Monthly Archives: May 2015

Investing with $10k or less

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Spreading your money among different types of investments is generally accepted as the best way to reduce risk and build a strong portfolio. But what should you do when you are starting out with a small amount?

MyWealth examines whether you should try and diversify from the get-go, and what your options are.

Know why you are doing what you are doing

Setting your investment goals at the outset is the most important thing in terms of defining the level of risk that is acceptable for you.

For instance, are you planning to use your money in the short term, or are you investing for the long haul in order to set yourself up for a comfortable retirement?

Ultimately most of the decisions an investor makes will be driven by risk. That is, either the desire to dial it back at times when it is more important to protect the money you have, or ramp it up a notch at times when you are wanting to focus on longer term capital growth.

At the end of the day though, while there are always going to be risks involved in investing, you don’t want to throw your money away by putting it all on black, so to speak. This is why the concept of diversification is so important.

The golden rules

Senior executive leader for financial literacy at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Miles Larbey, says whatever your reasons for starting to invest and the amount you have to begin, there are some “golden rules” to follow.

“The first of those is to work out your needs and objectives, or what you are trying to achieve from your current situation and the timeframe you are investing over.”

Larbey says while a general rule of thumb is that higher potential returns involve a higher risk, some investments might be riskier than you appreciate without seeming to offer returns much higher than other offers around. This is why it is important to not just look at risks but also be sure you understand what it is you are investing in.

“This means considering such things as whether you will be able to access your money quickly if you need to and monitoring the progress of whichever product you choose over time and checking in to see if it is performing in the way you want it to.”

So, can you diversify with a small amount, say less than $10,000, and should you even try?

Your first investment doesn’t have to be property

Financial planner at Epona Financial Guidance, Lisa Duggan, says regardless of how much you are starting out with the level of risk you are exposed to should never be too far from mind.

“My perspective is to diversify right from the start – even if you have $10k or less, otherwise you are taking on too much risk,” Duggan says.

Both Duggan and Larbey talk about the importance of considering whether you can access your money quickly if you need to—in other words, having a “rainy day” fund—and also regularly checking in to assess whether your capacity to take on risk has changed or whether a particular decision could leave you over-exposed.

“I have this conversation with a lot of younger clients, who want to go into direct property straight away where we know that property is a big, lumpy asset,” Duggan said.

“My preference is to start off building wealth in a diversified manner and once that wealth has started to accumulate, looking at direct property, but not as the first asset.”

Larbey says that if $10,000 represents the entire sum of money you have saved then you might think about things like whether you need to protect your capital which will in turn influence your investment choices.

“But it is important to know that small amounts of money can, over time, grow to large amounts and particularly if you are looking at long term horizons, $10,000 can grow to a very sizeable amount.”

What are your options?

There are a number of different vehicles you can use to invest and try to either grow your money or protect it.

The kind of investments that will be suitable will depend, as above, on considerations such as your time frame and goals.

While investing directly in the shares of a large listed company is a common way in Australia for investors to try and generate a return, it is by no means the only option. Particularly if you are starting out with a smaller amount of capital, it can be a good idea to know what other options are available.

“Diversification is all about spreading risk and can be harder with small amounts if you are buying individual assets,” Larbey says.

“This might mean looking at ways to diversify using a fund such as a managed fund or an ETF [exchange traded fund] which can be a way of achieving a broad spread with a small amount, or you can start to build a portfolio of different shares if that’s what you are interested in.”

Duggan agrees when you are looking at starting with less than $10,000, “ETFs and managed funds, provided they are competitively priced, can be one easy way to start investing”.

Funds such as ETFs and managed funds operate by pooling together the money of multiple investors to give you a stake in a portfolio of assets.

In other words your exposure will typically be much broader and in the case of ETFs will mimic the performance of a market index.

As with any investment though, it’s important you fully understand the benefits and risks before making any decisions. You can use our 60 second guide to ETFs as a starting point to get your head around what might be involved in this type of fund.

Ultimately, it is about your level of comfort. Regardless of how much you have available to invest, you want to make sure you adopt a strategy that is compatible with achieving your goals.

