As a co-founder of Cognition LLP, Rubsun Ho has worked with many startups trying to get their business off the ground. While Ho worked with these companies and heard their stories, Ho thought that the process of finding funding — including meeting and pitching investors — seemed inefficient.
“It struck me as odd that given the advances of the internet, the process was still so old-school and bricks and mortar in terms of finding investors for your startup,” said Ho. “You can find a stranger willing to rent you their place or drive you places, you can find someone willing to rent you space in another country, but you can’t find someone sitting next door who might take a chance to help you fund business.”
“We have an overarching goal to build a robust funding ecosystem to get more companies funded.”
For the past year and a half, Ho has been quietly working on the “AngelList of Canada” to bring the ease of connecting through the internet to the investment world. After leaving Cognition LLP in October 2014, Ho is now acting as CEO of Crowdmatrix, an online investment crowdfunding platform allowing accredited investors to find deals in the Canadian ecosystem.
According to Ho, part of the reason why the platform took so long to launch was just trying to go through the regulatory process, which in itself took a year. Part of the concern from regulators is that it would be easy for people to run fake campaigns and take money.
“We have to be registered as an exempt market dealer in Canada, which in and of itself isn’t a difficult thing, but when you add the internet aspect to it, regulators get a little bit worried so the process for us was pretty frustrating,” said Ho. “We were trying to be pretty cooperative in terms of showing that our business model was in the best interest of investors and also from policy perspective, showing we were here to try to create a more robust entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
To combat the risk of fraud, Crowdmatrix’s platform moves away from the traditional marketplace format where any company can post, and requires every company hoping to raise from Crowdmatrix to have a lead investor leading the round. Besides mitigating that risk of fraud, the requirement of having a lead investor also provides peace of mind to investors writing a smaller cheque that don’t have the time or right to do due diligence; they know an independent third party has already negotiated the terms and done that due diligence.
Ho said it’s a model fitting for a majority of Canada’s estimated 500,000 to 800,000 accredited investors, who are doctors, lawyers, and bankers who may not have immediate access to startups looking for investment. It also ensures that the Canadian funding environment receives an injection of capital that wouldn’t otherwise be available. “We’re not displacing existing ventures or angel networks, we’re trying to supplement them. If there are 500,000 accredited investors, and we can get 10,000 of them to invest $10,000 a year, that’s $100 million that goes into early stage ecosystem that otherwise didn’t exist,” said Ho. “We have an overarching goal to build a robust funding ecosystem to get more companies funded.”
Photo credit Opher Sarusi photography