It began with the passage on April 5, 2012, of the JOBS Act, officially known as the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act. No, not the concept of crowd-funding. That’s been around for several years, thanks largely to Kickstarter. I’m talking about the federal government’s involvement in crowdfunding. Without the hyphen, incidentally, is the other popular way to spell the process whereby people with ideas – or causes – attempt to convince people with money-to-spare to contribute to their particular idea or cause.
The JOBS Act added a new dimension to crowd-funding – a group of people called investors. Prior to April, crowd-funding was loosely based on a system best be described as “donation-and-reward.” In return for you donating a small dollar amount to my idea or cause, if I reached my stated funding goal, and if what I said I’d create with that money became a reality, I’d send you a sample of my product… or a T-shirt promoting my cause. Simple enough, right? Donation and reward.
That JOBS Act, however, allows people with significant amounts of money to now “invest” in small and start-up companies. And, because the rules for “investing” fall under the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), the JOBS Act has given the SEC until Jan. 1, 2013, to draft and implement rules and regulations for those who want to invest in companies defined by that Act.
There’s a significant difference between investors as defined in the JOBS Act and “donors” under the original crowd-funding concept. Investors loan money with the intent of getting it back, either with interest or in the form of stock in the company in which they invest.
Under the original “donation-and-reward” program, if the person seeking a certain amount of money reached his or her stated goal, each person who donated to that goal basically kissed his or her donation good-bye. If the project to which they contributed became successful, each donor got a “reward,” whatever they’d been promised when they made their donations.
Crowd-funding under the JOBS Act isn’t going to be the answer for every type of business. The most money – the smart money – is will likely fund high-tech businesses or those that best satisfy a major consumer need or want. And that funding is virtually certain to go first to companies that have a well polished, written business plan.
Yes, a written business plan, the curse of so many owners of small and start-up businesses. With JOBS Act crowd-funding, a well written business plan will be a must. No one smart enough to have amassed enough money to invest in a business will be foolish enough to invest in a company that lacks a well written business plan. Those investors will want to see financial projection – sales, profit margins, manufacturing and labor costs – at least three years of those projections, along with other pertinent information.
Is the effort to attract such investors worth it? At this point no one knows for sure because the SEC regs are barely in the drafting stage and likely won’t be implemented until early 2013. Meanwhile, crowd-funding using the time-honored, hassle-free “donation-and-reward” system continues to thrive.