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Buy My Place

In December 2015, Killara Resources, an unsuccessful Indonesian coal mining company announced they would be relisting on the ASX as the online real estate sales company Buy My Place. The backdoor listing involved an offer of up to 25,000,000 shares at a price of 0.20 each to raise $5,000,000.  

Unlike some of the more speculative backdoor listings that the ASX is known for, Buy My Place was an actual established business. Launched in 2009, Buy My Place let Australians sell their house cheaply without spending thousands on real estate commissions. For a low fixed cost, they gave you an ad on Domain and the other major property sites, photographed your property, and sent you a billboard for the front of your house. It was a simple model, designed to demonstrate just how overpaid real estate agents are in an age of inflated house prices and increased reliance on online research.

BMP re-listed on the ASX on the 15thof March 2016 at a Market capitalisation of just over $11 million, roughly 11.5 times their pre-IPO annual revenue. In the January – March quarter the company achieved revenue of $288,000, and by the July-September quarter this had grown to $514,000. Not long after that, the share price hit a high of $0.44 on the 28thof October 2016, a 120% return on investment for IPO investors in just over seven months.

While investors didn’t know it at the time, 44 cents was as good as it got. Over the next few months the share price dropped steadily, reaching an all-time low of 15 cents in July 2017. There was no defining moment that can explain this slump in price. Throughout this period updates from the company continued to be positive, promoting record cash-flow numbers with nearly every quarterly report. Reading back through the company announcements, there is nothing to suggest that this is a company losing 65% of its value.

It is only when you look at the Prospectus in more detail though, do you get a sense of how Buy My Place has failed to live up to its own expectations. While there were no forecasts in the Prospectus, the three tranches of performance rights for senior Buy My Place employees gives us an idea of what the company, and by extension shareholders, were hoping for. The three tranches vest if the company achieves 8,000 property listings, $10,000,000 in revenue or EBITDA of $3 million in one financial year by July 2019. As it stands, these goals seem completely out of reach. If you annualize their last quarter numbers, Buy My Place is on track for annual listings of 1676, revenue of $3,668,000 and so far away from profitability it’s probably not even worth discussing. Whether a 10x increase in revenue over three years while retaining profitability was a realistic goal or not, somehow it seemed that this became the standard the company has been judged against.

A slightly more charitable way to look at Buy My Place’s lukewarm first couple of years on the ASX is that convincing someone to sell their own home without a real estate agent is a harder transition than both investors and the company initially realized. People may resent the huge amounts of commission Real Estate Agents pick up with relatively little work, but the step from resentment to taking the pressure of selling a house on yourself is another matter entirely. In February 2017 the company seemed to acknowledge this fact, and launched a full-service package, where for a higher fee of $4,595 home sellers gain access to a licensed real estate for advice, who also manages the whole process. This strategy seemed to be part of a broader re-positioning that happened throughout 2017, where the company sought to increase its revenue per client. In July, Buy My Place announced the Acquisition of My Place conveyancing, an online conveyancing firm they had referred business to in the past. A few months later in September Buy My Place announced a partnership with FlexiGroup, allowing customers to finance both Buy My Place fees and other costs associated with selling their property.

To cap off these changes, in October Buy My Place announced the departure of Alan Heath and the appointment of Colin Keating as CEO, a younger executive who had spent time at American Express and more recently at an investment administration company. The new strategy seems to have also involved a re-focus on revenue growth above all else. For the last two quarters, revenue growth has increased to an impressive 20%+ per quarter, but expenses have grown just as quickly.

Buy My Place - Quarterly cash flows since listing (thousands)

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For a company running at this sort of deficit, the obvious concern is how much runway they have before they will run out of money. At the end of December, the company had $800,000 in cash, plus an unsecured, zero interest credit facility with the investment/bankruptcy firm Korda Mentha of $1,000,000. Given they are currently running at a deficit of roughly $750,000 a quarter, it seems highly likely the company will need to go through another capital raising round in the next six to twelve months.

While normally the knowledge of an impending capital raise is enough to make me lose interest pretty quickly, the current share price seems close to the floor of any potential future equity raise. In December 2017, Buy My Place raised $400,000 from sophisticated and professional investors at a price of $0.16 each. In addition, the company secured a zero interest credit facility with the finance firm Korda Mentha of $1,000,000 in return for the issuance of 6,250,000 options with an excise price of 16 cents. With this in mind, It is unlikely these investors (Korda Mentha is also a major shareholder) will allow any future equity raise at less than $0.16 cents a share, given that announcements since then have generally been positive. With shares currently trading around the $0.16 mark, future equity raises should be at or above this price.

The competition

Although there are a number of online sites offering online house sale services in Australia, the elephant in the room in any discussion of Buy My Place is Purple Bricks. The UK low cost real estate agent expanded to Australia a couple of years ago, and with revenue of more than double Buy My Place in Australia and a market capitalisation of over $900 million pounds internationally, they represent the biggest competition by a few orders of magnitude. With this in mind, I thought it might be useful to compare the two companies’ latest half year reports for Australia only.

Buy My Place and Purple bricks H1FY18 (Millions)

Purple Bricks PB costs/revenue Buy My Place BMP costs/revenue
Revenue 6.8 1.57
Cost of sales -3.2 47% -0.53 34%
Gross Profit 3.6 53% 1.04 66%
Administrative expenses -3 44% -2.97 189%
Sales and marketing -5.7 84% -0.87 55%
Operating loss -5.1 75% -2.80 178%

The thing that immediately jumps out is Buy My Place’s much higher administrative expenses as a percentage of revenue compared to Purple Bricks. This can partially be explained by some one-off costs Buy My Place had regarding the appointment of their new CEO and acquisition of MyPlace Conveyancing, but it does look like these are costs that need to be reined in. You would also expect this ratio to improve as Buy My Place’s revenue grows. However, the overall picture suggests that these are two companies operating in broadly similar ways. The fact that Purple Bricks has managed to hit profitability with this model in the UK should be seen as a positive for potential Buy My Place investors. Purple bricks entrance to the Australian market should also help familiarise people with low cost real estate agent options, opening up more potential customers for Buy My Place.

Valuation and Verdict

At its core, Buy My Place is an idea that I really believe in. There is no reason for a Real Estate Agent to take in tens of thousands of dollars in commission to sell a house, in an age where buyers are increasingly comfortable doing their own research and the same handful of online sites are used by everyone when searching for a house.

With a market capitalization of just under $10.8 million dollars at time of writing and annual revenue of $1.53 million as per their latest half year accounts, Buy My Place is currently trading at 3.53 times annual revenue. For a company that has managed to sustain 20%+ quarterly growth for the last six months this seems like a pretty enticing deal. While some of this can be chalked up to the Buy My Place’s rather precarious cash position, it seems that at least part of the companies relatively cheap price can be explained by the short attention span of the market. Micro-cap investors are quick to move onto the new thing, and after failing to live up to their initial hype, it seems many investors have simply lost interest in Buy My Place.

I bought a relatively small investment in Buy My Place at $0.155 cents each last week. I will be watching the coming 4C closely due in just over a month’s time, and if they can start reducing their loses I will likely add to that position.


A couple of weeks ago, the first six AFS licenses for crowdfunding were issued, paving the way for Australian companies to raise money from retail investors without listing on the ASX. While I usually restrict this blog to reviewing initial offerings of publicly listed companies, I thought it might be interesting to review one of the first crowdfunding offers in Australia to mark the occasion. There’s something to be said for reviewing a company that doesn’t have a public market for its shares, as you are less likely to end up looking like an idiot.

While a few of the crowdfunding platforms are still in the process of setting up their first offers, Equitise seem to have got the early jump on the competition. Their crowdfunding campaign for Xinja, a start-up digital or "Neo" bank, is already live and at time of writing $1.3 million into their 3 million dollar raise. 

Xinja has ambitious goals. With the recent weakening of laws regarding setting up banks in Australia, they intend to set up a fully functioning Australian bank, complete with deposit accounts and mortgages.

Just in case you forget this is a crowdfunding offer as opposed to your usual boring IPO, they have put together a pitch video, replete with flashy animations and bubbly tech muzak in addition to the standard offer document and financials. Once you look past the executives in torn jeans and distressed-paint walls, you quickly conclude that the pitch seems entirely devoid of anything original. Xinja’s main claim is that they will be the first “100% digital bank,” offering fully online services with no branches, but ME bank has been offering deposit accounts since 2003 in Australia and has never opened a branch. Another big focus of their pitch is that they will develop tools that nudge customers to make better financial decisions, which seems pretty similar to an advertising campaign NAB has been running for years. While the idea of a new digital bank in Australia is in itself is somewhat interesting, it is a shame that this is as far as they have got in terms of originality. Watching Xinja’s pitch video I’m reminded of that old Yes Prime Minister joke, about how boring speeches should be delivered in modern looking rooms with abstract paintings on the walls to disguise the absence of anything new in the actual speech. These days the modern equivalent I guess is a converted warehouse office space and vague references to blockchain.

What makes this paucity of orginality a particular concern is that the challenge faced by Xinja is enormous. There are good reasons why Australia has been dominated by the same big four banks as long as anyone can remember, and it’s not because no one has ever thought of making banking work on your phone. The pitch seems to promote this idea that the big banks are old tired institutions, with needlessly slow and cumbersome processes, just waiting to be pushed aside by some new start-up. As someone who works in the finance industry I know this is far from reality. Banks are obsessed with innovation and change, and are constantly sinking huge amounts of money into technology to stay ahead of the curve. The simple reality is that banking is one of the most heavily regulated industries in Australia. More often than not, what you find frustrating or slow about a bank’s processes is down to legislative restrictions rather than the banks ineptitude or unwillingness to change.

