Category Archives: crowdfunding

A Small Business Started From Scratch. Surf And Tacos.

 

You can do this.

This guy rounded up the funds to start this thing long before there were Crowdfunding sites springing up everywhere. Here is a simple little idea that evolved to the employment of 16 people working to create taco lunches for people in Rockaway Beach, an urban beach in Queens, New York, aka the Irish Riviera. He makes tacos.

And, only a few months out of the year. The rest of the time? He surfs in IndonesiaAustralia, and Mexico.

Does this sound better than hanging around unemployment lines hoping for one of those stupid jobs they advertised? Of course it does. Figure out what moves you, what you can do and what will make people come to you to get it.

Then, post your project on RocketHub or Indiegogo or Kickstarter and start your own business. In a year or two, you too will be surfing in Mexico, and having a great time doing what you love, when you are “working”.

Here. Watch this:

(I apologize, but WordPress has serious support issues for video, so you will have to watch it on a Pinterest site):

http://pinterest.com/pin/238831586459640111/

And, don’t forget to come back to this blog site when you are done.

 


Let’s Do This Thing!

Everybody keeps telling me to write something positive and to stop harping on gloom and doom in our future.

I really wish I knew how to do that, because every day I search for some signs, or any sign that there is some hopeful event on the horizon that will create a positive impact on our future, but I can’t find any.

I turn on the TV News and without fail, there are varying degrees of sterilized coverage of some economic event that happened three days earlier that will have far greater impact than the newsies imply and is of far greater complexity than they can possibly understand or communicate.

So, they don’t, and America does what? Goes about their business placated by the blind faith that their leaders will figure out how to prevent the world from ending before it does?  Do they say to themselves, “Hey, how bad could it get? After all, we went through some deep shit in the 30’s and we came out alright.”

Cable news is marginally better because at least they have a longer segment in which to explore the charts, data, directions, patterns, history, etc., but it is still not enough. Then, I have to remind myself every day that people just don’t care. Here is what people care about:

TRENDING NOW (from Yahoo web searches ranked by popularity) on this fine day in July:

01 Mariah Carey

02 Sigourney Weaver

03 Harrison Ford turns 70

04 Michelle Obama threat

05 Chevy buy-back

06 F-22 hypoxia

07 Bonnie and Clyde guns

08 Bankruptcy protection

09 GOP vice-presidential candidates

10 Rheumatoid arthritis

So, it is obviously more important to the American people that Mariah Carey and Sigourney Weaver are celebrating Harrison Ford’s 70th birthday, while Michelle Obama has threatened a Chevy buy-back and some pilots are still experiencing hypoxia when they ride in the cockpit of a jet the military never wanted, and Bonnie and Clyde have hidden their guns and filed for bankruptcy protection because the GOP VP candidates have rheumatoid arthritis.

THIS is what the people care about.

How can that be? I haven’t a clue.

And, if I believe we are truly headed for hell, then why don’t I write about what we can do about it and instead of warning people all the time, point out some things that people can do once they know it.

OK. Here goes: If you have a job, no matter how shitty, keep it and shut-up about how shitty it is. You are blessed. It isn’t like they promised it would be. So, what? If you are still in school, stay there. Slow it down. Take fewer courses. Get Mono. Avoid graduation like the plague. Yes, even if you are at Harvard or Stanford. And, yes, even if you will have an MBA. Particularly if you have an MBA. Stay on your parents’ health care plan as long as you can. If you have a government job, you are even more blessed.

If you are an Airline Pilot, a Doctor or Lawyer, you are just fine. Not making very much money, but fine. Don’t buy anything you don’t need. Don’t buy real estate, yet.

If you are an investment banker, you are also fine. In fact, you are great. There will be tons of money to be made on the craziest gambles you’ve ever seen. Derivatives? Nah, child’s play. China? Gold? Corn? Salmon? Copper? You betcha.

If you are a commercial banker, you are screwed. Too bad.

If you are unemployed, find something that only you can do and offer it for sale. Try Fiverr, or the like. Make something up. “I will sing Happy Birthday in my silly hat for $5”. Really.

Stop looking for work if you haven’t already. It is bad for your soul. If you’ve been out of work for a year, you undoubtedly have erectile dysfunction. You may have already joined many who have considered suicide. Don’t do it.

Get creative. Find others and band together in some common cause. Like tearing down the government. Don’t do it like the Occupy movement did. Actually form a political party and talk to the media. Use simple words. Talk slowly. Even though it makes no sense, talk about the government making jobs. Or, find a bunch of people and start a business that capitalizes on the GREATEST DEPRESSION EVER. Put people in need together with people who have. Make something up. Now is the time. Bend rules. The law will be so busy chasing truly bad guys, it won’t have time to worry about you. And, where would they put you? Jail? Who would look after you? They are all out of work too.

If you are a teacher, you are doomed, but at least 40% of you still have jobs. Try to stay out of site and don’t ever complain.

If you’re in the military, stay in the military. Re-up. For anything.

If you are upside down on your house, walk away and start over somewhere. If you have a ton of debt, declare bankruptcy before they change the law again and make it even harder. If you are lucky enough to be on unemployment or other government welfare programs, revel in it and stay on them. They are NOT entitlements. You paid for them in taxes. They are yours. You have earned them.

If you have a ton of money, you will have fun and be able to make lots more by betting against all fiscal progress and economic recovery. Bet against Greece. Bet against European banks surviving. Bet against the dollar. Bet against every bank stock, and bet on every European sovereign bond default.

Oh, that’s not what you meant, huh?

OK. The truth is we live in the modern world. And, no matter what happens in Washington or in our State Capitols, this is still the modern world (it would be easy to say this is still America, but technology now allows our freedoms to enable behavior around the world, so I call this the modern world). We can do anything we want here. You want to know what to do? Then, page down to the end, and I’ll tell you.

