sure they understand the risk. I believe truly that investors that come to the platform do understand the risks, because we put it everywhere. We have an education section, they have to check boxes and read things that say, "Don't invest if you can't afford to lose this money."
Lewis: What are some common questions that you hear?
Rubin: How much can I invest? How do I know if it's a good company or not? Some of it's as straightforward as that. What does rev share really mean?
Clark: What's a crowd-safe note? That's what we've been using to raise money. The easiest explanation is, it's just a convertible note, but it just stays as debt until there's a liquidity event.
Lewis: You guys have mentioned rev share a couple times, is that something that a lot of companies are interested in, or is the thought that they want to be holding onto revenue to fuel growth?
Clark: That's definitely a balancing act that we review and assess in due diligence, if a company does want to do rev share. We are very interested in rev share because it gives the liquidity options for an investor, where they can get their money back a lot faster, but we'll only do it if it makes sense. So, if a company can afford to carve out 1% to 10%, whatever the amount is, and pay that back to investors, then we'll run the numbers and make sure like we feel like it's a good opportunity. But yeah, I think that investors are interested in that, because if they're investing in equity, the average is going to be more than seven years before you get your money back. And you should balance and do diversification and invest in some of those companies if you feel comfortable. But then you should also look at rev share opportunities as well as a way to potentially get some of that money back sooner, as long as the company is successful. So, yeah, we like it, and I think it'll have a definite place in our fund raising.