Crowdfunding Myth Busting Series – Due Diligence

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Let’s look at many of them to find what’s truth and what to debunk. Here we examine the importance of due diligence. We’ll examine a few more myths over the next week, so look for subsequent blog posts in the coming days.

Myth #4:

Due diligence is a critical part of the early stage investment process. Most professionally prepared due diligence packages are no more than a collection of hundreds of documents, which is too much for someone to go through for a $500 investment.

Reality:

Unless crowdfunding sites find a way to crowdsource the due diligence process, it will not make sense for any one person to do all the research on a company, and many companies may be funded without receiving the scrutiny that they should. Even for Angel groups, Due Diligence is a time consuming and expensive process that sometimes threatens to eclipse the value of the investment in terms of the time it takes to do the research.  Groups have the opportunity to work together and split up the work so that no one person bears all of the burden. Crowdfunded Due Diligence will always be suspect when we don’t know who the other investors are and do not have a means to get to know them individually and develop trust relationships that face-to-face angel investors have.

 

Stay tuned for the next crowdfunding myth busting blog post on public offerings to non-accredited investors

Crowdfunding Myth Busting Series – Negotiation

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Let’s look at many of them to find what’s truth and what to debunk. Here we consider whether or not negotiation is needed. We’ll examine several more myths over the next week or two, so look for subsequent blog posts in the coming days.

Myth #3:

Private placements and Angel groups have typically involved a back-and-forth negotiation that allowed deals to get done through discussion and creative deal making.

Reality:

With hundreds of investors involved, and a national scope where investors and entrepreneurs don’t have the opportunity to meet face to face,  it is nearly impossible to negotiate a deal once it has been offered and one or more investors have jumped on board. Typically all investors in an investment round will invest on the same terms with the same term sheet. The funding portals make an “offer” to sell securities at a particular price and it is up to investors to take it or leave it. The results of this kind of transaction, especially when it is not vetted by a professional investment banking or venture capital firm, is that either the entrepreneur will not receive investment or worse yet, they will receive investment, but they shouldn’t have received it at the terms offered.

The benefit of negotiation is that it gives parties a chance to test the premises upon which the valuation is based.  If the valuation is too low, then the entrepreneur gives up too much equity and they may be challenged in raising further rounds which may be necessary for the survival of the company.  If the valuation is too high, the investors may be pushed down in a “down round” where their equity is significantly diluted. Angel groups with experienced participants have benefited from using that experience to negotiate deals that are good for both investors and entrepreneurs alike.

Unless funding portals can find a way to crowdsource the negotiation process as well as investment, there will be many unhappy investors and entrepreneurs who are not getting what they had hoped for from the crowdfunding experience.  Unfortunately, many people will not realize what has happened until several years later when things go awry.

 

Stay tuned for the next crowdfunding myth busting blog post on due diligence

Crowdfunding Myth Busting Series – Fraud

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Let’s look at many of them to find what’s truth and what to debunk. Here we ask if fraud is as concerning in crowdfunding as many believe. We’ll examine several more myths over the next week or two, so look for subsequent blog posts in the coming days.

Myth #2:

The SEC and others are concerned about the potential for fraud. It is a valid concern.

Reality:

We need to build in systems to prevent or minimize fraud, but fraud is the least of our concerns and will likely be a rarity. There is an even greater threat, however.  With unsophisticated entrepreneurs pitching deals to unsophisticated investors the opportunities for well-intentioned failure are enormous.
Funding Portals do not provide the vetting process that Angel Groups or Broker Dealers do, so unqualified companies will be on-line seeking funding. When unqualified investors invest in these sure-to-fail companies, everyone will be unhappy. There will be charges of fraud made, but in most cases the money will vanish due to poor strategy and mismanagement rather than fraud or intentional deception.

A majority of early stage companies are going to fail and the loss of money may look like fraud when the losses are due to other factors related to the operation of the business such as competitive pressures, regulatory changes, technological shifts, etc.  How are we going to be able to tell the difference when the time comes?