In the meantime, the cracks in the ice are getting bigger.  At this point it is really hard to have much confidence in the global financial system at all.  The lying leaders told us that MF Global was an isolated incident.  Well, the horrific financial scandal over at PFGBest last week is essentially MF Global all over again.  And, either no one was watching or no one was telling. They told us that we would not see a huge wave of municipal bankruptcies in the United States.  Well, three California cities have declared bankruptcy in less than a month, and many more are on their way.  They told us that we could have faith in the integrity of the global financial system.  Well, now we are finding out that global interest rates have been fixed by insiders for years, including our own Treasury leader. 

They told us that Greece was an isolated problem and that none of the larger European nations would experience anything remotely similar.  Well, what is happening in Spain right now looks like an instant replay of exactly what happened in Greece.  So who are we supposed to believe?  Why does it seem like nearly everything that “the authorities” tell us turns out to be a lie?   What else haven’t they been telling us? I think I know.

Look, tens of millions of American families are about to go through economic hell and most of them don’t even realize it. For some weird reason, most Americans don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about things like “monetary policy” or “economic cycles”.  The vast majority of people just want to be able to get up in the morning, go to work and provide for themselves and their families.  Most Americans realize that things seem “harder” these days, but most of them also have faith that things will eventually get better.  Why? I have no idea.

Unfortunately, things are NOT going to get any better.  The number of good jobs continues to decline, the number of Americans losing their homes continues to go up, people are having a much more difficult time paying their bills and our federal government is drowning in debt.  Sadly, this is only just the beginning of how bad it is going to be.

Since the financial collapse of 2008, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government have taken unprecedented steps to stimulate the economy.  But even with all of those efforts, we are still living in an economic wasteland.

So what is going to happen when the next wave of the economic crisis hits?

If you look at the economic relapse that’s going on right now, look at last week’s abysmal job numbers, look at the housing numbers, understand that all of this is taking place with record monetary and fiscal stimulus. What happens if we remove those supports? What do you think will happen?

Last month, the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program ended (QE2 for those of you still counting).  The U.S. Congress and state legislatures from coast to coast are talking about budget cuts.  The amount of borrowing and spending that has been going on is clearly unsustainable, but will the U.S. economy start shrinking again once the current “financial sugar high” has worn off? QE3? It won’t work. Trust me.

Already, most economic news has been bad and almost all true economic indicators are turning south.  And, finally, the American people are becoming increasingly restless.  One new poll has found that 59 percent of the American people disapprove of Barack Obama’s handling of the economy (which is a new high).  According to another recent poll, 63% of Americans say that they feel “not good” or “bad” about how the U.S. economy is performing. It is not surprising that my buddy, Jimmy Carville is predicting a civil uprising.

The official unemployment rate just went up to 9.1 percent, but that figure only tells part of the picture.

There are some areas of the country where it seems nearly impossible to find a decent job.  Millions of Americans have fallen into depression as they find themselves unable to provide for their families.

According to CBS News, 45.1 percent of all unemployed Americans have been out of work for at least six months.  That is a higher percentage than at any point during the Great Depression. Just two years ago, the number of “long-term unemployed” in the United States was only 2.6 million.  Today, that number is up to 6.2 million.

Can you imagine being out of work for 6 months or more? How would you survive? Do you have enough money in the bank to last 6 months with no income? 89% of Americans don’t. Should I repeat that?

 

So is there any realistic expectation that things will get any better?  Well, there were only about 3 million job openings in the United States during the month of April.  Normally there should be about 4.5 million job openings.  The economy has slowed down once again.  Good jobs are going to become even more rare. Unless we can generate 160,000 new jobs each month, we fail to satisfy new demand. And, that is just NEW demand. It says nothing about existing unemployment. In other words, every new job we fall short of 160,000 is one more added to the unemployment number. So, yes, unemployment is growing. It is not coming down as many in the Obama administration would like to believe.

There are millions of other Americans that are “underemployed”.  All over the United States you will find hard working Americans that are flipping burgers or working in retail stores because that is all they can get right now. Most temp jobs and most part-time jobs don’t pay enough to be able to provide for a family.  And there are not nearly enough full-time jobs for everyone.

Sadly, the number of “middle class jobs” is about 10 percent lower than a decade ago.  There are simply less tickets to the “good life” than there used to be. And without good jobs, the American people cannot afford to buy homes. Without good jobs, the American people cannot even afford the homes that they are in now. And, these jobs are NEVER COMING BACK.

U.S. home prices have fallen 33 percent since the peak of the housing bubble.  That is more than they fell during the Great Depression. 28 percent of all homes with a mortgage in the United States are in negative equity at this point.  There are millions of American families that are now paying on mortgages that are for far more than their homes are worth. Millions of American families literally feel trapped in their homes.  They can’t afford to sell their homes, and they are afraid to simply walk away, because as things stand now, nobody will approve them for new home loans for many years to come.

Many Americans are sticking it out and are staying in their homes until they simply can’t pay for them anymore. As the number of good jobs continues to decline, the number of Americans that are losing their homes continues to rise. For the first time ever, more than a million U.S. families lost their homes to foreclosure in a single year during 2010. As the economy slows down once again and millions more Americans lose their jobs, this problem is going to get a lot worse. WORSE THAN TODAY.

Even if they aren’t losing their homes yet, millions of other Americans families are finding it increasingly difficult to pay the bills. Wages have been very flat over the past few years and yet the cost of most of the basics just seems to keep going up and up. According to Brent Meyer, a senior economic analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the cost of food and the cost of energy have risen at an annualized rate of 17 percent over the past six months. Have your wages gone up by 17 percent over the past six months?

