Jonny Wilkinson is co-founder of Equitise. Equitise is a crowdfunding platform which simplifies the investment marketplace. It removes traditional barriers to investing in sourcing capital by making the process quick, easy and safe. Enabling your average Aussie to invest in early stage startups like Xinja. Jonny shares his personal journey of launching the business and gives his views on the investment market.
We are an investment platform for unlisted companies to raise funds via crowdfunding. Essentially we make it possible for everyday investors to put a relatively small amount of money into supporting startup businesses. The idea for Equitise began in 2014 in a pub at a mates birthday. My co-founder Chris (Gilbert) were both chatting about wanting to get out of our corporate gig. We both had some knowledge of the potential changes taking place in crowd funding both regionally and globally and figured we’d go for it. The next morning we weren’t sure what was going to happen. Nursing a sore head, scrolling through my newsfeed I was drawn to something which was to become the precursor to the H2 accelerator.
Equitise helped Xinja equity fund raise. What was the experience like?
Xinja was the very first retail, equity crowdfunding deal done after the laws changed and the exact same day our licence was granted. The 11th January 2018 was the day we launched with Xinja. It went gangbusters, beyond our wildest expectations. I didn’t leave my desk other than go to the bathroom a couple times on that day. We ended up raising about $2.5 – $3 million for them.
Could you tell us a little bit more about some of the other businesses you work with?
We’ve been extremely lucky to work with some great businesses including Car Next Door, GoCatch and Endeavour Brewing, a boutique beer label. We’ve helped lots of companies raise money, not just once, but a second or third time. To date we’ve carried out 74 raises for 65 companies over the past few years. In total that equates to approximately $45 million.
What kind of response have you had from investors?
It’s been nothing short of amazing. When we set out on this mission we needed companies and investors to enable us to fulfill our wish to make investing more open and transparent to every investor. Buying into a VC fund costs on average $250,000, which puts it beyond reach for the average investor. With Equitise, investors require, on average just $250, which provides opportunity for most people to build a portfolio. They can back some amazing, exciting businesses with the potential to grow tremendously and potentially provide great returns.
The ability to invest is also great for the economy. Crowdfunding allows companies who are innovative and small the ability to grow and create future employment. Equity crowdfunding helps underpin the early stage capital markets. We’re very passionate about being able to offer investing opportunities to everyone.
Have you got any theories as to why we’re seeing this huge rise in stock markets?
A number of factors are in play. Stock markets are trying to predict the future, and COVID-19 has thrown things into disarray lately. Previous downturns like the GFC were a top down structural issue, which slowly unwound and devalued a whole lot of assets.
What we are seeing now is a supply/demand, bottom up driven outcome. The opportunity for the economy and indeed the world to switch back on and return to normal is much greater.
There is more money in the world today than ever before. In recent years people are most likely reassessing their situation.
We’re very lucky to have extremely mature superannuation industry in Australia, with a figure in the region of $2.6 trillion AUD. This is a huge amount of money to underpin the economy with. Nine and a half percent of the gross national income in Australia is deposited into superannuation funds each month.
If there aren’t any new issuances on the ASX, most of the focus and allocation of a lot of these assets is towards Australian stocks. The asset prices will just get pushed up. Which means the ASX keeps on growing even if there isn’t commensurate, actual growth in the underlying companies on the ASX.
Do you think that the ease of investing and access to all of these opportunities is creating a paradigm shift?
Without a doubt it’s quicker and easier for people to take these opportunities now. Opening an account can all be achieved in a few minutes. The speed in which it can be achieved allows people to seize on opportunities. If you’re sitting on cash or you’re looking to rotate your asset allocation it’s a tremendous time to be alive.
I recall a time back at Citibank, when we were trying to set up some Australian institutional clients it was an arduous process. The steps and the forms needed to set up trading in the US was quite involved. Whereas these days individuals can do it in a matter of minutes and lots of the processes are automated.
Can you tell us more about the Equitise journey?
In 2014, H2 accelerator accepted Equitise into their accelator programme. Legislation was expected to change in a relatively short period of time, 6 to 12 months at most. Then we had a change of government and the time frame changed overnight, we had no end date in sight.
