From onesies to building compliance: How Uptick co-founder Aidan Lister raised $1.6 million to tackle an “unsexy” industry worth $20 billion

[Left to right] Uptick founders Aidan Lister and Sean O'Connor

[Left to right] Uptick founders Aidan Lister and Sean O'Connor. Source: Supplied

A Melbourne startup developing a tech platform for building compliance has secured $1.6 million in new investment from Tempus Partners and Equity Venture Partners this month.

While it may seem like an “unsexy” idea, Uptick co-founder and chief executive Aidan Lister says the building compliance and maintenance industry is worth $20 billion in Australia alone.

Lister previously co-founded, which sold $3 million worth of onesies in its four years of operation, but he expects the new startup he’s building with fellow founder Sean O’Connor to last much longer.

“The goal is to create a platform which is the easiest way to maintain a building whether you’re the service provider, owner or the manager,” Lister tells StartupSmart. 

“It’s a $20 billion industry so it’s quite large and completely paper driven.”

Uptick’s latest investment follows a seed round of $195,000 in January 2016, and Lister says it will help the startup add another 13 employees to its team of 23 over the next 12 months.

“The biggest lesson [with fundraising] would be: don’t underestimate how much time it takes even though you’ve got all your ducks lined up,” he says.

Uptick was bootstrapped before its first funding round in 2016, but Lister says the volume of new clients made it difficult to keep up so external investment was needed to grow the team.

“We were finding it really difficult to cope with the growth … we were growing way too fast for the team to handle,” says Lister.

This growth was accelerated even further, he says, when last December, Uptick brought on new client ARA Group, which does “$300 million in maintenance a year”.

According to Lister, Uptick’s revenue has doubled in the last six months and between $3 – 5 million worth of maintenance is processed through its platform per month. The platform services around 54,000 buildings and tracks maintenance of 1.3 million assets, says Lister.

Uptick’s platform provides two key products: job management for service providers and facility management for building owners and managers. The platform digitises the process of regular compliance processes, such as quarterly fire safety checks, by enabling contractors to test systems, invoice and send reports automatically through the platform to owners or managers.

By streamlining such processes, Lister says, one of Uptick’s customers with over 2000 buildings can now easily manage compliance and maintenance across multiple sites with the same contractors.

Uptick also operates bSecure, a public domain building register for sites across Australia. This platform is what “ties it all together”, says Lister.

“It holds all of the information for the building the same way a logbook for a car would,” he says.

“By having all of that in a digital and audited way, we can start predicting maintenance for whole suburbs [and] at some point, even whole cities. [We would then be] able to work with councils to say this is what maintenance requirements is going to look like.”

After conquering the Australian market, Lister says Singapore, Hong Kong, the US and Canada will be in Uptick’s sights.

“We’re definitely going to look at other markets,” he says.

From onesies to building compliance

Prior to building Uptick, Lister says his first shot at building a global business started with bringing onesies to Australia.

“We sold $3 million worth of onesies [but] it was a very short-term market opportunity,” he says of the venture.

“It was extremely popular and then it was not popular at all.”

With Uptick, however, he sees a more long-term opportunity. Since launching the platform in late 2014 with just two people, the business has now raised close to $1.8 million in funding and its ranks could swell to 36 employees over the coming year.

Reflecting on the journey, Lister says one of the most important lessons he’s picked up as an entrepreneur is the power of delegation.

“The biggest struggle is definitely work-life balance; the founders have been running it 150 percent for three years at the detriment of literally everything else — relationships, family, health, sleep,” he says.

While it may be possible to work “20 hours a day” to get a job done for one new client, he says, this becomes an impossible feat when you get five or more new clients at once.

At this stage, Lister believes “moving out of doing mode and moving into leadership and building leadership mode” is critical.

“The biggest lesson is you can’t do it all yourself. As you grow from being a smaller company to a bigger company, the founder’s emphasis has to be from building to leading,” he says.

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