When you hear "Tech Investor," what comes to mind?
For most people, it's the Generic Rich Guy. Whether he's sipping champagne on a yacht, yelling into a phone about business things, or just hanging around wearing his standard-issue sport coat with jeans, it's pretty common to make an instant "Investor = Rich Guy" association. This stereotype is not without reason; according to the SEC, an accredited investor in the U.S. must have a minimum annual income of $200,000, a joint income of $300,000, or a net worth of $1,000,000. Needless to say, this is a major roadblock for regular people who may want to invest some money in the Next Big Thing. It's a script that's plays out countless times: An average person with a middle-class salary hears about a cool up-and-coming company or an innovative new product. Their interest is piqued, and they imagine how great it would be to have the money needed to invest in it. Then, they sigh wistfully and tuck that fantasy away into the "When I Win Lotto" file.
It's divisive, it's unfair... but with the help of a brand new SEC regulation, it's about to be left in the dust.
In June of 2015, the SEC enacted "Regulation A+" to create a brand new fundraising category for use by smaller companies: Equity-Based Crowdfunding. While it's true that platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have already made crowdfunding a popular choice for small businesses, equity-based crowdfunding works a bit differently. Instead of a rewards-based system, where investors are repaid with gifts like merchandise or tickets, equity-based crowdfunding actually grants investors shares in the company, and the investor gets to take a level of ownership in the business. Before Reg A+, only the wealthy echelon would have the ability to invest in a startup business and reap the benefits of future increases in valuations. Thanks to Reg A+, now virtually anyone can invest up to 10% of their income this way. Private companies have a brand new avenue to raise up to $50 million from the public, and non-accredited investors finally have an opportunity to get some skin in the game.
There are two possible stages of a Reg A+ crowdfunding campaign: The optional first phase is called "Test the Waters" (TTW), and this means time-interested investors can submit a non-binding expression of interest. The second phase is the "Live Offering," when actual investments are made. Both phases are done on platforms like StartEngine or SeedInvest, where companies provide a public "investor deck," inviting people to learn more about the company, the team, the market and the overall investment opportunity. There, the general public can choose a company and invest money in exchange for equity in the form of shares. Any company can launch a TTW campaign, but they won't transition to Live Offering until they've gone through a mandatory SEC filing and qualification process. Granted, this process does require significant preparation of audited financials, plus all relevant company information like ownership, debt and use of proceeds must be made public. Since the process can take several months, some companies see this period as a perfect time to "Test The Waters," and choose to make the most of it by getting their company story out into the public sphere while waiting for full SEC approval. With paid media, like websites and display ads, and social media, like Facebook and Twitter, the internet age has made it easier than ever for word of great new inventions and technological breakthroughs to spread like wildfire.
It's true that equity-based crowdfunding is still in its infancy - as of this writing, fewer than 100 companies have filed with the SEC, and only a portion of them have officially qualified. But the seed has been planted, and the shift is underway. With amazing 21st century ideas coming to fruition every day, it's incredibly exciting to think of the new innovations that will be taking off within the next few years. Just think of how much more exciting they'll be with a whole new level of inclusive investment opportunities, when virtually anybody can get a piece of the action. Hang on to your sport coats, Generic Rich Guys - the new reality of tech investment is going to change everything.