The biggest names of the Smart50: Where are they now?

feature-where-are-they-200aSince 2007, SmartCompany has been running an annual list of the top 50 fastest growing small businesses in Australia. Every year, we’ve profiled the founders of these successful companies and have been telling their stories from start-up to international expansion.

Some of Australia’s biggest names in business are here – Catch of the Day, Atlassian and Aussie Farmers Direct are some of the more iconic. Several of their founders are among the richest people in the country.

But it’s been a few years since some of these businesses appeared on our list, and many of these entrepreneurs have gone on to achieve great success in both business and their personal lives.

With entries for the Smart50 2012 closing in just a few days – what are you waiting for, check it out here! – we thought it’s time to revisit some of the biggest names from the first five years of our profiles, and see what they’ve achieved since we last saw them.

Catch of the Day

Catch of the Day has been such a critical part of the growth Australian online retail that it’s almost difficult to believe the online behemoth started in a garage. Gabby and Hezi Leibovich have transformed their little daily deals start-up into one of the biggest online companies in the country.

Catch was on the Smart50 in 2009 with revenue of just $32 million. Today the business makes more than $250 million.

The business was originally built on the “daily deals” method made popular in the United States. The brothers noted the idea and made it popular in Australia.

But in the past few years, things have really taken off. Not only did the company launch one of the largest group buying sites in the country – Scoopon – but it managed to score an $80 million investment from a consortium backed by billionaire James Packer.

The company has also been moving into new territory, opening up a grocery division and acquiring sites in the wine and infant homewares space – and Gabby says the company will be moving into more departments too.

The rise of online retail hasn’t help helped many traditional retailers, though it’s made this pair extremely wealth. Both appeared for the first time on BRW’s Rich List this year with a fortune of $240 million.

Atlassian

Atlassian started out in 2002 when founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar started up a business instead of taking graduate positions. It has become, perhaps, one of the biggest success stories in Australian IT.

Back in 2008, Atlassian hit the Smart50 with $35 million in turnover.

But since then, the business has not only managed to hit revenues of more than $100 million, but has set up a key presence in the United States as well, where it’s won some massive clients including Facebook, Hulu, Twitter, LinkedIn, NASA and eBay.

But perhaps its biggest success story was in 2010, when it won a $60 million investment from prominent Silicon Valley firm Accel Partners. (This investment was actually the beginning of a trio of Australian-based investments from Accel).

And just like the Catch of the Day founders, Atlassian has made the pair extremely wealthy. In 2011 the pair debuted on the BRW Young Rich with a joint valuation of $360 million.

M2 Telecommunications

The telecommunications market has been volatile during the past few years, but SME-focused M2 has been one of the biggest winners.

The company, which was founded by Vaughan Bowen, has come a long way since turning over $43 million back in 2006-07 and hitting the Smart50 in 2008.

M2 shares were trading as low as 45 cents in early 2009 – now they’re sitting pretty at $3.40, with revenue of $185.1 million and net profit of $16.7 million in the first half of the year.

The company started when Bowen bought a tech manufacturing company in Adelaide. It quickly moved into providing telecommunication services and started supplying small businesses, alongside equipment.

It was actually the first telco reseller to wholesale services to smaller telcos, giving it a key position in the market. Over the years, it’s snapped up a huge range of smaller telcos and now has a key position in the market – especially with its latest $200 million buy of ISP Primus.

Although Bowen has stepped down, he’s left M2 in a key position to dominate as the National Broadband Network comes around.

Aconex

It’s no surprise many of the most successful Smart50 entrants are in the technology industry – it represents some of the best opportunity. Software construction firm Aconex has managed to tap into that to enormous success over the past few years.

The cloud-based software solution allows project managers to handle documents and plans over the internet, saving paper and weeks of transport time.

Hitting the Smart50 in 2007 with revenue of $28.2 million, founders Leigh Jasper and Rob Phillpot have managed to not only score a private equity deal worth $108 million, but open offices in dozens of countries. In fact, more than half of the company’s revenue comes from offshore projects.

In 2010, the company had managed to score a huge $1 million deal for the $3.2 billion Panama Canal Expansion Project – and the pair hit the BRW Young Rich List with a fortune of $60 million.

Although Aconex has been dragged into a long-running court room battle against the Baillieu family in Victoria, the business has still managed to grow amid a downturn in the SaaS (software as a service) market.

Already this year, the company has won a number of key projects, including a Philippines casino-resort mega project, another housing project in Abu Dhabi and Europe’s largest onshore wind farm.

My Net Fone

The internet has provided ample opportunity for business in the past few years, and My Net Fone has been one of the most successful, building its services on VoIP technology.

The company first hit the Smart50 in 2010, with revenue of $13 million. Founded by Andy Fung and Rene Sugo, the business originally provided VoIP services but has moved into more general telecommunications products. As businesses have been looking to drop their telco costs, low-cost VoIP has been a satisfying solution.

And a profitable one, as it turns out. Back in 2008, My Net Fone was trading at 15 cents and has now reached 68, with revenue of $18.9 million in the first half of 2012 and profit of $934,290.

The company is also reaching out into new territory – this year it won a $20 million contract to service the Tasmanian government with VoIP services.

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