Home Technology Andrew Ryan: The Wolf of Newchip or The Saint of Venture Capital?

Andrew Ryan: The Wolf of Newchip or The Saint of Venture Capital?

21 min read

In mid-2023, the tech industry felt the repercussions of its bubble’s burst, an event that shook the foundations of venture capital and startup accelerators—sectors that had thrived under the umbrella of historically low interest rates brought about by the Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP), this moment marked a departure into uncharted waters, characterized by significant volatility and a reassessment of the venture-backed models that had long been the industry’s bedrock.

Against this backdrop, Andrew Ryan, the ambitious young founder of Austin-based Newchip Accelerator, emerged as a figure sparking controversy and intrigue, momentarily rivaling even Elon Musk in his ability to divide and enchant the tech world’s collective consciousness. This was particularly evident on social media for a fleeting moment in May, when the ASTRALABS’ bankruptcy captured the spotlight, briefly shifting focus from Musk’s usual dominance until Musk reclaimed the narrative with yet another of his “viral” tweets.

Newchip’s journey began in 2016, not as the global accelerator it would become but as a pioneering equity crowdfunding platform. With a clarion call to democratize startup investments, Newchip leveraged “the power of the crowd” to break down the barriers erected by traditional venture capital. This mission to make investment opportunities more accessible struck a chord, rapidly propelling Newchip into the limelight within the FinTech sector. Ryan’s audacious goal was to change the game, to shift the paradigm of startup financing from the exclusive clubs of Silicon Valley to a more inclusive, global arena under the belief that the crowd is always right.

By 2018, Newchip had evolved. The company expanded its vision, launching an accelerator program that would mark its ascent to international prominence. It also had re-incorporated under a parent company named ASTRALABS to separate its investments from its accelerator programs. Its vision wasn’t just about funding startups but fostering growth and providing startups with capital, mentorship, and the needed resources to thrive. Under Ryan’s leadership, Newchip’s operations stretched across over 100 countries, a testament to its model’s universal appeal and transformative potential.

However, the ambition that fueled Newchip’s rise also presaged its fall. In the unpredictable world of tech startups, where innovation meets the complex realities of market dynamics, Newchip’s story took a dramatic turn. The company’s abrupt closure in 2023 left the tech community reeling, sparking intense speculation about the sustainability of such disruptive models in an increasingly cautious financial climate.

This article seeks to unravel the complex tapestry of Newchip’s story, from its inception as a groundbreaking equity crowdfunding platform to its expansion into a global accelerator. We will explore the founding ideals that motivated Andrew Ryan to challenge the venture capital status quo, the pivotal moments of innovation that defined Newchip’s trajectory, and the tumultuous series of events that led to its untimely demise and the bankruptcy of its parent company, ASTRALABS.

2016: Launching Newchip – A Visionary Beginning

Utilizing the framework established by Title IV of the Jobs Act, Newchip initially aimed to consolidate the newly fragmented market of investment crowdfunding platforms, offering an aggregator for non-accredited investors to search, compare, and manage their startup portfolios all in one place. Likened to Priceline.com or Trivago for crowdfunded investments, Newchip’s original value proposition was compelling: simplify the investor journey and open the floodgates of startup financing to the masses. But beneath a sleek interface and their “user-friendly” promise lies a more complex narrative—a tale of ambition, controversy, and the quest for innovation at the intersection of tech, finance, and business.

Andrew Ryan initially made his mark as a distinctive maverick in the fintech landscape. Despite his youth, which earned both admiration and skepticism, his foray into this sector attracted a mix of enthusiasm and caution from seasoned Wall Street veterans. Critics highlighted his bold marketing strategies and adeptness at maneuvering through regulatory ambiguities, showcasing an aggressive legal savvy in his early ventures. Conversely, supporters and venture capitalists lauded Ryan as a pioneering figure in crowdfunding and fintech, seeing him as a champion of financial democracy. They praised his use of technology to democratize access to startup investments, arguing that his primary goal was to dismantle the traditional barriers that excluded the average investor from engaging in potentially rewarding startup ventures.