“The most important thing when it comes to investing is making sure you can sleep at night. You need to be comfortable with how much risk you are taking on. If you overextend then regardless of what you are trying to achieve, you might not end up reaching those goals anyway and you won’t be sleeping at night,” Larbey says


Henry Sapiecha

The remarkable life and lessons of the millionaire janitor . Lesson in frugality for us all.

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Ronald Read quietly accumulated a fortune worth millions by the time of his death at the age of 92. Photo: Bloomberg

You may have read about the remarkable life and times of Ronald Read. He was the gas station attendant and lifelong resident of Windham County, Vermont, who had quietly accumulated a portfolio worth a fortune.

As the Brattleboro ­Reformer reported earlier this year, Read died in June 2014 at age 92. Despite his relatively modest wages, he left an estate with “stock holdings and property” valued at nearly $US8 million ($AU10.1 million). His bequest was to leave most of it to the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Brooks Memorial Library.

His close friends and family were shocked when they learned the value of his estate.

There is wisdom to be learned from Read’s investing and life experiences. How a man of modest means accumulated so much wealth contains exemplary lessons for saving that apply to all of us. But there is also a cautionary tale about recognising the value of your finite time here on Earth. Perhaps learning to enjoy life while you can is part of that equation.

What do we know of Read? He served in World War II, seeing action in North Africa, Italy and the Pacific theatre. The local paper reported that when the war ended, he returned to Brattleboro. For the next 25 years, he worked at Haviland’s service station, which the Wall Street Journal reported was owned by his brother. He apparently did not enjoy retirement much, choosing instead to “retire from retirement” to work as a janitor at a J.C. Penney store until 1997. He was extremely frugal, saving money, avoiding waste and eschewing even modest luxuries.

What follows are the lessons from the remarkable Read.

The good

Not an active trader: Read had remarkable patience. When he died, he had a “five-inch-thick stack of stock certificates in a safe-deposit box.”

The key word is “certificates.” Keeping his holdings in cert form meant that any time he wanted to sell them, a laborious process was involved. He had to drive to the bank, remove the physical paper certificates from his safety deposit box, then drive over to the office where his brokerage account was. Only then was a sale possible.

Compare that with launching an app on your phone, then a quick finger swipe. Trading in the modern era is too cheap and too easy for our own good.

Time was on his side: Many of the stocks he owned he had held onto for decades, the Journal reported. To do so required a great degree of patience. It also helped to live to be 92 years old.

That patience allowed the power of compounding to work to his advantage. His gains grew on top of earlier gains, over decades.

Most investors don’t take advantage of time. They start saving seriously too late in life, they are not at all patient, and they don’t allow the years to work in their favour.

Dividend stocks do well; reinvesting the dividends does even better:

Read typically bought shares of companies that paid out regular dividends. He owned railroads, utility companies, banks, health care, telecom and consumer products. Those dividend cheques were then reinvested back into more shares of the same companies.

The reinvested dividends allowed him to keep making regular purchases over time. Read was not an active trader — he was an active buyer. There is a very big difference.

Avoid speculating; own blue chips: What did he buy? He owned 95 stocks, with many blue chips among them: Procter & Gamble, JPMorgan Chase, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Dow Chemical. He also owned consumer names such as J.M. Smucker and CVS Health. Like an investor named Warren Buffett, he avoided technology stocks and the hot stocks of the moment.

He did not own a concentrated portfolio; instead, he had a diversified portfolio with lots of companies in many sectors. This diversification allowed him to spread the risk broadly. Even owning failures such as Lehman Brothers had only a modest impact on his returns.

Charity avoids the tax man: The estate-tax exemption in 2014 was $US5.34 million ($AU6.78 million), or $US10.68 million ($AU13.58 million) for a married couple. Since Read was a widower, his $US8 million estate ($AU10.1 million) was not subject to federal estate tax.

But any size estate can do what he did, regardless of whether it is $US80 million ($AU101.7 million) or $US8 billion ($AU10 billion). Simply giving the money away to a qualified charity beats the IRS.

There is an estate tax in Vermont, and it ranges from 0.8 per cent to 16 per cent. But there is no gift tax in the state, and that means Read’s bequest to the local library and hospital passed unmolested to their intended beneficiaries.