Having quit our jobs, borrowed money and building the investment platform, we didn’t know what to do.
We had always planned that Equitise would be an Asia Pacific company eventually, starting in Australia, New Zealand then Asia. The order changed. We jumped on a plane to New Zealand and started cold calling people, sending emails and LinkedIn connections.
Chris and I quickly followed up with meetings. Venture capitalists, angel investors, lawyers, accountants, basically anyone who we thought might be interested in investing. When we met with the regulator they were very encouraging. And after a brief board meeting (Chris and I were the only two board members at that time) we decided to launch in New Zealand first.
I got on a plane the next day and moved to New Zealand for 18 months. We got the business quickly set up and licenced.
In Australia the process to get the legislation changed to allow for equity crowdfunding, was pretty arduous. We had to lobby the government and the opposition and took trips to Canberra a few times. It took a lot of time and pushing from different angles.
FinTech Australia has been an amazing platform for us to help get access and lobby the government. I was lucky enough to be put on a FinTech advisory panel to the government, which opened up another avenue for us. We had to work with ASIC making sure we put regulations in place to get licensed in Australia before we finally got the go ahead. I’m never going to try and start another business where I need to get laws changed!
How many people do you have in the business?
We now have ten people in the business split fairly equally across technology, marketing, deals and management working collaboratively within the business. Our marketing team also works with each of the companies we are raising money for, as well as doing the broader Equitise marketing.
How does it feel making such a significant impact on the startup community?
It’s amazing and we’re very proud of what we have achieved. It gets us out of bed every day. We get to speak to amazing people doing tremendous things. When we see the companies we help continue to grow, it’s very rewarding.
Private companies are the lifeblood of the economy, they drive growth and employment.
The second company we ever raised money for in New Zealand works in a pretty niche space providing financial products to retirees. They don’t think they would have been able to go on had we not helped them with their first raise. They now have more than $250 million funds under management and we’ve raised for them four or five times.
Have you got any exciting deals in the pipeline you can mention at the stage?
We’ve got lots of exciting things coming up, which we’ve been holding off on due to COVID-19. This has allowed us to build an exciting new platform where we’ve built the technology from scratch. We have launched Bricklet, which is a fractionalized property play. We’ve got a bakery business producing authentic, certified organic, whole food.
Humaniti is a personal finance offering where you can actually earn money. There’s a lot of exciting things coming through in the short term and we’re busy stacking the pipe with some exciting stuff coming for the second half of the year.
Carolyn Breeze is General Manager for the ANZ region of GoCardless, a global payments platform designed for recurring payments. They process more than $13 billion in transactions each year. Gocardless is backed by some major players in the VC world, including Accel partners, Salesforce Ventures, and Google Ventures.
Carolyn is a payments veteran holding senior positions at eBay, PayPal, and winner of the ‘Women in Payments Award’ in 2019.
How did you get started down the path of FinTech and payments?
My journey into Fintech started with Braintree, which was part of the PayPal business. To provide some background, Braintree is the technology stack behind the acceptance of credit cards. They helped build some of the world’s most amazing payment experiences for companies like Uber and Airbnb.
It was an exciting time as the technology and company kept evolving. But in order to continue my career in this field, I acknowledged I needed to adopt an attitude of continuous learning especially around payments. And if I wanted to become a leader then I needed to develop skills in other areas too.
What were the origins of the GoCardless business and how did it get started?
GoCardless launched 6 years ago in the UK by three co-founders, Hiroki Takeuchi, our CEO, Tom (Blomfield) and Matt (Robinson). Together they developed a simple online tool that would allow SMEs to collect direct debit monies via bank debit. Both Tom and Matt have moved on to found other major Fintech companies, Monzo and Nested.
In the past banks made it incredibly difficult for SMB/SME’s to access these facilities because they needed to underwrite the risk associated with bank debits. A small business who wants to get bank debit facilities needs to put down a big reserve as security to mitigate the risk, often totalling hundreds of thousand of dollars. It was from this idea that GoCardless was born.
