Masha and Xenia Vyazemskaya are known as the Crypto Twins. They host the popular podcast ValueTokenized which provides free educational content to help businesses tokenize the world.
How did you first discover blockchain and cryptocurrencies?
By lucky chance! We have always been in communications, and a good friend once asked for our assistance and PR advice for a blockchain project back in 2017. Fast forward several months, blockchain has entirely captured our attention, and we’ve been helping blockchain projects with content marketing and PR ever since, helping the tech guys tell their stories and educate audiences.
Which was the first token that you purchased and what motivated you to purchase this token?
I believe it was XRP. Xenia liked the idea and completely ignored the “buy low, sell high” principle, which turned out to be a pretty bad investment. The sum was insignificant, though.
Bitcoin was our second crypto investment. And it quickly became more. It took us over a year to understand the real beauty of bitcoin and the values behind it. We’re big believers in bitcoin vs. fiat currencies, and we’re doing our best to facilitate the adoption.
What inspired you to get involved in the space?
It is fascinating to watch the new industry emerge and mature. For us, it started with curiosity and excitement for the brand new space, which then turned into a clear understanding of the demand for unbiased expert content and the value we can bring in this regard. The most inspiring thing for us now is when experts contact us to arrange an interview or a panel discussion, and receive feedback from the audience.
You’ve done multiple YouTube videos, including discussing some recent industry trends such as IEOs replacing ICOs. How do you personally feel about IEOs?
Our podcast ValueTokenized is dedicated mostly to asset tokenization and practical applications for blockchain technology in capital markets. When the IEO trend was growing half a year ago, however, we couldn’t help but cover it.
Our opinion on IEOs is pretty much aligned with that of our speakers – including an early investor in Bitcoin, Uber and Airbnb Jeffrey Wernick. IEOs merely seems to be an attempt to prolong the fading life of ICOs – which per se had nothing bad to it as a concept, but the implementation left a lot to be desired.
In any case, we strongly believe that the future for blockchain and cryptocurrencies lies within:
1) asset-backed tokens and;
You’ve also conducted multiple interviews which feature different jurisdictions for launching an STO. These jurisdictions include Singapore, the United States, Israel and Liechtenstein. Based on these interviews and your knowledge of the space, which jurisdiction would you personally favor to launch an STO and why?
The choice of jurisdiction for conducting an STO depends on many things: whether you want to target retail (non-accredited) investors, in what regions do you want to sell your securities, and so on.
Switzerland and Liechtenstein are probably our favorites in Europe due to clear rules and industry specific regulation that doesn’t require any legal workarounds. The United States, however, attract a lot of attention as a jurisdiction because there are many tech-advanced investors who currently might be more open to purchase new financial instruments in the form of tokens. An important thing to remember: if you want to do an STO and sell your tokens in Europe and in the US, you must be compliant with both.
You’ve also discussed tokenizing various assets. What are some of these asset classes and which asset class do you personally believe has the most potential to scale?
Real estate offers the biggest use case with clear benefits for tokenization. In October, we have seen multiple cases including Tokyo-based Lead Real Estate funding development of condominiums and hotels ahead of the 2020 Japan Olympics through issuing security tokens; a consortium of Gulf families’ plans to tokenize US$ 1 billion worth of property assets and other exciting projects.
There are several reasons: fractional ownership offered by tokenization is a natural fit for real estate. Moreover, programmability of the tokens allows a structure to represent various economic interests – ownership rights, different income rights. On top of that, real estate is something investors understand, it’s a fixed income asset class and a rather low-risk investment.
From the perspective of the issuer, tokenization can offer a more cost-effective way to fundraise with a significant reduction in cost and friction for further management of securities.
We also believe venture funds to be a promising field for tokenization. Today, it enables easier and more cost-effective management of funds, easy ownership transfer, and so on. Potentially, tokenization can provide for democratization of VC market, opening it to millions of investors with small checks. For the latter, however, the technology is not enough – it requires corresponding amendments in the regulation. Whether we will see it or not soon remains debatable. Nevertheless, the existing benefits are already exciting.
What are some of the companies in the space that personally excite you?
Where do you see the industry being in 5 years?
We share the vision that capital markets on blockchain is the question of when, not if. In 5 years, we most likely won’t be talking about blockchain as a separate industry, as it will be the essential part of global financial markets.
