It is sad how our minds have been conditioned a certain way towards debt. We are told that debt is bad, but there is good debt that can work for an entrepreneur.
There are cases for and against debt. It was the Holy Grail that allowed the automobile, housing, banking and furniture sectors to become successful; it was also the curse that ushered the world into the economic meltdown in 2008.
So, what is good debt and how has it benefited those who know how to play the game?
In real estate, people use debt in innovative ways, like going to the bank to apply for finance for a new house. Once the bank approves, a tenant is brought in and their monthly rental is used to repay the loan. Then they go back to the bank as they still qualify for another property as their income at the time of application still remains the same. This qualifies them for another property, and the model is replicated while tenants service the loan, and their balance sheet increases.
Property developers use this model with a cluster of residential buildings, apartment blocks, and major developments. Developers identify the land, get the correct approvals and compliant paperwork in order, then they hire architects to draw the building plans. Once this is done, the properties are sold off-plan and this money is used to construct the infrastructure.
Another sector where people use debt, with less risk, to become successful is franchising. Firstly, franchises have a proven business model with high probability to succeed. Secondly, banks are more willing to finance new sites or buy an existing branch if the franchise has an established brand. With good management, the debt will be settled.
As entrepreneurs in Africa, we need to be savvy in gearing debt to work for us, and understand the power of leverage.
The recession hit when the US economy was over leveraged in real estate asset class. This is the same asset that many entrepreneurs use as their capital base. They approach banks to take another bond on their house to start a business, or grow it, at the risk of losing their primary residence should things not go according to plan.
Leverage is crucial when you are dealing with financial institutions, particularly banks. However, there is another avenue where leverage is not necessarily a physical asset; there are venture capitalists that fund a company on the perceived current or future value of the company. Others go further by focusing on the team behind the company, credibility and successful track records.
Above all, entrepreneurs need to be careful not to over-leverage themselves. When under-leveraged, the risk is manageable.
Start-up entrepreneurs are famous for bootstrapping their companies, until they produce a viable prototype or penetrate the market. An example of this is Fuseware, a successful African tech company founded by Mike Wronski before he sold it to Ornico.
This presents a challenge between two funding models: debt versus equity financing. Well-structured debt is preferable, provided the company can service the debt in the short term. This is best option for expansion purposes.
Equity is best for start-ups and growth-stage businesses. In this regard, an investor buys a stake in the company and takes on the same risk as you. The downside is that that the entrepreneur loses some control the moment an investor comes into a company.
Sooner or later, it is going to be necessary to approach capital markets to raise money. The fundamental reason for listing on a stock exchange is to raise money. Today, there are other reasons, but raising capital is the main one. A company’s share price is based on perceived value that might be influenced by its income, assets or track record. At the end of the day, the company is worth what the market is prepared to pay for and what investors agree to sell shares for.
There are many times when an entrepreneur’s personal debt overlaps with his company’s debt, predominantly in small to medium sized companies. If able, entrepreneurs should only deal in debt held by the company, rather than their personal accounts.
While debt is not entirely encouraged, any company that is going to be of global significance needs to be familiar with it.
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
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King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.
Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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