2,529 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
It’s no secret that small business access to capital is drying up. In a recent survey by the National Small Business Association, for example, 43% of small business owners reported that they had looked for capital in the last four years and were not able to find any. Indeed, allowing small business owners to raise money from their community was one of the reasons for the JOBS Act.
Equity- and debt-based crowdfunding, which the JOBS Act legalized, will not go into effect until January of next year at the earliest. Small businesses will have to wait until then if they want an infusion of cash from their community – unless they decide to partner up with the crowdfunding platform Bolstr.
The platform’s approach is unique in the current crowdfunding ecosystem. Operating under a revenue sharing funding model – not an equity- or donation- based one – Bolstr allows small business owners to tap into their social circles in order to raise money.
“We analyzed blue sky [state securities] regulatory laws,” Bolstr cofounder Charlie Tribbett told Crowdsourcing.org. “Every state has different filing requirements, as well as thresholds for the number of unsophisticated investors that can invest in a small business in a private offering. What we did with Bolstr is we essentially created a proprietary compliance system that allows small businesses to easily navigate through all of the filing requirements and thresholds.”
“The engine we developed takes into consideration a multitude of variables when it comes to instance compliance for small businesses that raise capital on our platform,” cofounder Larry Baker added. “We have pretty strict guidelines as to the types of businesses that we allow on the platform.”
Bolstr requires that each business has at least two years of insurable revenue. This disqualifies startups from registering with the platform. Tribbett and Baker are fine with this – in fact, they don’t target the high risk, high reward tech startups that attract hordes of eager investors.
“We’re focused on the Main Street and small business demographics,” Tribbett explained. “Your local coffee shop, breweries, dry cleaners: small businesses that are looking for capital for operations or growth.”
For local businesses that are not looking to exit through an IPO or sale, a revenue sharing model makes sense. Essentially, investors earn a small portion of each sale that the business makes. The owners are able to retain full control of their businesses and there is no pressure from investors to sell. Payouts to investors occur on a quarterly basis.
By focusing on local businesses, the team behind Bolstr also hopes to reduce the risk of fraud.
“We’re talking about somebody who is reaching out to their community that they’re going to interface with,” said Baker. “It could be their potential customers, their friends, their family. I think there is definitely an increased sense of wanting to do good by your investors because of the connection that you have with them.”
Those deep connections can also be a strong reason for individuals to invest more money into their acquaintances’ businesses. While Bolstr is still young, Baker and Tribbett say that they are seeing this trend emerge.
“We’re in the early stages of Bolstr and we don’t have the data that a [platform like] Kickstarter has, but what we’re seeing is that campaigns tend to be a lot larger than on the donation-based platforms,” said Baker. “One, you get a financial interest, and two, it’s a business that you can go into on a weekly basis if you’d like to.”
Despite their success thus far, the team behind Bolstr knows that they need to tread carefully in the evolving regulatory environment. Tribbett brought up the example of ProFounder, also a revenue sharing crowdfunding platform, which had to shut down in February after not registering as a broker-dealer. ProFounder also had trouble complying with general solicitation laws.
“What we’ve seen is that if you’re a broker-dealer, it’s difficult to help small businesses raise capital under $100,000,” Tribbett said. “The profit model for that just doesn’t work. ProFounder said that it wasn’t possible for them to register as a broker-dealer and still be capable of facilitating small capital raises for small businesses, so they ended up stopping operations. We watched that very closely and incorporated a lot of different features into what we’ve done as we were filing our company around the same time.”
With the SEC working out the rules around crowdfunding, Tribbett hopes to see laws that protect investors but also allow platforms some legal wiggle room when it comes to compliance.
“If the SEC takes a really hard line approach on compliance issues, it could limit the funding portals’ ability to operate in the way that the legislation was written,” he said, “which is helping startups access early-stage capital.”
Exactly what features the platform touts is still a bit of a secret. Bolstr offers a number of tools to business owners for communicating with their funders, for example, but the platform founders did not wish to discuss those until their presentation at Finovate in mid-September.
Until then, Baker and Tribbett are running a private beta version of the platform and will continue to look for ways to help small businesses access liquidity.