A lot is made in Xinja’s pitch video of the involvement of the founder of Monzo in Xinja. Monzo is another digital/Neo bank that was set up a few years ago in England. In the pitch Monzo is held up as an example of the success of Neo Banking, but this seems like a ridiculously premature thing to say. While Monzo has been through multiple capital raises at increasingly higher valuations, the reality is Monzo’s revenue for 2017 was a paltry $120,000 vs a loss of 6.8 million. It’s true that Monzo has some interesting ideas and managed to pick up an impressive half a million customers thanks to their zero fee pre-paid cards, but it is still far too early to hold them up as some sort of success. If I started handing out free cup cakes at Flinders Street Station I’d probably run out of cup cakes pretty quickly, but it’s hardly proof of a valid business.

The example of Monzo also gives us a good example of just how much capital is needed to start a bank. According to Crunchbase, since June 2015 Monzo has raised a total of 109 million, and given how far they are off profitability more funding rounds are probably on the cards. At each raise the business valuation has increased, but it does demonstrate just how long the road ahead is for Xinja.


While it might be considered a bit boring to talk about something as mundane as valuations and financials in the crowdfunding world, it is probably worth noting that Xinja is raising its $3 million dollar campaign at a $43.1 million dollar valuation, higher than the last 5 ASX IPOs I have reviewed on my blog.
To be blunt, the $43.1 million market capitalisation is completely ridiculous. Reading the “achievements to date” section of the prospectus it is hard to believe someone was able to write this with a straight face. While bullet points like “we have assembled a committed and exceptional team” and “we have completed 80% of our app” might be acceptable when putting together a slide deck at a hackathon, for a company valuing itself at over $40 million dollars it is downright obscene.

Not only does Xinja have no revenue from customers to date, they don’t even have trial products with customers or a license for any type of banking activities in Australia. They have only raised $7.8 million dollars before this crowdfunding campaign, which means that somehow investors are meant to believe that the other $32.3 million of their valuation has been created by coming up with a company name and hiring a few people.

Even Monzo, which seems to have ridden the hype train of ridiculous valuations pretty well, has been more restrained in their valuations. In October 2016 when Monzo valued itself at $50 million pounds, they had already been granted a restricted banking license and had a prepaid cards with a fully developed app out to 50,000 people. Earlier on, Monzo raised 6 million at only a $30 million valuation in March 2016, but at that time had a working trial pre-paid card out to 1,500 people. In contrast, Xinja has not only not yet released the beta version of their prepaid card, they still don’t even have a banking license.

To provide just one more example of how ridiculous the Xinja valuation is, it is worthwhile to look at the ratio of book to market equity. Banking has always been a capital-intensive business, and post-GFC regulations have only made it more so. This means that profits always require significant amounts of capital. The CBA, for all its market advantages from to being the largest bank in Australia has a book to equity ratio of $0.43. This means for every dollar of CBA shares you purchase, you are getting an entitlement to the earnings of $0.43 cents of equity on the CBA balance sheet. For the Xinja crowdfunding campaign, a bank with no license, revenue or market share, that ratio is only $0.22 cents.

On the Xinja Equitise crowdfunding campaign, the offer is described as a bank job. What they don’t tell you though is you’re the one getting robbed.


I’ve been distracted by a few other things lately, so my apologies for the lack of posts. I also started a few posts before realizing I didn’t really have much to say about the company. There are certain IPO’s in technical fields where if you aren’t a subject matter expert in whatever area the company operates in its hard to offer much in the way of useful commentary.

As it looks like my investment in Bigtincan is finally paying off, it seemed like a good time to review another SaaS (Software as A Service) IPO.


I’m having a little difficulty properly understanding the history of Simble. The Prospectus states that Simble was created as a merger of Incipient IT, an international technology venture group and Acresta, and Australian Software company. What doesn’t make sense though is that according to the Prospectus Simble was created in September 2015, yet the acquisition of Acresta and Incipient IT only occurred in September 2016. The prospectus doesn’t give much information on what exactly was happening with Simble during the 12 months between being created and acquiring Acresta and Incpient IT, but whatever they were doing they managed to rack up over 1 million in expenses during that time. 

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Just to be clear, these are statutory figures so are actual expenses for Simble, not of Acresta and Incipient IT before they were acquired. One possible explanation is that these expenses could have had something to do with purchasing the two companies, but that seems like an awful lot of money to spend on due diligence, and doesn’t explain the $86,000 marketing expenses. A more likely possibility is that Simble initially had some other business venture that they have since discontinued that the prospectus is neglecting to mention.

After doing a bit of digging around, it does seem that Simble has been involved in a few different areas that they don’t bother mentioning in the prospectus. Type Simble into the Android app store or Google and you find a bunch of results, some a little more hairbrained than others.  There’s Simble Kids, a website for finding children’s activities in the United Arab Emirates (Google that one at your own risk as the website has an expired security certificate), a booking platform for small businesses (this one appears to be functional at least) and Simble Live, which was apparently a social commerce app again based in the Arab Emirates (I still have no idea what a social commerce app actually is). All these businesses seem to have largely been abandoned though, so I guess they decided it made a cleaner narrative to leave them out of the prospectus.

As an outsider, the merger between Acresta and Simble initially doesn’t make much sense. The little information I was able to find online about Incipeint IT shows that it was operating as a software venture capital firm and incubator before being acquired. Incipient IT was Co-founded by Phillip Shamieh, who may be familiar to Australian Small-Cap investors from his Australian stock research company Wise-Owl. (More Controversially, Shamieh was also involved in the now defunct sandlewood company Quintis. Wise-Owl was criticized in Glaucus Research’s now famous short report on Quintis for posting buy recommendations on Quintis Stock without disclosing Shamieh’s involvement in the company).
Acresta on the other hand, are an Australian software company with a focus on providing automation services to government and businesses.

What exactly the synergies are between an Australian Software Company and an Asian Business incubator is not that clear, but it seems that the business has been organized to maintain Incipient IT’s coding and software team in Vietnam, while keeping Australia as the businesses base of operations. Economically at least this makes sense, due to the lower costs of maintaining a development team in a country like Vietnam. I have seen a number of different businesses work with a similar model. The executive structure seems to largely reflect the merger between Incipient IT and Acresta. The CEO Fadi Geha was a co-founder of Acresta, and the next highest paid executive is the Commercial Director Phillip Shamieh from Incipient IT.


Simble has two main business arms. There’s Simble Mobility, a business process automation service largely carried over from Acresta and Simble Energy, a more recently developed electricity management service.

Simble historically has received the bulk of its income from Simble Mobility. A good example of Simble Mobility’s work is the App they developed for Barwon Health’s Cancer Centre for patient registration and booking.

Simble will typically work with an organization to develop an electronic solution for a business process and then develop the software. It is important to note that for a lot of these projects Simble does not actually own the platform that they work on. Instead, Simble has previously used a platform developed and owned by Blink Mobile, another small Australian software company. Simble has an agreement in place to use Blink Mobile’s platform, but is does not look like its exclusive which is a bit of a concern. 

From an investment perspective, this is all pretty unexciting. A large proportion of Simble’s clients in this space seem to be Not-for Profit and government organizations. Having worked previously selling products to local government I know from experience that this can be a slow moving, uninspiring slog with products that are hardly at the cutting edge of technological development. It is also an industry with little prospects for rapid growth, as each organization is likely to want their own customized products that need to be developed individually.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the prospectus spends a lot of time promoting the growth potential of the Simble Energy Platform. This is a recently developed platform for businesses seeking to better manage their energy use. In addition to monitoring energy consumption, the platform is able to remotely turn on and off different circuits and appliances to take advantage of lower energy prices, or sell back surplus energy to the grid when prices spike. This is achieved via an Internet of Things hardware solution that needs to be installed on the relevant appliances and machines on-site. Simble gets revenue both from the initial installation of the hardware and the monthly subscription fee to use their software.

While the Internet of Things element is a recent development for the company, Simble and its predecessor Acresta have been providing energy management services for quite some time. You can old case study for carbon monitoring services that Acresta provided back in mid-2015 to Jurlique here.

On the face of it, the Simble Energy Platform seems like a solid business idea. There’s been an increased focus lately on the variability of energy demand on grids, and the rollout of smart metres presents significant savings for businesses able to match their energy demands to off-peak times. The Internet of Things element makes a lot of sense as well, as it transforms the platform from a purely monitoring service to one that can provide real savings.
On the negative side, it doesn’t look like Simble is the only company operating in this space. Simble seems to be initially focusing on the UK for its energy management business, and the Prospectus lists a few different companies already operating in this market. More worryingly, IBM also looks like they are providing a similar solution, with both an energy monitoring and Internet of Things element. One of the biggest fears for tech start-ups is that some giant company starts offering a similar service before they are able to compete, to the extent that “what happens when Google gets involved in your business” is a standard question Venture Capitalists ask when interviewing start-ups. While IBM doesn’t quite have the reputation of Google for moving into industries and quickly destroying the competition, they are still a pretty formidable competitor for a business barely able to clear $2 million of revenue a year.


