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10 quick-fire start-ups

Thursday, 24 November 2011 | By Oliver Milman

Starting a business used to be a rather drawn out affair. With all the planning and fund raising involved, it would be unthinkable that you could launch a company within a week.


That has all changed. The drivers are clear – the increased pace of competition in a globalised marketplace, the flexibility and falling cost of technology and the ability to run businesses as a sideline to paid employment.


Speed is now the essence when it comes to starting up. Every mentor you speak to extols the benefits of getting your business out into the marketplace and ironing out problems as you go.


Events such as Startup Weekend and Launch48, which both recently arrived in Australia, push this concept further by challenging a group of strangers to band together to create a business within two days.


So, if procrastination is a problem for you, check out our list of rapid-launch start-ups. If they have the same idea as you, bear in mind that they already have a head start. So get cracking.


1. WeTeachMe


Imagine meeting four strangers and, within the course of a week, deciding that you will set up a business with them. Just six months later, you are sitting on a plane with them on the way to California, with the aim of raising $3 million for your idea.


This is the tale of WeTeachMe, formed via Launch48, which is projecting $1 million revenue in its first year. Best of all, the idea is endearingly simple – linking people who want to learn skills with experts who can teach them.



2. Zaarly


The superbly-named Bo Fishback wasn’t keen at pitching at Startup Weekend in Los Angeles back in February. But after fidgeting in his seat as dozens of budding entrepreneurs gave it a go, he decided to have his say.


By the end of the weekend, Fishback and his co-founders, Eric Koester and Ian Hunter, had come up with Zaarly, which dubs itself an international online bazaar. Less than a year later, it has lured more than 100,000 users and counts actor Ashton Kutcher as an investor and HP CEO Meg Whitman as an advisor.


3. The Lingerie Boutique


Chanel Costabir always knew that she wanted to have her own lingerie store at some point. While working as a retail assistant, she saw a clear gap in the market for high-end lingerie for Australian women.


Her next step? Immediately flying to France to sign up leading brands at a trade show, despite having no business experience and speaking no French. She somehow came back with six labels she wanted and immediately created an online store to sell them.


Larissa Robertson4. SCO Recruitment


Larissa Robertson was working for a large recruitment company when it ran into financial trouble. The board rejected her rescue plan, but that didn’t deter Robertson. She purchased the business from administrators, meaning she went from zero to 180 employees overnight.


The challenge intensified when Robertson fell pregnant and lost a $3 million client. This didn’t stop her building a $8.5 million revenue business which has received awards from both StartupSmart and SmartCompany this year.


5. Native Tongue


Startup Weekend arrived in Australia in May and was promptly won by Native Tongue, a team of developers that came up with Mandarin Madness, an app-based game that teaches users Mandarin.


The business, led by Matthew Ho, subsequently received a warm reception at an industry event in Beijing and is tipped for a bright future.

Mark Harbottle6. 99designs


Mark Harbottle was already running a decent business, SitePoint, when he realised that its forum was full of designers playing “Photoshop tennis” with logos.


Realising that there was a spin-off opportunity, Harbottle swiftly rolled out 99designs, which allows businesses to post design briefs for the site’s community of designers to tackle.


Already having a business gave Harbottle a decent launchpad for 99designs but the new venture had to grapple with everything from pricing structure to industry grumbling, as he told us earlier this year.


7. EyeTravel


Startup Weekend’s expansion to Denmark looks to have unearthed a gem in EyeTravel, a GPS-powered app that helps the blind and partially blind use public transport.


The hastily thrown-together team devised a system that informs blind people of approaching buses and trains, allowing them to choose favoured routes and times.


8. Giant Thinkwell


Kyle Kesterson was persuaded by a friend to sign up for Startup Weekend in Seattle last year, a move that, with hindsight, appears extremely wise.


A toy designer by trade, Kesterton found a like-minded soul in Kevin Lenaway and created Giant Thinkwell, a start-up that designs celebrity-themed games.


The business was subsequently picked up by the TechStars program and has released half a dozen well-received games.


9. Foodspotting


Sometimes, a seemingly rapid launch disguises months of private pondering. Alexa Andrzejewski was mulling over an idea that would let people photograph and rate their favourite foods.


While attending a Women 2.0 event, Andrzejewski received the feedback and advice that was to spur her on to launch Foodspotting. An investor even offered her seed funding on the spot.


10. Jerry Maguire


Jerry Maguire, the sprightly sports agent played by Tom Cruise in the eponymous 1996 movie, didn’t even wait to get out of the door of his employer’s office before starting his own business.


Maguire showed all of the qualities needed to rapidly launch a business – tenacity, self-belief despite being fired and the ability to persuade people to follow him. And a goldfish in a bag, of course.