Just because money is lost does not mean that fraud has occurred.  If the company hired staff, developed product, and spent money on marketing, but never really took off, then that’s a simple company failure. If the company raised a first round and was depending on another round twelve months later that never was raised, then the company may have to shut down, even if its prospects were good. That’s not fraud either. There are dozens of scenarios where companies close – and in many cases shutting down sooner rather than later is the best option.

Investors need to be wary to protect themselves from fraud, but before they invest, they should be taking courses and workshops from groups like Rockies Venture Club in order to teach themselves about how companies are valued, how to identify risks, how to evaluate a deal and negotiate a winning term sheet.  Smart investors who invest with angel groups earn up to three times more on their portfolios than those who randomly point and click at crowdfunding offerings.

 

Stay tuned for the next crowdfunding myth busting blog post on negotiation being outdated…

Keystone Memberships for Investors

RVC Academy kickoff a huge success

I’ll admit to having spent an inordinate number of adult years in academia and I hold two advanced degrees to show for it. I’m no stranger to the teaching part of higher education either; I’ve been in front of many hopeful faces looking for knowledge. But there is something very inaccessible about traditional higher education that I just don’t like.

I took a single graduate class a couple of years ago in a well-known university. The school made me register as a special, non-degree seeking student. The Dean of Students had to OK my registration and it took over a month to actually get the signature. Then I had to take time off work for 15 straight weeks to attend the class. Let’s just say the whole process was a pain in the neck and I don’t wish that hassle on anyone.

Last year I heard comments from conference goers at both the ACS2012 and the CCC2012. People said that they always love the seminar parts of the conferences. The most common complaint was that the seminars were too short and we were only scratching the surface of the topic. This got me thinking.

What if Rockies Venture Club were able to provide continuing education classes taught by industry experts just like the Universities do? Although we thought we might have a couple of modifications to the traditional course plan. RVC Academy classes would be stand-alone, two-hour events so you don’t have to worry about scheduling months in advance. The classes would be focused on issues surrounding private equity since that’s what we do best. Since these issues are important to both entrepreneurs and investors we’d make sure that all classes were open to both types of folks to learn side by side.

Our classes are open to the public. You don’t need to be accepted to the program like TechStars or the Founder institute, just register quickly online and attend. Although we do have to charge tuition for the classes, we are planning to schedule once a month classes that are free to all RVC members. Also, all classes are free to Keystone Members so we do feel good about providing the community with affordable options.

We just started the regular series of classes this month and frankly, we didn’t know how amazing these classes were going to be. Not to toot our own horns but, holy shmoly these classes were a good idea! It turns out that our community is just crawling with expertise.

  • Mid January, Brian Tsuchiya gave an overview of the little known ways to register your investor deal with the state of Colorado. Colorado has form RL and SCOR which allow you some freedom in advertising your deal publicly and legally.
  • January 28th we had Lauren Ivison from Clear Creek Partners and Kelly Matthews from RWO teach a room of investors and entrepreneurs about structuring their investment deal. Lauren occasionally has to turn away folks seeking A Round investment because they’ve so badly botched previous term sheets. Her class will certainly help folks prevent this kind of avoidable flub.

We saw great attendance at both of these classes and people’s wheels were really turning as they scribbled notes furiously. The format is such that we have lots of time for discussion and interaction. Also, we want students to go home with new knowledge, but not so much new information that they can’t process it.

We’re super excited about the pipeline of great classes in the next few months.

In the beginning of February we’ll learn about Market Strategy and Branding from Access Marketing Company.  At the end of the month, we’ll get an in depth view of Due Diligence from Lauren Costantini (CID4). She’ll school us on how much due diligence angels should reasonably be doing, how they should  go about it, and how can entrepreneurs can make the process easier to accomplish.

Even the Angel Capital Summit in March will be affected by our new view on continuing education. The workshops will be longer and get deeper into the nitty gritty of the topics presented.