Whether tokenization will unlock the liquidity for previously illiquid assets, democratize access to venture capital and fulfill other promises that are widely discussed today, remains to be seen.
In any case, communication and education is what is need for the industry to grow and mature. The more we focus on this today, the more outstanding results we will see in 5 years.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
Just one thing: feel free to reach to us anytime with podcast and collaboration ideas.
Let’s do something cool together 🙂
Darius Liu, Chief Operating Officer for iSTOX – Interview Series
What is iSTOX?
iSTOX is the first regulated capital markets platform in any major financial centre to support the one- stop issuance, custody and trading of digitized securities. Drawing on the power of advanced smart contract and distributed ledger technology to streamline the issuance and trading process, iSTOX seeks to redefine private capital markets by allowing investors and issuers to connect and transact directly. Compared with traditional trading venues, iSTOX is a more flexible, affordable and inclusive alternative, and offers investment options that were previously inaccessible.
iSTOX’s key shareholders include the Singapore Exchange (SGX), Asia’s leading international multi- asset exchange; Heliconia, a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings focused on investing in fast growing companies; and Phatra, a leading Thai investment and private bank and a member of Kiatnakin Phatra Financial Group. Other key shareholders include Japan-based Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings (Tokai), a well-established Japanese financial services firm, and more recently Hanwha Asset Management, a leading asset management company in Korea.
Before iSTOX, you worked for GIC, which manages Singapore’s foreign reserves. How did this experience inspire you to launch iSTOX?
Actually, before I worked at GIC, I worked as a policymaker in the Singapore government, including a stint at the Ministry of Finance. Thus, my experience spans both policy making and asset management / investment within a commercial context. I can therefore relate to considerations from both sides of the fence (government and industry):
- On one end, the government wishes to promote industry transformation and innovation, while maintaining stability and protections for users.
- On the other hand, industry players see gaps in the market, and inefficiencies in current process In the case of capital markets, this takes the form of frictions arising from legacy processes involving multiple intermediaries. While technology exists to bridge the gap, the capital market space is a regulated arena – industry players often see regulation as an impediment to innovation.
Having experience in both spaces made me see that regulation is the friend – and not the enemy – of innovation. The innovation I’m talking about is innovation by serious, long-term players looking to add value to the economy as a whole. There is a gap in the market and working with regulation can add value. That led me to believe that iSTOX was an idea that was not only sound conceptually, but feasible from an execution standpoint.
The concept of digitized securities, as well as the whole capital market end-to-end infrastructure layer built on a blockchain is a new concept, both in terms of technology and operating model. The sandbox has been useful for iSTOX to start operating in a “live” environment with real issuers and investors, while simultaneously co-creating the regulatory environment together with MAS. This gave assurance to us, MAS and market participants that the iSTOX platform is stable and secure.
We are confident of transitioning out of the sandbox to serve a larger number of users. We expect to graduate from the MAS Fintech Regulatory Sandbox into full operational status soon this year.
Singapore has many existing gaps in the private capital markets that results in accredited investors being underserved by the current financial market. Could you share with us what these gaps are and how iSTOX solves this problem?
Investors today face a challenge. Low rates of return within the public markets continue to drive strong global demand for high-growth pre-IPO start-ups, exclusive hedge funds and other private market opportunities. In 2018, for example USD $778 billion worth of new capital flowed into private markets. In the case of private equity alone, net asset value grew more than sevenfold since 2002, doubling market cap growth of equities in the public market.*
Despite all this, the private capital market system itself has remained highly fragmented, inefficient, complicated and costly. For investors, this has resulted in limited access to a closed group of well- connected and privileged investors. And even for those that do have access to private capital markets, the antiquated and fragmented nature of the current system means they must go through multiple intermediaries to gain the investments they seek.
Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon. The rise of distributed ledger technology (DLT) and smart contracts, combined innovative business models and forward-looking regulation now make it possible to bring new kinds of capital markets platforms to investors.
In the case of iSTOX, this has resulted in the first regulated capital markets platform in any major financial centre to support the one-stop issuance, custody and trading of digitized securities. iSTOX seeks to redefine private capital markets by allowing investors and issuers to connect and transact directly under a safe, MAS-regulated environment. By coupling this with an innovative and accessible business model, iSTOX opens private markets opportunity to a broad range of accredited investors.
iSTOX enables investors to access previously inaccessible investments which includes exclusive funds. What are some of these funds and why should investors take note?