As 2009 began, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States was $1.83.  Today it is $3.77. American families are finding that their paychecks are going a lot less farther than they used to, but Ben Bernanke keeps insisting that we have very little inflation in 2011.

Most Americans don’t care much about economic statistics – they just want to be able to do basic things like sit on their porch and have a beer, and take their children to the doctor. According to one recent survey, 26 percent of Americans have put off doctor visits because of the economy. Sadly, soon a lot more American families will not be able to afford to go to the doctor. But, ironically, not because Doctors are earning and charging more, but because Insurance companies are.  Doctor’s wages continue to trend down while Insurance company profits continue to trend up.

As the economic situation has unraveled, an increasing number of people are being forced to turn to the federal government for assistance. One out of every six Americans is now enrolled in at least one anti-poverty program run by the federal government. Some of the hardest hit members of our society have been our children.  Today, one out of every four American children is on food stamps. At the moment, approximately 44 million Americans are on food stamps.

But our federal government cannot afford to spend money like this forever.

According to a recent USA Today analysis, the U.S. federal government took on $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations during 2010.  USA Today says that the U.S. government now has $61.6 trillion in financial obligations that have not been paid for yet. Yes, that is trillion! $61.6 TRILLION.  Who is going to end up paying that bill? I know; you don’t care. And neither do I. What I care about is where my next meal is coming from, and how I am going to afford that next gallon of gas. I suspect you do too.

So with so much bad news and with all economic indicators pointing in the wrong direction, are our leaders alarmed?

According to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, “growth seems likely to pick up somewhat in the second half of the year.” I swear to God, the man is on drugs or has a contract clause that forces him to keep repeating the same mantra, no matter what happens. He, and his buddies in Washington and in your State capitol are part of the same disease. The disease that brings us closer every day to Armageddon.

So, what do we do? I said I would tell you what to do, right?

OK. This may seem silly to some of you, but there is absolutely no reason why we cannot all start a new business that is independent of anyone else and relies only on our own creativity and energy. This is not a plug for Crowdfunding. This is a plug for entrepreneurship.  There are many websites around now that provide the ability to post a project and solicit funds to launch it. Kickstarter, Indiegogo and RocketHub are three American sites joined by several in the UK and elsewhere that facilitate anyone with a dream to test the water in the Crowd for enthusiasm about your project. Here’s an example:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/readmatter/matter — Might not be your style? How about this one: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1220832022/bloc-socks?ref=popular … or … this one: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/8479-social-action-10-months-in-tel-aviv

The point is that you can, and should … DO SOMETHING! Stop waiting for somebody else to do it for you. Stop looking for a job. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Grab some buds, and get a dialogue going around some pet idea that you have had in the back of your mind. Maybe it comes from your frustrations as a single mother, as a cabdriver, as a fireman, a teacher, a bricklayer, whatever. There must be 99 ways to whatever you do better, faster, cooler, bigger or more. You can come up with something that maybe a few hundred other people think is a good idea also.

Then, you can post it on these sites and maybe, just maybe, you will raise enough money to start a little company doing that thing. Maybe it takes off. Maybe it flops. In the meantime, you might raise enough to sustain yourself to get to the second or third idea. You know? The one that really works.

This beats sitting around, feeling sorry for yourself and looking at want-ads, doesn’t it? And, you know that will never work anyway, and all it does is bring you closer to depression. Don’t be that guy. Don’t do the stuff that brings you closer to depression. Start something. It takes zero cash. You can do this.

And, though I realize you really don’t care, it is also the way in which we re-start this country and throw all of the old paradigms about banking and central government out the window. It is up to us now. Let’s do this thing!

 


New Peer-to-peer Lender Enters Space.

RainFin: latest entry into peer-to-peer lending – but, in South Africa.

RainFin intends to disrupt South Africa’s financial services sector by allowing credit-worthy South Africans to engage in peer-to-peer lending, cutting out banks in the process and offering higher returns to lenders and better interest rates to borrowers.

Sean Emery, cofounder and CEO of RainFin, says the company’s online platform links people who need to borrow money with people who have money to lend. He says borrowers can access funds at lower interest rates and with better terms and conditions than they could through a bank.

Emery says borrowers may be able to get interest rates as low as half of those offered by traditional banks. Lenders, meanwhile, can achieve “superior returns” on money they loan to others. He calls it “social lending”, and it fits well with American models that are rolling out this year, in advance of the JOBS act and attendant CrowdFunding bill, though Emery contends social-lending is different.

Lending is making the wrong people rich and the wrong people poor,” says Emery. There’s an important distinction between “CrowdFunding” and “social lending”, he says. The latter is a subset of the former and sees a group of people engaging in transactions while sidestepping traditional intermediaries rather than pooling resources to create a product or fund an event.

In order to use RainFin, consumers must be older than 18 and resident in South Africa. The site employs a thorough credit vetting process, after which borrowers can apply for loans of between R1 000 ($123 US) and R75000 ($9,191 US) using the RainFin marketplace.

These are small, short-term loans. Borrowers can specify the loan amount, the maximum interest they are willing to pay and the loan duration they prefer. The maximum repayment period is one year.

Individual lenders, meanwhile, can invest between R100 ($12 US) and R500000 ($61.275 US) in the service and spread it across numerous loans. Investors are not obliged to lend to groups or individuals, and have access to anonymous credit risk information based on factors such as age, gender, location and credit score.

RainFin earns a percentage-based transactional fee on every loan that takes place. Emery says this makes the costs of the platform “completely transparent” to its users. There is a 2% origination fee charged to the borrower and a 1% fee to lender for managing the transaction. Thus, the service takes 3% of a transaction’s value, added to it.

“We believe that consumers have an opportunity to take back some of the power they have given to banks, benefitting each other rather than large institutions in the process.”

Emery says RainFin intends to add other products to its offering, including financing for small and medium-sized businesses and mortgages in coming months.