I’m particularly excited about this spring’s educational lineup. Michael Armstrong from Front Range CFO will hold two classes on accounting. The first will be a basic course to get all of us non-accountants up to speed on accounting basics like quickbooks, debits/credits, balance statements, and statements of cashflow. The second class will be focused on challenging and defending pro formas. Having never taken an accounting class in my whole life, I’m pretty excited to see what Michael can teach me.

RVC Academy is in pilot stage. We are completely open to suggestions for future classes! In the comments, let us know what topics you’d like to see or teach this year.

Nicole Gravagna, MS, PhD, is the Director of Operations for the Rockies Venture Club. After having spent way too many years involved in formal educational programs, she is happy to be guiding the RVC Academy, which can best be described as an “informal educational program”.

 

 

Crowdfunding Myth Busting Series – Capital Flood

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Let’s look at many of them to find what’s truth and what to debunk. We’ll start with crowdfunding as a flood of capital. Then we’ll examine several more myths over the next week or two, so look for subsequent blog posts in the coming days.

Myth #1:

Crowdfunding will open the floodgates of capital for their business.

Reality:

It’s a lot more difficult to raise money than entrepreneurs believe. There is not a huge, untapped market of investors out there just waiting for the opportunity to invest in startup companies. Those who have the interest are probably already involved in Angel Investing groups like Rockies Venture Club. The rest are unaware of the opportunities for angel investing, and crowdfunding is not likely to produce immediate activity among these investors.

Entrepreneurs have difficulty raising capital for lots of reasons. Rarely is it because they simply can’t access unaccredited investors or public solicitation. There are many other reasons that keep entrepreneurs from getting their investment – primarily surrounding their concept (is it a lifestyle company or a venture company?) or their readiness level.

The most common problem is that entrepreneurs want to jump into fundraising before they do the work. Even on a crowdfunding site, backers are going to want to see an experienced and proven team, a product or prototype, paying customers, proformas, and other finished homework before funding occurs. You may not need these things when approaching friends and family for investment, but when you are convincing people you’ve never met before – you need to be prepared.

Companies will still need to spend huge amounts of time and money to bring people to their portal sites and invest.  This is not a “build it and they will come” situation. Even if the company has gone through a thorough readiness preparation, the marketing of a public security is complex and expensive. Just having a page or video on a portal is not likely to sell equity in your company or gain you donations. You will need to mobilize your social media network, reach out to individuals and groups, advertise, promote through speaking and making appearances at angel groups, and more.

Entrepreneurs who realize that funding portals are just one tool among many resources that they will need to marshal in order to receive investment will tend to do the best when crowdfunding sites are launched.

 

Stay tuned for the next crowdfunding myth busting blog post on fraud

 

It's Angel Capital Summit Time Again!

Register for Angel Capital Summit 2013
Date: Tuesday March 19th and Wednesday March 20th
Location: University of Denver, Sturm Hall, Room 346, 2000 E. Asbury Ave. Denver CO

Registration is open!

(Updates added on Jan 28th, 2013)

Angel Capital Summit is a two day conference designed to bring together angel investors and vetted companies that are serious about raising private equity.

Apply to Pitch

Now accepting applications to pitch at the March, 2013 Angel Capital Summit. The ACS has more early stage companies and investors in one place than any other event in Colorado all year!

New Single-track Format

The single-track format brings both sides of the negotiating table together on important legal, financial, and social implications of private equity deals. Entrepreneurs and Investors are faced with different challenges surrounding the same topics. With all the players in the same room throughout the workshops and pitches, we hope that the discussion will powerful and that more connections will be made throughout the day.

Workshops

Angel investing and raising money from angel investors both require a specific set of skills that are not common knowledge. Experts in each field lead in-depth workshops on topics such as understanding the termsheet, preparing and executing due diligence, vetting exit strategies, go-to-market strategy, and developing the board.

