Oliver Milman and James Thomson
Meet the StartupSmart Awards class of 2012
They’re young, they’re smart and they’re off to a flying start.
Australia’s economy might be patchy, but the 50 companies that feature on the second annual StartupSmart Awards have enjoyed a brilliant year, with total revenue hitting $115.6 million, well ahead of last year’s total of $88 million.
Once again, the awards feature an eclectic mix of companies, from retailers and recruiters through to tech businesses and a new group of social enterprises.
But with average revenue of $2.3 million and six businesses making their first million dollars in revenue in their first three months of trading, the message is clear – fast growth is still very much achievable, if you start smart.
The StartupSmart Awards, which are open to the most innovative and promising Australian business aged four years and younger, are in their second year and were sponsored and hosted by leading national accounting firm, Pitcher Partners.
Target Media Australia took the top prize, named the country’s fastest-growing young business with revenue of $14.1 million.
The business operates the TopBuy.com.au retail portal, which has attracted more than 400,000 Australian customers to buy products across more than 30 different categories.
It was founded by Peter Xie, Mike Xie and Richard Liu, who ditched their electronics wholesale business when they realised their margins were being squeezed, in favour of jumping onto the online retail boom.
The founder poured $1 million into their start-up costs, which underlines a trend towards a greater initial outlay by company founders. While 26 businesses on the list started with less than $50,000 (and 10 began with less than $10,000), average start-up costs were just under $154,000.
However, start-up entrepreneurs remain adept at keeping their initial costs down – three quarters started their businesses from home.
The demographics of the list were similar to last year. A total of 17 businesses came from New South Wales and Victoria, while 10 were from Queensland, three were from Western Australia, two from South Australia and one from Tasmania.
The average age of the company founders on the list was 36. The oldest entrepreneur in the top 50 is 56 (David Whitfield from enLighten Australia) with the youngest aged just 25 (Elliot Ramler from ELJO).
Looking at the list by industry, the retail sector and the property and business services sectors were heavily represented, with tech businesses also performing well.
The top 50 is full of start-ups that are breathing new life into old markets, such as You Pack Removals, which racked up $4.3 million revenue in its fourth year after introducing self-packing containers to the traditional removals process.
Elsewhere in the top 50, there is a business that allows bored office workers to play golf on a virtual course on their lunch breaks, a firm that’s developing a world-first pair of alternative reality glasses and an innovative crowdfunding platform.
Scale is not the key objective of many of the businesses – they want to dominate a niche.
Target Media co-founder Peter Xie says category leadership is crucial in his sector.
“In online retail, if you’re not growing rapidly, someone else will be. You need to be the category leader or you will be gobbled up.
“There is much more competition than when we started, but we moved quickly to have the range and brand names that people want.”
One terrific trend from the StartupSmart Awards is the emergence of a real community of early-stage entrepreneurs. A number of businesses on this list have been specifically set up to help their fellow start-ups.
Take digital services business The New Agency. It’s the brainchild of Alan Jones, who is also a co-founder of Yahoo! Australia and New Zealand, HomeScreen Entertainment, Trippything and Trainerplatform.
“Start-up founders who don’t have geeky friends to code for them still have great ideas,” Jones says.
“We help enable those ideas by supplying great development, design, marketing and strategy at start-up friendly pricing.”
It’s a great sign that Australia’s culture of entrepreneurialism is continuing to flourish.
And with the calibre of businesses featured on the StartupSmart Awards leading the way, things can only get better.