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YOUR WINDOW INTO THE AUSTRALIAN TECH SCENE

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12 Incredible Australian Tech Founders

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Written by Alex Holderness

November 28, 2017

The life of an entrepreneur is not an easy one. Especially when you consider, 90% of Startups Fail.

Overnight success stories are actually often in the works for years.

We see global success figures like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg worth billions of dollars, in what on the surface looks like the high life.

But there’s substantial hard graft that’s gone into making it that far.

Did you know Mark works 50-60 hours a week and spends his whole life focusing on the ‘mission’?

And know Elon Musk initially found it impossible to get funding for SpaceX, so channelled all his own money into the company (going against every piece of business advice ever written)?

What these founders have achieved with Facebook, SpaceX, Tesla (oh, and Paypal) is nothing short of inspirational. Many founders go without celebrity status and Simpson tributes.

But it’s not all about the big names, right here in Australia we have tens of thousands of entrepreneurs hustling away every single day. We wanted to start by shining a spotlight on a few of our most successful.

Let’s take a look:

1.David Vitek (hipages)

“Failure is okay as long as every failure is getting you closer to the next win.” – Vitek

Vitek founded hipages with a childhood friend, Roby Sharon-Zipser in 2004. Vitek previously worked for a startup company called Report Control, and then later he was an engineer at IBM.

The company started as Viteknologies, an online directory with a focus on natural therapies. The founders decided to expand and change the primary focus to tradespeople as well as natural therapies and pet services.

As CEO, Vitek has grown the directory to record more than 40,000 businesses registered covering over 1,200 categories with 75,000 written recommendations from homeowners, making hipages one of Australia’s largest on-demand home services marketplace and leading sites for finding local tradespeople.

Today the company employs over 200 people.

2. Charlotte Petris (Timelio)

Timelio launched as a husband-and-wife team in 2015, as one of Australia’s only female fintech founders, Charlotte says starting her own business was always on the cards.

Charlotte’s decision to quit a long and lucrative career in corporate finance and start her own business has undoubtedly paid off.

Timelio is changing the way small businesses access finance. It works by allowing SMEs to expand by getting paid through an online network of investors who fund their invoices. Businesses can enhance cash flow by getting their customer invoices paid in less than 24 hours.

Her advice: “If you have a real passion to try something new or start your own business, it’s worth taking the risk and that first step. The biggest risk is not even giving it a try.”

3. Jonathan Barouch (Local Measure)

After launching in 2011, it took two years until Local Measure pivoted from a being a B2C to a B2B business.

“We had put our blood, sweat and tears into something that wasn’t working, but out of that failure, we created something very successful.

That has had an enormous impact on my career and my life – realising and accepting that things don’t always work out the way you have planned. That, in turn, can give you a good learning experience that can make you successful. That was the turning point for me – using that failure to change the business model, and as a result, build a successful business.” explains Barouch.

The company has grown to nearly 50 employees since launch. Barouch is an advocate for innovation in Australia and is regularly featured in the press championing policy reforms.

4. Nick Cloete (Kounta)

After some interesting career experiences, including being a chef, Nick invested in a legacy point of sale software business and quickly realised that it couldn’t do what customers in today’s online, mobile and connected world, even after more than 20 years of development.

“Needless to say, it wasn’t a great feeling realising that I had just invested in a product that wasn’t doing its job. But things happen, you, so I focussed my energies next on bringing together people I knew could help me create a solution that could connect merchants and their customers in a smarter, simpler way,” he explains.

“My growth experience in Kounta is threefold – growing myself, the team around me and the company as efficiently as possible. I decided against going down the path many startups usually take, that is, seeking to raise a large amount of money and hiring a hundred people overnight. It made more sense for me to scale our numbers and resources up as demand grew in the market, rather than commit to driving growth based on our overheads.”

On advice to other founders: “Surround yourself with really good people who can truly understand and are passionate about the vision who can help bring it to reality.”

5. Melanie Perkins (Canva)

The Canva journey began back in 2007 when Melanie Perkins was studying at the University of Western Australia. Melanie taught students how to use programs such as InDesign and Photoshop — programs that people found hard to learn and even harder to use.

After coming up an idea for an online tool to create school yearbooks, Melanie and Canva co-founder Cliff Obrecht took out a loan and brought in a great tech team to build Fusion Books.

In 2012, Perkins and co-founder Cliff Obrecht wanted to go bigger,  and reach a much broader market and design everything. They went out looking for investor capital to take a bigger idea of Canva to life. But investors wouldn’t bite, no matter how hard they hustled.

Perkins didn’t give up: She spent three months living on the floor of her brother’s San Francisco apartment while taking trips down to Silicon Valley to meet with investors. After more than 100 meetings, Canva finally managed to secure a $3million seed round.

“I spend every inch of energy, every braincell just thinking about the next thing” states Perkins.

Fast forward to 2017, from animations to launching a print house, continuing global expansion, and tripling revenue – it’s been another big year for Surrey Hills based Canva.

