Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Creating Alternative Financing – Crowdfunding & Crowdsourcing: Part II. What is Crowdfunding and Three Crowdfunding Models

Crowdfunding is a method of raising funds for a business venture or a project by requesting a small amount of money from a large number of people (typically through the Internet). An average amount of money raised is between $2,000 and $10,000.

Crowdfunding is not a new phenomenon. We have seen it used by charities doing fundraisers, politicians, asking for contributions to their political campaigns (during his campaign for the US presidency, Barack Obama raised $137 million from small donors), and musicians accepting contributions from their fans for a new album.

We now see proliferation of crowdfunding because of the advance of social networks that have enabled people to reach out to their communities and networks more effectively. Over the past five years, users of websites like Kiva & Kickstarter have “donated” over $350M to crowd fund projects including art, films, software development and books.

In my opinion, there are several models or approaches to crowdfunding. First, platforms like www.Kickstarter.com offer the opportunity to raise money that is not directly repaid. Recipients instead may offer their contributors a specified item or service in exchange for contributions, such as a free sample of their product or an advance copy of their CD. Since investors do not expect a return on their investment, the contributions are not securities, and therefore no securities laws issues are raised. Examples of these platforms include www.rockethub.com, www.peerbackers.com, www.indieGoGo.com, www.crowdrise.com.

The second category consists of platforms that enable founders to solicit and receive funds in exchange for some expectation of return (profit sharing, equity). In this case, founders issue securities, and have to be very careful about compliance with applicable federal and state securities laws. A good example of such platforms is www.Profounder.com.

The third category includes companies that use internet platforms and crowdsourcing/crowdfunding methods to actually produce products. The example I want to use here is www.quirky.com, but there may be other similar sites out there.

Category One: Donation-Based Crowdfunding

Below is a brief overview of some of the platforms offered in the first category where contributors do not expect any return on their investments.

1. Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com)

Kickstarter is a platform that prefers to get funding for ideas or projects rather than companies. They offer an “all or nothing” funding: in order to receive the funds, a project must reach or exceed its funding goal or no money changes hands. Once the project is announced, pledges can be made by credit card (through Amazon processing), but contributors only need to pay if the project meets the funding goal within the allocated time (1-90 days). Recipients are expected to offer rewards to the contributors. Kickstarter charges 5% of the amount received on successful raises and Amazon charges 3-5% credit card processing fee. Although typically people raise up to $10,000, I have also seen raises of over $900,000.

2. RocketHub (www.rockethub.com)

RocketHub is a platform that, similarly to Kickstarter, supports the community of “independent artists and entrepreneurs”. It is not limited to creative projects, but encourages them. The platform offers an opportunity to raise money as well as to “take creative products and endeavors to the next level”, referred to as “LaunchPad Opportunities” that allow community to discuss and vote on the presented ideas. I liked the language they use: all who initiate fundraising are called “creatives” and those who donate money are called “fuelers”. Participants also receive virtual badges for their contributions to the site. RocketHub charges 4% of the money raised if the financial goal is reached. If it is not, then the fee goes up to 8% of the total funds raised. This is done to encourage creatives to set realistic funding goals. There is also a 4% transaction fee. Successful investments typically range between $1,000 and $10,000.

3. Peerbackers (www.Peerbackers.com)

Peerbackers distinguishes itself by the fact that it enables businesses to easily reach out to their online communities and networks. This crowdfunding site is not limited to funding creative ideas. Anyone with an idea, project, business or invention can apply to post on the site from anywhere in the world. Businesses in need of funding create profiles, describe the business and the purpose of the fundraising, the target financial goal and the length of time to reach it (should be between 15-90 days). Businesses also upload a photo or video and information about the rewards they are offering in exchange for the contributions. Then, businesses campaign for support by reaching out to their networks on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. and ask everyone to send the campaign to their networks as well. Funding is released if the project reaches at least 80% of the funding goal. Fees are: 5% + 1.9-2.9% PayPal fee.

4. IndieGoGo (www.indiegogo.com)

According to the information on the website, www.IndieGoGO.com platform has helped raise millions of dollars for over 25,000 campaigns, across 177 countries. This site allows to raise capital for any type of venture, including a for-profit business venture, non-profit cause, or a creative project. Recipients can easily spread the work through one-click integration with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Each campaign has real time analytics, including views, referrals, contributions and favorites, which allows teams to track closely their campaigns. There is definitely a preference for creative projects (funding for films, music projects), but I have also seen campaigns by small businesses, food, technology companies and even mobile apps companies. IndieGoGo releases funds regardless of whether the goal is met, and some 40% of projects receive at least $500, but only about 10% of projects hit their targets. IndieGoGo charges a 4% fee on the money raised when the funding goal is. The fee goes up to 9% if the funding goal is not met. Third party payment processors charge an additional fee of about 3%.

5. Crowdrise (www.Crowdrise.com)

Crowdrise is a platform used for fundraising for charities (i.e., existing non-profit organizations with tax-exempt status). Participants are encouraged to use their social networks to invite others to donate and help spread the word. Donations are tax deductible. Crowdrise deducts 5% on donations made through the site as well as a $1 transaction fee for donations under $25 or a $2.50 transaction fee for donations $25 and over. Crowdrise accepts tips.

Category Two: Investment-Based Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding in this category means using Internet platforms to conduct friends and family rounds of financing. One exampe of such platform is Profounder.com. I have previously written about Profounder, so this is a quick summary. Profounder is a software platform that facilitates a seed round of capital raising from investors with whom founders have pre-existing relationships. The average investment is about $1,500 and an average raise is anywhere between $35,000-$60,000. The platform is typically used by founders to raise start-up capital. The model currently in use is revenue sharing. A founder would create an account with the company description and a term sheet, send the term sheet to friends and family members and invite them to participate in the offering. If the goal is not reached within 30 days, the pledges are revoked. There is also a limit as to the number of investors who can participate in the offering, as per blue sky laws, that Profounder software helps founders to monitor. Once the deal is closed, the founder needs to file appropriate forms with the state and federal securities commissions. Even though the Profounder team provides the necessary information to do so, it is the founders’ responsibility. The cost is $100 to publish the term sheet, and a $1,000 flat fee to service the term sheet for the duration of the revenue sharing arrangement.

Category Three: Quirky (www.quirky.com)

This site focuses on developing physical consumer products that would retail for less than $150 and do not involve integrated software. It works the following way: investors submit their ideas to Quirky for consideration. If the idea is selected, it is then published for review and discussion by the community of “influencers”, who can support, revise, vote, make comments, or come up with branding, etc. for the idea. Following the review process, the Quirky team manufactures the product and sells it on their site. Quirky pays 30% of revenue by direct sales and 10% of revenue from indirect sales to each product’s influencers and 35% to the inventor.


In summary, there are several categories of crowdfunding each of which is suitable for a certain type of investment and project. Even though I listed only several platforms, there are many others out there that I did not get a chance to explore. In the next blogs, I will discuss the pros and cons of crowdfunding and what kind of companies and projects are likely to be successful candidates for crowdfunding financing. I will also discuss the legislative initiatives that are currently underway to facilitate capital raising using crowdfunding.

Full series: Part IPart II, Part III and Part IV.

This article is not a legal advice, and was written for general informational purposes only.  If you have questions or comments about the article or are interested in learning more about this topic, feel free to contact its author, Arina Shulga.  Ms. Shulga is the founder of Shulga Law Firm, P.C., a New York-based boutique law firm specializing in advising individual and corporate clients on aspects of business, corporate, securities, and intellectual property law.

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