This week SmartCompany is speaking to key members of the small business and startup communities to find out what they want to see in next week’s budget. This is the first instalment of the series, which will be published throughout the week.
As the head of a fintech in hypergrowth mode — and a newly minted unicorn at that — Zeller founder Ben Pfisterer isn’t kept up at night by concerns about cashflow or the ability to execute on his own vision.
Instead, he has the rather welcome challenge of keeping up with his business’ growth, rolling out new products and bedding down the startup’s culture.
But Zeller is a provider of services to businesses, including SMEs. So as the federal budget approaches, what Pfisterer wants to see are measures making life easier for his customers.
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What is the biggest challenge for your customers?
Speaking to SmartCompany, Pfisterer says he welcomed government support to help businesses stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis, but “the struggle hasn’t stopped”.
“What is the government doing to support businesses to get back on their feet?”
He points to a “clear labour shortage” and demand for skilled workers in all manner of industries.
Pfisterer is also concerned about a lack of support for regional businesses, “especially when you look at what businesses are going through with sustained climate change and the devastation of floods and fire”, he says.
“To read that basic services like internet connectivity are still not provided to so many communities around Australia is absolutely unacceptable,” he adds.
“In today’s economy, if you don’t have high quality internet connectivity you just cannot compete on any level, no matter what business you are.”
What can the government do to help?
To some degree at least, Pfisterer believes you “have to control your own destiny”. We must all do the best we can within the remit of government policy.
However, he would welcome more focus on those regional businesses, including an extension of NBN connectivity.
We are also seeing a spike in demand for skilled technology workers, he notes.
“We need to constantly feed that from all levels for the long term; making sure the education is there and that people from all backgrounds can access it.”
It’s imperative that visa and migration policies keep up. Sponsoring foreign skilled migrants is a long and complicated process that should be made easier for businesses, says Pfisterer.
“Outdated views about migrants stealing local jobs are definitely a thing of the past.”
Pfisterer notes that some state and territory governments have proactively tried to attract foreign tech companies as a source of employment, but at a time when more capital than ever is flowing into Australian startups and scale-ups, “that’s a little bit short-sighted”.
“There is more growth and potential employment from high growth local companies,” he adds.
“That incentive and that grant dollar, which is normally state based, could be matched if not exceeded on a federal basis. The government should recognise there’s enough here to support and grow.”
Finally, Pfisterer calls for continued support to help “resuscitate” small businesses.
The economic turmoil of the past few years has come with a silver lining, he says — increased levels of entrepreneurialism.
Last year, we saw a 15% spike on the number of new companies starting up, and Pfisterer predicts that will be even higher this year.
“We already have a lower tax rate for new businesses, but I would love to see that lowered further.
“It can actually lead to a long period of sustained growth to our economy if we help businesses thrive.”
Do you expect to get what you want?
With a significant budget deficit, Pfisterer isn’t overly confident in getting what he wants from Frydenberg.
“Lowering taxes is easy to say,” he admits.
“But making sure that we can support the financial requirements across the budget and the economy — that’s a challenge to balance.”
He does hope the government looks beyond short-sighted policies, and to what could help SMEs thrive in five or 10 years. But he’s not optimistic here either.
“I’m not too confident that we will see systemic change. I think it will be an election-driven budget,” he says.