Most of us are familiar with the mutual fund offerings from banks. Many are products with fairly high upfront and ongoing fees. There are some funds which have a track record of positive returns across different market conditions. For instance, the top global macro and private equity funds.
Such funds are generally only open to large institutional investors like the biggest asset managers or sovereign wealth funds. They do not market even to high net worth individuals and have relatively small fund sizes (compared to many mutual funds) which makes their offering even more scarce.
Also, they tend to have long lock-up periods like 3 years or more. If investors want the returns offered by these funds, or the return streams to add to their portfolios for return enhancement or diversification, there is currently no way. But with iSTOX, it will be possible.
Alternative investment products will also be available to investors. What are some of these products?
We have also shortlisted some very exciting opportunities for the new year. These include a discretionary fund that builds returns through mezzanine deals and private debt financing, as well as a range of debt, fund and equity-linked issuances across a range of sectors (including real estate, entertainment, and lifestyle).
Where are user funds held?
Funds which you transfer into your iSTOX account reside in a customer segregated account held with DBS, Southeast Asia’s biggest bank. Your funds are interest-bearing, and you will have access to your funds through your online iSTOX Wallet. Digitized securities are minted if you make an investment and after funds have been debited from your iSTOX Wallet. These securities are custodized with
ICHX Tech Pte. Ltd., the operator of the iSTOX platform.
Investors who open an account with iSTOX before February 1st, 2020, receive certain exclusive benefits. Could you share with us what those perks are?
Select investors enjoy a certain number of guaranteed allocations in primary market issuances and waiver of fees associated with primary market subscription and secondary market purchases for a limited period of time.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about iSTOX?
I would like to share a bit about the iSTOX philosophy as well. Where we are now, what we do, it comes down to the belief to provide investors with greater accessibility, freedom and flexibility, with a desire to bring about improvements to the world.
We believe that all investors can and should have the capacity to build and manage their portfolios with the same freedom and flexibility now available to the very wealthy. In addition to generating good returns, investors should be able to freely engage with industries, technologies and causes that fire their passions, provide them exposure to potentially transformative developments in technology and society, and allow them to improve the world around them.
We believe that access to opportunities like high-growth pre-IPO start-ups, exclusive hedge funds and Asian unicorns can and should be open to far, far more investors. While technological limitations and other barriers previously locked out all but the very wealthy and well-connected, the new advances that are starting to make themselves felt in financial markets will fundamentally change this equation. We believe the financial industry should embrace these changes.
We believe that DLT and smart contract technology will open new worlds of possibilities when it comes to how investing works. These possibilities will include but will certainly not be limited to assets that can be traded and owned in fractions for greater liquidity and access, including real assets like buildings, aircraft, wind farms and more. Investors deserve access to these innovations as well as others.
Derek Schloss, Director of Strategy for Security Token Academy – Interview Series
How did you initially get involved with the Security Token Academy?
I have a background in entrepreneurship, law, and a fairly strong interest in disruptive technology. A few years ago I became interested in the intersection of blockchain, digitization, open networks, and securities law — and started researching and writing about these topics. At the time, I was running my previous company and teaching entrepreneurship at the University of Oregon.
Stephen McKeon (Partner, Collaborative Fund) is a good friend of mine, as well as a former advisor on one of my previous startups. Stephen had put together some amazing written work and thinking around security tokens and was operating as the Chief Strategy Advisor of Security Token Academy (STA). After spending time with the STA team and learning more about its educational work, I joined STA as Director of Strategy in January of 2019.
Could you share with us the overarching goal of the Security Token Academy?
Security Token Academy aims to be the leading educational platform for the security token industry, and the team is dedicated to covering and facilitating the evolution of digitized securities as the industry progresses over the coming years. Powered by a strong interest in the future of finance, STA hosts educational events, video and podcast interviews, an industry-leading weekly newsletter, and insightful case studies and narratives with the teams and service providers building out the security token industry.
What are some of the projects in the digital securities sector which you find most exciting?
The area I find most interesting is definitely the infrastructure layer — the projects building out the tooling and foundation for the industry across both retail and institutional markets. I’ve written about this before, but unlike other areas of the blockchain industry, a fully optimized (and compliant) end-to-end ecosystem will be required for us to see mainstream security token adoption. This includes areas like legal, broker-dealing, issuance, trading, custody, and lifecycle compliance.
