Last week Facebook announced it would acquire Oculus Virtual Reality for US$2 billion. 18 months earlier Oculus used crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise US$2.5 million from supporters. Unfortunately, none of those backers were equity holders. Owning equity in Oculus wasn’t an option for these supporters because the JOBS Act, which was signed into law in April, 2012 and legalizes the ability for companies to use crowdfunding platforms to sell debt or equity, hadn’t gone into effect yet. (It still hasn’t 2 years later). Outside of Kickstarter however, there were some seed investors that were able to invest in Oculus at a $2.5M valuation. So you can understand why there are some pretty upset Oculus Kickstarter backers whose dollars didn’t earn them an 800x return like the investors but feel they are partially responsible for the success.
This is not another rehash of the Occulus acquisition by Facebook. I am only focusing on one thing; misdirected anger. Occulus and Kickstarter did exactly what they offered in their kickstarter campaign. They didn’t create the laws that prevented people from investing in private companies unless you are the wealthy 1%. They also didn’t create the laws that made it illegal to use kickstarter-like platforms to raise equity for a business until the JOBS Act goes into effect.
It is time to stop directing their anger at Oculus or Kickstarter. Instead, supporters should shift their dismay to the group that prevented them from making an investment in that company (that had the chance to reap a financial gain in the process) in the first place: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). If the SEC had moved faster to write and approve the rules for equity crowdfunding for unaccredited investors (a.k.a. the vast majority of people living in the U.S.), then Occulus could have made the decision to raise money via either equity or debt crowdfunding (likely equity since it had no revenues or prospects for very near-term revenues to support a debt repayment). IF they had made this decision to raise money via equity crowdfunding and IF individuals made these investments, they would have reaped the same rewards as other stockholders with the same class of stock.
My point in not to say that everyone is going to get rich on investing in startups. My point is that if the SEC had moved more quickly in their rule making progress (remember, it is now 2 years since the President signed the bill), tens of thousands of businesses and startups across the US could have had new options to consider in raising capital for themselves. This would have created more jobs and innovation for our economy and potentially other companies that might have created a financial gain for their investors. Not the “truth is stranger than fiction” type of returns Oculus delivered, but returns (via equity or debt investments) none the less. Let’s congratulate innovation and hard work and let’s direct the frustration with the inability to make investments in startups and private companies, at those that can can help alleviate it.
If the SEC will move forward and issue final rules that provide companies with the opportunity to raise capital, other companies will have a shot at building their vision and regular investors will have the chance to be a part of it if they choose to be.
PLEASE NOTE: It is entirely unlikely and insanely rare for a company to sell for $2B in less that 2 years (or ever, for that matter). Historically, most startups fail and historically, most people who make investments in early stage companies or small businesses loose money. Making investments in startups and small businesses is very high risk and if one chooses to make these high risk investments, they should be limited to a very small percentage of their total portfolio.