Monday, February 26, 2024
HometechnologyAussies know rugby, Uggs and Shiraz. But tech?

Aussies know rugby, Uggs and Shiraz. But tech?

We all have Australia to thank for a number of delights: The Great Barrier Reef, Vegemite, "Crocodile Dundee" and Ugg boots come to mind.

A surprise edition to that list of exports has emerged of late—in the form of software. Australian tech companies with names like Atlassian, Nitro, 99designs and Invoice2go have been growing rapidly since opening shop in the San Francisco area and are luring big time venture capitalists eager to ride the wave.

Unlike Silicon Valley start-ups, which tend to burn through tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars before making any money, Australian software developers are impressing U.S. investors with their ability to quickly turn and sustain a profit.

None made quite as big a fundraising splash as email marketing company Campaign Monitor, which last April raised $250 million in a financing round led by Insight Venture Partners. It was the first slug of institutional cash for the company since its launch in 2004.

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"This is a company that's been profitable since day one," said Alex Bard, a former Salesforce.com executive vice president who joined Campaign Monitor as chief executive officer in September. "We wanted to have enough dry gunpowder to do the things we wanted to do to execute on our mission and the market opportunity in front of us."

Campaign Monitor is putting that money to work, announcing last week the opening of its North American headquarters in San Francisco, along with plans to double in size, adding 100 employees in 2015.

Immediate profitability for Australian tech start-ups is born out of necessity rather than desire. The Silicon Valley model of raising money ahead of generating revenue and consistently turning to venture capital to finance growth was never available in the country of less than 24 million people, whose major exports are minerals like bauxite and iron ore.

Tech-heavy countries China, Japan and Israel have long had greater access to early-stage investor dollars.

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Nitro, an electronic document signing and collaboration company, was founded in 2005 and raised less than $7 million in its first nine years. Then in November, it announced a $15 million investment from Battery Ventures to finance the transition to a cloud and subscription business.

"Raising money for us was about funding our second chapter as opposed to keeping the lights on," said Nitro founder and CEO Sam Chandler, who moved the company from Melbourne to San Francisco in 2008 and now employs more than 150 people. "Ten years ago we didn't have any options."

As much headway as the Australian tech sector has made on the global stage, it still doesn't have the breakout public market hit in the U.S. needed to capture mainstream headlines.

That event may be around the corner. Atlassian, a Sydney-based company that led the Aussie tech diaspora, has a private market valuation of $3.3 billion and is marching toward an initial public offering.

Atlassian's co-founders

Source: Atlassian

Atlassian, which opened a San Francisco office in 2005, sells collaboration tools that let software development teams share code, work together on projects, manage workflow and communicate.

Not only did Atlassian get started in a place with little venture capital, but it did so in 2002, during the depths of post dot-com misery.

"At the time, it was hard to raise money if you were in Silicon Valley with a hot idea, let alone if you were a fresh out of college Aussie in Sydney," said Jay Simons, president of Atlassian, which now has 1,300 employees, including 300 in San Francisco. "Bootstrapping was the only way to go."

In the process, Atlassian created a highly efficient sales model, with transactions occurring entirely online and without the need for salespeople. In its fiscal year ended June 2014, Atlassian recorded 44 percent revenue growth to $215 million. Last month, the company named Erik Bardman, a former finance chief at Roku and Logitech, its chief financial officer.

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To this day, Atlassian hasn't raised any outside capital to pad its balance sheet. Investors have so badly wanted a piece of the company that they've poured in $210 million by purchasing shares from the founders and employees, most recently $150 million last year.

Accel Partners, best known for its record-setting return on an early Facebook bet, was the first to buy Atlassian shares in 2010, with a $60 million secondary purchase.

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