Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Democratization of Angel Investing

I had a conversation recently with Alex Mittal, Co-founder and CEO of FundersClub (FC) and decided to revisit my blog post from last fall that was skeptical of crowdfunding for angel investments.  FC is the latest Kickstarter type site to launch to give entrepreneurs the opportunity to raise financing from a large number of individuals.  Some of the current services act on the investment bank model and either facilitate transactions between investors and companies (i.e. Micro Ventures) or provide a secondary marketing between investors (i.e. Second Market). 

FC's approach is much more akin to the deal flow and social proof model of AngelList, with the ability to make small investments in a number of companies.  Since the provisions of the JOBS Act relating to angel investments by non-accredited investors haven't been finalized yet, these platforms are currently only available to accredited investors, who already have the ability to make angel investments.  However, there are many pieces of the FC model that are intriguing.

First, a little background on the company.  FC is a YCombinator (YC) company in the current Summer '12 class that will be pitching at next Tuesday's Demo Day. The site has recently launched and all of the 6 companies on FC are part of the same YC cohort.  Only one transaction has closed to date.  Surprise! Surprise! It is FundersClub, so good to see they are eating their own dog food, in VC parlance.

In many respects, the service is similar to the way Angel Groups operate, or at least the way Sand Hill Angels, where I was a long time member does.  Individuals pool their cash in to a single purpose entity to make the investment in the company.  Individuals can make smaller investments in a number of companies, gaining portfolio diversification benefits.  And the company has only one investor on the cap table but can (if they wish) take advantage of a larger group network. On FC, you can see who else is investing, invest with a few clicks, and see how the round is coming together by viewing a real time thermometer. Very cool!  I had always thought AngelList would go in this direction and this indeed may be on their roadmap.  You can connect to FC through Facebook and LinkedIn, but not AngelList...Investors pay a one-time 12% administration fee on top of the investment amount.  This may seem steep, but is certainly cheaper than the annual 2% management fee and 20% carry of a typical venture fund.  Of course, this is comparing apples to oranges.

One of FC's goals is to expand the pool of investors.  While I will be attending the YC Demo Day next week along with many other Silicon Valley Angels, this is not a public event and difficult to attend for those out of the area.  Anyone can now have access to many of the highly competitive investment opportunities.  In addition, the angel investment process can be time consuming and daunting to those not familiar with venture deal terms.  Now, if you wish, you can make investments as small as $1,000 in several companies in a matter of minutes.

I'm curious as to how the SEC will view FC.  The site was designed with the very simple registration process we are all demanding, including checking a couple of boxes to prove you are an accredited investor.  It is no more difficult to move through this than all of the under 13-year olds who have facebook profiles by checking that they are 13 or up.  I'm guessing (if FC proves successful) that there will be unsophisticated unaccredited investors making investments and that the SEC may see this as a public offering of securities. On SecondMarket, there is a much more rigorous interview process and an electronic signature is required.

I still don't see FC as a place I'll make many investments and the administrative fee seems like it will have a material impact on returns, but could prove a great way to have your own angel investment portfolio with aggregate investment amount of $50K instead of $500K-$1M.  Jury is still out, but I'm excited to track their progress and am optimistic that there will be a successful angel investment crowdfunding platform. 

I wouldn't bet against FundersClub.  Unfortunately, I can't bet on them.  I was on vacation last week and missed out on investing in FundersClub through FundersClub before the opportunity closed.  Perhaps, there will still be an opportunity to invest the old fashioned way, but signing a bunch of docs and writing a check. 


James said...

Hi – will you please post your Blog at The Private Equity Community ay vorts.com? Our members will appreciate it.
They include: venture capitalists, private equity firms and experts, those looking for funding, etc.
It's simple just cut and paste the link and it automatically links back to your website… You can also add Articles, Photos, News, Jobs, Videos and More! Free and easy…
Email me if you need any help or would like me to do it for you.
The Private Equity Community: http://www.vorts.com/private_equity/
James Kaufman, Editor

Katia said...

It's great that you publish such posts.