The search for Australia’s best and brightest web 2.0 entrepreneurs reveals a tangled web of companies, individuals and technologies reports BRAD HOWARTH, tied together through an equally complex web of professional relationships and friendships.
By Brad Howarth
The search for Australia’s best and brightest web 2.0 entrepreneurs reveals a tangled web of companies, individuals and technologies, tied together through an equally complex web of professional relationships and friendships.
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The ability to throw a company together or tear it apart in a matter of days – with minimal outlay in hardware of software development – is a hallmark of eeb 2.0 development, which focuses on sharing and re-use rather than building everything from scratch. It also means that entrepreneurs are relatively unfazed by current economic conditions – it is easier to sustain a business when it owns no assets and runs on the smell of an oily rag.
That’s not to say that creating a web 2.0 company is still not a hard slog, and many more will go down than survive. Gathered here are our nominations for the leading lights of Australian web 2.0 entrepreneurship, selected for the success of their business and their influence with the web 2.0 community.
Neil Ackland, Libby Clark and Andre Lackmann – The Sound Alliance
Andre Lackmann had never heard the term web 2.0 when he started publishing dance music information to the internet nine years ago. His site, Inthemix.com.au, now has more than 100,000 members and 340,000 unique visitors each month.
Current CEO Neil Ackland joined six months later and has been instrumental in expanding the company into The Sound Alliance, a group that also runs sites for rock music fans and the gay community, as well as operating a consulting company and ticketing business. Co-founders Clark and Lackmann remain within the business, while a third founder, Matt Callander, has moved on.
In March, The Sound Alliance sold a minority stake to the investment arm of Alberts Records, and it recently acquired the Melbourne-based website Mess + Noise. It has experienced no sign of an advertising downturn, reporting 19% growth for the first three months of the financial year.
Rob Antulov & Nick Gonios – 3eep
Flexibility can be the key to survival for a web 2.0 company, and for the sports community service 3eep that has meant shifting its model from working through partners to forging ahead using its own service.
Earlier this year, 3eep launched its own consumer brand, Sports Passion, to take greater ownership of the development of the business and accelerate its income growth, and now has 10s of thousands of members across the different networks.
Founders Antulov (left in picture) and Gonios met almost a decade ago at the failed dot-com company PeakHour. They went their separate ways – Antulov to a strategy role at Fairfax and Gonios to consulting on global alliances to Fujitsu and Microsoft – before forming 3eep in October 2006. The company is now seeking new funding to expand its community and add new resources for product development.
Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar – Atlassian
These are the poster boys of Australia’s web 2.0 sector. The team behind Atlassian has rapidly built their business since 2002 to employ 160 people with offices in San Francisco, Amsterdam and Gdansk with revenue of $35 million.
Founded by Mike Cannon-Brookes (left of photo) and Scott Farquhar when they were just 22 with a $1000 credit card, Atlassian now boasts more than 13,000 customers in 106 customers, and has grown without a cent of external investment.
They were also named by Ernst & Young as the 2006 Australian Entrepreneurs of the Year, and have started the Atlassian Foundation, an initiative to work with employees to improve society and the environment.
Clive Cook – Vibe Capital (with Rachel Cook and Matthew Macfarlane)
The great thing about web 2.0 companies is that you can run more than one. As the co-founder of the umbrella company Vibe Capital, Clay Cook (with his wife Rachel Cook and business partner Matthew Macfarlane) has been a driving force behind the parenting advice site Minti, the home improvement site Refurber, and the online marketing site Gooruze, and has also licensed the underlying software to Great Schools in the US.
Cook got his entrepreneurial start with the internet advertising service ineedhits, a company he grew to revenue of $7 million with 50 staff. His main focus now is Minti, which carries more than 8000 items of advice for more than 30,000 members.