GoCardless is going from strength to strength in 2020. We are currently connected in 30 countries. With boots on the ground in London, Paris, Munich, Melbourne and San Francisco. Over 450,000 merchants use us as their platform every day.
What about the culture and the people at GoCardless?
There were a couple of things that really jumped out to me when I was interviewing for the role. The business had an instant entrepreneurial feel. Everybody I met was very clear about the goals and outcomes of GoCardless. They were aligned to solve real problems on a global scale. Everyone I met was focused on how their role impacted the success of the business. I found this really inspiring.
Employees recognise what a great business GoCardless is and are fully invested in how they can play a part in the continued success. There is a collective passion.
What are some of the challenges you faced in your position as country manager? Do you have any tips you can share?
The distance and the practicality around our different time zone is the greatest challenge. To combat this we have to make sure there’s an extension of the culture between UK and all our global offices. Everyone adds to a companies culture as the organisation evolves.
Whilst our roots are in the UK and we have a lot of similarities between us, there were still things needing adjustments. We had to tweak our onboarding processes to suit as an example.
It was very important and critical to our growth that we tweaked early and started to pivot certain elements. We brought our UK product to Australia, keeping everything that’s great about it, whilst carrying out tweaks for Australia to increase appeal to the local market.
Would you like to share some of your success stories?
We currently have 2100 active merchants using on a regular basis, which is incredible for how long we’ve been in the Australian market.
In addition we have got great brands to join us including, Deputy, DocuSign, Siteminder, Vitality, Butn, Archa, Indebted, Glow Power, Pulse, Movember and most of these have been global deals, where GoCardless is used in multiple markets.
Globally, we have about 230 different platforms. Xero, which is our key partner for us globally, has Gocardless as the only bank debit solution on their platform.
Salesforce billing is one of our most recent global partnerships. Gocardless works with some fantastic billing platforms like Zora, Charge B, Charger Fire, Recurly, who have been instrumental in getting us to this point.
Listen to the Full Interview
How have you tackled identifying and attracting talent at GoCardless?
Early on I convinced two people on secondment from the UK office to stay here with me and continue the journey. They had both worked with the UK office for 3 to 4 years and brought an instant extension of the culture to Australia. It is a winning strategy, that I would highly recommend for other fintech launching in Australia.
In addition I’ve worked with some amazingly talented payment nerds over the last few years who reached out to me when I moved into this role. But as we grow it will become more challenging as we go outside of natural networks.
How do you assess culture fit in an interview?
I hire passionate, dedicated people who have well researched ideas and buy into what we’re doing. Culture fit is the main part of our interview process. Which is why we have multi-level interviews including those carried out by peers. Some people make it easy for us to decide whether they will work out by their behaviour outside of the interview process. I always ask reception for their thoughts as an example. I am amazed how people are delightful to me in an interview yet awful to our people in reception.
We talk a lot about our values, why we do what we do and the problems we are trying to solve. We want to work with people who have pride in their job and bring craftsmanship to their role.
You can also learn a lot about a person in the language they use. “I” instead of “We” can often be a sign that someone takes credit for or doesn’t recognise the contribution of their colleagues. This attitude is a big problem in a startup.
What does the future hold for Gocardless?
It is so exciting to be part of this industry. We’ve recently stitched together our global network of bank debit schemes. We can now collect for you in 30 countries and settle back to your home account.
Our recent partnership with Transferwise has been a huge boost for our business, and it is a global first. We can also settle with your local entity of choice. For the first time we can now truly rival schemes like Visa, MasterCard and Amex which is really exciting.
We’ve used all the transactional data across the 30 billion dollars of payments that we process to build a payments intelligence platform. And we’ve developed a new product called Success Plus that uses AI.
This has enabled us to use those analytics to drive further efficiency. Which allows us to understand our customers more. But we keep innovating, as I see so many fintechs pop up that are solving something for a consumer, educating them around how to manage their money better. It’s such an exciting industry to be part of.
Francine Ereira is Country Head of Klarna, a Fintech founded in 2005 in Sweden, with the aim of making it easier for people to shop online. Klarna is now one of Europe’s largest banks, providing payment solutions for 85 million consumers across 205,000 merchants in 17 countries.