Mid-January is typically a pretty quiet time in the IPO world. It’s an awkward time to list as one month or so later you would be able to include results for the 2018 calendar year, yet as it stands you are left with financial information that is over six months old. This is a particular problem for the Simble IPO, as a pessimistic interpretation of their balance sheet from June 2017 suggests they could be bankrupt by now.

In June 2017, the business had only $182,000 in cash, vs $1,650,000 in payables, $309,000 in employee benefit liabilities, and just under one million in unearned revenue. For a company with negative net cash flows for the six months until June 2017 of -$951,000 this is a pretty major concern. Deloitte seems to have been of the same opinion, as they submitted an emphasis of matter statement regarding the troubling net working capital position when they signed off on the HY16 and and HY17 financial report.

From a revenue perspective the situation isn’t much better. Below is the normalized profit and loss for Simble, which incorporates both Acresta and Incipient IT figures from before the merger.

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The labelling is a bit confusing, but the first three are all Calendar years 2014-16, then HY16 is July-December 2016 and HY17 is January-June 2017. This is due to the business recently changing to a December end of year. It’s a hard table to look at, as it switches from 12 month periods to 6 months. By subtracting the HY16 numbers from the CY16s, I was able to work out the figures for the first half of 2016, giving me 3 6 month profit and loss periods.

$000 jan - Jun 2016 Jul - Dec 2016 Jan - Jun 2017
Revenue  $                1,090  $               1,629  $                1,160
Cost of Sales -$                  340 -$                  810 -$                   359
Gross Profit  $                   751  $                  819  $                   801
Other Income  $                   300  $                  455  $                   348
Operating Expenses  $                      -  
General and Administration -$               2,243 -$               1,823 -$               1,637
Marketing -$                  164 -$                  359 -$                     62
Total Overhead expenses -$               2,407 -$               2,182 -$               1,699
EBITDA -$               1,355 -$                  909 -$                   550
Depreceation and Amortisation -$                  366 -$                  407 -$                   462
EBIT -$               1,721 -$               1,316 -$               1,012

As you can see, there has been a negative trend in revenue from a high of $2.9 million in 2015 (or 1.45 Million every six months) to only $1.16 in the six months to June 2017. The prospectus mentions that the business is currently went through a restructuring period prior to listing, and it seems they are yet to see much revenue growth from their new energy platform. The jump to $2.2 million in operating expenses in the six-month period before the acquisition of Incipient IT and Acresta is also interesting. Around $1 million of these expenses are from Simble’s statutory accounts, so this does seem to confirm Simble was doing something else at that time other than simply getting ready to purchase Acresta and Incipient IT. It gets especially weird when you look further down at the cash flow statements and see that the business capitalized $4.711 million in development costs in the second half of 2016 as well.

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 In total, this means the business spent around $9 million in 12 months on operating expenses and software development, a phenomenal amount for a business this size. This seems to suggest the current management team is not exactly frugal, which isn’t great news considering they will have less than $7 million in net cash to play with post-listing.


Simble made a statutory loss before tax of $1.25 million for the six months to June 2017, so any traditional valuation method as a multiple of earnings isn’t going to be possible. Instead, as seems standard for SASS companies, the main metric we can use to evaluate the company is a multiple of revenue.

With a maximum market capitalisation of $17.98 million, Simble is valuing its IPO at 7.75 times revenue. If you subtract the money that is to be raised, the pre-IPO value is $10.48 million or 4.52 times revenue. For a SASS company this is pretty reasonable. Bigtincan, a SASS company I invested in that was at the low end for SASS valuations listed at 6.6 times revenue and is now up over 50% on its listing price. On the negative side, Registry Direct, another SASS company that I invested in listed at 31.7 times revenue and now is trading around 40% lower than its listing price. However, what both these companies had which Simble doesn’t is impressive revenue growth. At the end of the day, the only reason investing in a company currently losing money makes any sense is because you think it is going to grow rapidly. The fact that Simble is currently shrinking makes this a much harder sell. If they had been able to wait long enough to show actual revenue growth from the Energy Management platform the valuation would be much more compelling, but I guess given the dire state of their balance sheet waiting six months probably wasn’t an option.


While the idea at least of the Simble Energy Management platform seems compelling, at this stage there is too little actual evidence of real growth of this platform for me to justify an investment. In six months’ time if they can show some revenue growth it might be worth picking up some shares even if you need to pay substantially more than $0.20, but without seeing that growth the investment seems like too much of a gamble. I’ll waiting for something a little more compelling for my first investment of 2018.


Appetise are a food ordering website that are seeking to raise between 4.8 and 6.8 million dollars. While they are listing on the ASX, they are so far only located in London, and have no connection to Australia. In a trend that has been growing lately, they seem to have chosen to list in Australia purely due to its lower compliance regulations and associated costs.


By numbers alone, Appetise looks like one of the worst value IPOs I have reviewed on this blog. To explain, let me give a few simple facts presented in Appetise’s own prospectus:

After starting in 2008, Appetise was acquired for only $230,000 in May 2016 by Long Hill, an American investment company. After acquiring the business, Longhill poured $2,260,000 into Appetise to improve the company's website and increase the number of restaurants on the platform. However, despite these investments, revenue decreased from $91,715 in FY16 to $49,172 in FY17. This IPO now values Long Hill’s stake at $9 million, with total market capitallization on listing between 13.8 and 15 million, more than 200 times their 2017 revenue.  If the IPO is successful, this will be a 261% return on investment over 18 months for Long Hill, despite no measurable improvement in Appetise’s performance. If you are getting flash backs of Dick Smith right now, you’re not the only one.


When Long Hill bought Appetise they did the usual private equity thing of installing a completely new management team, getting rid of the original founder in the process. The newly appointed CEO, Konstantine Karampatsos, has had experience both setting up his own online business as well as a stint at Amazon, and the CFO Richard Hately has had a number of senior roles at both start-ups and established businesses. While the CEO and CFO both seem like logical choices, appointing such an experienced management team to a company of this size leads to some pretty ridiculous statistics.

Konstantine Karampatos will have an annual salary of $204,050, post listing, plus a bonus of $122,430. Richard Hately, the CFO, will have a salary of $195,888, and will receive a listing bonus of $81,620. The marketing director will receive a salary of $138,750, though no listing bonus. All up, this is an annual cost of over $700,000 for the three highest paid employees, for a company that had less than $50,000 in revenue last year. Even if Appetise’s FY17 revenue increased by 1000% in FY18, it would still not come close to covering the salary of its three most senior executives.

This is a perfect demonstration of why a public listing at such an early stage is a terrible idea. A $50,000 revenue company should be being run out of a garage or basement somewhere by a few dedicated founders on the smell of an oily rag, not burning through cash on highly paid executives.

This cost has real consequences too. Under their proposed allocation of funds, with a minimum $4.8 million raise, Appetise will spend $1.55 million on executive and head office expenses, vs only $2.15 million on marketing. Given that their primary goal over the next few years is to raise their profile, this seems like a ridiculous allocation of capital.


As Appetise is currently only operating in England, the closest I could get to testing Apetise’s product was spending some time clicking through their website. Overall, it was a pretty underwhelming experience. There are three large tabs that block a significant part of the page, which makes scrolling through options difficult, and the colour scheme and overall design feels a little basic. 

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On the positive side, they seem to have invested some time into making the mobile experience work well; if anything the site actually seems to work and look better on a mobile phone. It is also worth mentioning that while the prospectus mentions that the business has a national footprint on numerous occasions, their coverage in London is pretty minimal, and at this stage they seem to be focused solely on the city of Birmingham.

The company’s social media presence is similarly disappointing. The prospectus talks a lot about social media engagement through their loyalty scheme, where users can get credit by sharing Appetise on their social network but so far they have failed to get much traction in this area. The Appetise Facebook page seems to only post bad food puns, and each post gets around 2 to 7 likes on average

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(I also noticed that a company director and their marketing executive are two of their most common Facebook fans.) Compare this to Menulog’s page, an Australian food ordering and delivery service, where you’ll see content featuring available restaurants, slightly funnier puns, and as a result much higher engagement with customers. While Facebook posts might seem like a trivial thing to be hung up on in a company review, one of the key things that will affect Appetise’s success is how easily they can build an online following. The fact that so far they have demonstrated little nous in this area is definitely a cause for concern.


Online food ordering is an industry with massive growth potential, and this is probably the main reason Long Hill felt they could get away with the prospectus valuation they have gone for. Appetise has a different model to the likes of Menulog or Deliveroo though, as Appetise does not take part in deliveries, instead, restaurants featured on the Appetise platform need to deliver the food themselves. The idea is this will allow them to scale more easily and not get bogged down with logistical complexities. While I don’t doubt this approach might work in the short term, (and Just Eat, a successful UK company with the same model as Appetise has proven that it can) in the long run an Uber Eats type model of flexible contractors, that can be sent wherever there is demand seems much more efficient. As websites like Uber Eats become more popular and economies of scale start to kick in, I feel there would be an incentive for restaurants to fire their delivery drivers and move from an Appetise type platform to an Uber Eats one.

Appetise makes the argument that their patform is currently cheaper, as Uber Eats charge delivery fees to customers, but just like with Uber, you would assume that these charges will eventually decrease as the site grows in popularity.