The foundation of Newchip was, in fact, a response to a glaring gap in the investment landscape. Before its inception, investing in startups was a labyrinthine endeavor, fraught with complexities and high barriers to entry, on top of having to be an accredited investor. Traditional venture capital and angel investing networks are tightly knit exclusive circles, where access often depends on who you know rather than the merit of your investment acumen. With its promise to open up investment opportunities to a broader audience, the Jobs Act presented a golden opportunity—a chance to innovate and disrupt the tech ecosystem. Ryan’s Newchip was poised to capitalize on this shift, offering a platform that simplified the investment process and provided transparency and accessibility previously unseen in the startup investment space.

Yet, for all its pioneering spirit, Newchip’s journey was anything but smooth. The platform’s rapid ascent was marred by regulatory hurdles and the inherent risks of allowing uneducated and new investors to invest in startups. Questions arose about the vetting process for startups listed on Newchip and its partner marketplace, the platform’s revenue model, and how it balanced profit motives with investor protection. After all, the high-stakes world of startup investing is notorious for its volatility and uncertainty. A hundred others fail for every startup success story, leaving investors out of pocket. Newchip’s challenge and mission was to navigate these turbulent waters, offering opportunity and caution to those willing to dive into the startup ecosystem.

As we delve deeper into the story of Andrew Ryan and Newchip, we are confronted with a narrative that encapsulates the best and worst of the fintech revolution of the 2010s. It was a tale of innovation, ambition, and the relentless pursuit of a vision that could redefine the future of startup investing or serve as a cautionary tale of overreach and hubris. The question that we must ask ourselves is simple: Was Andrew Ryan the “Wolf of Newchip,” preying on the hopes of investors and startups alike, or was he a saint, a champion willing to die for the cause of startup democratization in a world dominated by a handful of VC’s? Was he the metaphorical David fighting Goliath or Delilah tricking Samson? The answers lie in the intricate web of decisions, challenges, and triumphs that defined the Newchip journey over the crypto years.

2016-2018: From the Crypto Boom to the Crypto Winter

During this period, China was a significant player in the venture capital ecosystem; its various funds comprised an estimated one-third of venture funds’ limited partner commitments. This vast involvement meant that the U.S. restrictions on investments from China didn’t just cool the market for direct investments in startups but also profoundly impacted the broader fintech and tech sectors. The restrictions led to a chilling effect across the tech ecosystem, not limited to the crypto sector, which experienced a massive downturn known as the Crypto Winter.

The Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) and the subsequent measures taken by the Trump administration to limit Chinese investments were aimed at addressing trade imbalances and national security concerns. However, these policies also inadvertently affected the venture capital landscape. Many venture funds had commitments from Chinese funds, which, due to the new regulations, were suddenly unable to fulfill their investment pledges, leading to a short-term shortfall in available capital for startups seeking funding and venture funds looking to close new financing rounds.

The tightening of investment flows from China into the U.S. not only cooled the fervor around burgeoning tech and fintech ventures but also introduced a period of recalibration. Startups and venture funds alike had to navigate this new reality, seeking alternative sources of capital and reevaluating their growth strategies in light of the diminished Chinese investment and further regulatory scrutiny for companies in sensitive sectors that took Chinese-backed capital. This shift required a delicate balance between fostering innovation, adhering to regulatory requirements, and engaging with international finance dynamics in an ever-evolving global economic landscape.

2018: A Cooling Period for the Equity Crowdfunding Sector

As the Crypto Winter of 2018 continued, regulatory scrutiny over equity crowdfunding platforms intensified. Regulators began questioning the industry’s operational models, particularly their aspirations to resemble NASDAQ-like trading platforms for equity crowdfunded investments and exchanges for buying and selling secondary sales. This scrutiny focused on more than just their involvement with cryptocurrencies but also on the perceived lack of successful exits for investors and what was deemed insufficient diligence and oversight by equity crowdfunding platforms by Regulators. 