Klarna offers a smooth, one click purchase experience that lets consumers pay when and how they prefer. Launching in Australia in February 2020 it counts Commonwealth Bank, Sequoia Capital, Visa and even Snoop Dogg as investors.
Klarna established in Stockholm 15 years ago by three young Swedish gentlemen, with a simple vision to make online payments easier for consumers and retailers. We completed our first transaction back in April 2005 in partnership with a Swedish bookshop. Since then, we’ve expanded into 19 markets, serve over 85 million consumers and work with in excess of 205,000 retailers across the globe.
Klarna recently decided to launch in Australia. Why did they choose Australia?
Australia is a relatively mature market. It’s sophisticated with an engaged consumer base who are willing to try new payment products. Based on our adoption of Klarna, Australia as a country is always looking for something bigger, better and bolder, especially in the millennial market.
What Australia brings for Klarna is the ability for us to position ourselves as a responsible lender. We are helping consumers to budget and we are partnering with retailers to help them grow their businesses. The reason Klarna came to Australia is our competitors in this market have a very transactional relationship. What Klarna does well globally is develop relationships by engaging customers through curated personal content, rather than just a transaction.
What was it about Klarna other than the product that attracted you to the business?
During my first week at Zip Co I was present at a partnership meeting with Klarna. What I remember about that meeting was the level of professionalism and the pace at which Klarna worked. They had dedication to working towards a great opportunity. Whilst the opportunity to partner with Klarna didn’t work out with Zip, it stayed in my mind the ease of which they wanted to partner and how they went about doing that. I witnessed first hand their passion and devotion to solving problem spaces. When Klarna announced their partnership with CBA in Australia, I knew this was my chance to be part of it.
How has the relationship with CBA been working so far? Is it a hands on relationship or are they very hands off?
We’ve got a really close working relationship. There is a strong alignment between Klarna and CBA. We both have a commitment towards customer obsession and protecting consumers, for example our drive towards responsible lending.
We have regular meetings to discuss growth and what we both want to achieve in this market. It’s not like it’s big brother watching over us. It truly is a partnership, exploring a range of opportunities to grow together, including co-marketing opportunities and developing opportunities as we go.
How would you describe the culture of the business having been in the seat for a few months now?
The culture is honestly something that I’ve not experienced before. I’ve worked with very large global corporations and some great startups. Klarna’s cultural perspective encourages people to speak up and take accountability. Empowerment is something in our organisation I find incredible. We empower everyone to deliver in a fast paced environment.
To provide some insight of how empowering it is I’ll share a conversation Sebastian and I had. He told me “Fran, Australia is yours to make successful” and I said “What does successful look like?” He said “No, you tell me what successful looks like to you and then go and deliver on it, because I know that’s what you’re capable of doing”.
“That’s the essence of the culture, it is truly incredible“
If I can paint more literal picture, we work in small teams of eight people. Each team focuses on an individual problem space, looking to foster a startup mentality. If you think about our product space, we are quickly able to iterate and enhance our products based on customer feedback.
That’s something that you don’t see a lot of in big tech teams that have longer roadmaps, you can’t have that agility, which is the complete opposite of our small teams.
Klarna still identifies people by core competencies, data and analytics, finance, marketing, tech product, etc. But every team, irrespective of competence is only eight people. And some of those teams will be cross functional. Our product team, for example, has lawyers, analysts and developers.
Basically a group of people who can run a small business sufficiently on their own within the organisation. It’s a really clever concept because it means that you’re able to self service, right? You’re not relying on all these other pieces, you’re actually self sufficient to run and that means you can run faster, quicker and achieve desired outcomes.
What are the plans for the business here in Aus?
We’ve got some very big plans for Aus. Today we are 27 people and we’re growing quickly in the market, which is really exciting. We’ve had a very warm reception and that’s mainly because consumers are truly at the heart of everything we do.