Consider a revocable trust: Depending upon the circumstances (and the portfolio), some investors might want to take advantage of a revocable trust. Also called living trusts, they are an easy way to avoid probate. Heirs avoid a lengthy court process; assets transfer after the original holder dies.

In the case of Read, the process appears to have been rather painless. It took less than a year after his passing to get to his intended beneficiaries. Vermont is better than many states; your heirs may not be quite so fortunate, especially if you live in larger states with more complex laws. By many accounts, California is among the worst for beneficiaries; a three-way tie for next-most difficult is between New York, Florida and Illinois.

A revocable trust will cost you some dollars in legal fees to set up, but your heirs will thank you.

The bad

Certificates are a pain in the neck: As the Total Return blog pointed out, Read was lucky in that the certificates were all current and up to date. “That doesn’t always happen.” It can be a challenge to determine “all of the income-tax return info via dividends over the year.” Stocks that are not in physical form or in an account can be difficult or time consuming to trace. Certificates that are in electronic form and consolidated with an adviser or broker can save heirs lots of headaches later on.

Money is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself: Read might have benefited from reading one of the very first columns I wrote for The Washington Post back in 2011: “7 life lessons from the very wealthy.” That column discussed the insights about investments and experiences with wealth.

Among them were some specifics that Read might have enjoyed. Perhaps he could have given away his money while he was still alive. That might have provided some joy to him, seeing the effect of his legacy.

Understanding the value of your time was another. Of course, money has value, but so too does your time. One can wonder if we are using our limited time on Earth in a way that brings us additional life satisfaction. It’s a trade-off we all make.

The Washington Post


Henry Sapiecha


Sydney ghetto alarm: wealth gap splits city

Darling Point and Point Piper reported the highest average taxable income.

JESSICA IRVINE 7:53am | Much time has been spent focusing on Mount Druitt but another suburb lags even further behind.


Henry Sapiecha

How to become your own venture capitalist in Australia

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Investing in a hot start-up before the initial public offering was once a privilege reserved for the wealthy and well-connected. Now times are changing, with crowdfunding platforms rapidly opening up the opportunity to everyone.

Take Sydney start-up ingogo, a taxi-booking app and mobile payment gateway founded in 2011 that’s challenging the near-monopoly of Cabcharge.

In February Macquarie Bank ranked ingogo third behind Cabcharge and GM Cabs, with about 11 per cent market share.

Founder Hamish Petrie has a track record of success, having founded ticketing provider Moshtix in 2002 and sold it to News Limited five years later. He claims ingogo is used by thousands of drivers and has processed “well over” $100 million of payments over the past 12 months.

When Petrie needed to raise capital for ingogo last year, he quickly garnered $7.9 million from the usual suspects in a round led by investment banks UBS and Canaccord Genuity and which included MYOB co-founders Brad Schofer, Craig Winkler and Chris Lee. But a whopping $1.2 million came from 52 individual investors who invested an average of $23,000 each through equity crowdfunding platform VentureCrowd.

“We didn’t expect anywhere near that much interest,” Petrie says. “We thought we might get a few hundred thousand dollars through crowdfunding, but we got $1.2 million in three days. If I think back to three years ago, [investment syndicate] Sydney Angels would not have been able to raise that amount of money in that amount of time, so that’s a great progression.”

One of the VentureCrowd investors, Jonathan Herrman, told Fairfax Media at the time it was the first time he had been “able to get access to a pre-IPO opportunity of the quality of ingogo”.

ingogo founder Hamish Petrie image

Ingogo founder Hamish Petrie says entrepreneurs can benefit from equity crowdfunding.Photo: Ben Rushton.

Investors who register with VentureCrowd can browse start-up investment opportunities and join a round with a minimum of $2500 per person.

The format on the VentureCrowd website is similar to the rewards-based crowdfunding projects available on the likes of Kickstarter, but the outcome is very different – participants are investors buying equity in the company rather than consumers forking over cash for the feel-good factor or in return for a reward.

The risks are high with this type of investment because most start-ups fail. For every 200 new ventures, only one will become a company large enough to exit via trade sale or IPO.

