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Crowdfunding: Is the reality going to live up to the hype?

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Lenny Grover’s a smart guy. He runs Screener.co and is a consultant/VC type.

I chatted with him yesterday over my Yammer group about equity crowdfunding, its prospects and his view on how this all plays out.

Here’s what Lenny had to say:

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MeWhat do you guys think of what’s going on in the crowdfunding space? So many new entrants (Angel List) and deals going doing. 

Is it going to live up to the hype?

Screener.co’s Lenny Grover: I think there will be rapid adoption and some early successful case studies but that equity crowdfunding as an asset class will ultimately implode in a wave of bad publicity. Even successful angels have a low “batting average” and that means there will be more losers than winners among amateur angels (though some of the winners may be very big winners). While venture capital as an asset class has been propped up by the IPO market recently, the poor subsequent performance of those IPOs may leave that window less open going forward. Between the “Series A Crunch” and the cramdowns that will result from not having a strong motivated and sophisticated “lead” investor to represent the Preferred in future round negotiations, I think overall returns of the asset class will be mediocre.

When everybody and their mother starts chasing an illiquid and high risk investment, it’s time to run for the hills.

For companies looking to raise money, however, it could be the best thing since sliced bread–driving valuations higher and giving the founders more leverage whether they choose to crowdfund or go the traditional route.

Just my $.02.

MeGreat answer, Lenny. Access doesn’t equate to success with a new asset class and I tend to agree with you.

Given what you said and the initial “fervor” (will it really be that strong??) dies down, though, do you see this as a persistant asset class for the masses?

LG: I do think it will become more widely adopted earlier than people expect. The combination of the rapid adoption of “rewards”-based crowdfunding sites, low interest rates (“cash is trash” and the chase for returns), the widely publicized success of tech startups like Facebook (with hardly any attention given to the 90+% that fail), and the money that can be made by brokers pushing these deals is enough to convince me that there will be a sizable early-adopter market for these securities(including many of dubious quality).

Michael Milken and others were able to rapidly create a large institutional market for high yield corporate debt (some issues were so toxic that they never even made a single interest payment) in a low-interest rate environment when investors were chasing returns. Imagine what equity crowdfunding sites will be able to do with unsophisticated retail investors with the benefit of social media and other modern distribution channels.

I think we should do away with the accredited investor rule completely and allow anyone who passes a proctored mathematics and securities proficiency exam to invest in private equity, hedge funds, etc. without restriction. But, allowing brokers to push complex, illiquid, and risky private company securities on the same consumers who signed for mortgages they didn’t understand or cannot balance their checkbooks is a recipe for absolute disaster.

If the government doesn’t intervene, then I think the market for equity crowdfunding will continue even after the wave of bad publicity but it will be a smaller bifurcated market (sophisticated “angel-lite” investors funding only very high quality companies on market terms and unsophisticated dupes continuing to buy trash that unscrupulous brokers push on them).

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