Why this executive believes a Kiwi auto parts startup could replicate Amazon’s growth

Former Amazon executive Tony Austin wants to apply the strategies of global logistics giant Amazon to this New Zealand automotive startup.

Former Amazon executive Tony Austin wants to apply the strategies of global logistics giant Amazon to this New Zealand automotive startup.

New Zealand-based auto startup Partly is solving the kinds of behind-the-scenes challenges that get little airtime but result in significant accumulating costs for small businesses and their customers. 

Founded by a former engineer at NASDAQ-listed aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab, the company centralises auto part information, enabling manufacturers and resellers to sell across multiple channels and share data with partners in real-time.

Backed by Rocket Lab founder and Kiwi entrepreneur Peter Beck, the startup recently made headlines with a pre-Series A capital raise of NZ$3.7 million ($3.3 million) in 2021 that led to a $50 million valuation.

Earlier this month Partly appointed ex-Amazon executive and New Zealand native Tony Austin as its chief strategy officer. Austin, who has also become a co-founder as part of his appointment, says his almost seven years at Amazon meant he was well-placed to buy into Partly’s proposition: the opportunity to create a parts buying experience to disrupt an overlooked sector.

Partly’s mission is to “connect the dots” within a fractured industry that is ripe for disruption, Austin tells SmartCompany.

Chief Strategy Officer at Partly, Tony Austin. Image: supplied.

Chief Strategy Officer at Partly, Tony Austin. Image: supplied.

When a car needs repairs, consumers have the choice of going to a dealership or accessing the independent aftermarket.

Something as simple as knowing what parts fit your car is actually a very large scale global challenge — particularly in the aftermarket, Austin explains.

The current problem lies in the fact that vehicle manufacturers and dealers have a vested interest in locking consumers into their own ecosystems to buy products.

This makes it almost impossible for the aftermarket — including “your local corner shop garage”, Austin says, to get access to the same information the automotive giants have.

When the average consumer takes their car to a garage, it’s almost impossible to access information about the supply chain to ensure they can get the part they need at the right price.

“Ultimately, as a car owner, you’ll be the one that’s suffering either because it takes longer or costs more,” Austin explains. “These challenges may not be obvious but are a symptom of a bigger problem.”

Amazon isn’t the global leader in e-commerce because it was the first company to consider selling books online. Rather, it’s thanks to its gold standard logistics operations that the business has become infinitely scalable.

Austin says there’s a massive opportunity to apply this approach in underdeveloped markets that haven’t seen technological innovation.

The auto supply sector has lagged “where a lot of other industries have moved forward a long way into in terms of customer experience, and service”, he explains.

Partly is taking new technology and a customer first approach to solve this complex problem.

Bringing expertise to ANZ

After over a decade living and working for global organisations overseas, Austin agrees there’s been a shift in the kinds of opportunities for people with big ideas to have an impact with local projects.

“Early on [in my career] it was clear to me that the progression or opportunities didn’t exist here at the time.

“So I went overseas, to join the likes of eBay and Amazon to be able to get that global experience and personal growth,” Austin explains.

But Partly is among the wave of Australian and New Zealand startups that saw a record $10 billion in VC funding flood the startup sector 2021.

He headed to Australia in 2018 before joining Partly earlier this year.

“For me, part of this global vision, and complex revolutionary solution, was a really big draw card,” Austin said. 

Austin says while the growth of the Australian startup ecosystem was an undeniable draw, he sees a role for the government in advertising opportunities in much the same way it does for the tourism industry.

“The region, and Australia in general, has a lot to offer that really could be promoted a little bit better with a bit more focus,” he said.

Applying the Amazon model to the automotive sector

“I’m a big believer in the potential to solve a significant customer pain point for the industry,” Austin said.

It is a factor that has seen a raft of APAC startups catering to emerging and underserved markets — like Zeller and Airwallex — experience massive VC raises in the past year.

Austin says his focus as chief strategy officer will be on spearheading business strategy and scaling the startup’s tech to a global scale. 

“For me, the big motivator is to take a local innovation and scale that to the rest of the world.

“You have the ability to take something that’s successful at a global scale and innovate, to adapt it to the Australian region.”

Partly already has a raft of Fortune 500 companies as customers, which Austin plans to expand in coming years.

Partly chief executive and co-founder Levi Fawcett said the company’s next phase of growth would be accelerated with the appointment of Austin. 

“We’re extremely pleased to see how Tony’s wealth of knowledge and expertise across Europe and Australia will accelerate our growth across our global markets,” Fawcett said.

The next period of growth will help the company “cement our standing on the world stage as a global category leader”, he said.

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