Howard Marks is a co-founder and CEO of StartEngine. Since inception, nearly 150 successful financings have been completed for startups and other businesses via the StartEngine platform.
Long before ICOs became standard parlance, Howard saw the future of Security Token Offerings. On his blog and also through guest articles as contributor to Forbes, Hacker Noon, The Mission and Next Web, Howard has shared his vision for the space and has worked to chart the path forward to liquidity.
AT: You have quite the impressive background, with an extensive history in software and gaming. Yet, you decided to launch an accelerator program called StartEngine. What inspired this?
HM: I felt the Los Angeles technology community needed an accelerator to invest in young companies. We were the first accelerator to launch in Los Angeles, many more followed. The mission was to help Los Angeles become a technology city.
AT: How long was it until StartEngine pivoted towards equity crowdfunding?
HM: We invested in 60 startups and most of them were not able to raise any capital. This was a huge problem. Investors were only interested in very narrow set of ideas and a certain type of founder. This resulted in most of our investments failing. This is viewed as normal given the early stage nature of the companies, however, access to capital was difficult for most of them, especially for the female led founders. In 2014, two years after launching the accelerator, we created the crowdfunding platform and launched in June 2015.
AT: Your first client on StartEngine Elio Motors went on to raise an impressive $16.9 million. How did you source this client?
HM: We were introduced to Paul Elio through a marketing company who felt they would be a perfect first customer for our company. Paul was adamant his community would invest and we were excited to have such an early success.
AT: When did StartEngine decide to also offer ICOs?
HM: In June 2017, I was reading about the DAO report published by SEC. This report explained how the DAO was an investment in securities although it was positioned as utility tokens. This intrigued me to learn more about ICOs and I found huge fast growing marketplace of investors who were using cryptocurrencies to crowdfund companies. There were two main differences from our marketplace: They were not following the securities laws and they offered many liquidation marketplaces for the investors. We decided to help ICOs get out of the shadows and use the JOBS ACT to sell securities within the securities rules. The first significant ICO we launched was tZero in February 2018.
AT: You were one of the first companies that pivoted from ICOs to STOs. What made you pivot toward STOs?
HM: ICOs were viewed by the general public as an investment in utility tokens. Although most of those tokens were securities, they were not sold as such. Changing the name to STO made sense because it was clear these offerings were for securities.
AT: We are huge fans of tZERO, how did you get tZERO on-board to raise on the StartEngine platform?
HM: When we launched our first summit on November 10 in 2017, we invited Ralph Diauto from tZero to come and speak. He saw our entire organization and how we were focused on compliance and following the rules. This was refreshing for him given the large number of platforms who were launching utility tokens by disregarding the laws.
AT: The StartEngine Summit has been quite successful. My only complaint is that it’s not long enough, any plans on making this a 2-day conference?
HM: We have completed three Summit so far and our next one is April 12th. I think a 2 day conference makes sense, however, it involves twice as many speakers and a lot more logistics. For now, we are expanding the 1 day conference and in collaboration with many other Los Angeles companies to offer an incredible LA Blockchain Week.
AT: You’ve spoken strongly in the past about supporting women entrepreneurs as traditional venture capitalists often do not provide them with the support and funding that they need. Do you feel that equity crowdfunding and STOs offer them more of a fair playing field?
HM: We have learned that under 4% of Venture Capital is invested in women led companies. This results in discouraging women to pursue their dreams and business aspirations. This bias contributes to the lack of diversification in the types of companies that are funded and also in the types of ideas available for investors. So far, StartEngine has women leading 22% of the companies on our crowdfunding platform. This is still low but a large step forward. We believe crowdfunding and STOs will help fund more women led companies than VC and Angels combined.
AT: I know you believe in mission statements, what’s the mission statement of Start Engine?
HM: Our mission is to help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
AT: StartEngine is currently running their own STO. Could you tell us about this STO, the raise amount, and the terms that are offered?
HM: We have a fundraising campaign for accredited investors called OWN Limited. This is limited to a short period of time before we have received qualification from the SEC for our next Regulation A+ public offering. The OWN Limited terms are $7.50 per token. Each token represents a share of Preferred stock in the company.
AT: Anything else that you would like to share about StartEngine?
