The CoAssets journey: Bringing military discipline to crowdfunding
By Benjamin Cher May 16, 2016
- CEO and COO had both served in Singapore’s armed forces
- Company seeking a listing on the main ASX board by July
OFTEN when high-ranking military men leave the service in Singapore, most end up back in the public sector. Not so Lawrence Lim (pic), who instead took up the role of chief operating officer at property crowdfunding company CoAssets Pte Ltd.
The former Colonel in the Singapore Armed Forces – and a former Chief of Artillery – joined the company in March. CoAssets itself had listed on the National Stock Exchange of Australia (NSX) in July 2015, and it has been an upward ride since.
CoAssets announced a 367% increase in revenue from S$422,228 (US$308,273) to S$1,972,017 (US$ 1,439,791) in its recent 2016 half-year results, registering a profit of S$264,781 (US$193,319) and an increase of users to 40,000 from 7,800, compared to the previous half-year.
But it was not about hitching his wagon to a rising star. “I wanted to do something very different, to learn more about the private sector side of things,” says Lim, speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore.
It was CoAssets chief executive officer Getty Goh who actually saw a role for Lim within the company – and he had good reason: Goh was previously Lim’s superior officer.
“As the company scaled, he wanted someone who could put the systems and processes in place to grow the operations regionally,” says Lim. “It was like a meeting of minds.”
Lim sees it as a mutual benefit: He shares his experiences and lessons from his time in public service with the younger people at CoAssets, while he gets to tap into their creativity and dynamism.
Focusing on the core
Rewards-based and equity crowdfunding have been making waves in South-East Asia in the last couple of years, but CoAssets brings a different spin to the concept, being focused on real-estate and debt crowdfunding in Singapore.
Its platform provides developers, agents and home- or land-owners with an alternative source of funding for their properties, linking them to investors who are keen to co-develop projects and co-purchase units.
This continues to be its area of strength, says Lim, “but equity crowdfunding is something we are looking at for other markets like Australia and Malaysia, if these countries grant us a licence.
“We don’t want to go into somewhere we are not a leader; in Singapore, we are the leader for debt and real-estate crowdfunding, and we want to maintain it,” he adds.
One reason for its caution is that debt and equity crowdfunding investors have very different profiles, and “our current investor profile is oriented towards debt crowdfunding,” says Lim.
“It is also because of this that we don’t do donation or rewards-based crowdfunding – the profile is very different,” he adds.
CoAssets currently operates in five countries: Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and its home base of Singapore. One immediate focus is to grow its operations in Australia, as well as China, where it launched in March.
“Towards the latter half of the year, we will begin to scale up our operations in Malaysia and Indonesia,” says Lim.
Being regional has another perk: Investors can participate in cross-border projects. “Singaporeans can partake in an Australian project, or vice versa,” he adds.
The discipline of being public
CoAssets was founded in 2013, and had listed on the NSX within two years. Its reasons for doing so probably reflect its ‘military upbringing.’
“There are two key reasons why we took the listing route: The first is that the founders wanted to grow the company at the pace and in the direction of their choosing, rather than subject themselves to the pressures of VCs (venture capitalists) or investors looking for a quick growth and exit,” says Lim (pic above).
“Second, we feel such a company cannot operate without trust and transparency.
“Being a listed company sets us apart from the rest of the platforms – we are subject to audits and have to comply with certain regulations, and this forces us to be transparent, with proper governance structures and checks and balances put in place.
“Because after all, our first and foremost duty is to protect investors – we don’t want to be put in a position where we can’t exercise our due diligence and the established systems and processes that provide a check on us,” he adds.
Building trust and confidence is important especially for a crowdfunding platform because without it, “why would you put your money in us?” Lim quips.
Even in this regard, it is preparing to level up and is eying a listing on the main board of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) by July.
“Our preparations are in good order, and we should be in time to list sometime in early July,” says Lim.
“To ensure compliance I’m putting in place the necessary accounting systems to make sure we report on time, on a quarterly basis,” he adds.
This is in fact Lim’s current focus, ensuring the backend processes can comply with and meet regulatory standards.
“This is one of my current preoccupations, to make sure the backend catches up,” he says.
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