The service is aimed at two types of borrowers. The first are highly creditworthy borrowers who want a better return on investment than they get currently.

The second is the first-time borrower or a borrower that is shunned by the formal banking sector because of their age — whether too young or too old — or because they are freelancers, students or entrepreneurs.

At launch, the service is designed to handle up to 100,000 users. Emery says there are no plans to launch the service outside South Africa on account of the banking regulation complexities that it would entail. The service doesn’t require a banking license because it doesn’t take deposits.

“In the same way a real estate agent isn’t a bank, we aren’t either. We don’t take deposits and reinvest them for profit; we merely facilitate the moving of money between people,” says Emery.

Co-founder Hannes van der Merwe says RainFin is not a micro-lender. “We are not trying to extract as much money out of you as we can.” He says one of the challenges the service faced was designing a process that would allow users to engage in a legally binding contract online.

Lenders stipulate the interest rate they are prepared to accept and, in the case of two or more lenders offering the same rate, the first to bid on a loan request wins it. The service warns lenders if it appears a lender is taking on too much of a loan and inadequately spreading their risk on the service.

Van der Merwe says lenders can be kept up to date on new loans coming into the marketplace via Web feeds. Alternatively, the service includes an automatic “bid agent” that will bid on loans that meet specific criteria or notify the lender via e-mail.

Emery says the bulk of the service’s marketing will be done online, as that is where its audience is. “We are focused on using the mediums in which we operate so online, mobile and social networks to start with,” he says.

RainFin is funded by SA capital and went live on Tuesday.


Crowdfunding Update.

David Drake of LDJ Capital and TheSohoLoft.com continues today with his sixth article on his series regarding CrowdFunding for equity solutions, reprinted here with his permission.

Perhaps it was no surprise when Mary Schapiro, Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told a House subcommittee that the Securities and Exchange Commission will not meet the July 4, 2012 deadline imposed under the JOBS Act to implement rules for lifting the general solicitation ban under Regulation 506, Section D (advertising rules).

Ms. Schapiro explained to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on June 28, 2012 that the JOBS Act mandates that the SEC create rules that will require issuers to verify that they are accepting investments only from accredited investors who are responding to a general advertisement. Creating such rules are difficult and will require more time. “We want to create something that is workable and usable,” she said. The SEC Chair expects that general solicitation rules will be issued “this summer.”

The SEC’s commitment to provide general solicitation rules this summer is encouraging and badly needed. Representative Patrick McHenry probably summed up the urgency for the rules the best by advising Ms. Schapiro: “Entrepreneurs are waiting and we urge you to move forward with that.”

As the SEC develops rules for general solicitations, issuers must understand that they will need to move cautiously if the plan to use general advertisement to solicit offerings. The JOBS Acts require that issuers verify that they are accepting investments only from accredited investors under the SEC Act. The SEC rules ultimately will determine what verification process is needed and whether any safe harbors are available. We suggest that issuers looking forward to make general solicitations stay apprised of developments as the SEC formulates its rules, so that issuers are prepared to move forward when the rules go public.

The Securities & Exchange Act in 1933 required that only accredited investors could be solicited for investments and non-accredited investors could not be unless they had an exemption through Reg A, Reg D, a Direct Public Offering or a registered security being traded on an exchange.

Under the 1933 Act, the accredited investor was considered someone who made $200,000 per year the previous 2 years and expected to make $200,000 the following year or a couple making $300,000.  Under a later amendment adopted in 1982, another criteria that would allow you to qualify as an accredited and sophisticated investor would be that you had a net worth of $1,000,000.

While the Dodd Frank Act was under consideration, the SEC pushed for a high net worth amount for an accredited investor. This was highly opposed and removed. What was accomplished out of the Dodd Frank Act was:

a) The equity of your primary home would not count towards your net worth.

b) Debt surpassing your equity would count against your net worth.

c) The equity in your summer / vacation / secondary home would count towards your net worth.

The Dodd Frank Act also prohibited the SEC from adjusting the net-worth threshold for a natural person for four years.

If you take inflation into consideration, the $200,000 per year salary in 1982 would be the equivalent of approximately $1,000,000 today, and the net worth requirement set in 1982 would represent a net worth of approximately $10,000,000 today. Wow, that would not leave many people to invest. Another argument would be that are only rich people entitled to invest in private and exciting deals? Are the select few that made money on Facebook the only ones to ‘give it’ to the less rich?

Granted, $200,000 makes you rich today but I was alluding to the rich just like their counter parts in 1933. Remember, the SEC 1933 & 1934 Act was created to protect the non-accredited investors from fleecing but also to assure that they did not leverage their home 99% and spend all their money on stocks that would not only be worthless but put them jobless and homeless. The 1929 crash that led to the great depression was extreme.

While the status quo remains for determining the financial threshold of an accredited investor, a fundamental change is approaching on solicitation. Currently, any issuer intending to rely on Rule 506 of Regulation D cannot engage in any general solicitation or advertising to attract investors. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) directs the SEC to remove this prohibition, which the SEC expects to implement during the summer of 2012.

Here is a little history on the non-solicitation rule. Be reminded that there was no TV or internet in 1933. The ban on solicitation to non-accredited investors forced brokers and companies to only talk to ‘rich’ people for investments, that is, the accredited investors. The JOBS Act asked the SEC change the writing in 90 days – that is July 4th, 2012 – Independence day – at which point advertising online, via email to millions or on TV would allow you to advertise you wanted capital for your stock to the general public.

Note, you still could only take money from accredited investors but the monumental change is that you can freely advertise wildly. Yet again, you would lose your exemption status under Reg D 506 if you took one single non-accredited investor and they decided to sue you later for loss of capital — a rare occasion but a legal premise that may hold true. So, will this amendment be implemented by July 4th and we will see media go bananas with everyone with their mother advertising stocks of private companies you can buy?