HM: We are focused on building a modern financial firm which can help entrepreneurs capitalize their companies directly from the crowd. We also want to provide investors with liquidity options. We are in the process of registration with the SEC for our broker-dealer and Alternative Trading System. We recently launched a proposed standard called ERC-1450 to tokenize securities. The purpose is to offer investors the ability to receive digital stock certificates in the form of tokens and to then facilitate the trading on our upcoming platform.
AT: Thank you for the interview. We are huge fans of StartEngine and we were excited you were able to join us.
For anyone who wishes to learn more about StartEngine or Howard please see the links below:
StartEngine – Invest in companies via equity crowdfunding or STOs.
Howard’s Blog – Howard discusses his views on the industry.
Howard’s Twitter – One of the best Twitter accounts in the industry to follow.
Srdjan Mahmutovich, Founder of Kriptomat – Interview Series
Srdjan Mahmutovich is a tech enthusiast and the founder of Kriptomat an exchange that is fundraising by offering a security token. Previously, he has built a successful B2B digital marketing agency with 40 employees and coworkers. He also worked as the head of web development at Telemach.
Antoine: When did Kriptomat first launch and why did you decide to launch a cryptocurrency exchange?
Srdjan: Kriptomat opened to the public on 15 July 2018. We identified the need for a service anyone could use (like our friends and family members). We are on a mission to bring crypto into every household and to do that we needed to create a simple yet powerful service anyone can use. This will enable complete beginners to enter the world of cryptocurrencies in an extremely simple, safe and quick manner.
Antoine: Which countries do you currently accept customers from?
Srdjan: We currently accept customers from 82 countries around the world. They are listed here: https://kriptomat.io/global/
Antoine: How many active customers do you currently have? Where do most of these users originate from?
Srdjan: We currently have more than 10k registered users and steady growth of 20%-25% month on month. The majority of the users come from Europe, but with the recent addition of more payment methods, we are seeing a gradual increase in customers from all over the world. Our next goal is the 100k registered user mark and we are hoping to achieve this by the end of 2019.
Antoine: Are there plans on accepting Non-European customers any time soon?
Srdjan: We already accept Non-European customers, but we are working on adding more payment options in order to provide true worldwide support. Currently, we support Skrill which is really global, but we will be adding new locally popular payment methods.
Antoine: What currencies can be purchased on the Kriptomat exchange?
Srdjan: You can buy 29 cryptocurrencies; they are listed here: https://kriptomat.io/price-of-cryptocurrencies/
Antoine: Can you tell us about your upcoming security token sale? What’s the soft-cap, the hard-cap, and what will be the benefits offered to investors?
Srdjan: We have come to a stage where we need capital to speed up our growth and take us to the next level. We have decided to do an STO because it’s an innovative way to raise capital that allows our existing users and community members who already believe in us to invest in our project. We’re not only looking to get an investment but also loyal users that will evangelize and use our service as well. It’s a win-win situation. If we’re successful, our investors will be successful and we feel we’re in a much better position to build something big if our investors are our users who actually use the service.
We are looking for an investment of 1.8 million euros. We offer our investors an 8% share of our revenue and 4% of our audited profit.
The soft cap is 1 million euros and we reserve the right to cancel the issuing of the token if we don’t reach that. Detailed information can be found in our Security Offering document which you can get in the crowdfunding platform Desico which is going to issue our security. To get there go to https://kriptomat.io/sto
Antoine: What will these funds be used for?
Srdjan: So far, we have been focused on building a product, relationships and proving the business model. With the new funds, we will focus on creating user acquisition mechanisms and improving the platform.
The orientation of spending of the funds raised during the STO:
– 60% Growth – Marketing, customer base growth
– 18% Product development
– 12% Security, compliance
– 10% Operations, support
One important thing to note here is that crypto market is in its early stage and things are moving fast. We have been maneuvering quite successfully so far and adapting to the sudden market changes and that’s what we plan to do in the future as well. If the market situation changes significantly, we will pivot and change direction if necessary.
Antoine: The market is beginning to become saturated with exchanges, how will you differentiate yourselves?
Srdjan: Because we are creating some awesome new products. We are integrating the next-generation Ethereum-based ERC-1155 tokens into our Kriptomat exchange. This adoption of blockchain-based virtual items is the first of its kind and it is being made with the purpose of gamifying user experience. In other words, it is a blockchain-based reward program that will boost loyalty, increase the customer lifetime value and speed up user acquisition.
