Crowdfunding for a business venture

November 21, 2012 · 0 comments

in Finances

Q. Have you used crowdfunding sites to raise money for a business project. Asked on LinkedIn by Brandon Schaefer

I see potential problems with doing this. A business project is meant to make a profit, and earn a return for the investors. If the investors are crowdfunders, how do they ever benefit other than feeling good about supporting a business they like?

I see four ways to view such a contribution:

1. It’s a gift. I don’t expect to get it back. I’m giving it to you because I believe in what you’re doing.

2. It’s a loan, with no recourse. If you do well, I’d like my money back, with interest. If you go belly up, so be it.

3. It’s prepayment for services. I’ll put money into your business in the expectation that when you get going, you’ll provide me with product or services of comparable value. Perhaps a plaque with my name on one of your cafe tables.

4. It’s an equity investment. I expect to own a piece of your business, have a share of the profits as dividends, and to benefit on the upside if you sell it later at a premium. I want oversight on how you’re running the business.

If I’m a crowdfunder for you, several things would really irritate me, perhaps to the point of lawsuits:

1. You squander the money, just out of lousy planning and management

2. You divert the money to other uses, such as fancy offices or expensive travel

3. You make a bundle and ignore me. With my $1k investment (among others) you grow your company and Google buys you out, making you rich, then you won’t take my phone calls.

How are these potential situations handled on crowdfunding sites? What are the obligations of the person receiving the funds? What are the rights and recourse of the contributors? This is why we have contracts. The crowdfunding deals I’ve heard of sound kind of loosey goosey.  Fuzzy agreements now = lawsuits later.

If it’s for a good cause–say, you’re raising money to go plant trees to restore the rain forest–then I view my contribution as a gift, and expect nothing back.

But if I’m investing in a business that expects to make a profit, then I want some contractual accountability.

So when you look at Crowdfunding sites, see how they address all these questions and others

 

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