I could have utilised support and services from our central services team in Sweden. The reality of the time differences between us brought about a realisation that this didn’t quite work, we really needed to create those roles within Australia. The team is a lot bigger than initially forecasted year one because we don’t want to compromise on the level of service and delivery to our customers.
The reality is that Australia is a competitive landscape. Only 10% of Australians have actually conducted a buy now pay later transaction. We’re seeing numbers grow on a daily basis with new audiences, particularly with the pandemic. There’s a whole new audience now shopping online that haven’t before.
What we want to do is disrupt and show consumers what an amazing shopping experience looks like and to show Australians that we can deliver what they want. We do listen and put customers at the centre of everything that we’re doing. Our ambitions are very bold, and I’m very confident that we can deliver on them. I can’t wait to show the results of that in a couple of years time.
Listen To The Full Interview.
I’d like to go back a little bit further in your career to really understand how you got started in FinTech?
My foray into FinTech was quite an interesting one. I was actually working at Tomando, which you may recall was an incredible fulfilment platform. During my time at Zip I had established really strong relationships within the payment ecosystem including platform providers, solution providers and retail. It was at a time when Larry was in the early stages at Zip Co, I think three years in at that stage, and looking at how to partner and breakthrough. We started talking and did a dance around for quite a number of months until I was I love the sound of this. This is really exciting, I think I need to get on board. Which was how I got into the FinTech space.
Fran, you are one of a group of highly talented female leaders in Fintech. What is your advice to others wanting to follow in your shoes?
The reality is all jobs out there are there for the taking by anybody, irrespective of race or gender. It think it boils down to females being less likely to consider ourselves worthy of running the race. If we only tick 9 of the 10 boxes then we wont apply. The mindset of guys is different. They think I’ve got three of those things, let’s have a go.
It’s about helping women take those risks because they are so capable. We are so judgmental of ourselves, we really are our own worst enemies to be quite honest, to a large degree we are perfectionists, when we don’t tick all the boxes, so we just don’t go for it.
Personally, I think that’s a big contributing factor. Which is a shame because what you need around any boardroom table is a really diverse bunch of people. Different people think and act in different ways, and ultimately you need that level of diversity to win and have robust challenges or conversations. And constructive conversations help you get to where you want to go.
As a leader how do you get that across to the people in your team and your network?
One of the things that Klarna are quite good at doing particularly in trying to keep diversity and balance happening is seeking out people, giving them the confidence to give it a go. What I say to my team all the time, is if you’ve got what you think it takes to get this done, look at what you’ve got, not what you don’t have, to deliver and go for it
It doesn’t matter whether there are guys or girls in my team or not at the end of the day, I want everyone to strive and push themselves further than they’ve ever pushed themselves because we all benefit collectively from that.
Emma Weston is the CEO and a co-founder at AgriDigital, an AgTech meets FinTech company. They digitise and de-risk global Agri supply-chains with a current focus on the grain and cotton industries.
When did you found AgriDigital and how big are you now?
Emma: I’ve got two co-founders, Bob McKay and Ben Reed. We’ve actually all worked together for a really long time. There’s lots of gray hair on the team and the main focus of our domain is agriculture and green supply chains. That’s what we know really well, but throughout our history we’ve been building our own companies and our own tech and we’ve also been building out supply chain finance businesses.
We came together again in 2015 as a trio and founded AgriDigital. The mission, to build a single source of truth platform that was going to deliver simple, secure, and cost effective core supply chain operations technology to the SME sector in the supply chain.
And at the same time crucially provide access to working capital. That was the mission that brought us together. We had a small core team, with a couple of developers that we’d worked with previously, in previous businesses. And we’re now at just a little over 40 people with operations in Australia and a team of 10 people in Manila in the Philippines. We’re also now branching into North America, both the USA and Canada.
What Opportunities Are You Seeing In The US Market For AgriDigital?
Emma: Massive, just in terms of scale for us. To give everyone an idea, our target market is farmers and buyers, traders, and consumers of grain commodities. Our customers would be a dairy or a feedlot or a mill as an example, but also storage and logistics companies.
