The thing about crowdfunding is that it attracts people who are paid to introduce investors to companies that have little to offer. The worst, of course, are those who know that the companies have little chance of success and hype the hell out of them anyway.
So I was particularly interested in a Reg. A+ offering filed by KingsCrowd, a publication that covers the Reg. CF marketplace and companies that are seeking funds. KingsCrowd has a “patent-pending AI-driven startup rating algorithm” from which it intends to rate the various offerings on the Reg. CF funding portals.
In its own words, KingsCrowd will “empower individual investors to make intelligent startup investment decisions on platforms like Republic, Wefunder, SeedInvest, Netcapital, etc., by providing institutional-grade research tools for assessing the thousands of investment opportunities available to investors at any one time.”
Given that 90% of start-ups will inevitably fail, any algorithm that can sort likely winners from likely losers would be welcome. Even if unable to identify the 10% that will succeed, eliminating the bottom 10% or more that have no chance at success would benefit investors as well.
KingsCrowd already tracks and rates “every Reg. CF investment opportunity in the United States.” It has a system to research and rate Reg. CF issuers. The only question is does their algorithm work? How good is their research? What constitutes “institutional-grade” research anyway?
CalPERS, the largest public employee’s pension fund manages a multi-billion dollar portfolio. It employs several hundred research analysts to oversee that portfolio and to make specific buy/sell recommendations. Other funds and money managers around the globe use much the same data and much the same methods to analyze that data. Generally accepted methods of securities analysis are taught in business schools and have been for decades.
If that is “institutional-grade” research and analysis then I needed no more proof that KingsCrowd does not provide it than the fact that it gave itself a “pre-money” valuation of $45 million. There is no way that analysis that produced that valuation can be called “institutional-grade”. The numbers just do not add up.
KingsCrowd says that it collects “more than 150 data points on each issuer, including information relating to its team, its market, financial statements, traction with consumers, and competitors. Our investment research team collects data from multiple sources such as the issuers’ pitch decks, capital raise pages on all of the funding portals (including all Reg CF funding portals such as Wefunder, Republic, Netcapital, SeedInvest), news articles and announcements, social media, founder profiles and resumes, recruitment websites, the SEC filings, growth data provided by the companies and information derived from alternative data sources.”
I do not think that I need tell you that data in “pitch decks” and “growth data provided by companies” is often exaggerated. Information on the funding portals is often unverified. What I was hoping for was for KingsCrowd to bring some amount of real financial analysis to this marketplace. To even begin the process it would be necessary for the data used on Reg. CF funding portals to be accurate. It isn’t.
KingCrowds’ “algorithm uses a comparative modeling approach to rank and score all companies actively raising capital from the markets across the various key dimensions deemed notable in the rating algorithm and traditionally utilized by venture investors to make informed investment decisions.”
Forget for a minute that the phrase that ties “venture investors” with “informed investment decisions” is itself an oxymoron. I worked for VC funds and I have dealt with them as a representative of a company being funded, repeatedly, beginning in the 1970s. Funding has always been more about who you know than what you were selling. The days of an MBA as a requirement to be a “venture capitalist” are a receding memory.
I would think that if KingsCrowd’s algorithm really identified better investments, one of the VC funds would have scooped it up. When you break down what they do, you can see that it is more smoke and mirrors than mathematics.
At the end of the day, KingsCrowd’s patent-pending AI-driven startup rating algorithm yields a rating that is a number between 1 (lowest score) and 5 (highest score) for every aspect of the issuer, including price, market, differentiation, performance, team, and risk, as well as an overall score for the issuer at a specific funding round.
Given that many of the start-ups being funded have neither income nor profits, the metrics of “performance” may be more subjective than one might expect. KingsCrowd seems to intimate that what they are identifying are companies that had a successful capital raise, not successful companies. If that is true, they are on a fool’s errand. And, while I always help clients structure their offering to present an investment that will be attractive to investors, success in crowdfunding is often about how you market the offering and how much money you put into your marketing campaign.
Giving a numerical score to a “team” also seems quite subjective. KingsCrowd itself has only 3 employees and a “team” of outside advisors. Christopher Lustrino is a founder of the Company, Chief Executive Officer, President, Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer, and also a member of the Board of Directors. If these positions had been filled with qualified people would the “pre-revenue” valuation have been $60 million? More?
Some VCs and angel investors like a founder to have some skin in the game and invest their own money. Lustrino is selling $1 million worth of his stock in KingsCrowd as is one of the early investors. The fact Lustrino needed to sell his shares costs the company an equal amount.
KingsCrowd is also concurrently offering the same shares to investors in a private placement offering under Regulation D. They are raising a total of $15 million which, if the company had something to offer, would have been cheaper and easier to accomplish using only the private placement.
Under current law, however, Lustrino cannot sell his shares or those of the early investor, using Regulation D. To sell his shares, Lustrino needed to have the company prepare and file the offering using Regulation A+.
In the normal course, the shares being sold under Reg. A+ would be the subject of a commission, here 7%. Shares sold on a crowdfunding platform using Reg. D do not pay a commission unless the platform is a licensed broker/dealer.
Lustrino arranged to have this offering placed with a broker/dealer affiliated with one of the Reg. CF funding portals, Republic. He has agreed to pay that broker/dealer 7% of the entire $15 million or more than $1 million. That is the fee the company will pay to liberate 2,000,000 shares being sold by Lustrino and his partner.
The issue is more than the fact that KingsCrowd is spending money that it did not need to spend. The funds would certainly be better spent hiring a CFO to watch over the investors’ money.
KingsCrowd is essentially giving $1 million to a company whose offerings it will rate. This kind of conflict of interest would, in my opinion, negate any rating KingsCrowd issues on a company listed on Republic and likely its competitors as well. As importantly, by selling his shares, Lustrino gives the impression that he has one foot out the door, ready to ditch the algorithm with little utility and ready to fund his next company.
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