Martin Hosking – Aconex and RedBubble
It may not be as sexy as MySpace or Facebook, but Martin Hosking is rightfully proud to be chairman of Aconex, a company that in September this year raised $US107.5 million from the US-based venture investor Francisco Partners.
Aconex makes web-hosted software for managing major infrastructure and building construction projects. Hosking has since invested in two funding rounds, and has also indulged his passion for creative writing through co-founding another web 2.0 venture with partners Paul Vanzella and Peter Styles.
That company, RedBubble, helps aspiring artists find an audience and make sales. With a background that includes management roles at LookSmart, Hosking says he was keen to launch a successful consumer-facing internet company out of Australia.
At 90,000 members he is well on the way. RedBubble turned over $1.2 million in its first year, and should more than double that in this year.
Bruce Joy – VastPark
We live in a three dimensional world. Why then is the web – even in 2.0-mode – so two-dimensional? Bruce Joy has been trying to solve the problem with VastPark, a set of technologies that make creating and working with 3D software significantly easier than has been the case up until now.
Joy’s background in arcade games and programming set him on a path to find a better way of bringing a third dimension to the web, and his goal now is to deliver a 3D experience on par with the benchmark set by current generation computer games. The company’s software recently emerged from beta and is picking up interest from developers around the world.
Chris Kettle – My247 (with Andrew Leask)
Kettle (at right) developed the idea for web and mobile-based entertainment information service in 1999. After working for a period at the Queensland power company Energex, he began building the business for real in 2003.
In 2005, My247 received its first round of capital, and Kettle is looking to another round now to fund its international growth. Already My247 has added 750,000 restaurants, bars, clubs and other entertainment venues to its online and mobile listings service, covering Britain, the US and Canada in addition to its original listings from Australia.
Interest is high, and a recent application for the Apple iPhone has exceeded expectations with more than 6000 downloads in 55 countries in just weeks of release.
Marc Lehmann – SaaSu (with Grant Young)
Marc Lehmann (pictured) had been working in finance at Deutsche Bank when he saw his opportunity. Having seen the potential of the internet for delivering financial information, he also noticed that many of the smart financial guys he was working with were too busy to do their own accounting.
There was an opportunity to combine the two, and together with web developer Grant Young he created an online accounting service, SaaSu. He is now on the verge of bringing on a major investor that he says will significantly reshape the business, adding sales and marketing expertise and providing funding to move more into international markets.
In September this year, SaaSu experienced its best month for both revenue and new customer sign-ups, with 46% of new business revenue now coming from offshore.
Mick Liubinskas – Pollinizer (with Phil Morle)
With a background at IBM and in marketing at Virgin Interactive, in 1998 Liubinskas created start-up business portal eCoast before going on to marketing roles at the web developer Mass Media Studios and the file-sharing services Kazaa and Zapr.
In 2006 he joined fellow web 2.0 entrepreneur Marty Wells at the social media technology company Tangler (Wells is now working on the US-based mobile social networking service Mig33).
Now Liubinskas runs consulting business Pollinzer with business partner Phil Morle, which this year worked with 20 clients spread around the world. Liubinskas says the maturity of the Australian web 2.0 market is represented by the fact that it can even support a service provider such as Pollinizer.
Chris Saad – Faraday Media (with Ashley Angell)
If Chris Saad (pictured) is right, he is sitting on a technology that could rival the marketing potential of search engines today, as marketers begin to reach consumers based on the things they are paying attention to, rather than just what they are interested in.
This idea is at the heart of his company, Faraday Media, which he founded with Ashley Angell, and has spawned the companies Particls and Engagd, along with the “attention profile mark-up language” (APML) for describing a user’s attention patterns.
Saad is also on the board of the DataPortabilty project, and is an adviser to the US social networking tools maker JS-Kit. Saad’s work is governed by the beliefs that the user should be at the centre at the network rather than a tool and that information overload is a real problem that will need to be solved with better filters.
Saad and Angell have been close friends since high school, have started numerous ventures together, and continue to work closely.