No, the SEC will not allow such madness as they will implement a safe harbor to assure that the ‘accreditation” of an investor through this means is verifiable and not necessarily just self-monitored by the issuer.

David Drake is a founding board member of CFIRA. Crowdfund Intermediary Regulatory Advocates, or CFIRA, was established following the signing of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act. CFIRA is an organization formed by the CrowdFunding industry’s leading platforms and experts. The group will work with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and other affected governmental and quasi-governmental entities to help establish industry standards and best practices. For more information, visit http://www.CFIRA.org. Connect with TheSohoLoft at facebook.com/TheSohoLoft and sign up for newsletters at www.thesoholoft.com, or contact Donna Smith, Communications Manager, for more information at 212.845.9652 or via email at donna@LDJCapital.com.


Peer-to-peer Lending Update.

It’s time for an update on peer-to-peer lending and social finance.

Years ago, clipping coupons from bonds was the province and passion of people in retirement. Today, a tidal wave of aging boomers want income, but traditional sources basically suck. Ten-year ­Treasury’s yield 1.6%. Safe-money bank CDs? 0.5%. Investment-grade corporate bonds are delivering 3.2%.

So retiring boomers are seeking alternatives. That’s why dividend stocks and annuities are very popular. But, there’s another cool source of high yield investments that are rapidly growing in popularity. Peer-to-peer lending, or making personal loans via the Internet, using websites like LendingClub.com and Prosper.com, have proven to represent a new and attractive asset class for a broad range of investors.

       

They have been around for 6 years and have had some bumps, including weathering a financial crisis and the current recession, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending has earned its place on an income investor’s menu.

The basic premise of these bank disintermediaries is that they harness the networking power of the Web to match people who have excess cash, with people in need of it, or those who simply want to do things like refinance credit card debt.

The key to its success has been how the sites have managed the inherent riskiness of unsecured personal loans. Believe it or not, it is now possible to earn yields of 6% or more, making relatively safe loans to complete strangers.

Los Angeles financial advisor Brendan Ross committed $300,000 of his own money to Lending Club in early 2011. Based on his quarterly interest payments he claims he has accrued about $40,000 in income to date. Annual yield: 10.2%.

“I’d been tracking the P2P space pretty much since the inception,” Ross says. “I was waiting to feel like its loan underwriting model had matured.”

San Francisco’s Lending Club is the largest P2P lender, followed by its crosstown rival Prosper. And, there are several other, specialized sites (like iPeopleFINANCE) who offer a lending model that is different than the securitized model of Lending Club and Prosper. These offer a direct lending model where an investor chooses one individual borrower based on an affinity profile and makes a small, short term loan where the investor can earn higher interest rates, yet still be able to enjoy mitigated risk.  Lending Club and Prosper have loaned a total of more than $1 billion since inception, in 112,000 loans.

Lending Club currently issues about $45 million in loans a month versus Prosper’s $13 million per month. Prosper ran afoul of the SEC in 2008 and temporarily shut down to “revamp its risk-assessment model” which is corporate code for getting into SEC compliance.

At Lending Club, after a quick registration you can sort through hundreds of potential loans. Each loan has its own risk rating, term (either 36 or 60 months) and rate of return.

Loans with the highest rating—based on the borrower’s FICO score and some additional analysis—pay in the 5% to 9% range—about the same as junk bonds. Interest rates on riskier loans range as high as 31%. Both companies also offer diversified funds of aggregated loans and IRA options.

Lending Club and Prosper vet thousands of loan applications, whittling down the pool to only those borrowers the company deems least likely to default. Renaud Laplanche, cofounder and CEO of Lending Club says his firm declines about 90% of all borrower applications, focusing on the 10% of borrowers with the best credit. Which makes them essentially, banks.

Of course, defaults do happen. Lending Club’s top-rated three-year loans expect a default rate of around 1.4%, and the riskiest loans, offering rates as high as 25%, have a 9.8% default rate. By contrast junk bonds have an average default rate of 1.9%.

It’s prudent to opt for the pools of hundreds of P2P loans both sites offer. That’s how advisor Ross is earning 10%, despite a handful of defaults on direct loans he made, because his defaults were offset by his performing loans. With the emerging market lenders like iPeopleFINANCE, the investor cannot hedge his risk in the same way, but due to iPeople’s proprietary credit scoring algorithm, an additional 20% of applicants get funded, and get a higher credit rating than their FICO scores would yield from the big-3 credit bureaus.

Additionally, iPeople insures that each borrower has in place a free, pre-paid, re-loadable debit card that receives a direct deposit with each paycheck that guarantees the loan payment, so the risk of default is very low. iPeople is targeted to young Gen-Yers and to returning Vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. Both of these groups have had little opportunity to establish credit, prefer a more cash-oriented lifestyle, and seek relationships with non-traditional banks. iPeople offers a suite of mobile cash applications tied to the debit card, that can be downloaded to smart phones, and can efficiently deliver banking services to customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, wherever they may be.

John Mack, former chairman of Morgan Stanley, is a convert to P2P lending. After committing several million of his own capital to such loans, he joined Lending Club’s board in April, lending a strong measure of credibility to the space.

Of course, a couple of former Wells Fargo executives have joined iPeople’s board as well, sending strong messages to the markets that peer-to-peer lending is here to stay.


Crowdfunding Entrepreneur Gives Commencement Speech.

A pioneer in the Crowdfunding space is making the commencement speech to the UCLA class of 2012.

Entrepreneur Jessica Jackley, co-founder of an innovative peer-to-peer micro-lending website, will be the UCLA College of Letters and Science‘s 2012 commencement speaker. More than 6,000 students are expected to receive bachelor’s degrees at the ceremony, which will be held tomorrow, June 15, at Drake Stadium on the UCLA campus.

