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Crowdinvesting 101: How to invest through equity crowdfunding

19 Aug 2015
You can now add ‘investing’ to the list of things that digital technology has transformed irrevocably. Like communication, transportation, shopping and entertainment, digital technology — in the form of online equity crowdfunding platforms — has elevated and streamlined the way we deal with private equity investing.

By bringing the process online and removing its financial barriers to entry, equity crowdfunding democratises the private equity investment process and allows pretty much anyone to buy shares of high-yield potential businesses. In other words, equity crowdfunding is bringing this exciting asset class, which has long been the domain of the wealthy few, to the masses.

This will allow more businesses to be funded, more innovation and economic growth to be achieved, and more sizable returns to be sought after by investors of all profiles. And with regional regulators such as the Securities Commission Malaysia taking notice of this promising development, and regulating accordingly, this game-changing model is set to take off in Asia.

Thanks to equity crowdfunding, the wider public is now being introduced to the private equity asset class; it is crucial that potential crowdinvestors learn how to successfully navigate the space. While crowdinvesting can take a long time to master, there are a number of principles and due diligence practices that, if adhered to and followed, can get you on the right track to generating healthy returns.

Seven principles for successful crowdinvestment

1. Diversify: Given the risky nature of equity investments in early-stage businesses (ESBs) and SMEs, diversifying your investments across a number of businesses is imperative. The fact is, many ESBs and SMEs fail so you don’t want to bet the farm on a single business. If you have US$10,000 to invest, it’s better invest US$1,000 in 10 businesses rather than US$5,000 in two.

2. Set your limits: Crowdinvestments in ESBs and SMEs should be a part of a wider diversified investment portfolio that includes public equities, bonds, real-estate and other assets. Because of their high risk, high reward nature, it is recommended that crowdinvestments contribute five to 10 per cent of your portfolio.

3. Conduct due diligence: There are a number of layers involved with conducting thorough due diligence on an investment opportunity. Perhaps the most obvious is fraud detection. Many equity crowdfunding platforms largely take care of this for investors with their vetting processes. For example, we, at Eureeca perform, basic due diligence on all of the businesses listed on our platform. This includes checking corporate incorporation and company structure, background checks on founders and major shareholders, and ensuring that all necessary parties have consented to the raise. However, since the primary purpose of due diligence, aside from fraud detection, is assessing how successful a business will be, there are a number of elements that we leave for the crowd to consider and determine:
  • Founders and C-level management: The entrepreneurs and management team running a business will be at the helm of your investment. Are they intelligent, resourceful, thrifty and resilient? These are some of the qualities required to successfully guide a business through the many perils it will face during its growth. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, a winning horse needs a winning jockey, so make sure you have confidence in the entrepreneurs themselves. Question and engage with them until you feel confident about their capabilities and attitude before you invest.
  • Scalability: Businesses that grow slowly and expensively are unlikely to yield healthy returns so it’s important to seek out businesses that have the potential to scale; that is, grow rapidly while keeping costs down. Ideal crowdinvestments will be able to scale their revenues and margins, thus increasing profitability.
4. Market potential: In order for a business to be scalable, there has to be a sizable market that its product or service is addressing, or better yet, creating. Is a clear gap being filled? A business must be able to clearly define its value proposition and the go-to-market strategy it will implement to seize a large share of the market.

5. Exit strategy: Unlike publicly traded companies that pay dividends to their investors, private companies are not obligated to do so, and most don’t. This means that returns are only generated through liquidity events such as mergers, acquisitions, or initial public offering (IPOs). While it is likely to be speculative, a business should have a clearly defined exit strategy that includes who may seek to acquire the company and when this is likely to occur (IPOs are quite rare so an acquisition is your best bet).

6. Follow those who know: An interesting aspect of equity crowdfunding is that you can typically see who has invested in a particular business, and this can be extremely useful when deciding where to invest. Maybe you’ve seen that an expert in e-commerce has invested in an e-commerce business. Or perhaps a well-known professional angel investor has invested in company X. Their decision to invest should inspire confidence in you that these are good investment opportunities.

7. Trust your instinct: At the end of the day, all businesses carry risk and none are perfectly suited for investment. Once you’ve considered the above factors, consider what your instinct is telling you: Is this a winner or a loser? Trust it.