We have recently launched a revolutionary ERC1155 Token Mint Portal, giving everyone in the world an opportunity to create their own customized tokens. The use cases are countless and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what can be done with such a powerful tool.
So it seems we are going more in the direction of supporting gamers and game developers. This means we as an exchange will appeal more to the gaming community and they might just be the first customer segment to completely adopt crypto.
Antoine: What are long-term plans for Kriptomat?
Srdjan: Our mission is to bring cryptocurrencies into every household. This can be in terms of giving people the best way to exchange digital currencies, or in terms of giving them a valuable product or use-case that utilizes blockchain and crypto. Whatever the case, we truly believe that this technology will be integrated into every pore of our lives, and just like the internet protocols, people won’t have to know exactly how it works in order to use it.
Antoine: Is there anything else that you would like to share about Kriptomat?
Srdjan: We are very transparent with our community and we welcome an open discussion on our social media channels. I invite everyone reading this to join our Telegram channel where you can talk directly with our team members. We know that it is often hard to maintain a personal relationship with the community when the number of users starts to grow exponentially, but we make a concerted effort to reply to every single message.
To learn more visit the Kriptomat website.
Arnoldas Nauseda, CEO of Smartlands – Interview Series
Arnoldas Nauseda is the CEO of Smartlands a crowdfunding platform that tokenizes real-world assets. Prior to joining Smartlands, he spent four years as a full-time entrepreneur, developing businesses in the fields of technology, fintech, and robotics.
Antoine: How did you personally get involved in blockchain and cryptocurrency?
Arnoldas: Well, we need to acknowledge that getting involved in blockchain does not necessarily mean that you’re involved in cryptocurrencies and myself is a stark testimony to that, although, understanding ICOs as a mode of crowdfunding was step one for me.
I’m trained in finances and business development and for a while, have been an entrepreneur. I hold a bachelor degree in economics, MBA in Finance and International Executive, and I’ve made some strides co-founding companies in fintech, venture capital and robotics industries. In the past years, I’ve done a lot of projects, held top executive positions with fintech companies, did my share of consulting and, of course, was heavily involved with real estate.
The point is, even though I was a little late in the game, but by 2017 an executive of my stature and experience would have to have heard of blockchain, it was inevitable. At that time I felt that building a business on DLT was not only a clear sign of “progressiveness” as a business person, but it was also a real unadulterated adventure when I felt reborn every day waking up for work. It was great, still is!
Antoine: What made you decide to get on-board as the CEO of Smartlands?
Arnoldas: I dedicated a year to studying DLT, what it could do for my field, read countless pages and visited hosts of blockchain conferences, gatherings, meetups. At one such event, I was introduced to one of Smartlands co-founders, and we immediately hit it off. We both realized that cryptocurrencies as one of many DLT derivatives are a fascinating use case and an excellent tool for transforming financial markets, but the real value of blockchain lays in providing trustless access. The immutable ownership rights embedded in smart contracts… You don’t have to be a specialist to imagine what it could do in a world where the right to claim ownership was the reason for war for thousands of years. Smartlands and I were on the same page: attributing digital ownership to an asset and giving the owner the ability to use that piece of code as they saw fit was the wave of the future, and we wanted to unveil that future to people.
Antoine: Smartlands is a crowdfunding platform that focuses on tokenizing real-world assets, what will some of these asset types be?
Arnoldas: Literally, anything. As long as an asset has a documented rightful owner, it can be turned into a security token using Smrtlands proprietary tech. With that comes liquidity – the Holy Grail of asset tokenization. Naturally, the sort of flexibility in holding, trading or exiting investment that we can provide is something any asset owner or investor is after.
Antoine: The first project on your platform is purpose-built student accommodation in Nottingham, UK. Could you tell us a bit about it?
Arnoldas: We’ve selected this type of asset after careful consideration and with the help of our community. Purpose-built student accommodation complex in Nottingham, UK is a perfect starter use case for a tokenization platform like Smartlands: it’s a hands-free investment with the projected 15.72% annualized return, revenue comes from rent as well as property appreciation. The equity share is 30%, and we are aiming at £1 million funding target.
