meow

A kindergarten class from Nina Otero Community School at Meow Wolf. Clyde Mueller/New Mexican file photo

Two years ago, the fledgling Meow Wolf launched an online crowdfunding campaign and raised $1.1 million in two days. WeFunder.com acknowledged it was the fastest anyone had raised that much so quickly through the website.

Now the Santa Fe-based enterprise is buying back those WeFunder shares, which were sold to 621 investors who put in a total of $1,322,006.

The fast-growing creator of immersive art experiences is paying $83.70 a share, a 109 percent gain in two years for those who kicked in during the original $40 offering.

Meow Wolf sent out an email Aug. 1 notifying those investors it would “repurchase the shares of common stock you purchased under such [investment] agreement.” The WeFunder investors have no option to retain their stock.

Meow Wolf, which was only a year old when it did the crowdfunding campaign, has bigger fish to fry these days. According to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the arts and entertainment collective in May sold $158.6 million in stock to 87 investors to fund expansions in Denver; Las Vegas, Nev.; Washington, D.C.; and Phoenix.

The WeFunder campaign raised an average of $2,128 per investor. The May stock sale raised an average of $1.8 million per person.

The stock buyback announcement, however, started a Facebook storm on the Santa Fe Bulletin Board page with people questioning the legality of a forced buyback, expressing disappointment in having to give up the stock as well as questioning Meow Wolf’s character for shutting out its initial investors.

Meow Wolf’s press and public relations officer, Laura Hudman, did not responded to phone calls or emails from The New Mexican asking for the reason behind the stock buyback.

Robin Parker made the initial Santa Fe Bulletin Board post, which read in part: “Meow Wolf is buying back stock from investors that invested two years ago. This seems to be a forced buy back. I’m questioning if this is legal and would love to know more from anyone with insight or more information?”

Some 95 people responded, many equally upset but some pointing out Meow Wolf spelled out the buyback clause deep in its agreement with investors.

It reads, in part: “4. Redemption. If the undersigned is not a Major Investor, the Company may, at any time and from time to time, by notice to the undersigned, redeem all or any portion of the Shares at a price per share equal to the fair market value thereof as reasonably determined from time to time by the Company’s board of directors.”

Parker acknowledged Tuesday to The New Mexican, a few days after the Facebook post, that she did eventually see the redemption clause.

“I’m happy,” Parker said. “I’m making money, but it would have been nice if I had an option to leave my original investment in.”

Neither Parker nor fellow WeFunder investor in Meow Wolf Jim Bishop said they received documents for their investments other than an initial email confirmation.

“I was completely unaware of the [buyback redemption] clause and have never been sent any documentation at all about the purchase,” Bishop wrote in an email. “No updates, no communication and no proof of purchase even.”

The purpose of crowdfunding is seed capital for startup companies or “to buy a prom dress,” not long-term strategic investment, said Tre Panagos, financial adviser at Edward Jones in Santa Fe.

“The bottom line is: Buyer beware and read the fine print when you invest in anything,” Panagos said. “When you invest in anything, you have to get invested.”

Panagos said that when the Meow Wolf crowdfunding offer was made, some of his clients asked him to invest in it, but he said he works with long-term, strategic investments.

Meow Wolf in May 2018 posted a WeFunder financial report that said the crowdfunding investments were part of $17 million that it raised in equity capital in the prior year.

“Your investment enabled us to advance our business plan at light speed,” the report says. “We nearly tripled in size, adding scores of more creatives to our team and ending the year with a staff of 289. Locally in

Santa Fe, we acquired a HQ to house our Creative Studios.”

Meow Wolf, which also has received economic development grants, now says it has nearly 500 employees. Studios and company headquarters are located at the former Caterpillar plant on Camino Entrada on the city’s south side.