Having secured almost $30 million in Series A funding in the middle of a pandemic, fintech Fast is continuing to grow in a challenging Silicon Valley ecosystem.
But, despite the ongoing health crisis, economic volatility, and a political upheaval coming up, Aussie founder Domm Holland maintains Stateside is still the place for this startup to achieve its global dreams.
Founded in March last year, Fast is building a one-click checkout — akin to that offered by Amazon in the US and elsewhere — for any e-commerce business.
The Amazon one-click checkout has been “incredibly pervasive” for the past decade or so, Holland tells SmartCompany.
“Here in the US, over 50% of all e-commerce runs through Amazon,” he says.
“It controls such an incredible amount of market share. A lot of that is down to this streamlined checkout experience.”
Fast is setting out to provide the same service to all other e-commerce sites, allowing customers to make a purchase in one click, without having to register or log in.
While it was incorporated in March last year, Holland considered November 2019 to be the beginning of Fast’s “proper operations”.
At the time, it was a business of two — Holland and co-founder Allison Barr-Allen.
Now, having raised US$20 million ($28.6 million) in Series A funding back in March, it has a headcount of almost 50 people, and that number is rising quickly.
Tapping into talent
Particularly in the US, which has had more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world, it’s been a strange time to be running a young, high-growth tech company.
“It’s been a horrible time for so many people,” Holland says.
And it’s personally challenging for Holland. His own wife and two young kids have spent the past two-and-a-half months back in Australia, while he has remained in their San Francisco apartment.
“It’s been tough on me, having to eat alone or whatever … But at the same time I haven’t had the worst of it by any means,” he says.
“We’ve had staff whose family have been very sadly affected … We’ve had people who’ve been displaced and left the city.”
But, Fast is one of the lucky businesses in a sector that’s booming. The startup’s market has “basically doubled” in the space of three months, Holland says.
“From a market perspective, ten years’ worth of advancement have happened in three or four months,” he explains.
“It’s been definitely a net positive for e-commerce as a whole.”
It’s also led to opportunities for talent acquisition, Holland says.
The tech industry in the US is far from immune from the economic crisis. So, Fast has found itself hiring at a time when other startups and tech giants are making layoffs.
Mainly, Fast is looking for software engineers, he says. But, for the most part, they’re not coming from fintechs.
Businesses like gym pass startup Classpass, or ridesharing giant Uber, have been badly affected by the pandemic, simply due to the sectors they’re in.
“No one has been sharing rides. Or sharing anything,” Holland says.
Fast is attracting candidates that have lost work elsewhere. But it’s also receiving applications from people who are still employed.
“Those layoffs have been a result of the contraction of business,” he explains.
“Other engineers are leaving because the scale is not there, the interesting problems are not there, the company isn’t in a growth stage … it’s less interesting work,” he explains.
Some people might not want to change jobs in the midst of a health crisis and a period of economic and political uncertainty — the US also has an election coming up very soon.
Others, however, come to Silicon Valley to work in high-growth tech companies. If the company they’re working for is no longer high-growth, they’re no longer interested, he says.
There are two main reasons Holland chose to base Fast, and himself, in the US.
First of all, there is unquestionably more capital available to startups in Silicon Valley than in Australia as a whole.
But, again, it’s also all about the talent.
“It’s not that Australia doesn’t have great people.”
But Fast is building something that will be used by “literally hundreds of millions, or billions of people … within 12 months”, Holland claims.
With a population of just 25 million, Australia as a nation doesn’t have the experience of engineering tech at such a scale, he says.
“Even our largest tech companies are not consumer-facing companies that serve that many people,” he adds.
“We just don’t have engineers that are used to solving these problems.”
San Francisco, on the other hand, attracts talent from all over the world. People who want to work on such projects.
“I could literally yell out the window and attract 500 engineers who could hear me, who all build at that scale,” Holland says.
“I definitely don’t think anything we’ve achieved in the last 12 months would have been possible in Australia, or in other parts of the world, to be frank.”
So, when asked whether he sees himself returning to his homeland, Holland says he finds it hard to think in the long-term, let alone in ‘forever’ terms.
“I think in weeks,” he says.
“For the next few weeks, I will still be here.”
“For the immediate future, I’m definitely going to be based in the US. We have a lot of work to do.”