By Peter Dunne, VP Corporate Development and General Counsel at SafetyCulture and one of Australia’s leading private equity and venture capital lawyers
Australia’s tech sector is booming. Here’s why the country that once looked abroad now has a captive audience.
In less than a decade, Australia’s technology startup sector has developed from an inconspicuous branch with little activity to a thriving hub of people and investment. Canva’s recent USD$40 billion valuation has cemented the Australian company as one of the most valuable private software businesses worldwide. And now even Twitter’s founder is looking down under, orchestrating Australia’s biggest buyout of fintech darling Afterpay.
As a nation, Australia is known to “punch above its weight” in a number of industries. We’ve come to expect it in advertising, with the nation consistently ranking in the top 10 at Cannes Lions. We’ve come to expect it in sport; we take enormous pride that our national swim team is up there with the very best. There is a new heavyweight industry on the horizon, and it’s tech.
Australia, the entrepreneurial nation
Traditionally it has been perceived that Australia has struggled to build global businesses. Justifications for this view have included the tyranny of distance from European and North America markets and the limitations of a relatively small domestic market. However, from what I have observed such elements don’t, or certainly no longer hinder Australian tech businesses, but in fact become key factors that lead to material competitive advantages.
The United States, with its mythologising of the American Dream, is often seen as the home of entrepreneurialism. But there is another nation with a history of innovators and small shopkeepers, or as they are now called entrepreneurs — Australia.
With a relatively small population size, Australians are taught from very early on to look at the rest of the world. To be outward looking, and to travel and explore the rest of the world. The modern Australia is largely an immigrant nation, bolstered by significant migration from Europe and Asia post each of the two World Wars. From the get-go, Australian DNA was embedded with an entrepreneurial spirit, spurred by those who came here looking to create something; to build a better life for themselves. Additionally those who came had a sense of hands-on pragmatism; a genial air of rolling up your sleeves and “giving it a go”, creating a life for one’s family.
Survival of the fittest
This strong entrepreneurial class has only served to bolster the Australian tech sector. We lack the rivers of capital that are prevalent in other markets. To survive and endure, a founder must build an amazing business quickly to gain traction and then to attract capital. This is what sets Australian tech apart — we build better businesses early on as a survival mechanism.
When SafetyCulture’s Founder and CEO Luke Anear first started out, his office consisted of a garage in regional Australia. There was no network of fellow technology founders to draw on, nor was there ready access to capital. Traditional lenders were reluctant to loan money as there were no assets to speak of. Luke engineered success simply with a small team and a great idea. And the hard yards paid off. What started out as a checklist app has grown exponentially. The iAuditor by SafetyCulture app has since evolved into an operations platform, supporting more than 1.5 million users worldwide. In addition, SafetyCulture acquired mobile training solution EdApp last year, and has just invested in Unleash live, one of the world’s leading A.I. video analytics platforms.
We’re seeing similar returns across the Australian tech landscape. The likes of SafetyCulture, Canva, Airtasker, CultureAmp and Atlassian are all great examples of Australia’s entrepreneurial spirit at work. These are the companies that build products for the world to consume. By their very nature, tech businesses are global entities. Software is unique in that you can build a product once and sell it millions of times without any distribution costs. In fact, 80% of SafetyCulture customers are outside of Australia.
In a way, it’s an embodiment of Australia’s outward-facing mindset. We have always looked to other markets — to Asia, to Europe, to North America. It’s this global outlook that has gifted us with a diverse talent pool and an appetite for expansion that’s driving the current tech boom. We have the tools to harness that spirit now. The capabilities and opportunities that stem from software are unconstrained by borders.
No matter where you live in the world, it’s never been more important to look further afield, whether you’re an investor, a rapidly scaling start-up or an operations manager looking for the next best piece of technology.