6. Cyan Ta’eed (Envato)

Cyan launched her startup, Envato from her parent’s basement, today she is one of Australia’s richest women.

Cyan studied graphic design and launched her own freelance business shortly after graduating. She later went on to launch a group of online markets for designers and developers, self-funding the business. After launching, Cyan and Co-founder husband Collis went travelling, creating a business that would work anywhere with internet connectivity.

After 18 months of work and travel, they opened an office in Melbourne. Today the Envato office has over 240 employees, and Cyan widely promotes a flexible workplace culture. The co-founder has started a family since launching and is passionate about parental leave, unconscious bias training, job sharing, targets, and diversity as a company value.  

7. Bridget Loudon (Expert360)

Aged 28, Bridget co-founded her business, Expert360 with Emily Yue just three years ago.

Considered among the top ten female entrepreneurs in Australia, Bridget Loudon and business partner Elizabeth Yue, are the founders of Expert360.

Loudon and Yue were staffers at global management consulting firm Bain & Co when they spotted a flaw in traditional methods around the contingent workforce.

The duo set out to disrupt the big consulting firms with a Marketplace for high skilled freelancers.  Since launch, Expert360 has attracted more than $5 million in investment funding.

Paying just $180 to set up a website and sending out 1000 LinkedIn messages to consultants within 48 hours of their July 2013 launch the partners signed up 700 people and changed the face of the industry.

They currently have a team of 70+ based in the Sydney HQ.

8. Luke Anear (SafetyCulture)

Until 2002, Luke Anear was a private investigator specialising in workplace accidents. As it was his job was to check in on those that made insurance claims, it occurred to him that the industry he worked within was more reactive than preventative.

Luke began brainstorming ideas in attempts to streamline and digitise safety management in the workplace process; he went on to recruit a team to help him develop a mobile solution for safety in the workplace.

SafetyCulture was originally founded in 2004 from Luke’s garage in Townsville.

The turning point for the company came in 2012 when they launched their app iAuditor. With no marketing, the app – which is essentially a safety inspection checklist – was downloaded 1,200 times in the first week alone.  Since then the company has raised over $30million and expanded globally with offices in Kansas City and Manchester.

He also produced the startup documentary ‘The New Hustle’ which is well worth a watch.

9. Didier Elzinga (CultureAmp)

After 13 years working in Hollywood, Didier realised he wasn’t following a path he truly believed in, so he gave it all up and founded the employee feedback platform, CultureAmp in 2010.

In this recent post he shared the persistence to get the company into growth mode “For a year and a half, we didn’t take a cent from the business. I can’t count the number of times I asked myself would it ever work?

“For the first 18 months, we had almost no validation. We had no revenue. We had a product, we had belief, we could convince people to take meetings, but there was no guarantee it would turn into a substantial business.”

Didier recounts the turning point as winning Adobe as a client, and the team have encountered rapid growth ever since.

In the last year, the Melbourne team doubled headcount to over 170 employees today.

10. Gen George (OneShift)

Source: AFR.COM

Genevieve George is the founder of OneShift, an online job marketplace.

George started the business in 2012 at the age of 21 after a European working holiday where she came up with the idea after struggling to get short-term work. The website that matches employees with employers for one-off shifts or casual or full-time work.

The company has since secured more than $5 million worth of funding, and the site’s user base has grown to 520,000 job seekers and 35,000 employers.

As a branch off from OneShift, George has also launched Skilld.com, an online marketplace that instantly connects local talent to local businesses.

Earlier this year, Gen George sold her start-up to labour hire and maintenance giant Programmed for an undisclosed sum saying the deal hadn’t “settled in yet”.

11. Fred Schebesta (Finder)

Fred Schebesta, founder of Finder.com.au is an active member of the Australian start-up and small business industry.

Schebesta co-founded his first digital company at the age of 22 when he was a student at Macquarie University in Sydney.

At just 26, young entrepreneur Fred Schebesta had the biggest payday of his life when he and his business partner sold their first start-up, Freestyle Media for $1.36 million.

He founded the comparison shopping website finder.com.au in 2006, highlighting the lessons learnt from his first startup experience:   “Frank and I started finder.com.au because we lived frugally in our first business – we learned the hard way, through trial and error. The errors cost a lot.”

The company has grown to become one of Australia’s most successful online companies since with nearly 200 employees today.

12. Tim Fung (Airtasker) 

Tim Fung says he knew he’d hit on a winning idea when he successfully pitched the online job marketplace to his disagreeable housemate.

It was 2011 and Fung had already been involved with several startups with varying degrees of success. The Airtasker idea first struck when he and co-founder Jonathan Lui were packing up to move the house they shared.

Since 2012, the community marketplace has helped Australians make extra cash by completing tasks from the practical (office administration or shifting furniture), to the decadent (waiting in line to help someone get the latest iPhone).

Small tasks have led to significant business, Airtasker has raised a total of $32 million in capital since founding in 2012, with over 120 employees they are also on the verge of a UK launch.

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Written by Alex Holderness

November 28, 2017

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