Appetise’s response to a lot of what I’ve said here would be that the company is uniquely placed to experience explosive growth in the near future. They have a workable website platform, and their only major competitor in the UK Just Eat has demonstrated that there is money to be made in this market. While a $50,00 revenue company with a board of directors looks ridiculous now, if in 12 months’ time their revenue is closer to $1,000,000 no one will be complaining. The problem I have with this argument though is it requires a lot of faith with not much evidence. If Appetise is really uniquely placed to grow so quickly, why not hold off on the prospectus for a few months so they can demonstrate this? Appetise runs on a March end financial year, so their first half FY18 figures should be available now. Once again, the cynic in me thinks that if revenue was actually growing, these figures would be included in the prospectus. 

Even in a growing industry you need to be ahead of the curve and have a clear point of differentiation to succeed, and after reading the Appetise prospectus and looking over their website I simply don’t see this for Appetise. In one of the easier decisions I’ve had to make with this blog so far, I will not be investing in the Appetise IPO.

The GO2 People

GO2 is a WA-based labour hire company raising between 10 to 12 million, with a post listing indicative market capitalisation of 23 to 25 million. The offer closes this Friday.
The first thought I had when looking at the G02 IPO is that investors should be getting a great deal. GO2 owes 3.8 million owed to the ATO, has working capital issues with increasing receivables, and is set to make a loss for FY17. If the IPO doesn’t go ahead there seems to be a real possibility the company could be out of business in a few months. With that in mind, you would think the IPO would be priced low enough to ensure that the offer doesn’t fall through. Unfortunately for investors, this doesn't seem to be the case.

Company outlook

G02’s revenue has been on a bit of a roller coaster over the last few years. After only 20 million of revenue for the 2015 financial year, the company revenue shot up to 26.5 million for the first half of FY16 before falling off a cliff. Getting your head around the company’s revenue numbers is harder than it should be thanks to sloppily labelled profit and loss table in the prospectus. In the below table, the December 15 and 16 columns are half year figures, despite the profit (loss) label being “for the year.” Given this is probably the most important table in the prospectus, you would think someone would double check these things.

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To get a clearer picture than this table provides, I graphed the revenue below in six-month blocks for the last two years. Numbers for july 2017 have been extrapolated from the provided 30 April figures. 

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GO2 blame the downturn both on depressed market conditions and a preoccupation with getting ready for the IPO. It doesn’t seem like a great reflection of management that they could become distracted enough to lose half their revenue, but then again what do I know?


I struggled for a long time to get an understanding of what I thought of the IPO price. GO2 is going to get a significant cash injection of 10 to 12 million if the IPO goes ahead, increasing the company’s net equity from just over half a million to around 10 million. This will have a significant effect on the company’s operations, which means it seems unfair to use their pre-IPO revenue to value the company.

One way to look at it, is to look at the value that has been assigned to the company before the cash injection of the IPO. As the company is being valued at 25.6 million with a 12 million dollar IPO, this means the pre-IPO company is being assigned a value of 25.6-12 = 13.6 million. For a company that made a profit after tax of 1.229 million after tax last financial year but a loss of $421,696 in the most recent reportable 12 month period, this doesn’t seem like a great deal. Even if we ignore the recent downturn and use the FY16 numbers, we get a P/E ratio of 13.6/1.229 = 11.065. By way of comparison, NAB shares are currently only trading marginally higher at a P/E ratio of 13.85, and a 41% dip in revenue for NAB would be almost unthinkable. You could argue that the potential upside for a company like GO2 is much higher, but I still think given the marked drop in performance, the valuation placed on GO2’s current operation is a little high.

While 95% of revenue so far has come from the recruitment business, 72% of money raised from the IPO after costs and ATO debt reduction are subtracted will be invested in thebuilding side of the business. GO2’s founder Billy Ferreira has a background in construction, and the prospectus argues that given they already have access to a workforce through their labour hire business, they are well placed to succeed in this area. It is this element of the prospectus that makes me second guess my opinion that the IPO price is too high. The company has a signed Memorandum’s of Understanding with property investors, and could potentially grow this side of the business very quickly.


One of the good things about this IPO, is that basically all shares other than those bought in the IPO will be held in escrow. This means there is no short-term risk of pre-IPO investors offloading their shares and hurting the share price. If you are a short-term investor, this may be significant for you, but as the goal of this blog is always to identify long term opportunities I do not put too much weight on this point.


This is probably the IPO I have been most indecisive on. GO2 have managed to grow very quickly, and it looks like one of their main barriers to growth has been managing their working capital, a concern that should be eased thanks to IPO funding. On the other hand, I can’t help thinking that the seemingly distressed nature of the company means that investors should be given a slightly better price to invest. Somewhat reluctantly then, I will be giving this IPO a miss.


When I first saw the Croplogic IPO I was pretty excited. Lately ASX IPOs seem to have been an endless list of speculative mining startups and suspicious Chinese organizations, so its nice to see a company that seems genuinely innovative. Based on technology and crop management techniques developed by the New Zealand government research institute Plant & Food Research, the company is looking to revolutionize the agronomics sector with various technological and modelling-based solutions. This includes both patented electronic monitoring devices that provide live soil moisture levels from the field, as well as sophisticated modelling that allows farmers to predict moisture levels and show optimal times for watering and fertilizer application. The idea is that this technology will allow agronomists to spend less time driving from field to field taking samples, while giving farmers a higher level of service at the same time. The company has been around for five years, and has completed a few trials with large multinationals. While they claim these trials have been promising, they haven’t really amounted to much revenue as can be seen by the meagre profit and loss report.

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Croplogic is seeking to raise up to 8 million, with an indicative market capitalization of $23.9 million based on a maximum subscription.


One interesting things about Croplogic is that they have decided to grow by acquiring established agronomy businesses rather than organically (if you’ll excuse the pun.) This is based on the idea that the agricultural market is suspicious of new entrants and values existing relationships. Croplogic therefore intends to purchase traditional agronomics businesses then slowly introduce Croplogic’s various innovations to their customers. While I understand the thinking behind this (at a previous role I saw first-hand a European fertilizer company fail spectacularly in their expansion into Australia due to difficulties selling to suspicious Australian farmers), there are a few factors that make me worried this strategy won’t work. Post listing, Croplogic will have only around 8 million dollars with which to buy the very specific type of company they are looking for (they are specifically targeting potato agronomics companies) in the limited amount of time they have before shareholders start getting impatient. With such specific criteria and a limited amount of time, it seems a real risk they will be forced to pay above market prices for the first suitable company they find.

Croplogic’s most recent acquisition doesn’t really inspire confidence either. On the 28thof April 2017 Croplogic acquired a company called Proag services, an agricultural consulting business based in Washington state USA. Croplogic paid $1.4 Million AUD, with another $1.25 million to be paid over the next few years provided Proag’s revenue does not decline sharply. As a test case for Croplogics acquisition model, the Proag purchase does raise a few questions.

While in the financial year ending March 2016 the business made a profit of $140,000 AUD, in 2017 this had reduced to a loss of $24,650 (to make things simpler, I am using AUD for both the revenue and purchase price, despite Proag being an American company). This loss was caused mainly by small a decrease in revenue from 2.24 million to 2.14, and an increase in operating costs from $580,000 to $690,000. To be clear, the FY17 financial year ended before Croplogic bought the business, so these costs cannot be easily attributed to acquisition expenses. While there could potentially be other factors that explain the 2017 loss, 2.65 Million seems hugely unreasonable for a company that lost money last financial year, and even seems on the steep side if you just take the FY16 numbers into account.  Were Croplogic so desperate to secure an acquisition before the IPO that they ended up paying more than they should have for a struggling company? As an outsider it certainly looks like that.


One of the things I look for in an IPO is strong founder with a real passion for the company. Bigtincan’s David Keane and Oliver’s Jason Gunn are two great examples of this. In addition to being good businessmen, both founders seem to have a real passion for their respective companies and expertise in their specific industries. You get the sense with both Jason and David that they have invested personally in their companies, and will stick by them for as long as it takes.
In contrast, the managing director of Croplogic Jamie Cairns has only been with Croplogic for just over a year and has a background in internet companies. The CFO James Jones has been with the company for even less time, and last worked at a private equity firm. While they both seem capable enough, they don’t seem to be experts in agronomics, and it’s hard to imagine either of them sticking around if they were offered a more lucrative role at a different company.
Powerhouse Ventures

The largest Croplogic shareholder is the ASX listed Powerhouse Ventures, owning both directly and through its subsidiaries roughly 20% of the Croplogic stock post listing. I like to think of Powerhouse Ventures as New Zealand’s answer to Elrich Bachman from Sillicon Valley. The company invests in early stage New Zealand companies, most typically those that use technology developed in connection to New Zealand universities with the hope that these can eventually be sold later for a profit.

To put it mildly, Powerhouse Ventures has not been going that well lately. Listing originally for $1.07 in October 2016, the company now trades at around $0.55, following problems with management, higher than expected expenses, and difficulties with a number of start-up investments. 
This is a concern for any potential Croplogic investor, as one of Powerhouse Ventures easiest ways to lock in some profits and generate cash would be to offload their Croplogic shares. Considering the size of their stake in Croplogic, this would have disastrous effects on the Croplogic share price.