Pitches

We have access to the best up-coming companies in Colorado and around the country. We will identify the companies that are serious about raising capital, connect with the ones that best suited for angel capital investment, and coach them to begin developing relationships with investors.

 

Shark Tank

RVC Shark Tank Forums

Shark Tank

The holidays are a time of reconnecting with old friends and much-missed family. Inevitably, over the last month, my conversations have turned to work and how things are going in the new job I began this year. I’ve been with the Rockies Venture Club since the end of January 2012. We’re a small staff (only two until very recently) and the job has been hectic, scary, fun, amazing, and rewarding for all kinds of reasons.

My friends and family don’t really understand what I do for work. I tell them that I run a non-profit that connects entrepreneurs and investors. When I get to the part about helping companies pitch to investors, my friends faces light up with recognition. “Oh!”, they exclaim, “Like ‘Shark Tank‘ on TV!” I generally shrug and make comparisons and differences and wave off the idea that Rockies Venture Club is anything like the Emmy nominated reality show by Mark Burnett.

But then I reflect on the unique vantage point that we have here at RVC. From our small office in Thrive LoDo, we see incredible quantities of early-stage company dealflow. We know the (often secret) identities of the 200+ angel RVC Forum Investors in Colorado and elsewhere. We get to witness the leaps and bounds of improvements made between Friday afternoon at Pitch Academy and the following Tuesday at the Monthly Pitch Event. We are sometimes the first to find out that a company has closed a round, sometimes the last. And we know the truth when three companies in Denver simultaneously think they are the ONLY ones solving a given problem.

There are some similarities between Rockies Venture Club and ‘Shark Tank’. In the television show, the Sharks are angel investors. They are playing with their own money so they can make go, no-go decisions without discussing the deal with anyone. Most of the investors in our RVC Investor Forums are angels too. Their due diligence process can be expedited into a 15 hour study instead of a 15 week operation because they don’t have to answer to principals like Venture Capitalists do.

On the show, the Sharks have stacks of cash sitting next to them on their table. A viewer can get wrapped up in the drama of the stories, pitches, and negotiations and might forget to keep track of the amounts of money pledged by the Sharks to the entrepreneurs. I was amazed to read that it took 3 seasons of ‘Shark Tank’ before the Sharks’ investments totaled $15 million. They aired 38 episodes of the show in those three seasons. Our companies raised the same amount in a single year with only 12 “episodes” of RVC Pitch Events. At the rate we are helping companies raise money, we could have nearly $50 million raised after 38 pitch events!

Obviously, RVC is different than ‘Shark Tank’. We tend to look at early-stage companies, but the Sharks entertain embryonic companies with undeveloped teams and even inventors working alone. We don’t have a panel of investors at the pitch events who banter with each other and the entrepreneur; instead we let the whole community ask questions of the pitching company. Further, our negotiations go on behind closed doors. As for the dramatic focus, we prefer that the entrepreneur revel in the spotlight during the pitch instead of the investors stealing the show.

Shark Tank is in the middle of a very successful 4th season and RVC Investor Forum is wrapping up its very promising first year. We hope that RVC’s investors will continue to be active participants in the fun work that we do at RVC. It may not be exactly like Shark Tank, but really is a blast to get involved with all of the RVC companies. We get to meet amazing, driven, brilliant people who want only to achieve their company’s goals. It’s a pretty inspiring place to be. We’ve had a busy year, for sure, but there’s an upside to what we do. It’s downright entertaining.

 

Editorial by Nicole Gravagna, Director of Operations, Rockies Venture Club

Women investors far from risk averse

Women investors are under-represented in private equity investment and folks are starting to notice. This month the Harvard Business Review posted an article by Sarah Granger about women in angel investing. She notes that there are a number of groups and organizations devoted to getting women more involved. She discusses Pipeline, Golden Seeds, Astia, 500 Startups that are all either entirely focused on women investing and advising or are well-balanced in their gender diversity. That’s great, but it’s rather sad when an organization is newsworthy because they are gender diverse.