But the rewards can be great. Imagine being Alberto Chang-Rajii. In 1996, the Chilean was doing his MBA at Stanford and had scraped together $10,000 to buy a second-hand car. Instead he was persuaded to punt the money on 1 per cent equity in a little-known start-up called Google. His share today is worth an estimated $US3.74 billion ($4.86 billion).

Current Australian law means VentureCrowd is restricted to high-net-worth individuals who are registered as wholesale investors. But the federal government is expected to open up the opportunity to ordinary Australians within months.

If the reforms are passed as expected, effectively every Australian will be able to become their own venture capitalist – or more accurately, their own angel investor. Venture capitalists usually run funds with multiple investors, while angel investors are individuals who may invest alone or in syndicates and tend to invest at an earlier stage with smaller sums of money.

Australians investing overseas

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In the not too distant future, all investors will be able to sit at home trawling equity crowdfunding platforms online to find start-up investment opportunities around the world.

To a limited extent, it is already possible.

A number of countries (including New Zealand, Britain, Canada and Italy) have passed laws to allow equity crowdfunding for retail investors – and some of the foreign platforms allow Australians to participate.

Equitise launched last year with a New Zealand licence as an equity crowdfunding platform and has since bought business online community Rabble.

Equitise founder Chris Gilbert had initially planned to circumvent Australian laws by letting Australian retail investors buy equity in Australian start-ups via the New Zealand platform. He has since restricted it to wholesale investors for the time being.

“We probably could have gotten away with it, but we wanted to do things properly and for our image to be that way,” Gilbert says. “It’s such a fragile environment and if we’d gone in acting like cowboys, we could have completely wrecked it for all of us.”

Gilbert did not want to jeopardise the possibility of the government passing crowdfunding legislation later this year, or for Equitise to be given a licence under the new regime, given Australia is his ultimate market.

But he says there are other platforms around the world with no such qualms.

Gilbert is not qualified as a wholesale investor, yet he was able to make several investments in start-ups through UK platform Crowdcube when he was researching the market. He needed a UK bank account but it was otherwise very straightforward.

Gilbert says he believes New Zealand has struck a good balance with its protections for investors, and the required disclosures are better than in the UK.

“To prove you’re a willing investor [for Crowdcube], you had to answer 10 questions such as ‘do you think investing in start-ups is riskier than the sharemarket?’ – stuff that was so blindingly obvious that someone in year 10 could answer,” Gilbert says. “I don’t think it was strong enough.”

He also observed that Crowdcube tended to host more established companies with less of a technology flavour – many of the investment opportunities were bricks-and-mortar companies trying to expand.

Seedrs is another UK-based equity crowdfunding platform, but Gilbert found it was more difficult for an international investor to access, though he believes it would be possible if someone were determined.

Meanwhile, the United States, the first to pass laws to allow crowdfunding with the passage of the JOBS Act three years ago, has still not fully enabled it because the US Securities and Exchange Commission has delayed implementation. The SEC plans to release the final crowdfunding rules in October this year, making it unlikely it will be up and running before 2016.

Australian law

Soon it might also be possible for ordinary Australians – so-called retail investors – to invest in Australian start-ups. Federal Small Business Minister Bruce Billson is keen to open up equity crowdfunding to retail investors. He says he hopes to introduce legislation in the spring session of Parliament.

At the moment investing in start-ups – or any business outside the Australian Securities Exchange – is restricted.

Companies can raise up to $2 million from anyone as long as the number of investors is 20 or fewer. If the deal is done through the Australian Small Scale Offerings Board (ASSOB), the maximum raising is $5 million but it is still limited to 20 people.

Beyond that amount, equity investment is restricted to wholesale investors (also called sophisticated investors). This is defined as someone with net assets of $2.5 million and/or gross income of at least $250,000 a year for two consecutive years, and a certificate from an accountant to prove it.

Everyone else is a retail investor.

There are already a few equity crowdfunding platforms operating in Australia to cater for wholesale investors, including VentureCrowd and Israeli start-up OurCrowd.

A number of companies are waiting in the wings to offer equity crowdfunding to retail investors once the law changes, for example, Epplio, which would be a side business to rewards-based crowdfunding platform Pozible. Investor and entrepreneur Mark Carnegie has also stated he plans to offer a service.