As you can probably guess if you’ve read this far, I will not be investing in Croplogic. While the shares are undeniably being sold for a pretty cheap price, their chances of success seem so small buying shares would feel more like getting a spin on a roulette wheel than a long-term investment. When you read through the prospectus, you get the feeling that the company is a weird miss-match of various technologies dreamt up in Kiwi research labs that some over-excited public servants felt would be a commercial success. Considering the minimal progress that has been made in the last five years, they probably should have stuck to writing journal articles. 
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Sienna Cancer Diagnostics


Sienna Cancer Diagnostics are seeking to raise 6 million dollars, with an indicative market capitalization based on full subscription of just under 37.5 million. Shares are being offered at 20 cents each.

Sienna was originally founded in 2002. The company’s focus is the development of diagnostic tools for cancer, and more specifically using tests that look at levels of Telomarese in the body to aid in diagnosis. I spent around 10 minutes clicking on links on Wikipedia trying to understand what exactly Telomarese is, but I quickly realised it goes well beyond whatever I can remember from year 10 science. Instead, as usual I will do my best to evaluate the Sienna IPO using the tools available to an average investor.

IPO’s in the biotechnology space can be broadly broken down into two categories: Pre-revenue, where all the company has is an idea and maybe some patents, and post-revenue, where the company has a proven method of generating revenue, and is now looking to ramp things up. Sienna Cancer Diagnostics falls awkwardly somewhere in the middle. While technically Sienna has been receiving revenue from product sales since 2015, if you exclude research and development expenses, revenue for the first six months of FY2017 was $291,588. There are small café’s that turn over more money than that. It’s an unusual time to list, as the immediate question is why Sienna didn’t hold off until the listing until they had demonstrated their growth potential.


Like many companies, Sienna’s past does not seem to be as straightforward and linear as the Prospectus would like you to believe.

In January 2015, Sienna Cancer Diagnostics announced their first sales agreements with a Major American pathology company. Kerry Hegarty, the CEO at the time gave an interview to The Age, where she explained that “ …Sienna has succeeded where other cancer diagnostic ventures have failed because it has been able to stay an unlisted company so far.” Hegarty goes on to talk about the flexibility of being an unlisted company when you are still in a pre-revenue stage.

4 months after giving this interview Hegarty left Sienna Cancer Diagnostics.  Later that same year in September, Street Talk reported the company was planning a 10 million-dollar IPO with Pac Partners as lead manager. Did Hegarty leave because she felt that the company’s decision to list was premature? I have no idea.

For whatever reason, the 10 million-dollar IPO with Pac Partners did not eventuate, and the company is now listing 18 months later raising only 6 million with the much smaller lead manager Sequoia Corporate Finance.  A CEO leaving a company and an IPO being delayed aren’t exactly unusual occurences, but it would be interesting to get some background on why both these events happened.


As mentioned earlier, Sienna has largely relied on government rebates and Australia’s very generous research and development tax incentive program for revenue. I take the view that if the company is going to achieve long term success, it will need to eventually stop relying on government handouts and therefore these revenue streams should be excluded from any analysis.

 The worrying thing is though, once you take this money out revenue has gone backwards from 2016 to 2017. In 2016, Sienna’s first full year of receiving product revenue, the company had annual revenue of $640,664 excluding government rebates, or $320,332 every six months. The first six months of FY17 saw revenue of only $291,588, a pretty sizeable decrease at a time you would naturally expect revenue to grow.

While there may be legitimate reasons for the decline in revenue, it is not addressed anywhere in the Prospectus that I could find. The decline in revenue also puts into question Sienna’s chosen listing date. August is an interesting time to list, as it means the prospectus does not include the full FY17 numbers, even though the financial year is over by the time the offer closes. The cynic in me says that if the FY17 numbers were any good the IPO would be delayed a couple of months, as strong FY17 numbers would make the IPO a much more straightforward process.

To further illustrate the odd timing of the listing, the balance sheet as of January 2017 showed over 1.5 million dollars in cash, vs annual expenses of around $570,000. Whatever was behind the decision to list before FY17 numbers were available, it wasn’t because the company was about to run out of money.


Sienna have not put any voluntary escrow arrangements in place, so a key question for any potential investor is who the existing shareholders are, and how likely they would be to dump their shares as soon as the company lists.

Earlier articles about Sienna mention the ex-CEO of Macquarie Allan Moss as one of the main shareholders and backers. Interestingly enough, his name does not appear in the current prospectus, so either he has sold out completely, or now holds less than 5% of the company. Why a shrewd investor like Moss would sell-out before an IPO is another question a prospective investor should probably think about.

Instead, the current largest shareholder is now someone called David Neate, who owns just over 10% of the company. I was immediately curious about who this person was, as I could not find him listed on the board or the senior management team of the company. After digging around online, the only information I could find on him was in regards to Essential Petroleum Resources Limited, a now delisted oil and gas exploration company that someone called David Neate (and I’m aware it might not be the same guy) held 12.6% of in October 2007. 

There is an October 2008 Hot Copper thread where someone wondered why Neate was unloading so many shares in Petroleum Resources Limited. A few months after the post in January 2009, shares fell to below 1 cent following unfavourable drilling announcements  and the company delisted later that year.

Of course, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for a major investor deciding to offload shares, but it’s not really the sort of information you want to find when you start googling the major shareholder of a potential investment.


As this is an IPO in an area where I have no technical knowledge, I am acutely aware that I could be completely off the mark with my analysis. If using Telomarese to diagnose cancer proves to be the next big breakthrough, this could easily be the IPO of the year. However, if I’m going to invest in a company that’s actual product revenue is less than one fiftieth of the indicative market capitalisation, I would at least want to see revenue growth, not revenue going backwards. Furthermore, the small amount being raised does make me wonder if the IPO is more about existing shareholders unloading stock than actually raising capital. Contributed equity is listed on the balance sheet as only 16.6 million, which means at least some initial investors would still be making significant profits if they unload their shares well below the initial listing price.

While I may well live to regret it, this is one IPO I will not be taking part in.

Oliver’s Real Food

I've changed jobs recently which has kept me busy, and with the Oliver’s Real Food IPO only open for two weeks I thought I would have to publish my review after the offer closed. It was with some relief then that I checked my email Friday night and saw they had decided to push things out by a week and reduced the share price from 30 to 20 cents in response to limited interest from institutional investors. The reduction in the share price isn’t as dramatic as it initially looks. Oliver’s has increased the number of shares at the same time, so while under the original offer the maximum subscription was to sell 30% of the company for 15 million at 30 cents per share, this has now been adjusted to 35.8% for 15 million at 20 cents a share. Although the share price has gone down by a third, the actual reduction in pre-offer valuation has only gone down by 25% thanks to the increase in the number of shares.

This last-minute drop in price and wrangling of share numbers puts you more in mind of a fishmonger trying to move some dodgy prawns than a multi-million dollar IPO offering. Pricing an IPO is meant to be a precise and scientific exercise, developed through numerous meetings with fund managers and other institutional investors to accurately gauge the market. Wesfarmers recently put a pin in their Officeworks IPO plans precisely because they failed to hear much enthusiasm from institutional investors at this stage of the process. For Oliver’s to be forced to drop their price at the last minute suggests that they either their fund manager skipped this step, or that Oliver's management didn't listen to the advice that was given to them.


Putting this last-minute price drop aside, Oliver’s Real Food is one of the more interesting IPO’s of 2017. The business runs a chain of healthy fast food options on major arterial roads on Australia’s eastern seaboard. While healthier fast food chains have been around for a while (Sumo Salad are rumoured to be planning an IPO of their own), Oliver’s is the first healthy fast food business that is targeting the highway service station market. As anyone who has ever tried to get a meal on a freeway can tell you, your meal choices are typically restricted to KFC, Mcdonalds, or a dodgy cafe with burgers and chicken wings sitting in bain-maries, so there does seem to be an opening for a healthier and more expensive alternative. 


Jason Gunn, the main founder of Oliver’s is your classic new age guru. You can watch videos of him online talking earnestly about his love of transcendental meditation (17% of Oliver’s staff apparently are now practising transcendental meditation thanks to Jason, one statistic that was left out of the prospectus) and one of his go-to quotes is that Oliver’s is the first business that he has run that “satisfies his soul.” He also seems to have gone all-out on the photo shop options for his Prospectus photo.

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While it might be tempting to dismiss Jason as some snake oil peddling charlatan, he does seem to genuinely believe in the stuff he talks about, and he has successfully built a business around a set of values that seem to work for him. He also is balanced out by his co-founder Kathy Hatzis, who has held senior marketing positions in the finance sector and seems to the more down-to-earth of the duo. The only thing I could find by her online was a much more mundane article about managing brands that manages to not mention meditation, vaccines or enlightenment. Overall, they seem like a good pair of founders, and exactly the sort of people you would want to be leading a health food chain with a new age vibe.

Growth plans

One potential cause for concern is that growth has been slower than originally planned. In March 2015, Jason Gunn told The Australianthat he expected revenue to grow to 30 million per year within 12 months, yet even the projected figures for the 2017 financial year show revenue of only 21 million. More interesting still, is that in the same article Jason stated that he was aiming for an annual revenue of 30 million before proceeding with the IPO. I’m not really as concerned about this as I perhaps would be in other cases. After reading and watching a few videos on or by Jason, overestimating growth rates in a conversation with a journalist seems to be exactly the sort of thing he would do. As long as there are more sober minds around him this potential character flaw shouldn’t really be a problem. What’s more, Oliver’s growth is largely a factor of the number of stores they open, and this seems to be pretty reliant on when the big petrol stations have leases coming up. Store growth seems to have stagnated somewhat in late 2015/early 2016 with the number of company owned stores going backwards in the first half of FY2016 from 8 to 7. However, more recently things seem to have gotten going again, with 12 company owned stores at the time of the prospectus, and firm plans to increase this to 19 by the end of FY2017.
Longer term, Oliver’s have 60 sites in total they have identified for potential store locations in Australia for the next 4 years, which indicates the business has a lot of room to grow.