Overall, student housing in the UK is an up-and-coming asset class. The United Kingdom remains one of the top global destinations for those seeking quality marketable education, which means that the revenue stream from students paying rent is not about to dry up. Also, if you’re looking to benefit from current weakness of the pound sterling, inexpensive real estate in the British heartland is where you’d be looking to park your capital right now.
Antoine: How many more projects should we be expecting in 2019? Are you at liberty to discuss any of these?
Arnoldas: I can’t give you the details right now but I will say that we’re looking at a pipeline of six more asset tokenization projects to go live before the year’s end and the portfolio we’re preparing is highly diversified. We are looking at agricultural assets, various types of real estate, private equity. Like I said before, the essential benefit of our proprietary technology is unlimited access: asset owners and managers looking to crowdfund capital get access to investors, in turn, investors are given the opportunity for what we call “fractional ownership.” With the lowest in the industry threshold for investment, we are granting regular people the opportunity to get verified as accredited investors on the Smartlands platform and through the use of security tokens issued on Smartlands own a share of a property in the UK.
Antoine: How do you choose which projects to list on your platform?
Arnoldas: We put a lot of thought and careful analysis in the process of selecting the right assets for our investors. In fact, that’s one other major benefit of Smartlands: we have a team of researchers formulating investment documents for our clients so that the scope and scale of a project are revealed to an investor at the earliest stages of participation. As a result, the process is as straightforward as it can be on a regulated investment crowdfunding platform registered with the British Financial Conduct Authority, FCA.
Antoine: Smartlands recently launched a Stellar Powered Wallet, what is the benefit of this for investors?
Arnoldas: Essentially, it’s a multisig wallet primarily designed on the Stellar’s SEP8 protocol but with the addition of some cool proprietary features such as AI-driven compliance engine, account recovery/mapping, and others. Smartlands wallet operates within the compliant segment of the Stellar network, which to an investor means that all transactions with security tokens as well as XLM and our native token SLT are carefully sourced to prevent any risks connected with illicit activities.
Antoine: Where do you see Smartlands being positioned in 5 years?
Arnoldas: At the Consensus 2019 event in New York, we’ve introduced our “Unicorn Vision” – the strategy of consumer-centric approach that envisages our transformation from a security token issuance platform to a global investment ecosystem focusing on the most lucrative equity types and asset classes. The Vision is all about unlocking liquidity for various kinds of currently illiquid assets and, of course, going fully mobile. Basically, Smartlands is about to become a one-click operation with a built-in exchange where investors will be able to track offers and manage portfolios right from their mobile devices using multiple fiat currencies and cryptocurrencies.
We will be issuing Smartlands Card with the genuinely unique functionality of a multi-wallet payment system. All the wealth you create using the Platform will be stored in your account – digital assets, fiat currencies, and crypto. The Card will be used just like Visa or Mastercard enabling our customers to engage in IBAN and SEPA transfers as well as for value storage.
Remy Jacobson, CEO of RealT – Interview Series
Remy Jacobson recently launched a crowdfunding platform called RealT that allows cryptocurrency investors to invest in real estate assets, starting with rental homes in Detroit, Michigan. The company is expanding next to Cleveland, New Orleans and South Florida.
In South Florida, Jacobson heads the Aventura-based development firm J Cube Development. In November, he sold a development site in Wynwood to Quadrum Global for $8.55 million.
Antoine: RealT plans on tokenizing real estate in the city of Detroit, Michigan. Why did you choose Detroit versus competing cities with stronger real estate markets?
Remy: Detroit is the optimal place for RealT to get started. Properties in Detroit are already in high demand among international investors, due to their low price tags and high rental rates. As RealToken owners, the rental income is the tangible source of gratification they receive. Having low-cost properties with high rental rates is a great way to provide value for our early adopters.
Antoine: Will you be focusing on capital gains or rental yields?
Remy: We will be looking at both areas. Rental yields will be paid to the investor via their Ethereum wallet on an ongoing basis and, as the value of the property and rent price increase, so will their rental income. Investors also have the option of selling on their tokens, after due diligence has been carried out, to yield capital gains too.
Antoine: What will be the average holding period?