For Newchip, a company that had just successfully closed a Series A funding round with ambitions of launching a trading platform to facilitate transactions between equity crowdfunding platforms, the regulatory pushback was a significant blow. The emerging regulatory environment threatened to stifle Newchip’s momentum, primarily due to the platform’s inability to monetize transactions and investments without the necessary licensing—a process into which the company had already sunk months and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Facing these challenges, the leadership at Newchip recognized the need for a strategic pivot. This critical juncture led them to explore the sale of their top-ranking iOS mobile application. Unique amongst app companies, their decision to focus only on iOS, despite never launching an Android app, was strategically aimed at efficiently targeting accredited investors and optimizing marketing expenditures. This strategy had, on paper, proven effective, growing Newchip’s active user base to hundreds of thousands of investors who had collectively deployed over >$100 million in capital to partner platforms such as Wefunder, Republic, and StartEngine by this point. 

The pivot culminated in acquiring Newchip’s mobile app and software stack, along with its newly launched desktop investment platform, by KingsCrowd. KingsCrowd, the Motley Fool for analyzing and rating online startup investments in this new private equity market, represented a strategic ally for Newchip. This acquisition allowed Newchip to find a home for its technological assets and refocus its mission toward supporting entrepreneurs. The Newchip name, originally coined from a derogatory term used by traders against non-blue-chip tech companies during the internet boom of the 90s, was retained and continued in the next venture. This decision was symbolic, reflecting defiance against the skepticism that once surrounded tech startups in the dot com boom.

In the wake of this acquisition, Newchip’s leadership opted to innovate again by launching the first fully remote and online accelerator program. This move was a pivot and a reinvention, aiming to adapt to the changing startup funding and support landscape. The concept of startup accelerators was not new; these programs had been crucial in nurturing early-stage companies by providing them with mentorship, resources, and funding opportunities. Historically, accelerators like Y Combinator and Techstars have played pivotal roles in the success stories of countless billion-dollar IPOs. However, Newchip’s vision was to transcend the traditional accelerator model by leveraging technology to offer these invaluable resources in a fully remote format, thus broadening their accessibility to entrepreneurs worldwide.

2019-2022: The Rise of the Newchip Accelerator

Newchip launched its first accelerator program in 2019 to a small cohort and saw growth but steep competition from in-person accelerators that were still running. That is, until COVID hit in 2020, the entire landscape shifted to online and remote. With the closure of in-person accelerator programs worldwide, Newchip was well positioned. It invested its Series A into building a robust tech stack to service and offer educational courses to budding entrepreneurs. What differentiated Newchip’s leader Andrew Ryan’s philosophy was utilizing crowdfunding and remote fundraising techniques that he’d used to raise millions, immediately setting his company apart, and its training programs attracted hundreds of startups worldwide per month.

Looking at its history online and following reviews by employees and startups, the accelerator’s initial years had little scrutiny, with its name being mentioned positively in hundreds of press releases during this timeframe. They received significant acclaim during COVID-19, even from TechCrunch, as many in-person accelerators took over a year to adapt to the “new normal.” The challenge Newchip started to face at this juncture was the inability to find talent that had “experience” on the CEO level in coaching and was coachable to the method Andrew Ryan espoused on remote fundraising, as it was still a general shock to the ecosystem.

In 2019, before the world had heard of COVID-19, Newchip took a bold step by launching its first remote accelerator program. This move came when in-person accelerator programs dominated the landscape. Despite the steep competition, Newchip’s unique proposition—focusing on crowdfunding and remote fundraising techniques—began to carve out a niche for the company. However, the unexpected arrival of the global pandemic dramatically shifted the playing field in Newchip’s favor. It’s important to note that during this time, it was also when it re-incorporated under the ASTRALABS parent company structure that aimed at assisting its leadership in dividing the company’s product and investment verticals into distinct units under one parent similar to Google’s Alphabet parent.

As COVID-19 spread globally, forcing physical workplace closures and the cessation of in-person gatherings in most cities, traditional accelerators scrambled to adapt. Newchip, having invested its Series A funding into developing an EdTech technology stack, was uniquely prepared for this moment. The platform offered educational courses and resources designed specifically for remote engagement, setting a new standard for how accelerator programs could operate. Andrew Ryan, the vision behind Newchip, had already embraced a philosophy that leveraged the power of crowdfunding and digital fundraising strategies. This approach set Newchip apart and became a beacon for startups worldwide, attracting thousands of applicants each month during unprecedented upheaval.