The fact is that very few investing/advising groups are gender diverse. This is true in VC firms and also among angel investors playing with their own cash. The Kauffman Foundation has put together a white paper about all about it.

One explanation that I’ve heard many times is that women are too risk averse for private equity and this is why we don’t see more of them in the high tension world we sometimes call “risk capital”. A recent US Trust study of ultra-high net worth individuals found that women are 5% more likely to report feeling nervous while making investment decisions and 8% less likely to feel smart.

Yet, I’m comfortable arguing that risk aversion is not the problem here.

I manage an angel group and I’m a woman. I’ll be the first one to tell you that I get lonely sometimes in investor meetings when I realize that I haven’t seen a woman across the table in what feels like months. I too, have wondered why we don’t have 50% or even 25% women in investor meetings.

At Rockies Venture Club, we have 209 self-identified investors (both angels and VC fund managers) on our mailing list. Only 19 of those are women. A whopping 9% of our investor group is female. Come on ladies, I’m dying out here!

There has been plenty of research that identifies women as wealth holders in the US. In 2005 women held $14 trillion, which was 51.3% of the wealth in the US. By 2007 the value had risen to $19 trillion. Maybe women really are afraid to lose that capital in high-risk early stage investments.

I still don’t think so.

Let me tell you a little about Rockies Venture Club Investor Forum. We are very friendly to the uninitiated accredited investor. In 2012, we did not charge investors a cent to attend meetings, and we don’t require a minimum investment. There is very little barrier to entry to get involved with our group. For a year now, we have had flexible rules to help neophyte investors meet and make friends with experienced investors. In general, the investors who come to the table have made an investment within 6 months. Not ALL of them, mind you. Some are still learning, absorbing, and waiting for their interest to be piqued enough to write the check. But most.

If women are risk averse, then I would expect the women on our list to attend investor meetings and absorb, learn, and wait.

But what really happens is a very different story. RVC women investors don’t behave like you’d expect risk averse people to behave. They invest. Often quickly.

Of the 206 current investors on our mailing list, 44 have attended an investor meeting since August. Eight of those attendees were women. Let me put a finer point on it. I’m saying that over 40% of the women who self-identify as investors on our mailing list physically show up at meetings. The male show-up-rating is only 19%.

It goes farther than that. More than 20% of the women on my list aren’t just showing up to meetings. I know they are ponying up the cash when it comes time to close a round. I don’t have final numbers for the men yet, but using a non-scientific mental survey, I’ll hazard a guess that it’s also around 20%. Roughly, the same percentage of our male and female investors are cutting checks.

Now we aren’t talking about chump change here. Rockies Venture Club Investors have invested at least $6 million this year making us one of the most active angel groups in the country. Final numbers are still coming in and final investments are still closing so the total for 2012 will likely rise closer to $7 or 8 million. Further, we’ve leveraged those dollars so the closed-deal-tally is more than $14.6 million invested in RVC companies this year.

The real difference between the men and women in our group lies in engagement. There are 187 male investors and only 19 female investors who are involved in RVC deeply enough to identify themselves as investors. How many accredited women are on my list who haven’t checked the investor box identifying them (privately) as an investor? Why haven’t they done so?

Frankly, we don’t have enough information to answer that question. They might not know they are legally accredited investors [accreditation means you had an income of $200K last year ($300K if married) and expectations for the same this year OR $1M in assets not including your home].

Some women may choose to invest in a more traditional, public portfolio. Maybe they follow the instructions laid out by their wealth managers who are not allowed to suggest private equity (it’s called ‘selling away’ and it puts wealth managers’ careers at risk). Or perhaps they are giving a substantial amount to non-profit charities for a tax break each year. Maybe fewer women have been involved with start-ups, small business, and fundraising and therefore aren’t even aware of the opportunities of angel investing. I will mention, as a caveat, that some women invest as part of a couple and send their husbands to investor meetings. These women are not being counted in my data since I never see their names on meeting rosters or their faces in the meetings.