One of the things I like about the Oliver’s prospectus is the lack of massive pro forma adjustments to the financials. Too often, you flick through pages of rosy pro forma figures in the financial section of a prospectus only to find a few brief lines of statutory figures that show the company has actually been making massive losses. With Oliver’s the first figures presented in the financial section are the statutory profit and loss statements, and the only pro forma figures I could find were in the balance sheet. The numbers also seem to stack up pretty well. Margin over cost of sales has been steadily in the mid-thirties, and margin plus labour expenses has been consistently around 75%. While Oliver’s did make a small loss in the first half of 2017, for a company going through an IPO and growing this quickly it’s actually impressive the loss is this small.

In order to get a sense of what Oliver’s could look like as a more mature business, I projected two scenarios of a future Oliver’s profit and loss based on 40 stores here. In the first more conservative scenario, I projected that Oliver’s revenue per store would be the same as in 2015 at just under 1.6 million per year (I didn’t want to use the 2016 numbers as I wasn’t sure who store openings affected the figures), and that labour and cost of sales would stay steady at 75% of revenue. I increased the head office and general administration budget to what I feel is a generous 4 million and all other costs were simply based on the 2015 figures increased to reflect the higher number of stores. With these rather conservative estimates, the business would make just over 2.6 million per year after tax.

In the second more optimistic forecast, I projected a growth in sales per store by 20% to just over 1.75 million based on the assumption that increased brand recognition and familiarity would lead to more customers per store (Mcdonalds in Australia apparently averages over $5 million in sales per store so this is far from being unrealistic). I also used a lower cost of sales + labour to revenue ratio of 65% on the assumption that the higher revenue per store and supply chain efficiencies of having a larger business would help drive these costs down. With a slightly more optimistic leaner head office budget of £3.5 million, this shows a projected profit after tax of just under 9 million.

The indicative market capitalization based on a maximum subscription is $41.9 million at the revised offer price. The fact that a business like this has such a clear path to a profit of 9 million, while at the same time a more pessimistic model still shows profitability is a promising sign.


You can pore over the financials until you are the blue in the face, but at the end of the day if you are thinking of investing in a restaurant chain It probably makes sense to actually eat in the place. For this reason, I drove down to the nearest Oliver’s to me in the Melbourne outer suburb of Scoresby last Sunday afternoon. The Oliver’s was located in a BP service station on a freeway next to an business park, with a KFC and Mcdonalds for competition. At 3:50pm on a Sunday Trade wasn’t exactly brisk. In the 20 minutes or so I was there only three other customers came into Oliver’s while the other two fast food restaurants probably served around 12 people each.

My meal of a chicken pizza pocket, one of Oliver’s trademark cups of green beans with salt and an Oliver’s brand non-alcoholic Organic Tumeric Beer came to a pricey $22.75 (the organic turmeric beer was an amazing $6.95 for 350mls, if Oliver’s can sell enough of them they should have no issues hitting their profit margins).
Pricing aside, I was pleasantly surprised with the food, the Pita wrap was fresh and tasty, and a cup of green beans flavoured with nothing but a little bit of salt is less boring than you’d think. I wouldn’t get the turmeric beer again, but I’m sure it is to some people’s taste.


Overall, there’s a lot to like about the Oliver’s IPO. While the last minute price change does potentially reflect badly on management, the rare opportunity of listing in a business that has both a proven track record of achieving profitability and great growth potential is too good for me to give this one a miss.

Moelis Australia


Moelis Australia is the Australian offshoot of Moelis & Company, an American investment bank founded in 2007. Moelis and Company have made a name for themselves as one of the leading “Boutique investment banks,” smaller specialised investment banks that have become increasingly popular since the GFC largely thanks to their perceived ability to give more independent advice. In one of their most impressive wins to date, Moelis and Co was recently announced as the sole lead on what will probably be the biggest IPO in history, the giant Saudi state owned oil company Aramco.

In Australia, Moelis has been similarly successful, though not without controversy. While they have been involved in numerous successful IPO’s, they were also the lead manager for the botched Simonds Group IPO in late 2014, with shares now trading at less than a quarter of their floating price. More recently they have made the news for apparently buying up Slater and Gordon debt at significant discounts, supposedly for some debt for equity scheme they are planning.

After the IPO, Moelis & Co will retain a 40% stake in Moelis Australia and a partnership between the two entities will remain with Ken Moelis himself, the founder of Moelis and Co taking a seat on the board.

IPO details

25 million of a total 125 million shares will be sold through the IPO at $2.35 per share, raising $53.8 Million once the costs of the offer have been taken into account. The Market capitalisation at listing price is $293.8 million, making it one of the biggest Australian IPO’s this year to date.


The CEO of Moelis Australia is Andrew Pridham, more famous for his role as Chairman of the Sydney Swans and his occasional spats with Eddie Mcguire than for his career as an investment banker. Pridham’s career has been impressive; he was appointed the Managing Director of Investment Banking Australasia for UBS at only 28 and has also held senior roles at JP Morgan before helping start Moelis Australia in 2009. He has been less successful in his ventures into the art collecting world though, making headlines a couple of years back when he purchased what turned out to be a forged painting for 2.5 million dollars. When Melbourne radio hosts started making fun of him about this, Pridham’s response somehow managed to go from victimhood to snobbery in one sentence.

However, as long as Pridham doesn’t decide to turn Moelis Australia into an art gallery, his dubious taste in Australian art shouldn’t trouble potential investors, and overall he seems like a pretty capable and intelligent guy. Also, for the CEO of an investment bank worth nearly three hundred million dollars his salary is quite reasonable, at only $450,000 a year plus bonuses. That he is looking to make most of his money through performance bonuses and increases in the share price is a positive for investors, and something that other recent listings (Wattle Health anyone?) Could learn from.

Expansion plans.

One of the things that worries me about the Moelis Australia IPO is the 44.2 million of the total 58.8 million raised  that will be set aside for the vague purpose of “growth capital.” This is expanded upon in another section of the Prospectus with the below statement:

"Moelis Australia is actively assessing a number of strategic asset and business acquisitions. None of these opportunities are certain of proceeding at the date of this Prospectus. Any one of, or a combination of, these acquisitions could result in Moelis Australia applying a substantial part of the Offer proceeds to fund the acquisitions of potential assets or businesses being assessed."

While some investors will see this as a growth opportunity, something about the combination of a CEO with no shortage of self-confidence, a professional services business and statements like this make me a little nervous. As any financial academic or Slate and Gordon stockholder will tell you, business acquisitions by listed companies have a tendency to destroy rather than create shareholder value, and I doubt Pridham is going to be able to sit on his hands for long with $54 million in his pocket. While it’s possible he might make the deal of the century, it’s also possible he might end up biting off more than he can chew.

Significant Investor Visa Funds Program

Another thing that concerns me with the Moelis IPO is its involvement in the Significant Investor Visa Funds Program. This is a program the federal government introduced a while back where Investors who invest over 5 million dollars in approved Australian investments are able to gain an Australian Visa.
These sorts of visa programs have come under a lot of criticism both in Australia and internationally, and in the USA in particular have become a target for fraudulent activities.

Canada cancelled their own program after finding it delivered little benefit and an Australian productivity commission report in 2015 advocated scrapping the program as well, arguing that it led to too many visas being granted to elderly people with limited English skills.

 While the current Liberal government appears to be committed to the scheme, you would imagine that all it would take is a change of government or a few highly-publicised scandals for things to change. Moelis themselves appear to be well aware of the risks this would pose to their business, as evidenced by this detailed response of theirs to the 2015 productivity commissions report.

Moelis does not break down the revenue for each separate sector, though the prospectus does state that average assets under management grew from 161 million to 624 million in 2017 largely thanks to this program, so we can assume that if this program was to be cancelled it would have a significant impact on the business.


Looking around at most investment banks, they seem to cluster around a P/E of just under 15. Goldman Sachs is currently at 13.96, JP Morgan Chase is at 14.1, and Morgan Stanley is at 14.53. The big four Australian banks have similar P/E ratios. Moelis Australia are no doubt aware of this, and have presented an “adjusted” Price to Earnings ratio of 14.6 in the prospectus. On the surface this makes the valuation seem like a pretty good deal. As a relatively small player, their growth prospects are more significant than the larger banks, so to be priced at the same discount rate would represent a great opportunity. However, this is a good example of when it pays to do your own research before trusting adjusted ratios cooked up by investment bankers. When I divide Moelis Australia’s profit from the 2016 calendar year (9.8 million) by the post-listing market capitalisation of 293.8 million I get a price to earnings ratio of 29.97, more than double the ratio quoted in the prospectus. Although you might think this is because my calculator isn’t as fancy as the ones used at Moelis Australia’s head office, Moelis have actually made two rather questionable adjustments to get this lower ratio.

