Everyone loves a good start-up story – the tried and tested tale of the budding entrepreneur who realised a dream business from their parents’ garage or conspired with uni mates to create a company that took on the world.
While US tech giants Microsoft and Apple tend to dominate this folklore landscape, Australia boasts more of these stories than often realised, with a fierce start-up culture that is now reaping dividends worldwide.
From online retailers to workflow re-imaginers and fintech megastars, here’s an insight into the superstar space that is Australia’s top start-ups.
Mention Australian start-ups and Atlassian immediately springs to mind. Seventeen years after the enterprise software company first kicked off with $10,000 in funds on a credit card, Atlassian is now listed on the US stock exchange and last year boasted revenue of $847 million.
The story of this workflow software co reads much like a Silicon Valley classic but actually has its roots at the University of New South Wales, where co-founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar met.
They kicked the company off in 2002 and released their first product – project and issue tracker software known as Jira – that same year.
In the years since they’ve released and acquired a suite of further services including Confluence, BitBucket and Trello.
Now Atlassian has over 3000 employees with nine offices across the globe.
Online retailer Kogan and its founder Ruslan Kogan are the stuff of legend. A Balurusian immigrant who moved to Australia aged only seven, Ruslan set up his first business in the housing commission flats of Elsternwick when he was just 10.
This initial enterprise involved collecting golf balls from the nearby golf course, polishing them up and then selling them to golfers in egg cartons on a Saturday morning.
In the years since it is claimed he set up more than 20 businesses, with Kogan his most successful venture so far.
Ruslan started Kogan in 2006 from the garage of his parent’s home. Legend has it his plan was to sell Kogan branded TVs, but suppliers were initially reticent to produce the products in small runs.
In a bid to entice them, Ruslan needed to offer something more when he noticed much of their marketing materials and instructions were poorly written, with incorrect grammar, spelling and phrasing.
He reworked the copy, and sent it to the organisations involved, who soon accepted his small order at a lower price.
Kogan initially sold televisions on eBay but soon expanded into digital radios, GPS devices, tablets and more. These days Kogan also has a foothold in insurance, credit cards, superannuation and travel.
By its third year in operation, Kogan achieved $3 million in revenue, and last year had an annual profit of $14.1 million.
Founded in 2012 by young guns Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht, Canva offers users access to simplified graphic design tools. The software features images, graphics and easy to use fonts that can be dragged and dropped into position.
In its first year the company notched up 750,000 users. In 2018 it employed 200 staff and this year was valued at $2.5 billion.
However, Canva’s actual story starts five years before the software was finally released. At the time, Perkins was studying at Uni in Western Australia and taught other students how to use professional software like InDesign and PhotoShop.
She and Obrecht came up with the idea for an online tool to create school yearbooks. They took out a loan, brought in a tech team and built the company now known as Fusion Books.
Fusion Books continues to run to this day, but Perkins and Obrecht felt they could do more to realise their vision of simple graphic design software.
That vision became Canva, and it’s now used by both professionals and novice designers around the world.
Afterpay and Zip Co
In the growing ‘buy now, pay later’ sphere Australian companies Afterpay and Zip Co are considered pioneers. Although separate entities, both seized on an emerging trend at a crucial time in the retail sector.
Of the two, Afterpay has the greatest market share, and was launched by Nicholas Molnar and Anthony Eisen in 2014.
Like many start-up stories, Afterpay builds on Molnar’s previous business success. As a uni student he started an online jewelry business seeling his wares via eBay. He quickly rose to become the nation’s number one eBay retailer in that space before convincing US-based jewelry site Inc.com to let him launch an outpost down under.
After major success in online retailing, his attention soon turned to the Millennial demographic and their aversion to credit cards.
The Afterpay business model allows consumers to purchase an item with no down payment, then pay it off in four instalments.
Last year Afterpay reached a market value of $1.5 billion, less than four years after its launch.
Zip Co may not be quite as prevalent as Afterpay but it has a star-studded lineup of customers to its name. Launched in 2013, Zip Co, previously known as Zip Money, was created by Larry Diamond and Peter Gray and also targets the Millennial sector.
“Zip was founded five years ago with a mission to disrupt the unfriendly credit card market by providing consumers with a better, fairer, digital alternative,” Diamond has previously publicly stated, emphasising transparency and responsibility are at the core of the group’s values.
As of early last year, Zip Co had 10,000 retail partners and 1.2 million customers around Australia, and in April last year boasted a market value of $893 million.
Founded in 2013, Expert360 hit the market at the perfect time to embrace the gig economy and ride the freelance wave.
Co-founded by Bridget Loudon and Emily Yue and headquartered in Sydney, the online marketplace matches employers with freelance consultants for short or long-term project work.
London and Yue had previously worked at global management consulting company Bain and Company, but “saw the power of contingent workers and consultants as a means to get support and expertise to supercharge organisations and create real change”.
“At that time, corporations lacked the ability to easily augment staff, build handpicked consultant teams, hire top individual short-term talent and engage with subject matter experts and boutique firms. They were also unable to have these elite business professionals available for deployment within days, not weeks,” Loudon and Yue state.
“Simultaneously, we noticed that more freelancers and firms in management, finance, marketing, HR, sales, operations and technology wanted to have more flexibility and choice in the way they work and with whom they work.”
The company’s valuation is estimated to be well above $45 million.
Like Expert360, Airtasker rides the gig economy wave, but with a slightly different focus. Founded in 2012 in Sydney by Tim Fung and Jonathan Lui, the business model sees people post jobs on a website and others bid on completing the service.
Legend has it, Fung and Lui created the concept when shifting apartments in 2011. They soon realised many of the routine tasks involved could be outsourced effectively to others.
Within two months of launch, the pair had raised $1.5 million and expanded their services to cater to businesses as well as individuals.
By June 2018, Airtasker had two million users and $100 million of transactions a year.
Founded as MoneySwitch Ltd in 2003 by Peter Haig, Andrew Rothwell and Paul Wood, Tyro Payments was a new kid on a highly institutionalised block which had traditionally been dominated by Australia’s big banks.
Their vision was to “provide Australian Small and Medium Enterprises with innovative products and services, to help improve and grow their business”.
Initially Tyro began with integrated EFTPOS services and became the first new entrant into the Australian EFTPOS business since 1996
More recently, it has expanded into lending and deposit products, and the company says it will continue to expand into other services in the future.
At present Tyro has 20,000 customers across Australia, employ 371 staff and have processed $42.2 billion in transactions.
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