Growth

Three tips for building a global startup from the founder of one of the most disruptive companies in the world

Dinushi Dias /

Queensland-founded edtech startup GO1 is leading the way for disruptive Australian tech companies.

It was recently listed as one of the most disruptive startups in the world by Disrupt 100 and has just announced that it will be adding 100,000 new courses to its virtual library platform, making it one of the largest training aggregators online.

GO1 CEO and co-founder Andrew Barnes says it’s all part of his ambitious growth plans.

“Where travel was in early 2000 when sites like Wotif and Expedia started to appear, that’s where we’re positioning GO1,” Barnes tells StartupSmart.

After launching in Australia two years ago, the startup has enjoyed rapid growth across the US, UK and South Africa.

Barnes says GO1 has enjoyed 15-20% month-on-month growth and now has more than 350,000 users worldwide.

And it’s all thanks to truly understanding the users and what they want from the service, Barnes says.

“It’s really understanding the value proposition to the customer base, articulating that and focusing on that rather than having one thousand and one features,” he says.

“For our customers, what they care about is accessing training and courses. We’ve got hundreds of different features under the hood but we make it easy for customers to access them and make sure we don’t overcomplicate it.”

The now San Francisco-based entrepreneur says there are three crucial lessons for other startup founders from his successful journey.

You have to think bigger than big

GO1 recently went through Y Combinator, one of the world’s biggest and most highly regarded incubator program.

Barnes says this was invaluable for learning how to grow a startup.

“It opened our eyes to the importance of growth and momentum,” he says.

“In an Australian sense we often get excited if a business doubles in size every year. From an American perspective if you’re not growing five or 10 times a year you’re not growing fast enough.

“If you’re a high growth business in Brisbane like we are, or Sydney or Adelaide or wherever, understanding how you can grow at 10 times what you’re currently doing is really important.”

This helps to refocus a startup’s efforts on the tasks that will create the most impact, he says.

“Being creative with how you can approach problems is essential,” Barnes says.

“Work out what things you should be doing and what other things you don’t need to be doing.”

Think carefully before spending investor money

GO1’s growth was on the back of a $1.36 million funding round led by Steve Baxter and Tank Stream Ventures.

Barnes says it’s important to be smart with this money, and to think about where it will be best spent before even approaching investors.

“There’s no point raising capital before you know you can deploy and grow the business, otherwise it’s akin to gambling,” he says.

“You should put money into areas where there is concrete return and avoid putting money into things that simply make you feel good.

“For us having an office in the middle of Circular Quay is not important.”

He says 80% of this capital injection was used to grow the startup’s sales and marketing team because they didn’t have enough feet on the ground to drive this.

“It feels easy to solve problems by hiring more people, but that can increase costs without increasing productivity so you need to be careful there,” Barnes says.

The remaining 20% was reinvested in the company through R&D.

“We’re very lucky to have ongoing support from Y Combinator and Steve Baxter being on the board,” Barnes says.

“[Baxter] provides mentorship and strong advice around opportunities in the market. We don’t view our investors as external; they really are part of the company.

“Together we can make better decisions.”

Zero in on potential clients early on

GO1 boasts the likes of Seek and Oxford University as clients, and Barnes says a lot of work goes into finding partners that are the right fit.

“We have been working with them for a while about what the future of training and education feels like and they shared the same vision and it was a natural fit,” Barnes says.

In order to find these potential clients, GO1 has its internal business development reps find promising opportunities and once they determine a good fit an account executive will take over.

Barnes says there are two different ways to go about finding the customers.

“Start off by going very broad in a scattergun approach to find which customers it resonates with and then sharpen focus,” he says.

“The other approach is to start with very sharp focus and then iterate until you find a better match.

“There is no one size fits all approach.”

Barnes also says that Australia’s position on the doorstep of New Zealand and South East Asia and strong ties to the US gives local startups a great opportunity to build global ventures.

“We do have a competitive advantage against the likes of US in many respects,” he says.

“We can avoid some of the overheads. There are a lot of customers out here.

“Having a mix of international customers from day one is really important.”

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Dinushi Dias

Dinushi Dias is a freelance journalist and a former StartupSmart reporter and multimedia content producer. She is the co-founder of Melbourne-based production house Dinushi & Power.