 “Jessica Jackley’s seminal work using social media to create social change makes her an ideal selection to reinforce this year’s commencement theme of leadership that is transformative,” said Judith L. Smith, UCLA dean and vice provost of undergraduate education. Hear, hear!

In 2005, Jackley co-founded the micro-lending site Kiva, a hugely popular and successful International micro-lending site, which allows Internet users to lend as little as $25 to individual entrepreneurs, providing affordable capital to help them start or expand a small business. Kiva has facilitated nearly $300 million in loans among individuals in more than 200 countries.

 She also co-founded and was CEO of ProFounder, which provides new ways for small business entrepreneurs in the U.S. to access startup capital through Crowdfunding and community involvement.

She is also a venture partner with Collaborative Fund, which focuses on investing in creative entrepreneurs who want to change the world through emerging technologies.

Jackley has been recognized widely for her leadership and accomplishments. She is the recipient of the 2012 Symons Innovator Award from the National Center for Women and Information Technology and was honored with the 2011 “No Boundaries” Innovation Award from The Economist magazine. She was a finalist for Time magazine’s 2009 ranking of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Jackley earned an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy and political science from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. She is currently a visiting practitioner at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

Crowdfunding continues to legitimize and come of age.

 


Crowdfunding Update!

David Drake of The Soho Loft (a holding company of LDJ Capital), has weighed in with some comments about the changes concerning general advertising with respect to Crowdfunding, resulting from the implementation of the JOBS Act this and next year.

David is one of the founding organizers of the SOHO Loft Crowdfunding Conferences.

These changes fall under the Advertising for Investment Funds section of the Investment Company Act of 1940, which are part of a large body of rules that will be overthrown when the Crowdfunding bill gets implemented.

In what may be an unforeseen consequence of the JOBS Act, funds will be able to advertise to the public as early as July 4th of this year. This comes as changes to Regulation 506 kick in, 90 days after Obama signed the measure into law on April 5th, 2012.

Part of the Act changes the general non-solicitation ban that has been in place since the 1933 SEC Act became law, 79 years ago. Removing this ban allows public advertising for firms applying under Regulation 506 with one stipulation – they may advertise to the general public, but can still only accept capital from accredited investors (today).

Since a previous ruling by the SEC under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (rule 3(c)1 and 3(c)7) identifies those private offerings as Regulation 506 offerings, the same relaxing of the rules will apply to funds as well. Secondly, the JOBS Act provides that offerings under 506 will not be a public offering for purposes of “other federal securities laws.” The 1940 Act would fall under that exemption, essentially making the Regulation 506 changes apply to funds as well.

The SEC will need to address this issue. They may stall and ask for an extension. Alternatively, they could rescind the original ruling that bound the 1940 private offerings under Regulation 506. They could argue that the intent of the JOBS Act was not to affect private offerings. But this is dangerous ground, and it risks lawsuits if the SEC is seen as making what amounts to an unconstitutional change to legislation duly enacted into law.

So, what all of this actually means is that Crowdfunding sites should be preparing to advertise for capital to the general public. As early as this coming Independence day (appropriately enough).

They could say publicly that they have opened Fund I (for example) and they are raising $50 million for the purpose of investing in companies developing “Green Technologies” (for example). There will probably need to be caveats explaining that the offering is only open to “accredited investors”. But, this is the biggest change yet to the SEC Acts of 1933, 1934 and 1940.

Removing the non-solicitation ban introduces a powerful new force into the marketplace. And, it will be followed by laws enabling non-accredited investors to participate in February of 2013 (see below).

The JOBS Act also includes several other significant changes affecting both public and private companies.  For example:

• The JOBS Act will allow certain private companies to raise up to $1 million per year via “Crowdfunding” without registering the sales of securities with the SEC.  Crowdfunding will permit pooling of small investments from larger groups of investors regardless of whether the investors are accredited or sophisticated.

• The JOBS Act simplifies IPOs by Emerging Growth Companies (EGCs) by, among other things, permitting them to (1) file limited initial disclosures and subsequent reports, (2) provide fewer and less detailed audited financial statements, and (3) reduce disclosures regarding executive compensation.   Companies will cease to qualify as EGCs after either five years have elapsed since their IPOs, or they reach $1 billion in annual revenues.

• The JOBS Act expands the use of Regulation A, as an alternative to a registered IPO, by increasing from $5 million to $50 million the amount of capital that companies can raise under that exemption.

• The JOBS Act increases from 500 to 2,000 the number of stockholders of record a company may have before it must register and file quarterly and annual reports with the SEC (provided that no more than 500 of these stockholders are unaccredited investors).

The SEC will continue to adopt regulations implementing new Crowdfunding rules in the coming months, and we will bring them to you here on this blog as fast as they break.  Please drop any questions you might have in the comments section below or send me an e-mail to steve@ipeoplefinance.com, and we will do the best we can to provide answers.

 


Crowdfunding Needs To Go On The Warpath!

I cannot believe the opposition to the Crowdfunding component of the JOBS act. This is a classic case of government lifers protecting their turf.  

President Obama sent a strong message by signing the JOBS Act: This administration wants to actively participate in job creation, revive the American entrepreneurial spirit, and maximize the opportunities that modern technology can offer small business owners.

And the best part: It doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime. Just by cutting regulations, the JOBS Act energizes and modernizes an age-old formula. It’s simple: More funding for start-ups = more jobs. Kauffman Foundation’s research is clear:  All net new jobs in the last 30 years come from businesses fewer than five years old. Stimulating and enabling start-ups is the key to stimulating the job market.

The Crowdfunding opponents’ main objections? Fraud.

