Less than a year ago, Sash Global was spruiking national and international ambitions via the Birchal platform, telling investors it planned to open in Sydney and Brisbane as well as being in talks in “LA, Ho Chi Minh and Oslo”.
Sash Global completed a raise of more than $184,000 in August 2018 to assist with expansion ahead of the Sydney opening. While this figure is much smaller than a typical venture capital raise, the company was one of the first hospitality brands in Australia to secure funding this way.
Equity crowdfunding laws let unlisted companies solicit investments from the public of between $100 to $10,000 per investor. It has been championed as a way for early stage businesses to get access to capital without having to list on the stock exchange.
Mr Stagoll said investors took a stake in the brand’s parent company, not the collapsed entity, while Sash Global’s Melbourne restaurant was still operational.
Sash Global’s Melbourne restaurant, Sash Japanese Melbourne, also offers sushi-pizza and has been operating in Windsor since 2017.
Mr Stagoll said the business is seeing “some interest in the US from potential franchisees”.
Equity crowdfunding investors were offered membership of the “Sash Imperial Club” for taking a stake in the business, including discounts on meals and birthday offers.
“Investors own shares in the mother company which will hold shares in all future franchises,” Mr Stagoll said.
Crowdfunding model offers little control
However, taxation and investment experts and the capital raise platforms themselves acknowledge investing in crowdfund raises is high-risk, with little chance for investors to sell their shares in the event of a collapse or a significant change in strategy.
“We’re obviously disappointed for investors that Sash hasn’t succeeded in Sydney. Investing is risky, and the companies using the [crowd-sourced funding] regime are speculative and carry high risks,” Birchal co-founder Matt Vitale said.
Experts warn the very nature of the crowdfunding model means investors don’t have any control over the stake they take a company if strategy changes.
“The saving grace is that there’s a limit on what individual investors can invest,” emeritus professor of law at James Cook University, Stephen Graw, said.
You’ve got a much heightened risk that you’re going to do your dough.
Professor Stephen Graw.
Professor Graw said this type of investing was “horribly illiquid”, because there is no model for investors to sell on their shares if the progress of the company doesn’t go as planned.
“You’ve got a much heightened risk that you’re going to do your dough,” he said.
Founder of Equity crowdfunding platform Equitise, Chris Gilbert, said the fundraising format had strict due diligence process, but “we encourage potential investors to only invest what they can afford to lose”.
Australian legislation requires crowdfunding offers carry risk warnings that remind investors they have little recourse if a business does not perform according to expectations or if the business or a related entity collapses.
The crowdfunding space has recently marked $30 million in deals sealed so far. However, this is dwarfed by capital flowing in Australia’s venture capital space, which tops $2 billion a quarter.
A number of businesses have sealed significant deals in the past year, including women-only rideshare app Shebah, which broke records with a $3 million raise earlier in 2019.
Other fast-growing businesses have found that the model does not work for them, however. Online bookseller Booktopia launched a $10 million equity crowdfunding campaign at the end of 2018, but by June 2019 told investors it was pulling the campaign and turning to sophisticated investors, like family offices, instead.
Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.