A big year in #FinTech

Looking back over the past year, it’s easy to see that 2015 has seen a giant leap forward for #FinTech in the Melbourne #startup scene. Much of this progress can be attributed to the efforts of the FinTech Melbourne Meetup Group, which, in little over a year, has established itself as one of the leading local startup groups, culminating in its first pitch night last month.
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Backdrop

There have been some significant business developments this year, including the launch and expansion of new P2P lending providers, payment platforms, digital currency solutions and robo-advice services. And while Melbourne does not yet have an equivalent to Sydney’s Stone & Chalk (a dedicated FinTech hub), there is enough momentum across the network of co-working spaces and the startup ecosystem of founders, advisors, incubators and accelerator programs to ensure that the city is building on its status as a financial centre.

For myself, the year in FinTech really got going with the inaugural FinTech Startup Weekend, which for me was a steep learning curve. I not only learned how to survive a hackathon, but I also gained a much deeper understanding of FinTech itself. I had become increasingly aware of the topic, via other meetup events, business networking and through reading (and writing for) specialist trade publications.* But until you actually see some of the innovative and practical ideas on new technical solutions for financial services, FinTech can seem like a lot of vaporware.

Emerging Winners

At the recent FinTech Melbourne Pitch Night, five local startups presented to a panel of distinguished judges in front of a packed audience at Melbourne Town Hall. Representing core fintech sectors (and the key messages from their pitches) were:

  • Fuzo – mobile payments platform: “2.5bn people don’t have a bank account”
  • CoinJar – a Bitcoin exchange: “targeting digital nomads”
  • StockLight – investment research: “24% of investors want help with analysis”
  • Moula – SME lending: “not a lender of last resort”
  • Timelio – cashflow finance: “factoring has missed the internet generation”

In what is traditionally a bank-dominated area of trade finance, Timelio is challenging the usual models for invoice discounting, while offering a new asset class for selected investors. I’ve featured Moula in this blog before, but this time around, I felt the presentation was quite low-key, and rather coy about the business model and the financials – maybe that’s because things are moving very quickly, and Moula is in the process of building significant traction via key commercial partnerships. The Fuzo pitch was quite complex (and probably too much technical information to present given the format), but the SIM card-based technology looks very interesting. StockLight‘s proposition is quite simple, and with access to quality content and a range of commercial models, could be one to watch as every financial institution is having to rethink wealth management and personal advice. However, on the night, CoinJar took out the first prize, and not for the first time, demonstrated how a simple concept can actually make the complex more straightforward: if nothing else, it proves that “Bitcoin can be done”.

Backlash

Some comments in the specialist trade publications have been quite scathing about FinTech, in particular those few startups that have embarked on public listings and IPOs. Much of this backlash relates to governance, disclosure and transparency; fair enough, they are important issues. But these criticisms should not be used to undermine the innovative technology, new business models and strategic partnerships that FinTech startups are bringing to the market.

Going mainstream

When otherwise conservative institutions such as industry superannuation funds start to embrace FinTech (e.g., Equip’s tie-up with Clover), or if the ASX decides to deploy blockchain technology to replace the CHESS clearing and settlement platform, it means that FinTech is definitely on the map, and can’t be written off or even ignored as some sort of irritating, disruptive upstart.

Next Steps?

In the wake of announcing the Victorian Government’s $60m LaunchVic startup initiative, the minister for small business, innovation and trade, Philip Dalidakis has been on a flurry of highly visible public speaking engagements, networking events and social media posts. Keen to get the message out there that his government intends to make Victoria a startup success, the minister is certainly generating considerable goodwill in the community.

I’m yet to understand fully the actual remit and stated goals of this new Quango. For example, what does “investing in core infrastructure” mean? Do we really need another bureaucratic body? Couldn’t the initiative have been better structured as a peak body to represent and support the private sector activities already underway?

If the minister is going to be true to his introductory remarks at the recent #hscodefest hackathon, the government needs to create the right environment for startups to flourish, not try to pick winners – leave that to the investors, entrepreneurs and industry experts. As an example, run a FinTech-themed hackathon to improve the Myki system…..

The Last Word…

Finally, for anyone needing an overview on crypto-currency and the future of money, I highly recommend Torsten Hoffmann‘s award-winning 2015 documentary, “Bitcoin: The End of Money as We Know It”, which received its Melbourne premiere last week at Collective Campus.

FOOTNOTE:

* I can’t claim any credit, but a few months after my Trade Finance blog, ICICI and Alibaba announced a new partnership – in part proving my theory that collaboration soon follows in the wake of disruption

Next week: Crate-digging in Japan

It’s not enough to be #disruptive – you also have to #collaborate

For most tech #startups, especially in #fintech, it’s no longer just about being #disruptive – there’s a growing realization that entrepreneurs also have to be #collaborative.

One year on from his last visit to Melbourne, Stripe co-founder John Collison was back in conversation with Paul Bassat from Square Peg Capital, courtesy of Startup Victoria and sponsors Envato, LIFX, BlueChilli, Bank of Melbourne and PwC. Previously, John spoke about the need to be “disruptive rather than incumbent”, yet it seems that Stripe’s growing success can be attributed to relationships with other providers in the payments industry, such as AliPay and VISA, plus deals with retail sites such as Catch Of The Day and RedBalloon. Oh, and it probably helps that most U.S. presidential candidates are using Stripe for campaign donations….

