In July 2019, the SEC qualified the first token offerings under Regulation A+, approving blockchain startup Blockstack’s bitcoin-like digital tokens on July 10, and live video streaming platform YouNow’s offering of its “Props” tokens on July 11. These decisions will likely serve as new fundraising templates for many blockchain businesses.
Blockstack describes its services as being an open-source decentralized computing platform, whose software libraries enable developers to build decentralized applications, that have no single point of failure or control. The company provides decentralized protocols for authentication, data storage, and software distribution.
According to Blockstack’s filings on EDGAR, it intends to conduct a cash offering under the Regulation A+, Tier 2, framework. Unlike traditional registered IPO filings, this framework allows the sale of Blockstack’s tokens to retail investors as well as to accredited investors and institutions. As part of the offering, an additional supply of tokens is proposed to be allocated to Blockstack’s App Mining Program, which rewards developers who create the top-ranked applications within the Blockstack ecosystem.
Following on the heels of the Blockstack qualified offering, on July 11, 2019, the SEC approved YouNow’s “Props” token offering under the Regulation A+, Tier 2 framework. According to its filings on EDGAR, YouNow has created an Ethereum-based blockchain token, which it intends to distribute to those who create content using its app for activities that “drive community engagement” or as a reward for administration of its own blockchain. The Reg A+ offering also includes a secondary distribution of tokens to be distributed by its affiliated foundation for grants to persons developing key apps or otherwise contributing to the development of the network. The company also said that users will begin to receive tokens for engaging with the platform.
Both offerings are significant in that they establish a basic framework for companies that have sought to issue tokens as rewards for specific platform users and developers. In the past, issuers have attempted to structure such tokens to fall outside the Howey test as something other than a security. The Blockstack and YouNow precedents clarify that such attempted structures are unlikely to be acceptable to the SEC in the absence of fact-specific no-action relief. This is not surprising in light of the two recent no-action letters issued by the SEC in TurnKey Jet and Pocketful of Quarters, as highlighted in this newsletter. The SEC draws a clear line between tokens developed for use strictly on a particular platform or “in-app” versus tokens that may be transferred outside the platform or publicly traded on an ATS or other exchange.
The Howey test is based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark case, SEC v. W.J. Howey Co., setting the standard for what arrangement constitutes an investment contract and is therefore regulated as a security. In the context of blockchain tokens, the Howey test asks if a party has invested funds, in a common enterprise, with the expectation of profits, based on the efforts of a third party.