To start with, while P/E ratios are almost always calculated using previous earnings (trailing twelve months). in Moelis Australia’s adjusted P/E ratio, they have instead used their forecasted Pro Forma earnings for the 2017 calendar year of 16.8 million. While for a small growing company it may make sense to use forecasted earnings in a P/E ratio if the business is just starting, I fail to see how it is justified for an established investment bank with a proposed market capitalisation in the hundreds of millions. Moelis Australia are not planning to change their operations significantly in the next twelve months, so their reason to use forecasted earnings simply seems to be so they can get a more attractive P/E ratio.

The other adjustment they have made is to the price side of the P/E formula. Moelis Australia have taken the odd approach of subtracting the net offer proceeds of 57 million from the market capitalisation for the adjusted formula. This is supposedly justified because their acquisition plans are not included in their projected earnings, though as a potential shareholder, the actual market capitalisation is how the market will evaluate the stock, and the total shares outstanding will determine your share in any future earnings. While P/E ratios are based on earnings from the past and the market value today, by some odd form of wormhole accounting Moelis have ended up presenting a ratio based on future earnings and a market value from the past. 

Of course, I’m sure Moelis Australia could wheel out to a batch of highly paid accountants who would explain why the adjustments they made are reasonable and their P/E ratio is accurate, but then again Goldman Sachs had maths PHDs that could explain how CDOs were a great idea in 2006 and we all know how that ended up. I would argue that any future investor would be much better served using the 29.97 figure I calculated when deciding if Moelis Australia is a good investment, as this is how P/E ratios for other companies are quoted.


When you use the actual P/E ratio of 29.97 to evaluate the deal, the Moelis Australia IPO looks reasonable, but hardly exciting. If you think that Moelis Australia is a great up and coming Corporate Investment Bank with a proven track record and that Pridham is a genius who will be given the new freedom of 50 odd million dollars in free cash to launch some amazing acquisition, then a P/E ratio double that of the larger investment banks is perhaps reasonable. From my perspective though, the Significant Investor Visa Program is not something I would want any investment of mine relying on long term, and with what I know about the track record of acquisitions, I would probably rather have the cash on the balance sheet invested in an index fund than whatever plan Pridham has cooking up.



As someone working in business development, I’m used to being called into a room by an executive or manager for a presentation of the new sales tool that is going to reduce our admin/allow us to accurately forecast sales/provide quality leads. 9 times out of 10 it’s a bit of a let down. The tools are rarely demonstrated in a live environment, the data is often inaccurate, and the supposed insights with “machine learning” seems to be nothing more complex than a couple of if arguments in an excel cell. It is for this reason that I was a little sceptical when picking up the prospectus for Bigtincan, a content platform for sales people on mobile devices.

The Bigtincan hub allows companies to selectively push sales content to the mobiles and tablets of sales staff. The idea is that instead of sales people having to hunt through different emails or folders for the presentation or collateral that they need, all content can be accessed from the one hub, with both offline and online capabilities. Bigtincan is seeking to raise 26 million for a fully diluted market capitalisation of 52.34 million once all the various options and are taken into account.


BigTinCan is currently burning through a lot of money. The total loss in 2016 was nearly 8 million, and based on their own forecast figures they will lose another 5.2 milllion in 2017. In any other sector, trying to argue a company with these sorts of losses is worth over 50 million dollars would be ridiculous but in the tech space this is pretty standard. Any successful tech company you can think of lost huge amounts of money during their growth phase, sometimes for a long time. To use the most recent example, Snapchat’s market capitalisation post listing was around 29 billion dollars, despite losing over 500 million dollars last year.

Taking a closer look at the numbers, the extent of the loses seem more strategic than involuntary. In FY 2016, BigTinCan spent just under 9.5 million on product development and marketing, or 135% of their total revenue, and they plan to spend another 12 million in FY 2017. They could have easily reduced their loses by cutting back in these areas, but as every other tech company knows, the real key to success when you are selling software is scale. It costs nearly the same amount of money to sell a product to a million-people compared to a thousand, and you only get to sell to a million people if you have a great product. The key metric for any young software company is growth, and here Bigtincan does not disappoint. Total revenue was 5.17 million in 2016 and grew 35% to 7.04 million in 2016, with projected revenues of 9.7 million for FY2017.

The one potential problem I found regarding Bigtincan’s financials is whether there is enough available cash to sustain the future losses the business might make. BigTinCan will have 14.421 million dollars cash immediately after the IPO. Given their current and projected loses, there is a reasonable risk that they may need to refinance before they get into the black, which needs to be taken into account when deciding if purchasing these shares make sense.


As someone who is often on the road presenting to customers in my day job, I get the appeal of the Bigtincan Hub. In sales, you are constantly searching through folders and emails for the right presentation or tool that suits the customer you are dealing with, and when you have to do it all on an Ipad it becomes even harder. A centralised hub that can deal with a range of different file types, allow commentary and collaboration, and let managers push files to different users has definite appeal.

What’s more, from all the research I have done, it seems the BigtinCan Hub has delivered as well. Most reviews they have received are pretty positive, and they have received some impressive testimonials from large customers.

Perhaps the most impressive write-up comes from Bowery Capital, a venture capitalist firm that publishes an exhaustive summary of all software tools for start-up sales organizations every year. In their latest piece, Bigtincan receives the best rating out of the 13 other companies in the “content sharing space.”

The only reservation I have with the Bigtincan hub is that it is targeted to address a very specific need. What happens if in a couple of years’ time, Google, Apple or Microsoft release something that can do everything that Bigtincan can do and more? Given the natural advantages these larger companies have, it would probably be the end of Bigtincan. Of course, the more palatable outcome is one of these companies deciding they want to acquire Bigtincan by buying out shareholders at a healthy premium over market price, so there is upside to this possibility as well.

Past court cases

Buried in the financial section of the prospectus is a small note that there were two court cases that had an impact on the Statutory profit and loss for the last two years. As investing in a company with a troubled legal history is an alarming prospect, I decided to do some digging to see if I could find out more about this.
The first court case was a dispute with an early director called David Ramsay. From what I can understand from Bigtincan’s version of events, David Ramsey was given money to develop software for Bigtincan which he then used instead to develop an app for his own company. It appears Bigtincan won this case and Ramsey had to pay $300,000 in damages as a result. While Ramsey has tried to appeal this, it looks like his appeal to the high court was rejectedso it seems this chapter at least is closed.

The second case was with an American Software company called Artifex, which filled a lawsuit against Bigtincan over the use of technology that let users edit Microsoft office documents on their smart phone. Bigtincan reached a confidential settlement with Artifex over this matter, so we do not know the exact outcome, but as Bigtincan has continued to grow since then we can assume that whatever concessions were made did not have a major impact on the Bigtincan business.

I don’t really see any major cause for concern with either of these court cases. Given the potential money at stake, it seems inevitable that software companies get into squabbles about proprietary technology, and most successful tech companies have a story of some estranged director or other in their past, if only to give Aaron Sorkin and Ashton Kutcher material.


Evaluating Bigtincan’s listing price is a more complex than for most companies, as I was unable to rely on a basic Price to Earnings ratio to get a feel for what would be reasonable. Instead, I decided to use price to revenue as an alternative as nearly all software companies list at a loss.

Based on these figures, the Bigtincan valuation seems pretty reasonable. Total revenue from the 2016 calendar year was 7.934 million vs a fully diluted market cap of 52.34 million, giving a Price to Revenue ration of 6.6. Linkedin’s initial listing was at a Price to Revenue ratio of 56 and Salesforce’s was around 11 (this was back in 2004 when internet companies were viewed with suspicion). Closer to home, Xero the New Zealand based accounting software company listed on the ASX in 2012 with a price to revenue ratio of 25.

In addition to comparing Bigtincan to other technology IPOs, I have modelled the next five years after 2017 to try and get an idea of where Bigtincan could end up, assigning different growth rates to their main revenue and expense areas.

Based on the assumptions I have made (and I accept that many will disagree with a lot of these) the company will have an EBITDA of 4.4 million in 2022. To me this is very compelling. I do not think I have been overly optimistic with the growth rates I have used, and you do not have to be Warren Buffett to know that a fast growing SaaS company earning 4.4 million dollars a year will be closer in market capitalisation to 150 million than 50 million.


There are significant risks with this IPO. Bigtincan is still a young company operating in a competitive environment, and all it would take is a change in industry direction or a better product from a larger tech company to end their prospects completely. However, the potential upside if things go to plan is pretty substantial, and for me the price is low enough to justify getting involved.

ReTech Technology


ReTech provides online learning and educational services to companies in China. They plan to raise 22.5 million through the prospectus by selling 20% of the company via the IPO, giving a total post IPO market capitalization of 112.5 million. The business has three main arms, an E-learning business where they provide training courses to businesses for staff, a newer e-training partnership area where they will partner with established education entities (they have a memorandum of understanding with Queensland TAFE) and a proposed e-course direct area where they intend to sell courses direct to companies and individuals. According to the prospectus, e-learning is a rapidly growing industry, with a growth rate of 32.9% between 2010 and 2015. While this seems high, service and knowledge based jobs are exploding in China, and online education is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to train staff. Having had the misfortune to complete a few work-mandated e-learning courses in my career myself, it’s not exactly an exciting industry, but the benefits they offer companies are clear. The prospectus lists a few of the courses which ReTech owns the intellectual property rights to and looking at names like “how to introduce the gear box” and “how to recommend vehicle insurance for clients,” you can almost imagine a bunch of bored car salesmen sitting in an office somewhere in China clicking through multiple choice questions.
The IPO funds will be used, amongst other things, to set up an office in Hong Kong. This means that unlike Tianmei, the IPO I reviewed most recently of another Chinese company, the final parent company isn’t located in Australia. While I’m no expert on Hong Kong company law, I think this is a mark against ReTech. With an Australian company, shareholders have the recourse of class actions or potential moves against the board if things go wrong. I’m not sure how easy those things would be to organize against a Honk Kong based company.

