Since the passing of the JOBS Act, much has been written about crowdfunding and how it will affect the investment landscape from this point forward. The question many are asking is: is crowdfunding a complement to venture activity, or will it put pressure on a VC industry that has been struggling to perform over the past decade?
I don’t think the answer is clear one way or the other but somewhere in between.
Pro: Crowdfunding may make it easier for start-ups that would otherwise not have access to funding to get off the ground.
Crowdfunding will likely prove most useful for companies that can be successfully launched with less money than the dollar thresholds of most VCs. Some areas within the internet and mobile industries, for example, have a history of doing more with less, and may see crowdfunding as an attractive option. The availability and low cost of cloud computing has made it easier for an internet or mobile development-focused company to get off the ground as they no longer need to spend precious capital on hardware. For companies that will need more than the $1 million per year that can be legally raised through crowdfunding, however, traditional venture capital will remain the better option.
Con: Crowdfunding could end up crowding out angels and seed VCs.
For venture capitalists focused on seed investing, crowdfunding could potentially “crowd out” these seed investors. Seed investors have typically not had much competition and the appeal of raising money from multiple people through an internet portal, as opposed to going through the VC pitch process, could change that. In addition, if a firm later reaches the point where it seeks to raise VC funding, there could be problems. Will a VC want to have dozens of unsophisticated shareholders to deal with regarding voting rights and other shareholder issues? There may be pressure on companies to buy out or unwind their “crowd” shareholders and to have this plan ready to execute before they seek VC funding.
Pro: More deal flow for VCs.
Providing initial funding to allow companies to get off the ground could help bring more companies to an appealing stage for VCs to finance them. Most VCs are looking for a viable business plan and product roadmap and evidence of market acceptance when they choose to invest in a company and crowdfunding funds could bring more companies to this point. More companies reaching this milestone means VCs will have more investments to choose from.
Con: Crowdfunding may put competitive pressures on pricing and terms.
VC returns have declined since the late 90s. While it is difficult to predict what the landscape will look like until the final SEC rules are released, there is a potential danger that the regulations will lead to pricing and term pressures.
It has only been about a few months since the JOBS Act was signed into law, and with any new law, it will take time before we truly realize its impact on investing and venture capital. While I’m excited to see the opportunities that crowdfunding will provide to the next generation of start-ups, at the same time, I will be watching the changing landscape to see if and how we will have to adapt to win.
Karl Elderkin is the founder and managing partner at Athenian Venture Partners. Opinions expressed here are entirely his own.
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