On April 4th of last year, the JOBS Act was signed into law. As part of the JOBS Act, equity-based crowdfunding was made legal in the US.
However, before entrepreneurs could start using equity-based crowdfunding, the SEC had to write the specific rules governing it. The SEC was given 9 months to write those rules; they were due on December 31, 2012. However, the SEC failed to meet that deadline.
And, even a year later, on the anniversary of the JOBS act earlier this month, the SEC still hadn't finalized the rules. The good news is that any day, they will. The bad news is that "any day" could mean tomorrow, or possibly 3 to 5 months from now.
Below I'll give you the run-down on Crowdfunding, and also the types of Crowdfunding you CAN raise today.
What is Crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is getting a group of regular individuals (versus banks, venture capitalists or angel investors) to collectively fund your venture.
What are the 3 Core Types of Crowdfunding?
There are three core types of Crowdfunding.
The first is debt-based Crowdfunding also known as peer-to-peer lending. This is offered by sites like LendingClub.com and Prosper.com. On these sites, entrepreneurs (and individuals) can solicit loans from other individuals. Because they are loans, they must be paid back. Generally these loans are capped at $50,000 per year.
The second type is equity-based Crowdfunding. In this type of Crowdfunding individuals who give you money become investors and own equity in your company. Equity-based Crowdfunding IS legal today, but only when the funders are accredited investors (which entail them meeting certain criteria such as having annual incomes exceeding $250,000).
The final type of Crowdfunding is donation-based Crowdfunding. This type of Crowdfunding is the most popular and is offered by sites including Kickstarter.com, RocketHub.com, IndieGoGo.com and several others.
Donation-based Crowdfunding is my favorite since you neither give up equity nor have to repay the debt you receive. And it's MUCH easier to raise since there are tons more potential funders than funders of debt-based or equity-based Crowdfunding. For example, there are over 3 million registered users on Kickstarter.com.
However, there is an important caveat with donation-based Crowdfunding. Which is this: generally people don't donate money to your cause simply out of altruism. Rather, the companies who have successfully raised donation-based Crowdfunding offer rewards in return for donations.
Specifically, these rewards typically include the product or service the company intends to produce and/or offer. For example, San Francisco's Peter Dering wanted to raise money for a new product he conceived called the Capture Camera Clip System (an accessory for photographers that secures their cameras to their other gear).
So, as a reward to those who donated $50 or more, he promised to ship them the Capture Camera Clip System product when it was developed.
So, as you can see, this type of Crowdfunding is essentially pre-selling your products or services to your customers. Which is really the same as customer financing, which has been around for a while. But, with the internet, it's so much easier to reach tons of prospective customers.
What I also love about donation or rewards-based Crowdfunding is that it is amazing market research. I mean, if customers are willing to buy your product or service before it's even available, you clearly have a winner on your hands.
Which form should you choose?
In choosing the right type of Crowdfunding, here are my guidelines:
Debt-based Crowdfunding: You can raise up to $50,000 on both LendingClub.com and Prosper.com via this type of Crowdfunding. To do so, you will need a good credit score. So, if you have a good credit score, need less than $100K, and you will be able to generate profits pretty quickly that allow you to make the interest payments, then consider this funding source.
Equity-based Crowdfunding: If you require over $250,000 to launch or grow your venture, and the market for your venture is B2B customers (not consumers) and/or you can't immediately provide rewards for funders (e.g., you need $500K to further develop your new technology that might take another 2 years to fully develop), then I like equity-based Crowdfunding. You can either wait for the SEC to finalize its rules, or consider a site like Crowdfunder.com which allows you to raise it from accredited investors.
Donation-based Crowdfunding: If you have a consumer based product or service (or store), then I love donation-based Crowdfunding, because your investors are also your customers. Since this form is legal, you can go out there today and attract hundreds or thousands of investors. And when you do, you also have a built in customer base to buy from you long-term.
In summary, even though equity-based Crowdfunding to non-accredited investors is still not legal, there are other Crowdfunding options you can use today. So, if you need funding now, there's no need to wait.