We are very much a whole of supply chain tech in terms of our offering and the market in the US and Canada. Well, let’s just take North America. It has a combined market almost 15 times the size of the Australian market, and that’s just by an economic value, but in terms of number of participants, it’s around about 25 times the size, so in terms of the number of users it’s a massive market as well.
How did your make the move into the US. What were some of the challenges that you faced?
Emma: It’s been pretty challenging this year, that’s for sure. Location was critical. What is the best location in a massive market, where should we launch? How do we get the talent needed for our business? How do we easily access to our customer base? Our farmering customers in the US and Canada are spread across the country, which makes it difficult.
It’s not possible to have an office footprint that’s going to serve everyone. Location was a big challenge to begin with. Covid-19 has forced a change in our thinking. We recognise now our focus should not be on location, but on talent. Where is the talent and how do we tool up the talent and bring them on and use our culture as a bonding tool to ensure that we can all work together, even if we’re not in the same location.
So that’s been an initial challenge, also just maintaining and seeding a culture, if that makes sense. How do you take what you’ve built in Australia and take that across from a team perspective. Most of the challenges have been internal as opposed to the challenges of the market or the challenges of the customer, all the product, which we really do have a good handle on.
Emma Weston on the FinTech Australia Podcast.
How do you position blockchain with a Farmer? Even people in the FinTech industry often struggle to wrap their heads around blockchain and what it actually is.
Emma: I think it’s a really interesting question as to whether we have deliberately tried to position anything at all, or whether we have allowed the product and the problem to speak for itself. Increasingly we have worked with our audience to understand that blockchain is not a silver bullet. It’s not a solution in total. It’s part of a toolkit that we need in order to be able to attack these really big problems around integrity and trust within our food and agricultural system.
Also, so we can deal with quite operational matters, such as back office efficiencies, trading book or position reconciliation in real time, payments and so forth. So we’ve really focused on three areas or three buckets as we call them.
One of those is around payment and transaction security and talking about that with farmers and others. Another one is around network and market efficiency. So the value that we all get by starting to come onto a common platform and common piece of infrastructure. And the third area is around the transparency and providence piece.
You’ve got a new Product WayPath.
Emma: You are being very kind giving me an opening here Dexter. We do have some good news to share, a new product Waypath launching on 26 June. It’s a global product targeting farmers, not just in Australia and North America. It enables farmers to become their own trader, their own elevator or storage operator and to be able to enter the supply chain and manage their commodities into the supply chain in their own right.
We’re really excited to be offering WayPath. It is a way to connect the digitalization on the farm with the digitization in the supply chain. We’re basically providing a product that is the last link between farm digitization and supply chain digitization. It’s going to be really, really big for farmers. We’ve got heaps of interest and engagement by our early adopter group.
It really is just the beginning. It’s initial focus is our supply chain, but we have plans for Waypath to deliver our supply chain finance in the future. So we’ll be bringing finance at the click of a button to farmers globally.
For those who are not aware of Revolut it is a phenomenal growth story. Launching in 2015 Revolut has over 5 million customers in Europe, and another 350,000 joining each month. June 12th 2019 saw the launch of a public beta in Australia. Find out more about Revolut
Will, give us a brief introduction to Revolut.
Will: Revolut launched in July 2015 as a solution to hefty bank fees and bad exchange rates when sending and spending money abroad. Our founders, Nik and Vlad, are no strangers to the worlds of finance and tech, so it was clear from the start what needed to be done.
What makes Revolut different to the big banks?
I should start by saying that Revolut isn’t a bank in Australia right now, although we were recently granted a banking licence by the European Central Bank.
What differentiates us from traditional banks and systems, are unprecedented levels of freedom and control for our users. Customers can open an account from their phone in minutes, then spend and transfer money around the globe at the real exchange rate, hold and exchange up to 15 currencies in the app, and manage their money better with built-in budgeting and spending analytics. European customers can also receive their salaries with Revolut, and use Apple Pay.
Tell us about you and your work with Revolut.
Before joining Revolut, I was a lawyer at a firm called Russell McVeagh, then spent three years building a crowdfunding Fintech startup, Equitise, with a couple of co-founders. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot, but I heard about Revolut and thought it had unique potential to go global from day one. They had a small team solving a real problem that affects billions of people around the world.