With security tokens, we’re creating radically new financial architecture — one where every asset imaginable can be digitally wrapped, tracked, and traded in concert with trustless ledgers. A number of projects have invested significant resources to build and optimize different parts of this infrastructure layer, and from my perspective, watching these puzzle pieces start to fit together has been fascinating to follow.
Regulated security tokens are using SEC crowdfunding rules to raise capital. Could you give us a breakdown of each regulation? For example, Regulation A+, Regulation D, Regulation CF?
Anyone reading this should hire an attorney for more specificity and nuance, but I can run through a few of the highlights. As security tokens are simply digital representations of securities, they are also subject to the same rules as non-tokenized securities offerings. As a result, securities offerings made to U.S. residents must either be registered with the SEC, or exempt under the Securities Act of 1933.
There’s a number of benefits to conducting a registered offering — issuers can generally solicit, sell to diverse investor pools across accredited and unaccredited investors, the securities are freely transferable for trading immediately upon sale, and issuing companies are not subject to regulatory limits on the amount raised. With that said, registered offerings and ongoing reporting requirements can be quite costly and time intensive.
Alternatively, an issuer of securities may seek an exemption from registration. In 2012, the JOBS Act was signed into law, creating an updated regulatory framework for retail participation in exempt securities offerings under Reg CF, Reg D, and Reg A+. While there are a number of unique rules that exist, here are some general features of each category:
Regulation Crowdfunding (Reg CF) enables certain companies to offer and sell securities (up to $1.07M annually) on an internet based platform through an intermediary that is a registered broker-dealer or registered funding portal, and allows both accredited and non-accredited investors to participate.
Reg D Rule 506(b) does not permit the use of general solicitation, but allows issuers to sell securities with no annual fundraising limit, to an unlimited number of accredited investors, as well as to a small number of sophisticated non-accredited investors.
Reg D Rule 506(c) permits the use of general solicitation to sell securities with no annual fundraising limit, where all purchasers are accredited investors, and the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that each purchaser is an accredited investor.
Regulation A+ permits general solicitation to sell securities up to $20M (Tier 1) or $50M (Tier 2) and allows both accredited and non-accredited investors to participate.
Which of these regulations do you personally believe caters best to STOs?
This is certainly a case by case decision — for issuers, it’s important to understand the long-term goals of the fundraise, then work backwards from there to find a framework that is narrowly tailored to those goals. In addition, there are also a number of legal questions and considerations that issuers face when attempting to choose the best legal framework for their securities offering. I always recommend sitting down and reviewing the available options with legal counsel who have experience in both securities laws and blockchain-based fundraising.
Do you have any examples of projects using the above exemptions?
A number of the earliest security token projects in the U.S. have leveraged the Reg D Rule 506(c) structure. With that said, there have been a number of offerings who have used different frameworks that were better tailored to their offering. Over time, I expect to see more Reg CF, Reg A+, and eventually, registered offerings.
As it relates to “network” tokens — one major trend I’m continuing to see is more and more pre-launched networks looking to U.S. securities laws to compliantly kickstart their new networks. Blockstack sold $23M worth of “investment contract” tokens under Reg A+ and Reg S. Althea is bootstrapping its decentralized internet network by combining the concept of Reg CF with the concept of “token airdrops” on the Republic equity crowdfunding platform. CoinList is helping projects like Kadena and NuCypher launch regulated Reg D offerings on top of the CoinList platform. I expect for more pre-launched networks to follow this theme. Over time, the aim for many of these networks will be to reach a state where the network tokens originally sold as investment contracts can transition from security to non-security as the investment contract factors erode, and the underlying network becomes more decentralized.
Where do you see the marketplace in 5 years?
Digitation and trustless ledgers offer an overwhelming number of benefits compared with our legacy systems — I feel strongly that as the tools and regulations mature, the industry will thrive.
In the meantime, we need to build the industry’s foundation for a variety of use cases and end users — in other words, the right tools for the right segments. We need attorneys committed to understanding asset digitization, and to view tokenization as a strong path for clients. We need legislators and regulators providing guidance narrowly tailored to this disruptive technology. If legislators and regulators can work together across jurisdictions, even better. Finally, we need to continue improving the education in this space — that’s something we’re focused on at Security Token Academy.
Eventually, issuers will prefer tokenization and investors will demand it.