Despite the accolades and the surge in interest, Newchip faced its own set of challenges. The most pressing issue was the difficulty in finding experienced CEO-level talent for the right price who were coachable and adept at navigating the nuances of remote fundraising. The sudden shift to a remote ecosystem was a shock to many. While Newchip’s early cohorts enjoyed little scrutiny and significant acclaim—even from notable outlets like TechCrunch—the landscape was changing. Demand for its program skyrocketed, often outpacing Newchip’s capacity to deliver timely assistance to founders in dire need of capital, always needing it sooner than they estimated at the start. This surge in demand led to fluctuating cohort sizes and strained resources, highlighting the challenges of scaling an accelerator program in such volatile times.

Throughout the pandemic, Newchip experienced a staggering 300% growth year over year, mirroring the broader venture capital and accelerator ecosystem where the cream of the crop tended to attract the most attention and resources. However, this success was not without its detractors. By the end of Q2 2022, some startups expressed dissatisfaction as the initial pandemic-driven urgency began to wane. Negative reviews started to increase from founders who felt let down by their inability to secure funding after joining Newchip.

These complaints underscored the harsh reality of the startup world, where failure rates are high, and success is far from guaranteed. Despite these criticisms, after a thorough investigation, it is essential to note that Newchip’s accelerator programs boasted higher funding rates than many other major accelerators. For example, in a landscape where 99% of startups fail, improving success rates from 1-2% would represent a significant achievement, though not always understood as such by the broader community, who still equate Facebook and unicorns to being still in the “startup” phase. Newchip’s materials, going back years, often said it was attempting to lower the failure rate globally for startups, and it seems to have done that.

Q3-Q4 2022: Signals of an Impending Downturn

In the third quarter of 2022, Newchip’s trajectory faltered, marking a significant shift from its previous years of rapid growth and optimistic projections. Despite maintaining a predominantly positive to negative review ratio, the end of the Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) heralded a broader economic downturn that would challenge the very foundation of the tech industry’s decade-long boom. This period saw the beginning of massive layoffs across the tech sector and the closure of major venture capital firms, signaling the onset of a much-anticipated market correction. Amid these tumultuous times, Andrew Ryan stood as a Cassandra, warning of an impending economic recession accompanied by rampant inflation—a recession he argued had been merely delayed, not avoided, by the response to the 2021 economic downturn.

From interviews and documents obtained, it is evident that Ryan’s foresight and calls for austerity were largely ignored by his team and leadership, leaving him isolated in his push for preemptive downsizing to safeguard the company’s future. The realization that compliance with layoff regulations across over fifty states necessitated a gradual workforce reduction only compounded his challenges. This slow process, which Ryan embarked on despite widespread resistance, began to fray the tightly knit fabric of the Newchip team—a group that had grown close and familial through the shared trials of the COVID-19 pandemic. Little did he know it would be a death by a thousand cuts regarding his team’s loyalty and morale to see wave after wave of friends with near familial ties from COVID-19 be laid off from the company.

2023: The Dual Blow of SVB’s Collapse & The Startup Bubble Burst

External economic pressures mirrored the company’s internal struggles. After achieving its revenue target of $20 million in 2022, with ambitions to double that in 2023, its ambitions quickly became unattainable. As the economic landscape worsened, Newchip could not adapt swiftly enough. The situation reached a critical point when allegations surfaced of an attempt by a board member to seize control of the company and oust its founder, Andrew Ryan. This internal turmoil, against the backdrop of a deteriorating market and the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), forced Newchip into a corner.

Facing insurmountable financial hurdles and being unable to meet its revenue projections, Newchip found itself in a precarious position that led to the filing for bankruptcy protection. This drastic measure was seen as a last-ditch effort to renegotiate terms with lenders and stave off collapse. However, documents related to the bankruptcy proceedings revealed a lack of preparedness from Newchip’s leadership for such a legal maneuver. Their attempt to minimize legal expenses backfired dramatically during the initial hearings, where their bankruptcy attorney’s lack of preparation was glaringly evident, nearly jeopardizing the company’s survival.