Have you ever dreamed of launching your own Tech Startup? Antler is a global Startup generator and Venture Capital firm. They have a game changing approach to nurturing and supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Antler is a start-up generator and early stage VC. Over the next four years we plan to invest in over 200 technology businesses as the first investor. Our strategy is to recruit the top talent in Australia to build businesses with our support and back them from day one. The barriers to entry to build a tech business are lower than they have ever been. Yet the barriers to entrepreneurship are still there. Finding the right co-founder, raising capital, giving up a comfortable job. All of these fears prevent talented people from making the leap and fulfilling their potential.
The Antler program removes these barriers and enables the top talent in Australia to become entrepreneurs. We are de-risking the path to entrepreneurship. Approximately 90% of startups fail and it’s really down to one of three things.
The founding team is not complimentary or strong enough.
The product or service being created is not needed in the first place.
Or the business idea was not commercial enough to generate the required capital.
Quite frankly, we think these are bullshit reasons for a startup business to fail and in the most part avoidable. Unfortunately, the startup investment community have got into a state of funding too many businesses that are set up for failure from day one. The six-month Antler program identifies and addresses these issues, providing founders with an unprecedented platform designed to heavily mitigate against these unnecessary reasons for failure.
Antler is truly democratising entrepreneurship and we are focused on diversity. There is no set profile for an entrepreneur. The reason we form teams is because we want complementary skill sets, but also complementary personalities.
The first program started June 3 with 70-plus founders in the Sydney Startup Hub. We received more than 1,000 applications. Joining the program are product managers, rocket scientists, and even those who have helped to build international businesses which have reached unicorn status.
With 71 founders officially signed, this first program has also positioned Antler as an industry leader for gender equality with 25% female founders. In 2018, only 2.2% of all VC investment in the US went to female founders. Our first cohort has 25 nationalities represented with an average work experience of 13.5 years. 57% of participants have a commercial background vs. 34% technical background vs. 8% industry experts.
How did you get started as an Entrepreneur?
As a young boy I started working in my father’s sports retail store in North West London. I became fascinated by business at a young age. My parents never went to university and worked incredibly hard to give me a very privileged upbringing where I could focus on my education. So, my parents were delighted when I came out of the university and joined an investment bank.
I covered the technology sector and was hugely inspired by my clients, who were building tech businesses and taking them through IPO. I was bitten by the bug and decided to quit investment banking and study an MBA. Sat with my parents one day, running a high street retail store, they told me their business wasn’t performing well. But they had just entered the online space and had launched a new website which was generating ten orders per day.
It was such a small component of the business, but I felt there was something there. And having seen the rise of offline to online sales in the technology sector I decided to have a crack and see if I could grow the business.
I postponed my MBA for a year, but one year became five years, in which we grew annual revenue to 35 million pounds and ultimately ended up selling that business to JD sports a FTSE listed sports retailer in the UK.
How did you become involved in the Australian Fintech startup scene?
I am married to an Australian, so we decided to move to Sydney. As I began thinking about my next project, I looked at the local landscape and infrastructure and realised setting up an eRetail business was not feasible. It was cheaper to send a a pair of sneakers from London to Sydney than Melbourne to Sydney!
Having recently grown a business across nine countries I knew the challenges of global growth. So, I decided to focus on a business model with significant domestic potential but have the option for international expansion. I spent a few months researching, met lots of people and recognised the Finance and Property industries were ripe for disruption in Australia.
At that time, I was having a conversation with Markus Kahlbetzer who had this great idea for a property share market. I partnered with Markus and became CEO of BrickX a fractional property investment business. Within 6 months we had launched. Within the first 12 months I had raised over $9m from Reinventure and NAB Ventures. In two and a half years we grew the team and were solving a big problem, helping Australians locked out of the property market invest in property.
The business grew to the point where I felt my skills were not best suited to take the business on the next phase of the journey. My expertise lies in startups and BrickX was now well established. It was the right time to step aside.
What attracted you to Antler?