The SEC, along with several state securities regulators are “worried” that innocent, unsophisticated investors will be bilked by unscrupulous system gamers and scam artists. They actually equate this new frontier to the Wild West. Nothing could be further from the truth. And, by the way, this is the same SEC and state securities regulators that somehow missed Bernie Madoff, JPMorgan Chase, Lehman, AIG and Goldman-Sax, to name but a few. Are these the agencies that we want “protecting” us from predatory investors and scam artists? I think not.

Here’s a few reasons why their “concerns” are poorly grounded:

First, the SEC has another nine months in which to establish all sorts of regulations that will surely protect investors from fraudulent schemes. But, the best protection is baked right into the essence of Crowdfunding itself. That is, the crowds will ferret out any semblance of fraud and broadly report it before any investors have an opportunity to participate. The best example of this behavior can be seen by examining the recent Facebook IPO.

Within hours of the offering, millions of bloggers and reporters took to the airwaves reporting on the botched IPO, and this was “carefully” managed by people like JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and the like. Imagine how quickly that information would have been disseminated were an actual crowd participating online.

Second, we have a lot of actual Crowdfunding history to dispel the notion of fraud. Indiegogo, for example, has been around for over a year and has distributed millions of dollars every month – losing less than 1% to fraud.

Third, that tiny fraud rate is not mere coincidence. Rather, it’s based on very specific efforts. From the very start of a campaign, today’s Crowdfunding sites capture relevant information from both campaign owners and campaign funders. Online tools constantly screen funding campaigns using a fraud algorithm built on hundreds of thousands of transactions (similar to PayPal, MasterCard, and eBay).

Finally, the realities of Crowdfunding limit fraud as well – as typically the first 30-40% of funds contributed are from friends and family, providing social proof before new investors come on board. Quite understandably, strangers are reticent to fund empty campaigns. And beyond fraud, there are additional information rights and investor protections written into the JOBS Act.

Setting the fraud concerns aside, the benefits associated with Crowdfunding are unique, and in addition to creating lots of jobs and potential wealth, the upside is huge:

1. Projects that begin through online Crowdfunding have built-in risk mitigation. That’s because the public nature of the solicitations forces transparency regarding demand for the product or service.

2. The Crowdfunding process facilitates marketing efforts even before a new company is operational. It provides an opportunity to test the message – after all, the whole process of securing funding involves social media networking, marketing, and brand-positioning.

3. The very nature of starting a business through an online platform provides exposure to potential customers that a bank loan doesn’t. It provides open access to anyone, anywhere, and is shared with like-minded friends through social media.

4. The data-collection inherent in online interactive activity provides new businesses with critical information. Brick and mortar businesses struggle to obtain data about existing customers – let alone prospects. The Crowdfunding world provides that data instantly and in volumes large enough to draw statistical conclusions.

5. Crowdfunding provides young businesses and ideas with money to launch those ideas.

6. Crowdfunding allows average Joes and Janes access to startups and opportunity to invest and become part of the next Facebook, Google or cool Indie film debuting at Sundance.

These guys (Pebble) raised $7 million in two weeks before they shut down the fundraising on KickStarter and are now making these cool smart-watches that work with iPhones and Androids. Now, of course, the very Venture Capitalists who turned them down and dying to throw money at them. In addition, they have created a development platform for smart-watch applications, which guess what, creates lots of new jobs. If this had happened after Crowdfunding for equity was lawful (next February) the investors would each own a piece of this company – now they just get a watch instead.

We are not the same society that we were in the 1930s when the Securities Act of 1933 was written into law. That act prohibited anyone worth less than $1,000,000 from investing in privately held companies. 

This is 2012. We have the Internet. We have news on a 24/7 cycle. We all use Facebook, Twitter and many of us Blog and Pin and send Instagrams. We are social networking junkies. We insist on authenticity and we love to share. The JOBS act acknowledges the changing world and is an attempt to reflect today’s realities in the world of investing and business creation.

The JOBS Act is a natural evolution of President Obama’s Startup America agenda. And perhaps nothing speaks to the value of Crowdfunding better than the successful businesses – and jobs they created – that owe their existence to the short history of Crowdfunding. Let’s all get behind this and make sure that the law, as passed is what we are going to get next February and not some crazy, restricted version that defeats the whole purpose.


Pennsylvania Fearmongers Attack Crowdfunding.

Hopping Mad as Commissioners Go Over the Line.

This is a re-post by David Drake of LDJ Capital & The Soho Loft.

A shocking press release hit the net last week, purportedly from the Pennsylvania Securities Commission. The link to the “advisory” goes to http://www.psc.state.pa.us, but that site doesn’t seem to host a copy. Even so, if the press release is accurate, it amounts to an unfair characterization of the JOBS Act and new Crowdfunding regulations.

Crowdfunding under the Act is portrayed as creating a Wild West style free-for-all that will attract fraud and con artists of all stripes. They cite the current lack of hard and fast rules to govern the sector and then assume no rules will be in place before next year’s launch. That’s nuts.

Here’s a typical quote:

Commissioner Steven Irwin summarized, “The way the new law was written, it’s pretty much ‘Buyer beware.’” He added, “It’s not that we don’t need new incentives to attract more investments in startup companies. It’s just that the lax oversight implicit in the new law is likely to attract people trying to game the system and scam people out of their hard-earned money.”

Excuse me?  RocketHub has had zero fraud incidents since launch in 2009. 

The plain fact is that we do need a new structure to help start-ups. Crowdfunding and micro-financing is an ideal way for new investors to participate and energize our sluggish economy. Small entrepreneurs find themselves shut out of the game. A game that already has its critics.

Take a look at the analysis of VC opportunities as they exist now – you have the WSJ exposing a scheme where GP’s rake in the major profits while late-comers to an investment bear the burden of more risk and lower rewards.