Remy: RealTokens sold overseas will be freely transferable overseas to non-U.S. persons who have qualified following AML/KYC reviews, but, in order to comply with U.S. applicable securities laws, these ReatTokens may not flow back into the United States for a period of 12 months. RealTokens that are sold to accredited investors in the U.S. may be transferred to other whitelisted accredited investors after 90 days and will become freely transferable to anyone after 12 months.
As a practical matter, it is too early to tell how long purchasers will want to hold their RealTokens.
Antoine: What made you decide on the tokenization model?
Remy: We wanted to make investing in US property more accessible, notably to foreign investors. By tokenizing property, we can offer investments at accessible prices to a greater number of people. It’s also important that blockchain is the technology that backs tokenization because this ensures the efficiency and traceability of real estate investment that the traditional real estate sector is clearly lacking. Our tokenization model offers the advantage of a regular real estate transaction on top of blockchain transparency. RealT is a bridge between the physical and the digital world: all deeds, operations agreements, and other legal documents are viewable on the blockchain, while at the same time held in trust with a law firm.
Antoine: How are you planning on attracting retail investors who may not be familiar with security tokens or cryptocurrency in general?
Remy: RealT has lowered the barrier of entry to real estate, to an accessible and affordable amount. RealT can provide an integral part of a modern investor’s portfolio, and now it can be held inside on Ethereum’s wallet. We aim to be the Coinbase of real estate assets. One of our main aims is to make the concept and process of investing in property as straightforward as possible. It’s important to us that people who would have otherwise never considered investing in property through blockchain understand that they don’t have to be bogged down in bureaucracy and jargon to participate. Our marketplace and buying process is intuitive and runs buyers through digestible steps before purchasing tokens.
Antoine: Can you share with us the benefits that investors will be offered?
Remy: Investors can enjoy passive rental income that will be paid continually into their Ethereum wallet once they have invested in a property. This income will be paid in stable coins which are pegged to the US dollar so that investors don’t have to concern themselves with the volatility of a particular cryptocurrency at any given point. As token owners, investors can also contribute to the significant decisions required concerning the upkeep and maintenance of the property in which they’ve invested. This is done through a simple voting process.
Antoine: Will investors be able to select the investment they wish to be involved in? Or will the security token act as a fund which holds multiple properties?
Remy: With RealT, you can select specific properties and become an owner in the property. As an investor, you get to own the actual real estate. RealTokens are important building blocks in the Ethereum ecosystem. By going all the way down to the foundation of real estate, to the individual properties themselves, RealT enables anyone to create a real estate portfolio using RealTokens. It’s an important distinction; the real estate funds of the future may very well have RealTokens as the asset. This is why RealT investors have full visibility on our marketplace and can choose the exact property they wish to invest in and how many tokens they want to purchase for that property. The rent they then yield will come directly from the property that they’ve invested in.
Antoine: Is this offering exclusive to US accredited investors? Will you be accepting international investors?
Remy: The offering is primarily targeted at international investors. Traditionally, the US real estate market has been relatively inaccessible to those residing outside of the US. We want to change this and open up the possibility for anyone in the world to invest in US real estate and benefit from passive rental income. We, of course, accept accredited investors.
The offering is being made in the U.S. only to accredited investors pursuant to Regulation D under the Securities Act of 1933, and overseas to non-U.S. persons pursuant to Regulation S under the Securities Act.
Antoine: How are you planning on differentiating yourself from competitors such as BlockEstate, Realecoin, Slice RE, etc.
Remy: The main differentiator is that RealT is up and live. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first platform to officially launch and offer the prospect of buying into tokenized property. Additionally, RealT is tokenizing properties themselves, rather than offering an investment fund that specializes in real estate. This returns autonomy to the individual, and allows them to choose the properties they want, at the investment size they chose. We have a very strong team behind RealT, with both blockchain and cryptocurrency expertise as well as extensive real estate knowledge. Many projects in the area of tokenized real estate are either run by crypto enthusiasts or real estate professionals, but at RealT we combine these areas of expertise to offer a comprehensive, fully-compliant service.
Antoine: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us about RealT?
Remy: RealT will continue to add new property types, from various cities, to continue to sample what our customers want to see available for purchase. RealT has plans to tokenize properties in all major U.S. cities, and we look forward to seeing which cities generate the most demand. And creating liquidity.
To learn more visit the RealT website.
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