Mo' beer money, mo' problems? ParrotDog and the risks of equity crowdfunding

Wellington brewer ParrotDog’s PledgeMe campaign is breaking records. But is the financial model sustainable?

News flash: Kiwis like their craft beer. A lot.

That’s not too surprising to anyone who’s visited any of the 168 craft breweries in New Zealand, consumed one of the more than 1,500 craft beers available, or downed one of the 282 million litres of craft beer Kiwis drank last year. But to everyone else, the fact craft beer consumption was up 35 percent in 2015 as compared to 2014 might come as… well, it might just make a bit of a splash.

That’s the data shown by ANZ’s 2016 Craft Beer Industry Insights report, released ahead of Wellington’s Beervana beerfest. It’s pretty interesting in and of itself, but goes rather flat compared to this: Wellington brewery ParrotDog has raised $2 million in two days on equity crowdfunding platform PledgeMe.

ParrotDog wants the new money to open up a new brewery in Lyall Bay, and interest was so high in the hops-infused venture it crashed PledgeMe’s servers. “We’re blown away by the support of our crowd,” says ParrotDog co-founder Matt Stevens. “Now we need to get to work and build our new brewery!”

He’s also not shy about praising the investors who’ve bought into the brewer. “It’s fantastic to see the range of investors that are pledging. A lot of people we’ve discussed the offer with are first-time investors and excited about becoming shareholders. I feel the introduction of crowdfunding is great for the New Zealand economy as a whole as it frees up the flow of capital from everyday kiwis to growing businesses. We’re starting our expansion plans and as we expand we hope to grow our shareholders’ investment.”

That’s something we can all drink to, right? Stevens says so. “An IPO is an incredibly expensive venture, and far more than what we need the money for,” he says, explaining why the brewery decided to go the PledgeMe route instead of an IPO. Listing costs alone, Stevens claims, could have been more than $1 million.

There’s also the risk of market fluctuations after an IPO. After Geoff Ross-lead brewer Moa had a $1.25 per share IPO in November 2012, shares plunged in less than three years to a low of 27 cents each. Analysts said Moa’s financial future was an “uphill battle.” Today the brewer has a share price of about 80 cents.

But equity crowdfunding is not without risks, even if there’s a high degree of enthusiasm for a brand. ParrotDog's offer of up to two million shares at $1 per share represents 16.81 percent of the company’s total $11.9 million post-funding value. But on its PledgeMe site, it admits equity crowdfunding is risky.

“Issuers using this facility include new or rapidly growing ventures,” reads the disclaimer. “Investment in these types of business is very speculative and carries high risks. You may lose your entire investment, and must be in a position to bear this risk without undue hardship.”

With high growth and high expenses, ParrotDog is similar to PledgeMe itself. Recent figures show PledgeMe had a before-tax loss of $376,315 in the year to March 31. The loss is an increase of 374 percent from the $79,333 loss in 2015.

Stevens explains that shares purchased through the equity crowdfunding campaign will be listed on a database of active buyers, through which transactions – buying, selling and the like – could occur. “We feel the anticipated level of transactions will be quite manageable for the first 12 months,” he says.

The location of ParrotDog's proposed new brewery.

The fact most of the investors pledging money are fans of ParrotDog means there’s brand loyalty, Stevens says. He also says using the money for a tangible purpose – a brewery that is planned to be open by January or February 2017 – is also an advantage because investors can physically see the results.

PledgeMe CEO Anna Guenther says the ParrotDog campaign is PledgeMe’s largest ever. “With the launch of this campaign, we’ve now passed the $10 million mark pledged through the platform,” she says. “First they broke our website, and then they broke our records. This is the second time we’ve been blown away by the supporters of a Wellington craft beer company.”

It seems investors are thirsty now – ParrotDog’s campaign garnered 812 investors pouring in $2 million, for an average of $2,463 each.

That’s some serious beer money.