One thing is for sure, the women in our group are just as likely to invest at the men. The old standby explanation of risk aversion is simply not describing this scenario. I think it’s time to look deeper to see why women are not engaging in angel communities and private equity at ratios equal to men.

At RVC, we cannot passively allow our investor groups to remain unbalanced. Women make 85% of the purchasing decisions in the US. This accounts for $3.7 trillion in consumer spending and $1.5 trillion in business spending. We run the risk of a disconnect when one demographic is so heavily involved with product purchasing and so uninvolved with the formative years of company development.

To begin balancing the gender scales we have created our own women’s group to invite the female side of our membership to get involved with private equity investing and mentoring. We encourage all accredited investors (even newbees!) to attend an investor meeting and see what we do there. In 2013, we are adding extensive educational content for investors and entrepreneurs to get savvy with private equity investing.

Funding for Life Science Companies through Angel Investors

Guest Post Article by Joni Kripal, Healthcare Consultant and Co-founder of Ji Smart Stuff

This success story about a Colorado company called VetDC shows that funding for lifescience companies can come from angel investors. Further, VetDC dispels a widely-held myth that funding for life science companies can only be found in funds or angel groups dedicated to life science ventures.

VetDC, a private veterinary biotech company, was founded on the principle that companion animals should have greater access to novel, innovative medical treatments. Working closely with Colorado State University‘s world-renowned Animal Cancer Center and Veterinary Teaching Hospital, VetDC “reverse-engineers” promising new human technologies specifically for development in companion animal markets to address serious veterinary medical conditions.

VetDC was launched in 2010 and licensed its first molecule in early 2011 (learn more about the company, their purpose, and their pipeline at www.vet-dc.com).  The quest for capital was on!  Steven Roy, President & CEO, described their journey to successfully closing $1.5 million a few weeks ago. It’s a lesson in perseverance and possibilities, so entrepreneurs take heart!

After securing seed funding from CID4in 2011, the team initially went down the venture capital path, believing that the amount of funding needed was beyond the scope of a typical angel raise. They soon learned that it was also smaller than most VC funds preferred. In addition, there were few active life science funds in Colorado, so they needed to concentrate their efforts out of state. Unfortunately, most life science funds are not set up to invest in veterinary opportunities and doing so would require going back to their limited partners for approval to pursue an opportunity like VetDC. A step that few, if any, were willing to take. While meeting with these firms did not ultimately yield the money sought, it provided confirmation that VetDC’s business concept was valid and may ultimately provide a channel of new pipeline prospects from VC portfolio companies. So, there was somewhat of a silver lining associated with taking this path.

Fast forward to the Angel Capital Summit (ACS) last March. Steven considered participation in an angel pitch event a long shot but remained hopeful that he could attract the attention of local investors. And he did! After the ACS, he was on the Rockies Venture Clubradar and made several pitches to RVC investors. Encouraged by RVC’s interest, Steven decided to redirect his efforts toward angel investors. VetDC finally gained major traction when Steve Warnecke, a long time angel investor and entrepreneur who has taken several companies public, joined the cause and assumed the lead angel role. Negotiations ensued, investors were brought into the fold and the $1.5 million round was closed in early November.

Of course, the team at VetDC is energized by the infusion of capital to fund the next steps. They are absolutely delighted that they were able to access the needed capital right here in Colorado. “Keeping it local is a real plus. We look forward to accessing the tremendous expertise our angel investors bring to the table. It’s an exciting time at VetDC!”  says Steven Roy.

VetDC has moved into full execution mode preparing for the manufacturing of VDC-1101 and filing for FDA approval in canine lymphoma. They are now well on their way to making the launch of this life saving therapy a reality for dog lovers across the country. Their goal is to be ready for commercial launch in late 2014.