Artesian Capital Management managing partner Jeremy Colless says his fund started VentureCrowd because it could see how technology would disrupt the venture capital industry.

He says crowdfunding means people can be their own angel investor. For most, it would involve a small percentage of investment assets, while people who were “massively interested” in the technology space might put 10 per cent of their assets into it.

“The ability of a crowdfunding platform is interesting because you can put $1000 into an individual start-up and over a period of three to five years, you could assign $20,000 across 20 start-ups,” Colless says. “That would give you a diversified portfolio and it would also give you vintage diversification as well, which is important in venture capital so you’re not all invested in one year because trends change and technology changes.”

Colless says this type of asset could become an important part of self-managed superannuation funds in the future, especially for 20-somethings who have a longer time to make up any losses.

Portfolio approach

But he emphasises a portfolio approach is essential because of the risky nature of early-stage start-up investment, with most new businesses likely to fail.

“In a start-up that has two people and an idea (maybe a prototype product but no customers and no revenue), you don’t have any data to know whether it’s going to succeed or not,” Colless says. “I’m not saying you can’t pick winners, but you have to wait until there’s data.”

Mick Liubinskas, entrepreneur-in-residence at Telstra’s accelerator program muru-D.image

Mick Liubinskas – founder of Pollenizer and multiple start-ups and entrepreneur-in-residence at Telstra’s start-up accelerator, muru-D – agrees. He points out that successful investment is all about learning from failure and that is only possible with a spread of investments rather than putting all your money into a single company.

He says investors need to be ready for follow-on rounds – and to make sure they will have the right to participate in future funding rounds.

“You have to expect multiple rounds of investment and of increasing sizes,” Liubinskas says. “You have to take part or you’ll be diluted and wind up only owning 0.1 per cent of the company.”

So rather than putting $250,000 into one investment, you might invest $5000 in 10 start-ups, then $25,000 in four of those start-ups in the second round and then a final $100,000 into the most successful one.

With each round, Darwinian theory culls a few start-ups, others don’t need to raise additional capital and a few will have traction that should be visible to an engaged investor.

“It’s like betting on a horse race and being able to add to your bets after the race has started,” Liubinskas says. “You want to end up with a 10-times return on investment in aggregate but that will come from one of them being 100 times.”

While engagement may not translate to a seat on the board, Liubinskas says investors should demand to at least be on a mailing list and receive regular updates.

He also suggests investors try to add value to an investment – not just with cash, but with knowledge and connections.

For example, budding angel investors could approach a start-up co-working space such as Fishburners and offer to donate a few hours of their specialist professional skills to anyone who needs it.

“You can use that as your due diligence to see which companies want your help and at least you’ll know you’re adding value and you’re not dumb money,” Liubinskas says.


Liubinskas says inexperienced investors often blow their dough when investing in technology start-ups without specialist knowledge. For example, former cricketer Ian Healy lost a bundle of cash investing in 131 during the first dotcom crash.

Clive Mayhew made his money as a technology entrepreneur and now mainly invests in the tech sector.image

Clive Mayhew made his money as a technology entrepreneur and now mainly invests in the tech sector.

Technology entrepreneur Clive Mayhew – who has made several investments, mostly in technology start-ups such as education software company OpenLearning – says his top tip is to work within syndicates.

“I’m in the [early-stage investment] Sydney Seed Fund and because I’ve got deeper pockets and know the education sector, I go out and invest individually as well,” Mayhew says. “But most people without a deep knowledge of the sector would find it difficult. Join a group of people who have a level of expertise and trust those people and work with them.”

For those investors wanting to go it alone, Mayhew advises they either stick to a sector they know or take the time to research the sector thoroughly.

The syndicate approach has pertinence to crowdfunding, since some platforms handpick their investment opportunities and others are neutral hosts open to anyone.

Both VentureCrowd and OurCrowd have an extensive selection process. VentureCrowd works with angel groups and incubators to pre-qualify the start-ups they put on the platform.

