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Chasing start-up value through venture capital

Chasing start-up value through venture capital

With innovation high on the Australian agenda, entrepreneurs are entering a new era in technology.

Team Autopilot

Team Autopilot

As the once-in-a-generation mining boom winds up, and the need to identify new sources of growth increases, the nation is once again chasing innovation.

Billed as the engine room for Australia’s future, the country is becoming a breeding ground for talented creators to carve out new market opportunities.

Acknowledging the surge of Australian entrepreneurs and successful start-up businesses in recent years, several venture capital firms have been established.

Because as the industry’s entrepreneurs can attest, access to finance is an important framework condition for the creation, survival and growth of innovative new ventures.

In short, fast growing start-ups require investment.

For Australia-born start-up, Autopilot, strategic investment partnering has opened a global gateway to future development.

Co-founded by three Sharkey brothers — Chris, Mike and Peter — in 2012, the multi-channel marketing automation software integrates with the Salesforce platform, alongside Slack, Segment, Twilio and Zapier.

Five years since starting out, the business has raised over $22 million from two separate rounds
of capital raising, working closely with investment partners such as Australian native, Blackbird Ventures and the strategic division of Salesforce in Salesforce Ventures.

“We have a huge market opportunity but the technology needed to address the problem required a huge amount of upfront investment,” Autopilot co-founder and CEO Mike Sharkey explained.

“That is what led us down the venture capital path, although we self- funded the business for a period as we were formulating how it would all work.”

At its heart, Autopilot software bridges the gap between basic email and complex marketing software, specifically targeting the larger enterprise market.

Specifically, the Salesforce independent software vendor (ISV) helps marketers move beyond a standard marketing email, instead enabling the design of multi-channel customer platforms capable of addressing customers in highly personalised ways.

Created due to a gap in both the local and global market, according to Sharkey, 61 per cent of marketers in the US — and a similar amount in Australia — still use “batch and blast” email marketing that is neither personal nor contextual.

“In the past, very few companies could even dream of using marketing automation because the barrier to entry was too steep — the price too high and the technology too complex,” he said.

“Autopilot is making it possible for businesses of any size to create personalised customer experiences at scale, and at an affordable entry point.”

Mike Sharkey - CEO and Co-Founder, Autopilot
Mike Sharkey - CEO and Co-Founder, Autopilot

In addition to basic marketing automation functions such as distributing email campaigns, Sharkey classifies Autopilot’s unique touch as a touch capable of triggering hand-written thank you cards when a customer accepts a deal, or follow ups with those who failed to open an email the first time.

“It’s our belief that every company should be creating personal experiences for their customers and raising venture capital has helped us scale our distribution much faster over a large horizontal market,” he added.

Venture capital market

Considering changing market dynamics, turbo-charged by the influx of new and emerging technologies, it’s never been a better time to be a start-up founder.

With easier access to investment, and an industry willing to supercharge Australia’s most ambitious founders, entrepreneurs are advancing at a rapid rate through utilising venture capital firms.

Through investing in Autopilot, Salesforce Ventures targets early creators of customer-centric enterprise technology, technology capable of transforming the end-user experience.

Across the Pacific Ocean, the venture capital market is experiencing record highs, with more than 300 billion assets under management globally.

During 2016, the industry reported 17 technology-based initial public offerings (IPOs), billed as “very low” for US standards.

“Although we did have two successful ones this year in Snapchat and MuleSoft, what we are seeing is that companies are staying private much longer,” Salesforce Ventures vice president Matt Garratt observed.

In assessing the market through a local lens, the magic of Silicon Valley is beginning to filter back into the industry, as successful Australian entrepreneurs return to their roots to offer insight and advice to the next breed of emerging businesses.

“The founders of companies that were built a decade ago are investing and helping the next generation,” Blackbird Ventures managing director Niki Scevak said. “Getting help from the best kind of people is an exciting addition.”

During the past year, local venture capital firms raised $568 million from superannuation funds and other institutions, including AirTree Ventures’ $250 million fund and Blackbird Ventures’ $200 million equivalent, according to the AVCAL (Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association Limited).

Echoing Scevak’s observations, and as a US-based venture capital firm assessing the Australian landscape, Garrett added that in 2017, start-up activity remains high across the country.

“The Salesforce business here is growing and it’s clear that the market is taking off and there is more investment,” he said.

When assessing the merits of a technology-focused start-up from an investment standpoint, Blackbird Ventures works off a checklist based on four key principles — world class founding teams, global ambition, scalable big market products and early stage metrics.

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