A history of overblowing risks!

It seems the PASC takes their watchdog role very seriously. They did a similar warning back in 2010, only then it was another piece of federal legislation: PA Regulators Warn: Investor Scams, Like Flu Virus, Will Mutate to Adapt to New Federal Financial Reform Bill. Here are some of the entries on their top ten list of investment traps then: ETFs, forex, gold and precious metals, “green” investments, and oil and gas.

It seems their motto is, “panic first.” And that may be their charge. After all, as a state run commission, they should have one eye on regulations and another looking out for scofflaws. But this latest hit piece goes too far.

Of course there needs to be rule-making to regulate the Crowdfunding market. Everyone agrees on that.

Of course disclosure and investor protections have to be front and center.

And read what Pennsylvania Securities Commission Chairman Robert Lam had to say in their Spring Bulletin: “The Internet is a powerhouse, and maybe – just maybe – Crowdfunding will be a good thing once it matures and we have some ground rules in place.” Somehow Mr. Lam moved from cautious optimism to fear monger – while the rules are still being written at the SEC. At the risk of being repetitive – That’s nuts.

Our real concern isn’t about one small department in one state. Our concern is that this mischaracterization of Crowdfunding will catch on without those in authority positions doing their homework. Crowdfunding is worthwhile and it offers something no other framework can – access to funding for those too small to interest VC players.

Good ideas and good companies deserve a chance to present their case to the public, and the public deserves a chance to reap the rewards.

A turf war between federal and state regulators shouldn’t have the ability to libel an entire market. Should it?

One editorial comment: The very essence of crowdfunding, aka the crowd, is the built-in protector acting on behalf of all the investors, aka the crowd. The crowd will quickly, in fact virtually instantly, call out the fraudsters and the system gamers before any crowdfunded offering gets off the ground. Um, that is the whole idea behind crowds.

So, my question is, would you rather place your $100 in the hands of a Wall Street banker to invest in, I dunno, Proctor and Gamble? Or, would you rather place it in the hands of the next Facebook, with the support of 1,999 others (aka a crowd)?


Collaborative Consumption!

And, now for something completely different.

Collaborative Consumption is a phenomenon that describes a lifestyle generally associated with the Gen-Y population and has grown out of an ethos of sharing, a sense of community, and a sensibility around reuse, recycling and conservation.

The resulting economic model (and you all know how I love economic models) is based on buying, selling, sharing, swapping, bartering, trading or renting access to previously owned products. Technology and peer communities are enabling these old market behaviors to be reinvented in ways and on a scale never possible before.

From enormous marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist, to peer-to-peer marketplaces such as Tradepal, Fiverr, emerging sectors such as social lending (Zopa), peer-to-peer travel (CouchSurfing, Airbnb and Onefinestay), peer-to-peer experiences (GuideHop), event ticket sharing (unseat.me) and car sharing (Zipcar or peer-to-peer RelayRides), Collaborative Consumption is disrupting outdated modes of business and reinventing not just what people consume but how they consume it. Collaborative Consumption is sort-of the opposite of Conspicuous Consumption, where instead of choosing to drive a new BMW, the status achievement is more associated with driving a used 1970s Volvo.

Collaborative Consumption sites are proliferating on the web, with new platforms announcing their launches on almost a daily basis. These platforms are pioneering new spaces, and while they are all tapping into the Gen-Y zeitgeist, they press human behaviors to such an extent that they are all experiencing a certain amount of initial resistance due largely to inertia.

Getting people to try an idea that might be perceived as ‘risky’, like sharing your home with a stranger, is difficult to actually accomplish over the web.

This foray into the world of Collaborative Consumption raises interesting behavioral and technical questions.  How do we use technologies to enable trust between strangers? Is it even possible? What’s the best approach for building critical mass?  How do we know when and how to scale? How do we design a user experience that gets to the essence of what people want? How do we build a trusted brand in the community?

Almost all Collaborative Consumption marketplaces depend on matching what people want with what other people have. Obviously, this raises the issue of building a critical mass of inventory (users, products or services) on both the supply and demand sides of the equation, but which side should one focus on first?

Many of these sites seem to lean on the supply-side in order to create a sufficient number of choices to both entice and retain users who are shopping for stuff. Easy to talk about, but hard to do.

One of the not so obvious pitfalls is to try and be everything to everybody, which will usually result in chaos. It is far better to limit the number of choice variables while you build up a controlled market of supply and demand. If you were offering ridesharing services, you may initially limit your offering to certain streets and routes and only during certain hours of the day. Known commute corridors during peak commute times for instance.

If you were offering to match up weekend accommodations, you might limit the locations to areas within walking distance of common tourist attractions in a given city. Or, near main subway or bus stops that serve the entire city.

This is why these marketplaces happen mostly on a local or neighborhood level, as people share working spaces (for example, on Citizen Space or Hub Culture), gardens (Landshare),experiences (GuideHop) or parking spots (on ParkatmyHouse). However, Collaborative lifestyle sharing is beginning to happen on a global scale, too, through activities such as peer-to-peer lending (on platforms like Zopa and Lending Club) and the rapidly growing peer-to-peer travel (on Airbnb and Roomorama).

In order to build a community of trust that will engender sharing and overcome the barriers associated questions like “do I really want to share my apartment with a stranger?”, successful sites will have reached out to their target community during launch and asked what the community wants the site to do and what they would like to see when they engaged. This is the first step in building a brand within the community that will support growth and expansion, based on complete transparency and honest communication.

In future blog posts, I will address the growth of the Collaborative Consumption online markets and the specific issues of critical mass, scale, user experience, trust and branding in detail. If you are interested in this topic and learning more, please drop a line to steve@ipeoplefinance.com. I am really interested in hearing about your experiences with peer-to-peer sites. Thanks.


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