Oliver Siah, CEO of Fraxtor Capital – Interview Series
You have an interesting and diverse life story, having spent 17 years in the civil service as a Republic of Singapore Air Force Officer, and Pilot. How did you transition from such a career to launching your first real estate investment company Hanson Court Pte Ltd?
I had two passions growing up. One was Aviation, and the other was Real Estate Investment. I enlisted as a pilot in the Air Force when I was 19 years old and was offered a government scholarship to further my studies in Australia. At 21 years old, I bought my first commercial real estate, which was a retail unit in a shopping mall in Singapore. By the time I graduated at 23 years old, I had sold the retail unit for about double the purchase price, netting me more than 10x return on equity. I was so intrigued by this that I could not wait to buy my next property, this time, a residential unit in Singapore. I sold this unit six years later for more than double the purchase price as well.
I knew I was on to something. So I set up my family investment vehicle Hanson Court Pte Ltd (named after the first property we acquired) after completing my Pilot training in the Air Force in 2009 (during the financial crisis). We went on to buy ten commercial and industrial units in Singapore, with a strategy to add value to the assets through asset enhancement. By doing so, we managed to push the rental income up substantially and sold the units five years later, achieving more than 40% IRR (p.a.).
After serving for 17 years, in 2018, I left the Air Force to focus on my startup Fraxtor.
In order to familiarize our readers better, could you share with us what Hanson Court Pte Ltd does?
Hanson Court Pte Ltd was formed as a property investment company in Singapore. During the financial crisis in 08/09, we acquired many commercial and industrial assets for below valuation and held on to them until the market recovered, earning us more than 40% IRR. At the moment we are still invested in commercial units in Singapore and have also ventured abroad to China to develop properties.
Was there something that your saw or experienced operating Hanson Court that inspired you to launch Fraxtor, a company that specializes in offering tokenized and crowdfunded real estate?
Through my experience investing in property, I realised that some pain points could be addressed through tokenisation. First, it was the large capital outlay that is required to purchase a property which makes it difficult for investors to diversify their portfolio. Second, it was the lack of liquidity of the investment, which makes it prohibitive for people who want to invest in the short term. Third, it was gaining access to the global real estate market. The know-how required to conduct the due diligence on the property and even to structure the investment makes it difficult for individuals to invest overseas.
With a platform like Fraxtor, we can allow investors to co-invest with us from as low as $10,000 and enjoy a hassle-free investment experience.
Could you elaborate on how Fraxtor sources which property to invest in?
We currently focus on opportunistic and value-add projects in matured markets like Australia, Japan, Singapore and Europe (including the UK). These are markets that our team is more experienced as well.
First, we look at two key factors: location and potential. Location is something we cannot change. Hence it is essential to select projects based on the accessibility and desirability of the asset’s location. Potential is what we can unlock in the property through redevelopment or asset enhancement initiatives. This we feel would be the allow us to increase the value of the property.
Next, we look at the financial structuring of the asset. We look at the best way to structure the capital stack of the investment to maximise the return for the investor. In the current market situation, we are looking at 10+% IRR for value-add projects and 15+% IRR for opportunistic projects.
Projects that meet our criteria would be presented to our investment committee for selection.
How long are the properties held? Is the goal to tenant them, or to flip them for capital gains?
The duration of the holding period depends on the type of property and the strategy we adopt. For our development projects, we aim to sell the assets as soon as possible to unlock the return for our investors. This would probably take between 1.5 to 3 years. For our investment projects, the goal is to add value to the assets through enhancement initiatives, increase the net operating income and subsequently sell them for capital gains. This would take between 3 to 5 years.
Are monthly or quarterly updates issued to investors? What type of information can they access?
Investors are updated as and when there are updates on the property. Investors are able to access the information memorandum for the property as well as the financial feasibility study that we had done for the project.
Where is Fraxtor regulated and what licenses does it have?
Fraxtor is currently exempted from licensing in Singapore as we only deal with accredited investors.
Could you tell us about some of the current investments that you offer, such as the location and property type?
Our current project is to redevelop a residential landed property in Singapore. The property is situated in Adelphi Park Estate along Upper Thomson Road. We plan to demolish the existing property and build two semi-detached units on the land.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
Fraxtor will be expanding our operations in Australia soon and we are in the process of obtaining an Australian Financial Services Licence.
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