Sydney marketing startup Sinorbis, headed up by ex-Expedia exec, closes $4 million Series A raise

Sinorbis founder and chief Nicolas Chu

Sinorbis founder and chief Nicolas Chu. Source: Supplied.

Sinorbis, a digital marketing startup focused on helping western businesses market themselves in China, has raised $4 million in Series A funding, having seen 260% revenue growth.

This latest raise was led by Jelix Ventures, the investment venture run by Andrea Gardiner and her husband Ian, who stepped down from his role as head of the Australia and New Zealand startup division at Amazon Web Services last month.

Other investors included Executive Channel Holdings, which led the startup’s $2.3 million raise in May 2017, Chinese VC fund G5 and Australian NBA star Matthew Dellavedova.

The platform was launched in July last year by co-founders Nicolas Chu, a former managing director of Expedia in Australia and New Zealand, and Allen Qu, who previously launched Chinese digital agency Netconcepts.

Chu tells StartupSmart over the past year the business has “been tracking very well”, acquiring some 75 clients mainly in the consumer goods, travel and education sectors.

In fact, the startup facilitates marketing in China for 25% of Australian universities, Chu says.

The founders are also seeing demand from overseas, with 30% of their customer base coming from outside of Australia, even without any marketing push.

They’re fielding enquiries from the US and Europe, whether that’s from San Francisco payment platform Veem, a Parisian department store, or a Greek olive oil manufacturer selling into China.

The business has seen 280% year-on-year revenue growth, and while Chu declines to reveal the exact figures, he expects to see that growth continue over the next year.

“We’re the only platform in the world offering what we’re offering,” Chu says.

Phase three

According to Chu, phase one of the business was to prove the technology, which “was not a given”, he says. Phase two was to find out if there was a market willing to pay for it.

“Now, it’s about scaling the business [and] onboarding new customers,” he says.

The funds will be used for developing new features, specifically focused on the core industries and “driving more leads on the education side”.

“We have a clear understanding of who our target is,” Chu says.

“There are a bunch of features we’re going to implement,” he adds.

Sinorbis is also going to increase its headcount — it’s currently operating on a 20-strong team between Sydney, Shanghai and Colombo offices.

Chu says the startup will hire into its customer success team, to support its increasing client base, while also investing in marketing.

Next year, Chu also has plans to be more active internationally. Currently, all international interest has been inbound, he says.

“We know we will go … but I’m trying to be disciplined,” he adds.

He’s committed to perfecting the model before trying to expand too quickly and too broadly.

“Once the equation is right we will be moving overseas,” he says.

Vision and values

Even though this is Sinorbis’ second fundraising rodeo, Chu says the process hasn’t got any easier.

“Even though it’s my third one, and we have a good track record, it’s not easy. It’s never easy,” he says.

“The emotional rollercoaster as a startup founder is real,” he adds.

Chu and Qu focused on finding investors who share their vision and their values — something Chu says they found in Andrea Gardiner, who is now joining the Sinorbis board.

While some founders might choose investors for the advice or leadership experience they can offer, these particular founders each entered the startup journey with a history of running big corporates.

So practical advice wasn’t what they were looking for, Chu says, instead it was other points of view.

“When you’re really deep into the operation, you need to have a sounding board — people who can help you to get perspective,” he says.

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