The other thing that varies among crowdfunding platforms and the laws in different countries is the rights of shareholders. For platforms such as VentureCrowd, the platform holds the voting rights and runs the investor management to keep the administrative burden manageable for the start-up. Historically, many angel groups set up unit trust structures to aggregate many angels into one shareholder for the same reason.

But under some models, each crowdfunding contributor is an individual shareholder with full rights.

For ingogo’s Petrie, the VentureCrowd model meant he could enjoy the benefit of a larger pool of investors without extra hassle. He says it is very helpful to have VentureCrowd manage the investor relations so his team can focus building the business.

“Taking money from VentureCrowd was partly because of interest to support a new method of fundraising and see what was possible. Personally, I think it’s a great way to give more power in the fundraising process to the founders, rather than limiting your funding sources, ensuring you get a fairer valuation on the business,” Petrie says.

“It was also strategic, in that we knew we would have a larger pool of investors and their combined networks out supporting and talking about our business, making connections for us, and as we move towards an IPO, we would have a naturally larger base behind the company.”

Petrie says venture capital in Australia was “a completely different world” when he started in business, but entrepreneurs without a successful track record will still reach a point when it becomes difficult to raise capital.

For that reason, he would be keen to see equity crowdfunding opened up to retail investors, with appropriate safeguards in place.

“As the government gets comfortable with crowdfunding, it will open it up to more than just sophisticated investors. Every year we spend $20 billion on gambling and an incredible amount of money on one horse race a year, but we won’t let people take a bet on a high-risk, early-stage, innovating company through a crowdfunding platform – it doesn’t make sense,” Petrie says. “Equity crowdfunding is coming and it’s going to make the start-up space even more exciting.”


Renata Cooper is developing a start-up portfolio as an angel investor.image

Renata Cooper arrived in Australia as a refugee from Slovakia when she was 19 with just $20 to her name. Nearly 30 years later, she is a multimillionaire and building a name as an angel investor.

Cooper is behind entrepreneurial networking community Forming Circles, which she sees as a “brand of influence” backed by her money, funding projects with social impact alongside her actual investments.

Her biggest investment is $1.5 million in Ivvy, a Queensland cloud software provider to help event organisers and venues, founded by Lauren Hall.

“I was only going to invest $100,000 but I was so impressed by Lauren’s presentation, who she was, what her technology was and the potential for disruption in the events industry,” Cooper says.

Cooper invests mainly in women, both because she has found their pitches more impressive and also because she wants to create social change by giving opportunities to women. She observes that it balances out since her husband, Tim Cooper, is also investing in start-ups and has backed mostly male founders.

The Coopers made their money from technology company SMARTS Group International, a sharemarket surveillance tool that was eventually acquired by Nasdaq for an undisclosed sum.

“I was never brought in formally, but I witnessed the journey from conception to exit,” Cooper says. “I’ve seen what works and I understand it’s not overnight that you’ll be multimillionaires.”

Cooper did work at another of the family’s start-ups, Edval, which makes software for school timetabling, but left to focus on her young family and then to create Forming Circles.

Most of Cooper’s investments have been as an individual under her Forming Circles banner, but she is also a believer in investment syndicates. Last year she joined Scale Investors, an angel network focused on female entrepreneurs. Cooper led Scale’s seed funding round in CloudPeeps, an invitation-only marketplace connecting businesses and social media professionals, with a $100,000 investment.

More recently, she provided $25,000 to entrepreneur Fred Kimel for his start-up Handkrafted, a marketplace for commissioning handcrafted goods, after reading a profile of his business in BRW .

Cooper is looking for more start-ups like Ivvy – she would like to form a portfolio of three or four start-ups and then grow to 10 over time – and says she would definitely try investing via an equity crowdfunding platform.

She is for opening up equity crowdfunding to retail investors because the Australian economy needs more entry and mid-level investors supporting the growth of small and medium businesses that create jobs. But she says it should only be done with a lot of caution, including education about the risks and support for investors.

“Angel investing is one of the highest-risk investments you can make and I do it because I love it,” Cooper says. “I trade shares on the sharemarket too and we do have a conservative super fund, so we’ve protected our future, but this is play money.”


When people talk about crowdfunding, they usually mean rewards-based crowdfunding of the kind offered by the likes of Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Pozible, Start Some Good and Pledge Music.