I’d recently become a Dad and planned to take time out. Two weeks into my sabbatical, a friend tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to look at Antler. It was an opportunity too unique to ignore and the most impactful VC project that I have seen in Australia in the last four years.
Antler is an opportunity to help make Australia a global leader in startup ecosystems. As a country we are doing okay but I feel we can do so much better. Australia ranks no11 in the world for research & innovation. Ideas and talent are not the problem. But commercialising ideas is a major problem for Australia and we rank much lower on a global scale.
Clearly, the ecosystem has to work together to help great ideas become great businesses. The bar needs to be raised when it comes to entrepreneurship in Australia. It is a simple equation. Quality in = Quality out.
I’m excited about the impact Antler will have on the entire country. We believe our approach will raise the standards of startups in Australia and create a lot of new jobs. Most importantly, over the next four years we are dislodging 800 high impact people from low-impact roles to build a large number of phenomenal companies.
How does the Program work?
The first program begins in June 2019 in Sydney and we will run the program every six months for four years. Come June, up to one hundred talented people across multiple industries and sectors will start the flagship program. The first two months of the program is based around matching co-founders. Finding the right one or two people with complementary skills who get on and share an interest or passion to build a really awesome business.
One hundred people could come up with 500 ideas. That’s great, but we encourage everyone in the program to be open minded and drop their idea if something better comes along. Through a process of daily hackathons, forming teams, breaking up teams, consistently testing ideas we believe after two months we can form the optimal founder teams with strong idea validation.
At the end of the two-month co-founding period, teams present their business idea and business model to our investment committee. If we believe in a founder team and their idea then we invest $100,000 to start the business for a 10 per cent stake. Out of 45 teams we intend to invest in 20 or 30 of them. Every program participant is paid $4000 per month in the initial two-month period. We are truly de-risking the path to entrepreneurship
When you consider that many of the ideas we invest in will only be a few weeks old, we are investing in the people first. Then providing the resources and support to turn an idea into a successful, scalable technology business.
During the four-month building process, teams are provided with the support to build an MVP and get as much validation as possible. No one’s wasting any time fundraising at any point through the program. At the end of the 6-month program each team will get to present their business to over 500 investors from around the globe.
We are taking a global view from day one. The ideas we invest in will have the potential to scale globally. Antler is live in Stockholm and Singapore. London and Amsterdam go live in May, Sydney goes live in June. September, the program launches in New York and Nairobi.
With the Antler programs in 7 countries and plans for up to 20 cities live within 18 months, we see a huge opportunity to collaborate on a global scale.
Which type of person do you think is best suited to the program?
Antler is truly democratising entrepreneurship and we are focused on diversity. There is no set profile for an entrepreneur. The reason we form teams is because we want complementary skill sets, but also complementary personalities.
If we look at the first intake the average number of years work experience for people coming into a program is fourteen. Typically, cohort members have operated just below C-Level, where they have seen all the action but not always been recognised and rewarded for their efforts. The people we have chosen are highly talented, experienced and motivated people who have a strong desire to come together and build next generation Tech businesses. Although we are tech agnostic Proptech, Fintech, Regtech, Agritech, Cyber Security, Martech and Edtech are the areas we expect will produce the most business ideas.
When we’re interviewing people coming into the program, we are mostly interested in the people not the idea. What we’re really assessing is the impact they’ve had at work, what they’ve personally accomplished and some of the challenges they’ve faced in their life. We are looking for significant examples of drive, resilience, grit, tenacity and entrepreneurship.
I’m very careful to not try and sell the program. This is about us creating a clear path to entrepreneurship, but individuals need to self select themselves to take the step in to such a program. If you are someone who is a high achiever, with entrepreneurial flair, but you’ve been held back because you haven’t found that right person, or financial circumstances. Then, Antler could be the opportunity for you to finally test your own personal limits and co-found a business.
How do people get involved?
Applications for the June cohort have now closed, but we are now recruiting for the January 2020 cohort – you can apply at www.antler.co. You can also find out more information about founder events and learn more on the website. To see our current cohort for June 2019 visits www.antler.dev