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You raise some excellent points, the kind that stimulate further thinking.

I still remember the bubble years vividly. A couple of indicators of the mania: patent firms were requiring that startups give them a 5% equity piece just to take on their work (this was in addition to paying full fees, i.e., it was akin to a toll charge just to get in); at least one prominent IPO law firm was taking 25% equity pieces for fee deferrals out to IPO (which followed in a compressed time frame of as little as 18 months). Both indicators show that there was a mad rush at the time to get quick sucker money from public purchasers and it had reached such an insane stage that even lawyers, of all people, had become as critical to the value proposition as the entrepreneurs and investors. That is because the value proposition had shifted. At its worst in that era, it was no longer the goal to build a great company. The goal was to package a company profile, fill it with the most extreme hype imaginable, and market it to the public markets via IPO so that both founders and investors could do a quick cash out while leaving the public purchasers holding garbage in the end. Of course, there were also solid offerings but no one can deny - and I certainly don't - that there was a high volume of trash as well.

That said, I believe that SOX was such a piece of heavy-handed regulation that it went too far in choking off the IPO markets. Yes, this means that private equity deals with the dubious stuff, which never sees the light of day in public markets. But, in recent years, it also has meant that a good number of very solid offerings have not seen the light of day either. In practical terms, what this has meant is that founders get short-changed in being left mostly with just the M&A option - this means that (in general) acquisition pricing is suppressed, quick turns of ventures become the rule, and all sorts of conditions are imposed by the acquirers in the deals that further lessen value for founders. The net result is a lessening of founder leverage at the M&A stage because there is no viable alternative for exit. Of course, some companies might choose to go for the long haul, make great profits, and distribute these to owners (as you suggest, and, yes, that is a good thing) but these are by far the exception and not the rule in the startup world.

As to crowdfunding, I have my own reservations and actually agree with your point, even strongly so. I am encouraged, however, by the idea of experimenting with new fundraising techniques that are made possible only by modern technology and I think it is well worth the experiment. If companies use the new provisions to try to load up with a lot of small shareholders from which they seek to get quickie money based on dubious offerings, the experiment will clearly fail in my eyes. I am excited about this but cautious as well.

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