Former AFL player’s real estate startup Gavl raises $1.8 million from Flight Centre co-founder Geoff Harris


Gavl co-founder Joel Smith. Source: Supplied

Melbourne-based real estate startup Gavl has raised $1.8 million from Flight Centre co-founder Geoff Harris as it looks to close a $6 million Series A round to bring its live-streamed auction offerings to cities across Australia and New Zealand.

Founded in 2015, Gavl is the brainchild of former AFL player Joel Smith, Leith Donaldson and Michael Artup, who saw a gap in the real estate market for live-streamed auctions that facilitated participation from buyers around the globe.

“It’s out of consumer need — all Australians love real estate and at any given time just about all of us are dreaming of a new house,” Smith tells StartupSmart.

It was in June 2016 that the former Hawthorn player took the idea to Flight Centre co-founder Geoff Harris, who he had previously known from Harris’ time as director of the same club.

As an early investor in Boost Juice, Topdeck and Fonda Mexican, Harris saw the potential of the yet-to-be built platform, and Smith managed to secure $2.5 million from Harris Capital to build and launch Gavl in December 2016.

Harris Capital has now invested an extra $1.8 million into the startup and Gavl will be using these funds to launch worldwide live auction bidding across eight major currencies.

Smith says these funds will also go towards marketing and expanding its team of 23 to cover more real estate opportunities in Australia and New Zealand.

The startup is currently operating in Melbourne and Sydney, which Smith says combined makes up 85% of Australia’s auction market, and Auckland, where the service was launched three months ago. Gavl has now been downloaded in 45 countries and enabled 0ver 200 Australian real estate agencies to broadcast 4000 auctions, all “without us spending one cent on marketing”, Smith says.

This is partly due to the multicultural nature of Australia and New Zealand’s society, Smith observes.

“The nature of Australia and New Zealand’s multicultural societies means that quite a number of Aussies and Kiwis are born overseas or have family overseas,” Smith says.

“There is a large need for that key decision maker to be able to engage fully at auction.” 

Smith is focused on “continuing to push the boundaries of technology” in terms of how the Gavl team can help agents and consumers bring the sale and transaction process of home buying — “which hasn’t really hasn’t changed for about 100 years” — into the modern-day. 

“Get your ducks in a line”

While this $1.8 million raise came from an investor Smith knew well, he warns that raising funds from existing investors isn’t as simple as going back and asking for more cash.

“You need to get your ducks in line and make sure any info you give is up-to-date, factual and correct,” he says.

Maintaining relationships with existing investors between raises is also crucial, Smith says, adding startups should be “looking to bring them along on the journey, and constantly keep them well-informed and involved”.

“Give investors weekly updates, get them involved at client meetings and involved in terms of using the tech themselves, so they can not only see the big picture but see that they are investing into the right team,” he says.

Playing for the startup team

From Joel MacDonald’s GetSwift  to Fergus Watts’ Bastion Collective, many AFL stars like Smith have turned to startups after stepping away from the limelight, taking with them the lessons learned on the field.

For Smith, an AFL career spanning almost 10 years taught him importance of teamwork, celebrating wins, and learning from losses.

“It’s going to sound strange but I see playing in a sports team and running a business as very similar; it’s all about getting the right people in your team, the right culture and the right game plan,” he says.

“All my life lessons have been learned from playing team sports: how to work as a group, give and take feedback, celebrate successes and assess your failures to come up with solutions,” he says.

“I’ve pretty much transferred what I’ve learned from sport and implemented it to working in a startup, which is effectively a team with a goal.”

Read more: The AFL players building businesses in 2017

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