Company background

According to ReTech’s website, ReTech was originally founded as a website development company in 2000 by a guy called Ai Shugang while he was still a university student. Since then it has grown and expanded into several different technology and internet related areas. Instead of just listing as the original entity, the founders decided to create a newly incorporated company called ReTech Technology to list on the ASX. They injected their own capital into the business, and then sold/transferred significant amounts of the intellectual property and existing E-Learning contracts to the newly created company. To make things more complicated, at the same time the founders also created another company called Shanghai ReTech Information Technology (SHR) which as far as I can understand will remain wholly owned by Ai Shungang. SHR has also had a significant number of E-Learning contracts assigned to it from the original ReTech entity. SHR has signed an agreement with ReTech regarding these contracts where ReTech will provide the services on SHR’s behalf, in exchange for 95% of the resulting fees. If this all sounds a bit confusing you’re not the only one.
My concern with all of this is that ReTech is in the sort of industry where a founder siphoning off business is a major threat, meaning another business still operating owned by the original founder is a big risk. In the prospectus, ReTech list expertise and their existing client list as two of their four main competitive advantages, two things that would be easy for the founder Ai Shungang to poach to SHR. Although Ai Shungang does own a significant stake in ReTech, he owns 100% of SHR’s parent company, so the motivation for him to do this is there. The prospectus points out that both Ai Shungang and his companies have signed non-compete contracts, guaranteeing they will not operate in the same sector as ReTech, but I know how hard to enforce these contracts are in Australia, and can only imagine what the process would be like in China.  
Finding out what exactly this separate company will be doing given they have committed to not entering the online education sector proved difficult. I eventually found a legal document on ReTech’s website that states Shaghai ReTech Information Technology is going to focus on software and technology development and technical management consulting. To make things even more confusing, they also seem to be still using identical branding to ReTech, based on what I found on a management consulting website. If you trust the founders of the company, probably none of this would bother you but for me these are considerable issues.


Before looking at any of the financial information for ReTech it is important to remember that the company was incorporated in its current form in May 2016, and the final part of the restructure was only completed in November. This means that all historical profit and loss figures are pro forma only, estimates of what the contracts, intellectual property and assets now owned by the ReTech Group earnt before the company was split. This is a massive red flag for me. I’m sceptical of pro forma figures at the best of times, and when they are used by an unknown company in a prospectus where the unadjusted figures are not even provided it’s a massive concern. To give just one example of how these figures could potentially be distorted, education software development costs could be written off as not part of the business, while the associated revenue is counted towards ReTech’s bottom line. Examining the pro forma figures doesn’t exactly assuage my concerns either. Have a look at the below table taken from the prospectus, in particular the profit before tax to revenue ratio. In 2015 off revenue of just 6.9 million the profit before tax is listed as 4.2 million, meaning for every dollar of revenue the company made 61 cents of profit. Of course, I understand that profits can be high in the technology sector, but a profit to revenue ratio of .61 is extraordinary, especially when you consider that this is a young company in a growth phase.
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Most young companies with growth rates this large are running at deficits as they re-invest into the business, not earning profit margins that would be the envy of booming mining companies.

Even with these relatively major concerns put aside, the valuation appears expensive. The pro forma Net Profit after Tax for FY 2015 was only 3.6 million, which against a valuation of 112.5 million is a Price/Earnings of just over 31 (annualizing the profits from the first half of 2016 doesn’t give you much better numbers). Full year profits for FY2016 are expected to be 5.8 million, a P/E of 20, but if there is one thing I am more suspicious of than Pro forma historical accounts it’s prospectus profit forecasts, so I have little inclination to use these numbers to try and justify the valuation.

Management personnel

When I started digging around on the management personnel, one of the first things I noticed was the strong link to Investorlink, a Sydney based financial firm that seems to specialize in assisting Chinese companies list on the ASX. In addition to being the corporate advisors to this listing (for which they will be paid $380,000), Chris Ryan, an executive from Investorlink is one of the five board members of ReTech. I was already sceptical of this IPO at this stage, but this was the final nail in the coffin. Chris Ryan’s CV is like a checklist of bad Chinese IPOs. Ryan was and apparently continues to be the chairman of Chinese Waste Corporation Limited, a Chinese company that reverse listed in 2015 and was suspended from the ASX in mid-2016 for not having “sufficient operations to warrant the continued quotation.” He is currently the chairman of TTG Fintech Limited, a company that listed on the stock exchange at 60 cents in late 2012, inexplicably reached as high as 4 dollars in mid 2014, and is now trading at 7 cents and he has been on the board of ECargo Holdings, a company that listed at 40 cents in late 2014 and is now trading at 20 cents. I spent some time looking at the various Chinese IPO’s that Investorlink has advised on, and was unable to find a single IPO whose shares aren’t now trading significantly below their listing price. If ReTech are indeed a legitimate company, it’s hard to understand why they would seek to list through Investorlink given this track record.


To put it bluntly, I wouldn’t buy shares in ReTech if I could get them half price. Everything from the odd restructure to the lack of statutory accounting figures, the high valuation and the awful track record of the Corporate Advisor makes me want to put all my money in treasury bonds and never invest in anything speculative again. Of course, it’s possible that Ai Shungang is going to turn out to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and I’m going to end up looking like an idiot (to the handful of people who read this blog at least), but that is one risk I am happy to take.

 The offer closes on the 9th March.

Eildon Capital


Eildon Capital is currently a subsidiary of the publicly listed investment company CVC Limited.  The company focuses on high yield debt and investments in the property sector. They plan to raise between 2 and 10 million dollars via the IPO, with a market capitalisation on completion between 24 and 32 million. In the prospectus, they state that their goal for debt yields on property are between 12 and 18 percent before management fees and taxes. As a Mezzanine finance company, security on these loans will usually be equity in the ventures themselves.
There’s a lot of things to like about this prospectus; an experienced and stable management team, a good track record and at least on the surface a reasonable price, with every one dollars’ worth of shares bought giving you $1.01 of net assets in the newly created company. I’ve got a few misgivings though, and there are three main reasons I won’t be taking part.

The property sector 

As a long term believer in the idea that the housing market is overdue a downward correction, it’s hard to think of who would be more exposed to this than a company specialising in high yield property development loans. A substantial portion of their current assets are mezzanine loans to apartment developments in Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Brisbane. When I think “housing bubble,’ an apartment development in the Gold Coast is probably one of the first things that comes to mind. While Eildon stress in the prospectus that they have ways to mitigate their risk, if they are getting double digit yields on loans it’s hard to believe they are able to protect themselves that well.

Vanda Gould

Another thing that makes me a little suspicious of this listing is a controversy that has been hanging around Eildon capital’s current parent company, CVC Limited. Founded in 1985, one of CVC Limited’s founding directors and chairman for many years was a guy called Vanda Gould. Vanda Gould resigned in 2014 after becoming embroiled in a lengthy dispute over tax avoidance with the ATO. He recently lost an appeal to the high court over a tax bill of more than $300 million for companies he owns and advises, and is also facing criminal charges relating to tax avoidance that could potentially land him in jail. The guy seems like one of the real characters of Australian investing, his chairman’s letters for CVC would regularly get pretty philosophical, quoting Shakespeare and referencing interest rates from ancient Rome and Babylonia. While these days he holds no position at CVC and you won’t even find his name on the website, it’s hard to believe he is completely disentangled from all of CVC’s various affairs. To give an example of a potential continuing connection, over 10% of the shares of Eildon capital will be held by a company called Chemical Trustees Limited on listing, a company that had its assets frozen in 2010 due to alleged tax avoidance in relation to Vanda Gould. I have no idea if there is still any connection between Chemical Trustees and Vanda Gould, but if they end up having to sell their holding in a hurry or the shares are seized it could have a significant effect on the share price.

Pricing concerns

The last thing going against this prospectus is CVC Limited’s current share price. With net assets of $214 million as of the end of the last financial year, CVC’s market capitalisation has hovered around the 196 million dollar mark for the last couple of months. This means every 1 dollar you invest in CVC Limited buys you $1.09 of net equity on CVC’s balance sheet. That’s 8 cents more than you will get of Eildon Capital’s equity if you take part in the IPO. As CVC currently owns Eildon capital, this could mean that the IPO is priced above the current market price. Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure what assets exactly on CVC’s balance sheet the market is undervaluing, but it could just as well be the Eildon capital assets as anything else. If this is the case, there is a real danger the share price will drop by around 6% or 7% upon listing. If you are a long term believer in the company this may not bother you, but it does mean you may need to commit to holding these shares for quite a while if you want to make money.


Despite all these issues, the target returns will no doubt be enticing for some investors, and if you have an appetite for a bit of risk and are not currently that exposed to the housing industry taking part in this IPO could make sense. For me though, my scepticism of the housing market along with concerns about the Vanda Gould connection makes me happy to give this one a miss.

The offer closes on the 24th of January.

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