A closer examination of Newchip’s financial strategy paints a revealing picture of its operational challenges. Mirroring the approach of many venture-backed unicorns, Newchip set its customer fees well below the actual cost of delivering its accelerator programs. This gap was initially covered by venture capital and investor infusions under the optimistic assumption that economies of scale would eventually reduce costs and lead to profitability. Ironically, despite this underpricing, there were customer grievances over what they perceived as excessive fees.

An investigation into Newchip’s compensation practices showed that the company paid its employees and leadership significantly less than New York and San Francisco firms. This strategy underscored Newchip’s commitment to lean operations and reinforced its underdog image in the industry. While admirable, this branding and operational efficiency approach emphasizes the complex balancing act faced by startups striving for growth and sustainability in highly competitive and volatile markets.

This dramatic turn of events marked a stark reversal for a company that, just months prior, had been on an explosive growth trajectory. Newchip’s rise and fall from grace serves as a cautionary tale of the volatile nature of the tech industry, where economic shifts, changes in the fundraising environment, and internal discord can swiftly undercut rapid growth and success. These challenges faced by Newchip underscore the importance of prudent financial management, the need for agility in the face of economic changes, and the delicate balance between growth and sustainability as we look toward recovery from the tech bubble in 2024.

2024: Reassessing Andrew Ryan & Newchip’s Legacy & Impact

In evaluating the journey of Andrew Ryan and Newchip through a lens of impartiality, we delve into the dichotomies of his public perception: celebrated as the “Saint of Venture Capital” by the startups he propelled to success, yet labeled as the “Wolf of Newchip” by ventures that did not flourish. This narrative, shaded by “anonymous” allegations and Newchip’s legal battle, culminates in a nuanced legal victory pointing towards vindication. Yet, this resolution does not shy away from the complexities and high stakes inherent in building a successful startup.

Andrew Ryan’s era at Newchip, characterized by the company’s rapid ascent and subsequent obstacles, demands a thorough examination. His vision to democratize startup investments challenged the traditional venture capital paradigm. His mission, primarily through the accelerator’s launch, aimed to dismantle entry barriers, securing his place as a pivotal figure in the startup ecosystem. Notably, it’s believed that Ryan’s programs saw over 3,000 startups graduate, collectively raising over $1 billion in venture capital.

While the impact of this capital remains to be fully seen, the sheer volume of graduates significantly surpasses the output of the rest of the world’s accelerators combined, suggesting Newchip’s potential historical role during the COVID era—a time when lockdowns severely impacted startups and venture capital. The speculative what-ifs paint a picture of a potentially bleaker world without the entrepreneurial surge facilitated by Newchip. Only the future will reveal how these startups, possibly the next unicorns, contribute to job creation and innovation.

The allegations against Ryan presented a contrasting image, overshadowing Newchip’s milestones and successes. It is imperative, however, to emphasize that, despite an initial bias on social media and in the court against him, the extensive legal proceedings unearthed no evidence supporting any of the allegations published online. The lack of charges and even the non-attendance of opposing counsel in the final hearing highlighted the absence of substance behind the allegations.

Newchip’s time in the limelight, both positively and negatively, underscores Ryan and his team’s resilience and the broader challenge of navigating corporate governance and public perception during a period marked by widespread skepticism towards tech leaders. Their victory underlines the essential principles of due process and the necessity for evidence-backed allegations in the media vs. pop tabloid and “clickbait” articles.

In the end, reflecting upon Newchip’s trajectory and Ryan’s leadership unveils a narrative far richer than a simple, albeit highly binary portrayal. It encapsulates ambition, innovation, and resilience despite the controversy. Looking at Newchip’s legacy and Andrew Ryan’s influence on the tech industry, his story significantly contributes to discussions on leadership, startup scalability, and venture capital dynamics. As we contemplate the aftermath of the 2023 tech bubble burst, Newchip and Ryan’s legacy offers profound insights into navigating success and adversity within the rapidly evolving tech landscape.

Last Updated: February 20, 2024

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