Stripe has already launched an SDK platform for developers, and is planning to launch StripeConnect, a market place platform. The point being, the more users (upstream and downstream) you can plug into your platform, the greater the traction, but also the deeper the collaboration. Why would you want to annoy your potential partners, vendors and suppliers?

Meanwhile, Australia is now Stripe’s 4th largest market, and close to being its 3rd largest.

Going forward, despite some criticism (e.g., it’s still not rolled out in Australia), ApplePay has huge potential. It has an estimated 800m credit cards registered with iTunes (making it 5x bigger than PayPal), and with people currently paying as little as $1.69 per song download, ApplePay could crack the market for broader micropayments (e.g., the $2 on-line daily newspaper?).

However, Stripe stills sees that there are disconnects between traditional credit card application processes, account registration forms, payment solutions, merchant set-up and downstream payments for low-value (but high volume) transactions.

Looking ahead, Collison is talking up opportunities in same-day delivery for e-commerce (hard to see this happening outside of Australia’s main metro areas – unless the infrastructure is there…), and better video-conferencing services (again, in Australia this is hampered by poor broadband services).

A few days later, and Adrian Stone from AngelCube was in conversation with StartUpGrind‘s Melbourne convener, Chris Joannou. Adrian restated the sentiment that angel investors tend to back founders rather than ideas, which can seen by some of the ventures AngelCube has backed so far, including Tablo, LIFX and CoinJar. Each venture has been successful in raising early-stage funding (despite some teething problems and much pivoting), although AngelCube itself has not yet completed an exit.

Rather like his associate Dave McClure from 500 Startups, Adrian recognizes that for various reasons, VCs are having to make smaller, multiple bets, rather than betting the farm on single or a few ideas.

Perhaps this gives further credibility to the proposition that every portfolio (including individual members in retail and industry superannuation funds?) should have a discretionary 1-2% allocation to startups, but you still need an investment vehicle or platform to screen and manage opportunities. Sadly, we see that there is still a disconnect between institutional investors and startup founders. The former are having to get bigger to reduce operating costs, yet this means they have what one friend of mine has defined as the “Allocation Gap”. And of course, founders far outnumber the available sources of VC funding. Time for a rethink on how investors can collaborate to access startup opportunities?

Next week: Cultural Overload

 

 

6 Melbourne Start-Ups to Watch…

LogoRecently, I blogged about Audiobus, and the success of its collaborative approach to app development. So last week, I attended a very entertaining “pitch’n’pizza” evening for start-ups, to see what other interesting things are going on in app and content development. The event was organised by Lean Startup Melbourne and hosted by inspire9. Other support came from BlueChilli, General Assembly, Startup Leadership, PlayFi and Kussowski Brothers.

The idea was a mix of Open Mic Night, and “Dragons’ Den” – 6 start-ups presented their pitch to a panel of VC’s and angel investors, in front of an audience of 300+ friends, colleagues, hangers-on and curious onlookers all fuelled by free beer and pizza.

Melbourne is something of a “Silicon Laneway” – not quite a valley, but more of an alley, given the city’s landscape of back streets and converted warehouses that are fostering a culture of start-ups, digital creatives and social media entrepreneurs.

On the night, the 6 hopefuls that presented were:

  • Tablo – a self-publishing platform for authors – sort of Bandcamp for books, but with even better content distribution
  • PetHomeStay – an on-line booking system for pet owners who want to leave their animals with a trusted pet lover while they are on holiday
  • CareMonkey – an app that shares childrens’ health care needs with relatives, schools and sporting clubs, so that teachers, coaches and carers have relevant support information at their fingertips
  • CoinJar – a platform that enables consumers and merchants to transact with Bitcoin
  • Fairshare – an app designed to take the hassle out of shared living (but not to be confused with FairShare….?)
  • SwatchMate – a combined app and smart phone device for matching colours, primarily for painting and decorating

Each presentation was of a very high quality, although some were more polished and rehearsed than others, and only a couple really shone through in terms of having both a great idea and a great commercial offering.

The questions asked by the panel of experts provided some helpful insights on what makes a successful or engaging pitch:

  1. Why? Having a personal experience resonates, and can avoid the awkward “is this a solution in search of a problem?”
  2. Competitors? What makes you different – smarter? cheaper? quicker? Are you truly disruptive or innovative? Or have you just designed a better mousetrap?
  3. Commercialisation? Show me the money! What’s the business model? Where is the revenue coming from? (“Simple is not always best, but best is always simple”)
  4. Customers vs Users? If the paying customer is actually different to the end-user, then make sure this is clear and you have a strategy to connect the dots and to monetize the key part of the transaction
  5. Real world vs On-line? Are you replicating something which already happens in the real world? Can real world transactions easily dis-intermediate your on-line business model?
  6. App or Website? Is it a dedicated app, or is it a website that works well on mobile devices? Going for a well-designed website may be cheaper, and lead to greater/faster customer adoption.

And in keeping with the spirit of this blog, I would add that the essence of all of these new businesses is having interesting content and a meaningful way for people to engage and transact with it.

At the end of the presentations, the panel selected their favourite pitch (the winner getting the chance of a meeting with the VC of their choice), while the audience voted for the people’s choice. Not surprisingly, the panel went with CoinJar, while the people went for Tablo (which also got my vote).

Disclosure: The author does not have any connection to or commercial relationship with the presenters or sponsors mentioned in this blog. He didn’t even get there in time for a free slice of pizza or bottle of beer.