Mark Harbottle

harbottle-100Mark Harbottle is one of the leading members of the tech scene in Australia. One of the co-founders of digital agency Sitepoint, the business now runs a plethora of websites including marketplaces Flippa and 99designs – which received a $35 million investment from US firm Accel Partners back in 2011.

Since then the company has grown to turn over well in excess of $30 million, and operates in both Melbourne and the United States. Harbottle spoke to SmartCompany about how the company has developed since the investment, the problem with time management – and why American venture capitalists got to him first.

What’s changed since the investment is the growth. Just doing the deal was a whole bunch of approval from Accel, and we’ve noticed a lot of growth here since that announcement. Everyone knows who 99designs is now, and it’s helped with hiring.

We haven’t really chewed through that cash, but we can invest more in teams. We can have a slightly better office, hire a CFO and finance team, hire an analyst go to through the finances and so on. And just having access to the guys in Accel is great.

I don’t know all the employees by name. It’s strange, but you can’t know them all, and particularly with a large team in the United States, it’s a matter of dealing with it. I try to meet everyone and say hello, but a lot of them don’t even know me.

That’s why I think getting along to those company events is important. Even if it’s just to have a few drinks and get to know everyone, but it’s good to do that.

I think the efforts being made to grow technology here are a good thing. And I think that by doing that we’ll have more success stories, but I don’t think we’ll ever be quite as good as they do it in the States. It’s embedded in their culture, and it’s going to be hard to replicate that.

But that having been said, it’s always good to be moving in that direction. It’s better than saying we’re not going to do anything. Every time you get a success story, you get more start-ups.

And there’s definitely a lot happening in Sydney, but there’s plenty happening in Melbourne too. Where did start? What about CarSales, or Seek? These are billion dollar companies, and not one of them started in Sydney. They were all in Melbourne.

I probably shouldn’t bag venture capitalists too much, but we didn’t get one call from an Aussie VC. Every week I was getting a call from a US venture capitalist. Every week someone would call up. That’s not unusual; they have teams of analysts and juniors doing these calls. It’s not unusual to get a call – but I didn’t get one from Australia.

One of the things that’s been an advantage to our development is that we don’t hire developers in the States. They say it’s a lot harder over there because you’re just competing against everyone. We don’t do it, because we have a good reputation here and just build the team here.

We have our management team and finance team over there, as well as service. We’ve found the Americans just do service a lot better there. It’s embedded in the culture. Of course, there are downsides to that – it’d be great to have management in the same buildings as the developers.

I’m all over the place; I’m really poor at time management. I find it hard to delegate things that I’m happy to do, so I should get better at delegating. The stuff I enjoy doing, I just do.

We’re not looking for people to invest money in, but really we want founders to run our businesses. Once they get out of that development phase, part of the networking we do is to identify people who may have a crap idea but really know what they’re doing.


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