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Friday, 13 December 2013

Failure Is Key To The Success Of Equity CrowdInvesting

An odd article on page 20 of today's FT suggests that the failure of some ventures to raise money somehow puts 'crowdfunding' in doubt, while page 4 cites Nesta research to show that this alternative finance market is growing rapidly

What's going on?

Well, traditional financiers have been forced to take crowdfunding seriously now that the FCA is consulting on specific rules to govern certain types (peer-to-peer lending and crowdinvesting in equities and debt securities). Some see this as an opportunity, and want to help these alternative marketplaces grow, while others perceive a threat that must be contained.

Those who feel threatened typically overplay the benefits of 'traditional' investment models, and mistake the strengths of the crowd-based models for weaknesses. 

For instance, venture capitalists often claim that theirs is 'smart money' compared to equity-based crowdinvesting. In fact, one is quoted in today's FT article as saying that VC investment brings "partners, skills and support that will nurture the business through growth over the medium to long term." This is rubbish. Venture capitalists spend most of their time looking for deals, not managing the businesses in which they have invested - and most of those businesses will fail anyway. They are not looking to build a portfolio of steady performers, they are hoping a few stars from their stable will return 20 to 30 times their investment. Board meetings are infrequent events at which VCs study the numbers. The occasional insightful comment may emerge, but these pale to insignificance compared to the 360 degree, 24/7 feedback any business experiences in today's social media world. Ironically, most of the time is actually taken up by management explaining the business to the VC directors - and quite properly so. But any responsible director can fullfil this role, and a business that can raise VC money or other funding is equally likely to attract directors with real subject matter expertise (and/or genuine independence) in any event. VCs don't have a monopoly on introducing good directors.

Related to this is the issue of discretion. Few people may be aware a business is seeking VC investment, but nor could they be expected to care since they are excluded from the process. So the search for venture capital generates zero interest among potential customers or other supporters of the business. Nor is the venture process likely to be very efficient, let alone successful. Start-ups and early stage companies typically approach many VC firms in the hope of getting a commitment from 2 or 3. It's a gruelling 3 to 6 month process involving lengthy, repetitive due diligence sessions that come as a huge distraction from the day-to-day management of the business.

Crowdinvesting, on the other hand, enables the business to engage in a single process that tests the appetite of both investors and customers. Flaws may be visible to the world, but this transparency provides consumer and investor protection while giving the business a chance to adapt on both fronts at an early stage. This may not guarantee long term success any more than traditional venture funding does, but it helps everyone avoid wasting a whole lot of time and money.

It's a process that venture capitalists might grow to like.


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