The concept, which emerged about 2008, is that creators can seek advance funding for a project such as a film. Anyone can create a project and anyone can support it.

The project creator usually offers incentives in exchange for financial support, and most crowdfunding platforms specifically encourage a tiered rewards structure – for example, a filmmaker might offer a thank-you card for a fiver or dinner with the lead actor for $1000.

These days, many start-up companies use crowdfunding to help them market themselves to a wider audience and the rewards structure is effectively a pre-sales channel that reduces risk for the entrepreneur.

For example, Queensland-based Dillenger recently raised more than $200,000 on Kickstarter from more than 400 backers. The rewards were the company’s product – affordable electric bicycles.

With a Kickstarter project, people would put in money in exchange for a reward, or simply to feel good about supporting the project. This is very different to equity crowdfunding, where the contributors are actual investors buying equity in a company.

Rewards-based crowdfunding is perfectly legal, as long as the products are legal and there is no fraud, while equity crowdfunding is regulated as an investment product.


Diversify: invest across a number of start-ups, not only to give you a diversified portfolio, but go for “vintage” diversity as well, meaning you’re spreading your risk across different time periods to protect against changing trends and technology.

Pool resources: working in a syndicate gives you access to other investors with expertise in particular areas.

Home ground: if you’re investing alone, stick to a sector you know – or research it thoroughly.

Follow-on rounds: be prepared to do follow-on investments of increasing amounts for the start-ups that survive.

Engagement: expect regular updates, whether directly from the start-up or via the crowdfunding platform.

Add value: offer your own professional skills to start-ups, both as due diligence before an investment and as a way to remain engaged and add value afterwards.


Henry Sapiecha

‘The richest database I’ve seen’: why AussieCommerce bought Jeremy Reid’s PinchME

pinchme Jeremy Reid image

Jeremy Reid has managed to attract stellar investment despite still serving an ASIC ban. Photo: Louie Douvis

Its revenues might be negligible in the context of a group tracking toward $200 million revenue this financial year, but AussieCommerce co-founder Adam Schwab thinks the Australian arm of product sample distributor PinchME can turn his e-merchant into “a media company”.

AussieCommerce began negotiations before Christmas with PinchME’s now New York-based founder, Jeremy Reid, who despite still serving a two-year ASIC ban on providing financial services following the collapse of his hedge fund-of-funds Everest Babcock & Brown, managed to attract stellar backer for his sampling start-up: Kerry Stokes, the Liberman and Smorgon families, Toll Holdings founder Paul Little, SEEK co-founder Andrew Bassat and advertising heavyweight David Droga.

That group will continue to part-own PinchME’s US business, which now employs 25 people in New York and according to president Adam Caplan, has completed 200 campaigns and shipped four million samples for brands including Johnson & Johnson, P&G, Unilever, L’Oreal, Revlon, Coty, Pfizer, Kimberly-Clark, Kraft, and Kellogg’s.

The eight employees of PinchME Australia are already installed at AussieCommerce’s offices at Wynyard in Sydney, and its 500,000-strong database of subscribers are a source of wonder to Schwab.

“The fact that you’re giving these people free samples means they’re incredibly engaged,” Schwab says.

“The open rates on PinchME emails are twice or three times what you get at a typical e-commerce business, and the information they’ve gathered on subscribers is the richest I’ve seen.”

Its multinational clients pay PinchME to provide narrowly targeted sampling campaigns, and the fact that each sample is accompanied by six questions – which the subscriber must complete if they want another freebie – means the ability to segment its database is always improving, Schwab says.

“The more targeted the offer, the more powerful. PinchMe is going to be a great complement to [group buying platform] Spreets that we bought last year,” Schwab says.

Of particular interest to Schwab is the full-fledged marketing campaigns which PinchME can produce alongside the sample deliveries.

“This acquisition turns us into a media company,” he says, pointing out that revenues from AussieCommerce’s original flash sale and ‘daily deal’ activity is now “a single digit percentage” in terms of the overall group.

Terms of the deal were undisclosed. PinchME Australia’s revenues are not known however it’s understood to have not yet turned a profit since its 2013 launch.


Henry Sapiecha