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How one startup is trying to redefine the IPO

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer
Source: Getty Images

An initial public offering traditionally refers to the first time a company sells shares of its stock on the open market. But one startup is trying to redefine the IPO.

On Wednesday, real estate crowdfunding platform Fundrise launched its internet public offering, which COO Brandon Jenkins said is an alternative to selling shares on an exchange.

“Listing on a stock exchange is not the initial sale. Even with traditional IPOs, it’s the investment bankers that are taking the company public, selling shares to their best clients first and then average investors are involved in the secondary trade,” he told Yahoo Finance.

Fundrise’s philosophy is to get rid of barriers to entry for those who want to invest in real estate but don’t have the know-how or capital to do it on their own. The company has been focused on the first-ever online real estate investment trusts (eREITs).

One week ago, Rise Companies Corp., the owner of Fundrise, gave its existing members the chance to invest directly in the company. Today, it said its offering was oversubscribed and has paused sales due to a surge in demand. More than 2,300 Fundrise members — including investors across all 50 states — participated in the internet public offering, according to the company. Investment orders reached $14.6 million.

Investors had to purchase at least 200 shares — or $1,000 — to participate in the offer. And only existing investors with Fundrise could get in on the action.

Fundrise has been particularly attractive for non-accredited investors (accredited investors need to have a net worth exceeding $1 million or your income over each of the last two years must exceed $200,000). This has been possible because of the new Regulation A+ exemption of the Jumpstart our Business Startups (JOBS) Act that allows private companies to raise up to $50 million from the public.

Per its SEC filing, the company outlined the potential opportunity this sort of crowdfunded public offering could unlock.

“Today, the primary option for unaccredited investors to invest their savings is the Wall Street model of public markets. We believe that these public markets are broken and now operate at the expense of the individual investor rather than on their behalf. Too often, we have seen investment managers choose to maximize their own short-term gains at the expense of their investors. They are bogged down by conflicts of interest and inefficiencies created by an old-fashioned, legacy system. This results in high costs and fees, a high degree of uncertainty, and too low returns for individual investors,” it states.

Of course, investing in Fundrise comes with ample risks, as the company outlines in its SEC filing. Specifically related to the public offering, the investment is highly illiquid, as there is no public trading market for the shares.

Jenkins told Yahoo Finance the company eventually plans to take the company public on an exchange in the future. “There’s nothing that will ever preclude us from doing that down the road we list publicly. But as we continue to grow, this was the next step to put our investors first,” he said.

Perhaps other companies may follow suit in giving equity — albeit small amounts — to the people who know their products best.

Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Read more from Melody here & follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.