Interview Series – Howard Marks, CEO, of StartEngine
Howard Marks is a co-founder and CEO of StartEngine. Since inception, nearly 150 successful financings have been completed for startups and other businesses via the StartEngine platform.
Long before ICOs became standard parlance, Howard saw the future of Security Token Offerings. On his blog and also through guest articles as contributor to Forbes, Hacker Noon, The Mission and Next Web, Howard has shared his vision for the space and has worked to chart the path forward to liquidity.
StartEngine was involved in the highly successful tZERO STO, they hold annual conferences, and many STOs are raising via the StartEngine platform.
AT: You have quite the impressive background, with an extensive history in software and gaming. Yet, you decided to launch an accelerator program called StartEngine. What inspired this?
HM: I felt the Los Angeles technology community needed an accelerator to invest in young companies. We were the first accelerator to launch in Los Angeles, many more followed. The mission was to help Los Angeles become a technology city.
AT: How long was it until StartEngine pivoted towards equity crowdfunding?
HM: We invested in 60 startups and most of them were not able to raise any capital. This was a huge problem. Investors were only interested in very narrow set of ideas and a certain type of founder. This resulted in most of our investments failing. This is viewed as normal given the early stage nature of the companies, however, access to capital was difficult for most of them, especially for the female led founders. In 2014, two years after launching the accelerator, we created the crowdfunding platform and launched in June 2015.
AT: Your first client on StartEngine Elio Motors went on to raise an impressive $16.9 million. How did you source this client?
HM: We were introduced to Paul Elio through a marketing company who felt they would be a perfect first customer for our company. Paul was adamant his community would invest and we were excited to have such an early success.
AT: When did StartEngine decide to also offer ICOs?
HM: In June 2017, I was reading about the DAO report published by SEC. This report explained how the DAO was an investment in securities although it was positioned as utility tokens. This intrigued me to learn more about ICOs and I found huge fast growing marketplace of investors who were using cryptocurrencies to crowdfund companies. There were two main differences from our marketplace: They were not following the securities laws and they offered many liquidation marketplaces for the investors. We decided to help ICOs get out of the shadows and use the JOBS ACT to sell securities within the securities rules. The first significant ICO we launched was tZero in February 2018.
AT: You were one of the first companies that pivoted from ICOs to STOs. What made you pivot toward STOs?
HM: ICOs were viewed by the general public as an investment in utility tokens. Although most of those tokens were securities, they were not sold as such. Changing the name to STO made sense because it was clear these offerings were for securities.
AT: We are huge fans of tZERO, how did you get tZERO on-board to raise on the StartEngine platform?
HM: When we launched our first summit on November 10 in 2017, we invited Ralph Diauto from tZero to come and speak. He saw our entire organization and how we were focused on compliance and following the rules. This was refreshing for him given the large number of platforms who were launching utility tokens by disregarding the laws.
AT: The StartEngine Summit has been quite successful. My only complaint is that it’s not long enough, any plans on making this a 2-day conference?
HM: We have completed three Summit so far and our next one is April 12th. I think a 2 day conference makes sense, however, it involves twice as many speakers and a lot more logistics. For now, we are expanding the 1 day conference and in collaboration with many other Los Angeles companies to offer an incredible LA Blockchain Week.
AT: You’ve spoken strongly in the past about supporting women entrepreneurs as traditional venture capitalists often do not provide them with the support and funding that they need. Do you feel that equity crowdfunding and STOs offer them more of a fair playing field?
HM: We have learned that under 4% of Venture Capital is invested in women led companies. This results in discouraging women to pursue their dreams and business aspirations. This bias contributes to the lack of diversification in the types of companies that are funded and also in the types of ideas available for investors. So far, StartEngine has women leading 22% of the companies on our crowdfunding platform. This is still low but a large step forward. We believe crowdfunding and STOs will help fund more women led companies than VC and Angels combined.
AT: I know you believe in mission statements, what’s the mission statement of Start Engine?
HM: Our mission is to help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
AT: StartEngine is currently running their own STO. Could you tell us about this STO, the raise amount, and the terms that are offered?
HM: We have a fundraising campaign for accredited investors called OWN Limited. This is limited to a short period of time before we have received qualification from the SEC for our next Regulation A+ public offering. The OWN Limited terms are $7.50 per token. Each token represents a share of Preferred stock in the company. To see the details, go to https://www.startengine.com/own-limited
AT: Anything else that you would like to share about StartEngine?
HM: We are focused on building a modern financial firm which can help entrepreneurs capitalize their companies directly from the crowd. We also want to provide investors with liquidity options. We are in the process of registration with the SEC for our broker-dealer and Alternative Trading System. We recently launched a proposed standard called ERC-1450 to tokenize securities. The purpose is to offer investors the ability to receive digital stock certificates in the form of tokens and to then facilitate the trading on our upcoming platform.
AT: Thank you for the interview. We are huge fans of StartEngine and we were excited you were able to join us.
For anyone who wishes to learn more about StartEngine or Howard please see the links below:
StartEngine – Invest in companies via equity crowdfunding or STOs.
StartEngine STO – Invest in the StartEngine STO.
Howard’s Blog – Howard discusses his views on the industry.
Howard’s Twitter – One of the best Twitter accounts in the industry to follow.